Friday, May 02, 2014

Ug and Zug's One Stop Wheel Shop

In the year 3330BC...

After painstakingly hand-carving a wheel out of redwood--a process that took three months--longtime employee KOR rolls it over to his corporate masters, UG and ZUG, to show off his work.

KOR: Here it is, bosses! My best wheel yet! I've got blisters on my hands that are so big they look like strawberries, and I lost two fingernails. I also smashed my thumb with a mallet so hard the bones popped out of my skin. But it's worth it, don't you think?

ZUG: Nice work, Kor. It's a beautiful wheel. You can roll it over to the Finishing Department, and they'll give you some detailed notes on how you can make it even better. Should only take you a few more weeks.

UG: In the meantime, get those blisters looked at. They seem to be infected.

KOR: I will. Thank you for nurturing me. I do have... um... a question, though.

ZUG: Yes, Kor? You know we're here for you.

UG: We truly do value the work you do for us. You've created many wheels for Ug and Zug's One Stop Wheel Shop, and we've sold every last one.

KOR: Yeah, you have. That's the thing. You see, I just spent ninety moons working on this wheel. Working hard. It doesn't seem fair to me that when you sell it, I only get 25% of the wholesale price. That only comes out to 12% or so of the selling price.

ZUG: But that's what we've always given you, Kor.

KOR: I know. It's just... well... I see some other wheelmakers, indepentdent wheelmakers, who are selling wheels on their own. And they earn 70% of the selling price.

ZUG and UG frown.

UG: I'm afraid we can't pay you more, Kor. The margins are too slim.

KOR: But I've heard you bragging about how you keep breaking sales records, year after year. Your profits are larger than ever.

ZUG: That may be so, but the wheel business has plateaued.

KOR: What do you mean?

UG: He means the tremendous growth we've seen in our market over the past few years is slowing down.

KOR: But it's still growing, isn't it?

ZUG: Yes. But not as quickly.

KOR: I don't believe that. More people are buying wheels than ever before. Just look.

KOR spreads out his hands, indicating the valley below. A valley heavily populated with indiginous peoples, all using wheels.

KOR: They all have wheels. Carts, wagons, baby buggies--that guy has a Humvee with wooden rims. And at least half of those wheels aren't Ug and Zug wheels. Those wheels were sold by the indie wheelmakers, not by middlemen.

ZUG: Where? I don't see anything.

UG: Me, neither.

KOR: But it's right in front of your eyes! Wheel sales aren't leveling off across the board. They're just leveling off for you.

UG: Sales are leveling off because the market has reached its saturation point.

KOR: I think the market is growing, but you're just getting a smaller piece of it because more and more customers are buying wheels from the wheelmakers. You're in denial.

ZUG: Unheard of.

UG: Outrageous.

ZUG: We've had record profits the last five years. How can we be in denial?

KOR: Why don't you share some of those profits with your wheelmakers?

UG: Saturation point. Remember?

KOR: Look, I make the wheels. Not you. I see many of your former employees selling wheels on their own, without you, and making more money than they ever did working for you.

ZUG: But who nurtures them?

UG: Exactly! Didn't I tell you to get your hands looked at because they're probably infected? That's what you get from working your fingers to the bone.

KOR: But I do it to make a living.

UG: Living, schmiving. You're an artist, Kor. Artists aren't supposed to make a living from their art. They're supposed to struggle and suffer. Besides, you artsy types don't understand the business end of things like we do. Let us handle the dollars and cents. You just worry about making those nice wheels.

KOR: Can either of you explain to me why I should continue to work for you?

ZUG: Easy. The prestige. All of the wheels you create have Ug & Zug carved on them.

KOR: I don't think wheel buyers notice that. Or care.

ZUG: We provide you with your hammer and chisel.

KOR: I can buy those for myself.

UG: What about all the benfits we give you?

KOR: You don't provide any benefits at all. And you only pay me twice a year.

ZUG: We have better distribution than you do.

KOR: Actually, I can reach as many customers with my wheels as you do with yours. See?

KOR takes the wheel he just made and rolls it down the hill.

KOR: And I can get them to market faster, control the price myself, and make much more money per unit sold.

ZUG: So go ahead and leave. There are a thousand wheelmakers willing to take your place.

KOR: Maybe. But for how long? It worked in the past, because you had a monopoly. You don't anymore. There is an entire generation of wheelmakers who won't ever consider working for you because they see no upside.

UG: Look, we know what we're doing. Not only that, there are experts out there who have analyzed our situation and agree with us.

KOR: Who pays those experts?

UG: Excuse me?

KOR: Do you pay them for their analysis and advice?

ZUG: Of course. All experts get paid for their advice.

KOR: A lot of independent wheelmakers have blogs. They don't charge for their advice.

UG: There's a reason for that. They're full of shit and have hidden agendas.

KOR: What hidden agendas?

UG: Impossible to say. Because they're hidden.

KOR: They're sharing their wheelmaking experience with others. Sharing numbers and analysing data.

ZUG: Outliers. Or just plain old liars.

UG: We prefer to hear from the professional experts. The ones who get paid. Who tell us they're experts.

KOR: You don't think that skews the results a little? That perhaps you're paying for what you want to hear? Couldn't the expert be spinning things of sugar-coating them because he relies on you for his livelihood?

UG: Impossible. Our experts have years--hell generations--of publishing experience.

KOR: And what if these experts told you you're going to go out of business unless you immediately triple what you pay your wheelmakers?

ZUG: Then we'd act immediately.

UG: Agreed. By the end of the business day, we'd have found a new expert.

KOR: Look, I've just shown you that reaching customers on my own is as simple as rolling a wheel down a hill. I don't need you. But you need me. And I'm not going to make wheels for you anyore because I can do better on my own. Goodbye.

KOR walks down into the vallet as UG and ZUG watch.

UG: Did something just happen?

ZUG: No. I didn't notice anything.

UG: Me, neither.

ZUG: Want to go count our profits for this quarter?

UG: Sure. Then let's give ourselves bonuses.

ZUG: Now that's innovative thinking! Should we check with some industry experts first?

UG: Why? Wheelmakers Weekly said sales have leveled off. What other confirmation do we need?

ZUG: Good point. Lunch is on me.

UG: That's generous of you.

ZUG: Expense account. We'll charge it to the company. What else are we supposed to do with all this extra money we're making?

UG and ZUG stroll down into the valley, completely oblivious to all of the wheels around them that they had no part in selling.

The End

COMING VERY SOON: Ug and Zug Post Their Resumes on


William said...

Awesome post! Reminds me that there's hope for the lil guys like me. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Ha! Brilliant. I love it.

Joseph said...

Wait...was this satire?

David L. Shutter said...

I knew where this was going right away. Should be expected, when you keep beating the drum to the same group of folk with heads in the sand you have to change the message up a bit. Shatzkin's last two posts in particularly we're especially dismissive of indie growth and future position. He has some more predictions up so I'd like to make one; the title of a future post from him:

"The Shadow Industry of Indie Pub and why we never saw it coming."

Stace Johnson said...

Ug said, "Impossible. Our experts have years--hell generations--of publishing experience."

Sounds like he might already have one foot out of the wheelmaking business. ;-)

Andrea said...

Love it! That was fabulous!

middle grade ninja said...

Very funny. I needed a good chuckle to nurture me this afternoon:)

Anonymous said...

Publishing really IS so easy, even a caveman could do it.

Laura Resnick said...

Over on the Passive Voice, we wondered if you'd blog this week about.. wheelmaking consultants.

BooksAndPals said...

He said "generations," Laura. It made me wonder if he's talking about a particular wheelmaker consultant. :)

cinisajoy said...

Great blog as always.

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

ROFL! The wheeler-dealers need to open their eyes. will be overwhelmed. ;-)

Anonymous said...

"KOR: What hidden agendas?
UG: Impossible to say. Because they're hidden."

ROFL. Just like Dumb&Dumber.

I loved it. Loved it. :-)


Hollis said...

It's so funny to read this, but at the same time, this little story makes it all so much clearer in my head. I thought I was smarter than that. :O

Athena Grayson said...

But first, Ug and Zug will merge with Og and Grog. "News Corp ties knot with romance novel publisher"

HarperCollins is buying Harlequin from TorStar. Between HarperCollinsHarlequinSilhouette and RandomPenguinPutnam, I can't figure out if I'm reading publishing industry news, or Japanese Mecha manga.

Anonymous said...

":UG: There's a reason for that. They're full of shit and have hidden agendas.

KOR: What hidden agendas?

UG: Impossible to say. Because they're hidden."

LOL ... thanks for that bit of mirth to liven up my morning :)

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Favorite bit from the Shatzkin post you linked to: "the agency model was put in and then modified by court fiat." You mean they colluded illegally and then were caught at it?

Great post, as usual, KOR. I mean, Joe!

H.S. Stone said...

Great allegory of the publishing industry! Unless it was really about wheels, in which case, it was still entertaining.

Chris Redding said...

Spot on as always.

Walter Knight said...

The Big Five's and their agents' dismissive attitude is what riles me the most.

El Spark said...

"UG: Impossible to say. Because they're hidden."

Aaand that's where I started really laughing.

Mark said...

So are bookstores going the way of record stores? I guess that's one of the things I see now -- indie books aren't a significant presence in bookstores and bookstores are still a significant portion of sales.

And of course it's not just bookstores but the big box stores too that sell books. The path into those venues for writers almost always is through publishers. How many indie writers have books in Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Sam's, Costco, grocery chains, etc.?

I'm not defending publishers. They may be archaic. But how do bands make money in the music scene these days? Do indies do as well or better than the bands supported by the labels? I don't follow it so I have no idea, but it seems to me that the labels still have a lot of clout when it comes to putting music in front of the public.

Anyway, I'm rooting for indies and I see it as a very viable path. I'm just playing devil's advocate.

Don Plenter said...

Hey Joe,
This was a fantastic post! So true it's funny. I turned down an offer for my first fiction book, Executive Compensation, from a legacy publisher, for these very reasons - the agent was spitting nails she was so furious.
I just discovered your blog so I'll have to read through to see what you have to say about marketing. Don Plenter

Mary Jane Hathaway said...

"Impossible to say. Because they're hidden."

*snarf* That was the best line.

And I really, really think they should post their resumes on where no one goes except other people looking for a job.

Mary Jane Hathaway said...

P.S. I know you've heard this all before, but a twithead on Twitter told me that self publishers "wear too many hats. They're cover artists, editors, formatters, and marketers. They need to just focus on the writing."

I said that actually we HIRE all of those positions out, just like the trad pubbers do.

Oh, and there will always be marketing.

Torsten said...

Excellent post! Made me follow you on Twitter so I can see more :)