Thursday, July 30, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
I didn't know Amazon had a campaign wherein they enlisted users to share their readers with potential customers:
To find out more, I went to Freeport, Maine, to talk to Eileen Messina, the manager of the British-imports store just across from L. L. Bean. Messina, a thoughtful, intelligent woman in her thirties, has all kinds of things on her Kindle, including “Anna Karenina,” Murakami’s “Kafka on the Shore,” books by Dan Simmons and Abraham Verghese, and the comic novel “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” She is so happy with it that she has volunteered, along with about a hundred others, to show it off to prospective purchasers, as part of Amazon’s “See a Kindle in Your City” promotion. Her Kindle was in her purse; she’d crocheted a cover for it out of green yarn.
This partially answers my ongoing question about how a potential customer can test drive the thing.
One unexpected running threat in the article is how excited people are not to have to deal with used books, either purchased or borrowed from a library. I had not idea of the resentment! We all get annoyed if someone has written or damaged a book, but claims that books smell like smoke, that you "don't know where they've been"? Really? That's nuts, and half the fun!
Baker also does a nice job untangling all the other readers. The end result, it seems to me, is that the technology just ain't there yet for most of us. So Kindle readers can keep flipping the ol' Kindle "control nipple," as some call it, but I'll be over here with Christopher, readin' good old-fashioned books... for now.
Friday, July 24, 2009
I found this ridiculous video linked through the HarperStudio blog. This kind of reminded me of me and Christopher in some ways, though I won't say which is which.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
It was a good show. Wolpert was fair, persistent, and sharp, repeatedly noting how libraries had presented Google with the books to digitize, but now run the risk of getting limited access to scans due to budget constraints and pricing by a company (google) that essentially now has a monopoly on the market. Palfrey bravely noted that we - the public - should have had the chutzpah Google had five years ago, we should have funded this scanning so that we now owned the scans and could use them for the public interest. We didn't do it, a private company did, and now no one else will replicate this project or anything like it for years. All we can do now is try to insert a public interest voice into this process. It's not clear whether that will be possible.
The overall concern is orphan books, those titles that are out of print but not out of copyright. Google will allow users to download these books at a cost and the money will go to the Book Rights Registry, who will try to track down the copyright holders. If they are not found... this is another of Wolpert's concerns. Where is that money going?
There was also a mention of privacy and censorship, though time was limited and that didn't get the attention it deserved. The panel did however note that Google has been "courageous" on the issue of censorship in the past, so there was some hope there.
As I still work to make sense of the library concerns with Google, I find online this article by Rita Chang in Advertising Age on the future of ads in e-books (courtesy of Dennis Johnson at MobyLives). Put your coffee down before reading. It's ugly. The article centers on the mysterious patent pending for Amazon that suggests the company is getting ready to, as Chang says, "stuff digital books with contextual advertising." I know.
What frustrates me is what Chang points out as the driving force behind this movement to get ads into books: the need to lower the cost of books. This goes back to my concern over the need for cheap product - at what price! Get this:
"There's a movement in the industry to offset book prices through various ways," said consultant Chris Andrews, who's writing an e-book about the advent of e-books. "There's more revenue per book with those ads and they allow publishers to sell the book less expensively. It also gives advertisers this cool market of people who spend hours with content. The relationship is longer than any other media -- and it's deeper."
"They're just exploring all the multiple ways you can monetize content, so you can offer a customer a full-priced book at $9.99 or you can offer them a half-priced book that's partially underwritten by advertisers," said Mark Coker, founder of e-book seller Smashwords.If this revenue source makes publishing a thriving industry, where will the jobs be, or what will the priorities be? Jobs will be in ad sales, and editors will have to find synergistic products. Get that book to appeal to a specific demographic and then sell space to advertisers by laying claim to said demographic. A marriage made in heaven!
All I can do at this point is hold out hope that good, honest, respectable presses - such as Melville House, host of Mobylives - will remain for those of us that don't want to have books interrupted with f'ing advertising. I need to read something uplifting to get out of this ad age-induced funk.
Ah! The David Rees v. Jamba Juice debacle! I'm loving it. Now Rees is a man who has perfected his online voice, with frequent OMG and LOL and comic (and yet legit) frustration. Enjoy the saga!
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
So let the fall-out begin and continue. I enjoyed Sam Jordisan's take over at one of the best places for publishing news, the Guardian UK's Books Blog. Jordisan goes over the flags raised with this incident, getting to the point in 2 paragraphs in particular:
This early Kindle book-burning episode also provides a reminder of how closely ebook devices monitor their users' reading. And that provokes quite a few questions. What's to stop advertisers paying to find out about your preferences, for instance? What's to stop churches finding out about people reading pro-choice literature in their area? What's to stop governments finding out about your revolutionary reading preferences?
The question of whether it is safe or wise to blithely hand over so much of one of our most important industries and so many of our treasured freedoms to the gatekeepers of this revolutionary technology is an entirely modern one. The issue that underlies it, however, is one of the very oldest: who will guard the guards?
Indeed. Jordisan also includes a link to the coverage over at BoingBoing on DRM technology, which I've linked to before.
A link in the comments section will send you over to another nice summation and projection at Slate, from that publication's techno guru, Farhad Marjoo.
Fascinating stuff that is rightly scaring the pants off folks. Can anyone talk about anything else?
Oh wait, look over here! It's super agent Esther Newberg of ICM, giving us a run-down of her typical Sunday in the Hamptons. This is so f'ing civilized you'll spit out YOUR latte. I got halfway through the article but then got distracted by last night's new episode of Dynasty, but once Alexis kicked the crap out of Krystle, I got back to it and really enjoyed it. Yes folks, the '80s are back! As the publishing industry deal with layoffs and authors struggling to get paid and foreclosures and job losses abound, NY Times readers are reading about Newberg's 2004 Saab convertible she leaves in the Hamptons - "it’s fun to drive" - and how she loves to shop - "My nephew says I’m my own stimulus package." With recession comes leisure, it seems. I'm just glad someone's getting to enjoy it - am I right?!
Sometimes I can't believe we're all in the same business.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Aside from the obvious bullshit going on here, it does feel curiously like Big Brother, no? In Newspeak let's call this Amazon.com action, um, "negpurch" for negative purchase...yeah, that should do it.
Me? I'm just gonna peruse my Signet Classic edition of 1984, located conveniently right next to me on my bookshelf.
The Kindle stinks.
Many are blogging about Jack Shafer's Slate article on the danger of pirating in e-books, which is of course related to the pricing. He makes some okay points in this article but I think his larger point about needing to really take the consumer into consideration is problematic. If we focus too much on the consumer, are we going to devalue the work that goes into writing and even publishing a book? Just because a book is easy to download and read on a portable device doesn't mean it was written or edited or produced with the same level of ease.
As usual, I hope we can find a balance here. It seems to be, the end should match the process. If an author is a scribbler who churns out a novel or two a year, something very genre oriented such as romance or thriller, books whose primary format is mass market, then a cheap e-book edition makes sense. But then you look at a large and thorough biography and things change. My partner just purchased D. Guttenplan's American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone, a 570 page, $35 hardcover. He bought it full-price at the charming Provincetown Book Shop, an independent worth supporting, but he later expressed surprise as the price, when he thought about it. I explained how a big biography like that should be expensive. The author spent over a decade writing this book, so he should be paid for that time. It makes sense that the reader should pay for the privilege of reading the result of his labor.
In this talk of e-book pricing, I worry that the call to think of the consumer is overlooking the efforts of writers, and that this will contibute to the ongoing trend of editors pushing writers to finish projects in months, not years, even if projects demand more thorough research and more delicate writing. Then we get crappier products for cheaper prices, and authors have books that they cannot take as much pride in, and publishers have lists that don't hold up to close scrutiny. All for a reader's convenience. It just doesn't seem worth it.
The time is now to set these prices, and I just hope the so-called market doesn't prevail. I haven't read the new book by Ellen Ruppel Shell called Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, but after hearing her on NPR, it sounds like she touches on my concerns, in other industries. We now scoff at a t-shirt costing more than $5 or a bookshelf that's more than $20, so retailers are getting the prices down by cutting costs on production, on labor. This could just as easily happen in publishing if we keep diving deeper in our prices, endlessly worried about the consumer.
The more this hypothetical consumer is discussed, the more s/he sounds like another evil, made-up character that recurs in media discussions: the undecided voter. So irritating. They shrug and we all struggle to make them happy. I'm over it. We shouldn't be beholden to this threatening, petulant figure, always threatening to not give up his/her vote or purchase. At some point one must wonder, how real is this character?