Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Mongoliad - An Innovative New Approach to Digital Storytelling

Sincere apologies to my readers for not updating the blog this last month. Things have been absolutely insane and I am behind falling behind on several projects. However, I saw this article the other day on Neil Stephenson and Greg Bear's The Mongoliad and it sounded really interesting.

The concept - the brainchild of science fiction masters Stephenson and Bear - is essentially a serialized story that combines writers, artists, and experts in the construction of an epic story that takes place during the Mongol invasions of Europe. The website has a community aspect and brings the fans directly into the creative process. While it has some free information the core content requires a 10 dollar yearly subscription.Whether this is just a cool gimmick or an important step forward in the evolution of literature freed from some of the format demands of print remains to be seen. Nonetheless, I plan to do some more research and write more on this interesting project in the future.
              If there are any readers who subscribe to the Mongoliad, I would love to hear your thoughts about it. Do you enjoy it? Is it worth the money? Please let me know!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Next Gen Nook to Come Out with Full Color, Touch-Screen Display - B&N ditches E-Ink

E-Reader enthusiasts, tech people, and those interested in the future of publishing and print were abuzz last week with Barnes and Noble's announcement that they were releasing a full color touch-screen version of their device. The NOOKcolor, which is going for $249, is essentially a mini-tablet that features games, music, photos, full-color magazines, a user-friendly web browser, and an app store (although its relatively small and
doesn't run all android-based apps). While most sites are holding back on final judgement on the device until the device's in November, PCMag.com writes, "We haven't put the Nook Color through its proper paces in our lab yet, but it looks like Barnes & Noble has built the first excellent color ebook reader."  





One important aspect of this device is that it is no longer using the e-ink technology that has been the standard for the majority of dedicated e-readers. Although the distinctions between tablets and devices like the Nook and Kindle have often been framed as "reading versus multitasking," the differences in display technology have been an integral component of the debate over item to purchase for many consumers. Some don't mind the back-lit display - I personally haven't noticed an issue with eye-fatigue and I use my Ipad a lot -  but for others its important to be able to read outside in the sunlight. I wonder if the other companies, like Amazon and Kobo, will continue with e-ink, waiting for the color e-ink to become less cost-prohibitive, or will they slowly come around to Barnes and Noble's way of thinking.

What do you think? Can the NOOKcolor go toe-to-toe with the Ipad? Does the back-lit screen mean that much to you or do you prefer E-ink?     


Friday, October 22, 2010

Books Relating to the Decline of Print

My goal is to review all of these (I've read most of them) but until then here are some excellent books about the decline of print and the future of reading and publishing.










One of the first books I've on this topic. Well-written and accessible; offers a frank appraisal of the future of books.










Sven Birkerts has been writing about the negative impact that technological advances will have on reading. Thoughtful, well-written, sometimes overreaching, Birkerts is the Neil Postman of the digital era.  









A Case for Books is probably the best book written on the subject thus far. Darnton combines a love of print with an open-minded appraisal of the benefits that can come with the digitization of knowledge. I strongly encourage this book for any bibliophiles who fear the future.









Reading this book right now. In a world where newspapers are dying left and right, and traditional journalists are being replaced by bloggers and pundits, McChesney and  Nichols discuss the dangers that a dying fourth estate will have on our society, and the ways that journalism can be saved.









Tom Rachman's thoroughly readable - yet slightly over-hyped - debut offers a look at the various figures who work at a dying English language newspaper in Rome. This testament to the declining world of the newsroom has the tone of dispatches from the closing frontier.










Any comic fan will tell you that if you want to learn about comic books you need to read Scott McCloud. In Reinventing Comics the respected writer and creator discusses the possibilities that new technologies may have for expanding and revolutionizing the medium.










In a time where news stories and broke by anonymous bloggers and traditional news is dying, Keen's book offers an aggressive critique of a world where anyone with an opinion can reach millions of readers.

Monday, October 18, 2010

News and Updates: Books Gone in 5 years, and E-book sales up 193%.

For all you e-reader owners: check out this site which has price comparisons for ebooks on the Kindle, the Nook, and the Ipad.

Books:
- Author Nicholas Negroponte predicts that in five years printed books will be gone.
- The Huffington Post reports on authors who are choosing to self-publish through Amazon's kindle and avoid the big publishers completely.
- Bloomberg.com discusses on the difficulty in defining a book in the digital era. 
- Mashable reports that e-book sales are 193% so far this year.
- Publisher's Weekly has an article on Border's new self-publishing site, BookBrewer.
E-Readers:
- eBooknewser discusses the ePaper display on the new Pandigital Novel.




Wednesday, October 13, 2010

News and Updates

E-books:
- Wired has an article on how to digitize your library from home.
- Barnes and Noble unveils its new PubIt feature - publish your book for the nook!
- thebookseller.com reports on China's massive e-book market.
- Techland on Amazon's new kindle singles.

E-Readers:
- Angry Birds versus Steig Larssen: Wired on the kindle in the post-Ipad world.

Publishing:
- Blogcritics discusses the future of publishing.
- Mashable has an excellent article the way apps are changing print.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bibliophile meets Techno-Geek: A Guest Blogger Reviews the Nook

Hi, my name is Jennifer and I own a nook.

First and foremost let me say that I love books and reading. To whit there are approximately six large bookcases overflowing with books in my house. Yes, I have read almost all of them (except the comic book “trades”) - even the Twilight series. I spent a large part of my childhood in the Tyler Public Library, where my grandmother worked. Recently though adult life has gotten in the way of spending an entire day reading. I read less often and usually when I’m waiting in line or before bed.

As my husband and I are self proclaimed “techno-geeks” acquiring the latest gadget is high on the priority list. We yearn with an almost visceral hunger at new products that claim to make our lives easier, or connect us with friends instantly. We are PC but own a large assortment of Apple products.

So when my 39th birthday came around earlier this year I naturally told the husband that I wanted the nook. So a couple of days before my birthday we took ourselves to the local Barnes & Noble where a store associate was eager, nay excited, to sell us the nook Wi-Fi. The associate even took us to the back of the store where another associate assisted us in setting up the nook (bonus points to B&N for making this seem standard). While I wasn’t sure I needed the help – I went ahead to see what the experience was like. After telling me how to sign up for an e-library and signing into the nook with my information, the clerk sent me on my way the happy new owner of yet another electronic device. (Have I mentioned that my biggest phobia is that during the zombie apocalypse there will be NO electricity? I have plans for solar panels so I can charge all my stuff…)

Setting up the eBook library was easy and I had actually done it weeks before. My Saturday morning ritual now includes perusing the free eBooks section at www.bn.com. I currently have a library of 113 eBooks – 3 of which I paid for. Note, however, that even to download free eBooks the website requires a credit card.

Suffice to say – I bought a coffee and spent the next hour or so downloading eBooks and playing with my new toy in the CafĂ©.

The nook has all the usual (ok, I may be assuming here) eReader capabilities.
You can change font size. You may have to turn the page more often, but hey where else can you get large print books at the drop of a hat?
It automatically saves the page you were reading and opens up to the same page when you come back.
There are games – Chess and Soduku. (I personally would prefer Maj-jong or Solitaire.)
I don’t know about other eReaders, but the nook is beta testing an internet web browser (note to B&N associate – THIS is why I would have wanted 3g+Wi-Fi). I actually tweeted on my nook. (insert geeky squee here)
And has audio capabilities. MP3 and AAC (the iTunes file extension) small speakers are in the bottom of the nook next to a headset port. – Not very loud, but would probably work listening to an audio book in the car as long as the road noise isn’t too bad.
A minor but neat point – the screen saver for the nook (which can be changed) is black and white “sketches” of famous writers.
It’s about the same size as my day-planner (6x8 inches, in its cover) so fits easily in my purse. For a girl that’s REALLY important.

Drawbacks:
The first thing a nook owner needs to learn – do NOT loan out your nook. My husband currently has custody of the nook at bedtime because I bought a book he wants to read but doesn’t want to buy.
When recharging the charger plugs into the bottom of the nook. Convenient when charging on my desktop – not so comfortable when charging while reading in bed.
As far as I can tell, there is no privacy function. If you are showing off your nook folks can see your ENTIRE reading list. So if your guilty pleasure is trashy romance, erotica or the periodic table of elements – BEWARE – unless of course you don’t care.
Due to the completely awesome technology that allows you to read on a screen but not have the whole “I have a headache from looking at the computer” thing – it is not possible to read the nook in the dark. I have noticed comments from several nook owners about book lights being a perfectly fine solution.
eink® technology isn’t in color. There are no illustrations; the web browser is all in black and white. Surprisingly photos seen this way didn’t look as bad as I thought they would but still… I might have liked uploading my photo of Yosemite Falls as a screen saver. Or a photo of my latest costume. Although if you “require” a color display – I’m sure an ipad or a netbook would be a better choice and you can download an e-reader (multiple versions even!) to them at any time.

Suggested upgrades/changes:
The ability to sort by type of book would be nice. Or the ability to categorize books with key words. Looking for a type of book to read can get a little time consuming when you can only sort by date purchased, title or author.
A privacy function that “hides” book from your list. Cause if my husband can’t find the latest Sookie Stackhouse book he can’t read it…

So on to the burning questions. Would I buy it again? You bet, but with the 3g upgrade. Would I recommend it to my friends? Yes, especially the commuters in my life. Would I turn up my nose at a paper book? Not at all. Will I buy one for my family members? My husband or daughter? Maybe. My mom? Nope. She reads in the bath… nuff said.

In closing I have to say that a little part of me is constantly gleeful about being able to carry an entire library with me at all times. And thanks to the free e-books I’m getting an impressive collection of the classics that I otherwise might not have purchased. Cause let’s face it. If it’s a classic and I don’t already own it chances are that I wasn’t gonna buy it anyway.

Author’s postscript: While the nook (and other e-readers) can download and let you read PDF documents, (go to http://books.google.com/ to find out more about Google’s attempt to provide access to out of print texts) they can’t read each other’s formats. Ideally an e-reader would allow you to download books from any retailer, but alas we live in an imperfect and profit driven world.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Joe Field Interview

I recently interviewed comic book retailer Joe Field over at popmatters.com on the future of comic book stores in the digital era. As I've mentioned, I used to be the manager of comic book store when I was in college and my brother-in-law is the owner and operator of Waterfront Comics in Suisun, California so this is a topic that is near and dear to me. In a time when one can download their comics onto their ipads, computers, and other digital devices, it begs the question: where do comic book stores fit into this new marketplace? Joe Field, in addition to being owner of Flying Color Comics and the founder of Free Comic Book Day, is a respected businessman who offers an open-minded and pragmatic appraisal of the situation in the interview. Please check it out. He even said that if you stop by his store and mention the article you'll receive a free comic. Pretty awesome, huh? 
          There was one question that I didn't use for the popmatters' piece that I wanted to include in this post. Enjoy: 


Has your business been helped or hurt by the proliferation of online retailers and the increase in titles sold at superstores like Barnes and Nobel? Does the increase in retailers and consumers help bring in new readers or are they squeezing out local comic stores?


When Flying Colors Comics opened in October 1988, there were more than a dozen "direct market" outlets for comics in this county... and each of us would send customers to the others looking for items we didn't have in stock. There wasn't a bookstore anywhere that sold comics.

My how times have changed! Now, there are only three comic specialty outlets in this county, but the growth of the big-box bookstore means there are many more places to buy compilations of comics, even if there are just a couple of place to buy periodical comics. The cool thing is--- Barnes & Noble, Borders and the like now refer lots of people to shop here at Flying Colors. Stores like mine are specialists---stores like B&N and Borders are generalists. They may have 20 times the space I have here, but if you are looking for comics, we have 50 times as much in stock as those big stores do. 

I still believe the biggest nut for us to crack in finding new buyers for comics---whether printed periodical, collected hardcovers or digital--- is that we have to find new *readers*. Comics require readers to fully enjoy them. Sure, there are probably book collectors that are not avid readers, but there can't be many of them! And there are comic book buyers who are not comic book readers, but not many of them, either. 

I believe that with the stellar diversity of comics material coming out these days, there truly are comics for *anyone* who loves to read. Finding dedicated readers is not an easy trick, though. That is where the comics market will live or die in the next generation or three. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

News and Updates: Riggio on the Ropes, Newspapers on the Ipad, and E-Readers on Airplanes

          School has started again so I've been a little behind on this blog. The goal for my new schedule is to post at least twice a week: News and Updates on Tuesdays and something more substantive on Thursdays. Lets see how that plan goes.

- Leonard Riggio's attempt to take control of Barnes and Noble's Board of Directors suffers a massive setback.
- The Wall Street Journal is adding a book section to its Saturday Edition. In a time when newspapers are suffering and traditional book reviewers are being supplanted by online alternatives this has been marketed as a daring move. The Huffington Post has an article analyzing Newscorps plan's here.
- Media Bistro has an interesting article about Virgin America's plans to have a "Read" option on their personal in-flight televisions.
- Tim Waterstone, writer and businessman, says that Amazon has expanded the market of readers.
- Excellent article over at Tech Crunch about Apple's plans to sell newspaper subscriptions on the Ipad and the impact it could have on the industry.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mark Waid on Downloading Comics: Sharing or Stealing?

Mark Waid, Comic Book Creator and Editor-In-Chief of Boom Studios, recently used his Keynote Address at this years Harvey Awards to discsuss comics in the digital future. This speech, which promtped an apparent "heated exchange" with comics legend Sergio Aragones, offered a balanced look at the issue of copyright, digital comics, and the sharing versus stealing debate.
         He states:
"Like it or not, downloading is here. Torrents and filesharing are here. That's not going away. I'm not here to attack it or defend it--I'm not going to change anyone's mind either way, and everyone in America at this point has anecdotal evidence "proving" how it hurts or helps the medium--but I am here to say it isn’t going away--and fear of it, fear of filesharing, fear of illegal downloading, fear of how the internet changes publishing in the 21st century, that’s a legitimate fear, because we’re all worried about putting food on the table and leaving a legacy for our children, but we’re using our energy on something we can’t stop, because filesharing is not going away."
           The speech, which can be read here, is a frank and open-eyed look at how the comic book industry needs to deal with issues of piracy and torrents. Rather then waste time with angry recrimination or futile and resource wasting efforts to combat it, he is looking at ways to use these file-sharing sites to benefit his company and the medium.





     

Monday, September 6, 2010

"It's A Book" - Review

Lane Smith, co-creator of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, has a new book out called It's a Book. This charming work concerning the decline of print is about a Monkey who is trying to read while a Jackass asks a series of inane questions, such as, "Does it have WiFi?" "Can you tweet with it?" etc.

When I first heard of the book I thought it was going to be a cute reminder to kids of the joys of reading, but instead its a little more agressive then that. The ending line - which I won't reveal -  while hardly shocking, was risque enough that Barnes and Noble chose to shelve it in Humor as oppossed to the children's section. Hint: There is a reason that one of the characters is a jackass.

The book can be read two ways: 
                                  1. Its a harmless and cutesy kid's book the reminds readers of the pleasures of reading in our overly digital world of Ipod, Ipads, Cell phones, and E-readers.
                                  2. It's a snarky piece of passive-agression that oozes smug self-congradulation - particualrly in part about the author where the word book is emphazied in the font i.e. Smith writes BOOKS. And his wife draws BOOKS!     (Not an exact replication but you get the idea.)

                      Of the two interpreations I prefer the former to the later. I thought it was cute and funny. But the cynic in me couldn't help but see the other way of reading it and felt it needed to be included in this pos, if only to play devil's advocate. What did you think?

Here are some reviews:
Lesa's Book Critiques: It's a Book
Book Sake: Review: It's a Book

Saturday, September 4, 2010

News and Updates:

Sorry for the delay folks - school has started and I've been busy getting my classes organized. Should be back on track soon.

I've still been organizing a comprehensive essay on the events going on over at Barnes and Noble. Will hopefully have something by next week.

Bookstores News:
- Publisher's Weekly examines Borders' attempt to create a new business model to deal with market changes.
- Borders will also be selling the new Cruz Tablet - a device that is seeking to unseat the Ipad.
- Barnes and Nobles to close their Lincoln Center store.

E-Reader News:
- AOL News asks, "Will Kindle Kill the Book?"
- Book Seller.com  has an article on the BeBook Reader. The BeBeook is attempting to move into the market intersection where people who want e-readers meets up with people who don't want to pay a lot of money for the device.
- Sony is not giving up the so-called e-reader wars without a fight. The L.A. Times reports on the company's three new devices that are being released for the holidays.

General:
- Emma Silvers over at Salon.com has a wonderful reflection on why she loves books and is not a fan of e-readers. Any lover of print will find common cause with her thoughtful essay. The reason I enjoyed it so much is that it made its point, without asserting dominion over everyone else's tastes. She explained why she loved to read books, not why everyone else in the world had to read books the same way.
- The Huffington Post has an excellent article on the soon-to-be-released collection of woodcut novels by Lynd Ward, whose words are considered by many to be the forbearer of comic books.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wylie Update

I have a follow-up post to my Wylie article up at the RE:Print Blog at Popmatters.com. The Wylie Agency and Random House have reached an agreement and 13 of Odyssey Edition's titles have been removed from Amazon's online store. They are apparently going to be re-released non-exclusively through RH shortly.

While the agreement could be interpreted as proof that Wylie didn't have a legal leg to stand on if the dispute was brought to court, it would be an overreach to declare Random House the winner. There was a lot of speculation in the publishing world that Wylie's plans were more of a publicity stunt then a serious move into the direct market. From that perspective Wylie was able to bring a lot of attention on the issue of author's digital royalties in a world where e-publishing is taking over traditional print. Furthermore, he set a precedent for other authors and agents whose deals may have similar ambiguities concerning e-rights to follow if they feel that they are being mistreated. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lots of New Updates: Commentary, Reviews, and News about Barnes and Noble.

Commentary:
- Peta Jinnath Andersen has an interesting article at popmatters, "Will Ads in Books Destroy the Industry or Save it?". Curious to know what you think of this one; would you read an e-book if it had a banner or a footer with an advertisement on it?

E-Reader Reviews:
- A rave review of the Kindle 3 from the folks over at Publisher's Weekly.
- The New York Times has a comprehensive review of the Kindle 3.
- Techland has a good piece on the Pandigital Novel, highlighting the device's potential strengths and numerous weaknesses.  They also have a very even breakdown of the Kindle versus Nook discussion.
- Dan Nosowitz has an article over at Fast Company discussing why we shouldn't dismiss the Nook as viable alternative to the Kindle and the Ipad.

Barnes and Noble:
- Daily Finance discusses Barnes and Noble's quarter loss of 63 million, and the letter to investors from the Board of Directors asking them to support founder Leonard Riggio and avoid a drawn out proxy war with Ron Burkle.

Digital Comics:
- Image Comics has launched it's own application for the Ipad and Iphone.
- American and Japanese Manga publishers try to find a digital solution to fighting scanalation.

Random:
- PWxyz on the Ipad mini: will it be announced on September 1?

Friday, August 20, 2010

News and Updates: E-reader's, Barnes and Noble, etc.

I hope you enjoyed the excellent essay written by our guest blogger a few days ago - a wonderful articulation of the joys of reading off the printed page. Check out my review of Joe Hill's Locke and Key at Irene's blog, Girl on Book Action, here.  


ZDNet has an excellent piece, sent to me by one of my students, on the problems with the Kindle's closed format and its inability to read books from the epub format. 

- PWxyz discusses Wired's article on how e-books are priced

- Publisher's Weekly reports the June's e-book sales are up 119%.

 - Engadget reports that CVS pharmacies is going to be selling a $179 e-reader - the Look Book. I haven't been able to find out much about this device so if anyone knows anything about it please let me know.

 - Daily Finance reports on the ongoing proxy fight between Ron Burkle and Leonard Riggio. It looks like the future of the superstore chain remains unclear as stock prices fall after a brief rise in value after the company announced it was putting itself up for sale. In an ironic twist however, some are speculating that if the B&N and Borders were to go out of business, it would open the door for a return of the independent book store to fill in the gap.

- The Huffington Post had an interesting article on the evolution of e-ink technology and the future of ebooks. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Vindication of the Rights of Paper Book Lovers - by Irene Peinhopf


           Right now, I’m reading a book about gender in Romantic literature – Romanticism and Gender by Anna K. Mellor - which has exposed me to a number of women authors of the Romantic period whose names I have not found in my previous studies.  They wrote novels with titles that are unfamiliar to me and told stories that I have not had the pleasure to read.  According to this discussion, part of the reason that women were actively publishing their works at this time, both anonymously and under their own names, is the “establishment of the lending library, which spread rapidly throughout England in this era [which] meant that books were widely accessible to a new and ever-growing readership, a readership composed in large part of upper- and middle-class women who preferred to read literature, and especially novels, written by women” (Mellor 1-2).    The lending library, an institution that helped to shape countless lives over the centuries - an institution based on the printed book.  All of that is a long-winded way to say that books, physical paper books are a part of our cultural heritage and you may call me a sad sentimentalist and a Luddite, but I believe – strongly – that paper books should not be relegated to the past in light of the new e-reader craze.
            Before I tell you more about why you should cherish your printed books, let me make a concession to this e-reader business.   First, let me admit freely and openly that I have not used an e-reader, and have not spent any time investigating their features.  I have looked at a friends’ Kindle and pondered its uses and whether or not I would hate reading on a digital screen (I hate reading anything longer than a medium length essay on the computer – oh the glare!).  However, I can see some uses for them.   For instance, if I were inclined to travel it would be simpler to bring an e-reader than to lug a suitcase of paperbacks with me.  Not only would it be lighter (paper sure is heavy) but it would also take up less room so I could take less luggage.  Also, having my library with me wherever I went would likely have some advantages, such as being able to access quotes and sections at need, which could be useful for school and you never know when you’ll need to prove that you remember the ending of Perfume correctly and all of your friends are wrong.  Yes, I can see how an e-reader could be useful and perhaps one day I will purchase one, but it would never replace my love and need for printed books.  It would only be an accessory to my library.
            Now that I’ve served you an anecdote and some disclaimers, let me tell you about why paper books are amazing and why you should want them to stick around.  Books are sensual.  Hear me out.  They engage the senses, not just sight and imagination, but smell and touch and they are wonderful ways to evoke memories – sensory and otherwise.  When my eyes roam over my shelves and I pick out Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar I remember the times I’ve read this novel and how I felt then – oppressed by the future, suffocating in my own mental glass dome and wanting nothing more than to escape and live without the pressure I was putting on myself; or perhaps my eyes rest on my copy of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (which at the moment they can’t because I’ve loaned it to a friend) and I recall the weekend I spent closeted away, barely talking to my friends and family because I was having a love-affair with a dead Russian author and his book.  They are visual cues for my memory bank.  As Anne Fadiman writes:

“Our books, however – even the ones printed long before we were born – remained ageless.  They recorded the passage of real time, and because they reminded us of all the occasions on which they had been read and reread, they also reflected the passage of the preceding decades. / Books wrote our life story, and as they accumulated on our shelves (and on our windowsills, and underneath our sofa, and on top of our refrigerator); they became chapters in it themselves.  How could it be otherwise?” (xi Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader). 

Books become a part of our lives much more so than our computers and iPods and gaming consoles, our cell phones or laptops.  But I was telling you about the senses, so let us return to that with one more visual appeal: I’m a sucker for a beautiful typeset.  There is just something about a gorgeously lettered book that makes my heart beat a little faster and makes my eyes dance over the page with added pleasure.  Another thing you gain from the printed book is the lush evocativeness of its smell – whether you love the new-book smell or the scent of a well-loved used book, or a book you’ve owned for so long that it smells of your own particular past.  And last but not least is the feel of a book in your hands, the friction of the paper, the thickness and density of the pages, the smooth or matte or leather or cloth of the covers, the different weights of paperbacks and trades and hardcovers.  These sensory impressions are important to me and I don’t know that I could replace all of these experiences with the cold feeling of an electronic device – I don’t go into raptures thinking about picking up and opening my laptop.
Let me backtrack to what I mentioned in passing above: I lent a book to a friend.  Are you following my train of thought here?  How would I lend a friend a book if I was reading on an e-reader?  The lending and borrowing of books is a treasured activity between my friends.  If I’m honest, I have to admit that it gives me some pains to send my treasures off into the world, but ultimately I know that I’ll see them again soon enough and that in the meantime someone is also enjoying a story I’ve loved.  By the same token, I’ve been exposed to and have come to love many authors and novels that I would never have thought to seek out on my own because a friend lent me a book.  I suppose if I really wanted to I could lend an e-reader to a friend, but with that I would give them my whole library and a fairly expensive piece of technology compared to a $10 paperback.  Which brings us to issues of cost: in this type of economy lending and borrowing books makes sense (also, the library which lends books), although I suppose if you’re paying $100+ for a fancy e-reader you’re not worried about your bank account.  P.S.: Don’t forget about used books, which fortunately will still be around even if the printed tome goes out of fashion, at least for a time so that bibliophiles like me can still get our required fix of paper and ink.
            In closing, let me say that you may label me as a Luddite and a sentimental old lady clinging with desperation to the world she feels comfortable with rather than accepting and welcoming the winds of change, but that doesn’t change the fact that printed books are important.  Picturing a world with only fancy gadgets and no one sitting in a coffee shop with a beat up paperback makes my heart ache with a loss we haven’t even experienced.  I cannot picture my life without books.  They are my silent, soothing companions, always ready to welcome me back with open pages and their ever-yielding words.  Those are just my two-cents and I’ll likely lose this particular battle.  As a society we love technology and I’m not an exception – I like having my iPod and writing blog entries and am a Twitter-addict, but I also think that with the rise of technology we might lose more than we gain.  I’m not sure I want to trade the sensory experience of reading a book for the convenience of carrying my whole library with me wherever I go.  I’m not saying you should frenziedly burn your e-reader in an attempt to escape the shackles of modern technology, but that the next time you pick it up you ask yourself this one simple question: what would it be like to read this in a print book?
             I’m not saying you should frenziedly burn your e-reader in an attempt to escape the shackles of modern technology, but that the next time you pick it up you ask yourself this one simple question: what would it be like to read this in a print book?


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If you like what you’ve read and want to read some more of my thoughts you can read my weekly contributions  at http://girlonbookaction.blogspot.com/ where I (you guessed it) review books along with my cohorts Wren (predominantly movie reviews) and Tdro (the mistress of telling us about cute men).

Bio of our Guest Blogger: Irene (a.k.a. Doomwench) is, no kidding, getting her Masters degree in Vampire Studies (okay, she’s actually getting a degree in Germanic Studies, but she’s bent it to her will and is writing aboutNosferatu). She lives in Canada (but is originally from Austria) and enjoys reading about draculas. She also hates it when you call them draculas.  Needing somewhere to vent her thoughts on all of the books she reads, she began the Girl On Book Action blog with longtime friend and bibliophile Wren. Irene likes long walks on....wait, no she doesn't, she likes staying indoors reading, blogging, playing videogames and generally ignoring the sun.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Great Blogger Crossover a Other News and Updates

In a few days this blog will be doing a crossover with one of the fine writers over at Girl on Book Action - an excellent site for book reviews that I highly recommend. Irene a.k.a Doomwench, one of the blog's founders, is a bibliophile and print lover who has agreed to write a spirited essay in defense of paper. In exchange they have graciously relaxed their site's gender prohibitions and will be publishing my review of Joe Hill's terrifying comic book series, Locke and Key.

News:

Brent Arends predicts the closing of bookstores and takes a look at the sad state of Barnes and Nobles, and Border's stock over at the Wall Street Journal's Digital Dashboard.      

The Huffington Post takes a look at 17 journals that may endure the digital onslaught.

PWxyz has a post speculating that the rumored mini-Ipad will be released by the holidays.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Odyssey of Andrew Wylie - Expanded.

I recently wrote an article for Popmatters on Andrew Wylie for the website's RE:print blog. Sadly, none of the hyperlinks made it through the upload process (I screwed up the HTML stuff.) Here is the complete article with all the links included. Enjoy.
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The Odyssey of Andrew Wylie

Andrew Wylie, agent and head of the prestigious Wylie Agency, has been no stranger to controversy during his long career in the world of books. Lauded by some as a champion of writers and criticized by others as a "jackal" and "provocateur," Wylie has developed a reputation that just begs for comparisons with the character Arie Gold from HBO’s Entourage. Although dogged by charges of client stealing and other unethical practices, Wylie has come to represent over 700 hundred writers, including Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth, Dave Eggers, and the estates of Jorge Luis Borges, John Updike, and Norman Mailer.     
Last month, Wylie caused an upheaval in the publishing world with his announcement that he had given the exclusive digital distribution rights for 20 books whose writers he represents to Amazon.com for release on their Kindle. The books, which will be released through a new company established by Wylie, Odyssey Editions, are reflective of his reputation as a advocate of authors who have made substantive impacts to the world of literature as opposed to just being commercially popular. Included in the list of newly available e-books, priced at just $9.99, are Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Invisible Man, and Updike’s Rabbit series. Although not a fan of the kindle originally (Wylie once stated in an interview, “I have a Kindle. I used it for an hour and a half and put it in the closet.”), this move shows the Wylie is not the type to let his personal hangups get in the way of his objectives.  
While the full ramifications of this action remain unclear, Wylie’s decision, which has gained the support of the Author’s Guild, has reverberated through the community of publishers who see this action as tantamount to an act of war. Random House immediately issued a statement, quoted from an article on the Huffington Post,  declaring that the, “...decision to sell e-books exclusively to Amazon for titles which are subject to active Random House agreements undermines our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors, and it establishes this Agency as our direct competitor.” The statement continued, "Therefore, regrettably, Random House on a worldwide basis will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved."  
This type of drama seems a natural byproduct of the type of personality necessary to have accumulated such a stable of talent under one roof and who has in some ways become the story itself.  A piece from portfolio.com writes:
Wylie grew up as the son of a respected book editor in an old-money Boston family, studied                     
French literature at Harvard, and entered the publishing game relatively late in life, when he was     
already in his 30s, after a misspent youth of Bohemian excess, which included hanging out with
Andy Warhol, writing dirty poetry, and partaking of all manner of dangerous drugs.”
Three decades later Wylie is now one of the most powerful people in publishing, whose resulting infamy, and iconoclastic background, seems to have created an image that has polarized around two distinct narratives. The first is of a hard-bargaining, shrewd businessman who fights for the rights and interests of his client; a type of maverick who takes on the powerful publishers for the artists he represents and the integrity of what they do. They other narrative invokes images of a shrewd opportunist who steals other agencies clients, and demands exorbitant contracts so that it can pad his own agent’s fee. Whichever narrative one chooses to subscribe to, Odyssey Editions seems completely consistent with both versions of the man.
Critics of Wylie have three primary complaints about his plans. The first and most important is that some argue that he doesn’t actually have the rights to distribute these titles. The July 23 podcast for the New York Times Book Review explains that Wylie is taking advantage of ambiguities in the contracts between the writers he represents and the publishing companies. Since these deals were drawn up at a time when ebooks and digital distribution rights weren’t an issue, they aren’t covered. Consequently, Wylie contends that his actions are completely legal and well within the rights of the author’s, and executors of various deceased writer’s estates, that he represents. Despite this, some publishers like Random House are claiming that Odyssey Editions is in violation of their contracts and rumors of legal consequences are pervasive.
Another attack is on the exclusivity of the deal of the deal with Amazon. Some wonder at the wisdom of allowing access only through one e-reader, when there are currently a multitude of online bookstores available. Intuitively, the more digital retailers have access to Odyssey Editions wares, the more money the imprint, and its authors stand to make. John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, wrote in his blog that the move, “is an extraordinarily bad deal for writers, illustrators, publishers, other booksellers, and for anyone who believes that books should be as widely available as possible." Peter Osnos continues on this theme in his article on Wylie in The Atlantic, stating that, “limiting accessibility of backlist classics showed a clumsiness that seems to undermine Wiley's previous reputation for shrewdness.”
The final major criticism made against Wylie and Odyssey Editions is that this move will ultimately mean the death of publishing as the industry currently exists today. Some contend that if publishers are edged out of the market and agencies like Wylie’s take advantage of the more direct line to consumers provided by digital media that longstanding and primarily paper-based institutions will fall. Penguin publishing chief, John Makinson, was quick to stifle these rumors according to thebookseller.com which reported that the publishing executive doesn't see a lot of substantive commercial value in the Odyssey imprint. He contends that all the responsibilities inherent in book publishing will make the possibility of a wide-spread direct market revolt by agencies highly unlikely.
While publishers may debate the true economic impact of Wylie’s move, the benefits for Amazon.com however are abundantly clear, particularly with the so-called e-reader wars currently heating up. The online superstore, which recently announced that digital books were outselling hardcovers, has been able to maintain the lion’s share of the e-book market with its ground-breaking kindle, but stiff opposition is approaching. Barnes and Noble, which entered the e-reader market last November, is making its e-reader, the Nook, a central part of it’s business plan, and with with hundreds of storefronts allowing it access to customers that might be beyond Amazon’s reach, it may become a growing threat. Apple’s Ipad, which some labeled the “Kindle-killer” also represents a growing threat to Amazon’s market dominance; particularly with rumors a smaller, cheaper version of the device specifically intended as a an e-reader making the rounds. With an exclusive list of titles representing some of the finest works of contemporary fiction available, the company is working to maintain its hegemony over the new digital market and Odyssey Editions represents at the very least a perceptual, if not out right commercial, victory in achieving that goal.
Some however look at all the sturm and drang caused by Wylie’s move and see nothing more then an epic escalation in the ongoing negotiations over digital rights. As has noted by both fans and critics, Wylie’s decision has forced the issue of author’s rights in an increasingly digital world to the forefront. As traditional print media is being slowly but irresistibly subsumed by electronic competitors, Wylie has long been arguing that writer’s should get a larger cut of ebook sales. The agent, according to an article in the Financial Times, spent nine months trying to negotiate better deals for writers before deciding to move on his own. Wylie, the article continues is threatening to up the ante even further, stating,
“if we do not reach an accord, Odyssey will grow. It will not publish 20 books, it will publish 2,000 and have outside investors and make itself available to other agents.”
These comments, coupled with the fact that the deal between Odyssey and Amazon expire in two years, can be interpreted not as a serious attempt by Wylie to destroy traditional publishing, but as a warning to companies like Random House to raise the royalties for authors on books sold in a digital format or else. Currently the position of publishers has been that writers should receive around 25% for digital sales, as noted by the Economist, while advocates of the authors say that 50% is more equitable, particularly when the paper-related overhead is removed from the equation. While some in the industry have argued that the pricing models that see digital publishing as significantly cheaper are flawed, it seems clear that Wylie is a position to either force a compromise from the publishers, or be in a position to punish their recalcitrance with greater expansion into the digital market.       
The end of this showdown between Wylie and the publishers does not look to an immediate end in sight. For the future it seems that both sides will use their respective positions to try jockey for position and gather support - there is even a mock twitter war going on between unofficial advocates of both sides of the issue. Whether for good or ill Wylie, who in many ways has become the story, has made his mark on the world of digital publishing the same way both critics and fans agree he made his mark on paper publishing world: aggressively. It remains to be seen if his tenacity will pay off or be labeled a blunder.