Archive for March, 2008|Monthly archive page

The Virtual BookClub

Avid Reader Bookclub 27/03/08

Many years ago, in the late 80s, a mate and I fantasised about creating what we called Virtual Cafés – bars with a large wall that was nothing less than a giant video screen with embedded cameras. The idea was that we could build a network of such cafés around the world, and that instead of having a drink with Joe Sixpack from around the corner, you could have one with Joe Sixpack in Rio. Timezones permitting. I still think it’s a cool idea, but at the time the technology was both inadequate and way too expensive to be anything more than a topic for pubtime speculation.

But today’s a different matter – and last night I was part of a virtual bookclub gathering to chat about my book. The hosts were the Avid Reader bookshop in Brisbane’s West End, and I was in my Coogee study, here in Sydney. It wasn’t quite a virtual café, but it worked well enough – and astoundingly was accomplished with nothing more than our respective Macbooks and a data projector. All we needed was Margaret Atwood’s book signing robot and the future would have been complete 🙂 

Here’s the first five minutes… 
   

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Out of Print

Long piece in New Yorker about the coming death of the printed newspaper:

Three centuries after the appearance of Franklin’s Courant, it no longer requires a dystopic imagination to wonder who will have the dubious distinction of publishing America’s last genuine newspaper. Few believe that newspapers in their current printed form will survive. Newspaper companies are losing advertisers, readers, market value, and, in some cases, their sense of mission at a pace that would have been barely imaginable just four years ago…

 

A nice potted history of the American newpaper, and some rambling analysis, which somehow manages to avoid what is a key question – that being, “what is a newspaper?”  For some reason, “print on paper” is equated with “properly resourced journalism” and Anderson’s imagined communities in ways that overstate (in my mind anyway) the media specificity of print. But then, I would say that 🙂

Kindle on fire… ??

Amazon users today saw an interesting open letter from Jeff Bezos apologising for the delay in kindle shipping. According to Bezos, the ebook reader that can has seen staggering demand, and Amazon just can’t make enough of them, quickly enough. The wait list is now about 6 weeks, and this kind of news tallies with anecdotal suggestions that the kindle is outselling the Sony reader (its most obvious direct competition). Actual sales figures would be nice – and I still don’t see kindle as being *the* killer device. But it is another step in that journey of a thousand clichés. More discussion at Engadget.

Simon and Schuster

A snippet from the alley insider about one major trade publisher’s push into e-books. According to CBS CE), they’ve digitised 17,000 titles:

We asked Simon & Schuster, which says the real number is closer 14,000, but they hope to get to 17,000 by the end of the year. Of those, about two-thirds are currently available in print on-demand, downloadable audio, or e-book formats — Amazon (AMZN) Kindle, Sony (SNE) Reader, Palm (PALM), Adobe (ADBE) Digital Editions, and Microsoft (MSFT) Reader  

 

No word on sales figures though 🙂 

Borders not yet sold

Just when we thought that Angus and Robertson would devour Borders and that bookselling in Australia would become the playground of private equity interests, news is out that the A&R bid has failed and Borders is still looking for buyers. 

Apparently, every (Anti)Book should have a DVD

Last night I went to the Sydney launch of (Formula One driver) Jackie Stewart’s autobiography. It was a weird night on a number of fronts and a bit of a throwback to my early childhood when he was *the* motor racing hero of an impressionable seven year old. The night consisted of an hour long DVD, a half hour chat from the wee scot himself and some Q&A from an adoring (and largely old, over 50) audience of over 700 people. What Sir Jackie had to say about the book itself was kind of interesting though. Apparently, it comes bundled with a DVD (the one  we watched) and he reckoned that “every book should come with a DVD”. He went on to recount a conversation with Frederick Forsyth and his suggestion that Forsyth’s new novel (The Afghan) would be improved if footage of the scenery and backdrops he described were included on a disk.Personally, I don’t think that’s not what books are about. For me the whole idea of books is so that readers can engage with the text and ideas in ways that overt imagery do not allow. Maybe it works for celebrity autobigraphies (although Sir Jackie’s DVD was mind-numbingly banal) and other forms of antibooks, but not for the real mccoy.The other interesting discussion revolved around how Sir Jackie had promoted his book; essentially doing a huge number of events (on a rock-star like tour bus) and piling journalists with free goodies. He recounted how his publisher initially baulked, but then releneted when he pointed out that the entire promotion would be *sponsored* by the likes of Rolex and Moet et Chandon, his long time associates. The suggestion seemed to be that *this* was the direction that publishing ought to take; that it was mired in old-fashioned thinking and ideas like DVDs and corporate sponsorship were a natural fit with books. To prove the point, he pointed out that he had sold over 200,000 copies.I have no problem with any of those ideas and approached. Unless it’s done at the expense of all those other things that books are about. So go ahead and produce DVDs and introduce corporate sponsorship. But don’t do all those antibook things at the expense of real books things.And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’d better read my book 🙂 

Don’t Panic

When I was younger, I loved The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; and even now have a copy of the audiobook on my ipod somewhere. Whilst it began life as a BBC radio series, it was brought to life for me in book form – and I devoured everything that the late Douglas Adams turned his hand too (including being fascinated by his Starship Titanic project, despite it being Windows only :-)). Anyhow, today apparently marks the 30th anniversary of the HGTTG radio series and the BBC has an online piece that marks the occasion. Of relevance to deadbookers are two things: (1) that the fictional guide itself is something of the ultimate e-book; and (2), the mystical 42 (the answer to the ultimate question) *may* have bookish roots:

Ever since, speculation has been rife as to what Adams meant. There is the “paperback line theory” – 42 apparently being the average number of lines on the page of a paperback book. Was Adams paying homage to the medium of his success? 

 

Apparently, only Stephen Fry knows what Adams was on about. And he’s not telling… 

iphone opens up

Well, not strictly true, but today Apple released a SDK (software development kit) for geeks who want to (legitimately) write applications for the iphone; together with a super-easy application store for users to buy the programs they write. For the rest of us it means that there will finally be a proper e-book reader for the iphone; one that isn’t hamstrung by the limitations of existing iphone hacks. (Well, OK there will be a proper e-book reader provided someone writes one – but geez, if no-one else does it, I’ll sign up for the free SDK, learn Objective C and write one myself!!). We’ll have to wait until June for the firmware upgrade that lets this whole show run, but down here in Oz, we’d be lucky to get the iphone officially by then anyway. The (First and) Last word goes to Fake Steve Jobs (who *is* joking, I think):

BlackBerry is dead. Microsoft is dead. Windows Mobile is dead. Amazon is dead. Kindle is dead. Nokia is dead. Motorola was already dead but now they are even more dead. Google’s Android is dead. Samsung is dead. LG is dead. Sony is dead. UTStarcom is dead 

Cory Doctorow on hardware e-reader devices

Boing Boing blogger, novelist and copyright warrior Cory Doctorow has weighed in on the multi-purpose device vs the dedicated e-reader and come down in favour of the former. In a round about way, he argues that hardware is still too expensive – and that Chinese factories are more likely to be persuaded to produce mass-market devices like cellphones than niche-market e-ink readers for the five or six people who still read books and aren’t wedded to the idea of paper. Software, not hardware is the solution:

As fierce as hardware manufacturing competition runs, it still creates a paradoxical abundance: an abundance of platforms that can run e-book-reading software. If you’re someone with a smarts, passion and vision, you can easily source some hackers to bang up an e-book business to run on a PC, phone, or other handheld…

 

And he’s right up to the point where we start talking about the hardware that might run that e-book business. Sure, the iliad, kindle, sony reader etc. play in way too small a niche to cross the chasm from early adopter to mainstream acceptance. But not many of us like reading books on PCs (desktop or laptop), only Japanese teenagers appear to want to read novels on their Nokia’s screens for the moment; and the rest of us a still tossing EeePCs, iphones, ipods and whatever else we can lay our hands on into the mix hoping that the magic sauce will emerge. Which will probably be something that everybody wants (because it plays Halo, Handel, Hitchcock and makes phone calls) – and as a bonus lets us read e-books.

Kindle Anecdotes

Amazon hasn’t told the world exactly how well the kindle has been selling. But there’s a bit of anecdotal evidence popping up that it’s actually doing very nicely – and better than the Sony Reader apparently. The latest hint comes from alleyinsider:

Evan Schnittman, head of biz dev at 35,000-title textbook publisher Oxford University Press, says a pal at one of the “biggest trade publishers in the world” called him this week, shocked at how well Kindle-formatted books had sold in December, just after the Kindle’s launch. … he says the sales have turned him from a digital skeptic to a believer, and that he’s now rushing to finalize a deal with Sony to format Oxford’s books for its Reader. 

 

Of course, kindle lets you buy direct from Amazon, whereas the Reader is a little less direct; and the range and cost of either don’t compare to print yet. But it does suggest that once the industry gets the price/performance mix sweetspot, the market is there. Yes, some of us actually *want* to buy ebooks!