Archive for April, 2008|Monthly archive page

Gaiman on Rowling

Much has been written about JK Rowling’s copyright case against Steven Vander Ark, who compiled and published a lexicon of Potter paraphernalia (Potternalia?). She’s alleging brach of copyright, and his defence is one of fair use. Neil Gaiman chimes in with thoughts of his own:

My heart is on the side of the people doing the unauthorised books, probably because the first two books I did were unauthorised

But his blog post is pretty balanced, and acknowledges the complexity of the situation:

As with most grey areas of law, it isn’t cut and dried, and even when an appeals court-sized decision is handed down, it probably won’t become cut and dried, because “Fair Use” is one of those things, like pornography, we are meant to know when we see them.

Which is a pretty good summary. Not that I’m a copyright lawyer. But my take on it is that the problem for content creators (on both sides of the argument) is that copyright cultures are evolving. It has to, in a world of mashups and cut and paste in all media forms. And the mechanism by which copyright law (at least in the US) is meant to deal with such changes is fair use – which allows the courts to understand the evolving cultures, by articulating conceptions of fairness appropriate for the age. In a terrific analogy of the creative process (which may or may not apply to the Vander Ark case), Gaiman cites Terry Pratchett:

Genre fiction, as Terry Pratchett has pointed out, is a stew. You take stuff out of the pot, you put stuff back. The stew bubbles on.

via Techdirt


From Wiki to Print…

News just to hand that the German version of wikipedia is to be turned into print form by Bertelsmann. From a Monsters and Critics piece:

Editors will distil 50,000 of the most popular entries in the German version of Wikipedia into the 1,000-page volume to go on sale in September. When begun, Wikipedia was perceived as making books redundant, with no future for printed encyclopaedias.

Personally, I don’t get it – particularly the explanation of its target market:

… the volume would appeal to homes that had no permanent internet connection, since books were always available…

Gotta say, it’s the other way round for me – books might be in my office, or my study, or in the library. In other words somewhere else. Somehow I always manage to have online resources at hand.

Trigger unhappy??

Seven Poole, who wrote Trigger Happy, the first decent book on videogames (at least the first decent book I read on the topic) has a thoughtful post on his blog after making it available for free pdf download. After 30,000 downloads, and not many paypal contributions, he concludes that giving ebooks away is not a business model, no matter how much the Techdirt and Slashdot crowd might want it to be. For Poole, the idealists suggesting that creative types can survive by giving away their creativity (and making a living performing live or on merchandising) are wrong. As he suggests to the Slashdot readership:

Oh Mr Freetard, you work as a programmer, do you? How interesting. So do you perform all your corporate programming duties for free, and earn your keep by selling personally branded mousemats on the side?

He then goes on to  suggest that the current advantage of print over electronic makes e-books a potential promotional tool; at least until e-books take over. Then:

A reasonable outcome, perhaps, would be something like an iTunes for books, where people choose to buy (DRM-free or at least DRM-lite) copies because it’s still easier for most folk than hunting down a torrent. That way writers would still see some kind of modest revenue from their efforts. Otherwise, if people can’t earn money from writing books, then books will only be written by the rich, and by people in their spare time.

It’s a complicated argument, and I guess that’s the point. Rewarding (or monetising (!)) creativity is not about simple binaries. Some things will work for some people; some things won’t. And no amount of sloganeering can reduce the complexity of the world to a one-size-fits-all solution. Figuring out a way through the jungle over the next decade or so is going to be very interesting…



Fun with Penguin

I’m a big defender of long-form narrative and think that trying to find new ways to tell stories is all well and good, but those new ways are red herrings. In the digital age, publishers need to identify and protect what makes a book a book (and it’s not paper). Having said that, I love the new stuff as well and it’s cool to see someone like Penguin play around. Their “we tell stories” project tells six stories in six weeks using everything from google maps to blogs. Check it out here. (via Boing Boing)

Don’t Mess with My Hardbacks…

Interesting post in the Guardian. Damien G Walter thinks the iphone will be the death of the paperback, and please for publishers to continue with hardbacks, for their value as fetish objects:

Between my passion for PS and my lovely iPhone, I have barely touched a paperback in months. The part of me that loves books – that wants to own them, or lend them to friends, or give them as gifts – is far more satisfied by a quality hardback than a cheap paperback. And the part of me that wants thousands of books at my fingertips wherever I am is much happier with a well stocked e-reader than anything else.

Five Minutes with the Iliad

I managed to get five minutes with the iliad e-book reader in the Dymocks store yesterday. Now, five minutes is little more than first impressions, so that’s all this is. If I can persuade some money to appear from somewhere, it may get a more in-depth review (although I’ll have to look at the relative merits of importing a Sony Reader). Anyhow, here’s my 5 point 5 minute summary.

1. It’s bigger than I expected. More trade paperback sized than paperback sized. But much slimmer – the (optional) case does give it more bulk in the thickness department though.

2. E-Ink doesn’t have a wow factor in a bookshop environment. Here’s the thing. When you turn on an iphone, the screen screams LOOK AT ME. E-ink doesn’t. It’s sharp and beautifully clear, but it’s not bright. Which it can’t be because it’s not backlit. But I don’t carry a reading lamp in my back pocket and I suspect in a more p-book type reading environment, it will work much better. I also suspect that the mild discomfort one gets after reading on a backlit screen for a while won’t happen. More research needed.

3. It’s S-L-O-W. Loading books takes an age, page turning is (um) noticeable – although not unreasonable. The whole thing just feels like a lumbering giant.

4. The software is only *good enough*. Books are filed according to their different formats (mobipocket files are accessed from a different place from pdf files). You can write on a pdf but not a mobile pocket. But writing is clunky and a bit etch-a sketchy. The salesman said that there was wifi but no web-browser (although I think there’s probably hacks??!! gotta admit I haven’t had time to do the iliad research). He was also keen to show me how to enlarge text. You can click to enlarge text size (slow) or click an icon, circle the text you want to enlarge and it zooms in (slowly). Anyone used to the ipod touch pinch and zoom would think that they had stepped back in time about a decade…

5. You need to use a stylus to do lots of stuff. There’s hardware buttons for some functions (like page turning) but icon based stuff needs you to pull out a cheap looking plastic stylus… so 20th century palm pilot in an age of multitouch interfaces…


Overall, it looks like a flexible, hackable device though. But at $900 it doesn’t have the finesse appropriate to its pricepoint. (Bear in mind that these *are* first impressions…)

I do want to have a closer look and check out the integration with e-book titles so watch this space.

BTW: FWIW – The salesman said they had sold ‘a couple of hundred’…


A Very Lonely Planet

Travel Guidebooks are a necessary evil. At least the cost of web browsing on an iphone overseas becomes a little friendlier. Guidebooks always seem to be out of date, full of extraneous information, and you end up with the situation where all the people in that ‘local’ restaurant in Hue had a copy of the favourite guidebook on their table. It’s no-ones fault, but the idea of a printed guidebook is so 19th century!!

Anyhow, one of Lonely Planet’s authors has just released a tell-all book which claims that not only did he accept gifts (contrary to LP policy) but actually didn’t visit some of the countries he wrote about. More in this article:

In one case, he said he had not even visited the country he wrote about.

“They didn’t pay me enough to go Colombia,” he said.

“I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating – an intern in the Colombian consulate.

All goes to show, that we can’t take anything at face value, whether it’s on the web, or in print 🙂

Penguin’s Happy Feat

News from The Bookseller that Penguin UK will be embracing ebooks in a major way:

Penguin UK is set to be the first of the major UK trade publishers to put all its new black and white titles simultaneously into print and e-book format. From September new titles will be available in the .epub format from the company’s own websites and from digital retailers, at the same price as the print edition.

Of course, the price is wrong – and there are arguments over format. But it’s (yet) another step in that journey of a thousand miles…

That’s better!

One of my big bugbears is the time it takes for p-books to get from the author having signed off on the proofs to the finished product on the shelves. In the case of my book, it was over six months, for whatever reason. (Note that’s six months from *after* the editing is complete, and the layout has been approved). In 2008, you’d think it could happen a little bit faster (notwithstanding my contradictory argument that the key feature of books is the investment of time they demand of us all :-))

Happily, things are moving along, and there’s a nice read on Teleread about George Soros’ new book:

Ten days [after submitting the manuscript], on April 3, having been through the full range of publishing procedures-copy-editing, design, proofreading, and so on-the book was offered for sale, exclusively as an e-book…

Of course, being a mega-billionaire might help in pulling a few strings at your local publishing house 🙂

Harper Collins experiments

Quick link to a New York Times piece which introduces Harper Collins’ new, as yet unnamed incubator for new ideas in book publishing:

The new unit is HarperCollins’s effort to address what its executives see as some of the more vexing issues of the book industry. “The idea is, ‘Let’s take all the things that we think are wrong with this business and try to change them…

First cabs of the rank are, apparently, the age old tradition of returns (whereby bookshops get to return unsold stock to publishers for credit) and authors’ advances, which may be replaced by profit sharing. And “The new group will also release electronic books and digital audio editions of all its titles.”

It’s not Books 2.0, but at least they’re trying something new…


(via teleread)