Publishing

Thoughts on Ed Champion and his Detractors

So Salon.com, one of the three heads--along with tumblr and jezebel.com-- of the cerberus guarding the left wing of the outrage porn industrial complex, has published a hit piece on Ed Champion over some nonsense flame war crap between him and some people who dont like him. Im not going to link to it, because linking to outrage pornographers only encourages them, but you can probably find it if you want to read it. I suggest you pass, you wont be missing anything.

I honestly dont know whats going on with Ed or what the whole mess is really all about. I dont really much care about any of that. Near as i can gather, the current mess is a rolling boil that got started when Ed pointed out in a detailed essay this summer (of 2014) that author and editor Emily Gould sucks. That this was news to anybody, or that any one would be shocked to discover someone holds such an opinion of Emily Gould, is moderately surprising. I was previously under the impression that the conclusion that "Gould sucks" was the inevitable result encounter with her media output. See, for example, this video of Gould being insipid across the table from Jimmy Kimmel doing a Larry King impression on CNN 7 years ago: http://youtu.be/2-avakrRUaU I also understand shes engaged to the guy from n+1. And i mean, what more do you need.

ETA 8:12 PM PDT: iI mention this because I see an element of hypocrisy in a group of insiders rallying to the defense of a person who has grown her own career through the exploitation and criticism of celebrities. Why is it okay for Gawker to post whatever it hears about celebrities and post libelous pictures of them but it isnt okay to excoriate the author of a book who works hard building her own celebrity based on such yellow journalism? I would suggest, strongly, that it isn't; the people engaged in it, particularly the ones at significant publications, should be ashamed of themselves

Why Amazon Wins

Remember not so long ago I complained about Amazon's ebook download links disappearing? Well, they're back; I can download my Kindle books form the website again, just in time for my employer to be purchased by that etailing monolith. Soon, I will be an Amazon employee, a curious turn of events considering how we've occasionally pilloried them on this site. Granted, the most vocal pillorer (pillorizer? pilliorian?) has been Quackenbush, but I'm hardly innocent.

Here's the thing: My first ebook reader was a Palm Pilot in the late 90's, and I loved it. Later, when Palm sank, I bought a Sony Reader, the first real dedicated e-reader. When the first Kindle was released, I joined the choruses laughing at its hideous design and fearing Amazon's fomenting reach and power.

However, it wasn't long before it became clear that Sony wasn't really going to compete in hardware or software. Reluctantly, I switched to the Nook. And I was happy for a while. But now Barnes and Noble has fired its hardware engineering staff and looks to be eager to offload the whole platform as a money-loser and a failure. Meanwhile, on hardware and features, the Kindle is constantly improving, and is now better by every possible measure to any of its competitors.

"The Spine of Worlds" is Coming

My story, "The Spine of Worlds" will appear in Kaleidotrope in 2015.

Ebooks Really Are More Profitable Than Print Books

So you remember some years ago there was a lot of hubbub in publishing about how people wanted to pay less for ebooks than print books because of the perception that the distribution and printing costs were so much lower? And the publishers all went crazy telling everyone how books still cost so much to produce because the printing and distribution were actually only a small little bit of the costs of making a book? And then I told publishers to show us the numbers and was met with resounding silence?

Yeah, here's the thing. Turns out ebooks really are much more profitable than print books, but it actually isn't just because of the lack of printing and distribution costs. It's because in the print world, books are returnable, which means that if a bookstore doesn't sell all their copies of something they return it to the publisher for a refund. (Which generally means the book is "remaindered"-- either destroyed or sold to used bookstores for deep discounts.) Because of this, bookstores as a rule overorder everything so that they always have enough to meet demand at no risk, and lots and lots of books are remaindered and wasted. But with ebooks, you only "ship" what you sell, so returnability isn't an issue. So no more overordering, no more destroyed stock. And because of this, publisher profits are actually UP even though revenues are down.

So yeah, while I might have been wrong about the reason, I was right about the conclusion. Ebooks are more profitable than print books. And they should cost less. Period. To anyone who says different, I call bullshit.

Fuck Amazon.com

If you weren't yet aware, Amazon is a fucking evil empire and they need to fucking go to hell. Here is some reading on the topic:

The Author's Guild on Amazon and it's Monopolistic practices.

Also, they're bullies

and they're bad corporate citizens

plus this happened

and this

Oh, and this is really fucking lame too.

In other words, no more Amazon. Don't give them money. By all means go there, look at their stuff, using their shopping tools.

But when it comes down to actually making a purchase, don't give them money. Give it to anybody else. Yes, even Barnes & Noble. But preferrably click that link to the right that says "Shop Indie Bookstores."

Because Fuck Amazon.com. They need to go away.

On Ebook Piracy

Had a long argument recently with a writer who was upset about how her books have been pirated as her sales have gone down. She went so far as to say that she thought every ebook should come with a virus that was only removed after you paid for it, a solution that would be at once disastrous and completely ineffective for its intended purpose.

For me, the question of piracy comes down to this: you can't stop piracy. You have a product that is infinitely reproducible at virtually zero cost. You can't fight that. And if you try, you're just going to end up frustrated and angry (like the writer I talked to).

So the problem really is: how can you take advantage of piracy, and how can you make money in spite of piracy? And those are the questions that need to be asked.

The Ebook Reader Landscape Changes Again, Translation Dictionaries Are Buried Lede

After the vertigo-inducing price drops in the Kindle and Nook a month ago, the other ebook reader producers have unveiled their new lines and strategies (though in some cases, as with the Cool-Er Reader, the strategy is to go out of business). First the Kobo Reader, which is newly released and sold in Borders and elsewhere, is on sale for $129. That ebook reader is a lot like the old Sony Pocket Edition: no connectivity, no keyboard or touchscreen, eink screen. Borders is also selling the hideous Libre Pro ereader for $100, but it has an LCD screen and not eInk, and looks like it was hammered together in someone's high school shop class. Bleh.

Meanwhile, Sony is showing off its new Pocket, Touch and Daily Editions. Rather than competing in the race to the bottom, Sony is concentrating on quality, and the new readers are slimmer and lighter than the Kindle or Nook, and all have a new touchscreen that's supposed to be a big improvement over Sony's old, glare-ridden one. The touch screen also means that now the Sony Pocket edition is capable of annotation and highlighting, like its bigger brothers. However, still only the Daily Edition has connectivity, through 3G and WiFi, which is a strange decision considering that they're still selling it for $299, an absurd price compared to the $139 wifi Kindle/$189 3G Kindle and $150 wifi Nook/$199 3G Nook. The Touch Edition is now $229 and the Pocket Edition is now $179. Sony will also be coming out with iOS and Android apps to read books from their ebook store, ala the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo apps.

However, I think most people reporting on these new Sonys are burying the lede. The one feature I'm most excited about? According to the press release the new readers have translation dictionaries. Meaning, I can read a book in Spanish, highlight a word, and get the definition in English. Nobody else has this feature. Even on the iPad, where it would seem obvious, it doesn't exist. In iBooks you can't even look up a word in a foreign language and get a definition in that language; only an English dictionary is available, even if you've localized your device to another language.

This is a huge feature for anyone learning or practicing a second language. Indeed, one of the reasons I often resist picking up a book in Spanish is because I know I'll have to read the book in front of a computer so I can look up the handful of words on each page that are unfamiliar to me (or worse, cumbersomely thumb through a translation dictionary). With the new Sonys, I wouldn't have that problem -- and I know the translation dictionaries will work on the subway or wherever else I might be without connectivity, because two of the readers don't have connectivity at all. Brilliant! This would completely change the way I read books in my second language, and would be a mammoth boon to the hordes of people learning foreign languages, including English, if only Sony would have the presence of mind to market to them directly. (One assumes that they'll do this at least in their native Japan, where English is the most popular second language class in schools--which shows how big the market is in the educational sector alone.)

In short, this one feature, which most news organs aren't even reporting on, is the one thing that might make me give away my current ebook reader and buy a new one. It's certainly more important to me than wireless connectivity, which I do just fine without. In fact, there are only two reasons I read a book on my iPad rather than on my Sony Reader; one is the iPad has a book available (usually through the Kindle app) that isn't available from Sony, and two is that I read non-fiction on the iPad because I can highlight and annotate there. The new Sony Pocket Edition, however, solves this second problem handily. As for the first; well, I still dream of a day when all books are available as non-DRM'd ePub editions that can be read on any reader.

What? I can dream, can't I?

Why Robin Sloan is the Future of Publishing (and Science Fiction)

On his blog, Robin Sloan describes himself as a "writer and media inventor." I'm not entirely sure what a "media inventor" is, but I assume it has something to do with how he manages to break just about every rule of publishing I can think of and make it work.

Take his novella "Annabel Scheme". It's just under 28,000 words long or a hundred pages or so (depending on the font). Conventionally, there's just no market for a work of that length. Sure there are exceptions, like the special edition that independent press Tachyon brought out of James Marrow's Slouching Towards Hiroshima, but that was a rare event. Generally, it's too long for magazines and fiction websites (which usually top out at 10,000-15,000 words) and too short for books (which start at 50,000 words). It's not that someone might not want to read a 100-page work of fiction—why not?—but the infrastructure just doesn't exist to get it into people's hands. So Robin turned to the Internet, specifically Kickstarter, a website full of people trying to raise money for art projects, independent film, theatre, magazines and so on. He created PBS-style pledge levels, offering, for different levels of "membership", PDF copies, print copies, surprise gifts, your name in the acknowledgements even behind-the-scenes peaks at his work on the novella (as he wrote it!). He said if he raised his goal of $3,500 for the work, he would release a PDF of the book free for everyone. Shockingly, he raised $13,942 dollars by almost 600 donors, more than most novelists get as an advance on a first novel. Not bad for a self-published, unpublishable novella.

Richard Nash on the Future of Publishing

Richard Nash has become like publishing jesus, and his talks sound like sermons from the mount.

A Real Solution to the Piracy Problem

Given that I recently went off on a bit of a rant about Cory Doctorow and his repeated failure to propose a workable solution for the problem of online piracy, I thought I would take a few minutes and suggest a possible solution that I think makes a bit of sense and wouldn't be that hard to institute. It has the benefit of also being a solution that fits with Bono's criticism of piracy that Doctorow used as his jumping off point on Twitter for his usual mindlessly didactic self-repetition.

The fact of the matter is that copyright of certain kinds of intellectual property is complicated. It is particularly complicated for music and with the rise of DVD sales and streaming video on the internet is poised to become much more complicated for visual media as well.