Publishing

Why I Hate Cory Doctorow

First, yes I've read his books. Well, some of them. Well, part of one of them. I got fed up and stopped because it was stupid and poorly written. But that's neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is that I hate Cory Doctorow, I hate Boing Boing, and it's time somebody called Doctorow and his cohort of yes-men what they are: a bunch of assholes.

Normally it's not something that I feel like wasting too much time on, the hate of all things Doctorow. I mean, live and let live, right? If people want to waste their time on his weird brand of egomania, that's fine. I'm not going to worry about it. Just like I don't worry about that douchebag from Wired who wrote the Longtail book justifying the hegemony of global capital or nutjob libertarians like Eric S. Raymond advocating for creepy lifestyles dedicated to polyamory, computer programming, and owning guns. By and large the creme de la creme of geek nobility are fairly safely ignored. Although I have written elsewhere of the danger of confusing "geek chic" with "being cool," usually these people are no threat to anyone or anything I care about because the things they care about (file-sharing, Linux, web pornography, SF fandom, memorizing monty python sketches) are not things that I give a damn about one way or another. Occasionally tho, these people cross over into my real world life and I'm reminded that they are out there, festering, and are even occasionally presenting the danger of being taken seriously by real people. That, my friends, is a possibility I find absolutely intolerable and so am setting aside my usual Laissez Faire approach to The Doctorow Problem to outline in detail why it is that I can't fucking stand the the man.

The Atlantic is Publishing Two Stories a Month -- But Only for the Kindle

Like many, I was sad when the Atlantic decided some years ago to stop publishing monthly fiction, making the number of magazines paying real money for short fiction countable on the fingers of one hand. (My count is currently Harpers, The New Yorker, Playboy and Esquire. Am I missing any?) Apparently, Atlantic has started buying short fiction again twice a month for release on the Internet, which would be wonderful, except it's exclusively for the Kindle. What's worse, according to the New York Times, "Although the authors may at some point obtain the rights to republish the stories as part of a collection or in another magazine, the stories cannot appear in any other e-reader format." So it can NEVER be available for a device other than the Kindle?

You know, the short story audience is small enough without putting extra barriers in the way. The Kindle may currently be the most popular dedicated ereader, but as someone with a Sony Reader myself, and with the Nook on the horizon, it strikes me that limiting your potential reader base this way is the height of stupidity.

Weekend Reading: Online Fiction and Online Funded Fiction Addition

In a previous Weekend Reading, I talked about how surprised I was to be enjoying Queen of the Iron Sands by Scott Lynch. Sadly, that serial falls apart precipitously in chapter 3, right when the heroin arrives on Mars, but the first two chapters are fun reading.

For more reliable online reading check out Catherynne Valente's online fairy tale novel The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, a novel serialized weekly which is supplemental (but not directly connected to) her highly praised first novel Palimpsest. Fairyland was recently bought by a mainstream YA publisher based on its online popularity.

Hal Duncan has recently engaged in an intresting experiment, releasing samples of short stories along with requests for donations. Every donor gets emailed a copy of the completely short story, and if a certain threshold of total money is reached the story is put on the website for everyone. So far all three stories he has attempted this with have met their thresholds, and all three of the stories he has done this with are currently available for public download. Hal Duncan is the author of the novels Escape from Hell, Vellum and Ink, and he is an excellent writer.

A more remarkable case of public financing can be found on Kickstarter, where blogger Robin Sloan has raised nearly $15,000 (!) to fund the writing of his first novel. What's remarkable about this to me is that, unlike Duncan and Valente, Sloan has no traditional publishing credits, and raised this money simply on the popularity of his blog, some short stories he sold himself on Amazon, and his own pitch, which consists of text, a video, and a writing blog. For different amounts of money you can get different "pledge packs" ranging from ebooks of the novel, physical copies of the novel, "behind-the-scenes" updates of him writing, and more. $15,000 is more than a lot of first time novelists get as an advance.

For a regular source of great online short fiction, Tor.com has become a consistently reliable source. One killer recomendation? Errata by Jeff Vandermeer, which alone cements for me Vandermeer's position as one of the finest writers working right now. All short stories all also available for download in various formats, including ePub for easy ebook reader enjoyment. (With any luck, as ebook readers become more ubiquitous ePub versions of online fiction will become standard.)

And finally, free ebooks are available of Soviet Science Fiction masters the Strugatsky Brothers, so get 'em while they're hot!

The Nook's Most Important Feature is Epub Compatibility

I've seen a lot of articles on line about the various features of the Nook device, but most of them seem to bury the news that it's Epub-compatible, if they mention it at all. But Epub compatibility--and the fact that BN is converting its entire library to epub--is the single most important bit of news here, and the reason is simple. Sony now also sells its ebooks in the epub format. Which means if I bought a bunch of books for the Sony Reader, and then buy a Nook, those books are still usable. On the other hand, if I had a Kindle, my Kindle books would be unusable on the new device. In other words, the Nook and the Sony Reader allow me to create a library of books independent of whatever reader I have, where as the Kindle locks you into their format. That means that 10 or 20 years from now I might still have usable ebooks, for reference, for rereading, for referring to notes I might have taken. As long as there are still devices compatible with epub, I'm fine. That's huge.

Now if we can just get these ebooks off of DRM, we'd really have something...

Sony Going Epub

The big news in the ebook world is that Sony, creators of my beloved PRS-505 ebook reader, are going to make all the books at their store in the open epub or Adobe's DRM'd version of epub format, effectively killing their proprietary LRF ebook format. There's been a lot of criticism on Teleread of the NY Times brushing over the fact the Adobe's format is just as proprietary as any other, though some think the ease with which it can be hacked may be a bonus feature. However, any move towards open standards I'd say is a good thing.

One thing nobody seems to be pointing out though, is that if the LRF format dies, any books I have in that format (which I probably paid good money for) will soon become useless. Sure my PRS-505 will still read them, but when I upgrade to a different reader sometime in the future, will it be able to? This is, of course, one of the problems with proprietary, DRM'd formats in the first place, if the format goes down so do your books.

Also, this emphasizes the fact that ePub is becoming the defacto standard ebook format, and the Kindle is really the only ebook reader now that can't read it. Inevitably, it must come around.

Holy Fuck Marvel Aquires Marvelman!

I think I've been waiting for this day for at least 15 years: Marvelman has been acquired by Marvel Comics.

A little background: Marvelman was a superhero created in England in the 1950's. In the 1980's Alan Moore revamped the character in one of his most beloved stints in comics. He later passed the book off to Neil Gaiman. Marvel Comics (who'd fought for the name Captain Marvel and won years ago, making the 1940's hero have his comics sold under the name "Shazam") sued and forbid the name "Marvelman" from being used in America, so in America the character was known as "Miracleman". But that's just the beginning of the trouble. After moving to several different publishing companies, and following the dissolution of Eclipse Comics in 1994, the ownership of the character came under dispute between Todd McFarlane, who had bought out Eclipse Comics, Neil Gaiman, who Alan Moore had given his share of the character to, and Mick Anglo, who created the character. The bottom line being that for 15 years all of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman's Miracleman comics were out of print, and only available in rare, expensive copies sold in places like eBay. These stories had disappeared.

So, if this announcement means what it seems to mean, not only can the character go back to being Marvelman, but these books by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman that no one's been able to read can be brought back into print.

Of course, it's possible that they just acquired the original characters and not the stories from the 80's and 90's. Also in question is whether they'll try to shoehorn the character into the Marvel Universe. Time will tell.

The State of Ebook Readers July 24th, 2009

You may recall that back in May at BEA I was told by the makers of BeBook that their $200 BeBook Mini eBook reader would be available at the "end of June". It's now almost the end of July with no BeBook Mini to be found. Word has just come out that the device would roll out "within the next 2 to 3 weeks in Europe for 200 Euros, which is currently $284 USD, quite a bit more than promised. I, for one, feel lied to.

In other news items of interest:

  • Amazon recently dropped the price of the Kindle to $300
  • Rumors are flying about an Apple tablet device early next year. (This has been a rumor for so long though that I'll believe it when I see it.
  • Also, Barnes and Noble recently launched its own ebook store and iPod Touch/iPhone app, with an associated Plastic Logic ebook reader device promised soon. I can't, however, seem to find a straight answer about what format these books are in, and what kind of DRM they have (they pretty clearly have it, since the books can only be read using the various BN applications and can't be printed).
  • The Sony Reader 700, which, unlike the 505 model, had a touch screen but was criticized for being too expensive and having too much glare, seems to have been discontinued.
  • And finally, much bruhaha about Amazon deleting books from people's Kindles and refunding their money without telling them, which folks are comparing to Barnes and Nobles sneaking into your house at night, taking your books and leaving some bills on the table. Bezos recently apologized for this, but I think it's pretty clear why we, the book buying public, need to stand up against DRM. If you buy something it should be your property, not loaned to you by some corporation who reserves the right to tell you what you can do with it or take it back from you.

So here's what the playing field looks like right now in the US. Note that in addition to companies' own ebook stores, there are many (non-Kindle) device-agnostic ebook stores like FictionWise.

The Kindle: $300 (or $490 for the DX which is bigger and supports PDF) always on 3G Internet, large ebook store, but no support for open formats like ePub or, on the regular Kindle, PDF.

The Sony Reader 505: $279, though less, ironically, on Amazon where it's $268. Reads PDF and ePub as well as Sony's proprietary format. Large ebookstore for the proprietary format books, but it only works with Windows (though a Mac version has been promised soon). See my review.

The Cool-Er Reader: $250. The cheapest ebook reader. Reads PDF and ePub. Has a decent sized bookstore, though without the loss-leader pricing of Amazon or Sony.

The BeBook: The regular BeBook reader is still on sale for $279 and supports ePub and PDF without any company-specific bookstore. Besides the fact that the BeBook people are liars, there's no reason to ever by this device since it's the same price as the brand-name Sony Reader.

iPod Touch. $230 - Cheaper than all of the above, it doesn't have the eInk screen of the other ebook readers, so it's not as easy on the eyes. It does, however, have lots of features that the eInk devices can only dream about: WiFi Internet browsing, games and the whole panoply of the App Store, not to mention the fact that with Stanza, the eReader App, the Kindle App, and the BN eBook App, the iPod Touch has easily the largest selection of books available of any ebook reading device, including your home computer (which can't read Kindle books). Or, I should say it has the largest selection of ebooks available on any device save for its brother, the iPhone, which has everything it has plus 3G, a camera and the ability to make phone calls. The iPod Touch and iPhone have much smaller screens than the other devices, but fit in your pocket, and have touch screens.

Keep in mind that it's obvious that a lot is happening in this market and things could change any minute.

Epub vs. Print

Scott Edelman's post about twittering at ReaderCon reminded me of something I wanted to make clear. At the panel on online vs print, people were talking about the "things you can do online that you can't do in print", bringing up hypertext links and hovering over a word to make something pop up, and thus missing th point completely.

The reason online publishing is better than print publishing is that I can fit millions of pages of online content in my pocket. It's the instant availability and portability of e-content that is e-publishing's "killer app". Everything else is dressing.

Print Versus Electronic Submissions

John Scalzi recently wrote a blog post lambasting the "big three" SF magazines for not accepting electronic submissions. I just want to point out that, as I expressed in passing once before on the subject, everything he says here is just as true for SF magazines as it is for the many literary magazines that still only accept print submissions. Even that aging reptile The New Yorker accepts email submissions. Not accepting submissions via email or web in this day and age is anachronistic and embarrassing.

Interview: Brian O'Leary at BEA

This is my interview at BEA with Brian O'Leary of Magellan Media, who has been studying the effect of free ebooks and ebook piracy on publishing. (Please forgive my amateurish interview style.) The interview was filmed by Ed Champion, and his excellent analysis is available on his site.