Middle-Aged White Women

At the BEA panel on Granta's new fiction issue, Sherman Alexie voiced the following observation: "All of us are writing for college-educated middle-aged white women".

Well, I know I'M not writing for college-educated middle-aged white women, and I think that the writers I tend to like aren't either (at least, I'm certainly not a middle-aged white woman). And if literary fiction in general, or Granta in specific is aimed at that demo, then that may explain why the so many lit fic writers I've been finding recently haven't been doing anything for me. We need more writers like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem and David Mitchell to keep us guys reading.

(And while I liked Sherman Alexie's Diary of a Part-Time Indian, it wasn't the kind of book that made me want to read his entire backlog, you know?)

BEA Panel on Chinese Publishing

Twitter posts made by me during the BEA Panel on Chinese Publishing, information related by Hou Xiaoqiang, CEO Shanda Literature — — one of the largest Chinese publishers.

  • novelists in china post their books online, get book deals and sell 3 million copies. 3 million!
  • all the young authors in china get their start on the web now
  • people dont have credit cards in china, so cell phones allow publishers to collect money
  • chinese online books take off from the internet and news and current memes to create work
  • 1/10 of online book is free, then every 1000 characters cost 3 cents
  • in china over 200,000 titles are published each year
  • 1/3 of chinese bestsellers are about young, urban life
  • publishers do not market to small towns in china because its all pirated books there

Some thoughts about this: When asked if these popular Chinese books would be translated into English, Mr. Hou said that they were not "international books" and their stories "aren't that good", which answer I found frustrating, as someone incredibly curious about Chinese popular literature and not the incessant march of dreary books about the Cultural Revolution which seem to mark the bulk of Chinese translations to English.

Also, it occurred to me later: if the books in small towns are all pirated copies, that probably means that they're not marketed toward them; books that might primarily appeal to rural areas simply don't get published because, even though there might be a demand, there's simply no profit. That's something to think about.

Ebook Readers at BEA

The Cool-Er eReader:

The BeBook Reader:

There are four ebook reader company's with booths here at the BookExpo of America. Amazon with the Kindle, Sony with the Sony Reader, Hanlin Endless Ideas with the BEBook, and CoolReaders with the Cool-Er eReader. Most interesting are the developments of the BEBook Reader and the Cool-Er which are both marketing inexpensive competitors to their Sony and Amazon rivals. The BEBook reader will, by the end of June, come out with a $200 reader and Cool-Er's device, to ship in early June, costs $250. Both are smaller and lighter than the Kindle or Sony Reader (the BEBook quite a bit smaller). They both load books connected to a computer, like the Sony Reader, but with a $30 upgrade the BEBook device has an add-on for a 3G card, which you can then use with a dataplan from T-Mobile (and perhaps soon other providers as well). However, unlike the Kindle, the BEBook does not have a built-in keyboard, so in order to search for a book or navigate to a website, one must laboriously use arrow keys to choose letters from a keyboard. BEBook is also coming out with their BEBook 2, a touchscreen device that will also have the ability to access the Internet via a dataplan. Both the BEBook and the Cool-Er eReader read PDF and ePub formatted ebooks, making them friendly to third-party book sources, just as the Sony Reader does and the Kindle does not. Interestingly, the BEBook does not have its own dedicated ebook store, so all ebooks for it are third-party, however it can read encrypted (DRM'd) MobiPocket (PRC) files, giving them access to the massive store (see Edit 2 below). The Cool-Er reader only reads unencrypted MobiPocket ebooks and the Sony Reader and Kindle both don't read them at all.

Day One

Am tired and headachey after first day of BEA, which Ed Champion called the worst BEA of the four he'd been to. I shot video of Ed talking to James Ellroy (who is a crazy motherfucker) and he shot video of me interviewing Brian O'Leary on book piracy, which I assume will be up at some point.

Am told I have to attend the BEA Tweet-up tonight. Debating whether or not I should stay home and hide.


Will be attending BookExpo America this year and reporting on it here.

I promise I won't say I'm going and then get to busy to show up like I did for the PEN Festival.

Show Us the Numbers

To the public at large, as to me, it seems like a no brainer that ebooks should cost much less than print books. You don't have to pay for printing, after all, nor do you have to pay much for distribution, and you don't have to give the same kind of cut to ebook stores, who, after all, don't have to pay things like rent. And yet, there's been some rumblings from the industry about how lower costs of ebooks will hurt publishing (via @RonHogan), and that ebooks still cost money (via @bookavore); "We still pay for the author advance, the editing, the copyediting, the proofreading, the cover and interior design, the illustrations, the sales kit, the marketing efforts, the publicity, and the staff that needs to coordinate all of the details that make books possible in these stages."

Really? Because it seems to me that the amount of money the publisher has to spend on printing, distribution and the cut given to the bookstore are a HUGE percentage of the cost of a book. (Especially considering the paltry advances and marketing budgets publishers seem to have these days.) And the one thing I haven't seen from anyone is hard numbers. Listen, publishing industry, you want me to believe you that ebooks should cost more than $10 a pop? Show me. How much does it cost to print books in various print runs? How much is distribution and how much does the bookstore get? How much do you lose in returns from the bookstores when they don't sell the books. (A non-issue with ebooks.) All that isn't enough to give me a steep discount? Alright, convince me. I'm listening. Because right now it sure sounds like bullshit.

Edit: The first link did not say what I thought it said. Apparently the author was complaining about Amazon demanding the same discounts (to them) on ebooks that it gets for print books. I agree with the author that this is crazy. Ebooks cost much MUCH less to store than print books, and so the bookstore should get less money for them.

Amazon Buys Lexcycle

The breaking news is that Amazon has bought Lexcycle, creators of the Stanza iPhone app. Readerville offers some comentary. As pointed out in that post, the big questions here are will Stanza continue to be able to read open ebook formats like ePub (unlike both the Kindle app and the Kindle itself)? Will it still be able to buy books from B&N-owned Fictionwise? Or will they cripple it so that it's just a watered-down version of their Kindle app (or perhaps fold some of its features into the Kindle app and scuttle the Stanza app completely)?

Stanza is, in my mind, one of the best things about the iPhone/iPod Touch and may be the best ebook reading software I've ever used. (It beats out my beloved Sony Reader mainly because it supports PRC (Palm Doc) files, though I still use the Sony Reader for its e-ink screen.) I will be very sad if Amazon destroys it, but if they do I suppose it just leaves a void for other companies to fill, in the way that the destruction of Napster allowed the rise of Bittorrent. Time will tell.

Digital vs. Print

via and via

DRM-free at the Kindle Store

Adjunct to the last post: Interestingly, it turns out that publishers can upload DRM-free ebooks to the Kindle store if they want to. Of course, Amazon can still turn off your Amazon account so that you can't access the Kindle store anymore, DRM-free content or not. Which begs the question: if I download a DRM-free ebook to my Kindle, can I transfer it to the hard drive of my computer (like I can with my Sony Reader)? And if I get a copy of a DRM-free ebook from somewhere other than the Kindle store, can I transfer it to my Kindle? And if I can't do these things out of the box, have people come up with tools that allow me to do these things? If you could do those things, and if DRM eventually falls away from the Kindle store completely in the way it has for music in the iTunes store, then suddenly the Kindle really would be the premier ebook-reader, the way Amazon wants you to think it is.