A New Toy

Well, I finally went and did something I talked about doing a while ago: I went and switched carriers to T-Mobile from Verizon and got myself a G1. I had been planning to wait until June, as that’s when the court will approve or reject the settlement between Google and the Authors’ Guild regarding Google Book Search, and I had (and still have) hopes that Google would work to make sure that the Android phone OS that the G1 uses and their Book Search books would play nicely together. Well, it’s not June yet, but I went for it anyway. How come? That and more, after the break. Continue reading

The Fallacy of “Nimbleness”

It seems like an accepted truism that small publishers are more nimble and quicker to adapt to change than large publishing houses, probably on the basis of all the layers of bureaucracy that a large publishing house has to claw through in order to change the status quo. When analyzing a publishing house in terms of content, this is probably the case; a smaller editorial staff means that there are less people to object to an “experimental” book.

I would have to disagree, though,  with all the people out there who say that the nimbleness of small publishers makes them ideally situated to take advantage of the possibilities of ebooks. The problem here is that we aren’t talking about new content–we’re talking about new delivery channels. These new delivery channels require some technical expertise to be able to work effectively with, let alone imaginatively. And that requires staff whose jobs are to check out new technologies and see how to do stuff with them; in short, it requires a research and development team. Continue reading

A prediction

The future of publishing is a big thing to speculate about; there’s a lot of change happening in a lot of different directions. There are the purely technological changes, like new ebook readers coming out; the business changes, like corporations buying up each other; and there are the distribution changes, like distributors providing content for new devices. Then on top of those, there are the social changes–how people interact with books, and with each other when they read books. Things will certainly change in the next ten years or so, and those changes will be largely in ways that we can’t predict now. There are too many variables to be able to predict with any degree of certainty how things will look.
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On DRM and ebooks

One of the big topics at the TOC conference was Digital Rights Management (DRM) and how it should be applied to ebooks. DRM is technology that basically locks up a file to prevent unauthorized duplication. This sounds like it shouldn’t be a big deal in theory–after all, most people out there would agree that unauthorized copying shouldn’t be permitted–but when DRM is implemented, many problems become evident. One of the primary issues is that of transferability. Say you have a DRM program that prevents the file in question from being copied at all. This would certainly prevent unauthorized copies from being made, but it would also keep me from being able to move the file in question from my computer to a mobile device. Even more troubling, it would keep me from being able to transfer the file from my old mobile device to my new one, meaning that I would have to buy the file all over again on my new device.
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TOC day one: XML, XML, and some XML

O'Reilly TOC conference 2009 logo

Whew, it was quite a day–a good one, but a long one, and I have to admit to a certain amount of brain overload. Lots of fascinating details about XML and how to use it in publishing. The idea of using geospatial tagging in ebooks to produce books that can give different content is a pretty cool one, and DAISY also seems like a really worthwhile sort of thing–I’m all in favor of putting content out there in formats that might make things easier for blind, dyslexic, or visually impaired people.

About time for me to turn in, though–going to be another long but good one tomorrow, and the next day.

Questions about giving it all away for free

My friend Brian wrote up a pretty interesting post recently about how giving away your works for free can drive sales, and while I agree with that thesis for the most part, I do still have a doubt or two. Mostly, those doubts come from the fact that the people who you hear success stories from are generally already quite well known. Certainly, that was the case for Monty Python when they started giving away skits. It works quite well for Cory Doctorow as well, but he’s fairly well known. I wonder how well it works, though, for those who don’t have the luxury of preexisting fame.
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So, I’m pretty excited about next week; I get to run off to New York to go to O’Reilly Media‘s Tools of Change for Publishing conference, which will run from February 9-11. I’m footing the bill myself, which is somewhat painful, but fortunately I have a good friend with a spare bedroom in Brooklyn (as hard as that is to believe), so at least I won’t have to pay extortionate hotel rates. The conference looks like it should be a blast: some of my favorite authors/editors will be there giving talks, as will plenty of notables in the publishing community. There should be plenty of opportunity to try to figure out where our industry is going, and also to meet some neat people. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be eble to get some leads on some post-graduation work!
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Publishers on the web

Pigs in Space!
Pigs in Space!

I think the misguided focus of most publishers’ websites is due to people still, even 15 years after the rise of web commerce, not really understanding how to use the internet. It doesn’t fit neatly into the business models that people are used to, which means that the web becomes the problem of someone who’s mostly worried about other things. I imagine the general train of thought is essentially that the web is probably not the responsibility of editing, or acquisitions, or even design, and it’s surely not accounting’s problem, and since it deals with communication and ads and things, we might as well just make it marketing’s problem. Marketing grudgingly accepts this responsibility, shrugs, and move on, doing the same sorts of things online that they do offline: trying to sell books. They look around and see that pretty much everyone else is doing the same type of thing, and they look at Amazon and see how much potential for profit there is in connecting directly to readers, and they think “Well, that must be what we need to do.” So they carry on trying to sell books online.
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Consequences of RSS feeds

One of the most challenging things about new technology is having to adapt to it and not being able to predict how it will influence things. I’m particularly interested in RSS feeds in this regard. Feeds are great, because they make it really easy to check a number of blogs that you’re interested in, without having to actually go to the site in question to check to see if there’s new content. It’s incredibly convenient; I subscribe to almost 30 feeds, some of which are only updated once or twice a week, and others that give me 30+ new articles a day. That’s great for site owners, because it means that they know there are people regularly reading the stuff they write.
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On Amazon

The growing dominance of Amazon in the bookselling and publishing world is bound to have an impact on the world of books, but that impact will be different for different sectors of the industry. Bookstores will be the hardest hit by the competition with the internet giant; Borders, Barnes and Noble, and Books a Million are all down in sales for the holiday season, while Amazon is doing fine. This trend will probably continue, at least as long as our current economic woes do. Amazon tends to be cheaper than any of the big box stores, even if you end up having to pay for shipping, which makes it the more economical choice. A big part of a physical bookstore’s appeal is the ease of browsing around through the shelves and finding little treasures that you didn’t know you were looking for, and that kind of browsing is something that people in an economic crunch will be less likely to do. For the bookstores, then, Amazon is a real problem.
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