Wednesday, August 19, 2009
SXSW Interactive 2010, March 12-16 in Austin, will feature "five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders and an unbeatable line up of special programs" including one, if Kindle Nation citizens vote early and often, by friend, colleague and The Kindle Chronicles podcaster Len Edgerly (below right with his wife and fellow Kindle enthusiast Darlene).
SxSW employs a democratic "Panel Picker" device to allow interested people to vote for the conferences they would like to see included, and Len has generously shared the following steps for Kindle Nation citizens who wish to cast a vote for his proposed panel, "Taming the Kindle: Guidance for Readers and Authors:"
Here are the steps for the PanelPicker:
1. Go to http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/
2. Enter information to create a new SxSW account. Click on "Sign me up."
3. When activation email arrives, click on activation link in the email.
4. At the "Welcome amigo" web page, enter the following URL: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/
5. Just below the title of Len's proposed panel, "Taming the Kindle: Guidance for Readers and Authors," click on the thumbs-up icon.
6. You should see a message above the panel title saying, "Your vote was saved successfully."
6. If you'd like, you can scroll down to the comment field and add a comment.
The panel picker seemed to be overwhelmed earlier today but is working okay tonight. Thanks for offering to pitch this to your readers, Steve. Much appreciated!
- BlogKindle has a fun post referencing this very retro "new" Kindle case for the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX from Busted Typewriter. I have two recommendations for the very imaginative entrepreneurs at Busted Typewriter: (1) get these listed on Amazon's Kindle Accessories page pronto! and (2) whatever you do, don't offer one of these cases in the form of a copy of Gray's Anatomy!
- If you want to follow up on my piece last week on textbooks for the Kindle and other devices, it's worth a trip to the Kindle Worlda thoughtful analysis and plenty of information concerning some recent developments in the e-textbook sector.
- "Steve Shank of Arizona is a Kindle fan with 35 years of experience introducing new technology, dating back to his days as an early employee of Apple," says the show notes page at The Kindle Chronicles, and Len has a relaxed, fascinating interview with him as the centerpiece of this week's podcast. Extra bonus: great audio of the waves lapping the shore at Len's summer retreat on the Maine coast at the end of the show.
- Over at my own indieKindle blog for authors and independent publishers, I rolled out a suite of services to help interested authors and publishers bring their books and articles before millions of ebook readers.
- Abhi's iReaderReview blog weighs in with a piece on Amazon's latest Kindle controversy in a piece entitled Cons of sharing Kindle subscriber information with publishers. I filed my own view of the controversy here.
Defective by Design, an anti-digital rights management (DRM) initiative founded by the Free Software Foundation in 2006, has launched a petition drive aimed at persuading Amazon to remove digital rights restrictions from the books that Kindle owners purchase and download from the Kindle Store. The DRM issue has been a contentious one since the Kindle was launched in November 2007, and took on an uglier dimension when Amazon surreptitiously and wirelessly removed two George Orwell novels from its customers' Kindles earlier this year. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos later issued a very strong apology for the way Amazon handled the Orwellian book removal.
The Defective by Design petition, located online here, reads as follows:
You can add your online signature to this petition here, if you wish.
We believe in a way of life based on the free exchange of ideas, in which books have and will continue to play a central role. Devices like Amazon's are trying to determine how people will interact with books, but Amazon's use of DRM to control and monitor users and their books constitutes a clear threat to the free exchange of ideas.
That is why we readers, authors, publishers, and librarians demand that Amazon remove all DRM, including any ability to control or access the user's library, from the Kindle.
Amazon's assurances that it will refrain from the worst abuses of this power do not address the problem. Amazon should not have this power in the first place. Until they give it up they will be tempted to use it, or they could be forced to by governments or narrow private interests. Whatever Amazon's reasons for imposing this control may be, they are not as important as the public's freedom to use books without interference or supervision.
Here is a list of Kindle books that have been tagged as DRM-free by their authors and publishers, and here is another with DRM-free tags placed by readers.
As an author, a publisher, Kindle owner, and reader, I have been a supporter of these campaigns. But it is worth stating again here my belief that ultimately Amazon will change its tune on Kindle DRM both because of campaigns such as the petition and DRM-Free tagging and because it will be a good business decision, just as it has been a good business decision for Apple, after years of consolidating its position, to remove many of the DRM constraints it has placed on iTunes tracks:
Just as a time came when Apple was able to locate its corporate self-interest in allowing customers to remove DRM from their iTunes store audio purchases for a price, a similar time will probably come for Amazon with respect to customers’ Kindle Store purchases. In both cases, the timing seems to require that some critical mass of the applicable publishers reach a certain nuanced understanding of and experience with the changing revenue streams and marketing channels that digital publishing and distribution allow. It’s not exactly dialectical materialism, but it is a world in which changes in politics must be driven by, rather than be the drivers of, changes in economic relationships.We can’t all be Lawrence Lessig or Cory Doctorow, and neither Amazon nor Apple will ever be Google, Creative Commons, or Project Gutenberg. Most publishers possess little understanding of Lessig or Doctorow or anyone else who has discovered the viral (and, often, easily monetized) marketing power of setting one’s words free in selected venues, and many probably label them as the “free books crowd” and shut down reflexively in the face of any opportunity to listen to them or learn from them. Call me Pollyanna, but I believe that Jeff Bezos does possess some nuanced understanding of these issues, and in time, armed with the larger and larger payments his company’s Kindle division is making to publishers, will be in a better position to bring them along into a future where there is a wide acceptance of DRM-free electronic publishing standards. But on the Darwinian path to that future, it would be very uncharacteristic of Amazon not to continue to consolidate and strengthen its position.
Thanks to David Rothman's heads up at TeleRead, they come tied to a juicy tidbit of Kindle projection from a pretty credible source:
The well-respected and extremely popular Tech-On blog (Tech and Industry Analysis from Asia, based in Japan, with a current Alexa traffic rank of 1,007) has a cover story today projecting a worldwide installed base of 28.6 million Kindles and other ebook readers within four years:
And here I will add a few juicy projections of my own:
A number of promising proposals are popping up in the eBook market, almost as if it remains unaffected by the worldwide economic downturn that began in the second half of 2008. For example, the quantity of eBook readers shipped by companies like Amazon.com and Sony has soared from the end of 2008 through 2009. And right in parallel with that growth has been significant growth in the scale of the eBook content market, also from the second half of 2008.
Growth forecasts for the eBook market are rosy, too. According to a recent report from survey company In-Stat of the US, total global shipments of dedicated eBook readers will hit 28.6 million units in 2013 (Fig 1b). Considering that 2008 shipments were only about one million units, this represents a 30-fold increase in only five years.
- About 20% of those 28 million ebook readers will be Kindles.
- The 20 million other ebook readers will not spell problematic competition for the Kindle, because the vast majority of them, by the end of 2013, will come with Kindle apps or some other kind of key to the front doors of Kindle Stores in half a dozen of the world's most populous markets, er, nations.
- In addition to 28 million ebook readers, there will be at least twice that many other mobile devices (iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads, netbooks, Blackberries, and Swiss army knives?) running Kindle-compatibility apps.
(30 customer reviews)
(19 customer reviews) | 2 customer discussions
(3 customer reviews)
Like Joe Konrath and Cory Doctorow, Scott Sigler is a talented, bestselling novelist who isn't afraid of doing some hard thinking about what the Kindle and other new publishing technologies will do for us as readers and writers and, oh, yes, people otherwise employed in the book trades. He releases many of his books in the form of podcasts, often free, and once you get past the introductory stuff he had some very interesting things to say in this speech (which is not G-rated) on the future of content delivery:
Monday, August 17, 2009
At some point in the last few days, Amazon began including this line in the "product detail" information display for all its Kindle newspapers and magazines: "Your name, billing address and order information will be shared with the publisher." I got a heads up early this morning from Andrys Basten at the Kindle World blog, and felt it could be important enough to share with Kindle Nation immediately. Here's a screenshot of the information as it appears on the New York Times page this morning:
There are online forum discussions already in which some participants are saying that this will make the recent Orwell ebook removal issue look miniscule by comparison, while others are calling this a non-issue.
For my part, it does not surprise me that Amazon decided that it had to begin providing certain information to publishers, or that it had to begin informing customers if it was already passing along that information. My years at Inc. magazine a decade ago confirmed me that subscriber address lists are pure gold to magazine and newspaper subscribers, not least because they are frequently monetized as a significant ancillary revenue stream by being sold and resold to list vendors in ways that would be alarming to any subscribers concerned about privacy and identity issues.
But this could have been handled in a much smoother way, a way that would be far more sensitive to customer concerns. Why not send an email to customers allowing several security options for providing the information, even if one of the options involved cancelling the subscription rather than providing any information? It would have required a lot less time and attention to detail than Amazon will probably end up devoting to cleaning up the mess of another public relations mini-disaster.
There have been times in the past when I may have become a little exercised with frustration over a sense that some of Amazon's Kindle staff appear a bit high-handed and officious, particularly in dealing with the authors, publishers, and creative talent who provide so much of the Kindle's reason for existence. But each time I learn of one of these screw-ups, it just makes me stop and wonder when Amazon is going to figure out that the Kindle and its relationship with Kindle downloaders and uploaders is the leading edge of its brand image, and should be treated accordingly.
In other words, every single strategic and tactical decision about the Kindle that might lead to a discussion anywhere in the Kindlesphere deserves and needs to be vetted and discussed in Jeff Bezos' office, before it is executed. Like this one will be, even if only after the fact.
"An indispensable addition to any fantasy collection, Elric: The Stealer of Souls is an unmatched introduction to a brilliant writer and his most famous–or infamous–creation."
--Amazon Product Detail Page
And that's not all....
Just in time for back-to-school flu preparations, here is a free download of a recently published Citizen's Guide 2.0 to Pandemic Influenza Preparation and Response created by a public health team at Stanford University and published by InSTEDD.org (Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters). (Thanks to Kindle Nation subscriber Peter Carpenter for the tip!)
Just click here -- http://instedd.org/files/FluManualv2_0_revised.pdf -- to view the entire book on your computer. You can then download it to your computer and transfer it to your Kindle by following these instructions:
- Scroll to the end of the document and hover your cursor over the bottom center of the document to display this icon graphic.
- Click on the far-right icon to download the PDF to your computer's downloads folder.
- If you have a Kindle 1 or Kindle 2, you can get Amazon to convert the book to Kindle formatting and send it wirelessly to your Kindle for 30 cents by sending the PDF file to your email@example.com email address, or convert it for free and send it back to your computer for USB transfer to your Kindle by sending it to your firstname.lastname@example.org email address.
- If you have a Kindle DX you can transfer this or any other PDF file to your Kindle DX via your USB cable.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
And now you can list The Kindle Chronicles directly on your Kindle "Home" screen each week and listen to the podcast using the same full set of features to navigate, skip ahead or behind, or replay the audio file that are available to you while listening to an Audible.com file on your Kindle. For instructions see Chapter 10 of FREE: How to Get Millions of Free Books, Songs, Podcasts, Periodicals And Free eMail, Facebook, Twitter and Wireless Web With Your Amazon Kindle.
Fears that the Kindle edition of Dan Brown's forthcoming blockbuster novel The Lost Symbol might not be released concurrently with the September 15 hardcover release date have been dispelled as Amazon is now accepting $9.99 pre-orders for the instant bestseller-to-be in the Kindle Store.
There has been a behind-the-scenes tug-of-war going on between Amazon and some publishers concerning the prescriptive $9.99 bestseller price point in the Kindle Store and the possibility that some publishers have considered staggering release dates in what would probably be a self-sabotaging effort to artificially fortify new hardcover prices.
Random House announced this week that “now that all of our security and logistical issues surrounding the e-book of ‘The Lost Symbol’ have been resolved, the e-book will be released simultaneously with the hardcover on Sept. 15.”
Monday, June 15, 2009
Curious about Kindle sales numbers?
If so, there has been plenty to chew on in the last few days.
Let's just establish up front that, in the long run, the most important Kindle sales numbers involve calculations of how many Kindle books -- or any other e-books, for that matter -- are being purchased and downloaded. Those are the numbers that are going to make a difference to authors, publishers, readers, and booksellers of every variety. For instance, it may be a good thing for Sony that the company has sold XXXX units of its ereaders in Japan, say, or globally. But until I see evidence that publishers and authors are experiencing significant sales of their ebooks to Sony device owners, those hardware unit sales numbers won't have traction for me.
On the subject of U.S. ebook sales, let me suggest the following very interesting and informative posts and links....
Joe Konrath's A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: You may already be familiar with Joe Konrath (or his alter-ego-de-plume Jack Kilborn) via Kindle Nation Daily, but in addition to being a fine author of suspense and horror fiction Joe is engaged very actively in experimenting with and thinking and writing about the world of book publishing from an author's perspective here in 2009. Joe has shared more information about actual Kindle edition sale and royalties, overall ebook downloads, and his approach to marketing and promotion than any other author writing today, and there's plenty to learn from what he has to say in his posts Ebooks and Free Books and Amazon Kindle, Oh My; Helping Each Other and Amazon Kindle Numbers.
Morris Rosenthal on Kindle Sales Rankings: On another front, the guy who has done more than any other commentator to parse Amazon Sales Rankings and their meaning over the past decade, author and indie publisher Morris Rosenthal of Foner Books, has turned his attention very useful to the meaning of Kindle Store Sales Rankings in a recent post entitled How Many Kindle eBooks Are Selling Based On Amazon Sales Ranking. Although I believe Morris is off by about 600,000 in speculating that there are about 600,000 Kindles currently in use, his overall calculations and research are very well-founded and they strongly suggest that Joe Konrath and I will soon be joined by hundreds -- and eventually thousands -- of other authors for whom revenue from Kindle sales alone begins to provide something like a livable income. Morris also makes a fascinating argument that, among those of Amazon's top bestselling titles that are available both in print and Kindle editions, there is now a 1:1 ration in sales units between the two. When seen in an overall context wherein this ratio moves strongly in favor of print editions as sales numbers decline out the long tail, this model seems generally consistent with Amazon's recent (and, at the time, stunning) announcement that, looking back over an unspecified historic period, Kindle editions sales had accounted for somewhere between 26 and 35 per cent of all sales when both print and Kindle editions were available. If you want to be present and accounted for as the ebook revolution continues to unfold, I highly recommend you follow Morris' posts.
Indie Authors and the Kindle Bestseller Lists. Even among bloggers who write about all things Kindle, there is occasional some confusion about, well, all things Kindle. Among those who commented on the above posts by Joe Konrath, one blogger focused on what Joe's success might mean for self-published authors. (Joe, by the way, is not a self-published author, although he is certainly one who is taking the bull by the horns and restructuring the traditional hierarchical relationship between authors and publishers). Trying to focus in on whether "self-published" authors could earn "a decent living" publishing for the Kindle, the author of the iReaderReview blog asked his readers "Do you think by 2011 self-published authors will be able to hit the Top 25 [in the Kindle Store sales rankings]?"
Not to crow, but it's worth mentioning here that my self-published guide to the Kindle 1 spent 17 consecutive weeks in the #1 position in the Kindle Store during the Spring and Summer of 2008 before going to paperback in late August, and my Complete User's Guide To the Amazing Amazon Kindle 2 spent some time in the top 15 when it came out earlier this year. There have, along the way, been other self-published titles in the Kindle top 25, and they have not only been books about the Kindle. But while it will continue to be interesting to plot the progress of individual titles, I suspect the more interesting sea changes will be those involving the kind of publishing perestroika that I write about in my Beyond the Literary-Industrial Complex: How Authors and Publishers Are Using the Amazon Kindle and Other New Technologies to Unleash a 21-Century Indie Movement of Readers and Writers, including its chapter "Rebel Distribution and Amazon's Marketplace of the Mind: You Need a Publisher Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle." As these sea changes evolve, the "self-published" label will cease to exist in any meaningful way except inasmuch as it means "smart," and will be replaced a kinder, gentler sense of "indie author" and "indie publisher" that is embraced by readers, by authors who previously had chosen traditional publishing routes, and, of course, by the DIY renegades among us.
Kindle Books Priced at $0.00 - 7,409 Titles
Kindle Books Price from $0.01 to $0.98 - 7.956 Titles
Kindle Books Priced at $0.99 - 21,159 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $1.00 to $2.99 - 37,202 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $3.00 to $4.99 - 47,217 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $5.00 to $7.49 - 27,729 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $7.50 to $9.98 - 25,039 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced at $9.99 - 44,230 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $10.00 to $14.99 - 6,919 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $15.00 to $19.99 - 10,120 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $20.00 to $29.99 - 3,681 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $30.00 to $39.99 - 12,545 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $40.00 to $49.99 - 7,078 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $50.00 to $99.99 - 22,272 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $100.00 to $199.99 - 17,797 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $200.00 to $999.99 - 2,032 Titles
Kindle Titles Priced from $1000.00 to $6431.20 - 32 Titles
Free Books in the Kindle Store
"Big Deals" on Kindle web page
With Kindle DX here to stay, it makes sense to address some of the questions that Kindle Nation citizens have been sharing with me and elsewhere about the latest model. My hope is that some of this will be of interest both to prospective DX buyers and to Kindle 1 or 2 owners who are wondering if there is anything in particular about the DX that might drive a new-model purchase.
The Kindle DX display seems very easy on the eyes, but after taking, magnifying, and comparing screen shots of the same page from my Kindle DX and my Kindle 2, I can say with some certainty that the font size, font clarity, background, and contrast on the two models are similar.
However, there is a specific and valuable kind of serious improvement in the display legibility of the Kindle DX compared with the earlier Kindle models, and it involves all of the non-adjustable fonts to which we have grown accustomed on the Kindle. For those of us who tend to gravitate toward the larger font sizes whenever we are able with the Kindle, it can be frustrating to try to read the Kindle Home screen, the Kindle storefront, and other displays such as menus, bookmark listings, search results, the Settings page and even, for when we want to keep up with Amazon's touting of titles that are already big sellers from mainstream megapublishers, with the Kindle Daily Post.
On the Kindle DX, all these non-adjustable pages are far more legible and easy on the eyes, especially in less than optimal light.
The actual dimensions of the Kindle DX display screen (5 3/8" x 7 7/8", 9.7" on the diagonal) are a tiny bit smaller than the standard 6" x 9" of most trade paperbacks and allow for a printable page that is equal to the printable page in a standard hardcover book whose exterior dimensions are 6 1/4" x 9 7/16".
Although I am not impressed with the Kindle DX's usefulness for viewing PDF documents, the larger display performs beautifully with graphic files embedded in Kindle editions such as those found on Amazon's special page of Featured Books for the Kindle DX. These includes photographs and other art, graphic novels and cartoons, maps and charts, and more.
Side-by-side with the Kindle 2, the Kindle DX display is consistently a tiny bit slower to refresh. The good news is that the same situation that causes the DX e-Ink display to take a few milliseconds longer to refresh -- the fact that it contains more than twice as much text per screen -- more than offsets the cumulative effect of slower refreshes. By the time you finish reading any book on a DX you will have spent about half as much time waiting for refreshes as you would spend reading the same book on a Kindle 1 or Kindle 2.
There do not appear to be any new developments or features with regard to folders, labels, groupings, etc.
It's such a subjective question. If you are having trouble keeping the wolf from the door, nothing is worth $489. But let me put it this way: if the Kindle 2 is worth $359, the DX is definitely worth $489 for its serious enhancements in display, legibility, and the compatibility between all the content it can display and the way that content looks on the DX. I felt that I needed to purchase a Kindle DX because of my role here with Kindle Nation and my Kindle books, but I was frankly on the fence about whether I would keep it, given how much I like my Kindle 2. Although I have not made a final decision, after 10 hours with the DX I am leaning toward calling it a keeper.
On the plus side:
- The Kindle DX has native support for PDF files, so that you can transfer a PDF file directly from any computer to your Kindle DX via USB without relying on Amazon's 15-cent-and-up conversion service.
- The Kindle DX display has more than twice as much "printable space" as the previous Kindle models, so many PDF files display well.
- Kindle DX PDF support allows you to search inside a PDF document and bookmark entire pages, if the document is unrestricted and has been created from a text-based rather than a graphic document.
On the negative side.
- The Kindle DX does not support "zoom," "pan," or magnification for PDF files, so if the display size (about 70% the size of an 8x11 sheet) is too small, you are stuck. Based on my first impressions I'm not optimistic that the DX will be much a solution for technical PDFs, PDFs with charts, etc.
- The highlighting, bookmarking, annotation and clipping features that provide important functionality for other Kindle documents in an academic setting are virtually useless with PDF files, so that the promise of being able to use PDF files for academic courseware is unfulfilled.
- Despite claims at Location 670 of the Amazon's Kindle DX User Guide, the Kindle DX does not consistently make optimal use of landscape-view rotation to magnify PDF files for easier viewing.
- The weakness of the aformentioned features such as annotation and search is the same for PDF files regardless of whether you transfer them directly from computer to Kindle via USB or send them wirelessly via the Whispernet. When you send a PDF to your @kindle.com email address Amazon does not put the file through any conversion process, and it is impossible to have Amazon convert a PDF file to an .AZW Kindle file. Some technophiles will want to explore the potential for converting their own PDF files backward to .DOC, .TXT, or .MOBI files so as to convert them forward into a more useful format to take advantage of Kindle DX features. We will consult with friends who are more technologically advanced and revisit these possibilities in a future issue of Kindle Nation.
This is another highly subjective matter. The Kindle DX weighs a little less than twice as much as a Kindle 2, and its heft, feel, and solidness is much the same as the Kindle 2 across a larger mass. If you are used to carrying a hardcover book, or a briefcase or moderate-sized backpack or purse, or a 7 x 10 planner, the Kindle DX won't bother you. It's easier to lug around than any netbook, laptop, or tablet computer or most hardcover bestsellers. I like the way it carries, opens, and performs both home and away, especially in the moleskine-like leather Kindle DX cover that Amazon manufactures and sells for it. I am finding it easy to use for one-handed reading.
I also expect that some of these issues of weight and heft may be different to different users. I'm a big, strong guy, and the idea of exercise or walking with, say, 2- or 5-pound weights would seem silly to me. If you are someone who would find it useful to carry 2-pound weights on a power walk, the Kindle DX might seem more burdensome to you. I also suspect that, at least for a while, I might be annoyed by the right-side control placement if I were lefthanded. The Amazon explanation that this annoyance would by mitigated by using the DX's ability to rotate to an upside-down display strikes me as a Youtube parody video waiting to happen.
I lack the courage to put my new Kindle DX through any drop-testing research, but I will say this. The DX feels every bit as sturdy as the Kindle 2, but I am sure that, if I decide to keep it, I will spring for the 2-year extended warranty. I did not purchase the extended warranty for my Kindle 2, and the difference is based on three things:
- Since the Kindle DX is larger and heavier, I believe that the prospect of some mishap is naturally greater, assuming the same care.
- I think the DX is likely to be my e-book reader of choice for the next three to five years, whereas I got the Kindle 2 with a strong expectation that there would be a compelling upgrade coming in behind it within a year.
- For whatever reason associated with my household budget, there is a significant difference to me between $359 and $489.
Primarily because of the size and automatic rotation of the Kindle DX display, it is far superior to its predecessors in its capacity to display web pages in an appealing and useful way. Whereas the Kindle 1 and Kindle 2 offered a choice between "basic mode" and "advanced mode" with the web browser, the Kindle DX toggles between "basic mode" and "desktop mode," and the combination of "desktop mode" and landscape orientation (see below) shows most web pages in a relatively impressive and useful way compared with earlier Kindle models.
One of the first things I did with my new Kindle DX when it arrived was to transfer and listen to the MP3 of last week's podcast of The Kindle Chronicles, and I noticed right away that the smarter placement of the two Kindle DX speakers on the bottom edge, where they are never covered by a Kindle cover or by laying the Kindle flat, makes for a greatly enhanced listening experience. Whether the audio is any different when conveyed over a headset or external speaker is a question I have yet to research.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who is sometimes fascinated by the issues that pop up, among my fellow authors and readers, as reasons for staying away from new technologies such as the Kindle and even print-on-demand publishing services such as those provided by Amazon's CreateSpace.com and Ingram's Lightning Source. Some of us are Luddites, some of us are anti-corporate (so we would prefer Random House, right?), some of us are skeered to death of being branded as DIY self-publishers, and ....
And here's the one for which I, as a former brick-and-mortar indie bookseller and member of the American Booksellers Association, have the most patience:
We want to support indie bookstores and we want to make it easy for our readers to find our books on the shelves in indie bookstores. Real bookstores.
Not Amazon. Certainly not the Kindle store. Not chains. Okay, maybe chains if they serve good coffee.
Of course. I love indie bookstores and the people who run them and work at them. I am well aware of the forces that have conspired against them over the past few decades, and it is true that I cannot help but notice certain parallels between the indie bookselling trade and the traditional newspaper business. These parallels may even include the prospect that changes in technology are making it inevitable that indie bookstores and traditional newspapers will share the same fate. But those of us who want to do all we can to keep indie bookstores and traditional newspapers alive are driven in most cases by honorable motivations.
That being said, I for one want to see signs from the indie booksellers themselves that they are doing all that they can, and being as imaginative as possible, in an effort to find ways to appropriate the newest and most interesting technologies to connect more readers with more books in more customer-centered ways. One example that tickles me: a favorite local bookstore of mine (and one that like my tiny publishing company may also have drawn its name from a venerable institution from my undergraduate days) is offering inexpensive delivery of all local orders, using emissions-free vehicles, in partnership with MetroPed, “Boston’s human-powered delivery service."
And here's another: another long-time bookstore fave o' mine, Vermont's Northshire Bookstore, has installed an Expresso Book Machine to offer almost-immediate in-store printing and binding of an incredible array of titles including thousands of titles from On Demand Books, thousands more becoming available from the 8,000 publishing partners of Ingram's Lightning Source POD facility, and -- I especially love this one -- a growing catalog of local-interest titles offered by Northshire's in-house Shire Books imprint. (Yes, this is how Lawrence Ferlinghetti would have begun offering his own Pictures of the Gone World and other City Lights Books titles at the North Beach store if the technology has existed back in 1955).
So, this is great, right? Despite the fact that the Expresso machinery takes up almost as much space as some entire bookstores and looks a lot like -- am I dating myself much here? -- Univac (or the latest invention of Will Farrell's unfortunate recent character), it is an interesting step toward the Long Tail and new-tech delivery systems for indie bookstores. I've been following the Expresso "ATM for books" concept and narrative since mainstream publishing industry veteran and chronicler Jason Epstein became associated with the concept a few years back. And part of what is exciting here is that Northshire is -- among its fellow independent booksellers -- one of the most respected bookshops in the country. I met founder Ed Morrow through ABA and the New England Booksellers Association decades ago and throughout my own bookselling career I never turned down an oppportunity to pick their or their staffers' brains about what might work in my store.
But the Expresso-at-Northshire experiment got me thinking about another potentially exciting way in which indie bookstores could welcome, and profit from, new technologies.
Okay, take a leap with me here. This idea involves indie booksellers actually marketing their stores to Kindle owners (or substitute another ebook brand here, provided that certain compatibilities exist) and inviting the Kindlers to bring their Kindle units into their neighborhood bookstores. If I haven't lost you there already, here's the concept:
- Imagine all the books that exist or ever will exist in the public domain.
- Add all the books that are or ever will be available through POD services of any kind including CreateSpace, Lightning Source, On Demand Books, and the Espresso.
- Add all the other digital books or documents that any bookstore might ever be able to acquire or offer -- whether as a college bookstore agregating instructor's packets and lecture notes or a store like Northshire creating its own POD-and-digital imprint.
- Render this entire (and, may I say, humongous?) catalog compatible with eBook readers in a copyright-sensitive but DRM-free format that, like PDF files for the new Kindle DX, do not require an extra data-conversion step.
- Allow all booksellers from Amazon to indie brick-and-mortar shops and chains to offer as much as possible of this entire catalog in both digital ebook and digital print-on-demand as well as other print modalities.
- Monetize the entire catalog with prices ranging from 49 cents for public-domain to $9.99 for bestsellers (and more when justifiable for technical books, etc.), a sensible royalty structure back to publishers (including Amazon Digital Services), rights holders, and authors, and a point-of-sale slice for pysical stores.
- Provide apps to integrate the entire process not only with Kindle owners but with the iPhone, the iPod touch, the Blackberry, netbooks, laptops, and every other device imaginable.
- Invite device owners to bring their Kindles or other readers into bookstores to browse and zap content right onto their hardware via USB, wireless, etc., and offer specific promotions (such as first-day in-store only downloads of the latest Dan Brown) to get readers into the habit of bringing their devices in.
- Outfit the in-store operation hardware-wise with a user-friendly "music kiosk" like station that requires little or no staffing.
- Offer a BOGO deal whenever a customer comes to the counter to buy a print-edition (with appropriate back-end monetization: "If you'd like to step over to the kiosk with this coupon that expires in 30 days you can also get a digital copy of this book for an additional 99 cents."
I don't know if it would catch on like the Univac thing did. Sometimes it seems as if it is the nature of e-commerce these days to drive us all away from the local toward the global, and certainly Amazon is well-positioned to take advantage of this momentum.
But there is great value in the local, and indie booksellers and their loyalists are working hard at the process of trying to figure out how to remain viable. If it makes any sense for them to install interesting monstrosities like the Expresso Book Machine in their stores to sell digital p-books, than it has to make sense to figure out and operationalize a process to sell digital e-books like the one I have suggested here.
Imagine all the booksellers, living life in peace....
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
When asking an author if her ebook has also been published as a "real" book will be like asking a musician if her album has been released in vinyl
kaytee4ever: my gf thinks Kindle isn't "real" publishing. Help! Know anyone who got a print deal after starting on Kindle?Any good arguments to tell her?The Kindle is at the forefront of technological change that opens all kinds of new doors for authors, publishers, and anyone who likes to make reading an interactive experience. As with every medium, channel, or form of communication or commerce, there will be dreck (as there is plenty of dreck available from mainstream publishers).
First, there have been people who got print deals after starting on Kindle, and here's one of the most thoughtful and interesting analyses of the most recent big deal: A Kindle Success Story: How to Promote a Kindle Ebook
Second, you may not see it coming yet, but we are approaching a time when a confluence of sea changes in reading habits, consumer practices, and technology will mean that asking a Kindle book author if her book has also been published as a "real" book will be like asking a musician if her album has been released in vinyl. Serious authors from Joe Konrath to, well, me are already making a decent living from the Kindle editions of our books.
Third, all of this will work best when it works as it often works with indie music and indie movies, with readers lighting the way for other readers so that the feedback becomes the filter.
Fourth, just to take it back to the totally understandable vanity issues that are implicit in the original tweet, I hope you will enjoy the bit of dialogue included in my post The Romance of Submission, a chapter excerpted from my book Beyond the Literary-Industrial Complex.
Update: In case you were wondering if the Boyd Morrison book described in the above-referenced post really existed, here's proof:
Between Morrison, Amazon, and his new publisher, they have endeavored to wipe out all traces of the Kindle edition, but entering the ASIN from Amazon's main page still gets you this search result that links to a 404-page ghost.
An excerpt from
How Authors and Publishers Are Using the Amazon Kindle and Other New Technologies to Unleash an Indie Movement of Readers and Writers
By Stephen Windwalker
Copyright 2008, 2009, Stephen Windwalker and Harvard Perspectives Press.
What is it to be a writer hard at the work of creating something wonderful, a work in progress that you will chisel away at and breathe life into and perfect until it is published and embraced by a welcoming audience of serious readers who buzz to one another and back to you that you have made something new, something of value, perhaps even something eternal?
In the middle of this faithful process, as you gird yourself against distractions and slave away at MacDowell or Yaddo or Starbucks, or in your garret, or on the Acela, or in your prison cell, there are blissfully intense moments when there is only you and the work. On these days the work is the best of companions.
Such moments may seem to validate Miss Dickinson's pronouncement that "Publication is not the proper business of a poet," so that you are inclined to apply it to your particular form of literary creation, whether it is your Dream Songs or your Ulysses, your biography of a racehorse, or your treatise on how to solve Sudoku.
But if you are budgeting time and funds so that you can afford enough daycare to allow you to finish your book, or trying to balance your writing with a day job, or to set enough aside to allow you to escape the day job, it may be difficult to fend off those thoughts of publication. If so, as the Belle of Amherst surely knew, these largely economic conditions may carry some strange elemental power – the power, perhaps, of the wolf at your door? – that puts you at risk of losing the very frame of mind that allows you to create something worthwhile in the first place.
I don't wish to provoke hand-wringing, hair-tearing angst or to send ten thousand writers running for fee-based therapeutic relationships that they can ill afford. (Shrinks, in my experience, aren't much good at solving underlying economic problems anyway). There are plenty of activities on the spectrum of creative endeavor where one need not be tied up in knots about one's literary output and its ultimate place in the world. The conventionally established professional author, whose work reaps nice advances and then sells well enough to "earn out" those advances, is usually well enough inoculated against such dreary and careerist considerations that she needs only to balance her writing efforts with such concessions as she may choose to make to her publisher's marketing demands or to the claims of celebrity. Such an author may be the fortunate inhabitant of a "zone" where one is so well guaranteed audience, promotion, distribution, and compensation that such considerations may be treated as trivial afterthoughts. And while some of the habitués of this zone may indeed be hacks who license their characters or record half a dozen formulaic page-turners each year with the next-generation iteration of the Dictaphone, there are others who have worked long and hard at good and durable work that extends our literary culture, fills our leisure hours with civilized delight, and illuminates the human experience.
No doubt there are many other writers of distinction who, keeping closer to Miss Dickinson's dictum, work well and steadily with no regard whatsoever for the business of publication, whether they write only to be writing, for no audience at all, only for themselves, or only against some future time when they will brook their first considerations about what to do with what they have been writing. Perhaps they can work this way because they are the otherwise idle rich, or they combine a good day job with abundant energy and discipline in lives where distractions are scarce, or they are incarcerated or otherwise institutionalized, or they are prohibited for one reason or another from telling their story. But for the vast majority of us who would seek out a place for writing as part or all of the work of our daily lives, neither of these extremes is the reality.
Very few of us are driven by a serious desire to become millionaire authors, but we would like an honest chance to make a decent living writing good books and getting them into the hands of discerning readers. Yet it is in staking even such modest claims for our creative work that we risk subjecting ourselves to a writer's purgatory.
Want to submit your manuscript through traditional publishing channels? Then those "blissfully intense hours when there is only you and the work" are about to be subjected, like a teenager's love affair or even the bonds of best friends or blood brothers, to the intrusive, perverse, distorting pressures of societal judgment. You've been working privately, passionately, one-on-one with your manuscript, teasing and massaging it into the book you have lived to write, but now you must submit it and then wait passively to see if this relationship passes muster in the eyes of agents, editors, publishers, reviewers, and peers. You have quietly bestowed your passion on this companion, and now you must dress it up and take it to the prom. Even if you have always kept your own creative counsel, lived and worked by your own aesthetic, and been your own toughest editor and creative jury, now, by the simple act of inviting your companion into the glare of public scrutiny, as if assuming fairness in its consideration, you are turning the tables on yourself.
By accepting your role in this aptly named submission process, you are implicitly validating its legitimacy and encouraging its cliques of rather mean-spirited girls and boys. Later, as you open and file away their rejection slips, you will of course be formalizing and finalizing the concomitant process of obliterating your own confidence in your capacity to create, to evaluate, to rethink, and to revise what you are creating. As in most initially blissful high school romances, once they are subjected to the harsh judgments of the reigning popular crowd, someone is bound to get dumped.
It isn't hard to imagine the famous final scene of break-up dialogue between a fickle novelist and his manuscript – what, your fiction doesn't talk back to you? – as the pages are about to be consigned to the back of the file cabinet or the hard drive's least trafficked subdirectory….
"Shit! I thought you loved me. All you wanted was to get published!"Okay, this bit of fun has its limits, but hopefully it has helped to illuminate a worthwhile distinction: too often, it would be more apt to mangle Miss Dickinson's phrases by noting that it is not publication, but submission, that is not the proper business of poets and other writers.
"Well, sure. After I spent every day with you for two years, it would have been nice."
"I never realized that was the only reason you were interested in me."
"Oh, c'mon. Don't guilt trip me. Can't you accept that I have needs too?"
"If that's all you were looking for, why didn't you just pay for it?"
"Pay for it?"
"Sure. Why not? There are plenty of places where you could take your money and your so-called needs and get published without—"
"Without paying any attention to what's really inside me."
"Maybe. I mean, I suppose. But I would never want it to get around that I was paying for it."
"It's hard to believe that you're the same one who believed in me."
"Oh, come on. Was I supposed to totally ignore the things that Lindsay and Winona and Heather were saying about you?"
"Hah! They call themselves agents and editors. They are nothing more than glorified slush-pile interns."
"Well, everybody else listens to them. I'm never going to make it as a published author if I don’t listen to what they say. I know they will want to publish me if I can just go back to the drawing board and tighten up the story line a little."
"Story line? What about my characters?"
"It was nice, baby. You know I will never forget you. Maybe if I can just get published we can get together sometime, in the future."
Is there a choice?
We have ceded to the major publishing houses and their gatekeepers the central roles in determining which written creative work will be widely disseminated in our culture, and in the process we subject ourselves as writers, and to a lesser but still significant degree as readers, to agonies of waiting, wishing and hoping, and quiet desperation. It was not gratuitously that publishers established this hegemony, with its concomitant power over our creative and intellectual lives. There was, especially in the half-century between 1920 and 1970, a golden age of American publishing. Many of the subsidiary "imprints" of today's global media empires were, then, small, fairly informal shops where editors were motivated by their passion for literature, where an author celebrating the publication of his novel or not quite making it to his next royalty check or advance might well be found, of a morning, sleeping one off on the sofa in one of his editor's homey book-lined offices. Almost everything about the book industry, from the ubiquitous independent bookshops to the number of books reviewed or excerpted in mass-circulation magazines like the Saturday Evening Post or Collier's, to the abundance of serious "mid-list" titles kept in print by publishers, was well laid out for a mass culture of readers, and thus, in turn, for the care and feeding of enough quality writers to keep the culture in good books.
Lest I seem to be invoking some nostalgic "It's Morning Again in America" sepia tone of a glorious past, I recommend Jason Epstein's thoughtful and intelligent 2001 memoir of that era in the history of the publishing industry, Book Business: Publishing Past Present and Future. Of course there were market forces, personal ambitions, and intra- and inter-corporate competition at work in the publishing industry between 1920 and 1970, and barriers organized around class pedigree, racism, and sexism were every bit as prevalent in the publishing industry as they were in American society at large. But the fact remains that before the dramatic, power-concentrating frenzy of mergers and acquisitions that occurred in the last third of the century, the American publishing industry was generally keeping up its end of the bargain with the country's creative culture and its audience of readers.
Writers submitted their work to agents and editors with some faith that it would get a reading, and thus would be given all the chance that any writer could expect. There was an ample array of potential entry markets, including college and literary magazines, the pulps, and even a surprising number of slick mass-market magazines that gave significant space to fiction each month and paid competitively for it. Mass periodicals from the Saturday Evening Post to Time, whatever their politics might be, were self-conscious of a responsibility to guide and broaden the culture, if perhaps not to deepen it, rather than merely to reflect its shortcomings.
In other words, there was a long period in American publishing when one could observe significant correspondence between the best work that was being written by our novelists and poets and biographers and the work that the "popular crowd" of publishing gatekeepers was admitting into its world of published books. During most of this time, our Anglo-American culture did much to promote its own better moments: Epstein notes that authors from James Joyce to James Baldwin used to grace the covers of Time magazine. Today, in a kind of weird apotheosis of the real and metaphorical linkages between high school clique culture and American literary culture, the bestselling author you are most likely to see on magazine covers at your favorite newsstand may well be Paris Hilton.
The reasons why Ms. Hilton is a bestselling author are perhaps more interesting than most of what one will find between the covers of her books. Publishing houses search out brand-name celebrities whose platforms guarantee bestseller status, because both the publishing houses and the retail bookstore chains desperately need high turnover bestsellers to generate the revenue necessary to justify their existence in a world of literary-industrial conglomerates that is, increasingly, all about the bottom line. Such name-brand authors may be genre fiction writers who have identified a certain formula for repetitive mass-market success and are willing to abide by their publishers' pleas not to monkey with the formulas. But just as often these days the celebrity authors are cross-over stars: people who are cashing in on the notoriety they've gained on MTV, Court TV, American Idol, ESPN, Entertainment Tonight, People, their own television or radio shows, or, given its increasing "news" coverage of the icons who become known to us through these aforementioned portals of mass culture, the network news.
It shouldn't shock us that readers buy a lot of these mass-produced cookie-cutter books. First, they are only one more confirming symptom of the national multi-media fixations that have already been proven for OJ, Wacko Jacko, Britney, Paris, Monica, and so forth. Second, sometimes there is interesting material in these books. Finally, although the range of more interesting alternatives to such books is definitely not narrowing, our public access to them is limited because neither the publishers, the chain bookstores, or the big-box stores whose deeply-discounted offerings of a few hundred bestsellers often drive independent booksellers out of business are willing to make a marketing or space-allocation commitment to books that do not stack up, from the get-go, as bestsellers. If you are looking for something to read on your flight, there are only so many titles available at the airport bookstand, and all of them are there because the corporate buyers or distributors are certain that they will be bestsellers and that "you" are most likely to buy a book by an author you've heard about already.
New York Times columnist David Brooks, in a Spring 2008 piece on niche political marketing, drew a clear portrayal of the largely homogeneous culture that existed in America before anyone had ever heard of niche markets and long-tail economics:
"Fifty-five years ago, 80 percent of American television viewers, young and old, tuned in to see Milton Berle on Tuesday nights. Tens of millions, rich and poor, worked together at Elks Lodges and Rotary Clubs. Millions more, rural and urban, read general-interest magazines like Look and Life. In those days, the owner of the local bank lived in the same town as the grocery clerk, and their boys might play on the same basketball team. Only 7 percent of adult Americans had a college degree."
Entering the book section of a Walmart, Super Stop 'n' Shop, or BJ's has something in common with stepping into the 1950s in terms of the diversity of culture and selection. If you have written one of the top 500 novels of the year, but it never makes it into the top 300, it is unlikely that it will turn up on the bookshelves in those short-tail book departments.
None of this is great news for readers, but it can be especially depressing for serious writers, because the big cultural picture distills to a very simple message: the mainstream publishing industry, to the extent that it is embodied in the five global media empires that dominate the American book trade at this writing, is not interested in what you are writing, is not going to make meaningful judgments about your work based on the quality or distinctiveness of your content, and is instead much more interested in hooking up with someone who is already "popular," even if it means hiring someone else (you, perhaps?) to do the ghost writing. The industry's popular-crowd cliques, it turns out, are not fair, and they could care less about what you may think is special about your "companion" of the last couple of years.
(This book is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions).