Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

What should a robot read to understand humans?

May 22, 2016

What should a robot read to understand humans?

I speak to a robot every day…more than one,usually.

No, I don’t work at Westworld.ūüėČ

This is how I define a robot at another blog of mine, The Measured Circle:

A robot is something created by humans (directly or indirectly) that performs tasks (autonomously or not) done by humans (or, more broadly, by other animals…a robot dog, for example, would perform work done by living dogs, including providing companionship). 

The word may conjure up an image of a mechanical man, perhaps clunky and made of metal. The way we use the term at The Measured Circle, it would include software performing human tasks, and non-anthropomorphic devices like an answering machine or a calculator.

On the Robot Beat presents news about our creations that are, even in small ways, replacing us.

So, certainly, Alexa, whether on our

definitely qualifies. I talk to our Echo (family room) and Dot (bedroom) every day, and I bring our Tap to work, so five days a week on that. I rarely talk to our Fire TV or Fire TV Stick  (we have both), but that may change when we can ask Alexa to open apps or show us shows.

I also talk to “OK, Google” on my Samsung S7 Edge.

They are all getting better…but I have to adjust my conversational style to fit what they understand best.

There’s a giant…well, let’s call it a “charms race” rather than an “arms race” to get digital assistants to have more natural conversation.

Progress is rapid…but there is a long way to go.

IBM’s Watson read all of Project Gutenberg (which prove to be confusing later on about what was fiction and what wasn’t, as I recall from reading a book on the project).

In this recent

Huffington Post article by Maddie Crum

it’s reported that Google used romance novels to try to get a bot to figure out how to put sentences together.

Why romance?

They liked that it was “formulaic”, and thought it was between the complex sentences of literature and the simplistic construction of children’s books.

It’s an interesting choice.

They aren’t really trying to get their bot to understand humans…just to be able to construct more natural seeming conversation.

They want it to see what type of response follows what, that sort of thing.

What would I have a robot read if I wanted it to make good conversation?

I think I’d go with Stephen King.

I’ve found that King writes people in a way that seems familiar to me, realistic to me.

You might have to pick and choose a bit…not every Stephen King book would work, or character.

You could approach this several ways.

You could have your bot memorize millions of books, and search for actual matches.

That’s going to produce some bizarre results from¬† time to time.:)

Another way would be for it to figure out patterns…if the response to a question is “article, adjective, adjective, verb, noun”, that’s something a robot could learn. It would have to be able to either group words within that pattern by understanding their meanings to some extent, or just by grabbing groupings (a “gaze” might be “longing”, “intense”, or “steady”, for example).

My guess is that we’ll¬† see rapid progress in the next two years and achieve bots passing the Turing test (basically, being convincingly human in conversation) within the next five.

I don’t think that means they need to think like us or feel like us. I think a way to fake that will be found by someone, and probably more than someone.

I would venture to say that most humans don’t think through everything they say, or even anywhere close to most of what they say. “How are you?” “Fine.” Much of it is rote, and more about social interaction than actual meaning.

That’s what bots will need to do, while still answering your question or performing the task you requested.

I don’t know how that’s going to happen, but I think it will.

Once they can handle conversation, they’ll be much better able to write fiction. They are getting there…not great fiction, but passable.

I found myself repeating the same stories over and over again. I use some of the same phrases¬†repeatedly in this blog…sometimes by actual copy and paste (the introduction to my look ahead to the next month’s books, for example, tweaked each month. The statement at the bottom of each post is another).

Most of what I write here is new and spontaneous, but a blog like this is different from training a topic or answering a question.

I know some people recognize that I am telling the same story to make a point…and they are okay with that. I’m not trying to fool people…if it’s a good explanation, it’s a good explanation.

However, I don’t say it exactly the same way, mostly. I deliberately change a word or two, or word order, so that it doesn’t become monotonous.

This post, honestly, is just me musing.:) I suppose, if I were a bot, it would have been more focused…and stiffer, most likely.ūüėČ

What do you think? What would books would have a robot read to learn how to sound human?

Bonus deal:

Here are some more Goodreads deals:

Check the price before you click or tap that Buy button…may not apply to your country, and may have changed. I continue to be very impressed with these Goodreads deals, and I’m happy to be able to share them with you!

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

*When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :)  This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

My guiding principle for success in e-books in the future: “Don’t get in the way.”

May 10, 2016

My guiding principle for success in e-books¬†in the future: “Don’t get in the way.”

I’ve flipped a couple of good and thoughtful articles recently on principles for success in publishing in the future into the free¬†ILMK magazine at Flipboard.

One was from a retailing insider, Mike Tamblyn of Kobo:

Michael Kozlowski article in EREADER FRIENDLY

Summing up just the highest level, Tamblyn says we want to read easily, shamelessly, freely, publicly, and privately.

The other one was from a journalist: Joe Wikert post in Typepad Here are Wikert’s headers:

  • Being data-driven
  • Breaking free of containers
  • Direct-to-consumer
  • Owning and leveraging the list
  • Building the funnel

I know those may not make much sense without reading them…I’m recommending that you read the post.:) I don’t want to take too much away from it, just give you a feel for it.

I’d ¬†boil my advice down to one sentence. Every plan can be tested against the sentence.

It is: “Don’t get in the way.”

If the reader wants to read a book you publish or sell, don’t make it harder for them to do so. There are too many people who make it easy.

I used to ask people: why do we lock our cars? Most people would say so they don’t get stolen. A thief, though, can still steal just about any car, locked or not. It’s just harder to steal one that’s locked. If your car is a difficult one to steal, are they going to give up on being a thief and walk the straight and narrow? Nope. They’ll steal an easier car. So, the answer to the question of why you lock your car is so that they’ll steal somebody else’s car.:) That’s not your intent, but it’s the result.

If a publisher or retailer¬†“locks the car” by not being on all possible platforms (including being in subsers…subscription service), or by not having text-to-speech, or by not letting people adjust margins…many people will go somewhere that doesn’t get in their way. The same goes for price: for many people, $14.99 is too high for an e-book…so they get a cheaper one. We’ve seen that reflected in Amazon’s bestselling Kindle books. “Well,” I can hear a ,publisher say smirkingly, “there are so many free books that I suppose charging anything is getting in the way.” Yes, it might be. You might have to find other ways to monetize your books besides each individual sale to a reader.

How could you do that?

You could sell subscriptions.

You could sell them individual books…as gifts for other people (a big part of the book market).

You could have advertising…on your site. I also do believe that advertising inside e-books could work…as long as it’s very clear ahead of time, targeted, and optional. I’d do it: I’d accept advertising in a book to get the book discounted or free. How do I know I would do that? I read magazines with ads. I see (some) TV with ads. My Kindles/Fires have Special Offers (discounting their initial purchase price).

You could sell information about your customers to other people…with their permission, generally.

Let me be clear: I do think traditional book sales will continue. They may become an increasingly difficult way to lead the market, or even to make much of a profit, but they’ll be around.

One obvious thing: it will be harder for tradpubs (traditional publishers) to shift than it will be for newer, smaller publishers. Some publishers have deals with authors which last for years. They have a big infrastructure, built around the old model. They can do it, and some of them will.

I just suggest they use my test: does it get in the way?

What do you think? What advice would you give to publishers and e-book retailers? Does it seem odd that I advocate for curation, when that might be seen as “getting in the way”? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

*When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

Update your Kindle or lose access on it to your Cloud, the store, and other Kindle services

February 10, 2016

Update your Kindle or lose access on it to your Cloud, the store, and other Kindle services

Big thanks to regular reader and commenter Lady Galaxy for letting me know about an e-mail from Amazon about a looming deadline.

One of the other Kindle Forum Pros (we get that designation from Amazon for being helpful on the Amazon forums, but we aren’t employed by them) pointed me to this Amazon help page with the details:

Critical Software Update for Kindle E-Readers (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

The basics are this:

For many older Kindle EBRs (E-Book Readers), if you don’t update them by March 22, 2016, they will no longer be able to access the Kindle services. You would still be able to read e-books from the Kindle store you have already downloaded to your devices, but…

  • You would not have access on that device to your Cloud: the books (and other items) that you have purchased from the Kindle store and are being stored for you by Amazon
  • You would not be able to buy new items from the Kindle store on that device
  • “Other services” would likely include subscriptions (including blogs like this one), Send to Kindle, Whispersync between your device and other devices on your account, and backing up your annotations

First, I do want to say that this is going to be a pretty small group of people (which does include Lady Galaxy). Devices generally automatically update “over the air”. I would guess that not one percent of devices out there are not updated.

However, people do choose not to update. For example, I know of people who chose not to update a device after Amazon allowed publishers to block text-to-speech access. That meant that they didn’t get the books wirelessly on those devices, they downloaded them with a computer and transferred them via USB…which is what could happen after this deadline passes, I assume.

What I don’t like here is that was voluntary: this won’t be.

Second, it’s important to note that Amazon is not taking away people’s purchases. They can continue to read them and they could do it using Amazon’s free reading apps.

The “however” on this one is that if they want to read those books on an e-ink device, they would have to buy another one (or have another one registered to the account).

Third, and significantly, this could lose people access to active content (games and apps) unless they update. You can’t use those in the reading apps. They don’t work on the current devices.

So, this is a takeaway, although not for very many people in many situations.

Still, I don’t like that. We don’t commit to updating our devices to continue to have the access we have when we purchase a license from the Kindle store.

Now, this may be unavoidable in some way.

Since this is going to affect all devices back to the 2007 model, it clearly indicates a change in the Kindle network/server side, not on the devices.

They aren’t suggesting that you have to get a new update, just the current ones.

Personally, especially given how small this group is going to be, I think Amazon should compensate them in some way.

One smart thing to do would be to offer them a small discount on a current device and to promote the trade-in.

Amazon could give them a $20 discount on the purchase of a new device. They don’t have to do that; Amazon is, I believe, within their contractual obligations to require this update. It would be good Customer Service (and Amazon has great Customer Service), and help alleviate fears that this might¬†inflame¬†about eventually losing access to your Amazon purchases. It’s not my intent, but this post may spark a bit of a tweetstorm about Amazon taking away access. Of course, it might not: I don’t get quoted all that often.ūüėČ

I’m writing this to give you a heads-up so you can take some actions if you want.

You could download things to your current device. Downloaded e-books and active ¬†content and such should continue to work (although features like Wikipedia look up and sharing quotes probably wouldn’t). You could then use them…until it died.

You could update it…while you might lose some things you like, it would be fully connected.

You could emotionally prepare yourself to switch to (or at least add) another device.:)

Even if Amazon doesn’t offer a discount to those affected people, there is a trade-in program (probably won’t get you much, but could get you something):

Amazon Trade-In Program (at AmazonSmile*)

Also, and I don’t think there is any connection, but most of the current line up of EBRs and Fire tablets are on sale right now.

I had started to write a post about that, but this story is important to me…so I’ll paste what I was writing here:

It’s not just KU that’s on sale: so are many devices!

I wrote recently about

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

 being on sale through this Sunday:

25% off Kindle Unlimited through Sunday

Many of the Fire tablets and Kindles are also on sale!

In terms of the EBRs (E-Book Readers), this is similar to a deal they did in November…$20 off, with the Voyage not on sale.

So, I’ll copy in what I said¬†then:

Kindle, 6‚Ä≥ Glare-Free Touchscreen Display, Wi-Fi ‚Äď Includes Special Offers (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) $59.99 (down from $79.99)

The $20 off also means you could get it without the Special Offers ($79.99, down from $99.99) for the same price you would normally pay for an ad-supported model.

This is the entry level model, and it’s a good one. Here are some of the differences between this and the Paperwhite (which I’ll link below):

  • No frontlighting, so you read it like you would a p-book
  • Fewer pixels per inch (167 versus 300), so the image isn‚Äôt as sharp (but I would say sharp enough for most casual reading‚Ķyou might notice it with images, like graphs)
  • Available only in wi-fi‚Ķno wi-fi and 3G option (for more money)
  • A bit less heavy, a bit thicker

Kindle for Kids Bundle with the latest Kindle, 2-Year Accident Protection, Kid-Friendly Blue Cover (at AmazonSmile*) $79.99 (down from $99.99)

This is like the above, but includes a ruggedized cover and an extended warranty…since each of those costs $20, this is a big savings, even without the discount.

Certainly something to consider for a gift.

All-New Kindle Paperwhite, 6‚Ä≥ High-Resolution Display (300 ppi) with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi ‚Äď Includes Special Offers (at AmazonSmile*) $99.99 (down from $119.99)

The Paperwhite (this is the latest generation) is a great model Kindle! I’d say it may be my favorite (price and everything taken into account), with the Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) being second…well, wait, lack of TTS makes that a tighter battle. For sight-reading, it’s my favorite. :)

Why would you literally pay $100 more (right now) for a top of the line

Kindle Voyage (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

?

You do get a few more things:

  • Adaptive light sensor
  • Page press buttons (in addition to touchscreen‚Ķthese all have touchscreen)
  • Quite a bit less heavy and a tad¬†smaller

Also on sale are the least and most expensive Fire tablets:

Note that all of these prices are for the USA, and are for a limited time…as always, check the price before you click or tap that “Buy button”.

Here is Amazon’s list of the devices affected by the deadline:

Device and Year Software Release Your Device Needs Update via wireless (3G) or Wi-Fi
Kindle 1st Generation (2007) 1.2.1 Use 3G
Kindle 2nd Generation (2009) 2.5.8* Use 3G
Kindle DX 2nd Generation (2009) 2.5.8* Use 3G
Kindle Keyboard 3rd Generation (2010) 3.4.2 or higher Use Wi-Fi
Kindle 4th Generation (2011) 4.1.3 or higher Use Wi-Fi
Kindle 5th Generation (2012) 4.1.3 or higher Use Wi-Fi
Kindle Touch 4th Generation (2011) 5.3.7.3 or higher Use Wi-Fi
Kindle Paperwhite 5th Generation (2012) 5.6.1.1 or higher Use Wi-Fi
Kindle Paperwhite 6th Generation (2013) 5.6.5 or higher Use Wi-Fi
Kindle 7th Generation (2014) No Update Needed No Update Needed
Kindle Voyage 7th Generation (2014) No Update Needed No Update Needed
Kindle Paperwhite 7th Generation (2015) No Update Needed No Update Needed

* For these devices, even if you are running software version 2.5.8, if you have not connected to wireless (3G) since October 5, 2015, please connect now.

Let me be really clear: I’m not mad at Amazon about this. It’s clearly part of Amazon improving services for the vast majority of their users. Inevitably, that can cause some losses to some people. Building something that’s great for cars may be bad for people who ride horses. Building something that’s great for electric cars may be a negative for people who use internal combustion engine cars. I do think it would make sense for Amazon to give something to the people who are losing something, but I don’t think it’s required…

What do you think? Do you have one of these “unupdated” EBRs? What do you plan to do about it? Had you gotten the e-mail? Whether you have one or not, do you think Amazon should compensate people in some way for the change? Do you think we as consumers will see changes to the Kindle service on all of our devices after March 22nd, or is this just a “behind the curtain” change? If you do think there will be visible changes, what do you think they will be? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Why we geeked

December 17, 2015

Why we geeked

At midnight tonight, the whole world will proclaim its geekness.

That’s when Star Wars: The Force Awakens officially opens, and it may go on to be the biggest box office hit to date.

No one is going to hide the fact that they are going to the movie.

No one is going to hide a Star Wars shirt under a YourLocalSportsFranchiseHere shirt, and then take off the camouflage before going into the theatre.

Every mainstream news outlet on TV will have a story about it. Even The Economist has found not one, but multiple angles for stories.

It wasn’t always that way.

When I was a kid, loving science fiction and fantasy cut you out of the inner circle.

That doesn’t mean that we all hid it. I never hesitated to be seen reading a current science fiction novel…or one from the 1930s…or the 1800s.

I think it’s safe to say that there were a core of us who were never ashamed of being geeks. Some of us might find each other in school and hang out, but if we weren’t part of the social scene, so be it. We had worlds to visit.

I was lucky enough, in high school, to be able to take a science fiction elective. I had a wonderful teacher…we weren’t made to take the joy out of geeky literature in order to dissect it and look at it dispassionately in order to give it gravitas. We often got to choose or suggest books. My teacher was as willing to learn as to teach, which is one of the things that can make a great teacher.

As a result¬†of that class, we did form a club, and we did publish a “fanzine”. We even had a library.

It’s safe to say, though, that while there were tremendous benefits to being a geek, there were costs, too.

So, why do it?

It’s easier to give a reason now: geek is the in crowd. The biggest movies, TV shows, and even some of the biggest books are geek-friendly. There is even a stereotype of people¬†being fake geeks…I don’t find that to be impossible (I’m sure some geeks have pretended to be sports fans from time to time to fit in…not that some geeks aren’t big sports fans in reality and vice versa, of course), but I think it can be…unfairly belittling. For me, part of being a geek is embracing diversity, and that should include being accepting of people who don’t know the difference* between Star Wars and Star Trek, or are new to the party, or who like what you may derisively call “skiffy”.**

Embracing diversity: certainly, that’s one of the reasons people were geeks pre-1977 (when the first Star Wars movie was released and became a big hit).

While there is no question that geek-friendly works could be full of prejudice (racial, class, sexism…and a noted lack of diverse characters in terms of sexuality), they were also a place where an alien could be a hero, and women could be social equals.

Before I give some examples of that, I’d better define what I mean by geek-friendly, although I’ve done that before in the blog.

In a geek story, there is something to it that is impossible in consensus reality. It might be that there are dragons or spaceships or telepathy. For more of a discussion of that, see

Content, tone, or intent: what makes a genre?

Since they are outside of consensus reality, they have often been able to “get away” with showing things outside of social norms as well.

Let’s take the idea of women as social equals.

In

Surviving ‚ÄúThe End‚ÄĚ: advice for literary characters (part¬†3)

I wrote¬†an appearance by Gerry Carlyle, the “Interplanetary Huntress”. Carlyle, who originally appeared in stories in the 1930s an 1940s, was not only a superior adventurer, she was the captain of the ship. Her love interest, a man, was clearly the less powerful one of the pair.

That would have been a very difficult sale to a mainstream audience.

Think it would have been tough in the 1930s?

How about the 1870s, when Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race had women as the dominant gender?

It was not unusual for people of different races and perhaps¬†species to work together…even fall in love and have intimate relationships. After all, Dejah Thoris in the John Carter of Mars Barsoom stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs is not the same race…or species…or even, arguably, the same class of life (she may not be a mammal, like humans are…her species lays eggs).

One thing we were told as geeks: it didn’t matter who you were, or even what you were…you could contribute and be accepted.

Another reason to be a geek back then was that you saw and wanted to see that there could be more to the world than was generally believed.

A lot of fans of hard science fiction believed that, within the confines of current scientific thought, there were many more possibilities. That was sometimes the purpose of a science fiction story…to explore a possibility, perhaps to suggest it as an option.

For fantasy fans, it could be, “Don’t tell me what’s possible.” Anything could be true.

Geek-friendly literature has been described, in a belittling way as escapist, but yes, it could be that, too. When things in the real world didn’t look good, it could be fun to go to Narnia or Middle Earth. Now, it’s worth noting that if you could get to either of those places, it wasn’t likely to mean that your life would be any happier than it was in the “real world”. Both of them had some pretty horrible things happening in them, with an abundance of violence and a low life expectancy. “Escaping from” doesn’t necessarily mean you want no conflict. You might just want to get away from something for a while.

It could also simply¬†be fun.:) Yes, Oz had problems…there was violence, and a surprising predominance of slavery, but at least after the first book (which really doesn’t fit in with the rest of the stories), you weren’t going to die. You could have fun adventures and read a plethora of puns. We geeks would get criticized for being childish. Kids were encouraged to stop living a “fairy tale life”, and get serious. We didn’t agree¬†that having an imagination and getting things accomplished were contradictory. With the rise of technology, our case was strongly made…imagination could be what made you a material success, not a failure. Maybe, if you were going to work on an assembly line, letting your mind wander wasn’t a good thing. You needed to focus on the physical reality in front of you. As jobs became more varied, that became less of the only option.

I’d say those are some of the main reasons, but whenever I write a post like this, I expect (and hope) that someone will add to it. So, I’ll ask you: if you were a geek before geek became cool, why did you do it? Do you agree with my assessment that you can openly be a fan of geek-friendly works now? Do you think that there were hardcore fans who weren’t ashamed, hardcore “realists” who were never going to accept it, and a large group in the middle that weren’t passionately for or against, and have now decided it’s not a bad thing to be a geek? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Oh, and may the Force be with you!ūüėČ

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

*The fundamental difference between Star Trek and Star Wars

** “Skiffy” is a belittling term I would never use. It’s a deliberate corruption of “sci fi”, which was coined by the great Forry Ackerman as an abbreviation of “science fiction”, which went along with the then popular term “hi fi” for “high fidelity” (sound). It’s used to refer to works which the speaker thinks are not worthy of being called “science fiction”…they may have the accoutrement of more serious or “nobler” works, but are considered poor imitations. Interestingly, many people saw Star Wars as that when it was released…it was space opera, not an extrapolation of science, and they didn’t like it being called science fiction
When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you‚Äôll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)‚Ķand the good feeling you‚Äôll get.¬†:)¬†Shop ‚Äôtil you help!¬†:)¬†By the way, it‚Äôs been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to ‚Äústart at AmazonSmile‚ÄĚ if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.¬†

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

The argument for having both a Fire tablet and a Kindle EBR (E-Book Reader)

December 14, 2015

The argument for having both a Fire tablet and a Kindle EBR (E-Book Reader)

My most popular post for this week is one that I wrote more than a year and a half ago:

The reading experience: Paperwhite vs. Kindle Fire HDX

It has been consistently popular, and is my top post overall…even though at this point, it refers to two older models.

It’s a comparison between reading on an EBR (E-Book Reader) and a Fire tablet.

When  I wrote it, I assumed its main use would be by people making a choice between one device type and the other.

I think that’s ¬†likely still the case…although I think it’s now more likely to be a question of which additional device to get for someone who already has (at least one) device.

That makes for a simple question: why have two devices?

The arguments against having two are pretty clear:

However, I, like many of my readers (I assume…I’ll ask you later in the post), use a Fire tablet and an EBR…every day.

I have the now discontinued Kindle Fire HDX and a

Kindle Voyage (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

I use them in two different ways.

I would actually say that over time, the EBRs have become more reading focused (and therefore have diverged more from the tablets)…or at least, more sight-reading focused.

The newer ones don’t do audio at all, so no music. Unfortunately, that also means no audiobooks, and no text-to-speech (TTS), which is software that will read text out loud to you (I typically use that for hours every week¬†in the car), although publishers can block TTS access (and some do on some titles, but I think it is not as common as it used to be).

They also don’t do “active content”, a special type of EBR game (and some were utilities).

The Voyage (and the¬†All-New Kindle Paperwhite, 6‚Ä≥ High-Resolution Display (300 ppi) with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi ‚Äď Includes Special Offers¬†((at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*))

have lights that shine towards the screen, not towards your eyes. You read from the light bouncing off the screen…the same way you read a paperbook. It’s the most comfortable reading experience I’ve ever had…including paper.

I read it in bed before falling asleep…a tablet wouldn’t be as good for that for me. I haven’t tried the new “Blue Shade” functionality, which might make a tablet better than it is now for bedtime reading…it’s a selling point for the

Fire HD 8 Reader’s Edition (Fire HD 8 Reader’s Edition)

Still, I doubt that would be as comfortable…and it’s nice to only have to charge my Voyage every two or three weeks.

I have to say, though, it stays in my headboard except when I’m actively reading it (or charging it).

When I go out, I only take my Fire.

I want my Fire for other things…although I especially want it for that TTS. I do sight read on it as well…for example, at lunch, I may do a bit of exercise in my office and I do like reading while I do that.ūüėČ

I also use my Fire for my morning

Flipboard (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

read (it takes the place of what used to be a newspaper). In fact, here is part of my morning routine, which would only work on the tablet:

  • I check my local news station app, ABC7 San Francisco (especially well designed, I’d say)
  • I check the CNN app
  • I check Flipboard
  • I check my WordPress app (in case comments came in while I was asleep)
  • I use my favorite browser, Maxthon, to check the Amazon Appstore, the Kindle Daily Deal, and usually BoxOfficeMojo
  • I check the IMDb app for news, although I will have seen some of the stories in Flipboard
  • I turn on the family room light

Some other things that I couldn’t do on the Voyage:

  • I read Entertainment Weekly with a Kindle subscription
  • I read Fortean Times in my Zinio app (which I got from the Zinio site…not available directly from the Amazon Appstore, but Amazon allows us to install apps from other sources
  • I shop:)
  • I use the clock app for a nightstand clock (and sometimes when I’m addressing a group)
  • I check the weather (although I usually use our¬†Amazon Echo¬†((at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) for that))
  • I check my Google calendar
  • I play music (most often for other people)
  • I print to a wireless printer (I use PrinterShare Mobile Print ((at AmazonSmile*)…it costs about $10, but I got it for free at some point)
  • I check e-mail
  • I read documents, including PDFs…and I’ve used it for PowerPoints
  • I go to other websites

As you can probably tell, if I was only going to have one at this point, it would be a Fire tablet. I use it in many ways, and the reading on it is okay.

I do like reading on the Voyage better…and fortunately, you don’t need to have only one type.:)

One last point: when the first Kindle EBR was released, it cost nearly $400. Now, eight years later, you can get both a tablet and an EBR for less than half of that…

Now let’s find out about you.:)

I’m interested here in what you use, not just what you own. It’s also okay with me on this if you use a different brand…say, an iPad instead of a Fire.

Oh, and I’m fully cognizant of the fact that you might use something else…a phone, a laptop, and so on.:) Picking “neither” in the poll isn’t meant to suggest you aren’t reading (or consuming other content).

Have other comments about this? Want to share your experiences? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Delivery by Amazon

December 5, 2015

Delivery by Amazon

Amazon continues to expand its investment in being the infrastructure of the internet…which includes how things ordered on the internet get around in the real world.

According to this

Business Insider story by Jillian D’Onfro

and other sources, Amazon is buying thousands of trailers…the big part of the trucks you see on the freeway that attach to the “tractor”.

That means you are going to see that familiar Amazon smile on the road with you (and, in the picture in that BI story, something that cleverly looks like the tape they put on packages). Yep, the new speed limit might be 65 smiles per hour.ūüėČ

Now, these trucks¬†probably aren’t going to be delivering directly to your house (they are too big for that)…they are likely to be taking things to and from the fulfillment centers.

For now, other companies will be providing the tractors…but I would certainly think that Amazon is looking at doing it all, warehouse to home, in the not too distant future. Once self-driving cars are fully licensed in the USA (which I think, unfortunately, may be some time after some other parts of the world have reaped the benefits of safer, more efficient transportation), I would absolutely expect Amazon to be one of the companies investigating that fully.

That puts Amazon on the roads.

I also think Amazon is going to be on the sidewalks.:)

I’ve been seeing stories recently about delivery robots, including the Starship:

Wired UK story by James Temperton

The story asserts that the last mile of delivery is the most expensive, which makes some sense. It’s a bit like landing a plane: that’s the hard part. There are things to avoid, and a lot more starts and stops.

The idea is that a truck gets your package close, then a little robot rolls out (sort of like the Chariot on Lost in Space leaving the Jupiter II), and brings the package to your door.

Is that less expensive than a human being doing it?

Probably…a human being has a lot of expenses outside of that block or two…sick pay, vacation pay, and so on.

Even if the robot was marginally more expensive, they would have a big cool factor…and that’s important in this scenario.

Then, of course, there is the air…and Amazon’s proposed drone program.

The biggest thing holding that up (besides propellers)ūüėČ , clearly, is regulation.

This is an interesting

Forbes story by Ryan Mac

about Amazon’s patent for their “sense and avoid” system for drones.

While people could presumably still shoot them down (that has happened with other drones), they might be able to avoid birds, which could be a real issue. Now that is a demo video I would want to see! Picture a big raptor, like an eagle, diving after an Amazon drone while it autonomously avoids the attack!

Step aside, Millenium Falcon!ūüėČ

Oh, and while we are talking about videos, Amazon released this

YouTube video

The performance that they show for their drone is so advanced that they have the words “ACTUAL FLIGHT FOOTAGE NOT SIMULATED” on the screen for most of the flight footage.

Let’s see…land, air, and Jeff Bezos is sending rockets to space…the only thing we’re missing is Maritime Prime!ūüėČ

Gee, would that mean that one day Amazon would have to worry about pirates of the non-digital kind?

Let me just wrap this up by pointing out that Amazon already does a lot of fulfillment for third party vendors. If I was at FedEx of UPS, I’d be worried about Amazon getting on the road and in the air…but I’m guessing they’ve been worried about that for some time.

Eventually, we may see Target’s packages delivered by Amazon…

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Taking away a child’s reading “privileges”

June 11, 2015

Taking away a child’s reading “privileges”

For a child, is reading a privilege…or something else?

After reading this

Publishers Weekly article by Josie Leavitt

I am making a Vulcanian effort to control my emotions as I write this post. Like Mr. Spock, I am using mental discipline to reassert the dominance of my logical processes over my irrational response.

That reaction is one of horror, disgust, even making a mad dash over the cliff towards anger (which is a plunge I very, very rarely take).

What’s causing that?

A parent punishing a “willful” child by taking away reading “privileges”…for a week.

Having raised a child, I understand the frustration that can lead you to try to find another way to influence behavior.

Some people introduce a negative into the child’s environment to try to change something. That could be yelling, for example, or threatening something (sometimes¬†hyperbolic…”Do you want me to turn this car into the oncoming traffic?”).

Another option is to promise something good for good behavior.

A third way is to take something pleasant out of the child’s life.

I remember doing that.

My Significant Other and I agreed that we would never take away our child’s (literal) security blanket (named “Stripes”), and we never did.

One time, though, I took away a favorite videotape (Parachute Express).

Honestly, I don’t even remember if that was effective.

It had a big emotional effect, sure, but I don’t recall if it actually changed the behavior. It wasn’t for a long period of time, and the tape just went into the garage temporarily.

It did change the situational balance in the short term, though, I remember that.

Take away reading?

Never.

I would never do that.

Reading is a positive…not only a huge positive for the child in the long run, but a benefit for the adults even in the short run.

What child is misbehaving while reading a book?

Maybe they aren’t participating in the way you want in something (some families have “no reading at the dinner table” policies…of course, not many families eat that way any more, I think), but they aren’t actively doing something wrong.

I think one issue here for me is the question of how fragile is the desire to read? Could you break a child’s habit of reading by doing something like this, or, like the Jurassic Park dinosaurs, will reading find a way to survive?

Many adults would testify…you can be a serious reader, and then get to a situation where you aren’t. Starting up again is like having been a runner, taking a break for two years, and then trying to run a marathon straight off. Reading takes commitment, it takes effort…you need to withdraw to some extent from other things to do it, and there are a lot of temptations.

The parents in this case weren’t, I’m sure, trying to send a message that reading is bad. However, ¬†for the child, that association seems apparent to me. “I’ve been bad, I’ve been reading, they are taking away my reading, and now, apparently, I’m good…so I shouldn’t read.”

A child (this is a nine-year old) is going to assume that a parent is trying to protect them…if they remove something from the environment, it must be because it is a negative, not because it is a positive.

Children should always be encouraged to read, not discouraged from it.

That’s true even if they are reading things you think are silly (geeks like me really understand that).

Nothing will empower your child more, or make them more empathetic, in my opinion, than reading.

Okay, I think I’m calmed down at this point…my breathing is back to a normal respiration rate.ūüėČ

I do want to mention that this child was really into reading

The Hardy Boys (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

(the PW post is written by the child’s bookseller). I love that it is an older series like that that was helping this child build a bright future in and for the world as a reader.

What do you think? Would stopping a child from reading¬†ever be an appropriate action? ¬†Can a guardian make a child a reader? Can a guardian break a child from being a reader…and if so, how hard would that be to do? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Why old books should cost as much as new books

April 13, 2015

Why old books should cost as much as new books

What should determine how much you pay for an e-book?

Some people start out with thinking that an e-book should cost less than the p-book (paperbook) equivalent, since the publisher doesn’t have the same expense¬†in materials, nobody has to pay to ship it around, there’s no storage, and no issue with returns.

However, most of that doesn’t have much to do with the production cost. I remember seeing something years ago that analyzed it (I don’t have the resource offhand…if I find it again, I’ll add it), and they thought it was about 12%.

That might seem strange, but most of the cost comes in labor, legalities, and risk.

Authors get paid. Cover artists get paid. Editors get paid. Proofreaders get paid. Publicists get paid. Lawyers get paid. Agents get paid.

Obviously, I’m talking about tradpubs (traditional publishers) here.

All those labor costs are for the specific book.

Other costs are longitudinal.

Very successful books pay for the publisher to take a loss on risky books, prestige books, and micromarket books.

The publisher has a building. The building has rent, mortgage, or property taxes.

The building has custodial staff, maintenance costs, maybe a security staff…

There are a lot of costs that are going to be the same whether or not some dead trees are involved.

That doesn’t mean that perhaps you shouldn’t pay a bit more for p-books…but I’m comfortable saying it’s not twice as much, just based on paper related costs (including moving it and storing it).

Another thing that seems weird to me that I see in the Amazon Kindle forums…”How can they charge ten bucks for that book…it’s like twenty years old?”

I’ve never understood that.

I do get two things about age of the work affecting price.

A “frontlist” title, which is new, is going to cost more usually. There are additional costs happening right then, including marketing costs (although how much is spend on that certainly varies…you’ll get some authors telling you that their publishers didn’t spend much). For A-list authors, for example, the publisher may be paying for them to go on a publicity tour…or even buying ads in traditional or new media.

There is also a higher demand when the book is first released. That’s basic economics: if people want it more, you can charge more for it.

Many people perceive a value in reading a book first. My favorite thing in a fictional work (book, movie, TV show) is to be surprised…and it’s not easy to surprise me.

For that reason, I really avoid spoilers…which may mean I try to get to something when it first comes out, to lessen the chances. Google, by the way, is apparently working on something that will block spoilers for you. In some way, it’s going to know where you are in the book or movie, and automatically screen, say, tweets for you to hide the information you haven’t reached yet (I assume you could choose to see it if you wanted…some things just can’t be spoiled, because it doesn’t have to do with what happens, but how it happens).

I also get why public domain books (books not under copyright protection) are cheaper…often free. I mentioned that one of the labor costs is royalties for the author…those don’t need to be paid for a public domain title. The book has already been edited and proofread.

What I don’t understand is why people think that a book which is still a desirable read after a couple of decades should cost less than one which is perhaps a year old (and now on the “backlist”).

Oh, I’ve had somebody argue that the publisher and author have already been paid for it by then.

That’s not the way we do it with a lot of other things which you “experience”, though.

Should the game Monopoly have become increasingly cheaper over the years, and once Parker Brothers had made a “reasonable profit” (whatever that is), it should be free?

They’d made the production and marketing budgets back on The Lego Movie within weeks of its release…should the ticket prices have gotten cheaper?

Does Fahrenheit 451 have any less value for a reader today than it did when it was first released?

That one is a good example…the price for it right now is $9.99 in the USA Kindle store.

That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me…and it’s ranked #3,579 of the paid in the Kindle store right now…close to the top 1%. That suggests that people don’t see it as outrageously overpriced.

If you take a look at the

Science Fiction Classics (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

the prices for the top ten are

  1. $5.70
  2. $9.99
  3. $7.99
  4. $4.61
  5. $4.99
  6. $11.99
  7. $7.99
  8. $8.59
  9. $5.99
  10. $5.58

for about $7.34 average.

If we look at the general science fiction bestsellers in the USA Kindle store, they are:

  1. $4.81
  2. $4.99
  3. $11.84
  4. $3.99
  5. $10.99
  6. $13.99
  7. $3.99
  8. $3.99
  9. $3.99
  10. $3.99

which is $6.66 average.

So, the “classic books” actually cost higher on average than the general group.

That does make sense to me…there is more likely to be cost competition on new books. I someone as likely to want to comparison shop 1984 as they are Ready Player One? My guess would be no.

Also, new books¬†can be used as “loss leaders”. Again, as a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I think customers are looking for bargains on the hot, popular books…they may be looking for those as gifts. If they find a good price on one of those books, they may be more likely to buy other (not as discounted) books from the same retail channel.

I do realize that I suggested that newer books might be more expensive, and yet the bestseller list was cheaper than the classics.

That’s in part because the bestsellers aren’t necessarily the newest ones, which are in the hardback equivalent stage.

I decided to do one more check: Science Fiction New Releases:

  1. $11.84
  2. $6.99
  3. $8.99
  4. $11.63
  5. $5.99
  6. $8.99
  7. $8.79
  8. $8.69
  9. $2.99
  10. $4.99

Average? $7.99…yep, the most expensive of the three (although still in the range of the classics).

Looks like at least the bestselling “older” books aren’t significantly cheaper than the newest books…and that seems reasonable to me.

How about you? Do you think a book which is decades old (but still under copyright and which still has a significant market) should be cheaper than a new release? Do you think part of what makes people think this is what they paid for the book originally (the price of p-books has risen considerably over the years)? What do you think should determine the consumer price of an e-book? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

 

Men’s Interest magazines in the USA Kindle store

March 6, 2015

Men’s Interest magazines in the USA Kindle store

I was looking at the “Special Offers” on my

Kindle Fire HDX 7″ (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping)

I should probably first say something about that.:)

There is often some…imprecision in how people describe Kindles (and Fires) with Special Offers.

You don’t have to pay something to get the ads removed: the ads reduce the cost of the device.

That’s how it was right from the beginning: when Amazon introduced the Special Offers program (just about four years ago…April 11th 2011, to be exact), it reduced the cost of the device by $25.

Basically what happens is that advertisers subsidize your purchase of the device. You agree to see ads (implicitly) in exchange for a lower price.

If you change your mind (or got the device as a gift), you can pay the difference and stop the ads.

However, I’ve gotten a lot of great deals with the Special Offers! That’s particularly true on the Fires, where we sometimes get these massive discount (more than 80% at times) for a very, very short time. It can even be that if you hover over the button and tap it as fast as you can, they can still be sold out.

The models with Special Offers are generally more popular than the ones without them.

People who don’t want them think they may be intrusive…but they are so unintrusive, I often miss something.:)

That’s why I go to Offers to see what is there (it’s all the way on your right on¬†the homescreen).

One of them this time was for

Men’s Interest magazines (at AmazonSmile*)

Well.

That’s always been a weird idea to me, that books and magazines would be sold to people based on the customers’¬†genders.

Yes, when I managed a brick and mortar bookstore (and this was some time ago) we had a “Men’s Adventure” section.

Notice I always say that I managed the store…I didn’t own it, and that section was there when I took over.

That category was also often printed on the book by the publisher.

I have to be honest: I didn’t notice many women buying books from that section…or men buying Harlequin romances.

I’m sure there were women reading Remo Williams and men reading Iris Johansen, but that fact¬†wasn’t commonly shared by them with everyone in the store.ūüėČ

That was then, though…this is now.

Is there really a marketing advantage for Amazon to put a Special Offer on everyone’s Fires, and suggest that it is more likely to appeal to a minority of people (there are more women than men in the USA…and statistically, they tend to read more and buy more books, I believe)?

I was curious as to what they labeled as “Men’s Interest”.

I should clarify that: most likely, the publishers pick the categories. Amazon creates the categories, though.

Looking at the magazines by bestselling, they go like this:

  1. Sports Illustrated…I know they’ve worked on increasing their female audience. Professional athletics organizations across the country have tried to do that as well
  2. Rolling Stone: I don’t really see popular music as appealing particularly to men!
  3. Maxim: okay, I would guess their readership is primarily male
  4. Popular Science: this particularly concerns me. There is so much effort being done to get women more involved in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math). No particular reason this should appeal more to men. I remember there was a controversy years ago with a talking Barbie that used a chip instead of a string. One of things Barbie said was, “Math class is hard.” As I recall, Mattel had to take that one out because of complaints…since Barbie is more likely to be owned¬†by girls than by boys
  5. Men’s Health: I could give you that one…it’s right in the title
  6. Outside Magazine
  7. Outdoor Life: I don’t see either of these as not appealing to women. Of course, you could say that “Men’s Interest” doesn’t mean that it’s not interesting to women, too, but then what would be the point in using the label? I suspect it might be for people who are shopping for men, rather than for the men themselves
  8. Money Magazine: I don’t see any reason for this one. In fact, I’d be surprised if the readership is overwhelmingly male
  9. Backpacker: I wouldn’t say that I even automatically picture backpackers as male. If you say “backpacker” to me, I just don’t have that as a default concept
  10. The Family Handyman…hard to say.

Some of the other topics?

  • Cars
  • Guns
  • Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (really? I would bet that more women read mysteries than men do)
  • Golf
  • Fighting (wrestling, martial arts)
  • Shutterbug…seriously?

I’m not going to pretend to know what marketing works better for Amazon.

If it was my site, though, I don’t think I’d have that category…or a “women’s fiction” category, for that matter.

Generally, I would want to categorize the works by the works themselves, rather than the intended audience (read: “market”).

The exception to that might be children’s books, I suppose. I have to think about that one.

Let me put this out to you:

Have you been helped in purchasing by having something labeled by gender? Did you ever walk into a bookstore, and look for a “man’s section” to buy a gift? If you ran a bookstore (including a website), how would you categorize the books? Have you “felt funny” about buying a book when you clearly weren’t the intended target market? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Update: reader Steve made an interesting comment, which prompted me to check what is listed under “Women’s Interest”. If the same magazines were listed in both places, would that make it more reasonable? My feeling would still be no…for me, it’s about the idea that the magazine will particularly appeal to one gender. Saying it particularly appeals to both genders is saying nothing, except as a “double force” marketing ploy.

A “double force” is a magic trick stratagem (and it is used by con artists as well). Basically, it means that you appear to have a choice in something, but you really don’t.

For example, the magician cuts a deck of cards. The magician then asks you to pick one half. If the magician wants Half A and you pick Half B, the magician says, “Okay, we’ll remove that one.” If you pick Half A, the magician says, “Okay, we’ll use that one.” You felt like you controlled the situation…but you didn’t.

Here are the top ten (at time of writing) magazines listed under Women’s Interest:

  1. Us Weekly
  2. Prevention
  3. Southern Living
  4. Cooking Light
  5. Women’s Health
  6. ShopSmart
  7. More
  8. The Knot
  9. Brides
  10. Women’s Adventure

There are far fewer magazines in the Women’s category than in the Men’s, interestingly enough.

The only magazine that overlaps?

eFiction Magazine (at AmazonSmile*)

Fiction should appeal to both, in my opinion…but I don’t see a reason to label it as both appealing specifically to men and specifically to women. Maybe there should be a “Humans” section?ūüėČ Of course, I wouldn’t want to discriminate against non-humans who read…artificial intelligence, and some dogs (including one that belongs to a sibling of mine…the dog helps with a disability, and can read a few commands), among others.ūüėČ

 Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

*¬†I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you‚Äôll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)‚Ķand the good feeling you‚Äôll get.¬†:)¬†Shop ‚Äôtil you help!¬†:)¬†By the way, it‚Äôs been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to ‚Äústart at AmazonSmile‚ÄĚ if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Copyright law: inherently unequal?

October 11, 2014

Copyright law: inherently unequal?

Copyright law matters to you as a reader.

It has a huge effect on what is available to you.

Books that are not under copyright protection, that are in the “public domain” (owned by the public), are often available free as e-books. No one needs to be paid for the rights to publish those, and with the advent of e-books (and in particular, the exemplary and valuable work of Project Gutenberg), an effort has been made to take advantage of the low costs of production and distribution to let readers read them.

For books under copyright protection, it is that law which largely makes it possible for authors to make a living as writers.

By setting the rules under which books can be reproduced, the government creates a structure of compensation.

Certainly, it is possible to distribute works without regard to copyright, and to simply ask for people to pay for them, if they want. It is a stretch to see that generating the kinds of income we see through licensing of works, though. You could also have individual contracts to allow the reading of the books, but that would be unduly cumbersome.

So, copyright is important: and the fairness of the ability to use that copyright to make money from your intellectual property is important.

In the USA (and in many other countries), that opportunity is unequal.

Why?

The copyright terms are based on the life of the author plus a certain number of years (in the USA, it’s Life+70).

The intent here, presumably, is that the author and the author’s children (if any) can benefit from the creation of the book…and after that, the government removes their right to control the work, and it falls into the public domain (effectively eliminating its value as a way to generate income).

I’ve wondered before if the idea of a copyright term like that is a good idea in and of itself. See what is perhaps my most controversial post:

Should copyright be permanent?

There are those who simply don’t believe in copyright…if you create something, they argue that the society should have unencumbered (and uncompensated) access to it. I assume they also think it is okay to go into a stranger’s house and eat the food in their refrigerator, or to drive away with someone else’s car without their permission.ūüėČ

Let’s leave off the extremes of permanent copyright and no copyright, and just look at the issue of Life+a certain number of years: what’s wrong with that?

You want to know what’s wrong with that? Mortality.

Suppose a fifty year old writes and publishes a book. Let’s just say that, on average, that book is going to generate royalties of a thousand dollars a year.

We’ll further say that the author can be expected to live to be age 100.

That book will generate $120,000 for the creator and the estate: one thousand dollars each year of the author’s remaining life,then a thousand dollars a years for each of the subsequent seventy years.

Now let’s do that math with a twenty year old author.

Again, assuming they live to be 100, there are eighty+seventy¬†years of copyright protection: that’s a lifetime value of $150,000. That’s $30,000 ¬†(25%) more.

Given the statistical probabilities of life expectancy, the older author won’t earn as much as the younger author for the same thing…and that’s unequal protection under the law, and should be illegal under the Constitution.

The “equal protection” of the Fourteenth Amendment actually only applies to the states, as I understand it, but in Bolling v. Sharpe, the Supreme Court basically said¬†the Federal government shouldn’t have a lesser responsibility than the states, and so “equal protection” is sort of covered by “due process”. I’m not a lawyer, but that’s how I read it.

I’m surprised this hasn’t been successfully legally challenged, but given that Life+x years is a widely used copyright term in other countries as well, I assume there are treaties involved. That complicates things.

I also don’t like Life+, because it makes it much harder to figure out when something goes into the public domain! Just knowing when something was first published in the USA doesn’t do it (if the publication is after 1977), since you have to know when the last surviving author died. For famous authors, that’s not that hard to find…but not all authors are famous. With something like half a million independently published books a year now (I’ve seen that estimate), it’s going to be very difficult to figure out.

You often don’t even know the author’s real name…there is no requirement that they put that on a published work, and copyright exists even without registration (although it’s more difficult to go after infringers if you don’t register it).

Do I think a challenge to the Supreme Court could change Life+ to a finite term? I do think it could be successful, but I really don’t expect it to happen.

We will simply continue to institutionally disadvantage older authors as a group.

That is, unless there is really major overhaul of copyright, which I would like to see.

I still find the idea of permanent copyright, in exchange for greater Fair Use provisions, to be an intriguing idea. I’m not advocating for it, and it doesn’t seem to be what copyright was intended to do (the Constitution specifically calls for “limited times”), but things have massively changed in terms of content consumption in the past couple of hundred years.

The market value of Sherlock Holmes is arguably much bigger now than it was when the copyright term first expired, for example. One could argue that that is in part due to it having gone into the public domain (for the most part…some of the original stories are still under copyright in some parts of the world), allowing for more experimentation with the character (and perhaps more nimbly adapting to changing audience tastes).

I also have people say that they don’t like that it would be corporations owning the rights a hundred years after the author died, not the author and their descendants.

That point, though, may be changing. As independent publishing becomes increasingly viable, more authors will retain their rights…and could have something to pass on to generations of descendants.

The other argument I get from people is about “cultural ownership”. Shouldn’t Shakespeare and Mark Twain’s works belong to everybody equally? I’m not quite sure why. If you can take the rights away from the family 100 years after it was written, why not 99? Then why not fifty? Then why not after one week? I just haven’t quite understood the logic of that, and I’d be happy to have someone explain it to me.:)

What do you think? Is the copyright concept of Life+ unfair? It doesn’t matter how old you, the rule is the same…it’s just that we know that, statistically, the result won’t be: is that okay? Copyright terms have continued to get longer since they were introduced (in the USA) at fourteen years, renewable once (if the author was still alive…not a certainty, given life expectancy in the 1700s, and the age at which someone might publish back then)…do you think that will continue to be the case? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

 


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