Archive for the ‘Thoughtabouts’ Category

Today is World Book Day: imagine a bookless world

April 23, 2017

Today is World Book Day: imagine a bookless world

Today (April 23rd) is World Book Day, observed since 1995 by many countries around the world. In addition to a good

official site

Amazon has been promoting it for several days, and also has its own

Amazon World Book Day page (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping* ((and Amazon recommends three book related ones on that page)))

There are so many positive things about books for society (in addition to us as individuals), and that got me thinking.

Imagine that a wand was waved, and all of the good effects from books disappeared.

In this thought experiment, it’s not that books (or the written language, for that matter) never developed.

It’s a takeaway. Good effects which had happened are simply subtracted from the equation.

What would change?

I need to make a quick working definition of a “book” before I go ahead.

“A book is a substantial set of verbal statements which are preserved in a way that they can be consumed by someone independent of their creator.”

Yes, that will work for me for now. 🙂 I wouldn’t consider a single five line poem a book, but I would consider an audiobook a book…verbal can mean spoken or written. The odd part, I suppose, would be separating this definition of a book from, say, an album.

So, let’s look at some effects of a bookless world:

Social Movements

Many years ago, I was working on a show called Freedom From Fear TV (or F3TV), which was a mix of comedy and surrealism. Well, working is perhaps misleading, because it was a public access show (meaning we didn’t get paid). 😉 One sketch I wrote was about the President declaring a “War on Books” and explaining why to the country. At one point, the President help up Uncle Tom’s Cabin and said something like, “It was a book which started the Civil War…” That’s hyperbole for comedic effect, but it certainly influenced the timing and heightened abolitionist feeling.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson similarly sparked the environmental movement.

The list would be long: for one, Upton Sinclair’s 1906 exposure of the meatpacking industry, The Jungle, brought about big changes.

Politics

This might seem similar to social movements, but one thing that occurred to me was the people who have been elected President who had significantly selling books before they won. The last three Presidents all fit that category. Many Presidents have written books after leaving office, but there are indications that being an author (even years before entering the race) helped them win.

Books about politicians have also shaped the public’s impression of them…sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.

Science

Great science communicators have been able to affect…the very direction of society. A book is very different from a lecture, or a movie. The self-paced consumption means that people of different aptitudes can all understand a book in a way different from everything else. If the ideas expressed in Charles Darwins’ Origin of Species had been done in any other known way (and some elements had been floating around), could they possibly have changed the perception of the place of humans in the world for so many the way that the book did?

Religion

This one is obvious…”The Bible” even means “The Book” or “The Books”, and that’s just one of the guiding books for major religions.

Movies

Without books, I think many people would think of movies as what would have stood in their place (although TV is perhaps gaining, and music also is a mass medium). Many of our most popular movies are based on books: The Lord of the Rings; The Hunger Games; Gone with the Wind; and so on. In today’s Hollywood, we rarely see original works at the top of the box office (outside of animation, where originals still often top the charts).

Relationships

Whether it’s romantic relationships, familial ones, or even business, books have greatly influenced how humans interact: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie; Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray; Baby and Child Care by Dr. (Benjamin) Spock; and so many more!


A couple of the books I’ve listed so far are fiction, but I would be remiss not to bring up how fiction also impacts people. Science fiction has inspired many, and in some cases, led them into impactful careers in science. Many readers have taken inspiration from the actions of characters, or sought to avoid their failings.

Books are both powerful transferrers of information and invokers of emotion. They multiply the impact of a single individual in ways that shape the world…

I was curious what Amazon would do with today’s

Kindle Daily Deal (at AmazonSmile…benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

being that it is World Book Day, but they also had such a good sale yesterday!

They decided to do “highly rated” Kindle books, and again, there are some great titles! There are books from: David Baldacci (4.6 stars on a scale 1 to 5 with over 2,500 customer reviews); Faye Kellerman; One Second After by William Fortschen (4.5 stars, over 7,000 reviews); The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver; Joyce Carol Oates, Nelson DeMille, Jade Chang..and Abandon by Blake Crouch (the Crouch book is also available t no additional cost to members of Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)).

Enjoy!


My Amazon Giveaways: 

ENDS TODAY!

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

by my sibling, Kris Calvin

Ten winners

Giveaway: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/e39ec1bca3592757

Start:Apr 8, 2017 12:05 PM PDT
End:Apr 23, 2017 11:59 PM PDT

===

CelebriDucks Rocky Horror Picture Show Dr Frank-N-Furter RUBBER DUCK Tim Curry (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*

1 winner

Giveaway: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/10d9d8f4121e9918

Requirements for participation:
Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
18+ years of age (or legal age)
Tweet a message: “Happy birthday, @timothycurry! Tim Curry born April 19 1946 https://www.thehistoryproject.com/projects/view/1433/timeline?eventId=31535 https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/ #giveaway”

Start:Apr 19, 2017 7:04 AM PDT
End:Apr 26, 2017 11:59 PM PDT

* 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.

 

My Kindle Fire HDX has been a great device for over four years…and that’s a problem :)

March 22, 2017

My Kindle Fire HDX has been a great device for over four years…and that’s a problem 🙂

I think must people expect a gadget to last a year or two nowadays.

That’s very different from the way it used to be, when you might be able to count on inheriting your grandparent’s vacuum cleaner (and washer, and refrigerator, and…).

I use my Kindle Fire HDX every day, often for hours a day (since it reads to me in the car). Knock virtual wood, but it’s been one of the most reliable pieces of technology I’ve had. It does what it does quite well.

I have the

Fire, 7″ Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB – Includes Special Offers, Black (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

but it’s really just a back up and guest device. I like the interface, but it’s a bit muddy by comparison.

So, I’m satisfied with it: why is that a problem?

Apps are evolving past it.

I have a morning routine, and that’s included the CNN app (as one of different news sources I check, in part for my Flipboard magazines).

I wrote to them recently, because the Tech section clearly hadn’t been updating…even when there were tech stories in other sections.

Then, maybe a week ago, it couldn’t display an ad on the Featured section…and wouldn’t show me any stories in that category.

About a week, it informed me that my version of the app was no longer supported, and to download the newer version.

That didn’t work, either.

So, I can’t really blame them.

As hardware becomes more capable, software evolves to match it. As the apps begin to push the edge of the capabilities of the hardware, the machine again gets better to match (and surpass) it.

Then the software evolves again, making for a virtuous cycle.

It’s a bit like…imagine that you’ve been going to your favorite movie theatre for years, and it’s the mid-1920s.

You love that place. The ushers know you by name. The organist plays like Lon Chaney in Paris. They program it really well.

You go every weekend, and it’s well worth your two bits.

1927 comes along, and Al Jolson ad libs a line…the talkies are born.

In the next town over, a theatre is wired for sound.

Even if your theatre wanted to wire for sound, they just aren’t set up for it.

You stay loyal, and enjoy every minute of it.

This goes on for another five years…in 1931, you are tempted by Frankenstein and Dracula (you’ve read the books, and saw Lugosi on stage), but your theatre is so…comfortable.

Eventually, though, all the movies you want to see have sound, and spoken dialogue.

You can’t blame the studios if they aren’t making silent movies any more. You can’t blame your theatre…it’s just as good as it ever was. You can’t blame the new theatre: your theatre was cutting edge once, too

That’s the problem with long-lasting gadgets…eventually, the content will outgrow it.

I expect to keep using HDXter for some time…but I’ll have to start thinking about a new one, too.

What do you think? Do you have any hardware that outlasted its compatible content? How long should a tablet last? Feel free to let me and my readers know 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!

* 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.

Sentenced to read

February 9, 2017

Sentenced to read

In a recent case where a group of teenagers defaced a school with insensitive graffiti, the judge threw the book at them.

While a book wasn’t literally thrown, the phrase is much more apt here than in the usual sense of giving someone a severe punishment.

The judge ordered the minors to read a book a month from a specific list and write a book report on it (they can also watch movies from a list and review those).

CNN story by Sophie Scott

Book ’em, Dano.

I am torn on this one, and I’ll be very interested to read your comments.

I think a lot of it will have to do with what you think the outcome of a conviction should be.

If you think that the goal should be to rehabilitate the guilty parties, then the judge’s requirement seems like a reasonable one.

I do believe that reading books tends to improve one’s empathy, and there has been evidence to that effect.

One of the books on the list is

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

The book helps you see other’s points of view. When you read dialog “spoken” by a character, you are, in effect, looking out through that character’s eyes. You will naturally try to understand their thoughts in that situation, to better understand the dialog and the book.

If we say that these teens lack empathy, and that at least certain books can improve empathy, then ordering these teens to read books is not all that different from making a condition of parole that someone attend a chemical dependency program.

It could be treatment.

It could also be education (like required attendance at traffic school after a moving violation), which could be considered to be part of treatment. If you believe that the defendants really didn’t understand the impact of what they were doing, educating them could be helpful.

I recall two instances from when I was a young child where I said/did something out of ignorance that would be considered offensive.

My family was very involved with the civil rights movement, and I don’t think I was particularly prejudiced…that would have been unlikely, I would say, when I was under ten years old being raised in that environment and around the types of people I knew.

Still, I mentioned to my Significant Other recently that I only easily recall a very prejudiced parody version of a TV theme song, not the actual original version. It had the “n word” in it, but I literally did not know what that word meant at that point. I had a vague sense of it being something mythological, like a unicorn. When I said the word, I had absolutely no intent to be saying anything bad about anybody. I didn’t relate it to real people, and I had never heard the word around the house, I’m sure.

I also recall being in Mexico as a kid and seeing a translated version of the comic book “Blackhawk”. I excitedly said something like, “Oh, ‘n*gro’ means ‘hawk’ in Spanish!” I’d forgotten that in Spanish, the adjective comes after the noun. I thought it was a cool, powerful image.

I debated with myself just now censoring that word, which is a Spanish word for a color (it means ‘black’). It has many legitimate uses in Spanish, certainly, and it’s used in a lot of contexts in the USA (there is an Oscar-nominated documentary about James Baldwin ((James Baldwin))with it in the title this year), but some people find it offensive so I figured I would err in that direction.

If you believed that these 16 and 17 year olds didn’t know what a swastika actually was, then educating them would make sense. I find that hard to believe in this case, though. When you look at the target and what was said, it certainly seems that they understood the context.

If you are looking for rehabilitation (and education can be a component), then this sentence makes sense (it also includes visiting some specific museums and writing about it).

In that perspective, I like the sentence.

The other major perspective on “crime and punishment”, though, is punishment.

Many people think that punishment and deterrence is the purpose of the law, and I’ve seen that suggested in the comments on this blog, by people I consider to be intelligent and compassionate.

That’s a big concern for me with this story.

It could easily be interpreted that reading is being used as a punishment, especially when children might hear about it. They are going to tend to think that a judge punishes, not heals (a jail term isn’t a vacation, and a fine isn’t a present)…and this then tells them that reading is an onerous task.

Regular readers also know that I’m unconvinced by required reading in school…encouraging reading, absolutely, but I think many people didn’t like books they were required to read in school…even though they may like them when they re-read them years later.

Will being sentenced to read make it less likely that they become regular readers later?

I do like that the judge is giving them a list, rather than a specific assignment each month. The teenagers will, I think, have a hand in choosing the book to read, which invests them in it to some extent.

Having thrashed my way through this in this post, I’m comfortable with the judge’s intent…but I’m still not sure about the collateral effects it may have.

What do you think? Do you agree with the judge’s sentence? Does it make a difference that these are juvenile offenders? Would you do something different for a 25 year-old…or an eight-year old? Can reading books improve people’s empathy…and would that reduce this kind of activity? 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!

* 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.

Can movies and TV shows be literary?

January 11, 2017

Can movies and TV shows be literary?

I would guess that most readers have had the experience of reading a book and thinking, “This would make a great movie!” I’ve certainly had the thought that a book was deliberately written with the thought that it would be adapted into a movie or TV show (after all, that may be how a book author makes the most money). Those books may sometimes be described as “cinematic”.

Is the reverse true?

Do you ever watch a movie or TV show, and think, “This would make a great book!”?

They are certainly two very different media…and arguably, three.

Books are very much under the control of the reader. If people want to read the end of the book first (and I have a reader who has said they do that at least sometimes), they can. The reader can jump around, go back and re-read a chapter, skip over a “boring part”, and so on.

With a movie (at least seen in a theatre), you go at the movie’s pace. Miss something for some reason, and you’ve missed it. Want to stop and think about an element, or even have a discussion with a friend or family member before proceeding? Not happening in your cinema.

TV has become different from movies, in that it can be under the viewer’s control. That’s especially true with the “binge watching” model, where an entire season (series, in UK parlance) may be released at once. Skip ahead, go back, stop and discuss…all an option.

I suspect that’s part of why I am more likely to think of a TV series as “literary” than a movie. Moreover, that precedes the home recording era. I think I pretty much always thought of Star Trek: the Original Series as feeling literary. I knew those characters, and I did discuss episodes.

A TV series being a series is part of that literary feeling, I think. It’s like chapters in a book: time for contemplation, and call-backs and foreshadowing. A movie can foreshadow…but for no more than about two hours.

If that’s the case, have I thought of movie series as more literary than stand-alones?

I’d say yes. For example, the first three Star Wars movies felt literary to me. There was a lot of thinking about what happened (despite what Isaac Asimov, who I admire, saying about the first movie…I believe it was something like that you would enjoy it if you “parked your brain outside”). I’d even say something like The Bowery Boys can feel more literary to me than most stand-alone movies…even though they are pretty visual (but malapropisms being significant shows a connection to words).

Buckaroo Banzai and Casablanca are both movies that are stand-alones, but have somewhat of a literary feel to me. I could certainly see reading the lines in Casablanca in a book. Now, Casablanca was a play first, and Earl Mac Rauch had written about Buckaroo and the Hong Kong Cavaliers considerably before the movie (but those writings weren’t published before the movie…a novel was in conjunction with the movie). I don’t think that’s why they feel literary to me.

For me, there are a few elements which I believe may increase that literary feel:

  • There are a lot of words. 🙂 Books are word-based; movies are generally visual image-based. Casablanca is one of the most quotable movies ever
  • The plot is complex. That doesn’t mean it’s a Gordian knot of double-backs and sub-plots. Many movies nowadays spend almost the entire movie in “crisis mode”, with tactical responses to what is happening now, rather than strategic planning and a variegated pace. I felt that “crisis mode” issue with the latest Star Trek movie, which is part of why it didn’t feel like an episode of the original series to me. That’s an advantage for many TV series, where there are multiple plots and episodes which feel different from each other. A movie which amounts to a single chase scene or battle (or a combination of the two) doesn’t tend to feel like a book to me
  • The audience can speculate about what the “right choices” are, or what things mean…and different audience members may come to different conclusions. For me, that’s part of why Rogue One (the latest Star Wars movie) didn’t feel as literary to me. I’m very careful about spoilers, so MILD SPOILER WARNING, although I won’t reveal any plot points. I didn’t feel like the audience was ever supposed to be in doubt about what the right choices were in Rogue One. END SPOILER In the original Star Wars movies, we could argue with each other that characters might have legitimately made different choices

I would be remiss to omit that there are books made from movies and TV shows. I have really enjoyed some of those. Star Trek and Star Wars have had very successful books which were not novelizations of the movie plots. However, those aren’t the only ones, by far. There were Man from U.N.C.L.E. originals (which I own and liked). It might be surprising to some that the same is true of Get Smart novels I own. 🙂

Amazon has a section for “tie-ins”…they refer to it as movie tie-ins, but it includes TV series and videogames:

Literature & Fiction – Genre Fiction – Movie Tie-ins (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

There are 2,783 titles there at time of writing.

There has been some great writing in “tie-in” or “expanded universe” writing, and there is an organization dedicated to them:

The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers

I recommend taking a look at the site, which is copyrighted by prominent authors Lee Goldberg (at AmazonSmile*) and Max Allan Collins ( at AmazonSmile*). They are both successful authors of original works, in addition to their work with IAMTW.

One more note: “fanfic” (fan fiction) is something different, given that it isn’t authorized by the rightsholders. It tends to be self-published, not for profit, and can have both more “freedom” and less quality control for those reasons. Amazon has Kindle Worlds (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), which has books in existing universes which are authorized but not curated by the rightsholders. It’s sort of a hybrid version: not unauthorized fanfic, not edited tie-in.

What do you think? Can movies and TV shows by literary? If so, what makes them feel like that to you? Are there particular movies/TV shows which have struck you that way? How do you feel about tie-in novels…are there ones you have read, original stories in a universe first established in a visual medium, that you would particularly recommend? Feel free to let me and my readers know 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! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

* 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 The Measured Circle 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.

What’s scarier: supernatural horror or science fiction horror?

October 26, 2016

What’s scarier: supernatural horror or science fiction horror?

Literature can take us to impossible places…and they aren’t all feel-good fairy lands.

In fact, some of them are scary…very, very scary. I have no doubt that the vast majority of “impossible” fiction contains an element of fear-generation. Fear suggests risk, and risk is the very (rapidly beating) heart of drama.

I’m leaving purely psychological horror out of this discussion. If you read a book about a person whose cruelty is within known human behavior, who doesn’t use extra-reality techniques, it isn’t an impossible fiction…horrifying, yes, and by definition horror, but not what I consider small “f” fantasy or what I consider geeky**.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of impossible horror fiction.

In one, the thing that creates fear is presented as being based on science. We the readers are to believe that it could at some point happen within the “laws” of physics (and other science). It could be an alien invader, like the Martians in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. It might be from experiments in biochemistry, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. It may be a social dystopia in the future (anything set in the future is by definition impossible for the reader), or artificial intelligence, or a new disease.

In the other, the thing that creates the fear is “supernatural”. It’s not based on science. It’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Jacob Marley in Charles’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It’s not something that is just waiting to be invented.

They both can be scary. While it might seem like science fiction horror would be scarier, because it could happen in the real world, there are two things arguing against that.

One is that something that is created by science can hypothetically be fought by science. The tools that create it are here…the weapons to stop it must be as well. What can be made can be unmade…at least, the possibility exists.

The other thing is that many people believe in the supernatural. They may call it different things, and their beliefs may vary wildly and they may be accepting of one type of the supernatural and condemning of another.

Roughly one third to one half of Americans believe in ghosts, according to polls. Does that change ghost stories into science fiction? There are science fiction ghost stories, where the ghosts are explained by science. However, belief in non-science based ghosts is clearly sizeable. It’s possible, again based on polls, that more people believe in ghosts than in the Big Bang theory.

Interestingly, supernatural doesn’t usually mean without rules. The rules can be very clearly defined…we certainly see that in vampire literature, even though the rules may not be the same from one vampire “world” to another. Can a vampire enter a home without being asked? Can they walk around in the daytime? Do they have to sleep in a coffin with some of their native soil? No…and yes. 🙂 Depends on the book.

I think it could be argued that supernatural systems can have more precision in their rules. The real world is messy…it’s much harder to define a rule in reality than it is in fiction.

Perhaps supernatural horror is scarier if you don’t believe in the supernatural…and science fiction horror is scarier if you do believe in science. 🙂

There’s another whole subset that uses science to create the beings we know from the supernatural. One that I enjoyed was

World Enough, and Time by James Kahn (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

but there are many.

For me, bad science fiction is still in the science fiction category. By that, I mean science fiction based on bad science…if someone said, “I combined aspirin and lemonade and it created an invisibility formula because it blocked out visible wavelengths,” that’s not going to happen based on commonly accepted science, but it’s suggested that it happens based on known science, not on magic. That makes it “bad science” fiction, as far as I’m concerned.

It’s not a big deal to me: I don’t clearly separate science fiction from the supernatural, although I know it’s a passionate argument for many. I’m a “lumper” not a “splitter”. I look for elements that justify that something is fantasy, not that it isn’t.

It’s much harder to find a “classical” author who hasn’t written any “impossible” fiction than many of the literati might want you to believe. Dickens, Shakespeare, Jack London, on and on.

Well, what do you think? Do you find that horror based on science is scarier or that horror based on the supernatural is…or that it just depends on the book? If it does matter, why? What novel has scared you the most? What would recommend? 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! Do you have what it takes to be a Timeblazer?

* 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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” 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.

** At TMCGTT (The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip ) I consider any “impossible fiction” as geeky. The Lord of the Rings, non-science based, is geeky in my book.

Should the President be reading indies?

August 15, 2016

Should the President be reading indies?

“Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories.”
–Arthur C. Clarke

I like that we get to see the President’s reading list..and just to be clear, that would be any President, not particularly the current one.

It tells the country and the world that the President of the USA reads recreationally…not a small message to send.

When I saw this year’s list, though, I was struck by one thing in particular. Here’s  the list, as reported by the White House

here

What stood out to me?

While they aren’t all from Big 5 publishers (Grove isn’t one), they are all traditionally published.

Now, that’s not really a surprise. These books are well known, and I’m sure a President doesn’t have much time to browse. 🙂

However, it could have really had an impact on an indie (independently published book) if the President had selected one.

I’m sure there are people who could have made a recommendation. 😉

I don’t have anything against mainstream published books. It’s just that it seems like this is a missed opportunity.

I was curious: in terms of the Kindle store, the highest any of these was ranked was #19 bestseller at time of writing. It’s a different situation in p-book (paperbook) bestsellers, and I would guess that at least some of the time, the President reads e-books…

One other comment: all of these publishers are headquartered in the USA. Penguin (a British company) merged with Random House, but the HQ is in New York. There are hundreds of indie books published in the USA Kindle store every month, and I would be sure the vast majority of those, if they make any money at all, are under USA tax jurisdiction, and tend to contribute to the USA  economy.

What do you think? Were you surprised by any of the President’s choices? Do  you think picking an indie or lesser-known book would have been a good  thing? 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! Do you have what it takes to be a Timeblazer?

* 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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” 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.

 

 

 

Are e-books good enough?

June 8, 2016

Are e-books good enough?

I found this a very interesting

TELEREAD post by Chris Meadows

In referencing a piece by Jason Illian of Bookshout! about the lack of technical innovation in e-books, Meadows says:

“There’s no consumer demand for better e-books.”

That’s an intriguing postulate, and I wanted to discuss it with you.

I love innovation: I think a lot of people do. My favorite thing in reading a book or watching a TV show or a movie is to be surprised…I like that with my tech, too.

Show me something I’ve never seen before, and I’ll smile.

However…

Most people don’t want change in something which is already working and on which they depend.

I can relate to this with my work.

I’m a trainer (I train technology to medical people…I train other things to them, too, but that’s my main job). I also do “performance improvement”…workflow analysis and optimization, that sort of thing.

People present these formulae for how to improve performance, and I’m amused by one thing which I see taught as a standard technique.

They want you to observe the top performers; see what they are doing which is efficient. Then, you get the moderate and lower performing users to do things that way.

The theory, I assume, is that the top performers have found the best way to do it.

There usually is no best way for everybody.

Since people are different and have different approaches, there are different “best ways”. I’m not a visual person: make me make choices based on icons, and I’ll be slower than making choices based on words. There are other people (probably more people) who will do better with the icons.

The other thing is that top performers with tech are top performers in part because they like change.

If you observe them again three months later, they’ll be doing it a different way. Do you go back and retrain everybody else to do it the new way?

A top performer with tech says,  “What does that button do? What if I do this instead of that?”

The average doctor, nurse, medical assistant, and so on, doesn’t want to intellectually engage with the tech while providing patient care. They want to concentrate on the patient, and have the tech just support them unobtrusively. That includes when they are “charting” (documenting what happened).

Top performers (with tech) tend to have a multi-tasking temperament. They can effectively do one thing while effectively thinking about something else.

You can’t transfer that to someone else.

Many of us feel like we “depend” on books. If we want to read a book and can’t do it, it upsets us. That is, by the way, how I, as a layperson, conceptualize addiction. It’s an addiction if it feels bad if you don’t do it. 🙂

E-books, right now, work. I can pick up my device, start reading, and I’m good to go.

After all, that’s how print books worked for centuries. You picked them up and read them and the tech worked.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t really appreciate the innovations that e-books give me over p-books. Being able to carry a bunch of books in my pocket, having the book know where I finished my last reading session, and especially the increasable text size are all great.

If text sizes had been static, though, that wouldn’t have stopped me from reading e-books. I would have had to wear reading glasses, just as I would have with print books, or bought ones with larger text.

It’s true that I don’t buy books where the publisher has blocked text-to-speech access, but that’s an ethical stand, not a personal use one.

There are things that irritate people (the way that some models justify ((align the edges)) of the text, for example), but I doubt that most people feel like the e-books are below a standard acceptable level.

The question is this: why should Amazon (or other retailers, or the publishers) innovate on e-books?

Innovation costs money. It’s not just in the development; it’s in the customer service, which can be quite expensive. You risk people not liking it (ask Microsoft about Clippy the paper clip assistant for Microsoft Office)…if you even just change where a choice is in a menu, you get pushback.

There are strong reasons not to innovate.

Why, then, have we ever gotten innovation?

Competition.

That’s not the only reason…companies also innovate because it is fun, because it supports departments (the engineers you need to deal with changing conditions, say, a new internet standard, also need something to do when those don’t occur…it’s good for their morale, too), and because it gets media attention.

The biggest reason, I believe, is competition. For Amazon, that included competition with Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Kobo. We’ve seen that with the Kindle and the NOOK…for example, Barnes & Noble had a frontlit device before Amazon had the Paperwhite. It also, significantly, included competition with p-books…e-books have tried to match p-books competitive advantages, by adding lending, for example (we still don’t have a “used” e-book market, though).

Does any competitor with Amazon on e-books have current features which are so much better that Amazon as to worry about people switching? The only one that comes to my mind is a water resistant EBR (E-Book Reader)…but I don’t think someone with a significant Kindle library would drop it for, say, a Kobo Aura H20. They might have both…

Given the costs associated with e-book format innovation, the question is this: should Amazon devote resources to it?

I thought I’d ask you:

If you have additional comments, feel free to leave them on this post.

Special note: I’d said yesterday I wanted to get another post out last night, but I’d had dental work done yesterday, and it affected me more than I expected. 🙂 It’s not bad, but I think it’s still affecting me this morning. My Significant Other is back from helping our now adult kid move, though, so that’s good.  🙂

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!

* 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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” 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 frictionless future

June 1, 2016

The frictionless future

E-books have removed a lot of the tiny impedimenta that used to exist for reading.

Of course, when we read p-books (paperbooks), we didn’t really think that much about things like having to keep our own place in a book, perhaps having to get reading glasses, and only practically being able to carry a couple of books with us at a time (I always had at least two, so I wouldn’t have the horror of finishing a book on an errand and not having another one to read). 😉

I think, similarly, we aren’t aware of  some of the steps which we still take today with e-books.

As a trainer working with software, I often have people point out the number of “clicks” saved by a new feature, and they expect that means instant and universal adoption.

I have to explain that clicks don’t matter.

You see, people are very good at learning a sequence…and then forgetting the individual steps.

Let’s say that somebody is doing something in ten clicks. I show them how to do it in three clicks. If I come back a month later, they’ll probably be doing it in ten again.

If I ask them why, they’ll say, “It’s how I know how to do it.”

They aren’t thinking of it as ten actions, they are thinking of it as one.

I demonstrate this by asking somebody to suddenly give me the fifth number in their phone number. They typically pause and have to think about it.

If I just said, “What’s your phone number?” they could instantly spit it out…even though that’s more digits.

It’s similar with e-reading.

Once we identify friction points, developers can think about how to get around them…and  believe me, they already are.

I always have a password on my tablets… think that’s pretty necessary if you are going to do any kind of personal business (or business business) on them. I don’t do that on my EBRs (E-Book Readers), but I probably would if they left the house. 😉

There is work being done right now to eliminate passwords.

One promising idea is that your phone can tell who you are…by your gait, by how you swipe, by your face, by your voice, by a fingerprint…a lot of possibilities.

If someone else picked it up, the phone will be able to tell…and at that point, it would require a password.

We don’t give as much data to our EBRs and tablets…we just don’t carry them around as much.

One solution would be to have your phone (or some wearable or implant) tell your EBR/tablet who you are. With biometrics (another possibility is to recognize our unique smells), a more powerful EBR/tablet could do it on its own.

Another point of friction?

Getting to the device.

I know that may sound funny, but how often are you walking back to where your device is, or digging it out of a purse/laptop case?

I think we like the form factor of a six-inch (or slightly bigger) screen too much to assume that people will read on phones or watches.

That likely means projection…although the projection may very likely be virtual.

I don’t mean specifically virtual reality, which replaces your actual environment…but augmented reality (which puts fictional objects into the real world) might work quite well. People would miss the sense of touch…but they are working on that, too.

Having to pick a new book is definitely friction, although it can be an enjoyable challenge. They’ve been working on that with videos…autoplay. I think some sort of autoplay for books is in the future…where it automatically presents you with the next book in a series, or by the same author, or on the same topic…and it will figure out which one you most likely want.

Our devices are going to become much more aware of our emotions…meaning that a book selection interface could show you some options, and determine which one you prefer just based on where and long your gaze went and was…four choices could appear on the screen, and based on where you looked, it would pull up which one you’ve silently and subconsciously indicated.

Basically, summing up, when we want to read we’ll just be able to read. 🙂

Oh, another area…turning pages. Eventually, e-books will know when we are getting to the end of a page (and separate that from just a glance).

Those are a few things that occur to me…how about you? What are your friction points in e-reading? 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.

Concepts of Copyright

January 16, 2016

Concepts of Copyright

You are a reader.

What books you have to read depends, to a large degree, on copyright.

If there was no copyright protection, arguably, a lot of existing books would suddenly become available to you for free.

One of the questions, though, would be how it would affect future books.

Could someone make a living writing books if anyone could reproduce them and sell them with nothing paid to the author?

It is possible.

People might make a point of paying the author to support them.

Many people, though, wouldn’t, of course.

The USA didn’t invent copyright…it was at the least inspired by England’s Statute of Anne. America’s copyright came about 80 years afterwards, but even the idea that copyright belonged in the courts was derivative.

The copyright clause from 1787 explains the reasoning this way:

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

There was a lot of discussion of the clause at that time…and the discussion still goes on today.

The way it is written, it doesn’t say anything about a natural right to the copyright…that authors should own their creations because they created them.

It says it is to “promote the Progress”: I think we can safely say that means to encourage the production of new works.

With that idea, it goes basically like this:

“Authors will not create if they can’t have compensation for having created their works, so we offer them protection for a limited time.”

After that, the works then become available to everybody.

How long should that term be?

That’s where some of my readers, have a very definite idea.

I respect these readers a great deal, and am…impressed by their passion.

I wanted to take a post to explore this a bit more.

First, I do want to bring up one thing that to me seems quite weird.

In much of the world, including the USA, the copyright term is based on the author’s life plus a certain number of years.

I’m open to a lot of things, but I particularly don’t like that one. 🙂

It seems inherently ageist and unfair, and I’m surprised that there haven’t been legal challenges to it.

It’s simple.

If you publish a book when you are 90 years old, and the copyright term is Life+70 years (which it is in the USA right now), you and your estate will be able to make a lot less money on it than if you published it when you were 20.

People also talk about Life+70 as being designed for the author’s kids to become mature adults.

So, should a childless author get a shorter copyright term?

The other reason I don’t like life+ systems is it makes it much harder to tell if something is in copyright or not. You can’t just look at the publication date and know.

My readers haven’t proposed that change (to a finite term), by the way.

I think a finite term would tend to “promote the progress”. Some books take a considerable amount of time and effort to create, especially some non-fiction. While a 90 year old might have the same passion to create as a 20 year old, the money they could get for the book would be less…because the publisher would have a shorter time to make money.

If there is a finite term, how long should it be?

Ah, there’s the rub. 😉

Proponents of shorter terms (as short as fourteen years) may believe that we have a shared culture. They may point out that, if Shakespeare was still under copyright, poorer people would have less access to it.

I think that’s a reasonable point…I read a lot of public domain works which I got legally for free.

However, those of lesser means can read in-copyright books now…through public libraries and donations, often from the publishers.

When I’ve explored the idea of permanent copyright (which would require amending the Constitution, so it’s very unlikely), I have suggested that, in exchange, greater Fair Use rights would be made available. I would allow the use of copyrighted books for scholastic study without compensation, for one thing.

Let’s ignore permanent for now.

What would be different if copyright was fourteen years versus if it was fourteen hundred years?

With the fourteen year term, you would be able to read a book published today for free in about a decade and a half.

That sounds good…but it seems obvious to me that publishers would have to do something different to make anything like the same amount of money they make now.

One option would be to charge a lot more money for the book. If a book can sell for, oh, one-fifth the amount of time it can now (at least, sell with compensation to the publisher), one could hypothetically charge five times as much for it to make the same amount of money.

That, of course, doesn’t work very well. 🙂

You wouldn’t sell the same number of copies.

Let’s go with $10 as a price for a new e-book novel (you can pay a lot less than that, of course, but we are really looking at the traditional publishing model right now). If the book cost $50, would as many people pay for it?

Nope.

Would piracy also increase?

Very likely.

Licensing might also tighten. We have what I consider to be quite generous licensing terms right now from the Kindle store. Typically, six people on the account can be reading the same book at the same time for one purchase price (what you are purchasing is a license). You could have 100 people (or more) on the account, and they could all read the same book…just, usually, not all at the same time.

If the rights are for a much shorter time, I would expect them to want to crack down on “serial reading”, where one person (or set of people) read the book, then another person does. I expect that my descendants can read my ebooks…clearly, with a fourteen year term, that’s not going to happen as much the same way. They’ll read the books for free.

As a purchaser, the value of the book goes down considerably if it’s only good for a relatively limited time…why not wait?

The value comes in reading it before other people, and while it is “hot”.

It becomes a luxury.

The value has gone down in terms of multiple readers with shorter terms, which could drive down the price, but the prestige has gone up, which could drive up the price.

Read the current Stephen King for $100, or one from the year 2000 for free? There would be people who would pay the $100, but there would be fewer of them.

I want to return at this point to the purpose of copyright.

I would say there are two basic conceptions here:

  • It is a business license
  • It is to protect a natural right

As a business license, it makes sense that it can be for a limited time. The only considerations, really, have to do with money. Authors are granted a limited term to have exclusive rights to the work so they can make money on it to encourage them (and others) to write more works, which benefits the culture.

After that limited time, the book becomes the property of the public, and becomes part of our shared culture.

The “natural right” concept says that the author created the work, and has a natural right to control its use. In that case, it seems to me that an unlimited copyright is a reasonable possibility.

One argument against the natural right means permanent argument is that the natural right only exists for the creator, and some extend it to the creator’s children. That creator’s children part supposedly explains life+70: seventy years is a reasonable approximation of life expectancy, so it means that if an author writes a book, dies right away, and has an infant child, that child can be supported by the book throughout its expected life. I find that a pretty unlikely scenario, personally.

Some people don’t like that properties end up under the control of a corporation: they say it then becomes “profits in perpetuity”, and that it likely is no longer benefiting the author or the author’s  descendants.

They wouldn’t want Disney or Sony determining how Mark Twain is used by the world, for example.

They also see it as benefiting an entity which has done nothing to deserve it.

The author, though, chose to license the rights to the publisher. If the author has control over the work, why isn’t that something they should be able to control? The longer the copyright term, the more potential value to the company, the more the likely purchase price will be. Authors should theoretically make more money when the copyright is longer, in terms of licensing fees.

It also seems to me that Disney has done a great deal of work on perpetuating the value of Mickey Mouse. The example of Mickey is often brought up in copyright discussions. We go back to Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon (1928). The Disney company has undeniably lobbied to have the copyright terms extended when Steamboat Willie’s protected end time was nigh. A 1998 act is sometimes colloquially referred to as the “Mickey Mouse Act”.

I’m not talking about those lobbying efforts as things Disney has done with Mickey…although that does show time and effort.

They have carefully promoted the character.

They have built on it over time.

Anybody who doesn’t think the Disney corporation is a large factor in why we even think the rights to Steamboat Willie are valuable…well, I’d be interested in hearing the arguments that without the Disney corporation, Mickey Mouse would be equally as valuable today as it would be if copyright had run out on Steamboat Willie in 1942 (or 1956…the original 14 year copyright term was renewable once).

Another argument in favor of earlier public domain status is that it allows more creative works to happen. People can then build upon the earlier works.

Two iconic examples of that are West Side Story (based on Romeo and Juliet) and Forbidden Planet (based on The Tempest).

The argument goes that those wouldn’t exist if the original Shakespeare works weren’t in the public domain.

I’m not convinced of that.

If the creators of those works had to license the originals, would that have made been an impossible hurdle or unreasonable burden?

Sure, it would have been up to the rightsholder. If the hypothetical “We Bought Shakespeare Corporation” didn’t like science fiction, or didn’t want the social commentary of West Side Story to happen, they could have refused the rights.

That is a perfectly legitimate argument: that’s a point I understand, about not wanting a limited group to control how something which is part of our shared culture to be used.

I also think it isn’t as simple as to say that when something is in-copyright, creativity is stymied.

Let’s say you wanted to take the beloved Archie Andrews characters (Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and so on), and put them into a violent zombie comic. That would be up to the publisher…and Archie Comics allowed just that with the popular and critically-acclaimed

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

If Archie had been in the public domain, anyone could have created an Afterlife with Archie type comic, of course…but how many people would ever have seen it? Since it was under license (being in-copyright) to a major distributor, it could get comic book store distribution…and the company spent money on promotion and quality control.

What about Superman flying or the existence of Kryptonite? Both brought to the company from outside, both approved by the company (see my article, xxy).

Remember, also, that in the USA, parody is protected by copyright. There are also some rights around “fanfic” (fan created fiction), at least where characters are not trademarked. What allows both of those? Fair Use. I do think that balancing longer copyright terms with greater Fair Use provisions is a possible balance.

Stepping away from the corporations for a minute, another argument I hear is that people don’t want there to be a class of people who are well off through inheritance, in this case, inheritance of intellectual property rights. That’s an interesting question of social engineering. My own feeling on that is that it should apply in a similar manner to other property rights. If intellectual property rights have limited inheritance, so should other property rights. I’m sure there are people who would agree with that:  I’ve seen serious proposals for a 100% death tax: you die, and your property goes to the government, which then uses it to for the public good…including taking care of orphans, presumably.

I think that sort of discussion is beyond the scope of this post. 😉

Oh, I also hear people say that authors are only able to create their works because of the society in which they grew up, and that the audience for their works exists because of society. The public paid for their educations, and the readers can read because of the school system. When people say that, I wonder…do they think someone who immigrated here as adult and then wrote a book should get a longer copyright term, because they don’t have to “reimburse” society for the public schooling? 😉 Do we really educate people only as a loan for the good they can do society, and they should have to pay it back? What if someone calculated the costs of their education, then paid the government that money, then wrote a book…should they be entitled to longer copyright terms?

I’ve gone on quite long enough, but I do want to make one more point.

The 14 year term came about in 1787.

What was the intent of that length?

Presumably, it had something to with exploitation of the value of the created work, and the point at which it would benefit the public for it to be free to copy

I would suggest that neither of those are the same today.

There are so many more revenue streams today than there were in 1787.

One of the most significant is movie/TV adaptation.

Publishers, and authors, can make a great deal of money from licensing the rights for the kind of media adaptations which just didn’t exist in 1787.

If the copyright term was fourteen years, how often would a movie or television studio simply choose to wait fourteen years before spending significant money on the production? A book might not become popular for a few years after publication, which makes it a shorter time from interest to screen.

Of course, on the flip side, how many movie studios would pay $200m to make a blockbuster movie…when it would be free to distribute in fourteen years? I’m guessing you could say good-bye to movies like Star Wars:  The Force Awakens and Jurassic World  if the copyright term was significantly shorter.

At any rate, this is all a very complex topic. I’m not decided on anything (although, as I mentioned, I really don’t like life+ terms). There are people who have it as a matter of faith (they believe they will never change their minds) that copyright terms should be short, or that there should be no copyright, or that it should be permanent. I’m not one of those folks.

I know, as a writer myself, I’m probably emotionally prejudiced in favor of longer terms. I do feel like I should own my creations (although I 100% accept the idea of Fair Use, including where my own works are concerned). I can set aside emotional prejudice, though: I suppose that’s one reason I’ve been on three juries in the past ten years. 😉

I’m very interested in what you think about this. I have no doubt many of my regular readers are skipping this one, and waiting for something lighter in the next post…which is okay by me. Others of you are deeply interested and will want to express your opinions to me and my readers. Feel free to do so 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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” 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.

** A Kindle with text-to-speech can read any text downloaded to it…unless that access is blocked by the publisher inserting code into the file to prevent it. That’s why you can have the device read personal documents to you (I’ve done that). I believe that this sort of access blocking disproportionately disadvantages the disabled, although I also believe it is legal (provided that there is at least one accessible version of each e-book available, however, that one can require a certification of disability). For that reason, I don’t deliberately link to books which block TTS access here (although it may happen accidentally, particularly if the access is blocked after I’ve linked it). I do believe this is a personal decision, and there  are legitimate arguments for purchasing those books. In this particular case, text-to-speech is not available, but that will be due to a technical issue. The “text” is actually part of the illustrations, and not available to TTS.

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.

Does the e-book sales plateau represent the digital divide?

January 5, 2016

Does the e-book sales plateau represent the digital divide?

This

American Libraries article by Alan S. Inouye

is one of the most insightful and interesting articles I’ve ever read on the current state and future of e-books.

It gets answers from four experts to a series of questions…and I found each of them worth reading.

I’ll pause for a moment for you to make the emotional commitment to read that article.

Ready? Good. 😉

I wanted to focus on one inference I drew from what was said.

After the introduction of the Kindle in 2007, the growth in the e-book market (which had been, to use a technical term, teeny tiny before that), was remarkable.

It was faster than the growth of some other digital media markets.

I thought that e-books would clearly dominate within about five years (and I speak as a former manager of a brick-and-mortar bookstore, and someone with something like 10,000 paperbooks on shelves in my home).

I was wrong…but I may also have been right.

First, I have to say that we may not really know how many books being obtained in the USA are e-books. The issue is that it was and still is much easier to tell how many books are sold by the traditional publishers (tradpubs) than it is by indies (independents).

Many, possibly most, e-books sold by independents are sold through Amazon…and Amazon is notably reticent to release actual sales figures.

It may be that we are able to measure reasonably well the e-books sold by tradpubs versus the p-books (paperbooks) they sell, and that we simply aren’t able to reliably measure the e-books sold by indies. The USA Kindle store typically averages adding well over a thousand titles a day…and a tiny percentage of those are from tradpubs.

However…

Let’s go from the assumption that our ability to measure that hasn’t gotten significantly worse, and that e-book sales have actually slowed down…maybe even having plateaued (stabilized).

Why would that have happened?

I hadn’t really thought about it this way before reading the article, but maybe what happened is that the market of serious readers (one person in the article refers to them as “core readers”) has overwhelmingly converted to e-books…and casual readers haven’t.

That makes sense.

E-books, especially in the beginning, required an investment.

People tended to buy a fairly expensive piece of hardware (the first Kindle was around $400) on which to read them.

Now, that’s less true.

You can buy a

Fire, 7″ Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB – Includes Special Offers, Black (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

for about $50, and you can get the

Kindle, 6″ Glare-Free Touchscreen Display, Wi-Fi – Includes Special Offers (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

EBR (E-Book Reader) for about $80.

You can (and many people do) read e-books on SmartPhones…and while those aren’t inexpensive, many people feel they are essential. Home refrigerator/freezers aren’t inexpensive…but once people had them, it created a market for convenience foods that weren’t individually expensive, and has very probably affected some markets like restaurants, milk delivery, and local grocery stores/farmers’ markets.

What may have happened is that the serious readers were more willing to lay out for the devices, and more willing to try e-books.

The advantage of individual e-books being cheaper than p-books (which has generally, although not universally, been the case) helps people who get more books more. Let’s just say you could save $4 per e-book. If you bought a hundred books, you saved the $400 for the first Kindle…and serious readers could easily do that in a year. A casual reader, who might buy, oh, let’s call it four books in a year, needs 25 years to break even.

The same thing goes for the advantage of storage. As I mentioned, I have quite a few p-books…we dedicate a room in the house to be a floor-to-ceiling library. Many casual readers keep very few books in the house, and never take more than one book out with them when, for instance, running errands. They just don’t get the same advantage.

Could it be that the roughly 25% of the measurable market of e-books sales might represent perhaps 90% of the purchases of serious readers?

Yes, I think that’s possible…and if true, would explain the plateau.

Does that mean e-book growth is done?

Nope.

I agree with people in the article who think that e-book growth will rebound.

For one thing, there are those SmartPhones, and increasingly, tablets. If reading a book is happening on the same screen where you do everything else, it becomes more likely for casual readers.

For another, casual readers may slowly start to convert to e-book sales.

One of the reasons casual readers buy books is to give them as gifts.

Currently, the perception is that a physical book is a better gift than an e-book.

Over time, that may change.

When people’s sense of what serious readers do is to read e-books, that may be what people give.

Here’s another reason:

Casual readers buy books because of their kids needing them for school, and for educational purposes.

When schools inevitably switch more strongly to e-books (inevitable because of cost, including loss and damage), kids’ parents won’t be knocking on a bookstore’s door just after closing for a book needed for a book report the next morning (I literally had that happen).

E-books are better for education…and they will keep getting better.

I know, that’s an unusually definitive statement for me.

I think, though, it’s hard to argue that having a built-in dictionary isn’t better for learning than needing a separate dictionary.

That doesn’t mean stand-alone dictionaries don’t have value…I read an unabridged one cover to cover when I was a kid. They have value, but especially for a disadvantaged child, they may not be readily available. E-books mean that everybody has a dictionary, and that they are used in context.

There are also the links to the web (including Wikipedia, but not limited to it), and features like “mentioned in this book”, which can facilitate additional reading (including from diverse viewpoints on the same topic).

So, I think that slowly, three of the main drivers for casual readers will convert to a much greater degree to e-books:

  • Gifts
  • Education
  • Sporadic personal reading (such as on vacation)

In the meantime, though, I think it’s reasonable to be concerned that e-books heighten the digital divide.

I’ve been a big proponent of e-books broadening reading access, and I do think that’s true. Someone of little means can read the great literature of the world for free. They may need to go to the library to have access to a computer, but for public domain books (those not under copyright protection), they will have very broad access. Many people have some sort of internet access available to them at home, or at school. We see this especially in “developing” countries, where e-books have been used to get literature to places where getting p-books would be impractical (see, for example, WorldReader.org).

In the next few years it may be true that serious readers with more means may have access to more traditionally published books than those without those resources…and that they will access to more research tools.

It’s not a big concern of mine, and it is an argument to try to speed up the adoption of e-books in those casual readers.

It is, though, interesting…

Summing up, I may have incorrectly predicted the e-book market based on me and readers like me, and missed the prediction for the broader market where adoption may have been much slower.

What do you think? Do e-books heighten or lessen the digital divide? Is there actually an e-book sales plateau, or is it just a case of measurability? If there is, is it because of serious readers having converted to a much greater degree than casual readers? Was there anything else in the American Libraries article which especially struck you? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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* 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.


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