cominer

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Problems for Apple? Probably Not but…

In Entertainment, Technology on April 30, 2010 at 10:22 am
Apple Inc.

Image via Wikipedia

So, yesterday, I talked a bit about how there were some issues related to the availability of books on e-readers such as the IPad and the Kindle.

But, there was something that I overlooked.

Cory Doctorow, over at Publisher’s Weekly, has a different take on the situation, writing a column explaining why he won’t allow his books to be sold through Apple and why he thinks other authors should follow in his footsteps.

Doctorow, who is already on record stating he won’t buy an IPad in large part because of Apple’s restrictive policies about whether or not you can share your purchases with others (more often than not — you can’t), returns to that theme.

After pointing out that most pieces about the IPad “have been long on emotional raves about its beauty and ease of use, but have glossed over its competitive characteristics—or rather, its lack thereof” he suggests that writers tell Apple they can’t license their copyrights until they agree to allow people to share what they’ve bought.

“You shouldn’t take it from Apple, either, and that goes for Amazon and the Kindle, too,” he adds.

And he has a point. One of the great joys in reading a book is being able to say to someone, “Hey. You should read this” and then actually lend them the book.

I sort of can’t help but wonder if the e-reader conflict is going to turn into World Format War III (after VHS vs. Betamax and Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD).

While I wish Doctorow well, I suspect, sadly, there’s not going to be a lot of withholding going on. Just look at John Grisham who spoke passionately about the threat to bookstores posed by e-readers and refused to allow e-editions of his work but then caved after just a couple of months.

Meanwhile, Apple has an even bigger problem.

Jon Stewart.

It goes like this.

An Apple employee leaves his prototype of the new super-secret IPhone in a bar (sounds like the beginning of a very bad joke, which I guess it was for Apple), someone finds it, tries returning it to Apple, is rebuffed, so they offer it to techblog Gizmodo, which buys it, takes it apart, posts details about it and then, after Apple asks for it back, they give it back.

While it may not have been the most sound journalistic practice on Gizmodo’s part, it didn’t warrant what happened next, which was the cops busting down the door of the home of the Gizmodo editor who wrote the piece and seizing his computers.

On The Daily Show on Wednesday night, Stewart — a self=proclaimed long-time Apple user (as am I; I only wish the IPhone were available to Verizon so I can trade up my ITouch) — took them to task for becoming what they used to mock.

In the end, I suspect all the criticism in the world won’t really make all that much of a difference to Apple but it would be nice to think — especially today as Apple ships the latest iteration of the IPad (with WiFi and 3G) that Jobs is listening to all this and recognizes that as great as his devices are, there’s always room for improvement.

And the same goes for Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Sony and the others.

Maybe if there was a little less IPad vs. Kindle and a little more focus on the consumer, all would be good.

Advertisements

E-Rights and Wrongs

In Entertainment, Technology on April 29, 2010 at 10:07 am
Image representing Amazon Kindle as depicted i...

Image via CrunchBase

So, we have the Kindle and the IPad and the Nook and more e-readers coming out all the time.

And you have some big name writers making big bucks writing pieces just for these devices and you have other writers who are doing well enough, that they’re backing away from traditional publishing to focus on work to be downloaded.

So, all must be pretty good for writers as the world of publishing expands online, right? Well, not quite.

Much as what happened when ITunes started and some musicians withheld their music, complaining about the terms. And, there are some who are still keeping their music out of digital stores and there are others who have seen their music become available but are none too happy about how it’s turned out.

Well, it’s turning out to be the same with writers as it has been with musicians as authors struggle on several fronts from controlling the rights to their work to how much their going to get to well, if everything’s going to be sold online, what’s going to happen to bookstores?

The issue’s been in the news this week because after a month’s long fight, Random House has agreed to let the family of William Styron, author of Sophie’s Choice and other classics, to sell the e-rights to his books to Open Road Media.

What made this especially notable is that Random House has taken a pretty hard line when it comes to holding on to the e-rights of books.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in December, Random House CEO Markus Dohle sent a letter to literary agents asserting that the “vast majority of our backlist contracts grant us the right to publish books in electronic formats.

And in response to those who disagreed because contracts drawn up decades before e-books became popular — r practical — a Random House spokesman told the paper: “We believe Random House has the right to pblish out author’s backlist titles as e-books.”

Well, of course they do.

You would think Random House had learned its lesson — after all, it was nearly ten years ago that they lost a landmark case when it tried to get Rosetta Books from publishing some e-books.

In other cases, it’s been writers deciding to withhold e-versions of their books.

JK Rowling has chosen to keep Harry Potter off of e-readers for now and, in November, John Grisham (lawyer, that he is) made a very passionate argument about why he wasn’t allowing e-versions of his books to be sold.

“You’re going to wipe out tons of bookstores and publishers and we’re going to buy it all online,” he told the Today Show. “I’m probably going to be all right — but the aspiring writers are going to have a very hard time getting published.”

And while Grisham’s holdout didn’t last long (unsurprisingly, perhaps, there’s no comment from him or his representatives), his arguments are still valid.

So, as you download books (something I’ve done) and curl up with your IPad, Nook or Kindle or Sony Reader or whatever, keep in mind that someone created the work and that there’s a chance that person is still fighting for the ability to have some control over it.

It’s especially important when you realize there are still battles on the horizon.

IPad vs. Nook vs. Kindle: Who's Winning (If anyone)?

In Entertainment, Technology, Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 at 9:29 am
Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

So, it’s been almost a month since the IPad came out and the question on everyone’s mind — is the Kindle dead yet?

Well, maybe that’s not the question on everyone’s mind but I’m sure someone, somewhere, might be wondering. After all, a lot of the talk (here included) was about whether or not it would be a Kindle killer, would it help the Kindle or would the two find a way to co-exist.

Before we get to that, though, let’s take a quick look at the pre-IPad world.

According to a report earlier this week from Digitimes Research, which tracks this sort of thing, in March — the Nook from Barnes and Noble outsold the KIndle, accounting for roughly 53 percent of all e-book readers shipped that month.

The site attributed that to the fact that the Nook was fairly new, the Kindle had been on the market, and people were curious about the new thing.

Digitimes estimates that 1.43 million e-reader devices shipped during the first quarter of 2010, the last quarter Before IPad.

So, where does Apple’s new device fit into this landscape?

Well, keep that 1.43 million number in mind.

First, there was the announcement from Apple that they had sold 300,000 units the first day, which was a testament to the company’s ever-successful hype machine (plus the fact they tend to deliver on that hype).

Then, less than a week later, while unveiling the new IPhone operating system, they revealed they had sold another 150,000 devices.

Now, let me introduce you to Chitika Labs, which has been using cookies to track IPad sales. They concede it’s not a perfect system but, they seem pretty confident.

As of this writing, their live counter indicated that more than 1.1 million IPads have been sold already.

Which brings us back to the beginning: who’s winning? Well, on one level, it would seem Apple based on sales alone.

But what does it all mean? Does it mean the Kindle is doomed? The Nook’s on its way out?

With meaning to be too much of a wuss, I would have to say the answers are: it’s too early too really tell but my sense is, it’s all good and no and no.

While I have a soft spot for the printed word, books and newspapers that I can hold in my hand, and want them to be around for a long time — and am also concerned that the emphasis on e-readers, could take away from kids in schools, I do think that anything that gets people reading more is probably a good thing.

The question that remains, though, is that what’s happening?

According to Appitzr.com, which tracks apps, books make up more than one out of every five apps available in the ITunes store — 22 percent — yet account for only 3 percent of apps that are downloaded.

In other words, while new devices keep coming out, it may be too early to declare a winner and, in the meantime, keep visiting bookstores — an independent one, if you can.

Dave Eggers and Forward to the Past

In Entertainment, Technology, Uncategorized on April 26, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Dave Eggers collects hyphens.

Novelistjournalistmemoirist.

And then there’s

publisherscreenwriterphilanthropisteditor.

And, this past Friday, he reinforced one of them — prize-winner.

This time, it was the Los Angeles Times.

They honored Eggers at their Festival of Books with the  Innovators Award, which ‘recognizes the people and institutions that are doing cutting edge work to bring books, publishing and storytelling into the future, whether in terms of new business models, new technologies or new applications of narrative art.”

The award goes on to say that:

“He is exactly the kind of person the Innovator’s Award is intended to honor: a forward thinker who is not afraid of print, but also not afraid to look ahead to the future, and who is drawing a new generation of writers and readers to the written word.”

The funny thing is that what Eggers is being honored for — being “a forward thinker” —is actually less about forward thinking and more about mixing a commitment to the past with real business smarts.

It’s as the award says, his “refreshing disregard for conventional wisdom” that makes Eggers so important.

Because, while you have people like Michael Wolff who makes money stealing content from newspapers and then goes around predicting their death (here’s a story about one of his predictions of doom; I won’t link to his site because I don’t want to give him any traffic — even typing his name causes pain) it’s very refreshing to have Eggers.

In their coverage of the awards ceremony, the LA Times quotes Eggers offering what could be seen as a rebuke to Wolff.

“It’s the best time in the history of the printed word to be a publisher or a writer,” he said. “People want to declare the death of the printed word. It’s always our tendency to assume something is dying. It’s a fun thing to do, but it doesn’t always make sense.”

In the article, Eggers offers up part of his philosophy as a publisher.

“I’m actually quite a traditionalist,” he says. “We’re trying to make the business model rational, scalable, reasonable.”

And that really may be the key — not every media outlet has to be everything to everybody. You don’t need to own a chain of papers, or a baseball team, or television stations and real estate holding; to be a successful publisher, maybe you just need to keep things in perspective.

As Eggers told The Onion’s AV Club earlier this year:

“The paper-based media really has to work within a rational scale, and if they do, they’ll be fine. There’s plenty of room, people really care, there are magazines that people will fight to hold onto. You might not be able to operate your own LearJet and have an unlimited expense account, but if you have a reasonable expectation for a print-based product, whether it’s a newspaper or a magazine, you can certainly exist.

“Your readers will make sure you exist.”

Hallelujah.

John Grisham Strikes Again

In Entertainment, Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 8:38 am

Grisham's New Book: Coming in May

Let’s talk for a moment about John Grisham.

He’s an astoundingly highly successful writer whose books have sold millions and millions of copies. The Firm, The Pelican Brief, A Time to Kill…. best sellers all. He’s written mysteries, thrillers, Christmas stories.

There was no doubt he could write a perfectly readable book that everyone from beach goers to airline passengers could pick-up, enjoy and toss. Then last year he showed he could do even more. He released his first collection of short stories — a collection that was very well reviewed. The Washington Post called them “terrifically charming” stories that “you absolutely can’t stop reading.”

Now, he’s got a new genre in his sights — young adult fiction.

Penguin — in May — is releasing Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer — and to give people a taste of what’s coming — they’ve set up a website where you can download  the first chapter.

Boone is the 13-year-old only child of two lawyers in a small, Southern town and — in the first chapter, at least — it’s hard not to see him as cut from the same cloth as Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, even Nancy Drew.

Except, he comes across as real — a real kid with real problems. The writing in the first chapter may not be elegant but it’s interesting, it’s readable and leaves you wanting more, certainly at least the second chapter.

When he signed his deal with Penguin for two young adult books — a move that brought him to a new publisher (Doubleday is still releasing his adult thrillers), it was a move that received attention.

Grisham is hardly the first successful writer of adult books to attempt to crossover and write something for a younger audience. It’s something that almost seems required in recent years.

Carl Hiaasen, Ridley Pearson, James Patterson, Isabel Allende, Sherman Alexie.

Some have been good reads, some — not so much.

If Grisham’s first chapter is any indication, I’m sure the book will be just fine.

And, while some think that writers of adult fiction should stay away from younger crowds, the thing is, the important thing isn’t whether he’s writing another War and Peace — or even another Catcher in the Rye. It’s whether he’s written a book that people read. Because, after all, reading is fundamental.

Auletta, Amazon and the Death of Publishing

In Entertainment, Technology, Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 at 10:19 am
Image representing Amazon Kindle as depicted i...

Image via CrunchBase

Back in the early 1990s when I worked for The New York Post, there was a sense that The New York Times daily coverage of the city wasn’t all that it could be and what they did — which drove competitors crazy — was they might ignore a story for a couple of days and the come out with these long, comprehensive pieces that included everything, including the kitchen sink.

And that’s kind of how I feel about Ken Auletta’s new piece in The New Yorker that asks the question, “Can the IPad topple the Kindle and save the book business?”

If you haven’t read it, it is worth the time because even if he doesn’t have a lot that’s new, he pretty much has everything that others (including me) have written.

Reading it, though, I realized that I think it might have been a more interesting read if Auletta had taken the opposite track — asking not whether Apple can save publishing but exploring whether Amazon can kill publishers.

Auletta quotes a “close associate” of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as saying,”What Amazon really wanted to do was make the price of e-books so low that people would no longer buy hardcover books. Then the next shoe to drop would be to cut publishers out and go right to authors.”

It’s not a new concern.

Last December when Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People announced he was shifting his digital rights to Amazon from his traditional publisher, Simon and Schuster, for a year, the New York Times led off by saying:

“Ever since electronic books emerged as a major growth market, New York’s largest publishing houses have worried that big-name authors might sign deals directly with e-book retailers or other new ventures, bypassing traditional publishers entirely.”

Then, in January, Amazon announced a plan allowing authors who give their exclusive e-book rights to Amazon to earn 70 percent royalty.

That was followed five days later by Ian McKewan shifting the e-rights to five of his books to Amazon, doubling his usual royalty as became the first big-name British author to sign on.

And, of course, there’s Stephen King, the kind of author who perhaps symbolizes the greatest threat to traditional publishers.

When the second version of the Kindle was announced, King read from a novella he wrote specifically to be distributed through the device.

It was such a success that a couple of weeks ago, he released a second story, created just for the Kindle.

And it’s not just the big names like King and Covey.

Galleycat, the publishing blog, recently interviewed mystery writer JA Kornath, who is making quite a nice living selling for the Kindle.

So, will Amazon prove to be the death of publishing? Will the IPad save it?

Probably no and no, though they are already clearly having an effect.

And, as I’ve pointed out before, until we figure out how to make sure there are enough devices for every student in every school to be able to get one, we need to make sure there are printed books out there for people to read.

The Irony of the Internet

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm

For as long as I can remember, a pen and piece of paper have been the tools of my trade.

Somewhere — a box in my house or maybe my grandfather’s — exists a poem written when I was about five and trust me when I tell you, it was probably the most wonderful poem ever by anybody.

🙂

Even now, in this age of computers where emoticons (see above) are now as prevalent as semi-colons (if not more s0) and I sit here writing this post on my MacBook, there’s still something about grabbing a pen and piece of paper and starting to work out my thoughts that way.

Whether it’s been an article for a newspaper, a short story, sometimes even just a letter, I like to put pen to paper before I put fingers to keyboard.

And, I have to say, for a long time, I’ve been a bit of a pen snob. There was a long stretch where it was just Mont Blanc ballpoints and now I alternate between a Waterman and a Cross.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this was the story in the New York Times the other day about Mark Twain as literary critic, which included an interactive feature that allowed you to scroll through pages and examine Twain’s own handwriting.

This wasn’t the first of the Times’s literary postings. Late last year they put on their website the one and only complete handwritten manuscript of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. As the Times pointed out in an accompanying article, looking at the manuscript in Dickens’s handwriting allows you a glimpse into this thoughts, as he crosses out sections only to reinsert them later to draw out the dramatic effect.

The manuscript draws you into the magical world of creation, the  pen strokes, the scribblings that become art. Not to take anything away from anything created on computer, but there’s something about being able to see the work that’s gone into something. It’s not like politics and sausage-making.

And more often, libraries are beginning to recognize the appeal.

The British Library has even developed special software, Turning the Pages, that they say allows you to “leaf through our great books and magnify the details.”

The online gallery they’ve created allows you to read Jane Austen’s handwritten, satirical history of England and Lewis Carroll’s original Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.

One of my personal favorite examples of this is an early draft of what would become the Story of Babar posted by The Morgan Library.

The online exhibitions of handwritten pages come at a time when — and I actually feel a little silly saying this because it seems to obvious — a probable majority of work these days is created on keyboards.

Just look at the announcement from Emory University, which has acquired Salman Rushdie’s archives in the form of his old computers.

The point is that there’s a certain irony in the fact that thanks to the beauty of the digital age, it is now so much easier to appreciate the beauty of the written page, the work that goes into creating art.

Natalie Merchant and the 'Flat, Dead Pages'

In Entertainment on April 20, 2010 at 9:02 am
NEW YORK - APRIL 13:  Singer Natalie Merchant ...

Image by Getty Images North America via Daylife

In February, Natalie Merchant appeared at a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference where she performed songs from then-upcoming album, Leave Your Sleep.

The album, 26 poems set to music, came out last week and is a delight to listen to. But that’s not why I’m writing about it.

When Merchant performed at TED, she spoke of the joy of taking the poems and setting them to music.

Unfortunately, as Carolyn Kellogg, the smart and talented writer at the LA Times pointed out, Merchant wasn’t all that delicate.

“What I’ve really enjoyed about this project is reviving these people’s words, taking them off the dead flat pages, bringing them to life,” Merchant said.

“What poet sees his or her work as being written for “dead flat pages’?” Kellogg responded.  “Most poems are written for the page, and many poems use the page layout as part of their expression. That would include the work of e.e. cummings, one of the poets whose work Merchant has set to music.

“Seems to me that poems set to music are a nice novelty, but that doesn’t make them new and improved. It transmutes them as lyrics, but it would be a mistake to think this improves on their original form.

“Flat pages? Sure. Dead pages? Maybe not.”

Kellogg is dead on in that regard.

Where I think she is a little off is in her sort of dismissive “seems to me that poems set to music are a nice novelty.”

Without a doubt, setting a poem to be music — no matter how beautiful the result may be — doesn’t mean it’s better.

At the same time, there’s always the chance that the adaptation — which is really what Merchant’s come up with — is quite good in its own right.

My Fair Lady vs. Pygmallion, for instance. Or Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres and King Lear? Emma and Clueless?

The Godfather the movie and The Godfather the book?

Merchant maybe came across as a little full of herself, maybe a little less than elegant. But the thought of adapting a work of art to another medium, adding a little of yourself and exposing a new audience to the original work (and Merchant is selling her album with a 74-page book with the poems and essays on the poets) is an admirable one.

Certainly a little more than a “nice novelty.”

For Entertainment Weekly, Tag is It

In Entertainment, Technology, Uncategorized on April 16, 2010 at 10:27 am

Well, maybe.

The New Issue of EW has been "Tag"-ed

While there has been a lot of focus on magazines developing “app” versions of their magazines as they try to find new ways to reach readers — Time Magazine has done it, GQ has done it, just to name two of many —   some still believe that there’s something to be said for holding the thing in your hand and flipping through the pages.

At the same time, they recognize that maybe there’s some middle ground incorporating the print version of the magazine and the ability to go online for a little extra content.

So, welcome to Microsoft Tag.

In Microsoft hyperbole terms, Tag is “a breakthrough technology that transforms everyday things in the real world into live links to online information and entertainment.”

In normal speak, it’s a souped-up barcode that — after software is downloaded — allows for more much information and takes pretty much any reader with a camera-enhanced phone that can surf the web to make the journey from print to online.

While Tags have generally been used in advertising, Entertainment Weekly, which is out today with their summer movie preview, is taking a big step forward incorporating them into editorial content — allowing readers to jump from the page to trailers for 20 of the previewed films.

In addition to the trailers, readers will be able to visit “Tag”ed content from five advertisers.

While EW’s first effort with a new technology wasn’t as successful as they had hoped — according to Mediaweek, only about 5,000 people (out of EW’s 10 million-plus readers) made the digital jump when they worked with a different vendor — they think they’ve got the kinks worked out and more issues should be on their way.

Entertainment Weekly is saying that this first time anyone has used third party video content within edit though it is worth mentioning that Golf Digest used Tags in their November issue to allow readers to see extra content such as video of lessons being described.

So, what’s it all mean? Is having Tag technology going to save magazines? Who knows.

Here’s the thing… a couple of years ago, Gawker reported a rumor that EW was considering going online-only like the Christian Science Monitor. They actually didn’t appear to mean anything bad by it… they were saying the magazine’s ad pages were down (important to note they are back up; a spokesman says up from last year so far) and circulation while very good, was somewhat stagnant (which still seems to be the case), while their web traffic was just terrific.

I think what EW has done with this issue — and Golf Digest, previously — is recognize that it’s not an either/or situation. People like holding magazines, books, newspapers… they also like to go online.

So, while I am pretty much a Mac person, I have to give kudos to Microsoft for a technology that seems able to help bridge the gap between the two media.

Will more publications follow EW? Will EW follow itself and develop specialized content beyond links to ads and movie trailers?

Hopefully.

Everyone Say Hello to 'Alex'

In Entertainment, Technology, Uncategorized on April 15, 2010 at 8:33 am

Think that the E-Reader battle comes down to the iPad vs. the Kindle?

Or maybe the Nook vs. the Sony Reader?

Well, meet Alex from Spring Design who started shipping yesterday.

As cnet pointed out, it probably would have been bigger news had it come out before the IPad. Regardless, it looks like it’s something that deserves notice.

First — take a look at the features and one thing immediately jumps out — the second screen.

It has one for reading and a second, smaller – color — screen that is a fully-enabled, android-powered web browser. So, you’re reading… you want to send an email, no problem. Want to look up movie times and then, maybe take a break from reading? Sure. Watch some videos? Absolutely.

Or maybe you want to listen to music while you read? No problem. Wi-fi? Check. Removable memory? Check.

Laptop Magazine was so impressed with the device, it named it the best E-Reader at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Though, it’s important to point out, that not everyone loves it.

Engadget, in their review,  they point to several shortcomings such as while: “the Alex is chock-full of reading features…we just can’t say the same about its book selection” and “When it came to multitasking, the Alex was just fine for reading a book and listening to some music, but when we threw in web browsing things began to slow to a crawl.”

Endgaget had also taken issue with Alex’s price, which was listed at $399 at the time.

But, now that it’s priced at $359 — right between the Kindle and the IPad — it’s got a good shot at getting attention on the checkout line.

And, as Wired points out, in addition to competing against Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Apple and so forth in the market, Alex is making a point of going after a slice of the market that could prove quite lucrative — Spanish Language E-Books.

So, while a lot of the most creative design work seems to still be being done for IPad, and there’s still the Google Tablet to come, Alex just might be able to find his place in the world.

And, based on their decision to seemingly embrace Spanish-language E-Books, maybe this post should have been “Everyone Say Hola to Alex.”

Anyway, just to give you a heads up about what I’m expecting to make its way from my reading list to news over here… posts about David Foster Wallace, Norman Mailer, Natalie Merchant and so much more.

Thanks for reading.