Saturday, March 13, 2010

E-reading in NI

I didn't know when I proofread Garbhan Downey's The American Envoy that the book was something of a landmark in Northern Ireland publishing.

Downey says Guildhall Press is the first Northern Irish publishing house to issue a novel simultaneously in Kindle and printed form and possibly the first in all of Ireland.

In an article he wrote for Verbal: The NI Literary Review, under a headline I'd have been happy to write ("Don't fear the reader"), he's sanguine about a technology and possible business model that have some readers, authors and publishers apprehensive.

To wit:
"Finally, and very importantly, it looks that e-publishing could be good news for writers. Some authors have already negotiated between 50 and 75 percent of the royalties to their digitised books – as opposed to the eight to 15 percent they get from printed volumes.

"In addition, publishing houses will be more inclined to recruit and develop new talent on an “e-book only” basis, as the financial risk to them is much lower.

"And of course, your work can be dispatched instantly to readers across the planet, without any additional cost or haggling with distributors. Just try getting a single US chain to take one hundred copies of your hardcopy novel. You could literally drown in the paperwork."
I was especially interested in the last paragraph. You've seen the debates elsewhere about e-readers. Here I'll ask you to think about what electronic publishing means for books beyond borders, for reading translated work and other literature from outside your own country.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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31 Comments:

Blogger Barbara said...

As is typical when publishing meets technology, tradition does everything possible to trump innovation. Book rights are still sold based on regions, so a book that can be purchased by a Kindle owner in the US may be unavailable to an Australian or UK audience. It would be a fine thing if it helped break down borders, but something there is that loves a wall. And if you recall, it wasn't until we had the capability to watch DVDs from other parts of the world that the industry decided to create five distinct regions.

For publishers and authors who are more interested in reaching readers than in restricting them, I suppose it is a boon.

But it's hard to convince publishers that their costs will drop dramatically. Only 10-15% of a book's cost has to do with printing and distribution. A lot is editorial and retail markup (and Amazon is happy to continue pocketing the markup).

March 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know the history of DVD regions, but I do know that when I watched some Australian DVDs of the Inspector Montalbano television series on my computer recently, the computer made it simple to switch to Region 5 capability -- and told me that I could change regions no more than four times. Microsoft, the computer manufacturer or both are thus complicit in the artificial and apparently anti-consumer practice of erecting technological barriers between regions.

I also recall that far from increasing royalty payments on e-books, Macmillan recently sought to reduce them.

March 13, 2010  
Anonymous Garbhan said...

Very interesting comments from Barbara. And she's dead right about Amazon and their mark-up. The digitized system is by no means perfect. The e-supermarkets (Apple, Vodafone etc) are already taking a 30 percent handling charge for digitized books - while in some cases Amazon are pocketing 70 percent of the RRP for e-books. The cost of distributing printed books is very, very high here though. Currently, independent publishers in Ireland pay about 50 percent of a book's RRP to distributors. Hadn't read about the Macmillan plans, Peter, but sadly I'm not surprised.

March 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

So, Barbara, how much money do both publishers and distributors save by producing and selling e-books vs. traditional print books?

March 14, 2010  
Blogger Barbara said...

That's a good question - without a good answer as of yet. Amazon takes such a big chunk, and it's not labor-free to reformat a book into the various e-formats (though a lot of books are being very badly formatted, no doubt through haste and lack of checking whether hard returns are where they should be etc.) Motoko Rich recently wrote about it in the NY Times, and NPR had a segment on it - but what I think all the palaver fails to take into account is that there's no resale of an e-book - no second-hand market, and that has to have some kind of effect on the big picture.

Though this cartoon, though about finicky audio downloads, shows that frustrations with DRM might lead to loss of sales...

March 15, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

The future of electronic publishing was one of the topics of a conference with the theme “redefining the value of information” I attended recently. The final keynote speaker, as is the conf’s wont, spoke of future trends and developments. Monoliths such as Google, amazon, Microsoft, etc. may try to erect barriers that control access to and delivery of information but they are only delaying the inevitable -- information wants to be free… not just cost-free, fee-free but free of its container. Consumers just want content; they don’t want content vendors/aggregators to define how consumers interact with it (ex., it's supremely easy to make a DVD region-free because some smart people said To hell with region formatting, and discovered and told others via the WWW how to circumvent this nonsense). How all this will shake out is anybody’s guess because (according to the speaker) none of today’s commonly-used technological devices such as the PC, the wide variety of PDA’s, such as phones that can provide Internet access, take photos, text messages, as well as make phone calls were predicted by any industry swamis. Ex., one of the most infamous (now laughable) quotes is “There is no reason anyone would ever want a computer in their home” (Ken Olsen, Digital Equipment Corp.). The “disruptive” technologies that find favor with consumers were shaped more by _their_ demands than business interests.

The speaker gave short shrift to the long-term future of the e-book—it will sooner rather than later become integrated with a PDA-type device because “nobody wants to wear a tool belt.” Of course vendors try to force us to wear tool belts (i.e. sell us as many separate gizmos as possible) but many savvy consumers are already tiring of these easily-seen-through marketing ploys and are holding out for integrated electronic devices such as more sophisticated PDAs.

What this means for authors is also unknowable; we just have to assume that the e-reader in its Kindle-ilk format won’t be around much longer and that many of the barriers placed in the way of the global dissemination of information will probably come down sooner than we think. Will other barriers replace the current ones? Maybe, but “forward thinkers” who want to make money out of publishing in an electronic world will probably be individuals or companies we currently barely know little or nothing about. The speaker envisions Google, Microsoft, amazon, etc. will go the way of the buggy whip (witness the lost supremacy of Encyclopædia Britannica to Wikipedia) if all they do is try to draw lines in the sand against what consumers really want and demand.

Traditional content providers were frankly told to start transitioning to new business models because their old models are on the verge of being "disrupted".

I'm just reporting what the speaker presented.

March 15, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I've been looking forward to this one.

March 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's worth waiting for -- and you can be reading it in minutes in handy electronic form!!!

You'll get a kick out of how Dave Schumann, the envoy of the title, wound up posted in Derry.

I don't remember if I've mentioned this when discussing Downey's books, but they are a real eye-openers for we auslanders. Anyone reading a comic novel about Northern Ireland might expect rivalry between Protestants and Catholics. Unease between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is a bit more unexpected, and I've singled out some poignant passages on this subject from Downey's books. What I especially noticed in The American Envoy is mutual suspicion, rivalry and jealousy between Derry and Belfast. I hesitate to say that one can learn much about Northern Ireland from these books because they are a hell of a lot of fun, but one can learn much about Northern Ireland from these books.

March 15, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Its not complicated. No one from Derry can be trusted.

Also its a scary, wet, miserable sort of place, many miles from that city of light on the Lagan Valley.

March 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Barbara, I make that article part of some time I'll have for reading tomorrow. I will say that the cartoon highlights a general reservation I have about the necessity of technology interposing itself between me and the book I want to read. It also reminds of the apprehensions I have voiced several times about buying an e-reader until any and all propetary issues are resolved and until there is no longer a concentration of power that allows Amazon to what it did to HarperCollins recently -- not that HarperCollins has entirely clean hands in its e-books dealings.

March 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, did the speaker give short shrift to the future of the e-book or to that of the e-reader? I share the doubts about the future of a separate electronic device for reading books but not necessarily about the future of e-books transmitted to computers.

I am grateful to Wikipedia, but the suggestion that is has "supremacy" over Encyclopedia Brittanica is pure applesauce and dangerous to boot. What it may have gained is market share.

March 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

So the next time I see Garbhan, I should say: "McKinty says Derry sucks"?

March 15, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Garv claims that he's sent me Envoy so until it actually arrives, yes.

March 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Criminy, if I'd said what you did about the town he loves so well, I'd be apprehensive that he'd send me an electronic version shot through with a virus that would eat my computer from the inside out.

March 16, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, re your question “did the speaker give short shrift to the future of the e-book or to that of the e-reader?” He gave short shrift to the future of a stand-alone e-reading device of any kind. The e-book is on its way to being the 8-track video player of its time. He claims consumers want to integrate e-reading into their existing PDA/phone devices. And that they _will_ find ways to circumvent Google Books, amazon, etc. to access reading matter. And that issues of author’s rights, copyright, etc. are of interest only to authors and copyright holders. Most users don’t give a hoot how they get what they read, they just want it to be able to get it simply and cheaply. Sort of a WalMart model – shoppers don’t care about WalMart’s human rights violations, destruction of historic Main Streets, etc. They just want cheap goods!

Re your comment “the suggestion that [Wikipedia] has ‘supremacy’ over Encyclopedia Brittanica is pure applesauce and dangerous to boot." I might be overstepping myself but I suspect that the speaker would say: It doesn't matter what you think; it's a simple fact that most people find what they want (at least what they think they were looking for) at Wikipedia (or other free sources on the WWW) because “good enough is good enough” is the new “standard of quality” and that pay-per-use sites like EB are accessed with increasing infrequency. The nonstandard quality, accuracy, etc. of Wikipedia vs EB and its sister DBs is irrelevant to most people. (Not to the increasing minority of people like you and me for whom quality and accuracy, unbiased data, etc. are essential to our research.) It is also a fact that Wikipedia, with its close to real time posting and increasing input by subject matter experts can be even better than EB (and other pay-per-use DBs) depending on the entry. Ah, but which entries?

A surprising statistic: “free” is increasingly becoming synonymous with “quality” in users’ minds.

A number of the attendees at the conf are info providers/aggregators. They are plenty scared in this age of “good enough is good enough.” Users are circumnavigating pay-per-use sites and creating and accessing information for free whenever possible. They want the online search experience to be as easy and fun as playing a video game, for example. None of that "fielded", "text", "build", and "Boolean" search nonsense that my program's DB offers. Users want to input their query into that Google search box (and your DB better have its equivalent) so they can get that "good enough" answer. The concept of quality as defined by the provider/vendor is like, so, yesterday.

We can argue and rage until we're hoarse but the "rush to the bottom" that has been a topic here before is seemingly unstoppable.

Please don’t shoot me (the messenger).

March 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, I never shoot messengers, and we agree on "supremacy." Wikipedia is a marvelous resource that I use frequently, most recently in the post I have just put up. For translated crime fiction, it has the desirable feature of listing novels in the order of original publication along with publication of English translations.

I'm not even ready to shoot the original messenger, at least not yet. I'd ask him what he meant by supremacy before making sure my six-shooter was loaded. Wikipedia has all the advantages and disadvantages of any resource open to all.

March 16, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"For translated crime fiction, [Wikipedia] has the desirable feature of listing novels in the order of original publication along with publication of English translations." And we have to hope that the person(s) who submitted this info is correct, right? I'm constantly looking at Wikipedia first and then confirming the info at other, standardized/controlled sites. Foreign language versions of Wikipedia are very helpful, too. Today, for example, when I needed to verify the names of a number of hamlets/villages in Spain, Wikipedia was an indispensable adjunct to our award-winning (but incomplete) in-house geographic database.

v-word = nessi Doesn't she live in Loch Ness?

March 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ach, ye dinae believe in Nessi?

I like having Wikipedia to resolve a question that is not critically important and concerns a subject about which I already have some knowledge. I might use it to verify an impression that one given crime novel came before another, for example. But I would never use it as research for publication. It's a good place to browse, in other words, or perhaps even to point the way to verifiably expert sources if accuracy and authoruiy are important. (Recently I looked up an Australian crime novel on Wikipedia and found myself cited as a source of comment on it.)

March 16, 2010  
Anonymous Garbhan Downey said...

Agree entirely with Elisabeth. All evidence is that e-readers are transition devices, the mini-discs of the book world. No-one wants to carry around a mobile phone, laptop and e-reader, if one device will do - hence all the anticipation for the somewhat disappointing looking ipad. Also, she's dead right to say no-one wants to pay for content any more. Greedy b*st*rds.
Oh, and Mr McKinty, you can run away to Australia all you want, but you can't hide...
Peter, you've been in Derry and you've been in Larne - which streets would you rather walk at midnight?

March 16, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Have you ever looked up Derry in the Uncyclopedia? Its admittedly not as good as the Scottish entry but its not bad and surprisingly accurate.

March 16, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

(Recently I looked up an Australian crime novel on Wikipedia and found myself cited as a source of comment on it.)

!

March 16, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, you and I (among many others) understand the "value" of such concepts as accuracy, authority, controlled vocabulary, peer-review, etc. etc. These terms are meaningless to the vast majority of people trolling the Web for info.

"concerns a subject about which I already have some knowledge" -- check. But it’s a first and last stop for many users who don’t know how to make critical judgments on the info they find there. For many of them it would never occur to them that Wikipedia is _not_ completely accurate, unbiased, etc.

"never use it as research for publication" -- check. But more and more college/univ teachers/profs _are_ accepting it as a valid source. Again, depending on the entry in some cases (the ones the prof him/herself may have edited...).

"to point the way to verifiably expert sources if accuracy and authority are important" -- check. Its links to really authoritative sites can be a gold mine of info for neutral info such as official sites for cities, publishers’ Web sites, etc.

But you and I are among the users who know how to make these kinds of distinctions and judgments when doing research. The speaker’s point was that we are in the distinct, and ever-shrinking, minority. And of course, Wikipedia is only one (very powerful) element of the free stuff on the Web that most users think is “good enough.” We’re just beating our heads against a brick wall.

March 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Have you ever looked up Derry in the Uncyclopedia? Its admittedly not as good as the Scottish entry but its not bad and surprisingly accurate.

"London-fuckin-derry (known by some locals as 'It's fuckin Derry ya Jaffa bastard!', or alternatively 'It's LONDONderry ya fenian cont yee', is a small peaceful village on the outskirts of The Republic Of Ireland."

Yep, seems like a somber, even-handed assessment to me.

March 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

(Recently I looked up an Australian crime novel on Wikipedia and found myself cited as a source of comment on it.)

!


Welcome back. As I was saying about Wikipedia's unimpeachability as a source ,,,

March 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has left a new comment on your post "E-reading in NI":

"concerns a subject about which I already have some knowledge" -- check. But it’s a first and last stop for many users who don’t know how to make critical judgments on the info they find there. For many of them it would never occur to them that Wikipedia is _not_ completely accurate, unbiased, etc.


I suspect that Wikipedia has multiplied exponentially the number of inquiries people make for information and that the vast majority of such inquiries are trivial. Wikipedia is probably harmless for questions of this kind.

"never use it as research for publication" -- check. But more and more college/univ teachers/profs _are_ accepting it as a valid source. Again, depending on the entry in some cases (the ones the prof him/herself may have edited...).

Any college instructor who accepts Wikipedia as an authoritative source is a disgrace to his or her profession or else beaten down by being exploited as non-unionized, non-tenure track, part-time work. Any institution that accepts WIkipedia as an authoritative source of student work should lose any accreditation it somehow may have obtained.

But you and I are among the users who know how to make these kinds of distinctions and judgments when doing research. The speaker’s point was that we are in the distinct, and ever-shrinking, minority. And of course, Wikipedia is only one (very powerful) element of the free stuff on the Web that most users think is “good enough.” We’re just beating our heads against a brick wall.

Remember when hucksters proclaimed that the Internet was going to be a liberating force, and people believed them? It has the potential to liberate millions from the shackles of accuracy.

March 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Garbhan, I wonder if netbooks could turn out to be the sleeper of the consumer technological world. I have one, and I was impressed that they go against a trend of shrinking the device, jamming it with whiz-bang features, and enlarging the price. Now, if such small computers could easily accommodate e-reader capabilities without growing too expensive, they might be a force to reckon with.

I've never been to Larne, though I've passed it. As for a more contentious matter, Derry has fine walls, and Carrickfergus has a lovely castle.

March 16, 2010  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Larne, ha! The weeping sore on the buboe riddled arsehole of eastern Ulster. Larne has only one thing going for it: its not Rathcoole.

March 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"The weeping sore on the buboe riddled arsehole of eastern Ulster."

And famed as such in folk songs, travel brochures and the official municipal slogan.

I'm meeting soon with a good fellow who I believe is a son of Larne (actually a grandson or great-grandson). I shall have to investigate this matter further.

March 17, 2010  
Anonymous Adrian said...

McFetridge knows of my opinions on the place.

Scariest women on the planet too. Make Geordie girls look like southern belles.

March 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Had a drink with McFetridge this evening and relayed your thoughts on his ancestral home. He said the bad-mouthing of the place ("Not the sort of place you'd want to be out at night," "no special reason to stop here" and the like) instilled in him a desire to visit when he wsa in Ireland -- a desire, however, that he somehow managed to suppress.

March 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and Happy St. Pat's.

March 18, 2010  

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