Saturday, November 24, 2007

Kindle— eBook reader or Web 2.0?

For roughly a decade, eBooks have been available. The number formats has grown as has the number of devices upon which to read them. Unlike video games, which went from Pong on the Atari to Halo on the X-box 360, neither the media nor the device(s) has fulfilled the expectations of buyers. The most common technologies, which include the still available eBookwise and Sony Reader, have a new competitor,’s Kindle.

The new gadget is about the size of a trade paperback; it has the same readable, almost magical screen as the Sony Reader; also, it has a wireless access which is used by cellphones to a huge selection of titles, some 90,000, via Amazon (no computer needed.) Amazon has managed to secure agreements with most of the major publishers for content, stating that 90% of the NYT bestseller list is available for the Kindle. Many periodicals are also available for low, monthly prices. Could this be what the iPod and iTunes has been for the music world? Perhaps, but I see three downsides to this new effort: it is rather expensive to buy the machine and its content, the screen isn’t backlit for reading in the dark, and it is ugly— really ugly.

That said, I still think this is an interesting development. Right on Amazon’s website, authors are encouraged to make their stories available for the Kindle. No publisher needed. That, by gosh, does intrigue me. Amazon’s new gadget might do away with conventional publishing— no printers, paper, ink, wholesalers, salesmen, managers, truck drivers, or bookstores. Even editors would be optional for some writers, which should mean less cost for readers and more income for writers. With all that in mind, I mentioned the Kindle in a message posted to my publisher’s Yahoo group. Please remember that this is an eBook publisher, so you’d think these folks would be interested in this new gadget. Only one author responded, and that one was concerned about the price. None of the other list members (230 or so) responded to my query, which may mean that a Yahoo group is dead as means of online communication, or it may mean that this is not the device which will bring out the benefits eBooks to the book-buying public.

I remain positive about present and the future of eBooks. Currently, I use a Palm as an eBook reader, and mine has some 80 books and short stories on it, but I recognize that this device is the VCR of pocket sized computing. Some are still around, but it’s on the way into oblivion. Apple’s iPhone, the various iterations of Blackberry, and other gadgets have been infused with that hard to define but easy to recognize characteristic— cool. The Kindle is not yet cool, but it is a step toward the future. Indeed, the word kindle means to start (a fire) burning, to stir up, to bring into being and to catch fire. Interesting name, now isn’t it?

When I was a kid, there were record stores in just about every town. Now there are virtually none, and the ones which do exist sell accessories for the iPod. Watch out, Barnes and Noble, something has begun which just might burn you guys.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Fighting That 900 Pound Gorilla

I noticed that recently another ePublisher went belly-up. Chippewa/ LAP is the latest in a series of casualties. Mardi Gras Press, which seemed to be picking up a number of experienced eBook authors, closed up shop within the last few months as well. Last year Inara Press and Scherezade Press closed.

I noticed this on the index page of the Chippewa site:

Chippewa Publishing has closed its doors. Thank you for all your business and support. Please visit one of our wonderful competitors at

Is the problem the competitors or I suspect the latter. has been described as the 900 pound gorilla in bookselling, and I’ve seen the results myself. If the book isn’t on Amazon, it lacks credibility which hurts sales. If it is on Amazon and your publisher isn’t willing to offer a huge discount, it won’t sell either.

Whiskey Creek Press isn’t exactly taking on the 900 pounder directly, but they list their books on Amazon reluctantly. One of my contacts who was once employed by WCP mentioned that they avoid listing new releases with other vendors for a while, hoping that eager buyers will come to the WCP site and purchase at full price, which is better for the publisher and the author.

Amazon is a “lose, lose scenario” for authors with smaller publishers like mine, because the books are so overpriced in either an attempt to preserve profit or in a futile attempt to drive customers to the publisher’s own site. Recently, I noticed that Trinity on Tylos is now “in stock” at Amazon; a feature I paid for over a year ago, but the price is $23.96, a price that’s $10.01 over publisher’s list. Probably that odd ball price covers shipping and handling from the publisher to Amazon and from Amazon to the customer. Alas, there are no customers at that price. The average hardcover costs far less, so the #3,243,149 in Books sales ranking for Trinity on Tylos comes at no surprise.

The Gift Horse does a bit better, no doubt due to lower costs at Booklocker. The royalty is half as much for sales at Amazon, and they don’t get to me for at least six months, but it is in dollars rather than cents, and the book is listed at cover price rather than being up-priced.

One of my author-friends has a book with a small publisher which offers a discount at Amazon, and her book sells reasonably well there, so the only way to win is to control costs so well that the book makes a bit of money even when placed with the 900 pound gorilla. As the saying goes, you can’t fight it, so you have to find a way to deal with it.

Unfortunately, some publishers (and their authors) just can’t win, but they try until the bitter end.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Is marriage a thing of the past?

Fashion changes rapidly. Last year’s colors aren’t featured this year; shoes change in terms of materials, heel heights, and even in shape. Technology changes quickly as well. In my lifetime, cars have become far more reliable, personal communications blitzed from party line phones to internet and cellular phones, and the slide rule I used in high school is an obscure antique.

As for human relationships, a couple of millennia back, the writer of Proverbs described a man’s sons as “a quiver filled with arrows” and a wife and mother as a “prize more valued than rubies.” Just a century back, a man and woman with several children were considered fortunate, because they had plenty of hands to work in the fields and around the house.

Nowadays, many educated couples choose not to bear any children, and often they don’t bother with marriage either. The lower socioeconomic groups are still having children, but increasingly there are no husbands/fathers in the picture. Quarter after quarter, when asked to write or give a speech about their reasons for coming to post-secondary school, I hear young women in my class speak about needing a better job to pay for their children, and they struggle because they are single parents. Their male counterparts talk about livin’ in up, but say little regarding family matters. Unfortunately, children today are either spoiled or neglected, or both. That’s not an oxymoron: modern parents give children too much in order to entertain them. This is necessary so these parents can have their own time to use as they wish.

Despite having grown up in a reasonably conservative home with lots of chuch-going relations, I also have relatives who readily acknowledge that their children have a live-in lover. Although some of these go on to marry, that isn’t happening as often as it once did. Young folks are viewing marriage as unnecessary or even as an undesirable commitment. Watching parents and others battle in divorce court has contributed to this social change, but surely that can’t be the only factor!

In Trinity on Tylos, I began “in medias res”, or in the middle of the action. Instead of having my main character, Venice, meet her lover, she was already married to him and had joined the colonization mission in part to help her husband, who is the second in command. During the story, their marriage is interrupted by the complications thrust upon them by the alien Azareel, but only once does Venice even contemplate divorce. Her love is strong and she’s willing to make sacrifices for those she loves, especially her offspring.

Did I goof? Will future parents be merely genetic donors, who give their offspring to others to rear, while mom and dad pursue pleasures or careers? Will there be marriage in the future, or is that as much a part of the past as an eight track tape player?

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