The Momentum Blog
Posted February 7, 2013 by Anne
It’s now a week out from Valentine’s Day, and we’ve been trying to think of the best present to get our readers. So here it is, our Valentine to you: some Skin, and some free Flesh. We are all about the romance here at Momentum.
We don’t want your money honey we want your braaaaaaaaains.Tagged: brains, ebook giveaway, ebooks, erotica, flesh, love, post-apocalyptic, reading, romance, skin, Valentine's Day, zombies
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Posted January 23, 2013 by Anne
We have three topics for today. The first will centre around book piracy, the second on Amazon’s new autorip service for music and what this could mean for book bundling, and finally we’ll be talking about novels written in record times.
Pirated ebooks, file sharing and data security
Kim Dotcom, who is currently still involved in a legal battle over his initial uploiading service Megaupload, has just launched a storage service called Mega, which offers 50 megs of file storage with an encryption system that means no one, not even Mega, can see what you’re storing or what you’re doing with it. So they can claim, without blinking, that they have no idea if peer to peer file sharing (ie piracy) is going on via their service.
They save space on their servers by only keeping a single copy of each file uploaded, so that does pose the question, if they don’t know what you’re storing with them then how do they do that? It is a technique also practiced by Apple and Amazon with their data storage facilities but they’re not claiming any ignorance.
Wheel of Time author Robert Jordan died in 2007 while writing the final book in the series, and Brandon Sanderson undertook to finish writing the book. Publisher Tor and Sanderson have faced a backlash for releasing the hardback but delaying the ebook release, purportedly at the request of Jordan’s wife Harriet.
Backlash includes the review bombing of the title on Amazon and other book seller websites
Various end users have threatened to download a pirated ebook unless the official e-book was available at launch
When I googled Tor Robert Jordan ebook the first result was a torrent link, and three of the top ten results were torrent sites.
Question: Why a delayed ebook release for A Memory of Light?
Answer: This is not my decision or Tor’s decision, but Harriet’s. She is uncomfortable with ebooks. Specifically, she worries about ebooks cutting into the hardcover sales. It isn’t about money for her, as the monetary difference between the two is negligible here. It is about a worry that her husband’s legacy will be undermined if sales are split between ebooks and hardcovers, preventing the last book of the Wheel of Time from hitting number one on either list. (Many of the bestseller lists are still handling ebooks in somewhat awkward ways.)
As the last books have all hit number one, she doesn’t want to risk one of these not hitting number one, and therefore ending the series on a down note. (Even though each Wheel of Time book has sold more than its predecessor, including the ones I have worked on.) I personally feel her worries are unfounded, and have explained that to her, but it is not my choice and I respect her reasoning for the decision. She is just trying to safeguard Robert Jordan’s legacy, and feels this is a very important way she needs to do so. After talking about the issue, we were able to move the ebook up from the originally planned one-year delay to instead come out this spring.
Amazon’s autorip service for music goes live – books next?
While much of the current tech coverage is focused on the latest in streaming music, including both radio services like Pandora, as well as on-demand options like Spotify, Boom says people still like to buy physical music. “It’s almost 50 percent of the music market in the U.S.,” he says. “Only in 2011 did digital overtake physical in the United States, and in many countries, physical still represents 70 to 80 percent of music being sold.” At Amazon, both the physical and digital music businesses continue to grow, he adds, but declined to provide specific numbers.
The hastily written novel
Australian writer Graham Simsion’s debut novel The Rosie Project has been the subject of discussion at the news that it was written in just 50 days, sparking The Age’s Jane Sullivan to examine other books that were written in record time, including A Clockwork Orange (3 weeks), A Christmas Carol (6 weeks) and As I Lay Dying (also 6 weeks)
Mark – Wool by Hugh Howey
Joel – Locke & Key
Anne – Parade’s End
Ninja Sex Party – Dinosaur Laser FightAmazon, audiobooks, autorip, CDs, data security, ebooks, file sharing, Juggalo, Kim Dotcom, Mega, peer to peer, piracy, podcast, podmentum
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Posted December 22, 2012 by Hannah Story
Gift-giving is hard. Too hard. I mean, how many gifts do you people want? Aren’t birthdays and anniversaries enough?
Apparently they’re not enough. Everyone wants presents on December 25 too. But luckily for you, I’m saving you all the thinking and the tear-jerking sense of failure that comes with being unable to pick out something perfect for your mother, father, brother, sister, boyfriend, girlfriend, and that guy who you’ve noticed watching you as you walk down the street. I’m just so helpful. You can thank me with a gift later.
I’ve chosen books, because if I had my hipster way I would give everyone Radiohead’s entire discography (on vinyl) and be done with it, but apparently giving people the stuff you like isn’t very “thoughtful” or in the “Christmas spirit.” Plus books make good Christmas presents because Anne said so.
And you know what the best parts about giving an ebook for Christmas are? There are so many options, and there are no lines on the internet.
So for dad, you could buy Defender by Chris Allen- because we all know dads love books with explosions in them.
And for mum, you can try Pamela by Samuel Richardson because classic romances make middle-aged ladies swoon.
And for your brother who thinks he’s the next George R.R. Martin, you could buy How to Write Badly Well by Joel Stickley. That way he’ll know if everything that he’s doing is wrong and he should start again.
Your sister who spends summer star-gazing in the mountains might like The Big Book of Astrology by Kelli Fox- she’ll then be able to tell you about your doomed Sagittarius-Taurus romance.
And your girlfriend? Buy her Flesh by Kylie Scott and wait with bated breath for your sex life to be magically spiced up. Also this way there’s no awkward unwrapping-apocalyptic-erotica-in-front-of-grandma moments.
Your boyfriend can read The Book of Bloke by Ben Pobjie to justify his disgusting bedside habits (and you’ll let it slide because it’s the festive season and he just poured you another glass of red).
And as for that stalker from down the street? I don’t know why you were considering buying him a gift. Don’t do that. That’s daft. He definitely wont stop sending you creepy emails if you acknowledge him at Christmas time. This is why your mother says you always make bad decisions. What were you thinking?Books, Christmas, ebooks, ereading, gift ideas, gift-giving, intern, list, reading
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Posted December 21, 2012 by Anne
You can preorder the first two episodes now, and watch this space for excerpts.
Tagged: cover, cover reveal, covers, ebooks, episodic, instalments, paranormal fiction, series
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Posted December 17, 2012 by Anne
Okay people, listen to me: Christmas is almost upon us. You have about a week, tops, to nail down this whole gift-giving thing.
Now if you’re like me, you’ll just inform your loved ones that Christmas this year is cancelled and shut yourself away for a week. If you choose to do this, well done, you’re a hero and your medal is in the mail.
Just kidding your medal isn’t in the mail because who in their right mind would visit a post office at this time of year?
If I were the Christmas joy and light gift-giving type, there is only one way I’d do it this year. And that is through the wonder of the internet.
A friend gave me a book for Christmas yesterday, and I have now decided that books are the best way to show your friends and family that you love and respect them. The right book says “I have put a significant amount of thought into what I think you would enjoy and I have chosen this one book out of millions because it is The Book For You.” It tells your loved one that you value their intelligence and want to share in their intellectual pursuits. There is no better gift than a book.
Let’s face it though, you’ve only got a limited amount of time now, and paper books PLUS wrapping paper and ribbons and a card is basically an environmental disaster. Really the only answer is to give ebooks. So I’ve put together this handy Ebook Gift-giving Guide. You are welcome.
There are two routes you can go down with giving ebooks. You can buy a gift card from an online retailer and let the recipient choose their own book. Don’t do that. Freedom of choice and gift-giving are not friends. Force your will on the ones you love in this small way.
First find out what type of device your intended recipient uses. If they don’t have a Kindle, or you are unsure as to whether they have an ereader at all, you can still buy from either Kobo or Amazon. Part of Amazon’s evil genius is that any of their books can be read on most devices through the Kindle app. Unfortunately neither the iBookstore nor ReadCloud allow you to give a specific title as a gift, but stay tuned.
Kobo’s official gift-giving (or “gifting” as they call it) guide is here, but basically you just find the perfect book for the person you want to
force your will upon shower with intellectual love and affection. then click the magical “Send As Gift” button.
Amazon’s official guide is here. They make it far too easy. Again, the hard part is finding the exact right ebook for the person you’re attempting to subjugate. Once on the book page in the Kindle store, to the right hand side of the browser you’ll see the below panel. Click the Give as a Gift button.
Then simply fill out your details, and purchase your ebook gift. You can either schedule the book to magically appear in your recipient’s inbox on Christmas Day, or send it to yourself for safekeeping pre-December 25. Just remember that Amazon runs on US time, so factor that into your scheduling.
So there you have it. Buy the love and respect of those around you with an ebook this Christmas. Look, just do it. No, do it. Go now. Buy ebooks.
Like these ones, for instance:
________________________________________________Tagged: Amazon, Christmas, ebooks, gift-giving, gifting, gifts, internet, Kindle, kindle store, kobo
Posted November 9, 2012 by Anne
Second podcast! We’re totally on a roll. In this episode we discuss the epic Genre versus Literature battle to the death in the wake of the inaugural GenreCon Australia, then we make fun of Joel for being such a gadget nerd. Also Mark outnerds himself in the recommendations. Enjoy.
Topic 1 - What we read: Genre v Lit
Arthur Krystal’s Easy Writers: Guilty pleasures without guilt in May in The New Yorker laid down the theory that the divide between genre and literary fiction is becoming less clear, and some genre fiction is now being afforded “literary” status.
Lev Grossman in Time April 2012 responded with an article entitles Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre fiction is disruptive technology, challenging the idea that literary fiction should be regarded as “superior” to genre fiction. He basically lays down the theory that literary fiction is itself a genre with certain tried and true tropes that every book identified as such follows.
Krystal then responded to Lev Grossman with It’s genre, not that there’s anything wrong with that! in October, which had Joel absolutely apoplectic with rage, and convinced us that it was worth discussing.
Interesting look at horror in The Guardian recently with Horror: a genre literally doomed to hell?
*note – The Ian McEwan novel that was released the year before he won the Booker for Amsterdam was Enduring Love, not On Chesil Beach (which was actually released a decade later). To my enduring shame, I completely forgot about Enduring Love, which is actually one of my favourite McEwan books. Golf clap.
Topic 2 - Devices: how we read
Joel got his new Paperwhite last week and now that he’s had enough time to fall completely and utterly in love with it, it is probably time to talk about reading technology.
Mark’s Recommendation Star Wars Expanded UniverseAmazon, Arthur Krystal, author, Books, devices, digital publishing, DRM, ebooks, ereading, fiction, genre, iPad Mini, john birmingham, Kindle, Lev Grossman, literary fiction, memoir, non-fiction, podcast, podmentum, publishing, reading, review, romance, star wars, The Silent History, writing
Posted November 1, 2012 by John Birmingham
So, today is the day that Stalin’s Hammer: Rome drops into the e-book shops. Or at least it does everywhere but America. I found out about two weeks ago that my US publisher wants to hold on to the title until January or February next year. Originally they were even looking at holding it back until midyear, but my sad face changed their mind.
It’s still not ideal. When we sat down to plan how we’d approach the e-book market, the guys at Momentum and I agreed that there were a couple of minimum conditions we needed to meet. A price so low there was no barrier to purchase. At $2.99 I think we’ve done that. No DRM so that readers could store and carry their copy of the book however they damn well pleased. Tick. And simultaneous global release, so that somebody sitting on their couch in, say, Kansas City, Missouri, would have no reason to be pissed because they can see the book is available, but not for them. This is one of the main drivers of piracy.
“Well, I wanted to give those assholes my money, but they refused, so…”
To buy Stalin’s Hammer: Rome, click through for your choice of retailers via the book page.authors, digital publishing, digital rights management, DRM, ebooks, ereading, fiction, genre, john birmingham, pricing, reading, self-publishing, Stalin's Hammer, territorial restrictions, writing
Posted October 30, 2012 by Joel
An email from an acquaintance today in light of the Amazon library deletion scandal caused me to write a long rant about digital rights management (DRM) and ebooks and copyright so I thought I’d share some of it below.
It amazes me sometimes that we’re still all talking about DRM and ebooks. I feel like it’s a conversation we’ve been having for a very long time, and made very little progress with. But ultimately that’s the nature of an industry undergoing such huge changes. Protecting the legal rights of authors and readers while also trying to run a business and not violate any licensing agreements can be a nightmare for even the most informed publishing functionary – to an outsider I think it must look like complete and utter nonsense.
There are different issues at work here. One is the legal rights of the reader/consumer and the other is the technology used to restrict those rights.
When it comes to legal rights, most publishers aren’t selling the ebook file itself – they sell a license to use it under certain circumstances. They give the reader the file – but the reader doesn’t ‘own’ this file. This is pretty standard for selling digital content – if you sold the file with with no restrictions then the person who bought it could potentially copy and send it to thousands of people with no legal recourse for the copyright owner (the author, not the publisher). I don’t know of any publisher of any digital content that sells digital files without restrictions – whether they’re using DRM or not.
The second issue is a technological one. Most publishers sell their content with DRM, which on top of the legal restrictions also physically restricts readers from transferring content to other readers or between devices by using encryption software. This software is usually implemented by the retailer (Amazon, Apple or whoever) at the behest of the publisher. Some publishers, like Momentum, have asked retailers not to include DRM on our files. This isn’t because we think users should be able to own the file and use it without restrictions, but because we believe that a reader who buys an ebook should be able to transfer that book between devices without the technological difficulty inherent in using encryption technology. Basically it’s extremely frustrating for a reader who has legitimately purchased a book to transfer that book between multiple devices if it has DRM on it – and that’s why we removed it. We wanted our readers to be able to buy a book from Amazon and read it on their Kobo reader if they wanted to – and now they can.
To be clear – Momentum is still technically selling a license for our books, not the files themselves – we just don’t physically restrict readers from transferring their ebooks between devices. The reason for this is basically down to the nature of digital content – it isn’t some kind of Orwellian urge to control what readers do with their reading material. If we ‘owned’ a digital file in the sense that most of us ‘own’ paper books, by current laws we would be able to do whatever they wanted with it (including selling copies for a profit), which would in most cases violate the contract under which retailers sell ebooks and the rights publishers license from authors. Authors ultimately own the copyright for their content and license it to publishers who can then sub-license it to readers.
In the Amazon case mentioned above, the reader violated Amazon’s terms and conditions in some way that Amazon hasn’t made clear to anyone. As a result, Amazon closed their account, which means they no longer had access to the encrypted files that were stored on their device. If that reader had bought any of Momentum’s ebooks, this wouldn’t have been a problem, as they could have just moved their ebooks to a different device. As far as I know, without DRM Amazon cannot yank a book from someone’s device – but I might be wrong. At any rate, because all of the reader’s books had DRM on them, they lost their entire library (albeit temporarily – Amazon has restored the reader’s account as far as I know).
As much as I think this is a horrible situation for the reader – and this is precisely why we dropped DRM from our books at Momentum – these stories do seem to crop up intermittently and don’t seem to have any real effect on the ebook market. Ultimately the convenience of digital reading outweighs most people’s concerns about it. I’d love it if more readers cared about this stuff as it’s something I care about, and we’ve made Momentum a more reader-friendly place as a result. However, my general impression is that for the most part Amazon’s ecosystem works pretty well and these situations tend to be anomalies or bureaucratic oversights rather than some kind of concerted effort to defraud readers.
Having said that, I’m curious about what you think. Has Momentum’s decision caused you to buy more books from us? Do you seek out DRM-free ebooks consciously? Had you even heard about the story mentioned above? Sound off in the comments and let us know.
Please Note: A previous version of this post claimed that selling digital files gave the purchaser the right to on-sell the ebook. As commenter Iain points out below, copyright law should already adequately cover this situation. See my response below for clarification on this issue.
100 Ways to Write Badly Well by Joel Stickley is a hilarious guide to the art of awful writing. Remember – if a thing’s worth doing badly, it’s worth doing badly well. Available DRM-free for $2.99.
________________________________________________Tagged: 1984, Amazon, copyright, DRM, ebooks
Posted September 18, 2012 by Anne
Recently there has been a lot of discussion in the book world about reviews and criticism. There have been warnings about an epidemic of niceness on social media, articles on unfavourable reviews, the outing of sock puppet reviews on Amazon, and revelations of authors buying reviews in bulk.
Discoverability (drink) has been overtaken by sockpuppeting (drink) as the buzzword of the moment in publishing circles (so says FutureBook maven Sam Missingham), but it’s still the central concern of most ebook publishers. Readers can’t just go into a bookstore and pick up one of their books – they need to stumble across it in the wilds of the online jungle, so reviews and web chatter are increasingly important. Little wonder some authors are driven to fake their own book reviews.
If you’re concerned about how technology and web culture is affecting books, reading and writing, there are several things you can do. There are so many authors and books out there that for the truly excellent to come to the fore they need a bit of help from devoted readers.
I’ve put together a handy list of things you can do to support your favourite authors, and help fellow book lovers.
1. Buy books. I know right, easy
2. Read books. Bizarre, yes, but proven effective
3. Review books. Review widely, review often. You don’t have to be a professional reviewer anymore for your opinion to count (thanks Internet!). All you need is an account with your friendly (internet) neighbourhood retailer. Amazon is likely to be the most effective, but there is also Apple’s iBookstore and Goodreads. Or you could even set up a blog and become one of those people that publishing publicity departments adore, a book blogger. But let’s not get too crazy
4. Social media mention it up. Post your thoughts about the latest book you’re reading on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr – hell, even Google+. Do it as you’re thinking about reading the book. Do it when you buy the book – post a photo of the cover. Do it mid-read, if you are inspired by a particularly interesting plot twist, or a beautiful sentence. Triumphantly announce your completion upon finishing the book, or mourn the end of a particularly brilliant book. The more you talk about reading, the more you will motivate others to read
5. Give ebooks as gifts. Okay sure, ebook gifts aren’t quite as impressive as a gift-wrapped print tome, but they are usually far less expensive and far more portable. Just enter in the email address of the lucky recipient, and bam, you’ve made someone’s day. Unless you give them a diet book or something. Don’t do that. Ebooks aren’t just for Christmas guys. They’re an everyday gift. Give one today.
May I suggest one of these?Tagged: Amazon, authors, Books, discoverability, ebooks, ereading, FutureBook, gift ideas, iBookstore, list, reading, review, social media, sock puppet, writing
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Posted August 22, 2012 by Anne
“We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” – John Waters
That’s all very well and good, but these days you don’t need to take someone home for them to be able to see your bookshelf. You just need to show them your device. No not that device.
So before you go all the way home with your date, ask them to hand over their e-reading device. Take a quick look at their library, and use this handy guide to what your date’s taste in books says about them as a lover.
Chuck Palahniuk/Bret Easton Ellis/Philip Roth
If you bruise easily you may want to exercise caution.
Jonathan Franzen/Haruki Murakami/David Foster Wallace
You might need to pull the “shut up and kiss me” routine with this windbag, but once you’ve got things underway you can likely expect this lover to last the distance.
Thomas L. Friedman/Tim Flannery/Michael Pollan
I hope you like body hair. [Um, I wrote that before I saw the above photo and now I'm kind of all turned around on the subject. He's holding Hot, Flat and Crowded, by the way.]
Richard Dawkins/Christopher Hitchens/Sam Harris
If you’re one of those people who has a tendency toward “oh god” exclamations during sexual activity you may want to tone that down.
Diana Gabaldon/Nora Roberts/Jodi Picoult
There will definitely be cuddling after sex, quite possibly prior to and during the act also. Suffocation warning, and not the good type either.
George R. R. Martin/Robert Jordan/Raymond E Feist
This date has no problem with commitment or patience. Likely to be a dedicated lover, but may require a detailed map. When it comes to the cut and thrust part of the night, expect great things.
Anthony Bourdain/Marco Pierre White/Gabrielle Hamilton
Likely to have an excellent appetite, and a willingness to eat out, if you know what I mean.
Charlaine Harris/Anne Rice/Stephen King
Watch out for teeth. If you like that type of thing, by all means, take this one home. But look, you may want to lay down towels. Could get messy.
Stephanie Meyer/J.K. Rowling/Suzanne Collins
Ask to see their ID and double check their birth date.
Definitely, definitely fuck them.Tagged: Books, Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk, dating, e-reader, ebooks, ereading, fiction, Jonathan Franzen, library, list, non-fiction, Philip Roth, reading, romance, sex
Posted August 9, 2012 by Emilia Bresciani
I wrote The Raw Scent of Vanilla as a memoir through the lens of magic realism. In Latin America, where the genre of magic realism originated, daily life is imbued with what many would call ‘raw magic’. It’s all a product of sacrifice and sorrows, Catholic ceremonies, Andean mysticism, Amazonian animism and, an spicy imagination that come to affect daily reality. In the end, the view of life becomes almost multidimensional. Spirits are alive, the dead become companions, curses cause diseases and shamans work their magic. In other words, magic realism is not only a genre of literature, but a way of viewing life. As a writer born in Peru, it is natural for me to also look at life under such colourful lens.
But what is magic realism, the literary genre? It has a number of definitions. For me who learned from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, magic realism is simply realism with a twist. In the genre of fantasy, the world is created with different rules; in realism the world is shaped by conventional wisdom. In magic realism however, one or two elements in the story break the rules and disrupt the fabric of realism. The rupture is the result of imbuing reality with added meaning or symbolism. It also occurs by creating a twist in the reality. How we present the twist is up to the writer as I did with this memoir
It may be that some people believe that a memoir cannot be written with the plume of magic realism because it deals with facts. True, a memoir is a collection ‘real’ moments in life experienced by an individual who has a story to tell. But this factualism can be done through a narrative that reflects feelings, dreams, conflicts and aspirations. Our dreams can add colour to our narrative. Our feelings give meaning to our life allowing us to interpret it. For example, I chose to give meaning to my pain by looking at how my ancestors’ culture dealt with tragedy, and how this view affected my reaction to it. In the process I learned how tragedy was transforming my life. Time of course helped. It was the effect of time that allowed for the transformation to occur. Time provided the distance, and distance revealed the meaning.
Maybe not all of us need to find meaning in life. And that is fine. For me, writing the way I did was beneficial because I could make meaning of my ancestors’ story. Interpreting their story the way I did allowed me to deal with the painful events that took place in my life. At the same time, writing under the lens of magic realism allowed me to unleash my creativity and reach planes I never thought I could. The process filled me with excitement and delight. This, I believe, is the magic of life.
Emilia Bresciani was a television journalist before her husband was tragically killed, and she became the prime suspect in the murder investigation. Her memoir is an account of her life around the tragedy. Read more here.Tagged: digital publishing, ebooks, fantasy, fiction, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, genre, magic realism, memoir, reading, writing
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Posted July 26, 2012 by Anne
I’m a huge fan of having things beamed directly into my brain, so obviously podcasts are just about my favourite way to pass the time. Well, that and reading books. My favourite podcasts up until now have been largely pop culture-themed – This American Life, Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, all of the Slate podcasts (with the exception of the sports one because what? But if someone wants to make a good argument in favour of it I’m all ears), WNYC-created Alec Baldwin’s Here’s The Thing and RadioLab, and the always salacious Risk.
I’m even seduced by economics podcasts like Freakonomics, Planet Money and EconTalk. But up until very recently I’d avoided the world of book podcasts. Too much like work, perhaps. But I’ve been listening to a few lately, and am (predictably) addicted. These are my favourites, but I’m sure there are many more that I’m missing. So in the interests of filling up even more of my time, please make your book-ish podcast suggestions in the comments.
The Bookseller UK’s The Naked Book
This podcast does have a tendency to be a little ‘inside baseball’, but if you have any interest in the future of books and reading I highly recommend keeping an eye (ear?) on it. Philip Jones is the host, and he is joined by some of the most interesting people in the UK (and often US) book industry. It’s actually the podcast of a fortnightly radio show that is aired live in the UK, so there is usually input and questions from twitter and forums.
Joanna Penn is a thriller author and entrepreneur who has written, published and marketed several books. Her podcast is a must-listen for anyone with writerly aspirations. I listen to it because it gives a different perspective on the publishing industry to the one I’m usually faced with, and great insight into what it is like to be an author. Joanna is completely unaffected, and she is open and honest about her process. I like her interviews because she has no pretensions and covers exactly what I would want to ask of her guests.
While not technically a book podcast, it is story-based, so it totally counts. If you’ve never heard of The Moth, remedy this immediately. They also have a YouTube channel so you can watch the storytellers as well as hear them (but I prefer doing it the old-fashioned podcast-y way).
Ditto. Hosted by the excellent Isaiah Scheffer, these are short stories written by some of my favourite writers (including recently Richard Ford, Jennifer Egan and Etgar Keret) and performed by some of the best actors that New York City has to offer.
Two publishing types (Random House US employees, but I don’t hold that against them) talking everything book-y. Reviews, events, book creation and authors, they cover it all – and always have the inside word on the next big book to set the literary world abuzz, just before it hits.
Slate’s The Afterword
An in-depth discussion with authors of non-fiction books. Interesting interviews, and the host June Thomas has such a lovely accent that no matter what they’re talking about I’m always fascinated by the conversation.
Some of my favourite twitter personalities feature on this, with Rebecca Schinsky from Bookriot and recently Jon Page from Sydney’s own Pages and Pages Booksellers talking about the books they’re reading, and then delving into larger topics centred around books and reading. Conversational and fun, with great insight and tips about interesting book-ish sites and blogs.
As you might have guessed from the pic of Archer up top, we’re tossing around the idea of doing our own book-ish podcast at Momentum. Stay tuned for more details (ie stay tuned to find out whether I ever figure out what lead to plug in where), and in the meantime let me know which excellent podcasts I’ve missed.Tagged: Alec Baldwin, Books, ebooks, economics, Joanna Penn, Marc Maron, non-fiction, Philip Jones, podcast, reading, Shorts, slate, The Bookseller, The Moth, writing
Posted July 19, 2012 by Anne
I’ve recently become utterly obsessed with old pulp fiction novel covers thanks to this website, and am now on a mission to convince Joel that all of our book covers should resemble pulp novels from the 1950s. So in the spirit of my crusade, here are my purely hypothetical suggestions for some of the existing books on our list.
Okay yes I know this is from the opposite pole but just pretend that polar bear is a penguin.
Thanks to Andrew Nette for the inspiration. You should follow him on twitter, he is tops.Tagged: cover design, covers, digital publishing, ebooks, genre, pulp fiction, pulp novels
Posted July 17, 2012 by Anne
“This is such an endearing and funny book. Ever been stung to death by a queen bee boss at work? You’ll love this humorous fantasy tale which culminates in glorious revenge.
The protagonist, Liz Smith, is satisfyingly true-to-life, as a middle-aged woman with no family whose life has centred around her job. She is suddenly ‘let go’ and throughout the book ponders the meaning of her middle-aged, disconnected new self.
The magical element of the story centres around a second-hand mirror, which is prone to populating its sometimes-visible internal world with captured people. Liz is seduced by its charms at first but, along with her adopted house-mates, comes to realise just how dangerous it can be.
She experiments with a bit of romance, with cooking, with interior decorating, and with nurturing younger folk who flagrantly take advantage of her. All the time she is reinventing herself, exploring who she might become, while relishing her new-found freedom.
There are lots of Lizs about, and although they may not have magic mirrors, they will recognise themselves here, laugh a lot, and rejoice. And so will all their friends and acquaintances. Read, learn and inwardly digest–and giggle.”Tagged: ebooks, feminism, fiction, horror, reading, review, speculative fiction
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Posted July 16, 2012 by Anne
“Literary theorists argue that the feminist novel centres on the concerns of, and the bonds between, women. The category “feminist novel” takes into account the plurality of womanhood, including differences of class, race, ethnicity, geography, sexuality, age and able-bodiedness (Felski, Fraser & Nicholson, Kaplan, Robbins). Challenging literary and social conventions with humour and irony, Christine Townend’s first novel and appropriately The Beginning of Everything and the End of Everything Else can be read as a feminist novel as it recounts the tale of a naïve young woman’s passage through marriage, childbirth, homemaking and leave-taking.
The protagonist Persia marries to escape a dominating mother. Settling into comfortable middle-class suburbia, Persia gives birth to a son, but realises that her life is still controlled by others. In a search for self-discovery she leaves home and goes to live in a different socio-economic situation in Redfern. The novel represents an example of the feminist protagonist who moves “outward into the public realm of social engagement and activity…” (Felski). With its novella-like form, its unusual language, its defiant plot and its parodying of social situations, the narrative fearlessly debunks literary and cultural conservatism. New writing like Townend’s opened a space for feminist fiction published in the later 1970s and 1980s.”
An extract from a paper presented by Adrienne Sallay. More info here.Tagged: Australian, ebooks, feminism, fiction, history, literature, writing
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Posted July 12, 2012 by Mark Rossiter
Following a heated discussion on Twitter over whether ebooks should follow the form and function of their print counterparts, Joshua Mostafa and Mark Rossiter agreed to a battle of ideas on our blog with the question “Should ebooks look like print books?”
Anyone who frets about the form in which a text is displayed, by claiming for example that a beautifully produced print edition is superior to the same text presented electronically in a conventional-enough layout, is missing the point.
Text is only ever about content, not the way it is presented. All instances of written language can be seen as simulacra, a word the Oxford English Dictionary defines as ‘something having merely the form or appearance of a certain thing, without possessing its substance or proper qualities’. In short: neither the printed book nor the ebook is, in fact, the book. They’re just material representations. The book itself is something eternal, beyond any given physical implementation.
When you ask me if I’ve read, say, Pride and Prejudice, you don’t usually mean a particular edition or format (paperback or hardcover). Strange as it may seem at first glance, you don’t necessarily even mean any particular language. You’re talking about something beyond the concrete: the eternal text, ethereal, almost outside of language. It’s up there, in the sky, free from the caprices of nature, of water, wind or fire, free even from time.
Of course, without some form of representation, that eternal book is lost to us earthbound mortals. That’s why, if you remember, the premise of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is so compelling (the burning of books) and its conclusion so uplifting (books living within us, the word made flesh).
The particularities of a given physical manifestation, paper or otherwise, may well be pretty, beautiful and embody hundreds of years of design thought, but they’re still about materiality and not about the book itself. Judgements on the book-as-object are profoundly superficial, ignoring the text’s own aesthetic field: language, argument, narrative, representation, etc. Once you let yourself see the book in this essentially metaphysical way, you realise that clinging to rigid print formats is simply archaic and that there’s nothing to stop you embracing ebooks except your own inner old fogey.
The e-reader is the perfect place (so far) to store, transact and consume text, as long as appropriate presentation norms are maintained. Depending on your platform, these can be somewhat crude at present, but in time e-readers will allow further user customisation in terms of fonts, spacing, alignment, etc.
Meanwhile my e-library is growing, up there in the cloud, ready for me to pull down onto any device I want. I lose my e-reader, I buy another one. Everything is still there, in the ether. Remember, from the moment it’s printed, your beautiful paper book is slowly burning, oxidising, its pages turning yellow and brittle. My ebooks are safe, up there in the sky, for ever.book as object, burning of books, ebooks, ereading, faceoff, metaphysical, paper books, ray bradbury, the cloud
Posted by Joshua Mostafa
Following a heated discussion on Twitter over whether ebooks should follow the form and function of their print counterparts, Joshua Mostafa and Mark Rossiter agreed to a battle of ideas on our blog with the question “Should ebooks look like print books?”
Ebooks? I’m not sentimental—spare me the drivel about the smell of old books—but I am a curmudgeon and a pessimist. Storing all one’s books ‘in the cloud’ is just as safe as keeping them on shelves, apparently; because hard drives don’t crash, and technicians always remember to do backups. Since the average e-reader stores approximately seven gazillion books, you can defer choosing which one to take on the train by taking your whole collection with you, which frees you from the onerous duty of reading any of them. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend a third of the time dithering between several titles, another third trying to download reviews to help you make up your mind, and the final third fiddling with all device’s so-called features, all of which fall into the general category of Things You Can Do Instead of Reading.
Grudgingly, though, I have to admit that ebooks have some big advantages over their physical forebears. Search is probably the biggest one. This was borne home to me recently when trying to find an obscure passage in an 800-page monster of a hardback. Like the baby distressed that magazines don’t work the way iPads do, I found myself looking for the book’s ‘find’ function. What was that we used to use? Ah yes, that quaint thing called the index; great, if and only if the editor is an oracle, able to predict every search topic in the minds of all future readers.
Search is the ebook’s killer app, and prevents my inner Luddite from dismissing the whole format out-of-hand. But the idea of ebooks is not coterminous with its current incarnation, which leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not a clear-cut question of digital versus paper. Some formats, like PDF, are similar to printed books in that they are relatively static. There’s a set number of pages, specific text is allotted to each page, and the layout with which they were created is reproduced exactly for the reader: margins, number of columns, typography and so on. This is what makes some books a pleasure to look at, and others cramped and nasty. It’s also what visually differentiates the experience of reading one publisher’s books from another’s. On my Kindle, if I switch from Los Angeles Review of Books Vol. 1 to a free copy of Middlemarch, I see no difference in how the text is laid out. Every book looks like every other book. A single, mediocre font is deployed for all purposes; at the same time, a barrage of supposedly reader-empowering configuration options get in the way of reading. It’s the worst of both worlds, as if the commissar in a Soviet bureaucracy of Literary Regulation is making the decisions in committee with a Silicon Valley techno-utopian individualist.
What’s missing from this picture is the publisher. Someone with skin in the brand differentiation game. I might not be consciously aware from a glance at a page that I’m looking at, say, a Routledge textbook, but on some pre-cognitive level, I recognise the brand. When the text of a book goes into the giant sausage factory of the Amazon store, it comes out without the beauty or utility of clean, professionally laid-out pages. That doesn’t just hurt the reader; it hurts the publisher. I can only guess at the reason publishers agree to cut their own legs from under themselves, and produce books in these lowest-common-denominator formats. Maybe they are intimidated by a load of techno-babble about minimising production costs and maximising platform compatibility. More likely, they’re anxious not to get left behind by digitisation, and don’t feel they’re in a position to dictate terms to the behemoth astride the networks.
The current, dismal one-size-fits-all approach cannot be the last word in digital ebooks. In a sea of beige, there’s an opportunity for digital books with colour and flair to stand out. Would it really be so hard to produce a few different editions—one for phone, one for tablet, one large print—and lay out by hand, PDF-style? I could then contemplate ebooks with a less jaundiced eye. Right now, the promised ‘whole library in my pocket’ looks more like a one-volume anthology of the kind that tend to stay on the shelf and gather mildew: The Complete Works of Everyone Ever. Typeset by robots.
Josh divides his time between the Blue Mountains, Sydney, and the train, where most of his writing takes place. He has worked in digital publishing and arts journalism; now he’s writing mostly prose narrative. Library (of real books!) here; tweets there.Tagged: digital publishing, ebooks, ereading, faceoff, font, PDF, print books, robots, smell of old books, technobabble
Posted June 27, 2012 by Adrian Caesar
The White tells the story of two of the greatest journeys in the ‘heroic age’ of Antarctic exploration: Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole (1911-12) and Douglas Mawson’s trek across King George V Land, eastward from the Australasian Antarctic Expedition’s hut at Commonwealth Bay (1912-13).
When I began work on the book I’d had an interest in Scott for some years and in particular a fascination for the way in which his ‘heroic’ death was seen as a form of ‘self-sacrifice’. His own account of what had happened seemed to me to form the basis of a legend that countless biographies had happily repeated and endorsed. But I was also interested to write something about Australia. A friend alerted me to the figure of Mawson. I began to read about him and came across one of the greatest survival stories (maybe the greatest) in the history of adventure and exploration. Better still, I discovered a connection between Scott and Mawson – in a meeting in London in 1910, Scott had tried to persuade Mawson to join his expedition. Mawson refused, saying he wanted to explore the Antarctic coastline closest to Australia; he wanted to mount an Australian expedition.
From these beginnings, I decided to write a book which would compare and contrast the two men, their characters, their journeys, the cultural differences between them. But what kind of a book? I didn’t want to write conventional biography and I didn’t want to write an academic treatise. On the other hand, the material I had and the issues I was interested in seemed to call for more than a straightforward adventure story.
After several false starts, I had a moment of inspiration. I found a form that could combine the drama and narrative drive of a novel with the more factual and analytic characteristics of non-fiction. Most controversially, perhaps, my way forward also enabled me to imagine and dramatise the characters’ interior life rather than present a distanced account through the lens of conventional biography. In this way I aimed to restore to the characters something of their full humanity.
I was intent on trying to understand why Scott’s death was so famous and Mawson’s survival wasn’t. I wanted to question the received wisdom about Scott and compare and contrast him with Mawson. Ideas about masculinity, heroism and self-sacrifice came under scrutiny as did the different values and beliefs that motivated each man. Scott’s relationship with his sculptress wife, Kathleen, and Mawson’s love for his fiancée (later his wife) Paquita are of much fascination in this context.
My choice of form also highlights the fact that in the last days of each man’s journey there is only one account of what happened: their own. In other words, the ‘facts’ of the matter are difficult to establish beyond doubt. Scott’s account of his own heroic death cannot be seen as disinterested. Mawson’s account of his solo trek likewise may not be the complete story.
I have tried to provide a compelling and cogent account of these extraordinary men and their explorations. Whether I have succeeded or not is for the reader to decide. Readers may also have their opinions on whether the book constitutes fiction or non-fiction. My own view is that it is best described in Truman Capote’s phrase as a ‘non-fiction novel’.
Find out more about the book here.Tagged: adventure, antarctic exploration, ebooks, history, mawson, non-fiction, non-fiction novel, scott, survival, truman capote, writing
Posted June 26, 2012 by Bessie and Geoff
Every day, somewhere in the world, a young girl or boy is experiencing one of these stories for themselves, almost word for word.
Since we wrote the book we have had hundreds of models ask if we were writing ‘their story’ in the chapters of this book.
Whilst we have changed dramatically, the model industry remains very much the same, for better or worse.
To some, a wonderful experience full of adventure, glamour, excitement and fun. But to others, a soul sucking self indulgent hell that systematically chews them up and spits them out at the end of their used by date.
We experienced both the highs and the lows and to be honest we wouldn’t change a thing.
Love it or hate it, the modelling world may be superficial, but the people in it are real and have feelings just like the rest of us. This book is their story, and the thousands who have gone before and will come after.
You can find the book, Casting Couch Confidential, here.
Tagged: digital publishing, ebooks, glamour, memoir, modelling, non-fiction, tell-all
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Posted June 13, 2012 by Joel
I’ve been writing blog posts about the future of books and publishing for a while now. I’m by no means one of the first, and by no stretch of the imagination one of the best, so I’m painfully aware of how I often tread on the same ground as those who have gone before me (and usually done it better). However, reading yet another article on the future of books over the weekend nearly caused me to claw my own eyes out with frustration (and probably a healthy dose of shame) as yet another bookish pundit gleefully wheeled out cliché after cliché as if she were writing them for the first time. Thus this list. If I ever commit any of these sins again, please feel free to point them out and/or punch me in the face.
1. The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book
This one works extremely well as a headline for a piece about the death of the book, and it makes you seem both worldly and progressive (acknowledging both the inevitable death of the paper book and the regrettable truth that digital books are still books). Originally from the French Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi! (the king is dead; long live the king), the expression was probably popularised in pop culture by Shakespeare. Always a bad sign.
2. A Lot of Ink Has Been Spilled About the Death of the Book
The temptation when writing a blog post is to make grand statements in the lede. When you know the story you’re writing is completely unoriginal, it helps to point out that you do, in fact, know it. One way to do this while also making a clever pun at the same time is to claim that so much ‘spilled ink’, ‘miles of newsprint’ or ‘column inches’ have been wasted talking about the issue, thereby slyly indicating that the article you are about to write is, in point of fact, not a waste of anyone’s time. If you’re being especially clever you can say ‘countless screens of pixels’.
3. Are Paper Books Going the Way of the Dodo?
See also: Going the Way of the Typewriter, Going the Way of Vinyl, Going the Way of Video Tapes or Going the Way of the Album.
4. The Singular Pleasure of Solitude
Almost every post (particularly in the last twelve months) on the future of reading makes nostalgic claims about the pleasure (and importance) of reading alone in solitude for hours at time and conflates this experience with paper book reading and literacy. Let’s get this straight – whether you make the time to read for great stretches of a time all by yourself has less to do with your reading format of choice and more to do with how you choose to spend your time, how busy you are and the available alternative choices to reading.
5. Complain About People Complaining About the Smell of Books
It’s long been a cliché to talk about how you don’t like ebook readers because they don’t smell like ‘real’ books. That’s old news. The newest trend is to ostentatiously point out that the argument about the smell of books is moot, because obviously it doesn’t matter. See also: claiming that the smell of books is actually the smell of death.
Got any of your own clichés or pet hates about digital book blogs and articles? Sound off in the comments below.Tagged: blogs, cliches, digital publishing, ebooks, future of books, future of publishing, meta, smell of books
Posted June 4, 2012 by Sam Cooney
In Australia in the past few months a new publishing trend has emerged: that of digital shorts. Such branded shorts programs are fairly self-explanatory in name, in that they are a) wholly digital, with standalone pieces being offered only as ebooks; and b) short, being typically 8,000-15,000 words (more concise than a novella, longer than your conventional short story) in length. This concept of digital shorts — also known as ‘singles’ — has quietly drifted over the oceans from the United States and the UK (although one could make the argument that with ongoing advent of e-publishing this development was inevitable, no matter the influence of these larger markets) and local publishers have waded in quickly in order to have at the plunder. At a quick glance, Penguin, Random House, Scribe, Allen & Unwin, and Momentum (under the auspices of Pan MacMillan) are just some of the larger Australian houses branching into digital shorts.
In the past there were few avenues for selling work of the digital shorts length. Only the top few magazines could justify the ongoing publication of long stretches of text, mostly because of issues to do with page-space and advertising revenue, and because print book customers always want their money’s worth in terms of reading time. Yet electronic publishing has no such limits; indeed, the digital shorts format is perfect for tablets and mobile phones, and the time to read one could well fit into a lunch break, public transport commute, or professional’s waiting room. Joel Naoum, publisher at Momentum Books — a digital-only imprint of Pan MacMillan — believes that “there’s always been a readership for shorter work, but the means of distributing that isn’t cost-effective with paper”. Now that paper and ink is discretionary and that all the other costs and impossibilities of publishing short standalone pieces on their own have vanished, this type of shortish-long work is not only being published, but it is also finding an audience. A large and burgeoning audience.
Although in Australia right now it is works of fiction that occupy the emerging realm of digital shorts, the concept’s foundation and initial success is in non-fiction. Long-form journalism, the likes of which can be found in such venerable and varied publications as the New Yorker, Esquire, Harpers, and Wired, appeals to the broadest audience, and is more marketable. Two enterprising US-based non-fiction digital shorts publishers, the Atavist and Byliner, whose online presences are impressive in that unostentatious way, have reported a positive reception for the new format. The Atavist reported earlier this year that it has sold well over 100,000 copies of its 14 e-single titles, and Byliner’s sales of its 20 original stories have also surpassed the 100,000 mark. And now we’re even seeing publications like National Geographic get in on the act: they recently released the first title in their new shorts series, a piece called Titanic: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Greatest Shipwreck. Nat Geo has already lined up four other planned digital shorts to be published this year, all in the vicinity of 8,000 to 15,000 words.
The benefit to digital shorts programs is the time to produce and market the work has been dramatically reduced. Whereas a full-length work can easily take as long as two years to reach bookstore shelves under a traditional publishing model, ebook-only shorter works means that period time can be as short as two or three months. And the shelf life of digital shorts is potentially infinite (or at least a very long time). As Elizabeth Weiss, publisher at Allen & Unwin, explains: “standalone short stories are generally published in literary journals, and disappear after a period of time. A standalone short ebook can be offered on an ongoing basis.” And it’s no secret – publishers love products that keep selling. Digital shorts — especially an e-library or e-bookshelf filled with them — might prove to be such enduring merchandise, what with their modest price points and low-entry barriers to reading (assuming that it’s much easier to for a reader to get cracking on a short work than a longer one).
Authors of digital shorts don’t generally receive the same kind of initial financial compensation that they’d get from a magazine or journal, but they get something potentially better – a cut of the profits. It is now fairly standard for e-book shorts authors to receive royalties of 30-40% of sales. This might seem measly, especially when the pieces sell for a couple of dollars, but the potential for earnings is much greater. If a digital short happens to touch a public nerve, or if it receives the championing of a few gatekeepers — and/or thousands of social media users — then that 30-40% cut starts to pay off, and even handsomely. Thus, a journalist can make a living by covering – in depth – the stories that interest him or her, and a fiction writer can spend more time on a single story they genuinely believe can gain traction with readers, and if said story reaches enough of the marketplace, significant sums of money can be made, especially over a length of time.
Some have commented on the apparent irony that the web, and media gadgets such as mobile phones, computers and other e-reading devices, are going some way to saving the very thing naysayers thought it would kill. Technological innovation and creative thinking — as it should and probably always was going to (despite the clamberings to announce the death of reading) — is helping authors and publishers to reach readers. As Random House marketing and publicity directory Brett Osmond told me, “The ebook supply chain has overcome the many issues of traditional book making — how to print, distribute, promote, price and merchandise something so slim when perceived value is small — thereby allowing new experimentation. Our experimentation and combined consumer research is demonstrating to us that there is indeed a market full of readers who, for various reasons, like buying and reading short stories digitally.” Publishers experimenting! It still happens! And triumphantly too, even at the largest publishing houses, who are typically more conservative. Ben Ball at Penguin Australia is “excited about the capacity of the digital world to make relevant some of questions that have previously been determinative in publishing, mainly length, and turnaround time”. Sure, he’s not at all certain “whether an author’s digital short will take people to the longer work or whether the longer work will pique people’s interest in the shorter”, but like all published writing, digital shorts are already taking part in the wider conversation that occurs between books, books both by the same author and by all writers everywhere.
Ian See, editor at Scribe, also sees shorts as having a dual quality, as both publishing products in their own right, and as supplementary works that may lead readers on to the larger works by the same authors. “Certainly in our Summer Shorts ebook,” he says, “we were conscious of including links to the authors’ novels, for readers who are interested.” Naoum views the shorts he and the team at Momentum are offering in the same vein as See, believing that shorts “work most successfully as part of an array of content by an author at different lengths and price points.” Momentum are manoeuvring their way into the shorts market with an essay on women and ageing by Liz Byrski, and a piece of fiction by one of their regular fiction authors, Greig Beck, which is a prequel story to one of his novels. In early 2013 Momentum will also be publishing a series of fiction and non-fiction shorts by authors it sees as indicative of the future of Australian writing.
Elizabeth Weiss is adrenalised by the digital shorts movement, but not with a measure of wariness: “One of the things to be conscious of is that with the internet in general, we are in an age of abundance. Most of us suffer from information overload. As a publisher, just putting something out there in age of abundance is not good enough. We have to find a market for these shorts. We need to find readers. That is the real challenge.” Every reader knows this, knows that every book – even absorbing and quick reads like most digital shorts prove to be — is competing for their time with Draw Something, with Angry Birds, with YouTube and RSS feed readers and with the lurching, unstoppable behemoth of social media. Weiss continues: “You’ll find that publishers must have a solid strategy behind their particular digital shorts programs. Ours is that we are working with high profile authors – that’s our strategy.” She’s not wrong – the first five shorts from Allen & Unwin are by some of Australia’s most well-known and best-loved authors: Christos Tsiolkas, Charlotte Wood, Tom Keneally, Alex Miller, and Peter Temple. Osmond at Random House is also enthusiastic about working with bigger name authors; he sees “genuine benefit in scheduling the release of shorts in the lead-up to the publication of a new book as promotional tool to generate awareness for the new book”, and also recognises that “fans enjoy reading something from their favourite authors when the author is between books”.
Digital shorts might simply represent the natural progression stemming from the combination of too-fast technological advancement and the waning of contemporary attention spans. Or it might be a case of the publishing industry finally being able to cater to writing that has long existed, or wanted to exist. Whatever, I reckon. Right now, it’s simply rousing to see digital shorts as a new manifestation of the author-reader experience, one that is performing the time-honoured literary parlour tricks: providing measures of enlightenment and pleasure through the arrangement of text.
(First published in issue 203 (June-July 2012) of Newswrite, the NSWWC publication.)
Click here for more information on Liz Byrski’s Getting On.
Tagged: digital publishing, digital shorts, ebooks, singles, writing
Posted May 30, 2012 by Joel
As some of you might already know, we announced yesterday that we’re dropping DRM (digital rights management) from all of our books. The chatter on social media last night and this morning leads me to believe there’s still a bit of confusion about what DRM is, what it’s for, why we chose to drop it and what it actually means for you – assuming you are someone who might buy or want to buy our books.
What is DRM?
First of all – what is digital rights management? Basically, it’s a type of software that limits what you can and can’t do with a legitimately purchased piece of digital content. It’s used on everything from computer games to music, movies, books and television episodes. It’s the reason why when you rent a movie from iTunes you only have 48 hours to watch it, and it’s the reason why when you buy a book from Amazon you can’t copy it to your Sony or Kobo e-reader.
However, DRM is not the same thing as territorial rights. Territorial rights are to blame when you try to buy an ebook from a store and you get the dreaded ‘This book is not available from your location’ notice. It’s also what stops Australian users from using US services like Hulu, Pandora and, until recently, Spotify. Typically, content publishers buy a licence from the copyright holder that gives them the right to make that content available in particular ways within a particular geographical territory. Digital retailers of all kinds can usually work out where you’re buying or viewing content from and block you if they don’t have the right to make it available to you.
Does territorial copyright make sense on the internet? Not particularly. But ultimately it’s not just up to publishers to solve the territorial rights problem – if authors and agents want their books to be available to the world they need to make those rights available to content publishers and many still don’t.
Happily at Momentum we’ve worked extra hard to make almost all of our books available globally. In other words, our authors have licensed their books to us to sell them worldwide. This has been the case since we launched in February.
What is DRM For?
This might seem like a fairly obvious question with an obvious answer, but it’s actually kind of complicated. DRM ostensibly exists to protect a creator’s copyright – it stops readers from tampering with a file, copying it, converting it into other formats and even stops illegitimate users from opening or viewing a file. This is why publishers use it and it’s also why many authors still want it applied to their books – they are afraid that without DRM their books will be copied without limitation by anyone who gets their hands on it.
In practice, however, DRM is relatively easy to remove from a book. This is why piracy of books and other digital content is so rampant – it only takes one person with a working knowledge of how to remove DRM from a book to make it available to the entire world for free. In other words – DRM is extremely bad at doing its main job.
Given that this is so, what else is DRM for? DRM stops readers who buy their ebooks from one retailer transferring their purchase to an unapproved reading device. For example, you can’t read an ebook with DRM on it from Apple on your Kindle, and you can’t read a Kindle ebook on your Kobo Touch. So the answer to that question – what is DRM for? – becomes clear. The purpose of DRM is to encourage readers to buy their ebooks from a single source.
So Why Are We Dropping DRM?
At Momentum we have a commitment to accessibility. As I mentioned earlier, we’re working hard to make our books available globally. All of our books released so far are available for under $10, and most of them for $5 or less. Ensuring that you can buy your books from wherever you want and read them on whatever device you want is part of that commitment.
Dropping DRM is not about encouraging piracy. Piracy is a reality of the digital era, and this situation is extremely unlikely to change. Some people are always going to pirate content and spread it around without permission. Let me be clear, here – this isn’t something we support. Authors deserve to be paid for their work. But we believe that the best way to fight piracy is to remove the barriers to purchase – make books cheaper, make them available everywhere and to any reader from any platform.
What Does Dropping DRM Mean For You?
The simple answer is: not all that much. You can still buy our books from all the same places for the same prices. Come August, however, if you want to read your Kindle book on your Kobo or your iBookstore book on your Kindle – you can. We’re still working with our retail partners (and in talks with others) to make our books available in as many places as possible – but that’s a separate issue to our decision to drop DRM.
So if you are thinking of buying our books, I urge you to encourage your friends to buy books from us. Most of them are the cost of a cup of coffee (or two), and they can buy and download them while waiting for the bus. Ultimately dropping DRM is an experiment – if it proves to be successful, then we’ll keep doing it.
And we really want to keep doing it.
If you have any questions about this change, please sound off in the comments and I’ll answer them as best I can.Tagged: accessibility, digital rights management, DRM, ebooks, piracy, pricing
Posted May 15, 2012 by Joel
Nathan M Farrugia’s recently released debut novel The Chimera Vector has dropped into a sea of digital content at the centre of a global conversation around the future of reading.
Ebooks are slowly cannibalising print sales. The traditional gatekeepers of book publishing are embroiled in a dispute with the US department of justice. Amazon is dominating digital publishing both with its closed Kindle platform and huge self-publishing push, and the threat of a monopoly (or monopsony) looms. Fear mongering around the death of the paper book, bookstores and book culture is rampant.
Enter Nathan Farrugia, the first debut author to work with Pan Macmillan Australia’s new digital imprint Momentum. Initially planning to self-publish, the ex-Australian Army infantryman describes ‘stalking’ me through the ‘long grasses of Twitter’, recognising the need for professional editing for his content. He happened to catch my attention at a time when I was just about to undertake the Unwin Fellowship in the UK and was helping set up Momentum in Australia. In other words, I was busy.
Although I initially agreed to take on the editing job, it became clear that the book would be perfect for Momentum, even though the imprint hadn’t been announced at that point. The story was exceptionally fast-paced and action-packed and blended genres in a fresh and fun way. What followed was an awkward few weeks in which I had to convince Nathan I was working on his edit when what I was really doing was trying to sign up his book.
Thankfully, when the offer came, Nathan was convinced that an experimental digital-only publishing imprint fit with his ideas about the future of storytelling and digital consumption. From the get-go Nathan wanted to work with a publisher who was willing to experiment with price, territoriality and copyright restrictions. He was adamant that he wanted to sell his book at a low price with no DRM. ‘DRM actually encourages piracy instead of protecting against it,’ he says. Far from being concerned about piracy, we shared the belief that if you sell content that people want at a price they’re willing to pay then piracy becomes a non-issue. It’s refreshing (and rare) to come across authors who are as informed, engaged and enthusiastic as Nathan – but Momentum has attracted its fair share of them so far, and I’m looking forward to finding more.
Although Momentum was only able to sign up the straight-text book of The Chimera Vector, Nathan had far more ambitious plans. They involved launching the ebook along with an app, audio book and graphic novel to encourage accessibility across different types of media.
‘There are enhanced ebooks, there are transmedia products, there are a few book apps with bells and whistles. But nothing cohesive, nothing integrated, nothing truly groundbreaking. Is that really the best we can do?’
Nathan and his agent, Xavier Waterkeyn, started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the planned book app, but despite raising over $US40,000 it fell short of the ambitious $140K goal. Nathan and Xavier are now slowly funding the bells and whistles themselves, working on audio, graphics and wireframing in their spare time.
The ebook of The Chimera Vector has led the way as Momentum’s first debut author, shooting straight into the top ten on Apple’s iBookstore at launch last week and attracting promotion and sales around the world. The ability to launch a debut author with a digital-only book and still stand out from the crowd proves that publishers will still have a role in connecting authors with audiences, in and out of print, for many years to come.
You can buy Nathan M Farrugia’s The Chimera Vector DRM-free from the ebook retailer of your choice here, and it will also be available soon in print-on-demand.Amazon, apps, debut, DRM, ebooks, editing, FutureBook, iBookstore, Kickstarter, monopsony, stalking, Unwin Fellowship
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Posted May 14, 2012 by John Birmingham
I just e-mailed off a draft of the manuscript for Stalin’s Hammer: Rome. That’s the working title I’m going with for now. I got this idea that Stalin’s Hammer will play itself out over half a dozen books, most of which will be set in a different city, hence the subtitles.
I’m not going to get into any spoilers or even much in the way of detail about Rome. It still needs a fair bit of work, being only a first draft, and even more importantly being my first attempt at standalone e-book. It’s been kind of fascinating the ‘challenges’ that the new format has thrown up. Mostly in terms of structure and pacing.
Some things never change, however. Making stuff up and blowing stuff up is always great fun. One of the really interesting things I’ve had to grapple with in this project is ‘the shape of things to come’. Just where have technology and society developed on both sides of the Iron Curtain in the 10 years since the end of the war?
Again, no spoilers from me, but I did see this great piece in Wired the other day about the future of the Israeli Air Force. I’ll clip in the paragraph below:
“Nano drones that an infantryman can pull out of his pocket; helicopters piloted by robots who extract wounded soldiers from the battlefield; micro satellites on demand; large spy balloons in the upper reaches of the stratosphere; virtual training with a helmet from your office; algorithms that resolve pilots’ ethical dilemmas (so they won’t have to deal with those pesky war crimes tribunals); and farming out code to a network of high school kids.”
I can remember when I was plotting out the first part of Weapons of Choice how much time I spent poring over stories like this. It was partly what motivated me to write the book in the first place, the idea of mashing up old and new tech together.
I doubt that will be seeing many nano drones, even in The Zone. Ten years is just a bit too short an horizon to pull off a technological acceleration like that. But given how much military and civilian technology and information came through Manning Pope’s wormhole, and given that the world has had 10 years of relative peace and prosperity to exploit them, I’m fairly confident there would be some quite massive leaps forward over the original timeline. Even if it’s only a leap into, say, the 1970s.axis of time, ebooks, genre, john birmingham, nano drones, technology, weapons, weapons of choice, wired, writing
Posted May 10, 2012 by Joel
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about editing this week. Tomorrow I’m speaking at the Residential Editorial Program, an intensive editing course run by Varuna for professional career editors. My topic is about the future of editing, and although I find myself talking about this almost every day of my working life, it’s hard to sum up precisely how I feel.
And then Rich Adin from The Digital Reader blog gave me a little push.
I’ve been toying with this idea for some time now. I haven’t gotten very far with it because of resistance from editorial colleagues, but I’m wondering if professional editors should certify that a book has been professionally edited as a way to assure the author’s customers that the book was edited?
Adin is talking about self-published authors here. And it’s an extremely noble idea. Adin identifies most of the (many) problems with the idea himself on the post. These include how to penalise bad editing, who decides on certification, who ensures that authors follow the advice, who will promote the value of such certification and, the biggie, “what fee schedule is reasonable for a certification process?” However, he goes on to say that “few of the problems cannot be overcome”. Here I have to disagree with him, and I think the reasoning comes down to this umbrella term – “editing”.
Editing is more than just good proofreading – making sure the author has used the right “your” and “their” and “its” and ensuring that a character with blue eyes and blonde hair remains blue-eyed and blonde throughout the book. A ‘certified’ edited book, in the sense that Adin means, wouldn’t be worth the electrons it was typed in if the book was well proofread and the continuity worked but was still a giant pile of crap to read. In traditional publishing (still the best in show for professional editorial standards, despite objections and occasional dropped balls), the editorial process starts at commissioning. Extremely badly written books don’t get published in the first place. Books that are commissioned usually go through at least one big picture edit that sorts out many of the structural problems (like the six chapters written before the plot starts, the inauthenticity of the setting or the sheer stupidity of a character). Then there’s at least one line edit (or copyedit, depending on your country of origin) and then multiple rounds of proofreading by both freelancers and in-house editorial staff. A huge percentage of editorial work is sent to the author to get their approval, but there is also a lot of stuff that flies under the radar and is just fixed without the author’s knowledge because it’s obviously, glaringly incorrect. All part of the invisible service.
And you know what? Even with all that (and I very much doubt a ‘certified’ editor working with a self-published author could provide all that) not every book that is edited well is a good book. Editing – to a massive extent – is an invisible gloss on a book. I’m frequently enraged when book critics claim that a given book wasn’t very well edited. The kinds of things that can be changed (but are left as is) and the kinds of mistakes that creep in (and are not fixed) are often not the fault of editors, but of the author, the typesetter, the printer, the conversion house and so on and so on and so on. The editor might take ultimate responsibility, but it is almost impossible to determine how ‘well’ a book was edited by looking at the final product.
The other problem with this idea is the cost. The market for self-published, unedited ebooks has proved that there is a proportion of the reading population who are willing to pay a lot less for work that is not edited at all (or edited poorly by non-professional editors). This market is largely driven by price. I’m not convinced that a ‘certified’ editorial scheme is going to make the quality of these books much better unless a lot of money was spent. To address the problems with a certification program, you need an independent third party with a stake in the book with knowledge of editorial skill and the infrastructure to carry it out. And all of that costs money – money that readers of self-published writing don’t want to pay.
Having said that, there is clearly a market for paying slightly more for a well edited book – and that’s to buy it from a publisher. I’m not saying publishers do it perfectly, but it is extremely high on the priority list for our books to go out with as high a level of quality as possible – and it is usually the biggest cost associated with producing a book. Traditional editorial workflow has been built over generations, is constantly improving and it is run efficiently and with razor-thin margins. How, precisely, can self-publishing improve on that?
I do think we can do a better job of ‘selling’ this idea to the reading public. At Momentum, all of our books have the name of the proofreader and the line editor (if appropriate) on the copyright page of the book. It’s one way that we can prove to a sceptical reader that all of our books are edited by real, professional, vetted editors (who are also human beings).
An extract from the copyright page of The Chimera Vector
We also have an email address so that if you do spot errors in our books you can let us know. So far we’ve received two emails from concerned readers, and in both cases they received responses and the errors were corrected.
But I wonder – what else can we do? What do readers expect? Are you willing to pay more for better edited books – or is price more important? Sound off in the comments – I’m curious to hear what you think.Tagged: certification, ebooks, editing, quality