Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

The machinations of the publishing industry.


So you want to write a novel

As an author, I've built an extensive portfolio of hundreds of newspaper columns and dozens of magazine features. My ambitions are grounded in works of that scope, as the creativity and dedication to pursue anything lengthier has eluded me. That may not always be the case: I am currently studying the works of literary journalists and can see how I may someday find a topic I wish to turn into a story. But though I enjoy reading fiction more than non-fiction, I lack the confidence (or perhaps the hubris) to think my talent lies in spinning yarns out of whole cloth.

Perhaps that limitation is founded not in pessimism, but realism. With the conclusion of NaNoWriMo only a day behind us, I can't help but wonder how many aspiring novels are having this conversation today:

(Hat tip to Dayton Ward)

Is e-book piracy ethical?

Awhile back, New York Times columnist Jeffrey Seglin posed a question that looks at a particular aspect of copyright law: is it morally (if not legally) acceptable to pirate an e-book if you own the original hardcopy edition? Although most pirates offer specious justification for their actions, this particular question warrants more thoughtful consideration.

Historically, I have engaged in similar activities: if I owned a video game, I considered it reasonable for me to acquire the soundtrack to said game, regardless of the means. Sometimes this meant connecting my PlayStation's audio output to my computer's input and making my own recording; other times, it was copying the album that had been released as a separate product. Video games have since adapted to such exploitation with copyrights that individually name the art, design, programming, and music, which would seem to deny any legal basis for my youthful actions.

Moreover, a game's soundtrack provides a unique experience within and without the context of the game, just as a book is different from an e-book. In a game, music is used to complement the on-screen action, whereas separately, it may be used without requiring gameplay to invoke its own imagery. Similarly, a book has a look, touch, and feel all its own, while an e-book is portable, markable, and potentially more transportable. To argue that buying one grants a license to a union of these benefits is dubious.

My response to Mr. Seglin's question was quoted in his follow-up:

I think it's fair to create your own translation of a product you own for personal use — such as scanning a book to put on your Kindle, or digitizing a CD to load onto your iPod.

To enjoy the fruits of someone else's translation efforts means making the investment in their version of that product. To do otherwise is still piracy.

I may not find it ethical for a consumer to steal something they already own in a different format — but to end the discussion there ignores the other party in the transaction. Is it ethical for the corporation to expect consumers to pay twice for the same content? If it were possible to provide proof of purchase, surely a discount for existing customers would be both respectful of their patronage as well as an incentive toward future business, as software developers do when offering upgrades to new versions. When dealing with more physical products, such a policy could more easily be implemented in small contexts, such as when the developer and distributor of said product are one in the same. As an example, Jason Scott's GET LAMP documentary comes with an upgrade guarantee:

What drives me absolutely nuts is buying the same film multiple times.

What I'm talking about is you buy a DVD of something, and you enjoy it. Then they come out with a special edition of the same thing and you buy it again. Then there's a downloadable version, and you buy that. And so on. And so on. It makes some people very rich, but it's just a completely disrespectful thing to do to the people who brought you success in the first place. It sucks.

So here's what I am doing.


It is the right of Mr. Scott as the copyright holder of GET LAMP to determine the availability and value of his product (which is why he chooses to release it under Creative Commons). As Mr. Scott told me in an interview for Computerworld, "You've already paid me, I've already made a profit off you — I don't want to make another profit off you!" It is a generous (and perhaps expensive) approach he has chosen that could be considered the opposite extreme of corporations that charge the full amount for content that is improved but not new. A balance between the two could prove lucrative for all parties.

Like me, Mr. Seglin is not a lawyer, and his column looks at issues from an ethical, not legal or political, perspective. It's a useful prompt for us to look beyond the law and more rigorously examine how our own philosophies concur or disagree with society's external guidelines.

The death of print at PAX and Onion

Print media are dying while digital media are blooming. The two are not discrete, though, which prompts the question: what's happening at the intersection, where the electronic entertainment industry is covered by print publications?

This question and others will be the subject of a panel at PAX East, a Boston-based video gaming expo with a comprehensive event schedule for all interests. Here's the description for this session:

The Death of Print
Manticore Theatre
Saturday, March 27, 2010, 1:00pm
It's no longer a secret: Print is a dying medium. The past few years have been brutal for print media in the game space, but the plummeting sales and editorial team layoffs came to a head in 2009. It's no surprise many of the key players at those institutions have moved on to Web-based ventures, but has the industry as a whole ultimately lost something or gained something? In this 60-minute panel, Russ Pitts, Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist, speaks to several journalists who were deeply involved with the events of the past year about the run-up to the decline of print, and the effects on game journalism — and games.

Panelists Include: Russ Pitts [Editor-in-Chief, The Escapist], Julian Murdoch [journalist, freelance], Jeff Green [EA], Chris Dahlen [Managing Editor, Kill Screen], John Davison [Editor-in-Chief, GamePro]

Three-day passes to PAX are still sold out, of the one-day passes for the three-day event, Saturday is also sold out. If you're not amenable to enforcing (see the entry for Jan. 4), then you'll have to forgo PAX's take on the future of print media and settle for The Onion's:

Why authors don't self-publish

In an earlier blog post, I cursorily asked why more authors don't self-publish, using today's tools to eliminate a publishing house as a middleman. In the wake of a recent tiff between and Macmillan, two authors whose books were temporarily removed from the online retailer as a result of the dispute have answered my question, outlining the continuing need for publishers.

Sci-fi and fantasy author John Scalzi presented his argument in the format of "a deeply slanted play in three acts" that outlines all the resources a publisher brings to the table, answering an author's questions: "Won't I need an editor? Or a copy editor? Or a cover artist? Or a book designer? Or a publicist? Or someone to print the book and get it into stores?" Relieving a writer of these responsibilities frees him to focus on the book's content, from which all else proceeds. A publisher also brings to the table the funds necessary to hire these human resources, which an author might otherwise be left to search for on Craigslist.

Author Jay Lake echoes these sentiments when he asks:

I'm a writer. How is it worth my time to self-edit, do my own layouts and production management? … All my value add come from the auctorial process, the actual writing. That's where the unique product and brand identity come from. Not flowing words into columns and managing margins.

He also points out that the Internet is not a medium in which a single voice can be heard as loudly as a publisher's can: "Given how much distribution I'd lose [by self-publishing], I'd have to make a lot more per unit sold to offset the economic hit."

Can authors self-publish? Sure. But the number of development stages a manuscript passes through is not easily reproduced by a single person. Traditional print publishers may be undergoing either an extinction or an evolution, but their resources will continue to prove a necessity to establishing a successful product and readership on large scales.

(Hat tip to Dayton Ward)

The decade in magazine covers

If print news media is on the way out, then magazines will be the ones to turn out the lights. Their longer features make for more timeless content and in-depth analysis than daily, disposable newspapers can offer. Sudden events are often chronicled in newspapers, as I witnessed just this week when I visited the Leominster News Agency newsstand and found shelves upon shelves of yellowed papers from the day after Election Day 2008. But whereas newspapers will tell you what happened, magazines will tell you what it means.

The year 2010 marks the beginning of a new decade (though not the new decade, depending on who you ask), making it an appropriate time to look back at what one magazine called "The Decade from Hell". The Magazine Publishers of America have chosen their own medium to represent the last ten years, arranging covers from 44 different publications into the following montage:

The chronological gap between events you recognize may lead you to wonder, "What about all the intervening years?" They're all there, but at just two minutes in length, the video moves them along pretty quickly.

For a more studied look at a longer period of periodicals, the American Society of Magazine Editors also has a gallery of the 40 greatest magazine covers, 1965–2005.

New York Times to charge for online content

The New York Times recently announced that it will start charging for online access in 2011. My friends have been weighing the pros and cons of digital readers, dealing with bulky newspapers while commuting, and the amount of articles they'd be reading before having to pay.

I feel that train commuters are likely to be among the first to take advantage of portable e-readers like the Kindle that are finally maturing. Print advertising revenues have plummeted thanks to CraigsList,, and eBay, so traditional newspapers and magazines have suffered financially in the past several years.

However, the move to subscription-based journalistic content has been fairly gradual, and there's likely to be resistance from readers accustomed to free articles for their RSS feeds. Also, it hasn't yet been proven that battery-powered devices are that much more friendly to the environment than recyclable newsprint. The popularity of microblogs on Twitter and short, text-based mobile updates may be transient as smartphones like the iPhone gain full Web-display capabilities.

As part of my career in the news industry, I've been following these developments closely for the past decade or so and attended many professional conference sessions on the topic. Computerworld still has a biweekly print magazine, but TechTarget, my current employer, is online only and maintains numerous specialized Web sites for business IT audiences.

Progress is inevitable; let's just hope that news organizations reinvest in the staffers needed to produce in-depth, objective content to help citizens and organizations make informed decisions!

Announcing the Plastic Logic Que e-reader

The annual Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is currently being held in Las Vegas. I've long had my calendar bookmarked in anticipation of yesterday being the release of Plastic Logic's Que e-reader, as its 8.5" x 11" dimensions poses it to become for periodicals what other e-readers are doing for books. From the Que's Web site:

Product Specifications

  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g), USB, Bluetooth ® 2.0
  • Memory: 4 GB (Approx. 3.6 GB available for user data)
  • Display (viewable area): 10.5-inch diagonal, 944 x 1264 pixels at 150ppi, 8 gray levels
  • User Interface: Full Touchscreen, Virtual Keyboard
  • Battery: Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, charging via computer or wall charger
  • Dimensions: 8.5" x 11" x .3"
  • Weight: Approximately 17 ounces

Supported Formats

  • QUE has native on-device support for PDF, GIF, JPEG, PNG, BMP, ePub, and TXT
  • Using the QUE software on your computer, QUE supports printable formats such as Microsoft Office 2003/2007

The Que's touch-screen interface sets it apart from the Kindle and Nook, which rely on traditional physical input. I believe doing so eliminates a cumbersome layer between the user and the content, and the Que's ability to annotate and highlight text is an expected feature of print media, which e-readers are trying to improve upon. Given that touch screens are available on as affordable and versatile a device as the Nintendo DS, I see no reason not to apply this technology to more practical purposes.

However, the device's price tag definitely identifies it as for "business professionals": models are available at either $649 and $799. And beyond the hardware is the software — which, if previous demonstrations are any indication, still have a ways to go.

It takes a lot of clicks on Plastic Logic's various Web sites before you finally arrive at the page to pre-order the Que, which ships in April 2010. Oddly enough, the page's domain is specifications/ — Barnes and Noble? What involvement does the publisher of the Nook have in this competing product?

Computerworld, one of Plastic Logic's publishing partners, has the full story on the Que, one of 40 e-readers due to be released this calendar year.

Clumsy e-readers and elegant newspapers

The Barnes & Noble nook has recently drawn attention to the e-book market, but let's not forget the falling circulation of newspapers and magazines. They too are trying to adopt to this digital age, yet their attempts to persuade me of their savviness fall flat.

Time Inc, Condé Nast, Meredith, Hearst, and News Corp. have collaborated to create a shared vision for digital editions of their print publications. Here's a demo of their model of the future:

Does anyone else find this example unappealing? Maybe it's the use of a CGI hand instead of an actual, physical user demonstration, but the interface for these digital magazines strikes me as cumbersome and loaded more with bells and whistles than with practical features — as though the device were aimed at luring print luddites, not existing IT connoisseurs. Nothing at the homepage of the SI Tablet, as this particular model is apparently called, dissuades me from that opinion.

The benefits of such a transition may be overrated. Some print newspapers seem to be weathering both this economy and media revolution decently, with below-average losses in circulation, revenue, and staff. It's encouraging news, as hardcopy still has much to offer. In stark contrast to the above stilted proof-of-concept is this functional representation of existing technology:

Some futurists predict that the last print newspaper will be circulated in 2050, after which all written communication will occur digitally. I hope the day is longer off than that, as a healthy democracy will long have room and need for print journalism.