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Neal Stephenson Unveils His Digital Novel Platform

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the snow-crash-or-diamond-age-discuss dept.

Books 157

pickens writes "The NY Times reports that Neal Stephenson's company Subutai has released the first installment of Stephenson's new novel, Mongoliad, about the Mongol invasion of Europe, using what it calls the PULP platform for creating digital novels. The core of the experience is still a text novel, but authors can add additional material like background articles, images, music, and video and there are also social features that allow readers to create their own profiles, earn badges for activity on the site or in the application, and interact with other readers. Stephenson says the material is an extension of what many science fiction and fantasy novels already offer. 'I can remember reading Dune for the first time, and I started by reading the glossary,' Stephenson says. 'Any book that had that kind of extra stuff in it was always hugely fascinating to me.' Jeremy Bornstein says Subutai is experimenting with a new model for publishing books and says the traditional model of paying for content may not hold up when the content can 'be canned and sent around to your friends for free,' but that people will hopefully still pay for content if 'the experience is so much more rich, so much more involving.'"

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No thanks (3, Insightful)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436244)

The price point is too high, the author's last few works have not been up to his previous standard, and leisure reading at my computer is simply not possible.

Re:No thanks (1)

Whalou (721698) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436272)

10$ a year is too much? That's less than the cost of going to see one movie.

Re:No thanks (5, Insightful)

emkyooess (1551693) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436674)

Buy access per item. Down with subscriptions!

Re:No thanks (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33436712)

>10$ a year is too much? That's less than the cost of going to see one movie.

$10/year isn't bad, but that's $200 to be able to review/reread the book over the next 20 years is. I like his books, while definitely different from the pulpy Snow Crash/Diamond Age, the new novels can be challenging (Anathem was definately a slow starter). Its an interesting idea, and Neal's books more than any other really push me to explore some of the concepts (Operations of banking systems in pre-WWII Asia, birth of financial markets, role of religion in royal succession, etc),

What he's proposing is really a whole new thing, more of a book/TV show hybrid. I have reservations (I prefer paper hardcovers, can't imagine reading that much on my iPod Touch, I hate waiting for the next chapter to be released because I want to go cover to cover as fast as possible), but see some possibilities (I might be willing to spring for a Kindle/iPad for this, a ready community reminds me of the fun around Babylon 5, discussing the series & episode around the water cooler the next day). There are a bunch of unknowns (what do I get for $10/year, just this years chapters, other book projects? Is the book fully written, or are they writing chapters each week, meaning its not really edited the same as a novel which can be written out of order, revised to resolve plot holes, etc, will they edit chapters that are already written beyond fixing typos because they can?

Re:No thanks (1, Insightful)

Fred IV (587429) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437618)

> $10/year isn't bad, but that's $200 to be able to review/reread the book over the next 20 years is.

Exactly...and what happens if the business model doesn't work out and the platform goes offline ten years from now? At that point you would be out $100 in subscription charges with nothing more to show for it than your memory of experiencing the content.

I'd rather just buy the hardback and be able to enjoy it whenever and however I choose to...something that I've done for all of Stephenson's books following Snow Crash.

Re:No thanks (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | more than 3 years ago | (#33438240)

something that I've done for all of Stephenson's books following Snow Crash.

I've got 'The Big U' in it's original edition. Not in hardback, mind you.

Stephenson just wishes for an all-electronic publishing world because he wants the ability to retract old stuff. Sort of his longing to be George Lucas taking hold, I suppose.

Re:No thanks (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437530)

Let's see...
I have around six hundred books, with an average purchase price of $20, and on average I keep a book for 10 years (most much longer, but some fall apart quickly or better editions come out), so my TCO is around $1200 per year.

If I were to pay $10 per year per book, six hundred books would be $6000 per year.

So yes, that's damn expensive.

Re:No thanks (5, Informative)

eddy the lip (20794) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437840)

Except you don't have to keep subscribing to read what's already written. You keep that, DRM free. The subscription is for continued new content.

Re:No thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33437912)

Stupid comparison. Just complete and uter stupidity

Over what period of time have you accumulated 600 books?

>I have around six hundred books, with an average purchase price of $20
>If I were to pay $10 per year per book, six hundred books would be .... (Still F***ING cheaper then $20 per book)

600 books times $20 a book is $12,000 over 10 years.

So previously it took you 10 years to buy 600 books.

Now suddenly you will purchase 600 books in one year....ya that is a valid comparison

Moron. Wish I knew who you really were so I could sell you stuff...your grasp of finances is horrible

Re:No thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33438230)

Just complete and uter stupidity

Tee hee.

Re:No thanks (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436330)

It doesn't clarify if the price is for just the Mongoliad, or access to all books on the site. If it is a subscription based system, you would suspect you could read everything they have, at which point it's reasonable, especially if they regularly add additional content to books already written.

Re:No thanks (2, Insightful)

Zed Pobre (160035) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436354)

Leisure reading on wireless-equipped tablets is becoming popular, however. I'm doing all of my reading nowadays either on a PDA or at my computer. The number of people reading on personal electronics is increasing quite nicely.

Personally, though, I have difficulty with the notion of paying much for a book I can't pull out of my archive and re-read later, loan to a friend, fix typos in, or reorganize to my taste. This site looks like a 'read-only-while-subscribed' service. If they don't allow archiving to ePub, then it has no value to me.

Re:No thanks (4, Funny)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436396)

If only we had a way of taking everyone's 60 lb 5 foot high towers and making them "on the go". "On the go" computing! Has a nice ring to it. One day soon (doesn't it always seem like the cool stuff is 5-10 years out) I think we'll have computers in smaller formats, ones dedicated for things such as this. I'm envisioning something in the form factor of a legal pad or something, or a large book if you need a keyboard. Oh well - at least I can get paged now and respond from the nearest convenient pay phone instead of always hovering around a phone for important calls. What'll they think of next!

Re:No thanks (2, Insightful)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436622)

So you're saying I should buy a $500 iPad and pay $10/year to read a website novel that I might not even like?

Re:No thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33436778)

He's saying you should already own a smartphone. What decade are you in?

Re:No thanks (2, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436896)

or your $100 kindle

Re:No thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33437108)

So you're saying I should buy a $500 iPad and pay $10/year to read a website novel that I might not even like?

So you're saying I should buy a $30,000 car and pay $3/gallon to drive it?

Re:No thanks (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437188)

So you're saying I should buy a $500 iPad and pay $10/year to read a website novel that I might not even like?

So you're saying I should buy a $30,000 car and pay $3/gallon to drive it?

Well, if you want to stay true to the analogy, it's more like paying $30,000 for a car, $3/gal to drive it, and there's only one road in existence.

Re:No thanks (1)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437194)

So you're saying I should buy a $500 iPad and pay $10/year to read a website novel that I might not even like?

You don't need an iPad. You can get a kindle or nook for less than $200. A very large number of people are using laptops as their main computer these days. Or you could get a netbook. Hell, most cell phones have passable web browsers.

And $10/year is nothing to complain about. Most paperbacks sell for roughly $7. Anything more than a few hundred pages of paper will cost you more than that.

Re:No thanks (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437284)

$10/year isn't bad, except I re-read books intermittently. I'll read a book, shelve it for a few years, and re-read it when there's nothing new that peaks my interest. Under this model, I'm paying $10 essentially every time I read it. Also, Kindles can't handle rich media, and they're still overpriced (and the black on dark grey text looks horrible). Reading a web site on my iPhone is a masochistic endeavor. Call me a luddite if you must, but I prefer paper.

Re:No thanks (3, Insightful)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437460)

$10/year isn't bad, except I re-read books intermittently. I'll read a book, shelve it for a few years, and re-read it when there's nothing new that peaks my interest. Under this model, I'm paying $10 essentially every time I read it. Also, Kindles can't handle rich media, and they're still overpriced (and the black on dark grey text looks horrible). Reading a web site on my iPhone is a masochistic endeavor. Call me a luddite if you must, but I prefer paper.

I guess the question is what, exactly, are you paying for?

If you just want to be able to re-read the book again, you can probably download it for future reference. It's a web page. Just grab the HTML (if there isn't an epub download offered).

If you want the whole social media/supplemental content thing... Well, yes, you'd need to pay for that again. But that content will have changed. That's the whole point - to make the novel more dynamic and involved than a pile of printed pages. If you wanted to read the latest edition of a book you'd previously purchased, you'd probably have to pay for that again as well.

No, the kindle can't handle rich media... But neither can paper. Again, what is it that you want?

If you want the whole social media/supplemental content thing - use a computer. A netbook, a laptop, a desktop, whatever. If you want a printed paper analog, use a kindle or a nook or print the thing out.

Re:No thanks (2, Interesting)

Fred IV (587429) | more than 3 years ago | (#33438420)

> That's the whole point - to make the novel more dynamic and involved than a pile of printed pages.

I feel like this takes a lot out of the experience. My relationship with the novel is already a dynamic one because my understanding and appreciation of the work changes over time. Reading Orwell's 1984 as a junior high school student was an entirely different experience compared to reading it near middle age. Appreciating those differences was a big part of what made re-reading the book worthwhile.

Well written novels are already involving because they engage your curiosity and imagination. I can't see how an endless amount of commentary, illustration, or supplementary material can do anything other than distract from the core of the work.

Re:No thanks (1)

bsdaemonaut (1482047) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437634)

Depends how you define rich media then I guess, the only thing the kindle can't do is video. The contrast complaints are much overhyped, its no worse than a newspaper. Some newsprint is perhaps slightly lighter, but the Kindle's darker fonts make the comparison pretty valid. My experience is only with the 2nd generation Kindle of course, the others are supposed to be improved.

Re:No thanks (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437732)

And if newspaper contrast didn't bother my eyes, you might have a point (though actually the Kindle is quite a bit worse than that). The bar is set at the level of a high quality matte-finished bleached page, with crisp black text. If these devices can't even manage that, then I don't see any reason to even consider them. And that's assuming I didn't have to pay $100-200 up front just for the privilege of using it.

Re:No thanks (1)

bsdaemonaut (1482047) | more than 3 years ago | (#33438086)

Debates about the contrast aside, an LCD screen bothers my eyes far more and because of kerotaconus it's hard for me to read any paper back book no matter how white the page is -- with the adjustable size of fonts alone I'm pretty skeptical of people telling me the kindle is hard on their eyes simply because I can't read anything else easily without contacts. Your mileage of course, may vary.

Re:No thanks (1)

polle404 (727386) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436462)

If I can't read a copy offline, say in transit somewhere, It's just another website to me.
I applaud the underlying idea, but it's just too restricted.

Re:No thanks (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436526)

leisure reading at my computer is simply not possible.

Why? What's wrong with your computer?

Re:No thanks (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436536)

It reminds me of work, and slashdot.

Re:No thanks (0)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436868)

in case you missed it....

There have been these "ebook" thingies that are very rare and obscure you may not have heard of them

It seems that so many people are buying these things in secret that companies like Amazon.com have suddenly started selling more ebooks than hardcover books.

I know they are incredibly new and radical that your personal teletype has not spit the news about them out yet... hopefully you can take the next autogyro to the city and see for yourself at the Worlds Fair how wonderful these magical devices are and how most people find they are easy to read on.

it's a miracle of the Steam age!

Re:No thanks (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | more than 3 years ago | (#33438320)

in case you missed it....

If you missed it, that's just too bad. Because it's just electrons, and you'll never, ever, be able to buy your used copy at a thrift store for 69 cents. It'll go away as soon as the original purchaser tires of it.

I can't think of a more creamy wet dream for the publishers.

Re:No thanks (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436966)

the author's last few works have not been up to his previous standard

You mean he's done something different from his cyberpunk days? OH NOES!

Re:No thanks (1)

emkyooess (1551693) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437038)

For me, his best stuff was actually non-cyberpunk. Zodiac, Interface, The Cobweb, Cryptonomicon...

Re:No thanks (2, Insightful)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437278)

For me, his best stuff was actually non-cyberpunk. Zodiac, Interface, The Cobweb, Cryptonomicon...

Zodiac is the one I use to introduce him to people. Not too big, not too weird, but 100% awesome.

Re:No thanks (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437068)

It's not the setting that bugs me, it's the verbosity. The Baroque Cycle was a good read, but about 1500 pages too long. I couldn't even motivate myself to start on Anathem. His early works were actually a bit too terse, though.. Cryptonomicon was was the perfect balance in terms of wordiness.

Re:No thanks (2, Insightful)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437236)

It's not the setting that bugs me, it's the verbosity. The Baroque Cycle was a good read, but about 1500 pages too long.

It wouldn't be baroque if he didn't overdo it :)

The first few hundred pages of Anathem were on his website, I got to the end of that sample and went to buy the hardcover the next day. It's a brick, but it's a good brick. Like he said, he's a fan of Dune, and us Dune fans love our books big and wordy.

Re:No thanks (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437330)

Funny.. I'm a Dune fan, but I'm not a fan of excessive wordiness.. Then again, some of the Dune books were hard to get through. Dune Messiah bored the crap out of me. God Emperor was probably my favorite, but it was hard to read at times. Everything his son wrote is awful.

Re:No thanks (3, Funny)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437470)

You know what they say, if it's not Baroque don't fix it.

Re:No thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33437630)

I never even bothered to start those behemoths, but... now that he's making his books as long as he likes, has he managed to write an ending to one? That would be refreshing.

Re:No thanks (1)

jgrahn (181062) | more than 3 years ago | (#33438386)

It's not the setting that bugs me, it's the verbosity. The Baroque Cycle was a good read, but about 1500 pages too long. I couldn't even motivate myself to start on Anathem.

That's his two most recent works. Not a good foundation for your earlier claim "the author's last few works have not been up to his previous standard" ...

For what it's worth, I think you're unwittingly right about /Anathem/. Not a bad book, but it felt like a rehash of things he had said better before -- for example in /The Diamond Age/, which everyone should read.

Ending? (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436350)

The question is, will this new platform allow the author to add an ending to a novel?

As an author, Stephenson rides the reader hard and puts them away wet, so to speak. It'd be nice if he'd address that first.

Re:Ending? (1)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436484)

Ananthem and the Baroque cycle both had extensive endings that seemed to tie up most of the loose ends. What was your problem there?

Re:Ending? (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436670)

I thought he addressed that whole thing very well and very wittily in Anathem.

Re:Ending? (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437714)

He didn't just lift the ending from Gene Wolfe?

Re:Ending? (2, Informative)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437032)

The question is, will this new platform allow the author to add an ending to a novel?

As an author, Stephenson rides the reader hard and puts them away wet, so to speak. It'd be nice if he'd address that first.

Your point is insightful and all, his really work did stop abruptly rather than end properly, but to be fair: he's been getting better, making progress. Heck, Anathem even had a epilogue! I think somehow the thousands and thousands of complaints wore him down.

Re:Ending? (2, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 3 years ago | (#33438338)

The question is, will this new platform allow the author to add an ending to a novel?

No, the real question (other than, "have you actually read any of his recent stuff?") is: will this lame arm-chair-lit-crit-groupthink meme itself ever find an ending?

Mongorians?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33436368)

Why they arways tear down my warr?

I hate freaking Mongorians!

Re:Mongorians?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33436456)

Better them than the Moops.

When can WE play with PULP? (1)

Jonah Hex (651948) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436394)

Most eBook/eZine/eManga software is severely lacking in ease of use and functionality, and I am unable to find anything on when they are going to release this system to the public. Anyone know when the general public will be able to try our hands at creating media rich novels?

HEX

Re:When can WE play with PULP? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33436486)

Anyone know when the general public will be able to try our hands at creating media rich novels?

I believe that already exists, you can find it over at http://en.wikipedia.org

Re:When can WE play with PULP? (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437174)

But that only works for fiction, what if we want to write non-fiction?

Re:When can WE play with PULP? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33436592)

Most eBook/eZine/eManga software is severely lacking in ease of use and functionality, and I am unable to find anything on when they are going to release this system to the public. Anyone know when the general public will be able to try our hands at creating media rich novels?

HEX

It's called InDesign by Adobe. You can add sounds, video, links, etc to any book or document in ePub format. What they are boasting of is a social aspect. If it's popular I'm sure InDesign will add it as well.

Re:When can WE play with PULP? (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437054)

Most eBook/eZine/eManga software is severely lacking in ease of use and functionality

By design. The point of these wares is to remove your ability to do things with the material that the publisher doesn't want you to do.

Re:When can WE play with PULP? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33437408)

Use Onscripter, Ren'Py or KiriKiri. Or even HTML with CSS and JavaScript.
This particular wheel has been reinvented a lot. And since he doesn't reference those, there's a feeling he didn't consult them to learn from them. And since they have quite some history, there's a lingering suspicion that his wheel will turn out to be slightly square.
There's no good case for aspiring writers to use an immature unknown system when there are mature engines out there that do the job very well.

More Content? (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436430)

Does anyone seriously think the answer to the 'content can be had for free, so people have it for free' problem is ... more content? Really?

Re:More Content? (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437090)

Does anyone seriously think the answer to the 'content can be had for free, so people have it for free' problem is ... more content? Really?

The answer is: Dynamic content. Content that doesn't stay the same from one week to the next, that way you can't just .zip it, you won't have it all.

I think it's an interesting idea, we'll see if it works.

PULP? (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436574)

So he's publishing PULP fiction?

Wow, he's only 5 years behind webcomics (2, Funny)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436588)

In 2015, maybe he'll figure out that you give the bits away free - heck, you encourage fans to share them - and make your money from tangibles: posters, shirts and plushies.

If you're an author whose work isn't easily translatable to posters, shirts and plushies, well, sucks to be you, but railing about it isn't going to put the genie back in the bottle. Either add some sparkly emo vampires, or get a day job lined up. That's the way it's going to go down.

Re:Wow, he's only 5 years behind webcomics (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436732)

In 2015, maybe he'll figure out that you give the bits away free - heck, you encourage fans to share them - and make your money from tangibles: posters, shirts and plushies.

Welcome to the world of McCulture. I hope you morons enjoy it.

Re:Wow, he's only 5 years behind webcomics (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436936)

Agreed! That damned printing press will destroy writers!

What? Xerox makes a machine that COPIES paper? THAT WILL DESTROY THE INDUSTRY!

The publishers have been screaming that the sky is falling for 100+ years. You really should ignore them and everyone that believes their tripe.

Interesting idea, but we're redefining novel (2, Interesting)

AkiraRoberts (1097025) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436646)

Or perhaps we aren't. I'm still not sure how I feel about this. It is one thing to have a book with appendices and glossaries and indexes and illustrations. But this thing seems to be something else entirely and I don't know if I am really interested in this. I like open ended stories as much as the next wannabe post-modernist, but a novel that you subscribe to? Where you are interacting with other readers in a social media-esque way? Where the thing never really ends?

Still trying to decide how I feel. I suppose the thing is, while I like things that are unfinished, sprawling and messy (which is why I've never really given a damn about Stephenson's inability to write a coherent ending), I'm still attached to the notion of the messiness being constrained between the covers of a book, that I can close with a happy sigh and say, "Damn, that was good." That might be weirdly old fashioned. Stephenson may be getting at something here and, 100 years from now, this is what "novels" will look like. But I suspect that if that is the case, we may stop calling them novels.

Not to say he's long winded or anything (2, Insightful)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436650)

Stephenson's new novel, Mongoliad, about the Mongol invasion of Europe

Mongoliad

Book 1 - General Subutai Gets Dressed For Battle
Book 2 - General Subutai Has Breakfast

Book 3 is still being planned, but will probably involve Subutai mounting his horse and riding out of camp.

Re:Not to say he's long winded or anything (1)

AkiraRoberts (1097025) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436776)

The thing is, I don't mind all the long windedness. I personally think he's a good enough writer that he can be long winded and still be, by and large, entertaining. What I'm not super excited about is him being long winded in a non-text media. Does anybody remember that music video thing that accompanied (or prefaced, I don't recall which) Anathem? It was kind of a bit crap.

Re:Not to say he's long winded or anything (1)

adavies42 (746183) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437270)

are you sure you're not confusing him with robert jordan?

Re:Not to say he's long winded or anything (3, Funny)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437598)

You've never seen them together at a party. I think Neal "killed" his alter ego Jordan because it was getting too hard to maintain the two personas.

Enough with the "social" sh*t already. (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436700)

If I'm reading a book, it's because I WANT to be alone with the book and my imagination. The only communication I'm interested in is with the author's words.

We don't need, and we don't want, yet another "social platform."

Re:Enough with the "social" sh*t already. (1)

boneclinkz (1284458) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436810)

I have a sinking suspicion that most of the social interaction will be forums posts like "which anime character is General Subutai most like???"

Re:Enough with the "social" sh*t already. (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436900)

Don't be such an anti-social buzzkill, man. We trying to do business here.

Re:Enough with the "social" sh*t already. (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437172)

In the Anti-Socialist Republic of Kanuckistan, book reads YOU!

Because you know that will be coming down the pike in a few years - "Let your book interact with you. Your web cam now takes a pic of you, pastes you into the scenes, has avatars of other readers, etc. Be really social!"

No thanks. I like to read to relax, read before I go to sleep, be able to put the book down and pick it up the next evening where I left off, without worrying that I might have offended someone by "ignoring" them, or have messages interrupt my reading, or not being able to take it into the bath.

Re:Enough with the "social" sh*t already. (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437144)

If I'm reading a book, it's because I WANT to be alone with the book and my imagination. The only communication I'm interested in is with the author's words.

We don't need, and we don't want, yet another "social platform."

No, loners don't need or want a social platform, but publishers are looking at the shipments of cash being delivered 24/7 to Blizzard, and they want some.

Re:Enough with the "social" sh*t already. (1)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437820)

Fair enough, but how does the existence of a social platform used by other readers keep you from enjoying solitary book-reading?

The 500MB Elephant In The Room (1)

darien.train (1752510) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436812)

File size is going to be an issue on media-rich ebooks and other similar apps for some time to come. A single issue of Wired for iPad is 500MB. That means an 8GB iPad can only handle about 15 issues assuming that's all you put on the thing (not to mention having those files duplicated on your iTunes machine as well). That's a lot of data for such a diminutive magazine rack and this seems like a step-up from that.

If Stephenson's intention is to head toward a self-inspired "Young Ladies Illustrated Primer" type experience he's going to run up against the file size issue pretty quickly.

Also the art direction and interface elements on the Mongoliad site are embarrassingly bad. It looks like a bad Diablo tutorial site. I hope it doesn't reflect the look and feel of the actual book experience.

I should also say that I'm terribly curious about the final result but I'm not going to hold my breath for anything revolutionary.

Re:The 500MB Elephant In The Room (1)

bsdaemonaut (1482047) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437922)

Assuming it's web-based, which seems a far bet at this point, file size will not be a consideration. Maybe the text of the serial chapters/installments will be downloadable, though at this point there is no real indication of that, but the actual multimedia/social component will very likely be solely over the web.

I know how it's going to end... (1)

demonbug (309515) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436816)

Be not!

-or-

It turns out Kublai really was a god!

(Sorry, the -iad ending to the title puts me in mind of rather more recent fiction than the [I assume] intended allusion)

He will be surprised (1)

joeflies (529536) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436860)

He will be surprised to discover that the primary users of his technology will use it for a word-by-word critique of his novel. It's easier to tear down than it is to build.

The flaw in this kind of model (2, Interesting)

c0d3g33k (102699) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436902)

the traditional model of paying for content may not hold up when the content can "be canned and sent around to your friends for free," but that people will hopefully still pay for content if "the experience is so much more rich, so much more involving."

The flaw is that the 'extra' content that makes 'the experience so much more rich, so much more involving' can also be 'cannned and sent around to your friends for free'. In principle this is no different from the 'shareware' model for software and games that flourished in the early 90s. Give folks a little bit of the experience and hope they pay for the full monty. Ok, fine, but unless the nature of the extra stuff is sufficiently different from the original, it suffers from the same weaknesses. People can share a glossary and such stuff just as easily. Incrementally withholding content of essentially the same nature doesn't qualify as a long term sustainable model. The extra stuff needs to be something different and much better. This might be economically infeasible, but having a small troupe of actors under contract to the author/publisher stop by your house for a fee and engage in a personalized enactment of a crucial part of the story might work as entertainment worth paying for. If the author is clever enough, this could be customized to each reader/group so it couldn't be recorded and distributed in kind as mentioned above. So okay, that wouldn't work, probably, but with a little imagination, someone could come up with something that would.

IMHO, this kind of content delivery where the experience is solely controlled and managed by the 'rights holders' is not sufficient any longer. That ship has sailed and easy duplication plus the internet has blown that model out of the water. They should be thinking more along the lines of licensed creation of user created content where they exert less control but help make the 'fanfic' experience 'so much more rich, so much more involving'. Instead of Foxing fan driven efforts, what if content providers licensed copyrighted materials and such to interested fans for a reasonable fee? instead of being limited to putting together a crappy, budget limited fan film on your own dime and living in fear of the lawyers, what if you could buy "authentic" set pieces and props to make your fan driven effort that much more real? What if you could legitimately charge for viewings of your film/play to recoup the costs plus a franchise-like kickback to the original 'rights holder'? And so on.

It seems to me that engaging the fans (or more precisely, non-professional creators) and helping them enjoy your ideas as much as possible, including helping them with stuff that they find costly or uninteresting (like recreating 'authentic props') might be a better approach than just controlling everything as much as possible and counting on the model of "getting enough asses in the seats" at the local theater or sofa.

I don't know. Maybe this wouldn't work, but from what i can see, there is plenty of energy out there for riffing on existing stuff (when people lack the imagination or time/energy to create from scratch) that remains untapped. Maybe it's time to explore that a bit more. Set loose the lawyers on me for my lovingly crafted Tom Bombadil addition to the LOTR films and I will hate you forever. Give me help and a discount from WETA for props and I may love you all the more and keep doing it longer.

Just sayin.

Re:The flaw in this kind of model (1)

bsdaemonaut (1482047) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437966)

Hellgate London had a similar "extra content" model and look what happened to Flagship.

The Great Expectations Marketing Strategy (3, Informative)

ideonexus (1257332) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436958)

So it's a serialized novel, like Dicken's Great Expectations or Stephen King's Green Mile, where you get readers to subscribe for a year, and then get more money from them when you publish the finalized ebook or hardcopy. I'm sure this format could work and make money, but the fact that the NYT's ran this article, with a link to the website, which doesn't yet have a "Subscribe" option yet marks a sorely missed opportunity.

I'll be interested in seeing how this turns out. As many commenters have noted, it's nothing new, and reading for long stretches on a desktop, laptop, iPad, or cell phone is uncomfortable. I tried to write a novel using MediaWiki and allowing user contributions, but the online format drove people away. Illustrations might make it more appealing, but user contributions could quickly make it go the way of Oort-Cloud [oort-cloud.org] , lots of people posting mediocre content and nobody reading any of it.

Stephenson just isn't a techie any more... (1)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 3 years ago | (#33436972)

Science fiction sales must be really plummeting, since all the authors want to leave the genre as soon as possible. They write a few scifi novels and then switch to fantasy, or, in Stephenson's case, historical fiction. People read those too, of course, but it's an entirely different audience. We techies are not interested in the past; we are interested in the future. We might want to examine history for forgotten ideas that might be helpful in the future, but we certainly don't want to live there! No horse-driven carriages please, enough with the stupid wishing-makes-it-so bullshit, and primitive communities that have never seen a bath. There are no noble savages out there and primitivism in real life results in poverty, disease, starvation, and general misery. Only technology can let people move out of their cold and drafty caves, stop spending their nights shivering around a fire (assuming they have the technology of building one), and finally acquire enough time to do something other than foraging for food. Something, like, perhaps, rational thinking - an activity that leads to more technology and a more comfortable life. And it is an activity you can't get to if you persist in believing in magic spells or that studying history (or the Bible) will yield answers to every possible problem.

Re:Stephenson just isn't a techie any more... (1)

metrometro (1092237) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437792)

Stephenson has argued that techies SHOULD be interested in the past. You're welcome to disagree, but he's not abandoning you. I thought the history of science and technology built into his Baroque Cycle was interesting, and really the only redeeming feature of that very long book.

Re:Stephenson just isn't a techie any more... (1)

bsdaemonaut (1482047) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437986)

It's all a big cycle. In the 80's and early 90's it seemed like Science Fiction was the thing, now it's Fantasy. It'll all come back around again when people get bored.

Re:Stephenson just isn't a techie any more... (2, Insightful)

hex0D (1890162) | more than 3 years ago | (#33438102)

I have a suspicion you haven't actually read The Baroque Cycle. To me it seemed all about the idea that only rational thinking and actual science (not 'alchemy') can move civilization forward. It painted a picture of the 17th/18th century as an interesting place, but not a pleasant one. Especially if you have bladder stones. *shudder*

And what's with the 'we'? Are techies now some sort of homogeneous hive mind that are all interested or not in the exact same thing?

Re:Stephenson just isn't a techie any more... (1)

Coriolis (110923) | more than 3 years ago | (#33438132)

Everyone's scared of the Singularity. Fantasy is easier.

Re:Stephenson just isn't a techie any more... (1)

slyborg (524607) | more than 3 years ago | (#33438328)

>but it's an entirely different audience

A bigger audience. This is Stephenson's day job.

I loved the guy's early work, which was snarky and fresh (if somewhat weak on actual concluding), but the 'historical fiction' genre bores me. Also, the "more is more" aesthetic he has pursued the last ~10 years doesn't
really work for me, I don't have the time to absorb the sheer volume of his awesomeness that Stephenson insists you ingest along with the novel....

Doesn't Apple Do This? (1)

NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437024)

I thought Apple's ePub let you do this too. Not to slight Stephenson's work, the concept seems well established. So, there is probably a market for it, but it does not need to replace books or movies or even PowerPoint to succeed.

Re:Doesn't Apple Do This? (2, Interesting)

slyrat (1143997) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437662)

I thought Apple's ePub let you do this too. Not to slight Stephenson's work, the concept seems well established. So, there is probably a market for it, but it does not need to replace books or movies or even PowerPoint to succeed.

I'm afraid that ePub [wikipedia.org] is not something Apple came up with. Otherwise, yes I am hoping that it becomes the more universal way books are published when they are electronic. That way you really are buying the book rather than the book for a particular device.

Re:Doesn't Apple Do This? (1)

metrometro (1092237) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437722)

Execution is everything, as Apple has itself demonstrated many times.

Also, EPUB is not an Apple product. It's an open standard that Apple has adopted somewhat grudgingly. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPUB [wikipedia.org]

Ok, I get it.. (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437264)

"there are also social features that allow readers to create their own profiles, earn badges for activity on the site or in the application, and interact with other readers"

It's a game platform. Ok, how much is the subscription?

So do I... (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437362)

"I can remember reading Dune for the first time, and I started by reading the glossary," Stephenson say. "Any book that had that kind of extra stuff in it was always hugely fascinating to me."

I remember reading The Hobbit, then the Ring trilogy, and then the Silmarillion. With the History of Middle-Earth, Tolkien pretty much succeeded in writing more about the books than the books themselves, his son's contributions included.

The Dune series is deserving of being made into movies too, but it's not necessary to remake the original again. Just move on to Dune Messiah. The SciFi flop can be ignored. Maybe Brian's works too, though we would never get that far.

That explains a lot (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437430)

"I can remember reading Dune for the first time, and I started by reading the glossary," Stephenson say. "Any book that had that kind of extra stuff in it was always hugely fascinating to me."

So fascinating, in fact, that he decided to write glossaries and call them novels. "Glossaries aren't tied up with complications like plots, and I can make clever Lucas-esque puns with characters names! Get it? Low-key? Loki? Ahh, I kill me."

Re:That explains a lot (1)

jorgeuva (963084) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437808)

Different Neil, I think.

Unless Loki shows up in The Big U or Zodiac, neither of which I've read.

Re:That explains a lot (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 3 years ago | (#33438400)

Ah, right you are.. I fail.

Re:That explains a lot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33437894)

Neil Gaiman, not Neal Stephenson.

The problem is greed and incompetence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33437552)

We're asked to pay to much in order to support privileged people as they pretend they are talented. Perhaps if publishers invested in talent instead of their friends, family and the well-connected we'd have authors worth reading. Sadly, the publishing industry, like all big business, is simply too corrupt to be able to function effectively.

Greed is evil.

DEVOlution of the novel? (1)

hex0D (1890162) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437600)

mongoloid he was a mongoloid

nobody even cared

What about in two or three years' time? (1)

m50d (797211) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437654)

Didn't he take down a vibrant wiki that had been hosted describing the universe of one of his earlier projects, to make way for a sterile marketing page for one of his newer ones? Or am I thinking of someone else?

Pictures and Maps Please (1)

SumterLiving (994634) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437664)

I'm still living in the 1990's. No smart phone, no e-reader, bell bottoms and an afro. But when I buy an e-reader the things I'd like to see are: - Pictures of Bob "The Evil Villain" Smith and Mary "the hottie" Jones, President Bill Gates and so on. This would help me keep characters straight in my mind. - Maps...when Bob jets off to Purgeastan to kill Mary in his $1billon Killstar jet, I'd like to see where this country is located and maybe some details of the cities he visited. - Maybe a picture of the Killstar jet would be nice. I'd be willing to pay for stuff like this that may add to the enjoyment of the work of fiction. Until then, my local library will be my Amazon.Com fiction source.

Who *are* you? (1)

PeeAitchPee (712652) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437774)

"I am Subotai! Thief and archer! I am Hyrkanian . . . the great order of Kerlait!"

"So what are you doing here?"

"Dinner for wolves."

[both laugh]

Interesting. (2, Interesting)

MaWeiTao (908546) | more than 3 years ago | (#33437848)

It's a neat idea, although this particular implementation might not be ideal. I tend to start digging around for more information on the web regarding novels I've gotten particularly interested in. This might include background information, interpretations or artwork. However, I can't say I'd ever pay for this and I'm not interested in a social component at all. I'm wouldn't be compelled to follow someone and read their thoughts on novels I haven't read simply because I enjoyed what they had to say about this one.

I suppose a community like this would allow for users to add to the expanded universe. While it's interesting it's something I've never gotten into. I'd rather go to the source, the original creator. I find too much inconsistency, too many elements disruptive to canon and it tends to be too much to absorb. And I think writing, for a lot of people, is a personal thing. I've got my own vision of how things are, what should or shouldn't happen. If I were to add to a universe I've created I'd want it to come from me. I suppose the point at which I decided I was done with that universe then it would no longer be a problem.

For years I've had the idea of releasing novels, comics, etc in episodic form and allowing readers to guide the story. Basically at certain points they could vote on a few possible outcomes. It might make for an engaging experience, but it wont work if the author has a particular story they want to tell or an idea they want to convey.

Of course, a big problem is that too many people seem to think everything they find on the internet should be free. This stuff takes a lot of time and effort, not to mention the expense of having this stuff available online somewhere. There are creative ways to entice people. But if all the effort went into writing the book, why should I be expected to generate income from something like t-shirts or signed artwork? It would be a travesty is writers were forced into writing Harry Potter or Twilight style novels in order to be able to be able to make money. The sci-fi section of bookstores already seems to be shrinking, slowly absorbed by manga and bad mystery novels.

Just another advertising opportunity (1)

edawstwin (242027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33438336)

"The core of the experience is still a text novel, but authors can add additional material like background articles, images, music, and video..." and ads.

Familiar (1)

TyTheBold (1188529) | more than 3 years ago | (#33438354)

X-Book Live anyone?

The social sphere has been the key to ensuring gaming has kept/out pace(d) other media, and with the rate other sites are integrating social media, entangling books with the rest of the digital web sounds like the next step for the medium.

The sole convinence of eBooks is that fact that my cellular device is capable of recalling them in mere seconds and can be easily stowed, which make reading in the elevator/doing vague leasure activity/driving at high speeds a lot more convinent. Actually doing something else with these bits of code sounds fine by me.
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