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Doctorow: Ebooks Neither E Nor Books

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the words-of-wisdom dept.

Books 190

xanderwilson writes "Author Cory Doctorow has released his paper/speech for the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference this year into the public domain. A very interesting read about his experience with Magic Kingdom (which he is soon re-releasing under a more lenient Creative Commons license), the failure of e-books, and filesharing as a tool for creators."

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190 comments

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fp (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270070)

hey everyone look at me!

"free software" (-1)

RLiegh (247921) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270077)

Is neither free, nor soft.

This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. (-1, Troll)

Chess_the_cat (653159) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270084)

For an expert on e-publishing, you'd think he'd be able to format the text correctly.

Re:This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270127)

Looks fine to me. It's a plain-text file. If you don't like the way it wraps and such in your browser, maybe you should try using a proper text editor to view it.

As the important part of the document is the content, there's no need for it to be in HTML. It is a speech, after all, and not a press release.

Re:This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. (5, Funny)

kfg (145172) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270327)

Indeed, I just cut and pasted it into KWrite and it looks great.

Then I really got into the spirit of the thing:

I printed it and read it on paper.

KFG

Re:This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. (1, Insightful)

fizban (58094) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270347)

Why should someone have to take extra steps beyond using a standard web browser to read content provided *on the web*? Perhaps the provider of the content should make the text available in a standard web format that all web browsers can read properly?

Re:This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. (2, Informative)

parksie (540658) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270473)

You don't need to.

It's a text file, and I assume the server sent text/plain as its type. Worked fine in Firefox, I thought maybe the OP meant "IE" when they said a standard browser, so I checked in IE6. Looked fine there as well.

At about 12 words per line, it's even easy to read as well, so I have no idea what they're whining about :)

Re:This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270536)

Why require a text to have a formatting language (HTML) applied to it at all, when plain-text will do? It's providing information in the simplest form possible. Anythig on top of that is just adding bytes.

Re:This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270558)

Because sometimes the web is legitimately used as a transport mechanism for files, rather than as a provider of "web content."

Ebooks and papers, in particular are commonly formated as plain text for web distribution, allowing the reader to use whatever text editor they choose and to format the content in any way that pleases them.

As well as having formated the text for printing I have also now put a copy of the file on my laptop which I use as an ebook reader, which does not even have a browser installed, along with my "pile" of books from Project Gutenberg, all in plain text, where I will be able to view it in vi.

Sometimes distribution of text as text be good and shit.

KFG

Re:This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. (4, Funny)

TechBCEternity (561141) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270207)

see you're missing the point

the article is free but the word wrapping is offered as a premium service.

Get yer eBook here! (-1, Offtopic)

gryphokk (648488) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270250)

Timely article. I'm actually conducting an experiment in capitalistic eBook publication.

Visit DPGriffin.com [dpgriffin.com] to find my wife's eBook autobiography on blended families and child molestation.

Free preview available, with synopsis and two chapters.

Then buy it! Only $1.99, via paypal.

thanks

Re:Get yer eBook here! (2, Interesting)

pigpogm (70382) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270365)

Hey, if we're doing a spot of shameless plugging here, i'll risk a few karma points ;)

My partner has written a book, which after failing to get it off the ground by selling it, we decided to make into an e-book and give away for free. It's a bit different to almost any other books, in that it's laid out from articles and clippings from assorted fictional magazines, books, and newspapers, with lots of pictures. Nice and easy to read on a computer screen, though.

More info, and download as a PDF, at http://pigpog.com/mblm/ [pigpog.com] . There's also the option to just read it online, but only part of it is up there so far - enough to decide if it's worth the download, though.

It's the story of a boy band from the 80s, based in the UK. They rise to reasonable fame, then fall back to obscurity. Except one of them can't take the obscurity, and hatches a plan to return...

Our vague plan for getting anything back from this is that she's working on the second book in the story, which will hopefully be sold in a slightly more conventional way.

Re:Get yer eBook here! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270545)

Warning. The website tries to install something in via browser. What a total jerk.

This is totally offtopic...but (3, Offtopic)

ScottGant (642590) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270319)

having gone to your web site, it reads:

Slashdot is a lie. While its purpose is to advance the cause of OSS and Lunix, its users overwhelmingly use Microsoft products to surf the web. Recently I put forth a challenge to slashdot my site in my sig file. The idea of turning a server into a smoking pile of metal is irresistible to the average Slashdotter. The hits began pouring in. Now you'd think that my referral logs would show that the visitors coming from Slashdot would be using Mozilla under Lunix. You'd be wrong though.

So, the people that came to your site represent all of Slashdot? The people that read your sig...which by the way, I personally never saw at all until now, represent all of Slashdot?

How can you make a sweeping generalization like that? Also, where in the offical Slashdot headlines or titles does it say "to advance the cause of OSS and Linux"? I look at it now, all I see is "News for Nerds. Stuff that matters". Plus, a ton of the stories here don't even have anything to do with computers!

I don't really see what you're point is. Also, where is the "lie" you speak of. A lie means a deliberate falsehood, so show me where the people accessing your site SAY they're using Linux, but are lying and using Windows.

Anyway, thought it was interesting, and this post will probably be modded down to bedrock.

Re:This is totally offtopic...but (-1, Offtopic)

peragrin (659227) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270375)

Yes just remember that most slashdotters surf from work when they can't get o other machines, I use mozilla on win 98 from work, IP protected by 2 firewalls and nat. I use windows and Beos and debian and osx at home. which sections are low I will set them up to help sort out the hits

Re:This is totally offtopic...but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270517)

why don't you work at work? are you at a job that is fulfilling? it doesn't sound like it. get a job that challenges you to learn new things. god, spending half your day on the web must make the time crawl like a baby.

nevermind, I get the joke now. (0, Offtopic)

ScottGant (642590) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270396)

I get it now. At the end of that his article, he states: "As you can see, Linux is dying".

I fell for it, you got me. Good one.

Re:This is totally offtopic...but (-1, Offtopic)

Cro Magnon (467622) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270471)

Well, I'm posting this from work. Yes, it is on a *ugh* Windows box. At home, however, I DO use Linux.

Re:This is totally offtopic...but (1)

birder (61402) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270577)

How can you make a sweeping generalization like that? Also, where in the offical Slashdot headlines or titles does it say "to advance the cause of OSS and Linux"?

Hi, you must be new here. /hides in shame

Re:This is totally offtopic...but (2, Interesting)

speleo (61031) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270804)

I site I administer got Slashdotted back in December. The story was posted on a Sunday.

Here's the platform summary for that day:

Windows: 65.17%
Macintosh: 16.10%
Linux: 15.99%

Here's the browser summary:

IE: 45.78%
Mozilla: 29.35%
Safari: 11.79%
Opera: 4.44%

The referals on that day were 92.92% Slashdot.

Re:This is totally offtopic...but (1)

Ruzty (46204) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270892)

I'd like to add that I read Slashdot from work sometimes. I have no choice at the office but to use IE on Windows. It's corporate IT's desktop choice and anything else is not an option.

Were I to read from home you'ld see Safari on MacOSX or Konqueror on various *nix platforms for my referential information.

Sometimes the choice is not ours to make.
-Rusty

[offtopic] your chessthecat comments about /. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270337)

I paraphrase your front page:

"Slashdot is a lie because most of its users surf from Windows XP".

And I answer thus:

"Democracy is a lie because the most fanatical supporters of democracy choose to live in countries dominated by brutal dictators."

Re:This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. (1)

bob dobalina (40544) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270338)

That subject line is par for the course when talking about Cory Doctorow.

Rewrapped courtesy of html and /. (2, Informative)

jerryasher (151512) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270380)

Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books

Paper for the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference, 2004

February 12, 2004

San Diego, CA

Cory Doctorow

doctorow@craphound.com

--

Forematter:

This talk was initially given at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference [ http://conferences.oreillynet.com/cs/et2004 ], along with a set of slides that, for copyright reasons (ironic!) can't be released alongside of this file. However, you will find, interspersed in this text, notations describing the places where new slides should be loaded, in [square-brackets].

This text is dedicated to the public domain, using a Creative Commons public domain dedication:

> Copyright-Only Dedication (based on United States law)
>
> The person or persons who have associated their work with this
> document (the "Dedicator") hereby dedicate the entire copyright
> in the work of authorship identified below (the "Work") to the
> public domain.
>
> Dedicator makes this dedication for the benefit of the public at
> large and to the detriment of Dedicator's heirs and successors.
> Dedicator intends this dedication to be an overt act of
> relinquishment in perpetuity of all present and future rights
> under copyright law, whether vested or contingent, in the Work.
> Dedicator understands that such relinquishment of all rights
> includes the relinquishment of all rights to enforce (by lawsuit
> or otherwise) those copyrights in the Work.
>
> Dedicator recognizes that, once placed in the public domain, the
> Work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, used,
> modified, built upon, or otherwise exploited by anyone for any
> purpose, commercial or non-commercial, and in any way, including
> by methods that have not yet been invented or conceived.

--

For starters, let me try to summarize the lessons and intuitions I've had about ebooks from my release of two novels and most of a short story collection online under a Creative Commons license. A parodist who published a list of alternate titles for the presentations at this event called this talk, "eBooks Suck Right Now," [eBooks suck right now] and as funny as that is, I don't think it's true.

No, if I had to come up with another title for this talk, I'd call it: "Ebooks: You're Soaking in Them." [Ebooks: You're Soaking in Them] That's because I think that the shape of ebooks to come is almost visible in the way that people interact with text today, and that the job of authors who want to become rich and famous is to come to a better understanding of that shape.

I haven't come to a perfect understanding. I don't know what the future of the book looks like. But I have ideas, and I'll share them with you:

1. Ebooks aren't marketing. [Ebooks aren't marketing] OK, so ebooks *are* marketing: that is to say that giving away ebooks sells more books. Baen Books, who do a lot of series publishing, have found that giving away electronic editions of the previous installments in their series to coincide with the release of a new volume sells the hell out of the new book -- and the backlist. And the number of people who wrote to me to tell me about how much they dug the ebook and so bought the paper-book far exceeds the number of people who wrote to me and said, "Ha, ha, you hippie, I read your book for free and now I'm not gonna buy it." But ebooks *shouldn't* be just about marketing: ebooks are a goal unto themselves. In the final analysis, more people will read more words off more screens and fewer words off fewer pages and when those two lines cross, ebooks are gonna have to be the way that writers earn their keep, not the way that they promote the dead-tree editions.

2. Ebooks complement paper books. [Ebooks complement paper books]. Having an ebook is good. Having a paper book is good. Having both is even better. One reader wrote to me and said that he read half my first novel from the bound book, and printed the other half on scrap-paper to read at the beach. Students write to me to say that it's easier to do their term papers if they can copy and paste their quotations into their word-processors. Baen readers use the electronic editions of their favorite series to build concordances of characters, places and events.

3. Unless you own the ebook, you don't 0wn the book [Unless you own the ebook, you don't 0wn the book]. I take the view that the book is a "practice" -- a collection of social and economic and artistic activities -- and not an "object." Viewing the book as a "practice" instead of an object is a pretty radical notion, and it begs the question: just what the hell is a book? Good question. I write all of my books in a text-editor [TEXT EDITOR SCREENGRAB] (BBEdit, from Barebones Software -- as fine a text-editor as I could hope for). From there, I can convert them into a formatted two-column PDF [TWO-UP SCREENGRAB]. I can turn them into an HTML file [BROWSER SCREENGRAB]. I can turn them over to my publisher, who can turn them into galleys, advanced review copies, hardcovers and paperbacks. I can turn them over to my readers, who can convert them to a bewildering array of formats [DOWNLOAD PAGE SCREENGRAB]. Brewster Kahle's Internet Bookmobile can convert a digital book into a four-color, full-bleed, perfect-bound, laminated-cover, printed-spine paper book in ten minutes, for about a dollar. Try converting a paper book to a PDF or an html file or a text file or a RocketBook or a printout for a buck in ten minutes! It's ironic, because one of the frequently cited reasons for preferring paper to ebooks is that paper books confer a sense of ownership of a physical object. Before the dust settles on this ebook thing, owning a paper book is going to feel less like ownership than having an open digital edition of the text.

4. Ebooks are a better deal for writers. [Ebooks are a better deal for writers] The compensation for writers is pretty thin on the ground. *Amazing Stories,* Hugo Gernsback's original science fiction magazine, paid a couple cents a word. Today, science fiction magazines pay...a couple cents a word. The sums involved are so minuscule, they're not even insulting: they're *quaint* and *historical*, like the WHISKEY 5 CENTS sign over the bar at a pioneer village. Some writers do make it big, but they're *rounding errors* as compared to the total population of sf writers earning some of their living at the trade. Almost all of us could be making more money elsewhere (though we may dream of earning a stephenkingload of money, and of course, no one would play the lotto if there were no winners). The primary incentive for writing has to be artistic satisfaction, egoboo, and a desire for posterity. Ebooks get you that. Ebooks become a part of the corpus of human knowledge because they get indexed by search engines and replicated by the hundreds, thousands or millions. They can be googled.

Even better: they level the playing field between writers and trolls. When Amazon kicked off, many writers got their knickers in a tight and powerful knot at the idea that axe-grinding yahoos were filling the Amazon message-boards with ill-considered slams at their work -- for, if a personal recommendation is the best way to sell a book, then certainly a personal condemnation is the best way to *not* sell a book. Today, the trolls are still with us, but now, the readers get to decide for themselves. Here's a bit of a review of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom that was recently posted to Amazon by "A reader from Redwood City, CA":

[QUOTED TEXT]

> I am really not sure what kind of drugs critics are
> smoking, or what kind of payola may be involved. But
> regardless of what Entertainment Weekly says, whatever
> this newspaper or that magazine says, you shouldn't
> waste your money. Download it for free from Corey's
> (sic) site, read the first page, and look away in
> disgust -- this book is for people who think Dan
> Brown's Da Vinci Code is great writing.

Back in the old days, this kind of thing would have really pissed me off. Axe-grinding, mouth-breathing yahoos, defaming my good name! My stars and mittens! But take a closer look at that damning passage:

[PULL-QUOTE]

> Download it for free from Corey's site, read the first
> page

You see that? Hell, this guy is *working for me*! [ADDITIONAL PULL QUOTES] Someone accuses a writer I'm thinking of reading of paying off Entertainment Weekly to say nice things about his novel, "a surprisingly bad writer," no less, whose writing is "stiff, amateurish, and uninspired!" I wanna check that writer out. And I can. In one click. And then I can make up my own mind.

You don't get far in the arts without healthy doses of both ego and insecurity, and the downside of being able to google up all the things that people are saying about your book is that it can play right into your insecurities -- "all these people will have it in their minds not to bother with my book because they've read the negative interweb reviews!" But the flipside of that is the ego: "If only they'd give it a shot, they'd see how good it is." And the more scathing the review is, the more likely they are to give it a shot. Any press is good press, so long as they spell your URL right (and even if they spell your name wrong!).

5. Ebooks need to embrace their nature. [Ebooks need to embrace their nature.] The distinctive value of ebooks is orthagonal to the value of paper books, and it revolves around the mix-ability and send-ability of electronic text. The more you constrain an ebook's distinctive value propositions -- that is, the more you restrict a reader's ability to copy, transport or transform an ebook -- the more it has to be valued on the same axes as a paper-book. Ebooks *fail* on those axes. Ebooks don't beat paper-books for sophisticated typography, they can't match them for quality of paper or the smell of the glue. But just try sending a paper book to a friend in Brazil, for free, in less than a second. Or loading a thousand paper books into a little stick of flash-memory dangling from your keychain. Or searching a paper book for every instance of a character's name to find a beloved passage. Hell, try clipping a pithy passage out of a paper book and pasting it into your sig-file.

6. Ebooks demand a different attention span (but not a shorter one). [Ebooks demand a different attention span (but not a shorter one).] Artists are always disappointed by their audience's attention-spans. Go back far enough and you'll find cuneiform etchings bemoaning the current Sumerian go-go lifestyle with its insistence on myths with plotlines and characters and action, not like we had in the old days. As artists, it would be a hell of a lot easier if our audiences were more tolerant of our penchant for boring them. We'd get to explore a lot more ideas without worrying about tarting them up with easy-to-swallow chocolate coatings of entertainment. We like to think of shortened attention spans as a product of the information age, but check this out:

[Nietzsche quote]

> To be sure one thing necessary above all: if one is to
> practice reading as an *art* in this way, something
> needs to be un-learned most thoroughly in these days.

In other words, if my book is too boring, it's because you're not paying enough attention. Writers say this stuff all the time, but this quote isn't from this century or the last. [Nietzsche quote with attribution] It's from the preface to Nietzsche's "Genealogy of Morals," published in *1887.*

Yeah, our attention-spans are *different* today, but they aren't necessarily *shorter*. Warren Ellis's fans managed to hold the storyline for Transmetropolitan [Transmet cover] in their minds for *five years* while the story trickled out in monthly funnybook installments. JK Rowlings's installments on the Harry Potter series get fatter and fatter with each new volume. Entire forests are sacrificed to long-running series fiction like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books, each of which is approximately 20,000 pages long (I may be off by an order of magnitude one way or another here). Sure, presidential debates are conducted in soundbites today and not the days-long oratory extravaganzas of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but people manage to pay attention to the 24-month-long presidential campaigns from start to finish.

7. We need *all* the ebooks. [We need *all* the ebooks] The vast majority of the words ever penned are lost to posterity. No one library collects all the still-extant books ever written and no one person could hope to make a dent in that corpus of written work. None of us will ever read more than the tiniest sliver of human literature. But that doesn't mean that we can stick with just the most popular texts and get a proper ebook revolution.

For starters, we're all edge-cases. Sure, we all have the shared desire for the core canon of literature, but each of us want to complete that collection with different texts that are as distinctive and individualistic as fingerprints. If we all look like we're doing the same thing when we read, or listen to music, or hang out in a chatroom, that's because we're not looking closely enough. The shared-ness of our experience is only present at a coarse level of measurement: once you get into really granular observation, there are as many differences in our "shared" experience as there are similarities.

More than that, though, is the way that a large collection of electronic text differs from a small one: it's the difference between a single book, a shelf full of books and a library of books. Scale makes things different. Take the Web: none of us can hope to read even a fraction of all the pages on the Web, but by analyzing the link structures that bind all those pages together, Google is able to actually tease out machine-generated conclusions about the relative relevance of different pages to different queries. None of us will ever eat the whole corpus, but Google can digest it for us and excrete the steaming nuggets of goodness that make it the search-engine miracle it is today.

8. Ebooks are like paper books. [Ebooks are like paper books]. To round out this talk, I'd like to go over the ways that ebooks are more like paper books than you'd expect. One of the truisms of retail theory is that purchasers need to come into contact with a good several times before they buy -- seven contacts is tossed around as the magic number. That means that my readers have to hear the title, see the cover, pick up the book, read a review, and so forth, seven times, on average, before they're ready to buy.

There's a temptation to view downloading a book as comparable to bringing it home from the store, but that's the wrong metaphor. Some of the time, maybe most of the time, downloading the text of the book is like taking it off the shelf at the store and looking at the cover and reading the blurbs (with the advantage of not having to come into contact with the residual DNA and burger king left behind by everyone else who browsed the book before you). Some writers are horrified at the idea that three hundred thousand copies of my first novel were downloaded and "only" ten thousand or so were sold so far. If it were the case that for ever copy sold, thirty were taken home from the store, that would be a horrifying outcome, for sure. But look at it another way: if one out of every thirty people who glanced at the cover of my book bought it, I'd be a happy author. And I am. Those downloads cost me no more than glances at the cover in a bookstore, and the sales are healthy.

We also like to think of physical books as being inherently *countable* in a way that digital books aren't (an irony, since computers are damned good at counting things!). This is important, because writers get paid on the basis of the number of copies of their books that sell, so having a good count makes a difference. And indeed, my royalty statements contain precise numbers for copies printed, shipped, returned and sold.

But that's a false precision. When the printer does a run of a book, it always runs a few extra at the start and finish of the run to make sure that the setup is right and to account for the occasional rip, drop, or spill. The actual total number of books printed is approximately the number of books ordered, but never exactly -- if you've ever ordered 500 wedding invitations, chances are you received 500-and-a-few back from the printer and that's why.

And the numbers just get fuzzier from there. Copies are stolen. Copies are dropped. Shipping people get the count wrong. Some copies end up in the wrong box and go to a bookstore that didn't order them and isn't invoiced for them and end up on a sale table or in the trash. Some copies are returned as damaged. Some are returned as unsold. Some come back to the store the next morning accompanied by a whack of buyer's remorse. Some go to the place where the spare sock in the dryer ends up.

The numbers on a royalty statement are actuarial, not actual. They represent a kind of best-guess approximation of the copies shipped, sold, returned and so forth. Actuarial accounting works pretty well: well enough to run the juggernaut banking, insurance, and gambling industries on. It's good enough for divvying up the royalties paid by musical rights societies for radio airplay and live performance. And it's good enough for counting how many copies of a book are distributed online or off.

Counts of paper books are differently precise from counts of electronic books, sure: but neither one is inherently countable.

And finally, of course, there's the matter of selling books. However an author earns her living from her words, printed or encoded, she has as her first and hardest task to find her audience. There are more competitors for our attention than we can possibly reconcile, prioritize or make sense of. Getting a book under the right person's nose, with the right pitch, is the hardest and most important task any writer faces.

#

I care about books, a lot. I started working in libraries and bookstores at the age of 12 and kept at it for a decade, until I was lured away by the siren song of the tech world. I knew I wanted to be a writer at the age of 12, and now, 20 years later, I have three novels, a short story collection and a nonfiction book out, two more novels under contract, and another book in the works. [BOOK COVERS] I've won a major award in my genre, science fiction, [CAMPBELL AWARD] and I'm nominated for another one, the 2003 Nebula Award for best novelette. [NEBULA]

I own a *lot* of books. Easily more than 10,000 of them, in storage on both coasts of the North American continent [LIBRARY LADDER]. I have to own them, since they're the tools of my trade: the reference works I refer to as a novelist and writer today. Most of the literature I dig is very short-lived, it disappears from the shelf after just a few months, usually for good. Science fiction is inherently ephemeral. [ACE DOUBLES]

Now, as much as I love books, I love computers, too. Computers are fundamentally different from modern books in the same way that printed books are different from monastic Bibles: they are malleable. Time was, a "book" was something produced by many months' labor by a scribe, usually a monk, on some kind of durable and sexy substrate like foetal lambskin. [ILLUMINATED BIBLE] Gutenberg's xerox machine changed all that, changed a book into something that could be simply run off a press in a few minutes' time, on substrate more suitable to ass-wiping than exaltation in a place of honor in the cathedral. The Gutenberg press meant that rather than owning one or two books, a member of the ruling class could amass a library, and that rather than picking only a few subjects from enshrinement in print, a huge variety of subjects could be addressed on paper and handed from person to person. [KAPITAL/TIJUANA BIBLE]

Most new ideas start with a precious few certainties and a lot of speculation. I've been doing a bunch of digging for certainties and a lot of speculating lately, and the purpose of this talk is to lay out both categories of ideas.

This all starts with my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom [COVER], which came out on January 9, 2003. At that time, there was a lot of talk in my professional circles about, on the one hand, the dismal failure of ebooks, and, on the other, the new and scary practice of ebook "piracy." [alt.binaries.e-books screengrab] It was strikingly weird that no one seemed to notice that the idea of ebooks as a "failure" was at strong odds with the notion that electronic book "piracy" was worth worrying about: I mean, if ebooks are a failure, then who gives a rats if intarweb dweebs are trading them on Usenet?

A brief digression here, on the double meaning of "ebooks." One meaning for that word is "legitimate" ebook ventures, that is to say, rightsholder-authorized editions of the texts of books, released in a proprietary, use-restricted format, sometimes for use on a general-purpose PC and sometimes for use on a special-purpose hardware device like the nuvoMedia Rocketbook [ROCKETBOOK]. The other meaning for ebook is a "pirate" or unauthorized electronic edition of a book, usually made by cutting the binding off of a book and scanning it a page at a time, then running the resulting bitmaps through an optical character recognition app to convert them into ASCII text, to be cleaned up by hand. These books are pretty buggy, full of errors introduced by the OCR. A lot of my colleagues worry that these books also have deliberate errors, created by mischievous book-rippers who cut, add or change text in order to "improve" the work. Frankly, I have never seen any evidence that any book-ripper is interested in doing this, and until I do, I think that this is the last thing anyone should be worrying about.

Back to Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom [COVER]. Well, not yet. I want to convey to you the depth of the panic in my field over ebook piracy, or "bookwarez" as it is known in book-ripper circles. Writers were joining the discussion on alt.binaries.ebooks using assumed names, claiming fear of retaliation from scary hax0r kids who would presumably screw up their credit-ratings in retaliation for being called thieves. My editor, a blogger, hacker and guy-in-charge-of-the-largest-sf-line-in-the-world named Patrick Nielsen Hayden posted to one of the threads in the newsgroup, saying, in part [SCREENGRAB]:

> Pirating copyrighted etext on Usenet and elsewhere is going to
> happen more and more, for the same reasons that everyday folks
> make audio cassettes from vinyl LPs and audio CDs, and
> videocassette copies of store-bought videotapes. Partly it's
> greed; partly it's annoyance over retail prices; partly it's the
> desire to Share Cool Stuff (a motivation usually underrated by
> the victims of this kind of small-time hand-level piracy).
> Instantly going to Defcon One over it and claiming it's morally
> tantamount to mugging little old ladies in the street will make
> it kind of difficult to move forward from that position when it
> doesn't work. In the 1970s, the record industry shrieked that
> "home taping is killing music." It's hard for ordinary folks to
> avoid noticing that music didn't die. But the record industry's
> credibility on the subject wasn't exactly enhanced.

Patrick and I have a long relationship, starting when I was 18 years old and he kicked in toward a scholarship fund to send me to a writers' workshop, continuing to a fateful lunch in New York in the mid-Nineties when I showed him a bunch of Project Gutenberg texts on my Palm Pilot and inspired him to start licensing Tor's titles for PDAs [PEANUTPRESS SCREENGRAB], to the turn-of-the-millennium when he bought and then published my first novel (he's bought three more since -- I really like Patrick!).

Right as bookwarez newgroups were taking off, I was shocked silly by legal action by one of my colleagues against AOL/Time-Warner for carrying the alt.binaries.ebooks newsgroup. This writer alleged that AOL should have a duty to remove this newsgroup, since it carried so many infringing files, and that its failure to do so made it a contributory infringer, and so liable for the incredibly stiff penalties afforded by our newly minted copyright laws like the No Electronic Theft Act and the loathsome Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA.

Now there was a scary thought: there were people out there who thought the world would be a better place if ISPs were given the duty of actively policing and censoring the websites and newsfeeds their customers had access to, including a requirement that ISPs needed to determine, all on their own, what was an unlawful copyright infringement -- something more usually left up to judges in the light of extensive amicus briefings from esteemed copyright scholars [WIND DONE GONE GRAPHIC].

This was a stupendously dumb idea, and it offended me down to my boots. Writers are supposed to be advocates of free expression, not censorship. It seemed that some of my colleagues loved the First Amendment, but they were reluctant to share it with the rest of the world.

Well, dammit, I had a book coming out, and it seemed to be an opportunity to try to figure out a little more about this ebook stuff. On the one hand, ebooks were a dismal failure. On the other hand, there were more books posted to alt.binaries.ebooks every day.

This leads me into the two certainties I have about ebooks:

1. More people are reading more words off more screens every day [GRAPHIC]

2. Fewer people are reading fewer words off fewer pages every day [GRAPHIC]

These two certainties begged a lot of questions.

[CHART: EBOOK FAILINGS]

* Screen resolutions are too low to effectively replace paper

* People want to own physical books because of their visceral appeal (often this is accompanied by a little sermonette on how good books smell, or how good they look on a bookshelf, or how evocative an old curry stain in the margin can be)

* You can't take your ebook into the tub

* You can't read an ebook without power and a computer

* File-formats go obsolete, paper has lasted for a long time

None of these seemed like very good explanations for the "failure" of ebooks to me. If screen resolutions are too low to replace paper, then how come everyone I know spends more time reading off a screen every year, up to and including my sainted grandmother (geeks have a really crappy tendency to argue that certain technologies aren't ready for primetime because their grandmothers won't use them -- well, my grandmother sends me email all the time. She types 70 words per minute, and loves to show off grandsonular email to her pals around the pool at her Florida retirement condo)?

The other arguments were a lot more interesting, though. It seemed to me that electronic books are *different* from paper books, and have different virtues and failings. Let's think a little about what the book has gone through in years gone by. This is interesting because the history of the book is the history of the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Pilgrims, and, ultimately the colonizing of the Americas and the American Revolution.

Broadly speaking, there was a time when books were hand-printed on rare leather by monks. The only people who could read them were priests, who got a regular eyeful of the really cool cartoons the monks drew in the margins. The priests read the books aloud, in Latin [LATIN BIBLE] (to a predominantly non-Latin-speaking audience) in cathedrals, wreathed in pricey incense that rose from censers swung by altar boys.

Then Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Martin Luther turned that press into a revolution. [LUTHER BIBLE] He printed Bibles in languages that non-priests could read, and distributed them to normal people who got to read the word of God all on their own. The rest, as they say, is history.

Here are some interesting things to note about the advent of the printing press:

[CHART: LUTHER VERSUS THE MONKS]

* Luther Bibles lacked the manufacturing quality of the illuminated Bibles. They were comparatively cheap and lacked the typographical expressiveness that a really talented monk could bring to bear when writing out the word of God

* Luther Bibles were utterly unsuited to the traditional use-case for Bibles. A good Bible was supposed to reinforce the authority of the man at the pulpit. It needed heft, it needed impressiveness, and most of all, it needed rarity.

* The user-experience of Luther Bibles sucked. There was no incense, no altar boys, and who (apart from the priesthood) knew that reading was so friggin' hard on the eyes?

* Luther Bibles were a lot less trustworthy than the illuminated numbers. Anyone with a press could run one off, subbing in any apocryphal text he wanted -- and who knew how accurate that translation was? Monks had an entire Papacy behind them, running a quality-assurance operation that had stood Europe in good stead for centuries.

In the late nineties, I went to conferences where music execs patiently explained that Napster was doomed, because you didn't get any cover-art or liner-notes with it, you couldn't know if the rip was any good, and sometimes the connection would drop mid-download. I'm sure that many Cardinals espoused the points raised above with equal certainty.

What the record execs and the cardinals missed was all the ways that Luther Bibles kicked ass:

[CHART: WHY LUTHER BIBLES KICKED ASS]

* They were cheap and fast. Loads of people could acquire them without having to subject themselves to the authority and approval of the Church

* They were in languages that non-priests could read. You no longer had to take the Church's word for it when its priests explained what God really meant

* They birthed a printing-press ecosystem in which lots of books flourished. New kinds of fiction, poetry, politics, scholarship and so on were all enabled by the printing presses whose initial popularity was spurred by Luther's ideas about religion.

Note that all of these virtues are orthagonal to the virtues of a monkish Bible. That is, none of the things that made the Gutenberg press a success were the things that made monk-Bibles a success.

By the same token, the reasons to love ebooks have precious little to do with the reasons to love paper books.

[CHART: WHY EBOOKS KICK ASS]

* They are easy to share. Secrets of Ya-Ya Sisterhood went from a midlist title to a bestseller by being passed from hand to hand by women in reading circles. Slashdorks and other netizens have social life as rich as reading-circlites, but they don't ever get to see each other face to face; the only kind of book they can pass from hand to hand is an ebook. What's more, the single factor most correlated with a purchase is a recommendation from a friend -- getting a book recommended by a pal is more likely to sell you on it than having read and enjoyed the preceding volume in a series!

* They are easy to slice and dice. This is where the Mac evangelist in me comes out -- minority platforms matter. It's a truism of the Napsterverse that most of the files downloaded are bog-standard top-40 tracks, like 90 percent or so, and I believe it. We all want to popular music. That's why it's popular. But the interesting thing is the other ten percent. Bill Gates told the New York Times that Microsoft lost the search wars by doing "a good job on the 80 percent of common queries and ignor[ing] the other stuff. But it's the remaining 20 percent that counts, because that's where the quality perception is." Why did Napster captivate so many of us? Not because it could get us the top-40 tracks that we could hear just by snapping on the radio: it was because 80 percent of the music ever recorded wasn't available for sale anywhere in the world, and in that 80 percent were all the songs that had ever touched us, all the earworms that had been lodged in our hindbrains, all the stuff that made us smile when we heard it. Those songs are different for all of us, but they share the trait of making the difference between a compelling service and, well, top-40 Clearchannel radio programming. It was the minority of tracks that appealed to the majority of us. By the same token, the malleability of electronic text means that it can be readily repurposed: you can throw it on a webserver or convert it to a format for your favorite PDA; you can ask your computer to read it aloud or you can search the text for a quotation to cite in a book report or to use in your sig. In other words, most people who download the book do so for the predictable reason, and in a predictable format -- say, to sample a chapter in the HTML format before deciding whether to buy the book -- but the thing that differentiates a boring e-text experience from an exciting one is the minority use -- printing out a couple chapters of the book to bring to the beach rather than risk getting the hardcopy wet and salty.

Tool-makers and software designers are increasingly aware of the notion of "affordances" in design. You can bash a nail into the wall with any heavy, heftable object from a rock to a hammer to a cast-iron skillet. However, there's something about a hammer that cries out for nail-bashing, it has affordances that tilt its holder towards swinging it. And, as we all know, when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

The affordance of a computer -- the thing it's designed to do -- is to slice-and-dice collections of bits. The affordance of the Internet is to move bits at very high speed around the world at little-to-no cost. It follows from this that the center of the ebook experience is going to involve slicing and dicing text and sending it around.

Copyright lawyers have a word for these activities: infringement. That's because copyright gives creators a near-total monopoly over copying and remixing of their work, pretty much forever (theoretically, copyright expires, but in actual practice, copyright gets extended every time the early Mickey Mouse cartoons are about to enter the public domain, because Disney swings a very big stick on the Hill).

This is a huge problem. The biggest possible problem. Here's why:

[CHART: HOW BROKEN COPYRIGHT SCREWS EVERYONE]

* Authors freak out. Authors have been schooled by their peers that strong copyright is the only thing that keeps them from getting savagely rogered in the marketplace. This is pretty much true: it's strong copyright that often defends authors from their publishers' worst excesses. However, it doesn't follow that strong copyright protects you from your *readers*.

* Readers get indignant over being called crooks. Seriously. You're a small businessperson. Readers are your customers. Calling them crooks is bad for business.

* Publishers freak out. Publishers freak out, because they're in the business of grabbing as much copyright as they can and hanging onto it for dear life because, dammit, you never know. This is why science fiction magazines try to trick writers into signing over improbable rights for things like theme park rides and action figures based on their work -- it's also why literary agents are now asking for copyright-long commissions on the books they represent: copyright covers so much ground and takes to long to shake off, who wouldn't want a piece of it?

* Liability goes through the roof. Copyright infringement, especially on the Net, is a supercrime. It carries penalties of $150,000 per infringement, and aggrieved rights-holders and their representatives have all kinds of special powers, like the ability to force an ISP to turn over your personal information before showing evidence of your alleged infringement to a judge. This means that anyone who suspects that he might be on the wrong side of copyright law is going to be terribly risk-averse: publishers non-negotiably force their authors to indemnify them from infringement claims and go one better, forcing writers to prove that they have "cleared" any material they quote, even in the case of brief fair-use quotations, like song-titles at the opening of chapters. The result is that authors end up assuming potentially life-destroying liability, are chilled from quoting material around them, and are scared off of public domain texts because an honest mistake about the public-domain status of a work carries such a terrible price.

* Posterity vanishes. In the Eldred v. Ashcroft Supreme Court hearing last year, the court found that 98 percent of the works in copyright are no longer earning money for anyone, but that figuring out who these old works belong to with the degree of certainty that you'd want when one mistake means total economic apocalypse would cost more than you could ever possibly earn on them. That means that 98 percent of works will largely expire long before the copyright on them does. Today, the names of science fiction's ancestral founders -- Mary Shelley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, HG Wells -- are still known, their work still a part of the discourse. Their spiritual descendants from Hugo Gernsback onward may not be so lucky -- if their work continues to be "protected" by copyright, it might just vanish from the face of the earth before it reverts to the public domain.

This isn't to say that copyright is bad, but that there's such a thing as good copyright and bad copyright, and that sometimes, too much good copyright is a bad thing. It's like chilis in soup: a little goes a long way, and too much spoils the broth.

From the Luther Bible to the first phonorecords, from radio to the pulps, from cable to MP3, the world has shown that its first preference for new media is its "democratic-ness" -- the ease with which it can reproduced.

(And please, before we get any farther, forget all that business about how the Internet's copying model is more disruptive than the technologies that proceeded it. For Christ's sake, the Vaudeville performers who sued Marconi for inventing the radio had to go from a regime where they had *one hundred percent* control over who could get into the theater and hear them perform to a regime where they had *zero* percent control over who could build or acquire a radio and tune into a recording of them performing. For that matter, look at the difference between a monkish Bible and a Luther Bible -- next to that phase-change, Napster is peanuts)

Back to democratic-ness. Every successful new medium has traded off its artifact-ness -- the degree to which it was populated by bespoke hunks of atoms, cleverly nailed together by master craftspeople -- for ease of reproduction. Piano rolls weren't as expressive as good piano players, but they scaled better -- as did radio broadcasts, pulp magazines, and MP3s. Liner notes, hand illumination and leather bindings are nice, but they pale in comparison to the ability of an individual to actually get a copy of her own.

Which isn't to say that old media die. Artists still hand-illuminate books; master pianists still stride the boards at Carnegie Hall, and the shelves burst with tell-all biographies of musicians that are richer in detail than any liner-notes booklet. The thing is, when all you've got is monks, every book takes on the character of a monkish Bible. Once you invent the printing press, all the books that are better-suited to movable type migrate into that new form. What's left behind are those items that are best suited to the old production scheme: the plays that *need* to be plays, the books that are especially lovely on creamy paper stitched between covers, the music that is most enjoyable performed live and experienced in a throng of humanity.

Increased democratic-ness translates into decreased control: it's a lot harder to control who can copy a book once there's a photocopier on every corner than it is when you need a monastery and several years to copy a Bible. And that decreased control demands a new copyright regime that rebalances the rights of creators with their audiences.

For example, when the VCR was invented, the courts affirmed a new copyright exemption for time-shifting; when the radio was invented, the Congress granted an anti-trust exemption to the record labels in order to secure a blanket license; when cable TV was invented, the government just ordered the broadcasters to sell the cable-operators access to programming at a fixed rate.

Copyright is perennially out of date, because its latest rev was generated in response to the last generation of technology. The temptation to treat copyright as though it came down off the mountain on two stone tablets (or worse, as "just like" real property) is deeply flawed, since, by definition, current copyright only considers the last generation of tech.

So, are bookwarez in violation of copyright law? Duh. Is this the end of the world? *Duh*. If the Catholic church can survive the printing press, science fiction will certainly weather the advent of bookwarez.

#

Lagniappe [Lagniappe]

We're almost done here, but there's one more thing I'd like to do before I get off the stage. [Lagniappe: an unexpected bonus or extra] Think of it as a "lagniappe" -- a little something extra to thank you for your patience.

About a year ago, I released my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, on the net, under the terms of the most restrictive Creative Commons license available. All it allowed my readers to do was send around copies of the book. I was cautiously dipping my toe into the water, though at the time, it felt like I was taking a plunge.

Now I'm going to take a plunge. Today, I will re-license the text of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom under a Creative Commons "Attribution-ShareAlike-Derivs-Noncommercial" license [HUMAN READABLE LICENSE], which means that as of today, you have my blessing to create derivative works from my first book. You can make movies, audiobooks, translations, fan-fiction, slash fiction (God help us) [GEEK HIERARCHY], furry slash fiction [GEEK HIERARCHY DETAIL], poetry, translations, t-shirts, you name it, with two provisos: that one, you have to allow everyone else to rip, mix and burn your creations in the same way you're hacking mine; and on the other hand, you've got to do it noncommercially.

The sky didn't fall when I dipped my toe in. Let's see what happens when I get in up to my knees.

The text with the new license will be online before the end of the day. Check craphound.com/down for details.

Oh, and I'm also releasing the text of this speech under a Creative Commons Public Domain dedication, [Public domain dedication] giving it away to the world to do with as it see fits. It'll be linked off my blog, Boing Boing, before the day is through.

#

EOF

That's the end of this talk, for now. Thank you all for your kind attention. I hope that you'll keep on the lookout for more detailed topology of the shape of ebooks and help me spot them here in plain sight.

Cory Doctorow

Midflight over Texas

February 4, 2004

Re:This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. (2, Informative)

ZWithaPGGB (608529) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270997)

Formats fine in Mozilla.

Word wrap? (4, Interesting)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270096)

I wouldn't read e-books either if they have this same problem with no-word-wrap. Horizontal scrolling to read in my humble experience is annoying, too bad someone didn't do a better job of formatting it.

I can't think of many examples where I've prefered an e-reference over printed matter. The paradigm is that paper is portable and requires no power (aside from a light source) to read, never expires, never needs an upgrade (other than me needing glasses, which would apply equally in either case) and is durable (drop my Zaurus or laptop and I'll cry, drop my book and I'll just pick it back up.)

Complimenting e-books and paper seems reasonable, though I'll go to the paper first every time.

Re:Word wrap? (4, Insightful)

rm007 (616365) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270205)

Complimenting e-books and paper seems reasonable, though I'll go to the paper first every time

Definitely, paper if you actually want to read the thing, electronic to give you more flexibility in using the text, as you and the author of the article mention. We all know what staring at a screen for long periods does to your eyes, even if you have a large, hi-res monitor. Given the choice of one, it has to be paper.

REALLY hi-res... and also the Mac (3, Interesting)

geekplus (248023) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270854)

Two things:


1. While I haven't seen it myself, a professor of mine in college got a chance at some research lab who did display/rendering work to read a document rendered on-screen at 600 DPI (yes, six HUNDRED)! That's the exact same density as the pages your printer typically spits out. Consumer systems at the moment do what, somewhere between 72 and 96DPI on-screen? He said that all of his objections about eye-strain completely vanished in a moment.


2. Even for those of us who won't have access to on-screen densities in the 600 DPI range for another 20 years -- if you haven't looked at font-rendering on a Mac in the last 5 years -- do yourself the favor! I hadn't done so in several years and the quality of fonts on the Mac is stunning, even (especially?) on their laptops. When I turned back to my own computer (someone had brought in a new Powerbook at work), my eyes instantly started tearing up. It really bothered me to look at my own screen for the next 5 minutes.

Currently Staring... (0)

SeanDuggan (732224) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270912)

Actually... I haven't had a problem with staring at the screen for hours for at least a few years. I remember, when growing up, it was difficult on my eyes (which might have also been due to our "monitor" being a TV set), but lately, I've noticed no problems reading text on the screen for hours on end with little break. I read fanfiction, some of which is pretty close to novel-length, and I've been making my way through the books in the Baen libraries. No eye-strain or headaches from reading for long amounts of time. *shrug*

That said, I recently had an optometrist (mother of a friend of mine) claim that exposure to long amounts of screen viewing (TV or computer) at an early age was proven to do something to how one focusses one's eyes that later proves detrimental. *wry grin* Now admittedly, she had no actual article to cite, so that information may be suspect. Much like how your parents used to claim reading in low light would hurt your eyes. Possible explanation here. [straightdope.com]

Re:Word wrap? (0, Troll)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270275)

I wouldn't read e-books either if they have this same problem with no-word-wrap.

Maybe you need a browser that handles text files better, my friend...because Safari wraps it just fine. Hardly "insightful" of you to point out a bug in your own browser; after all, it would word-wrap a big long string of HTML, now wouldn't it?

On a side-note, it's better than those websites which insist on using a quarter of your screen because the designer's too stupid to make a layout that works at any screen width....

drop my Zaurus or laptop and I'll cry, drop my book and I'll just pick it back up

No kiddin', really? If I drop a $20 calculator, I'm not going to be upset much either...but if I drop my HP48GX(hasn't been made in years, cost a couple hundred $), I'm gonna be pissed. Similarly, if I had a rare book that was leather-bound, gilded, etc...and then went and spilled something on it...it'd be even worse.

Re:Word wrap? (1)

Jotaigna (749859) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270355)

maybe flexible organic led displays may offer an alternative in the near future, in terms of visual quality and ruggedness. I agree ebooks are not at their best, but as soon as they start mimmicking the thousand years old good properties of normal books, the sooner we'll stop killing trees for paper.

Re:Word wrap? (4, Insightful)

DuSTman31 (578936) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270394)

never expires, never needs an upgrade

Unless it's a computer book.. I know I've got books that act as references to software that no-one uses anymore because newer versions have come out, as well as references for APIs that I end up not using because expansions in newer versions have rendered it incomplete

It may be true, of course, that they've not become incorrect, and that they may be of historical interest, but that's all the use they are now, and it seems a great waste

Sure, it may not seem as natural to read off a screen as it is to read off paper (primarily, I think, because you can hold a book in your hand, and remember the position you were reading from by that reference), but I'd rather have E-books, or even a web page or stand alone reference program for that, as it avoids the wastage.

Re:Word wrap? (1)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 10 years ago | (#8271145)

never expires, never needs an upgrade

Unless it's a computer book...

Or a college textbook. It's particularly annoying when a university class requires, say, the fifth edition of book X, when the only substantive difference between the 5th and 4th editions appears to be inconsequential additions that throw the page numbering so reading and exercise assignment references by the professor^Wgrad student assitant are relevant only to the 5th edition. "No, you can't buy the used 4th edition for $40, you have to get the 5th for $120". Bastards.

Re:Word wrap? (4, Insightful)

pla (258480) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270468)

Horizontal scrolling to read in my humble experience is annoying, too bad someone didn't do a better job of formatting it.

Umm... How big of a font do you use in your browser?

A lot of people have complained about the formatting, but I use an out-of-the-box Netscape 7.0, and it looks fine - Standard 80-column plaintext, just like you'd get from an old DOS text file, or anything from Project Gutenberg. No long lines, no funky characters, no gaudy color schemes...

Sure, making it a tad prettier wouldn't hurt, but I don't know why everyone has complained about it so far. Have people actually grown so used to having pretty NP fonts, with a nice background and internal hyperlinks, that they can't stand what once-upon-a-time existed as the dominant form of text on the PC?

Re:Word wrap? (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270742)

Using Mozilla Firebird.

I use an older version of Mozilla at home, to read USENET news and get strange messages with extremely long lines at times. Possibly the browser sees the .txt extension and assumes PREformatting.

Ebooks (5, Informative)

mknewman (557587) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270100)

I'm a regular Ebook purchaser, mainly PeanutPress which is now owned by Palm, but also a few for MS's book reader. I read them on my PC and on my PocketPC. It's quite a good Ebook reader platform, nice bright screen and fast paging. Marc

go ahead you fucking slashdotters (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270101)

blame it on Micro$oft

OT: Dean News just in (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270102)

I just heard some sad news on talk radio - Yyyyyyyaarrrrrrr screamer Howard Dean's campaign was found dead in his New Hampshire home this morning. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his work, there's no denying his contributions to popular culture. Truly an American iconaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

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n_______/\_|___C_____)/IRAQI_\_(_____>__|_/_____n_ _
c______/_/\|___C_____)__LOVE_|__(___>___/__\____c_ _
h_____|___(____C_____)\CANAL_/__//__/_/_____\___h_ _
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Important Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) If you want replies to your comments sent to you, consider logging in or creating an account.

Posting article for the sake of word wrap (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270109)

Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books Paper for the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference, 2004 February 12, 2004 San Diego, CA Cory Doctorow doctorow@craphound.com -- Forematter: This talk was initially given at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference [ http://conferences.oreillynet.com/cs/et2004 ], along with a set of slides that, for copyright reasons (ironic!) can't be released alongside of this file. However, you will find, interspersed in this text, notations describing the places where new slides should be loaded, in [square-brackets]. This text is dedicated to the public domain, using a Creative Commons public domain dedication: > Copyright-Only Dedication (based on United States law) > > The person or persons who have associated their work with this > document (the "Dedicator") hereby dedicate the entire copyright > in the work of authorship identified below (the "Work") to the > public domain. > > Dedicator makes this dedication for the benefit of the public at > large and to the detriment of Dedicator's heirs and successors. > Dedicator intends this dedication to be an overt act of > relinquishment in perpetuity of all present and future rights > under copyright law, whether vested or contingent, in the Work. > Dedicator understands that such relinquishment of all rights > includes the relinquishment of all rights to enforce (by lawsuit > or otherwise) those copyrights in the Work. > > Dedicator recognizes that, once placed in the public domain, the > Work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, used, > modified, built upon, or otherwise exploited by anyone for any > purpose, commercial or non-commercial, and in any way, including > by methods that have not yet been invented or conceived. -- For starters, let me try to summarize the lessons and intuitions I've had about ebooks from my release of two novels and most of a short story collection online under a Creative Commons license. A parodist who published a list of alternate titles for the presentations at this event called this talk, "eBooks Suck Right Now," [eBooks suck right now] and as funny as that is, I don't think it's true. No, if I had to come up with another title for this talk, I'd call it: "Ebooks: You're Soaking in Them." [Ebooks: You're Soaking in Them] That's because I think that the shape of ebooks to come is almost visible in the way that people interact with text today, and that the job of authors who want to become rich and famous is to come to a better understanding of that shape. I haven't come to a perfect understanding. I don't know what the future of the book looks like. But I have ideas, and I'll share them with you: 1. Ebooks aren't marketing. [Ebooks aren't marketing] OK, so ebooks *are* marketing: that is to say that giving away ebooks sells more books. Baen Books, who do a lot of series publishing, have found that giving away electronic editions of the previous installments in their series to coincide with the release of a new volume sells the hell out of the new book -- and the backlist. And the number of people who wrote to me to tell me about how much they dug the ebook and so bought the paper-book far exceeds the number of people who wrote to me and said, "Ha, ha, you hippie, I read your book for free and now I'm not gonna buy it." But ebooks *shouldn't* be just about marketing: ebooks are a goal unto themselves. In the final analysis, more people will read more words off more screens and fewer words off fewer pages and when those two lines cross, ebooks are gonna have to be the way that writers earn their keep, not the way that they promote the dead-tree editions. 2. Ebooks complement paper books. [Ebooks complement paper books]. Having an ebook is good. Having a paper book is good. Having both is even better. One reader wrote to me and said that he read half my first novel from the bound book, and printed the other half on scrap-paper to read at the beach. Students write to me to say that it's easier to do their term papers if they can copy and paste their quotations into their word-processors. Baen readers use the electronic editions of their favorite series to build concordances of characters, places and events. 3. Unless you own the ebook, you don't 0wn the book [Unless you own the ebook, you don't 0wn the book]. I take the view that the book is a "practice" -- a collection of social and economic and artistic activities -- and not an "object." Viewing the book as a "practice" instead of an object is a pretty radical notion, and it begs the question: just what the hell is a book? Good question. I write all of my books in a text-editor [TEXT EDITOR SCREENGRAB] (BBEdit, from Barebones Software -- as fine a text-editor as I could hope for). From there, I can convert them into a formatted two-column PDF [TWO-UP SCREENGRAB]. I can turn them into an HTML file [BROWSER SCREENGRAB]. I can turn them over to my publisher, who can turn them into galleys, advanced review copies, hardcovers and paperbacks. I can turn them over to my readers, who can convert them to a bewildering array of formats [DOWNLOAD PAGE SCREENGRAB]. Brewster Kahle's Internet Bookmobile can convert a digital book into a four-color, full-bleed, perfect-bound, laminated-cover, printed-spine paper book in ten minutes, for about a dollar. Try converting a paper book to a PDF or an html file or a text file or a RocketBook or a printout for a buck in ten minutes! It's ironic, because one of the frequently cited reasons for preferring paper to ebooks is that paper books confer a sense of ownership of a physical object. Before the dust settles on this ebook thing, owning a paper book is going to feel less like ownership than having an open digital edition of the text. 4. Ebooks are a better deal for writers. [Ebooks are a better deal for writers] The compensation for writers is pretty thin on the ground. *Amazing Stories,* Hugo Gernsback's original science fiction magazine, paid a couple cents a word. Today, science fiction magazines pay...a couple cents a word. The sums involved are so minuscule, they're not even insulting: they're *quaint* and *historical*, like the WHISKEY 5 CENTS sign over the bar at a pioneer village. Some writers do make it big, but they're *rounding errors* as compared to the total population of sf writers earning some of their living at the trade. Almost all of us could be making more money elsewhere (though we may dream of earning a stephenkingload of money, and of course, no one would play the lotto if there were no winners). The primary incentive for writing has to be artistic satisfaction, egoboo, and a desire for posterity. Ebooks get you that. Ebooks become a part of the corpus of human knowledge because they get indexed by search engines and replicated by the hundreds, thousands or millions. They can be googled. Even better: they level the playing field between writers and trolls. When Amazon kicked off, many writers got their knickers in a tight and powerful knot at the idea that axe-grinding yahoos were filling the Amazon message-boards with ill-considered slams at their work -- for, if a personal recommendation is the best way to sell a book, then certainly a personal condemnation is the best way to *not* sell a book. Today, the trolls are still with us, but now, the readers get to decide for themselves. Here's a bit of a review of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom that was recently posted to Amazon by "A reader from Redwood City, CA": [QUOTED TEXT] > I am really not sure what kind of drugs critics are > smoking, or what kind of payola may be involved. But > regardless of what Entertainment Weekly says, whatever > this newspaper or that magazine says, you shouldn't > waste your money. Download it for free from Corey's > (sic) site, read the first page, and look away in > disgust -- this book is for people who think Dan > Brown's Da Vinci Code is great writing. Back in the old days, this kind of thing would have really pissed me off. Axe-grinding, mouth-breathing yahoos, defaming my good name! My stars and mittens! But take a closer look at that damning passage: [PULL-QUOTE] > Download it for free from Corey's site, read the first > page You see that? Hell, this guy is *working for me*! [ADDITIONAL PULL QUOTES] Someone accuses a writer I'm thinking of reading of paying off Entertainment Weekly to say nice things about his novel, "a surprisingly bad writer," no less, whose writing is "stiff, amateurish, and uninspired!" I wanna check that writer out. And I can. In one click. And then I can make up my own mind. You don't get far in the arts without healthy doses of both ego and insecurity, and the downside of being able to google up all the things that people are saying about your book is that it can play right into your insecurities -- "all these people will have it in their minds not to bother with my book because they've read the negative interweb reviews!" But the flipside of that is the ego: "If only they'd give it a shot, they'd see how good it is." And the more scathing the review is, the more likely they are to give it a shot. Any press is good press, so long as they spell your URL right (and even if they spell your name wrong!). 5. Ebooks need to embrace their nature. [Ebooks need to embrace their nature.] The distinctive value of ebooks is orthagonal to the value of paper books, and it revolves around the mix-ability and send-ability of electronic text. The more you constrain an ebook's distinctive value propositions -- that is, the more you restrict a reader's ability to copy, transport or transform an ebook -- the more it has to be valued on the same axes as a paper-book. Ebooks *fail* on those axes. Ebooks don't beat paper-books for sophisticated typography, they can't match them for quality of paper or the smell of the glue. But just try sending a paper book to a friend in Brazil, for free, in less than a second. Or loading a thousand paper books into a little stick of flash-memory dangling from your keychain. Or searching a paper book for every instance of a character's name to find a beloved passage. Hell, try clipping a pithy passage out of a paper book and pasting it into your sig-file. 6. Ebooks demand a different attention span (but not a shorter one). [Ebooks demand a different attention span (but not a shorter one).] Artists are always disappointed by their audience's attention-spans. Go back far enough and you'll find cuneiform etchings bemoaning the current Sumerian go-go lifestyle with its insistence on myths with plotlines and characters and action, not like we had in the old days. As artists, it would be a hell of a lot easier if our audiences were more tolerant of our penchant for boring them. We'd get to explore a lot more ideas without worrying about tarting them up with easy-to-swallow chocolate coatings of entertainment. We like to think of shortened attention spans as a product of the information age, but check this out: [Nietzsche quote] > To be sure one thing necessary above all: if one is to > practice reading as an *art* in this way, something > needs to be un-learned most thoroughly in these days. In other words, if my book is too boring, it's because you're not paying enough attention. Writers say this stuff all the time, but this quote isn't from this century or the last. [Nietzsche quote with attribution] It's from the preface to Nietzsche's "Genealogy of Morals," published in *1887.* Yeah, our attention-spans are *different* today, but they aren't necessarily *shorter*. Warren Ellis's fans managed to hold the storyline for Transmetropolitan [Transmet cover] in their minds for *five years* while the story trickled out in monthly funnybook installments. JK Rowlings's installments on the Harry Potter series get fatter and fatter with each new volume. Entire forests are sacrificed to long-running series fiction like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books, each of which is approximately 20,000 pages long (I may be off by an order of magnitude one way or another here). Sure, presidential debates are conducted in soundbites today and not the days-long oratory extravaganzas of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but people manage to pay attention to the 24-month-long presidential campaigns from start to finish. 7. We need *all* the ebooks. [We need *all* the ebooks] The vast majority of the words ever penned are lost to posterity. No one library collects all the still-extant books ever written and no one person could hope to make a dent in that corpus of written work. None of us will ever read more than the tiniest sliver of human literature. But that doesn't mean that we can stick with just the most popular texts and get a proper ebook revolution. For starters, we're all edge-cases. Sure, we all have the shared desire for the core canon of literature, but each of us want to complete that collection with different texts that are as distinctive and individualistic as fingerprints. If we all look like we're doing the same thing when we read, or listen to music, or hang out in a chatroom, that's because we're not looking closely enough. The shared-ness of our experience is only present at a coarse level of measurement: once you get into really granular observation, there are as many differences in our "shared" experience as there are similarities. More than that, though, is the way that a large collection of electronic text differs from a small one: it's the difference between a single book, a shelf full of books and a library of books. Scale makes things different. Take the Web: none of us can hope to read even a fraction of all the pages on the Web, but by analyzing the link structures that bind all those pages together, Google is able to actually tease out machine-generated conclusions about the relative relevance of different pages to different queries. None of us will ever eat the whole corpus, but Google can digest it for us and excrete the steaming nuggets of goodness that make it the search-engine miracle it is today. 8. Ebooks are like paper books. [Ebooks are like paper books]. To round out this talk, I'd like to go over the ways that ebooks are more like paper books than you'd expect. One of the truisms of retail theory is that purchasers need to come into contact with a good several times before they buy -- seven contacts is tossed around as the magic number. That means that my readers have to hear the title, see the cover, pick up the book, read a review, and so forth, seven times, on average, before they're ready to buy. There's a temptation to view downloading a book as comparable to bringing it home from the store, but that's the wrong metaphor. Some of the time, maybe most of the time, downloading the text of the book is like taking it off the shelf at the store and looking at the cover and reading the blurbs (with the advantage of not having to come into contact with the residual DNA and burger king left behind by everyone else who browsed the book before you). Some writers are horrified at the idea that three hundred thousand copies of my first novel were downloaded and "only" ten thousand or so were sold so far. If it were the case that for ever copy sold, thirty were taken home from the store, that would be a horrifying outcome, for sure. But look at it another way: if one out of every thirty people who glanced at the cover of my book bought it, I'd be a happy author. And I am. Those downloads cost me no more than glances at the cover in a bookstore, and the sales are healthy. We also like to think of physical books as being inherently *countable* in a way that digital books aren't (an irony, since computers are damned good at counting things!). This is important, because writers get paid on the basis of the number of copies of their books that sell, so having a good count makes a difference. And indeed, my royalty statements contain precise numbers for copies printed, shipped, returned and sold. But that's a false precision. When the printer does a run of a book, it always runs a few extra at the start and finish of the run to make sure that the setup is right and to account for the occasional rip, drop, or spill. The actual total number of books printed is approximately the number of books ordered, but never exactly -- if you've ever ordered 500 wedding invitations, chances are you received 500-and-a-few back from the printer and that's why. And the numbers just get fuzzier from there. Copies are stolen. Copies are dropped. Shipping people get the count wrong. Some copies end up in the wrong box and go to a bookstore that didn't order them and isn't invoiced for them and end up on a sale table or in the trash. Some copies are returned as damaged. Some are returned as unsold. Some come back to the store the next morning accompanied by a whack of buyer's remorse. Some go to the place where the spare sock in the dryer ends up. The numbers on a royalty statement are actuarial, not actual. They represent a kind of best-guess approximation of the copies shipped, sold, returned and so forth. Actuarial accounting works pretty well: well enough to run the juggernaut banking, insurance, and gambling industries on. It's good enough for divvying up the royalties paid by musical rights societies for radio airplay and live performance. And it's good enough for counting how many copies of a book are distributed online or off. Counts of paper books are differently precise from counts of electronic books, sure: but neither one is inherently countable. And finally, of course, there's the matter of selling books. However an author earns her living from her words, printed or encoded, she has as her first and hardest task to find her audience. There are more competitors for our attention than we can possibly reconcile, prioritize or make sense of. Getting a book under the right person's nose, with the right pitch, is the hardest and most important task any writer faces. # I care about books, a lot. I started working in libraries and bookstores at the age of 12 and kept at it for a decade, until I was lured away by the siren song of the tech world. I knew I wanted to be a writer at the age of 12, and now, 20 years later, I have three novels, a short story collection and a nonfiction book out, two more novels under contract, and another book in the works. [BOOK COVERS] I've won a major award in my genre, science fiction, [CAMPBELL AWARD] and I'm nominated for another one, the 2003 Nebula Award for best novelette. [NEBULA] I own a *lot* of books. Easily more than 10,000 of them, in storage on both coasts of the North American continent [LIBRARY LADDER]. I have to own them, since they're the tools of my trade: the reference works I refer to as a novelist and writer today. Most of the literature I dig is very short-lived, it disappears from the shelf after just a few months, usually for good. Science fiction is inherently ephemeral. [ACE DOUBLES] Now, as much as I love books, I love computers, too. Computers are fundamentally different from modern books in the same way that printed books are different from monastic Bibles: they are malleable. Time was, a "book" was something produced by many months' labor by a scribe, usually a monk, on some kind of durable and sexy substrate like foetal lambskin. [ILLUMINATED BIBLE] Gutenberg's xerox machine changed all that, changed a book into something that could be simply run off a press in a few minutes' time, on substrate more suitable to ass-wiping than exaltation in a place of honor in the cathedral. The Gutenberg press meant that rather than owning one or two books, a member of the ruling class could amass a library, and that rather than picking only a few subjects from enshrinement in print, a huge variety of subjects could be addressed on paper and handed from person to person. [KAPITAL/TIJUANA BIBLE] Most new ideas start with a precious few certainties and a lot of speculation. I've been doing a bunch of digging for certainties and a lot of speculating lately, and the purpose of this talk is to lay out both categories of ideas. This all starts with my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom [COVER], which came out on January 9, 2003. At that time, there was a lot of talk in my professional circles about, on the one hand, the dismal failure of ebooks, and, on the other, the new and scary practice of ebook "piracy." [alt.binaries.e-books screengrab] It was strikingly weird that no one seemed to notice that the idea of ebooks as a "failure" was at strong odds with the notion that electronic book "piracy" was worth worrying about: I mean, if ebooks are a failure, then who gives a rats if intarweb dweebs are trading them on Usenet? A brief digression here, on the double meaning of "ebooks." One meaning for that word is "legitimate" ebook ventures, that is to say, rightsholder-authorized editions of the texts of books, released in a proprietary, use-restricted format, sometimes for use on a general-purpose PC and sometimes for use on a special-purpose hardware device like the nuvoMedia Rocketbook [ROCKETBOOK]. The other meaning for ebook is a "pirate" or unauthorized electronic edition of a book, usually made by cutting the binding off of a book and scanning it a page at a time, then running the resulting bitmaps through an optical character recognition app to convert them into ASCII text, to be cleaned up by hand. These books are pretty buggy, full of errors introduced by the OCR. A lot of my colleagues worry that these books also have deliberate errors, created by mischievous book-rippers who cut, add or change text in order to "improve" the work. Frankly, I have never seen any evidence that any book-ripper is interested in doing this, and until I do, I think that this is the last thing anyone should be worrying about. Back to Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom [COVER]. Well, not yet. I want to convey to you the depth of the panic in my field over ebook piracy, or "bookwarez" as it is known in book-ripper circles. Writers were joining the discussion on alt.binaries.ebooks using assumed names, claiming fear of retaliation from scary hax0r kids who would presumably screw up their credit-ratings in retaliation for being called thieves. My editor, a blogger, hacker and guy-in-charge-of-the-largest-sf-line-in-the-world named Patrick Nielsen Hayden posted to one of the threads in the newsgroup, saying, in part [SCREENGRAB]: > Pirating copyrighted etext on Usenet and elsewhere is going to > happen more and more, for the same reasons that everyday folks > make audio cassettes from vinyl LPs and audio CDs, and > videocassette copies of store-bought videotapes. Partly it's > greed; partly it's annoyance over retail prices; partly it's the > desire to Share Cool Stuff (a motivation usually underrated by > the victims of this kind of small-time hand-level piracy). > Instantly going to Defcon One over it and claiming it's morally > tantamount to mugging little old ladies in the street will make > it kind of difficult to move forward from that position when it > doesn't work. In the 1970s, the record industry shrieked that > "home taping is killing music." It's hard for ordinary folks to > avoid noticing that music didn't die. But the record industry's > credibility on the subject wasn't exactly enhanced. Patrick and I have a long relationship, starting when I was 18 years old and he kicked in toward a scholarship fund to send me to a writers' workshop, continuing to a fateful lunch in New York in the mid-Nineties when I showed him a bunch of Project Gutenberg texts on my Palm Pilot and inspired him to start licensing Tor's titles for PDAs [PEANUTPRESS SCREENGRAB], to the turn-of-the-millennium when he bought and then published my first novel (he's bought three more since -- I really like Patrick!). Right as bookwarez newgroups were taking off, I was shocked silly by legal action by one of my colleagues against AOL/Time-Warner for carrying the alt.binaries.ebooks newsgroup. This writer alleged that AOL should have a duty to remove this newsgroup, since it carried so many infringing files, and that its failure to do so made it a contributory infringer, and so liable for the incredibly stiff penalties afforded by our newly minted copyright laws like the No Electronic Theft Act and the loathsome Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA. Now there was a scary thought: there were people out there who thought the world would be a better place if ISPs were given the duty of actively policing and censoring the websites and newsfeeds their customers had access to, including a requirement that ISPs needed to determine, all on their own, what was an unlawful copyright infringement -- something more usually left up to judges in the light of extensive amicus briefings from esteemed copyright scholars [WIND DONE GONE GRAPHIC]. This was a stupendously dumb idea, and it offended me down to my boots. Writers are supposed to be advocates of free expression, not censorship. It seemed that some of my colleagues loved the First Amendment, but they were reluctant to share it with the rest of the world. Well, dammit, I had a book coming out, and it seemed to be an opportunity to try to figure out a little more about this ebook stuff. On the one hand, ebooks were a dismal failure. On the other hand, there were more books posted to alt.binaries.ebooks every day. This leads me into the two certainties I have about ebooks: 1. More people are reading more words off more screens every day [GRAPHIC] 2. Fewer people are reading fewer words off fewer pages every day [GRAPHIC] These two certainties begged a lot of questions. [CHART: EBOOK FAILINGS] * Screen resolutions are too low to effectively replace paper * People want to own physical books because of their visceral appeal (often this is accompanied by a little sermonette on how good books smell, or how good they look on a bookshelf, or how evocative an old curry stain in the margin can be) * You can't take your ebook into the tub * You can't read an ebook without power and a computer * File-formats go obsolete, paper has lasted for a long time None of these seemed like very good explanations for the "failure" of ebooks to me. If screen resolutions are too low to replace paper, then how come everyone I know spends more time reading off a screen every year, up to and including my sainted grandmother (geeks have a really crappy tendency to argue that certain technologies aren't ready for primetime because their grandmothers won't use them -- well, my grandmother sends me email all the time. She types 70 words per minute, and loves to show off grandsonular email to her pals around the pool at her Florida retirement condo)? The other arguments were a lot more interesting, though. It seemed to me that electronic books are *different* from paper books, and have different virtues and failings. Let's think a little about what the book has gone through in years gone by. This is interesting because the history of the book is the history of the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Pilgrims, and, ultimately the colonizing of the Americas and the American Revolution. Broadly speaking, there was a time when books were hand-printed on rare leather by monks. The only people who could read them were priests, who got a regular eyeful of the really cool cartoons the monks drew in the margins. The priests read the books aloud, in Latin [LATIN BIBLE] (to a predominantly non-Latin-speaking audience) in cathedrals, wreathed in pricey incense that rose from censers swung by altar boys. Then Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Martin Luther turned that press into a revolution. [LUTHER BIBLE] He printed Bibles in languages that non-priests could read, and distributed them to normal people who got to read the word of God all on their own. The rest, as they say, is history. Here are some interesting things to note about the advent of the printing press: [CHART: LUTHER VERSUS THE MONKS] * Luther Bibles lacked the manufacturing quality of the illuminated Bibles. They were comparatively cheap and lacked the typographical expressiveness that a really talented monk could bring to bear when writing out the word of God * Luther Bibles were utterly unsuited to the traditional use-case for Bibles. A good Bible was supposed to reinforce the authority of the man at the pulpit. It needed heft, it needed impressiveness, and most of all, it needed rarity. * The user-experience of Luther Bibles sucked. There was no incense, no altar boys, and who (apart from the priesthood) knew that reading was so friggin' hard on the eyes? * Luther Bibles were a lot less trustworthy than the illuminated numbers. Anyone with a press could run one off, subbing in any apocryphal text he wanted -- and who knew how accurate that translation was? Monks had an entire Papacy behind them, running a quality-assurance operation that had stood Europe in good stead for centuries. In the late nineties, I went to conferences where music execs patiently explained that Napster was doomed, because you didn't get any cover-art or liner-notes with it, you couldn't know if the rip was any good, and sometimes the connection would drop mid-download. I'm sure that many Cardinals espoused the points raised above with equal certainty. What the record execs and the cardinals missed was all the ways that Luther Bibles kicked ass: [CHART: WHY LUTHER BIBLES KICKED ASS] * They were cheap and fast. Loads of people could acquire them without having to subject themselves to the authority and approval of the Church * They were in languages that non-priests could read. You no longer had to take the Church's word for it when its priests explained what God really meant * They birthed a printing-press ecosystem in which lots of books flourished. New kinds of fiction, poetry, politics, scholarship and so on were all enabled by the printing presses whose initial popularity was spurred by Luther's ideas about religion. Note that all of these virtues are orthagonal to the virtues of a monkish Bible. That is, none of the things that made the Gutenberg press a success were the things that made monk-Bibles a success. By the same token, the reasons to love ebooks have precious little to do with the reasons to love paper books. [CHART: WHY EBOOKS KICK ASS] * They are easy to share. Secrets of Ya-Ya Sisterhood went from a midlist title to a bestseller by being passed from hand to hand by women in reading circles. Slashdorks and other netizens have social life as rich as reading-circlites, but they don't ever get to see each other face to face; the only kind of book they can pass from hand to hand is an ebook. What's more, the single factor most correlated with a purchase is a recommendation from a friend -- getting a book recommended by a pal is more likely to sell you on it than having read and enjoyed the preceding volume in a series! * They are easy to slice and dice. This is where the Mac evangelist in me comes out -- minority platforms matter. It's a truism of the Napsterverse that most of the files downloaded are bog-standard top-40 tracks, like 90 percent or so, and I believe it. We all want to popular music. That's why it's popular. But the interesting thing is the other ten percent. Bill Gates told the New York Times that Microsoft lost the search wars by doing "a good job on the 80 percent of common queries and ignor[ing] the other stuff. But it's the remaining 20 percent that counts, because that's where the quality perception is." Why did Napster captivate so many of us? Not because it could get us the top-40 tracks that we could hear just by snapping on the radio: it was because 80 percent of the music ever recorded wasn't available for sale anywhere in the world, and in that 80 percent were all the songs that had ever touched us, all the earworms that had been lodged in our hindbrains, all the stuff that made us smile when we heard it. Those songs are different for all of us, but they share the trait of making the difference between a compelling service and, well, top-40 Clearchannel radio programming. It was the minority of tracks that appealed to the majority of us. By the same token, the malleability of electronic text means that it can be readily repurposed: you can throw it on a webserver or convert it to a format for your favorite PDA; you can ask your computer to read it aloud or you can search the text for a quotation to cite in a book report or to use in your sig. In other words, most people who download the book do so for the predictable reason, and in a predictable format -- say, to sample a chapter in the HTML format before deciding whether to buy the book -- but the thing that differentiates a boring e-text experience from an exciting one is the minority use -- printing out a couple chapters of the book to bring to the beach rather than risk getting the hardcopy wet and salty. Tool-makers and software designers are increasingly aware of the notion of "affordances" in design. You can bash a nail into the wall with any heavy, heftable object from a rock to a hammer to a cast-iron skillet. However, there's something about a hammer that cries out for nail-bashing, it has affordances that tilt its holder towards swinging it. And, as we all know, when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. The affordance of a computer -- the thing it's designed to do -- is to slice-and-dice collections of bits. The affordance of the Internet is to move bits at very high speed around the world at little-to-no cost. It follows from this that the center of the ebook experience is going to involve slicing and dicing text and sending it around. Copyright lawyers have a word for these activities: infringement. That's because copyright gives creators a near-total monopoly over copying and remixing of their work, pretty much forever (theoretically, copyright expires, but in actual practice, copyright gets extended every time the early Mickey Mouse cartoons are about to enter the public domain, because Disney swings a very big stick on the Hill). This is a huge problem. The biggest possible problem. Here's why: [CHART: HOW BROKEN COPYRIGHT SCREWS EVERYONE] * Authors freak out. Authors have been schooled by their peers that strong copyright is the only thing that keeps them from getting savagely rogered in the marketplace. This is pretty much true: it's strong copyright that often defends authors from their publishers' worst excesses. However, it doesn't follow that strong copyright protects you from your *readers*. * Readers get indignant over being called crooks. Seriously. You're a small businessperson. Readers are your customers. Calling them crooks is bad for business. * Publishers freak out. Publishers freak out, because they're in the business of grabbing as much copyright as they can and hanging onto it for dear life because, dammit, you never know. This is why science fiction magazines try to trick writers into signing over improbable rights for things like theme park rides and action figures based on their work -- it's also why literary agents are now asking for copyright-long commissions on the books they represent: copyright covers so much ground and takes to long to shake off, who wouldn't want a piece of it? * Liability goes through the roof. Copyright infringement, especially on the Net, is a supercrime. It carries penalties of $150,000 per infringement, and aggrieved rights-holders and their representatives have all kinds of special powers, like the ability to force an ISP to turn over your personal information before showing evidence of your alleged infringement to a judge. This means that anyone who suspects that he might be on the wrong side of copyright law is going to be terribly risk-averse: publishers non-negotiably force their authors to indemnify them from infringement claims and go one better, forcing writers to prove that they have "cleared" any material they quote, even in the case of brief fair-use quotations, like song-titles at the opening of chapters. The result is that authors end up assuming potentially life-destroying liability, are chilled from quoting material around them, and are scared off of public domain texts because an honest mistake about the public-domain status of a work carries such a terrible price. * Posterity vanishes. In the Eldred v. Ashcroft Supreme Court hearing last year, the court found that 98 percent of the works in copyright are no longer earning money for anyone, but that figuring out who these old works belong to with the degree of certainty that you'd want when one mistake means total economic apocalypse would cost more than you could ever possibly earn on them. That means that 98 percent of works will largely expire long before the copyright on them does. Today, the names of science fiction's ancestral founders -- Mary Shelley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, HG Wells -- are still known, their work still a part of the discourse. Their spiritual descendants from Hugo Gernsback onward may not be so lucky -- if their work continues to be "protected" by copyright, it might just vanish from the face of the earth before it reverts to the public domain. This isn't to say that copyright is bad, but that there's such a thing as good copyright and bad copyright, and that sometimes, too much good copyright is a bad thing. It's like chilis in soup: a little goes a long way, and too much spoils the broth. From the Luther Bible to the first phonorecords, from radio to the pulps, from cable to MP3, the world has shown that its first preference for new media is its "democratic-ness" -- the ease with which it can reproduced. (And please, before we get any farther, forget all that business about how the Internet's copying model is more disruptive than the technologies that proceeded it. For Christ's sake, the Vaudeville performers who sued Marconi for inventing the radio had to go from a regime where they had *one hundred percent* control over who could get into the theater and hear them perform to a regime where they had *zero* percent control over who could build or acquire a radio and tune into a recording of them performing. For that matter, look at the difference between a monkish Bible and a Luther Bible -- next to that phase-change, Napster is peanuts) Back to democratic-ness. Every successful new medium has traded off its artifact-ness -- the degree to which it was populated by bespoke hunks of atoms, cleverly nailed together by master craftspeople -- for ease of reproduction. Piano rolls weren't as expressive as good piano players, but they scaled better -- as did radio broadcasts, pulp magazines, and MP3s. Liner notes, hand illumination and leather bindings are nice, but they pale in comparison to the ability of an individual to actually get a copy of her own. Which isn't to say that old media die. Artists still hand-illuminate books; master pianists still stride the boards at Carnegie Hall, and the shelves burst with tell-all biographies of musicians that are richer in detail than any liner-notes booklet. The thing is, when all you've got is monks, every book takes on the character of a monkish Bible. Once you invent the printing press, all the books that are better-suited to movable type migrate into that new form. What's left behind are those items that are best suited to the old production scheme: the plays that *need* to be plays, the books that are especially lovely on creamy paper stitched between covers, the music that is most enjoyable performed live and experienced in a throng of humanity. Increased democratic-ness translates into decreased control: it's a lot harder to control who can copy a book once there's a photocopier on every corner than it is when you need a monastery and several years to copy a Bible. And that decreased control demands a new copyright regime that rebalances the rights of creators with their audiences. For example, when the VCR was invented, the courts affirmed a new copyright exemption for time-shifting; when the radio was invented, the Congress granted an anti-trust exemption to the record labels in order to secure a blanket license; when cable TV was invented, the government just ordered the broadcasters to sell the cable-operators access to programming at a fixed rate. Copyright is perennially out of date, because its latest rev was generated in response to the last generation of technology. The temptation to treat copyright as though it came down off the mountain on two stone tablets (or worse, as "just like" real property) is deeply flawed, since, by definition, current copyright only considers the last generation of tech. So, are bookwarez in violation of copyright law? Duh. Is this the end of the world? *Duh*. If the Catholic church can survive the printing press, science fiction will certainly weather the advent of bookwarez. # Lagniappe [Lagniappe] We're almost done here, but there's one more thing I'd like to do before I get off the stage. [Lagniappe: an unexpected bonus or extra] Think of it as a "lagniappe" -- a little something extra to thank you for your patience. About a year ago, I released my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, on the net, under the terms of the most restrictive Creative Commons license available. All it allowed my readers to do was send around copies of the book. I was cautiously dipping my toe into the water, though at the time, it felt like I was taking a plunge. Now I'm going to take a plunge. Today, I will re-license the text of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom under a Creative Commons "Attribution-ShareAlike-Derivs-Noncommercial" license [HUMAN READABLE LICENSE], which means that as of today, you have my blessing to create derivative works from my first book. You can make movies, audiobooks, translations, fan-fiction, slash fiction (God help us) [GEEK HIERARCHY], furry slash fiction [GEEK HIERARCHY DETAIL], poetry, translations, t-shirts, you name it, with two provisos: that one, you have to allow everyone else to rip, mix and burn your creations in the same way you're hacking mine; and on the other hand, you've got to do it noncommercially. The sky didn't fall when I dipped my toe in. Let's see what happens when I get in up to my knees. The text with the new license will be online before the end of the day. Check craphound.com/down for details. Oh, and I'm also releasing the text of this speech under a Creative Commons Public Domain dedication, [Public domain dedication] giving it away to the world to do with as it see fits. It'll be linked off my blog, Boing Boing, before the day is through. # EOF That's the end of this talk, for now. Thank you all for your kind attention. I hope that you'll keep on the lookout for more detailed topology of the shape of ebooks and help me spot them here in plain sight. Cory Doctorow Midflight over Texas February 4, 2004

Re:Posting article for the sake of word wrap (3, Funny)

Original AIDS Monkey (315494) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270180)

Thanks for taking an unreadable format and making it even more unreadable.

Re:Posting article for the sake of word wrap (1)

mariox19 (632969) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270504)

What unreadable format are you talking about, parenthetical citations as opposed to footnotes?

XBox rules!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270147)

first post!!! you lame assholes... I can post first because my XBox is a american product and my pride in my great country and my great XBox accelerate everything...

If only they would make games for that bitch... IAve played Metroid Prime and it ruled... I hope M$ will buy those japanese bastards and port Metroid to my great american console system!!!

Join the fun!!! [slashdot.org]

More info on Cory (5, Informative)

Rope_a_Dope (522981) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270155)

He runs a fairly popular blog at BoingBoing.net [boingboing.net] where you can read about his exploits at the ETCON conference.
Also, his book is actually titled Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. More information about his original release of the book, and re-release with the Creative Commons license can be read on his blog, and give good insight into what authors can expect when they release a book with a less restrictive license.

Re:More info on Cory (4, Informative)

pigpogm (70382) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270242)

His second book [craphound.com] is now out, too - Eastern Standard Tribe.

The first was so successful, that he's releasing this one the same way - free to download, or buy the printed version.

Re:More info on Cory (1)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270247)

Cory is also a regular visitor to TechTV's The Screen Savers to explain position statements from the EFF.

Re:More info on Cory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8271111)

Isn't he coming out with a sequel Run-Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom [ananova.com] ?

"less restrictive" is not honest (4, Insightful)

hymie3 (187934) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270197)

To say that releasing under the Creative Commons is less restricive is certainly disingenuous. While this statement is true, it totally disregards *how* lenient it is.

Basically, anyone, anywhere, can take this work and do anything (noncommercial) with the work. Write a screenplay. Make a rap version of it. Write fanfic. Anything.

Although some franchises turn a blind eye to such activies (startrek fanfic, for example, is allowed to exist), Doctorow is, literally, giving us all a license to whatever we want.

In today's world of "sue first, ask questions later", this move is amazing and should be applauded. Good job! I hope that this proves to be a success, both from a creative perspective and an economic one.

Re:"less restrictive" is not honest (4, Insightful)

farmgeek (318817) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270584)

No, if you bother to read you'll see that it was already under a Creative Commons license, just a more restrictive one that allowed copies to be made and shared, but nothing else.

The license it is now under allows for pretty much any non-commercial use. Basically, do what ever you want to with it as long as you're not making any money off of it.

Obligatory Critic quote (0, Offtopic)

DakotaK (727197) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270217)

The peanut is neither a pea, nor a nut. ...oh wait, it is a nut.

Re:Obligatory Critic quote (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270244)

... actually a peanut is a legume, which makes it closer to being a pea

Re:Obligatory Critic quote (-1, Offtopic)

shystershep (643874) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270253)

You were right the first. Peanuts aren't nuts, they're legumes.

Paper manuals (4, Interesting)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270220)

Several open source projects like MySQLhave found a way to make money by selling their maunal as a printed book, even though all of the content of said book is already available online. Some people just like having their documentation on paper so they have more screen space for other things.

Re:Paper manuals (2, Informative)

Endive4Ever (742304) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270441)

The FSF sells printed, bound copies of the GNU Emacs Manual. They have for years. My copy is over 15 years old now.

Mike Myers (-1, Offtopic)

Savatte (111615) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270249)

Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic.

Ebooks Neither E Nor Books

discuss!

tease value (5, Insightful)

shojo (730836) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270251)

Perhaps it is the general preference for the printed page that gives the electronic release its power. It may tease the reader into buying the whole book later on. Also, it can't hurt the buzz.

Of course some say print is dead. But if print is dead then so too is the novel. No one wants to read 300 plus pages on a screen. And more importantly, no one wants to re-read a novel on screen. Very little interaction with the object there. No sense of "consumption."

Re:tease value (4, Interesting)

DdJ (10790) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270601)

Of course some say print is dead. But if print is dead then so too is the novel. No one wants to read 300 plus pages on a screen. And more importantly, no one wants to re-read a novel on screen. Very little interaction with the object there. No sense of "consumption."
I can only say that I hope you're right as far as most of the population is concerned, because I know you're wrong as far as I'm concerned. I've gotten to the point where I actually prefer to read novels on my handheld. A recent novel I bought came with a CD-ROM containing the same novel in electronic form. I loaded it on to my palm and then proceeded to totally ignore the actual book.

I've read several full-length novels this way now, and speaking only for myself, I absolutely prefer it, by a fairly wide margin. I have an entire library in my pocket all the time, the book mark never falls out, and I can read in the dark. Hurah for the Baen free library [baen.com] !

Re:tease value (3, Interesting)

nathan s (719490) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270732)

I've seen thousands of times people saying that they don't read books on the computer. I honestly don't understand this. My eyes are equally uncomfortable after 8-hour marathon reading sessions and spending 8 hours staring at a screen. There is little to no difference to me as to whether I'll read something online or offline, rather than cost and the 'reading room' factor [don't really feel like carrying digital devices in there]. So effectively I end up reading almost every book I've read in the past three years on my regular desktop screen or laptop LCD, and have found it to be little different in terms of strain/ease of use.

I suspect that the largest difference is really one of habituation. People grow up attaching certain expectations/sentimental values to the process of reading and do prefer print, but I'm not at all convinced that print is any less harsh on your eyes than screen. Remind yourself to blink once in a while and you'll probably be fine in both cases.

Personally, I really hope e-books take off. The Gutenberg project has been a part of my life since I was 14 and discovered it on a local BBS, and I have since found that almost anything I wish to read can be found digitized.

The only real complaint I have with e-books are the unauthorized scans of books - they tend to be poorly edited, or constructed using the "OCR and publish" method without any preview/cleanup at all. But, that's a side effect of my choice to read such scans, and I'm not complaining excessively.

Just a bunch of random thoughts..maybe someone will find it interesting.:-)

eBooks, failure? (5, Interesting)

bnlrules (13041) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270260)

I work for a large corporate library with a large collection of eBooks. They are easily more popular than the hard copies. For quick reference they can't be beat!

Re:eBooks, failure? (4, Insightful)

Shadow2097 (561710) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270530)

bnlrules sez:
"For quick reference they can't be beat!"

I think you've hit the nail on the head. If I have a hard copy of the LotR trilogy and an electronic copy, I'll get exactly the same story, same information. Heck, probably even the same font.

Aside from the information, their uses can be vastly divergent. Lets say that I'm writing a college term paper on the LotR. With the electronic copy, I can search through it with a few key strokes and be 100% accurate. Doing the same thing with a hard copy would require days/weeks of annotating with pen/paper as you read it. And having done such a thing, its much less enjoyable to read when you have to stop every few minutes to make notes rather than just let the story flow.

I don't think ebooks are failures, they just have different strengths compared to dead tree copies.

Shadow

and the Holy Roman Empire (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270263)

Was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.

discuss.

Re:and the Holy Roman Empire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270768)

Was to an Empire.

Ebooks Neither E Nor Books (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270316)

discuss it amongst yourselves...

Books are more than words (3, Insightful)

StuWho (748218) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270333)

Ebooks will never succeed until there is a way of reading them that is as comfortable, convenient, and cheap as a printed book.

E-book publishers fail to take into account the fact that for many readers books are an object of beauty in themselves - we love the smell, feel, and character of a well made book. As things stand I can only see one or two future uses for the medium outside niche markets such as computing textbooks.

1)Electronic versions of books included with the printed version in place of an index - with an html or similar interface for searching.

2)If some genius could come up with a device which stored ebooks on a drive, and which was capable of having an old book put in the top (to be pulped, recycled, then reprinted with the text of a new ebook and re-bound). Can't see this happening though!

Cheap? (1)

Vinnie_333 (575483) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270391)

Ebooks will never succeed until there is a way of reading them that is as comfortable, convenient, and cheap as a printed book.

Cheap!? $7.99 for the average paperback, an average of $40 for a hardcover. If you read a book a week it gets to be pretty expensive.

Re:Cheap? (2, Insightful)

StuWho (748218) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270460)

Cheap compared to having to buy a PC or PDA just to read a book anyway!

You're right about the prices for printed books being extortionate though.

"buy a PC or PDA just to read a book" (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8271144)

Maybe you are not aware of it, but more and more ppl own a PDA.

I know every salesman in my company does, and so do most techs...

In my old Palm Vx, that I happen to carry in replacement of the paper one that I has to "upgrade" to newest year every year, I happen to have 3 years backlog of all my meetings, most of my contact, quite a few emails...and, as I already have the PDA, I take a few books with me whenever I have to travel or go to work (public transportation, 1 hour and then some, so time to read)

Remember that paper organizer are now becoming a rarity in my field (IT), because they are kludgy, hard to manage and they don't remind me of the next meeting by beeping...

So if I take as basis that paper organizer are down, and PDAs are up, I already have a PDA and I enjoy reading books on it as a bonus...

Re:Books are more than words (3, Insightful)

sstair (538045) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270496)

StuWho wrote: > Ebooks will never succeed until there is a way of reading them that is as comfortable, convenient, and cheap as a printed book. I disagree. I think a correct version of this statement is: Printed books will never die until there is a way of reading ebooks that is as comfortable, convenient, and cheap as a printed book. I think it is obvious that these two statements are not equivalent. Your statement makes the assumption that for ebooks to succeed, printed books must die.

Reference vs Enjoyment (4, Insightful)

Tarwn (458323) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270371)

I prefer my references to be electronic and my reading-for-enjoyment material to be paper.

I am not entirely sure why I prefer paper for enjoyment reading, but the reference material should be obvious (Ctrl+F).

I've tried reading eBooks for enjoyment, but while I can sit and read an 800 page book in one sitting I often find that I can't read an eBook for anywhere near as long.
One of the reasons, of course, being that unless I want a workout I can't lie on my back on my bed and read an eBook, my monitor is too heavy :P
Another being the distraction level on a computer is a lot higher, email coming, games at my fingertips, etc.
And then there is the brightness factor, maybe it is just psychological, but I find that trying to sit down and read an eBook after already staring at a screen for 14 hours not only makes my head hurt, but it doesn't de-stress me nearly as well because I am still sitting in front of the computer...

Ebooks a failure? What of Project Gutenberg? (5, Insightful)

pmaccabe (747075) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270381)

I don't know about e-books as a marketing tool for books or method to mkae money, but I do not think you can say e-books are a failure truthfully.

Just look at Project Gutenberg. I know I, and other college students, use it often to read books that are public domain yet sold at amazingly inflated prices at the college bookstore. With such a large selection of interesting topics it is easy to find most of the classics and select ones you want to read.

Perhaps e-books aren't the great moneymaker of the Internet, or it might be that no one has found the right business model. Either way they are from failures at promoting higher literacy and education among students.

Re:Ebooks a failure? What of Project Gutenberg? (1)

pmaccabe (747075) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270416)

sorry should read"make" not "mkae" and "far from failures" not "from failures" above.
I stayed up to late last night.

Re:Ebooks a failure? What of Project Gutenberg? (1)

xanderwilson (662093) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270501)

And my original posting should have had failure in quotes, which I thought it did. Alex.

The Creative Commons Licenses (4, Insightful)

heironymouscoward (683461) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270395)

Are very interesting. Not just for software, articles, books, but also for music and art.

Basically this is the extension of the GPL into other domains, based much on the same premise: I license you my work to use if you agree to license your derived works on the same basis.

It's a wonderful thing, and I believe it's workable, even in commercialized fields like music and publishing. The number of artists who are unable to get their (good) work published is extraordinary. Using a CC license they can publish it, and while making no less money than if it was not published, create many more opportunities for fame and fortune.

The established media businesses are as much a barrier to sucess for new artists as they are a source of income to established ones. The CC licenses provide the basis for a change.

It remains to be see whether we will see a creative explosion in other fields as we have seen in software. Finally, Free Music, Free Art, and Free Words.

once again (-1, Flamebait)

bob dobalina (40544) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270403)

...I renew my call [slashdot.org] for a Cory Doctorow filter. Just when it looks like /. has seen the last of Jon Katz, we get the heir apparent to the throne of 'know-nothing geek-worshipper'.

Re:once again (1)

wurp (51446) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270633)

What is it you don't like about Cory Doctorow? 0wnzered seems quite good, if a little soft, sci-fi; Unwirer was very good and didn't seem at all soft; Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is great stuff in the spirit of Gibson and Stephenson. Sometimes his stuff is off (I thought the basic premise of Eastern Standard Tribe was pretty lame. Sure I can see your group affiliations affecting your sleep schedule, but it makes no sense to say you will have a group called "Eastern Standard"; lots of groups are based in the EST time zone) but if you ignore the name of the group, it's a cool story. See http://www.craphound.com to read some of his stuff.

He has some insight on copyright. It's really not much more than you get pretty commonly at slashdot, but he's out there living the "right way" wrt copyright as an author, which is a pretty uncommon thing.

So, what's the problem? Maybe he gets more press in geek circles than he quite deserves, but not by a lot.

Re:once again (1)

bob dobalina (40544) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270824)

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is great stuff in the spirit of Gibson and Stephenson.

That's my problem; I've read a number of the short stories he's made available and it's "in the spirit of Gibson and Stephenson" the way the Soviet space shuttle was "in the spirit" of the US design. (Sorry for the obscure reference, it was the first to come to mind.) The themes of his stories are pedestrian, even by sci-fi standards, and his writing style is all the style of Dick and Gibson with none of the substance. He tries to converse in these languages (sci-fi topics, and worse, actual tech issues) the same way a parrot might try to converse with Spaulding Gray. He knows the buzzwords because they are buzzwords, but that's about it as far as his talent goes.

So he's a mediocre sci-fi author who has deigns on the tech world, what's the big deal, right? Right, except for, as you mention, he gets more press than he quite deserves. I don't understand why so many slashdotters get in such a tizzy about him when there are a thousand of his analogs out there that nobody cares about.

As for the copyright issue, that's a YMMV debate. Some authors might want to keep tabs on the stuff they've written, and I don't see why they should be castigated or thought to be morally inferior to people who don't care if their names are attached to a given work. If Doctorow wants to give his work away, hey great, but not every author is an internet dilettante. Some people need to feed their families this way. Nobody harps on Asimov for doing the same thing.

Re:once again (1)

wurp (51446) | more than 10 years ago | (#8271137)

1) The vast majority of his stuff is worth reading. To me, that's fairly high praise.
2) The vast majority of his stuff is available for free and easy to find if you start from the slashdot/kuro5hin culture.
3) He gets the IP and tech issues that affect us today and tomorrow.

What it boils down to is that I haven't seen anyone else present a believable day-after-tomorrow view of how globalization, pc miniaturization, and wireless/minicam/etc will affect us. He seems to present that view in Unwirer and... hmm, whoah, little conflation going on here. Gah. My other one was actually Pattern Recognition, Gibson's latest.

Maybe you have something there ;-)

Regarding copyright, I (and I think Cory opines similarly) believe that a short term copyright would be for the good, and it is entirely the author's discretion to release under more lenient terms than copyright allows. However, our current 70 years+++ copyright is unethical, counterproductive, and unconstitutional.

The real reason for Ebook (4, Interesting)

Lord Apathy (584315) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270409)

Ebooks aren't dead. People just haven't caught on to the real reasons to read ebooks on your palm pilot other than a real book. Compactness, you can cram about a 100 ebooks on an average 128mb memory stick. This is the eqivilant of carrying a small library with you every where you go. An this is very important. Nothing is worse than being suck on the can with nothing to read.

This goes to my second reason with compactness. You can stick a palm pilot in you pocket when you head to the can at work. It looks less suspicous when you head to the head to take a shi than if you had a book under your arm. Boss won't notice as much.

Paper book ruling: random access and low cost (3, Interesting)

jorlando (145683) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270422)

ebook will fail along they still expensive. you can buy a cheap edition of some book, even a best seller, read it during an airplane trip and discard it. you can't do it with a ebook reader.

ebook reader's are expensive. I remember a model that had a cover with "leather smell", to appeal to paper book readers, another marketing moron displaying it's stupidity: a reader reads a book because of the contents. judging a book for it's cover is for illiterates... or marketing morons.

reading on a gorgeous wide and tall screen of a palm sized device doesn't fit in my sense of confort.

an last but not least, random access... you can flip through the pages of a book as you wish, looking for random passages or particular points of the text. the close to a book flip that you can do with a ebook reader is the fast forward, backward, or select a given page... not that bad.

ebooks can be a huge success when cheap reader appear. something with a screen the size of a pocket book, with good contrast, backlight could be a plus, but not essential. also an ebook not tied to some proprietary DRMed format. I want to download some of the classicals available at the project Guthenberg or simmilars and read it. and a cheaper price tag. if the costs of distribution, stocking are being cutted, I want my share.

Re:Paper book ruling: random access and low cost (1)

egomaniac (105476) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270887)

I read my eBooks on my PDA. This reader, in some sense, was free -- I bought it for other purposes, and only later thought about using it for eBooks, so I paid a grand total of $0 specifically to be able to read eBooks.

You can also read them on a laptop (or even a desktop), which most of you have, and that would also fall under the "free in a sense" category.

If you're looking for eBooks to use on non-dedicated devices such as computers and PDAs, check out Palm Digital Media [palmdigitalmedia.com] .

Anyone want to play (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270427)

paper, rock, scissors...ebook?

My rock killed your ebook.

Technology cannot beat the durability of paper; for the time being that is.

The big problem... (4, Interesting)

Hiro Antagonist (310179) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270447)

The big problem with ebooks lies in the readers; devices capable of reading ebooks are bulky, fragile, expensive, and nominally not as easy on the eyes as paper; in addition, most of them are read-only, which means that you can't write notes in the margin or hilight passages for later use.

Personally, I'd like to see a low-power (eight to sixteen hours on a single charge) tablet-PC-like device, one which is as easy on the eyes as a normal book (not that hard, really[1]), has a small-but-useful amount of storage (say, 8M of RAM and 512M of compactflash), and into which I can upload textbooks and course notes for all of my college courses. It has to be durable as well; I should be able to accidentally knock this thing off a table into an aquarium, and it should still work.

Give it some simple handwriting recognition, some decent calculation software, and the ability to link up with a desktop via a USB cable, and you could sell tons of these things to college students. I know I'd jump at the opportunity to not lug around a 40lb backpack, laptop case, two-inch binder filled with notes...oh, and a rew reference manuals...even if it cost me a few hundred bucks. Textbook publishers could also get in on the game; charge half as much for an E-book (which can't be resold), and use this as incentive to sell the tablet devices. Everyone wins -- the publishers make more money (no printing, shipping, or warehousing costs), the tablet maker wins, and the students win (less back strain, cheaper textbooks, ability to have an entire library in a satchel).

[1] If you're willing to keep it black-and-white, just use a farly high-resolution LCD, and use a plain white sheet of paper as a background; the paper will reflect ambient light properly, except where the LCD is active -- presto, paper-like black-on-white text, just like a book.

Good stuff (-1, Troll)

nicky_d (92174) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270448)

This is a great article for anyone interested in electronic texts and/or Creative Commons. Some departments are looking into ebook deals at the college where I work, and it's depressing to contemplate what the publishers are going to do to these wide-eyed academics who are being convinced to bypass the college library and buy ebooks directly. Every day I see scores of students borrowing older editions of books (we only keep them if they're still of use). I can't see that practice lasting long in the ebook world. I hear about deals that offer, say, ten electronic 'copies' that can be viewed at any one time. This is, of course, identical to buying ten paperback copies - the annoyance is that it does absolutely nothing to harness the strengths of the ebook. In fact, if you end up with an ebook with limited or crippled printing / copying permissions, and they certainly exist, you've got something far less useful to everyone except the publisher.

Like Doctorow, I'm not against ebooks - they can be marvellous when they fully explot their format. But it's depressing to hear about that format being abused in the name of sheer profit, especially in the realm of education. (Though /. is home to enough sad tales of print-based academic text gouging, too.)

People have been doing some interesting things with Doctorow's recently released Creative Commons title, Eastern Standard Tribe, and he has plenty of anecdotes about how releasing the book for 'free' (with Some Rights Reserved) has helped sales of the print copy. He's promoting the ebook environment I'd love to see flourishing five years down the line. The (well, one, but a likely one) alternative is books with DRM, which is the saddest kind of book I can imagine.

the right niche for them (4, Interesting)

bigbigbison (104532) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270458)

I am a phd student and as a result I am often writing research papers with lots of references. I know that I would LOVE to have ebook versions of the books I read so that I wouldn't have to spend so much time trying to find one line or one paragraph in a book that talked about something I want to cite. I would love to be able to do a keywork seach for these books. It would help sooo much.

My response. (2, Interesting)

nilspace (676196) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270463)

Open speech in Firefox. -A -C Open Word processor -V Click "little-r" (for ebook reader) Conversion to eBook & sync'd to iPaq. Now I can read why eBooks didn't make it on my handheld, like I have for all of his books, as well as about 3 dozen others.

Because Firefox wraps, and you don't... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270464)

Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books --Paper for the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference, 2004
February 12, 2004 - San Diego, CA
Cory Doctorow doctorow@craphound.com
--
Forematter:
This talk was initially given at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology
Conference [ http://conferences.oreillynet.com/cs/et2004 ], along
with a set of slides that, for copyright reasons (ironic!) can't
be released alongside of this file. However, you will find,
interspersed in this text, notations describing the places where
new slides should be loaded, in [square-brackets].

This text is dedicated to the public domain, using a Creative
Commons public domain dedication:

> Copyright-Only Dedication (based on United States law)
>
> The person or persons who have associated their work with this
> document (the "Dedicator") hereby dedicate the entire copyright
> in the work of authorship identified below (the "Work") to the
> public domain.
>
> Dedicator makes this dedication for the benefit of the public at
> large and to the detriment of Dedicator's heirs and successors.
> Dedicator intends this dedication to be an overt act of
> relinquishment in perpetuity of all present and future rights
> under copyright law, whether vested or contingent, in the Work.
> Dedicator understands that such relinquishment of all rights
> includes the relinquishment of all rights to enforce (by lawsuit
> or otherwise) those copyrights in the Work.
>
> Dedicator recognizes that, once placed in the public domain, the
> Work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, used,
> modified, built upon, or otherwise exploited by anyone for any
> purpose, commercial or non-commercial, and in any way, including
> by methods that have not yet been invented or conceived.

--

For starters, let me try to summarize the lessons and intuitions
I've had about ebooks from my release of two novels and most of a
short story collection online under a Creative Commons license. A
parodist who published a list of alternate titles for the
presentations at this event called this talk, "eBooks Suck Right
Now," [eBooks suck right now] and as funny as that is, I don't
think it's true.

No, if I had to come up with another title for this talk, I'd
call it: "Ebooks: You're Soaking in Them." [Ebooks: You're
Soaking in Them] That's because I think that the shape of ebooks
to come is almost visible in the way that people interact with
text today, and that the job of authors who want to become rich
and famous is to come to a better understanding of that shape.

I haven't come to a perfect understanding. I don't know what the
future of the book looks like. But I have ideas, and I'll share
them with you:

1. Ebooks aren't marketing. [Ebooks aren't marketing] OK, so
ebooks *are* marketing: that is to say that giving away ebooks
sells more books. Baen Books, who do a lot of series publishing,
have found that giving away electronic editions of the previous
installments in their series to coincide with the release of a
new volume sells the hell out of the new book -- and the
backlist. And the number of people who wrote to me to tell me
about how much they dug the ebook and so bought the paper-book
far exceeds the number of people who wrote to me and said, "Ha,
ha, you hippie, I read your book for free and now I'm not gonna
buy it." But ebooks *shouldn't* be just about marketing: ebooks
are a goal unto themselves. In the final analysis, more people
will read more words off more screens and fewer words off fewer
pages and when those two lines cross, ebooks are gonna have to be
the way that writers earn their keep, not the way that they
promote the dead-tree editions.

2. Ebooks complement paper books. [Ebooks complement paper
books]. Having an ebook is good. Having a paper book is good.
Having both is even better. One reader wrote to me and said that
he read half my first novel from the bound book, and printed the
other half on scrap-paper to read at the beach. Students write to
me to say that it's easier to do their term papers if they can
copy and paste their quotations into their word-processors. Baen
readers use the electronic editions of their favorite series to
build concordances of characters, places and events.

3. Unless you own the ebook, you don't 0wn the book [Unless you
own the ebook, you don't 0wn the book]. I take the view that the
book is a "practice" -- a collection of social and economic and
artistic activities -- and not an "object." Viewing the book as a
"practice" instead of an object is a pretty radical notion, and
it begs the question: just what the hell is a book? Good
question. I write all of my books in a text-editor [TEXT EDITOR
SCREENGRAB] (BBEdit, from Barebones Software -- as fine a
text-editor as I could hope for). From there, I can convert them
into a formatted two-column PDF [TWO-UP SCREENGRAB]. I can turn
them into an HTML file [BROWSER SCREENGRAB]. I can turn them over
to my publisher, who can turn them into galleys, advanced review
copies, hardcovers and paperbacks. I can turn them over to my
readers, who can convert them to a bewildering array of formats
[DOWNLOAD PAGE SCREENGRAB]. Brewster Kahle's Internet Bookmobile
can convert a digital book into a four-color, full-bleed,
perfect-bound, laminated-cover, printed-spine paper book in ten
minutes, for about a dollar. Try converting a paper book to a PDF
or an html file or a text file or a RocketBook or a printout for
a buck in ten minutes! It's ironic, because one of the frequently
cited reasons for preferring paper to ebooks is that paper books
confer a sense of ownership of a physical object. Before the dust
settles on this ebook thing, owning a paper book is going to feel
less like ownership than having an open digital edition of the
text.

4. Ebooks are a better deal for writers. [Ebooks are a better
deal for writers] The compensation for writers is pretty thin on
the ground. *Amazing Stories,* Hugo Gernsback's original science
fiction magazine, paid a couple cents a word. Today, science
fiction magazines pay...a couple cents a word. The sums involved
are so minuscule, they're not even insulting: they're *quaint*
and *historical*, like the WHISKEY 5 CENTS sign over the bar at a
pioneer village. Some writers do make it big, but they're
*rounding errors* as compared to the total population of sf
writers earning some of their living at the trade. Almost all of
us could be making more money elsewhere (though we may dream of
earning a stephenkingload of money, and of course, no one would
play the lotto if there were no winners). The primary incentive
for writing has to be artistic satisfaction, egoboo, and a desire
for posterity. Ebooks get you that. Ebooks become a part of the
corpus of human knowledge because they get indexed by search
engines and replicated by the hundreds, thousands or millions.
They can be googled.

Even better: they level the playing field between writers and
trolls. When Amazon kicked off, many writers got their knickers
in a tight and powerful knot at the idea that axe-grinding yahoos
were filling the Amazon message-boards with ill-considered slams
at their work -- for, if a personal recommendation is the best
way to sell a book, then certainly a personal condemnation is the
best way to *not* sell a book. Today, the trolls are still with
us, but now, the readers get to decide for themselves. Here's a
bit of a review of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom that was
recently posted to Amazon by "A reader from Redwood City, CA":

[QUOTED TEXT]

> I am really not sure what kind of drugs critics are
> smoking, or what kind of payola may be involved. But
> regardless of what Entertainment Weekly says, whatever
> this newspaper or that magazine says, you shouldn't
> waste your money. Download it for free from Corey's
> (sic) site, read the first page, and look away in
> disgust -- this book is for people who think Dan
> Brown's Da Vinci Code is great writing.

Back in the old days, this kind of thing would have really pissed
me off. Axe-grinding, mouth-breathing yahoos, defaming my good
name! My stars and mittens! But take a closer look at that
damning passage:

[PULL-QUOTE]

> Download it for free from Corey's site, read the first
> page

You see that? Hell, this guy is *working for me*! [ADDITIONAL
PULL QUOTES] Someone accuses a writer I'm thinking of reading of
paying off Entertainment Weekly to say nice things about his
novel, "a surprisingly bad writer," no less, whose writing is
"stiff, amateurish, and uninspired!" I wanna check that writer
out. And I can. In one click. And then I can make up my own mind.

You don't get far in the arts without healthy doses of both ego
and insecurity, and the downside of being able to google up all
the things that people are saying about your book is that it can
play right into your insecurities -- "all these people will have
it in their minds not to bother with my book because they've read
the negative interweb reviews!" But the flipside of that is the
ego: "If only they'd give it a shot, they'd see how good it is."
And the more scathing the review is, the more likely they are to
give it a shot. Any press is good press, so long as they spell
your URL right (and even if they spell your name wrong!).

5. Ebooks need to embrace their nature. [Ebooks need to embrace
their nature.] The distinctive value of ebooks is orthagonal to
the value of paper books, and it revolves around the mix-ability
and send-ability of electronic text. The more you constrain an
ebook's distinctive value propositions -- that is, the more you
restrict a reader's ability to copy, transport or transform an
ebook -- the more it has to be valued on the same axes as a
paper-book. Ebooks *fail* on those axes. Ebooks don't beat
paper-books for sophisticated typography, they can't match them
for quality of paper or the smell of the glue. But just try
sending a paper book to a friend in Brazil, for free, in less
than a second. Or loading a thousand paper books into a little
stick of flash-memory dangling from your keychain. Or searching a
paper book for every instance of a character's name to find a
beloved passage. Hell, try clipping a pithy passage out of a
paper book and pasting it into your sig-file.

6. Ebooks demand a different attention span (but not a shorter
one). [Ebooks demand a different attention span (but not a
shorter one).] Artists are always disappointed by their
audience's attention-spans. Go back far enough and you'll find
cuneiform etchings bemoaning the current Sumerian go-go lifestyle
with its insistence on myths with plotlines and characters and
action, not like we had in the old days. As artists, it would be
a hell of a lot easier if our audiences were more tolerant of our
penchant for boring them. We'd get to explore a lot more ideas
without worrying about tarting them up with easy-to-swallow
chocolate coatings of entertainment. We like to think of
shortened attention spans as a product of the information age,
but check this out:

[Nietzsche quote]

> To be sure one thing necessary above all: if one is to
> practice reading as an *art* in this way, something
> needs to be un-learned most thoroughly in these days.

In other words, if my book is too boring, it's because you're not
paying enough attention. Writers say this stuff all the time, but
this quote isn't from this century or the last. [Nietzsche quote
with attribution] It's from the preface to Nietzsche's "Genealogy
of Morals," published in *1887.*

Yeah, our attention-spans are *different* today, but they aren't
necessarily *shorter*. Warren Ellis's fans managed to hold the
storyline for Transmetropolitan [Transmet cover] in their minds
for *five years* while the story trickled out in monthly
funnybook installments. JK Rowlings's installments on the Harry
Potter series get fatter and fatter with each new volume. Entire
forests are sacrificed to long-running series fiction like Robert
Jordan's Wheel of Time books, each of which is approximately
20,000 pages long (I may be off by an order of magnitude one way
or another here). Sure, presidential debates are conducted in
soundbites today and not the days-long oratory extravaganzas of
the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but people manage to pay attention
to the 24-month-long presidential campaigns from start to finish.

7. We need *all* the ebooks. [We need *all* the ebooks] The vast
majority of the words ever penned are lost to posterity. No one
library collects all the still-extant books ever written and no
one person could hope to make a dent in that corpus of written
work. None of us will ever read more than the tiniest sliver of
human literature. But that doesn't mean that we can stick with
just the most popular texts and get a proper ebook revolution.

For starters, we're all edge-cases. Sure, we all have the shared
desire for the core canon of literature, but each of us want to
complete that collection with different texts that are as
distinctive and individualistic as fingerprints. If we all look
like we're doing the same thing when we read, or listen to music,
or hang out in a chatroom, that's because we're not looking
closely enough. The shared-ness of our experience is only present
at a coarse level of measurement: once you get into really
granular observation, there are as many differences in our
"shared" experience as there are similarities.

More than that, though, is the way that a large collection of
electronic text differs from a small one: it's the difference
between a single book, a shelf full of books and a library of
books. Scale makes things different. Take the Web: none of us can
hope to read even a fraction of all the pages on the Web, but by
analyzing the link structures that bind all those pages together,
Google is able to actually tease out machine-generated
conclusions about the relative relevance of different pages to
different queries. None of us will ever eat the whole corpus, but
Google can digest it for us and excrete the steaming nuggets of
goodness that make it the search-engine miracle it is today.

8. Ebooks are like paper books. [Ebooks are like paper books]. To
round out this talk, I'd like to go over the ways that ebooks are
more like paper books than you'd expect. One of the truisms of
retail theory is that purchasers need to come into contact with a
good several times before they buy -- seven contacts is tossed
around as the magic number. That means that my readers have to
hear the title, see the cover, pick up the book, read a review,
and so forth, seven times, on average, before they're ready to
buy.

There's a temptation to view downloading a book as comparable to
bringing it home from the store, but that's the wrong metaphor.
Some of the time, maybe most of the time, downloading the text of
the book is like taking it off the shelf at the store and looking
at the cover and reading the blurbs (with the advantage of not
having to come into contact with the residual DNA and burger king
left behind by everyone else who browsed the book before you).
Some writers are horrified at the idea that three hundred
thousand copies of my first novel were downloaded and "only" ten
thousand or so were sold so far. If it were the case that for
ever copy sold, thirty were taken home from the store, that would
be a horrifying outcome, for sure. But look at it another way: if
one out of every thirty people who glanced at the cover of my
book bought it, I'd be a happy author. And I am. Those downloads
cost me no more than glances at the cover in a bookstore, and the
sales are healthy.

We also like to think of physical books as being inherently
*countable* in a way that digital books aren't (an irony, since
computers are damned good at counting things!). This is
important, because writers get paid on the basis of the number of
copies of their books that sell, so having a good count makes a
difference. And indeed, my royalty statements contain precise
numbers for copies printed, shipped, returned and sold.

But that's a false precision. When the printer does a run of a
book, it always runs a few extra at the start and finish of the
run to make sure that the setup is right and to account for the
occasional rip, drop, or spill. The actual total number of books
printed is approximately the number of books ordered, but never
exactly -- if you've ever ordered 500 wedding invitations,
chances are you received 500-and-a-few back from the printer and
that's why.

And the numbers just get fuzzier from there. Copies are stolen.
Copies are dropped. Shipping people get the count wrong. Some
copies end up in the wrong box and go to a bookstore that didn't
order them and isn't invoiced for them and end up on a sale table
or in the trash. Some copies are returned as damaged. Some are
returned as unsold. Some come back to the store the next morning
accompanied by a whack of buyer's remorse. Some go to the place
where the spare sock in the dryer ends up.

The numbers on a royalty statement are actuarial, not actual.
They represent a kind of best-guess approximation of the copies
shipped, sold, returned and so forth. Actuarial accounting works
pretty well: well enough to run the juggernaut banking,
insurance, and gambling industries on. It's good enough for
divvying up the royalties paid by musical rights societies for
radio airplay and live performance. And it's good enough for
counting how many copies of a book are distributed online or off.

Counts of paper books are differently precise from counts of
electronic books, sure: but neither one is inherently countable.

And finally, of course, there's the matter of selling books.
However an author earns her living from her words, printed or
encoded, she has as her first and hardest task to find her
audience. There are more competitors for our attention than we
can possibly reconcile, prioritize or make sense of. Getting a
book under the right person's nose, with the right pitch, is the
hardest and most important task any writer faces.

#

I care about books, a lot. I started working in libraries and
bookstores at the age of 12 and kept at it for a decade, until I
was lured away by the siren song of the tech world. I knew I
wanted to be a writer at the age of 12, and now, 20 years later,
I have three novels, a short story collection and a nonfiction
book out, two more novels under contract, and another book in the
works. [BOOK COVERS] I've won a major award in my genre, science
fiction, [CAMPBELL AWARD] and I'm nominated for another one, the
2003 Nebula Award for best novelette. [NEBULA]

I own a *lot* of books. Easily more than 10,000 of them, in
storage on both coasts of the North American continent [LIBRARY
LADDER]. I have to own them, since they're the tools of my trade:
the reference works I refer to as a novelist and writer today.
Most of the literature I dig is very short-lived, it disappears
from the shelf after just a few months, usually for good. Science
fiction is inherently ephemeral. [ACE DOUBLES]

Now, as much as I love books, I love computers, too. Computers
are fundamentally different from modern books in the same way
that printed books are different from monastic Bibles: they are
malleable. Time was, a "book" was something produced by many
months' labor by a scribe, usually a monk, on some kind of
durable and sexy substrate like foetal lambskin. [ILLUMINATED
BIBLE] Gutenberg's xerox machine changed all that, changed a book
into something that could be simply run off a press in a few
minutes' time, on substrate more suitable to ass-wiping than
exaltation in a place of honor in the cathedral. The Gutenberg
press meant that rather than owning one or two books, a member of
the ruling class could amass a library, and that rather than
picking only a few subjects from enshrinement in print, a huge
variety of subjects could be addressed on paper and handed from
person to person. [KAPITAL/TIJUANA BIBLE]

Most new ideas start with a precious few certainties and a lot of
speculation. I've been doing a bunch of digging for certainties
and a lot of speculating lately, and the purpose of this talk is
to lay out both categories of ideas.

This all starts with my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic
Kingdom [COVER], which came out on January 9, 2003. At that time,
there was a lot of talk in my professional circles about, on the
one hand, the dismal failure of ebooks, and, on the other, the
new and scary practice of ebook "piracy." [alt.binaries.e-books
screengrab] It was strikingly weird that no one seemed to notice
that the idea of ebooks as a "failure" was at strong odds with
the notion that electronic book "piracy" was worth worrying
about: I mean, if ebooks are a failure, then who gives a rats if
intarweb dweebs are trading them on Usenet?

A brief digression here, on the double meaning of "ebooks." One
meaning for that word is "legitimate" ebook ventures, that is to
say, rightsholder-authorized editions of the texts of books,
released in a proprietary, use-restricted format, sometimes for
use on a general-purpose PC and sometimes for use on a
special-purpose hardware device like the nuvoMedia Rocketbook
[ROCKETBOOK]. The other meaning for ebook is a "pirate" or
unauthorized electronic edition of a book, usually made by
cutting the binding off of a book and scanning it a page at a
time, then running the resulting bitmaps through an optical
character recognition app to convert them into ASCII text, to be
cleaned up by hand. These books are pretty buggy, full of errors
introduced by the OCR. A lot of my colleagues worry that these
books also have deliberate errors, created by mischievous
book-rippers who cut, add or change text in order to "improve"
the work. Frankly, I have never seen any evidence that any
book-ripper is interested in doing this, and until I do, I think
that this is the last thing anyone should be worrying about.

Back to Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom [COVER]. Well, not yet.
I want to convey to you the depth of the panic in my field over
ebook piracy, or "bookwarez" as it is known in book-ripper
circles. Writers were joining the discussion on
alt.binaries.ebooks using assumed names, claiming fear of
retaliation from scary hax0r kids who would presumably screw up
their credit-ratings in retaliation for being called thieves. My
editor, a blogger, hacker and
guy-in-charge-of-the-largest-sf-line-in-the-w orld named Patrick
Nielsen Hayden posted to one of the threads in the newsgroup,
saying, in part [SCREENGRAB]:

> Pirating copyrighted etext on Usenet and elsewhere is going to
> happen more and more, for the same reasons that everyday folks
> make audio cassettes from vinyl LPs and audio CDs, and
> videocassette copies of store-bought videotapes. Partly it's
> greed; partly it's annoyance over retail prices; partly it's the
> desire to Share Cool Stuff (a motivation usually underrated by
> the victims of this kind of small-time hand-level piracy).
> Instantly going to Defcon One over it and claiming it's morally
> tantamount to mugging little old ladies in the street will make
> it kind of difficult to move forward from that position when it
> doesn't work. In the 1970s, the record industry shrieked that
> "home taping is killing music." It's hard for ordinary folks to
> avoid noticing that music didn't die. But the record industry's
> credibility on the subject wasn't exactly enhanced.

Patrick and I have a long relationship, starting when I was 18
years old and he kicked in toward a scholarship fund to send me
to a writers' workshop, continuing to a fateful lunch in New York
in the mid-Nineties when I showed him a bunch of Project
Gutenberg texts on my Palm Pilot and inspired him to start
licensing Tor's titles for PDAs [PEANUTPRESS SCREENGRAB], to the
turn-of-the-millennium when he bought and then published my first
novel (he's bought three more since -- I really like Patrick!).

Right as bookwarez newgroups were taking off, I was shocked silly
by legal action by one of my colleagues against AOL/Time-Warner
for carrying the alt.binaries.ebooks newsgroup. This writer
alleged that AOL should have a duty to remove this newsgroup,
since it carried so many infringing files, and that its failure
to do so made it a contributory infringer, and so liable for the
incredibly stiff penalties afforded by our newly minted copyright
laws like the No Electronic Theft Act and the loathsome Digital
Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA.

Now there was a scary thought: there were people out there who
thought the world would be a better place if ISPs were given the
duty of actively policing and censoring the websites and
newsfeeds their customers had access to, including a requirement
that ISPs needed to determine, all on their own, what was an
unlawful copyright infringement -- something more usually left up
to judges in the light of extensive amicus briefings from
esteemed copyright scholars [WIND DONE GONE GRAPHIC].

This was a stupendously dumb idea, and it offended me down to my
boots. Writers are supposed to be advocates of free expression,
not censorship. It seemed that some of my colleagues loved the
First Amendment, but they were reluctant to share it with the
rest of the world.

Well, dammit, I had a book coming out, and it seemed to be an
opportunity to try to figure out a little more about this ebook
stuff. On the one hand, ebooks were a dismal failure. On the
other hand, there were more books posted to alt.binaries.ebooks
every day.

This leads me into the two certainties I have about ebooks:

1. More people are reading more words off more screens every day
[GRAPHIC]

2. Fewer people are reading fewer words off fewer pages every day
[GRAPHIC]

These two certainties begged a lot of questions.

[CHART: EBOOK FAILINGS]

* Screen resolutions are too low to effectively replace paper

* People want to own physical books because of their visceral
appeal (often this is accompanied by a little sermonette on how
good books smell, or how good they look on a bookshelf, or how
evocative an old curry stain in the margin can be)

* You can't take your ebook into the tub

* You can't read an ebook without power and a computer

* File-formats go obsolete, paper has lasted for a long time

None of these seemed like very good explanations for the
"failure" of ebooks to me. If screen resolutions are too low to
replace paper, then how come everyone I know spends more time
reading off a screen every year, up to and including my sainted
grandmother (geeks have a really crappy tendency to argue that
certain technologies aren't ready for primetime because their
grandmothers won't use them -- well, my grandmother sends me
email all the time. She types 70 words per minute, and loves to
show off grandsonular email to her pals around the pool at her
Florida retirement condo)?

The other arguments were a lot more interesting, though. It
seemed to me that electronic books are *different* from paper
books, and have different virtues and failings. Let's think a
little about what the book has gone through in years gone by.
This is interesting because the history of the book is the
history of the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Pilgrims, and,
ultimately the colonizing of the Americas and the American
Revolution.

Broadly speaking, there was a time when books were hand-printed
on rare leather by monks. The only people who could read them
were priests, who got a regular eyeful of the really cool
cartoons the monks drew in the margins. The priests read the
books aloud, in Latin [LATIN BIBLE] (to a predominantly
non-Latin-speaking audience) in cathedrals, wreathed in pricey
incense that rose from censers swung by altar boys.

Then Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Martin
Luther turned that press into a revolution. [LUTHER BIBLE] He
printed Bibles in languages that non-priests could read, and
distributed them to normal people who got to read the word of God
all on their own. The rest, as they say, is history.

Here are some interesting things to note about the advent of the
printing press:

[CHART: LUTHER VERSUS THE MONKS]

* Luther Bibles lacked the manufacturing quality of the
illuminated Bibles. They were comparatively cheap and lacked the
typographical expressiveness that a really talented monk could
bring to bear when writing out the word of God

* Luther Bibles were utterly unsuited to the traditional use-case
for Bibles. A good Bible was supposed to reinforce the authority
of the man at the pulpit. It needed heft, it needed
impressiveness, and most of all, it needed rarity.

* The user-experience of Luther Bibles sucked. There was no
incense, no altar boys, and who (apart from the priesthood) knew
that reading was so friggin' hard on the eyes?

* Luther Bibles were a lot less trustworthy than the illuminated
numbers. Anyone with a press could run one off, subbing in any
apocryphal text he wanted -- and who knew how accurate that
translation was? Monks had an entire Papacy behind them, running
a quality-assurance operation that had stood Europe in good stead
for centuries.

In the late nineties, I went to conferences where music execs
patiently explained that Napster was doomed, because you didn't
get any cover-art or liner-notes with it, you couldn't know if
the rip was any good, and sometimes the connection would drop
mid-download. I'm sure that many Cardinals espoused the points
raised above with equal certainty.

What the record execs and the cardinals missed was all the ways
that Luther Bibles kicked ass:

[CHART: WHY LUTHER BIBLES KICKED ASS]

* They were cheap and fast. Loads of people could acquire them
without having to subject themselves to the authority and
approval of the Church

* They were in languages that non-priests could read. You no
longer had to take the Church's word for it when its priests
explained what God really meant

* They birthed a printing-press ecosystem in which lots of books
flourished. New kinds of fiction, poetry, politics, scholarship
and so on were all enabled by the printing presses whose initial
popularity was spurred by Luther's ideas about religion.

Note that all of these virtues are orthagonal to the virtues of a
monkish Bible. That is, none of the things that made the
Gutenberg press a success were the things that made monk-Bibles a
success.

By the same token, the reasons to love ebooks have precious
little to do with the reasons to love paper books.

[CHART: WHY EBOOKS KICK ASS]

* They are easy to share. Secrets of Ya-Ya Sisterhood went from a
midlist title to a bestseller by being passed from hand to hand
by women in reading circles. Slashdorks and other netizens have
social life as rich as reading-circlites, but they don't ever get
to see each other face to face; the only kind of book they can
pass from hand to hand is an ebook. What's more, the single
factor most correlated with a purchase is a recommendation from a
friend -- getting a book recommended by a pal is more likely to
sell you on it than having read and enjoyed the preceding volume
in a series!

* They are easy to slice and dice. This is where the Mac
evangelist in me comes out -- minority platforms matter. It's a
truism of the Napsterverse that most of the files downloaded are
bog-standard top-40 tracks, like 90 percent or so, and I believe
it. We all want to popular music. That's why it's popular. But
the interesting thing is the other ten percent. Bill Gates told
the New York Times that Microsoft lost the search wars by doing
"a good job on the 80 percent of common queries and ignor[ing]
the other stuff. But it's the remaining 20 percent that counts,
because that's where the quality perception is." Why did Napster
captivate so many of us? Not because it could get us the top-40
tracks that we could hear just by snapping on the radio: it was
because 80 percent of the music ever recorded wasn't available
for sale anywhere in the world, and in that 80 percent were all
the songs that had ever touched us, all the earworms that had
been lodged in our hindbrains, all the stuff that made us smile
when we heard it. Those songs are different for all of us, but
they share the trait of making the difference between a
compelling service and, well, top-40 Clearchannel radio
programming. It was the minority of tracks that appealed to the
majority of us. By the same token, the malleability of electronic
text means that it can be readily repurposed: you can throw it on
a webserver or convert it to a format for your favorite PDA; you
can ask your computer to read it aloud or you can search the text
for a quotation to cite in a book report or to use in your sig.
In other words, most people who download the book do so for the
predictable reason, and in a predictable format -- say, to sample
a chapter in the HTML format before deciding whether to buy the
book -- but the thing that differentiates a boring e-text
experience from an exciting one is the minority use -- printing
out a couple chapters of the book to bring to the beach rather
than risk getting the hardcopy wet and salty.

Tool-makers and software designers are increasingly aware of the
notion of "affordances" in design. You can bash a nail into the
wall with any heavy, heftable object from a rock to a hammer to a
cast-iron skillet. However, there's something about a hammer that
cries out for nail-bashing, it has affordances that tilt its
holder towards swinging it. And, as we all know, when all you
have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

The affordance of a computer -- the thing it's designed to do --
is to slice-and-dice collections of bits. The affordance of the
Internet is to move bits at very high speed around the world at
little-to-no cost. It follows from this that the center of the
ebook experience is going to involve slicing and dicing text and
sending it around.

Copyright lawyers have a word for these activities: infringement.
That's because copyright gives creators a near-total monopoly
over copying and remixing of their work, pretty much forever
(theoretically, copyright expires, but in actual practice,
copyright gets extended every time the early Mickey Mouse
cartoons are about to enter the public domain, because Disney
swings a very big stick on the Hill).

This is a huge problem. The biggest possible problem. Here's why:

[CHART: HOW BROKEN COPYRIGHT SCREWS EVERYONE]

* Authors freak out. Authors have been schooled by their peers
that strong copyright is the only thing that keeps them from
getting savagely rogered in the marketplace. This is pretty much
true: it's strong copyright that often defends authors from their
publishers' worst excesses. However, it doesn't follow that
strong copyright protects you from your *readers*.

* Readers get indignant over being called crooks. Seriously.
You're a small businessperson. Readers are your customers.
Calling them crooks is bad for business.

* Publishers freak out. Publishers freak out, because they're in
the business of grabbing as much copyright as they can and
hanging onto it for dear life because, dammit, you never know.
This is why science fiction magazines try to trick writers into
signing over improbable rights for things like theme park rides
and action figures based on their work -- it's also why literary
agents are now asking for copyright-long commissions on the books
they represent: copyright covers so much ground and takes to long
to shake off, who wouldn't want a piece of it?

* Liability goes through the roof. Copyright infringement,
especially on the Net, is a supercrime. It carries penalties of
$150,000 per infringement, and aggrieved rights-holders and their
representatives have all kinds of special powers, like the
ability to force an ISP to turn over your personal information
before showing evidence of your alleged infringement to a judge.
This means that anyone who suspects that he might be on the wrong
side of copyright law is going to be terribly risk-averse:
publishers non-negotiably force their authors to indemnify them
from infringement claims and go one better, forcing writers to
prove that they have "cleared" any material they quote, even in
the case of brief fair-use quotations, like song-titles at the
opening of chapters. The result is that authors end up assuming
potentially life-destroying liability, are chilled from quoting
material around them, and are scared off of public domain texts
because an honest mistake about the public-domain status of a
work carries such a terrible price.

* Posterity vanishes. In the Eldred v. Ashcroft Supreme Court
hearing last year, the court found that 98 percent of the works
in copyright are no longer earning money for anyone, but that
figuring out who these old works belong to with the degree of
certainty that you'd want when one mistake means total economic
apocalypse would cost more than you could ever possibly earn on
them. That means that 98 percent of works will largely expire
long before the copyright on them does. Today, the names of
science fiction's ancestral founders -- Mary Shelley, Arthur
Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, HG Wells -- are still
known, their work still a part of the discourse. Their spiritual
descendants from Hugo Gernsback onward may not be so lucky -- if
their work continues to be "protected" by copyright, it might
just vanish from the face of the earth before it reverts to the
public domain.

This isn't to say that copyright is bad, but that there's such a
thing as good copyright and bad copyright, and that sometimes,
too much good copyright is a bad thing. It's like chilis in soup:
a little goes a long way, and too much spoils the broth.

From the Luther Bible to the first phonorecords, from radio to
the pulps, from cable to MP3, the world has shown that its first
preference for new media is its "democratic-ness" -- the ease
with which it can reproduced.

(And please, before we get any farther, forget all that business
about how the Internet's copying model is more disruptive than
the technologies that proceeded it. For Christ's sake, the
Vaudeville performers who sued Marconi for inventing the radio
had to go from a regime where they had *one hundred percent*
control over who could get into the theater and hear them perform
to a regime where they had *zero* percent control over who could
build or acquire a radio and tune into a recording of them
performing. For that matter, look at the difference between a
monkish Bible and a Luther Bible -- next to that phase-change,
Napster is peanuts)

Back to democratic-ness. Every successful new medium has traded
off its artifact-ness -- the degree to which it was populated by
bespoke hunks of atoms, cleverly nailed together by master
craftspeople -- for ease of reproduction. Piano rolls weren't as
expressive as good piano players, but they scaled better -- as
did radio broadcasts, pulp magazines, and MP3s. Liner notes, hand
illumination and leather bindings are nice, but they pale in
comparison to the ability of an individual to actually get a
copy of her own.

Which isn't to say that old media die. Artists still
hand-illuminate books; master pianists still stride the boards at
Carnegie Hall, and the shelves burst with tell-all biographies of
musicians that are richer in detail than any liner-notes booklet.
The thing is, when all you've got is monks, every book takes on
the character of a monkish Bible. Once you invent the printing
press, all the books that are better-suited to movable type
migrate into that new form. What's left behind are those items
that are best suited to the old production scheme: the plays that
*need* to be plays, the books that are especially lovely on
creamy paper stitched between covers, the music that is most
enjoyable performed live and experienced in a throng of humanity.

Increased democratic-ness translates into decreased control: it's
a lot harder to control who can copy a book once there's a
photocopier on every corner than it is when you need a monastery
and several years to copy a Bible. And that decreased control
demands a new copyright regime that rebalances the rights of
creators with their audiences.

For example, when the VCR was invented, the courts affirmed a new
copyright exemption for time-shifting; when the radio was
invented, the Congress granted an anti-trust exemption to the
record labels in order to secure a blanket license; when cable TV
was invented, the government just ordered the broadcasters to
sell the cable-operators access to programming at a fixed rate.

Copyright is perennially out of date, because its latest rev was
generated in response to the last generation of technology. The
temptation to treat copyright as though it came down off the
mountain on two stone tablets (or worse, as "just like" real
property) is deeply flawed, since, by definition, current
copyright only considers the last generation of tech.

So, are bookwarez in violation of copyright law? Duh. Is this the
end of the world? *Duh*. If the Catholic church can survive the
printing press, science fiction will certainly weather the advent
of bookwarez.

#

Lagniappe [Lagniappe]

We're almost done here, but there's one more thing I'd like to do
before I get off the stage. [Lagniappe: an unexpected bonus or
extra] Think of it as a "lagniappe" -- a little something extra
to thank you for your patience.

About a year ago, I released my first novel, Down and Out in the
Magic Kingdom, on the net, under the terms of the most
restrictive Creative Commons license available. All it allowed my
readers to do was send around copies of the book. I was
cautiously dipping my toe into the water, though at the time, it
felt like I was taking a plunge.

Now I'm going to take a plunge. Today, I will re-license the text
of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom under a Creative Commons
"Attribution-ShareAlike-Derivs-Noncommerc ial" license [HUMAN
READABLE LICENSE], which means that as of today, you have my
blessing to create derivative works from my first book. You can
make movies, audiobooks, translations, fan-fiction, slash fiction
(God help us) [GEEK HIERARCHY], furry slash fiction [GEEK
HIERARCHY DETAIL], poetry, translations, t-shirts, you name it,
with two provisos: that one, you have to allow everyone else to
rip, mix and burn your creations in the same way you're hacking
mine; and on the other hand, you've got to do it noncommercially.

The sky didn't fall when I dipped my toe in. Let's see what
happens when I get in up to my knees.

The text with the new license will be online before the end of
the day. Check craphound.com/down for details.

Oh, and I'm also releasing the text of this speech under a
Creative Commons Public Domain dedication, [Public domain
dedication] giving it away to the world to do with as it see
fits. It'll be linked off my blog, Boing Boing, before the day is
through.

#

EOF

That's the end of this talk, for now. Thank you all for your kind
attention. I hope that you'll keep on the lookout for more
detailed topology of the shape of ebooks and help me spot them
here in plain sight.

Cory Doctorow
Midflight over Texas
February 4, 2004

e-books are irrellevent (2, Interesting)

-tji (139690) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270520)

As someone who recently purchased his "Down and out in the Magic Kingdom", I would say the e-book had almost no influence on my purchase. I knew about it being available online, and it did give Cory "cool points" for being involved in the creative commons and other excellent projects. But, I never even looked at the online version.

I purchased in the traditional way.. I browsed it on the shelves of my local small bookstore. I then checked if it was available at my local used bookstore. When it wasn't there, I returned to the small bookstore & purchased it there. (The two stores are next door to each other.. very handy.)

As Cory acknowledges, noone is going to read a text of significant duration online. Until there is an e-book reader device that can better replicate the look/feel/portability/durability of paper and won't strain my eyes, then I'm sticking to paperbacks.

Re:e-books are irrellevent (1)

meta-monkey (321000) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270904)

I completely disagree with you.

I read "Down and Out..." on my laptop, start to finish, and I thought it was a great book.

Also, I have an HP Jornada PDA, with an eBook reader. I found a collection of something like 3,000 eBooks on Kazaa about a year and a half ago, and I've now probably read about 150 of them, on my PDA. The screen is bright and easy to read, and my PDA is always with me, so I always have a large selection of books to read. It's much easier to carry around a small, thin PDA than a 600 page paperback.

Just because you won't read an electronic book doesn't mean nobody will. I prefer eBooks to printed books.

My only complaint with eBooks is that they're too expensive. It's something like $9 to buy most eBooks from online retailers, and that's simply too expensive.

Ebooks Neither E Nor Books? (1, Funny)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270547)

The Holy Roman empire was neither holy, nor was it Roman. Discuss.

/Coffee Talk

Weaselmancer

Better Format (1)

symptoma (751576) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270585)

I have converted his article into a few more familiar formats [homelinux.org] .

Just not there yet (1)

andih8u (639841) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270594)

E-books are great and all, but they pretty much destroy the simplicity of a regular book. It doesn't matter if I'm laying in bed, walking around town, sitting in a car (not while driving like some idiots do), or waiting for a class to start, I can open up a book and never have to worry about battery charge. The boot up time on a regular paperback is lightning fast, too. Plus the most expensive accesory you need for it is maybe a $5 bookmark, or a bookbag if you want to get really fancy. There are some things that technology just can't replace.

ebooks is all I read anymore (4, Interesting)

jridley (9305) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270647)

I read books only on my Palm anymore. I certainly would prefer to read on paper instead of my IIIxe's greenish screen (I'm upgrading soon), but I never carry books around with me, and if I do, just in my bag so I only have them at my desk.

With 3 or 4 books in my Palm, I've got a book to read everywhere. I've read 10 times more books since using the Palm than when on paper.

Also we're way over capacity on paper books in our house; we just don't have room for what we have. We have about 300 linear feet of shelf space, much of it double-shelved, and another couple hundred pounds of books in boxes. I'm just not going to add to that by buying more paper.

Thank God for Baen books. I'd decided not to buy from Peanut Press anymore because I dislike having to remember credit card numbers from 5 years ago to unlock books, and I dislike paying as much for eBooks as for paper; I should at least get a few bucks off.

Baen publishes much of their catalog electronically, in open formats, at reasonable prices.

The DaOitMK Universe suddenly expands... (4, Insightful)

MsGeek (162936) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270652)

Now that "Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom" (DaOitMK) has been released under the least-restrictive Creative Commons licence, the possibilities of completely legal fanfic emerge. You know what? It's a good thing.

Cory Doctorow created a very interesting "universe" that other writers can play around in. A society where nobody really dies, where we've outgrown the need to work to earn our food and shelter, and where a person's reputation is more important than their net worth? Think about it: it's a very rich world to write stories in.

Yeah, most fanfic sucks. But sometimes people write fics that are as good as the movie or TV show they are riffing on. I can think of two people who wrote "Daria" fic who have a great future ahead of them as writers: CE Forman and Kara Wild. If there ever is a revival of the series (which won't happen and there are very good reasons why it shouldn't) they should be brought on board as official writers for the series.

Fanfic is often a way for a less-than-secure writer to exercise their writing muscles without the fuss, muss or bother of creating characters and environments for the characters to interact in. I know...I've written a little in my day, although I'm not proud enough to link to it so that you can see it.

Who knows what will happen once the DaOitMK universe starts expanding thanks to the work of fanfic writers? I suspect this endeavor might even spawn some writers who might not have gotten into writing otherwise.

Thank you, Cory Doctorow. You have given quite a generous gift...maybe more generous than you will ever know.

O man I LOVE E books! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270689)

Well @ least the free pdf or text type. last two books I've read are Underground (http://undeground-book.com) and Free as in Freedom (http://www.oreilly.com/openbook/freedom/). Man I cannot get enough! I love reading while drinking listening to music so reading E versions of book is a natural step for me (since I'm in front of the screen most of the time anyway doing just that). Two reasons why I love them (just like games((yes I rip them off))), the first is the fact I can actually read them first (even if @ the time I can't/won't buy it) then decide to purchase/donate. The second one is they look great as part of my digital archive (think of it as a digital library that not only holds books but movies music etc).

Love them Love them, wuold love some links if anyone's got any!

Look at iTunes and the iPod... (2, Interesting)

YllabianBitPipe (647462) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270828)

eBooks can work, and will work as soon as someone gets all the pieces in place. The obvious model would be to follow Apple's iTunes / iPod. Make a hardware reader that has a great screen, light, and relatively inexpensive, and is a joy to use. Have it read as many formats as possible: HTML, RTF, Word Docs, don't dick around with DRM and proprietary formats. Have it read saved web pages. Have an internal hard drive. Next, have software on the computer that acts as a library much like iTunes. Make it easy to share and even read on your computer if need be, via a web browser.

Get all this crap in place and you will make a mint. Sell the books for 99 cents even. Heck I bet Apple is already working on this (They do audio books).

Eye See the Problem... (2, Interesting)

al!ethel (713058) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270934)

One of the big problems I have had with the idea of e-books is that there is no agreement in the industry on how we should accomplish the sale and distribution of those texts. I am a fan of the Safari website, but I know that I can't get those books for offline reading. I like to download some books for Microsoft Reader, but I know that I might not always be able to access that book, and have no guarentee that I will be able to read it on more than one computer.

E-books are a wonderful tool for research and to help some unknown authors get works out to the public, but with the uproar that MP3's have made, I can't forsee any publisher really pushing to make this a force of format. It reminds me of a technology that is very useful, user friendly, easy to produce and even fun to use, but is sidelined because the people that could make it happen are too afraid to step on any toes.

The one thing that I fear about this, though, is a format being pushed forward and then patented and soon, you end up basically paying another tax, just to read a book, because the format is locked in stone. What happens when all of the works of Shakespear are now avaliable for $19.95, and only from Adobe GreatWorks(TM).

Cory's on a signing tour! (2, Funny)

Mr. Darl McBride (704524) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270949)

I read that Cory's coming to town soon -- he's having signings all over the country to celebrate his newest book.

Remember to bring your public key and a couple forms of ID!

TabletPC's make e-books workable (2, Interesting)

greywar (640908) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270954)

Seriously-my palm zire 71 was just too small [although for reading in the bathtub it can't be beat]. But my motion tabletpc works great for this. the screen is big enough, and its among the lighter tablets-meaning its truly workable for reading with. My favorite author sold a hardback book with a CD of all of his older books-I was in heaven. You can even read comic books without the size relationship being distorted. They have a close out fo older motion m1200's going on for like $1300. yeah its spendy-but it truly makes e-books worthwhile, and reading is one of my major hobbies. Not to mention you can go out on your porch at night, grab a soda and surf the net under the stars.

artists and compensation and chump change (5, Interesting)

rjnagle (122374) | more than 10 years ago | (#8270963)

This is an exceptionally fine piece, and I greatly enjoyed reading it.

Some impressions:

Although I'm happy that Mr. Doctorow has made a profit off his creative commons releases, I have a feeling that his case is an exception rather than the rule, and that once the the novelty value of creative commons content released by commercial publishers die down fewer people will be inclined to try first, buy later. (That is not worse than the status quo however). As pda's and ereaders become more user friendly, the temptation not to buy the hard copy will become irresistable for creative commons works.

I advocate a tip-based model of artistic compensation http://www.geocities.com/bigbadlinux/. Perhaps voluntary "pay-what-you-want" scenario is unrealistic, but compensation becomes viable when the pricepoint is low enough to seem insignificant.

A few years ago, memberships to porn sites cost 30-50$ a month; nowadays even most of them offer 1 day or 1 week memberships for gigabytes of movies. One could use emule to get these things, but when the price point starts resembling chump change, that's when people start voluntarily paying for online content.

If you look at this audio book site, for example http://www.audiobooksforfree.com/screen_main.asp?g g=1&mg=2
downloading mp3 audios for entire novels cost only about $5. That's close to the level of chump change.

Right now POD books easily sell for $10-12, but 100% virtual content could probably go for $2-3. Content needs to be priced in a way that appears to be chump change for the buyer/reader but gains enough readership for chump change to add up to something substantial. Fortunately, the existence of weblogs like www.maudnewton.com and viral marketing make it easier to get your content out there.

The future is weblogs people.

Is Open Source Fertile Ground for Foul Play? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8270991)

The following quote from the talk is a good rebuttal to that idiot from yesterday's slashdot Is Open Source Fertile Ground for Foul Play? [slashdot.org]


Luther Bibles were a lot less trustworthy than the illuminated
numbers. Anyone with a press could run one off, subbing in any
apocryphal text he wanted -- and who knew how accurate that
translation was? Monks had an entire Papacy behind them, running
a quality-assurance operation that had stood Europe in good stead
for centuries.

Another great eBook application... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8271099)

Cookbooks. Ever tried to look for that recipe you made a while back that had the same 3 ingredients you happen to have in the fridge today that you need to use or they'll go bad? I sure have. And with a 1.5m shelf full of cookbooks, odds are, I won't find it. I'd gladly pay extra to get eBook versions of these cookbooks along with the paper copies. It's like many people have said--the paper copies are more pleasant for browsing and pleasure reading, but you can't beat eBooks for searching.

adeu,
Mateu

(Posting anonymously because I've already moderated here)

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