Tag Archives: digital media

On The Fate of Paper Stories

Readers are passionate people who care about what they love. As such, the proliferation of ebook readers and ebooks has stirred up the readership side of the publishing industry as well.  People seem fairly divided along the spectrum: some have adopted ebooks whole-heartedly, others mix them in, and still others have drawn a line.  With the latter, the implication is that you can have their paperware books when you pry them from their cold, dead hands.

But what these people I think are missing–and like I’ve explained to people who have asked me about my Kindle and what I think of it–is that paper isn’t going anywhere. For some books, I read them and forget them, and they stay on my shelf, sometimes shoved into the back or with other, newer books stacked on top of them.  These are the books that I can’t remember when I read it last, only somewhat remember what the story was about, and can’t see myself reading again any time soon.  This is one of the sweet spots for ebooks: the joy of reading it, immediately and at hopefully lower cost (here’s looking at you, publishing industry), and then it doesn’t clog up your shelves.

Then there are the books that I remember very well:  those old friends who I’ve read time and time again.  These are the books that ebooks will never replace, the ones with dog-ears, underlined passages, scuffs and scrapes, and so on, memories of buying it in high school or as a gift from a college romance, books where I’ve taped up the spines just in hopes that they’ll last longer.

As the future grinds on, bookshelves will become a showcase.  Not like the ones like Michael Nye mentions (bookshelves for show, to project a cultivated image), but rather an honest showcase of the stories and authors we hold most dear.  Our homes are full of the things that matter to us and the space we give to our books no less so.  The same drive that motivates readers to drive hours to visit an author signing or to locate and buy an old first-edition copy is the same drive that will ensure the acquisition of a paper copy of our favorites.  I have books that I would never consider an ebook copy “enough” and will always keep a paper copy.  There will always be a market for these paper stories, and where there’s a market, there’s a profit to be made and a company to fill it.  Papers books might just be tomorrow’s collector’s edition.

After all, I don’t own every single movie I’ve ever watched.  But I do own a copy of my favorites.

Online News Paywalls: Will a Subscription Model Work?

Just read an article about the Sunday Times (A UK newspaper) justifying its paywall.  The link to the article doing said justifying is of course behind the paywall, but you can find another link here (put up by the original author, I believe; remember this for later): http://www.dianestormont.com/jmscbackup/?p=229

The driving argument is this:  good journalism costs money.  Barring the celebrity crap, it costs time for research and digging and it costs money for airfare and other such expenses.

In truth, I hadn’t thought about that part much. I agree.  It makes sense.

But nothing is ever that easy or cut-and-dry.  If I start paying for news, what assurance do I have that more journalists will be hired?  Or that existing ones will get a raise?  or that Mr/Mrs. journalist ABC will finally get an expense check to cover the digging s/he’s doing?  How do I know that that money just isn’t going toward the CEO’s bonus check or to the board of directors or whatever sort of structure sits at the top?  Look at the owners of some of our newspapers and news organizations and you see money.

So it’s not just about quality journalism.  It’s about money, too.  It’s a business.

And that’s where the waters get muddy.  Furthermore, what about the incestuous nature of online news these days?  With stuff like the Associated Press, RSS syndication and suchlike, many news organizations don’t even write or originate the news they write about in the first place.  So you want me to pay you to read what other people worked on?  Why should I bother paying a local paper when I can pay for the Chronicle or the NYT or some bigger paper with more pull (local news is likely available elsewhere)?  Why should I pay the Chronicle or the NYT when maybe I can pay the Associated Press and get my news from the source?

How about the ads that many newspapers show?  One large criteria I’d have for whether I paid or not would be the assurance that they would no longer appear.

Another problem is of course the paywall itself.  When I went to read the original article, I wasn’t even allowed to read a snippet or a summary:  instead, to get my “free preview”, they requested I sign up and log in.  Just for the preview.  In addition, the paywall makes it difficult to handle any kind of discussion or openness about the information contained in the article itself.  If I want to link my friend to a really awesome piece, I can’t.  Not unless they subscribe.

So what do I do?  Likely I copy and paste the article for them.  Or print it out.

So I can’t help but draw paralells between DRM controls and paywalls-as-DRM.  I just don’t think it will work.  People will just circumvent the restriction.  Remeber the opening paragraph, where the article author himself reposted the content somewhere else so that people could read it?  News versus money.  Right there.

Plus, I see the emergence of aggregator services that take that behind-the-paywall stuff, aggregate it together, and then charge people for reading it.  It’s not much of a longshot, especially inside of niche areas like business or tech.  How do you slice up that journalistic pie?

These are the more concrete issues.  I haven’t even touched on the whole bit of how do you innovate and foster open exchange when everything is locked behind an account and a credit card? The stickier, bigger-picture images come down to news versus money and which has priority, and I don’t think the world in general is ready to answer that yet.

Like books, music, and other content, I’ll gladly pay for quality.  but I need to know where my money is going and that my money is directly related to the quality that I receive.  I need to know where it goes.  An example: there’s plenty of free fiction available online.  It spans the quality spectrum from terrible to publish-able quality.  But if I buy a book, I know where my money is going (author, publisher [who pays editors, artists, etc]) and I can expect a generic level of quality (such as basic editing, minimal formatting errors, etc).  But with fiction, the act of handing over money does NOT guarantee quality writing or storytelling, just as handing over money won’t automatically increase the quality of journalism that results.

Perhaps a microtransaction model would be better than a subscription model.  For instance: I find an interesting article to read, I sign in to my 3rd party account and authorize a transaction for 5 cents or 25 cents or whatever it would be, and then I get access to that article.  It would then behoove that news organization (and all the others) to make snippets available for free without registration in the hopes of enticing me to click-and-pay for another article.

These paywalls and the discussions that result from them are an important step, but we still have a long way to go.

Funny I Mentioned That

I wrote the other day about getting an ebook copy of a work whenever you buy the print copy and that this could also apply to CDs and MP3s.  Lo and behold, I saw this article today: How Download Cards Connect Physical Music to its Digital Future:

Enter download cards. The foreign slips of paper and plastic started showing up all over record stores at the beginning of 2007, each scrap entitling the owner to a full MP3 download of the record they just bought. Now fans could take the songs on MP3 players without hunting for illegal downloads or buying the album again on iTunes.

I hope that more labels adopt this and that it spreads to other mediums.

Is An Ebook a Book? And What Does It Mean When You Buy It?

I’ve been weighing in on a fairly interesting post on the Amazon Kindle forum.  The focus is on the idea of getting an ebook version of a physical book when you buy it.  Myself and the original poster think that it’d be a great way for a publisher to add value to their product (I hate using that phrase, though):  a sort of bonus, a thank-you, an incentive for the customer.  Some of the others in the thread feel that that’s basically asking for two copies of the book for the price of one, which “is stupid” to roughly quote one of the participants.

I, of course, disagree.  But it brings up an interesting point that I think lies at the center of the whole ebook problem:  is an ebook a book?  And what does it mean when you “buy” it?

A fundamental level to the problem is the basic question:  Is an Ebook (or an mp3) an actual thing?

This becomes important.  My argument on the whole “buy hard copy, get ebook with it” thing is that I’m paying to read the story.  Some of my money goes towards offsetting the physical costs of the book, such as printing, shipping, storage, and so forth, but the whole idea is that I give money and get a story. If you disagree, you’re welcome to buy blank books all you want.

There’s been various chatting from all sides of the industry regarding the pricing of ebooks: from Apple to Amazon to the big publishers to average readers and indie authors.  Regardless of how you slice that pie, I operate under a few rules of thumb that I have yet to see any significant evidence against:

  • ebooks benefit from the editing done on the original copy of the book; short of formatting issues and concerns, a book won’t undergo a brand new round of rewrites and edits.
  • ebooks also benefit from the cover art of the original version.  It’s possible to commission separate art, but the cover is a book’s identity in a sea of other snowflakes.  I don’t know of many books where the publisher would willingly deviate from the physical book’s art.
  • ebooks have little in the way of material costs:  no printing, no shipping, no storage.  The bandwidth for their delivery is on the order of pennies.

As such, I have one big rule of ebooks:  they should cost less than the dead tree version.

But this particular argument goes beyond that–it’s the third point above that’s quite important.  With not-much-more outlay, the publisher also has another version of the product that they can deliver to me for practically free.  I think it’d be pretty nifty if they included it whenever they could.  Maybe it’s only on a hardcover or trade release.  That’s fine.  Also, any additional costs in producing the ebook are offset by the fact that the publisher is also trying to sell the ebook copy of it.

This argument breaks down if you subscribe to the theory that an ebook is a separate and discrete book in and of itself as compared to the physical copy, but I still remain unconvinced of the whole matter.

The whole thing is a lot like the CD/MP3 and piracy storm cloud.  Lawsuits and suchlike have acted as if the mp3 version is just as “real” as the CD version.  To me, they’re not: I can just as easily see a music label or artist offering free mp3s of an album that I just bought.  They don’t “lose” anything for sending me the MP3s.  I haven’t somehow received two CDs for the price of one.

Note also that this does not work the other way: I don’t expect someone to send me the CD or book if I buy the digital version.  Part of the deal of the digital versions is that they’re cheaper because there’s nothing physical about them, and I’m okay with that most of the time.  If they send me the meatspace copy of whatever it was just because I bought the digital version, they’re out of a discrete and countable unit that they could have otherwise sold, and that’s dumb.

Earlier, I mentioned the idea of paying for the privilege of reading a book.  Even the Kindle Terms of Service support this idea (as much as I didn’t want to admit it at first): you’re not buying a kindle book when you “buy” it in the Kindle store:  you’re paying for a license to read the work.  That idea forms the basis of books in general.

Since I’ve already given you my money, how about throwing me a digital copy of it while you’re at it?  It’s that much more likely to make me want to buy something.  Instead of a one-or-the-other war between physical and ebooks, another way the industry can embrace them is by pairing them together.

Which Is More Damaging? Oil or Filesharing?

Which Is More Damaging? Oil or Filesharing?:

RIAA plaintiffs are seeking 1.5 trillion dollars in damages.  How much does BP owe?

via twitter.com/ThisCJ