Brian Ruckley's News & Views

Friday, January 22, 2010

MPoaF: Making a Book in the 21st Century

Well, one way of making a book anyway. The Espresso Book Machine is already installed here and there, including a few bookshops around the world, I think. Is this a possible saviour for a handful of the doomed bookstores I was talking about last week? I'm a bit dubious, but you can see why they'd want to give it a try. Any straw you can get hold of probably looks appealing when you're sinking fast. It is quite clever, I suppose, and it's fun to watch a book coming into existence like that.



I'm not sure it really offers much defence against the e-book advance, though. Much as I hate to dwell on the gloomier aspects of this revolution, it's stayed on my mind this last week, so a couple of further hints at what the future holds:

As pointed out by Simon in the comments on the last post, Waterstone's, the UK's last big chain of dedicated bookstores is shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic. They plan to turn their backs (partially) on the dreaded celebrity biography and give individual store managers more control over what books their shops stock and promote. It's an idea I can get behind, but will it stave off the coming storm? Somehow I doubt it. Might prolong the life of some of their stores, but can't see it saving large numbers of them in the long run.

20% of digital book buyers apparently stop buying print copies entirely. Can't make up my mind whether that's a higher or lower percentage than I would have expected. One thing's for sure, though - it's a chunky enough number (and one I'd imagine is only going to rise) to put a big ugly question mark over the viability of all bricks and mortar bookshops once the digital habit has spread a bit further through the reading population.

Lots of digital books are illegally downloaded. A staggeringly unexpected discovery, I'm sure you'll agree. Reading about it a bit more widely, it's not obvious the study's findings are exactly robust, since there's a lot of extrapolation and sampling involved, but maybe I should just be pleased to see that fiction titles are actually amongst the least affected. (But in this case 'least affected' still means thousands and thousands of copies). Again, one thing's for sure: the numbers will only rise once on-screen reading of books becomes a more widespread and deeply entrenched norm. What effect it'll have on the financial stability of the whole writing business remains to be seen, and I'm instinctively doubtful of anyone who claims to know.

And as for publishers ... well, all I can say is I'm glad it's not my job to spend all day trying to figure out where all this is heading, and whether I'll still have gainful employment when it gets there ... I'd be in a perpetual cold sweat.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

New Year, New Things

So, everyone: welcome to 2010. (A week late, I know, but it's the thought that counts, right?) I hope you enjoy it, and that it delivers at the very least a respectable portion of all that you hope for.

Starting a new year with a new experience can't be a bad thing, I reckon, so you won't hear any complaints from me about the wintry onslaught that has subjugated the British Isles. There's been no sign of the grass on the lawn outside my window for over three weeks now, buried as it is beneath a gleaming white blanket of snow. Nothing remarkable for many of you, of course, including those living at the same latitude as Edinburgh (approaching 56 deg N, for the record - roughly the same as Moscow and the Aleutian Islands), but it's exceptionally unusual round here, where the peculiarities of climates both macro- and micro- mean most winters are all but snow-free. In fact, I don't remember seeing anything quite like it in my life.

I'm a big fan of the big freeze. Everything looks just that little bit unfamiliar and exotic. It feels like we've all travelled to some other place - one quieter, more beautiful and imbued with a faint, cold magic - without having to move. The sound of deep snow crunching underfoot seems to me vaguely romantic and wild and fantastical.

A new computer arrived in my house. I didn't really want one, but the old one was accumulating software glitches and idiosyncracies that nothing seemed to rid it of, and to be fair it was a few years old, so I bit the bullet and went shopping. Turns out PCs have got a whole lot better since I last bought one. Who knew? I mean, have you seen these flat screen things? They're all ... flat and stuff. Amazing.

Anyway, one consequence has been a big clean out and reorganising of my feeds, which gives me an excuse to flag up some new, newish or not new at all podcasts that might be of interest:

1. Tor.com has added a new podcast - the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy - to complement their existing audio fiction one. Both can be found here. The G's G to the G promises to cover a wide spectrum of geeky interests, so should be worth following. (First episode doesn't do much for me, since it's mostly about Left 4 Dead 2, and my gaming days are more or less behind me, sadly, but I'm not letting that put me off).

2. The iFanboy Pick of the Week podcast is my graphic novels and comics-related listening of choice. For any of you out there with a liking for that medium, it gets a great big thumbs up from me. (As does their video podcast, if you're a visually oriented sort).

3. Naked Archaeology offers monthly news and views on archaeological research and discoveries. Quite interesting, if you're into that sort of thing. It's a spin-off from the very well known and jolly good Naked Scientists podcast, as is the newer and potentially interesting (but I haven't actually listened to it yet, so don't blame me if it's rubbish) Naked Astronomy.

And lo, the new year brings a new look for Fall of Thanes. This is the cover for the US mass market paperback edition, due out very soon. And it is, IMHO, a thing of beauty. Possibly my favourite 'look' for any of the trilogy so far. And that's saying something, since all the way through, I've really been jolly well taken care of by the Orbit folks responsible for prettying up my books.

The new year also brings free pdfs of books. Free pdfs of 11,000 books to be precise, including quite a lot of famous ones (and a great many not very famous at all ones, I suspect). They're available at The Book Depository. Now, personally I can't read novel-length stuff in pdf form. Can just about manage a short story, but that's about my limit in that format (and even then, I'll be hoping it's a short short story). But you might be different, so go knock yourself out. It doesn't look that easy to actually find some of the freebies, admittedly, but even right there on the front page, there's links to free Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling and others.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

While we're on the subject of e-books ...

Talking about e-books (I did mention the one dollar Winterbirth e-book, didn't I?), a few other fragments of the discussion about the technology that have come to light recently:

Orbit's own Tim Holman talks at some length about e-books on the Dragon Page podcast. It's well worth a listen. Anyone who doubts that publishers are expending a lot of precious brain time on this whole area will quickly be disabused of such notions. Anyone who thinks publishers actually know what's going to come of all the changes infiltrating the industry will be similarly disabused. But knowing isn't what's important; preparing flexibly and imaginatively for unpredictable change, and being willing to try stuff and see what works, is what's important. I think.

Another publisher - this time a new one, Angry Robot Books - wants to know how much an e-book is worth to you, the reader. It's not a brilliantly designed survey (says he huffily, knowing only just enough about survey design to make him wildly over-confident and huffy), but the basic question is obviously at the heart of where this technology is going. And it's a tough one to find a fair answer too.

Just how tough is evidenced by ... the 9.99 e-book boycott on Amazon. At the time of writing, irritated readers have now tagged over 800 e-books on Amazon.com as being unjustifiably expensive. Not an unreasonable sort of price point for the protestors to settle upon, you might think (and I sort of agree), but check out the commenters on that original GalleyCat post. Not everyone is onboard, and there's no doubt the situation is not as clear-cut as a lot of the protestors probably think.

This one's going to run and run and run. The tough questions certainly aren't going to go away, indeed I suspect they're only going to get tougher as time and technology advance. I have no clue what the publishing industry and the world's reading habits are going to look like twenty years from now. I remain somewhat unconvinced that anybody else does either, and I still think all the amazing opportunities opening up before us are balanced by definite risks in the medium term. Which makes it all jolly interesting, if nothing else.

And mildy related: by coincidence I had two folk e-mail me this week asking, in their different ways, whether an audio version of the Godless World trilogy was available, or ever likely to be. Short answer is that such a thing doesn't exist at the moment, and as far as I know isn't likely. I'm almost certain - I could check my contract to be absolutely sure, of course, but it's filed away, I'm feeling lazy right now and I expect someone will correct me if I'm wrong - that the rights to such a version reside with Orbit, so they are probably the people to ask about it, if there's an army of you out there craving Wintebrirth in your ears.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Bargain of the Month!

For a measly one dollar, those of an e-book inclination can, all through April, get themselves one whole copy of Winterbirth for their e-reading pleasure, as this little site confirms. Available on Kindle, Sony and from booksonboard, whatever that is. One dollar! Nearly two hundred thousand words! That's ... a measly 0.000555 cents per word. And at least some of the words in there are truly great, I can tell you; worth a whole lot more than that.

I'm guessing most people stopping by here already have a paper and ink copy of Winterbirth, but if you've got an e-reader, I guess you might want a digital copy too? More importantly, if you know anyone who's into the whole e-book thing, perhaps now's the moment to point out they've got almost nothing (well, one dollar and a bit of time) to lose by giving Winterbirth a shot. Spread the word! I need to buy food!

EDIT TO ADD: Meant to mention, but failed dismally, that this is a US promotion, so all you non-USA type people can ignore all of the above. Sorry about that.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Odds and Ends in the Twilight of the Year

A few quick notes as 2008 heads towards its end and 2009 looms on the horizon.

I am one of a great many guest posters on the Fantasy Book Critic blog, offering some brief comments on stuff I read this year and stuff I might read next year.

New for 2009! The latest addition to the universe of prizes for genre books is the David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy. The inaugural winner will be announced in 2009, once it has been chosen by ... you, the public! You can check out the long list of nominated books here (and yes, Bloodheir's one of them), and vote for your favourite here.

For any early-adopting, US-based, ebook geeks out there, Winterbirth has made it onto the Kindle.

Most Shocking Realisation of 2008: I have reached a point - I don't know whether it's age-related, or career-related or just a transitory state of mind - where the single most exciting shopping experience I can have is apparently delivered by ... stationery superstores. The long lines of endlessly but subtly different office chairs (ever single one of them just crying out to be sat upon, and every one of them seeming more welcoming than my current model), the packages of photocopy paper stacked in bricky towers, the notebooks - the notebooks! - of every hue and size and binding. Pens. Even better: pencils! Folders. I have no need of folders - I already have more of the things than I have stuff to put in them - but I can't help but embark on a critical examination of their robustness, their rigidity. It's possible I may need to get some professional help in 2009, to cure me of this strange affliction. I mean, I realise these places are sort of consumerist temples to the business of writing, and therefore bound to be of some interest to the likes of me, but I can't help but feel there's something vaguely unseemly and deeply uncool about finding them so ... exciting.

For those who are Facebookers: you can now follow this blog, or be a part of its network, or something, over there. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what the deal is, but it's available. Whatever it is. And you've already joined the gang on the Winterbirth page, right?

Novels that have come into my possession, in one way or the other, over the course of the festive period so far: Vinland by George Mackay Brown, Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks, Black Man by Richard Morgan, Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory. Such bounty! Is any of it going to be any good? Oh, I should think so ...

Etymology! I like a good word, and 'swashbuckling' is a good word. But where, I wondered, did it come from? Thus I discovered the very handy Online Etymology Dictionary. And the quite interesting origins of 'swashbuckling'.

Finally, and most importantly, to all readers and visitors to these parts, all best wishes for the year about to be new. Here's hoping 2009 is good to us all. See you next year.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Just to say ...

... for those thousands (dozens? couple?) of folk who might have been worrying my recent lack of posting indicated some cataclysmic silence-imposing development, such as my kidnapping by the aliens recently revealed to be swarming the UK's skies, the good news is it's only because I've been busy, and keeping a low internet profile. It's actually quite refreshing to do a bit of internet detox now and again: I've been pretty much restricting my attention to e-mails and whatever my feed subscriptions harvest from the virtual ocean, and it turns out that's plenty to keep me feeling vaguely in touch with the 21st century. Probably means I've missed all types of excitements, fascinating chance discoveries, flamewars, announcements of earth-shattering importance etc. etc. Still, since I don't know about them, I can't regret missing them, can I? Ignorance is bliss.

Slightly more substantive posts should follow before too long, but in the meantime:

The succession of Steven Moffat as showrunner for Doctor Who is awesomely good news. I've actually been a bit remiss in keeping up with the current series - I've mostly liked what I've seen of it without being hugely engaged - but am now much more interested in what Mr. Moffatt may come up with in years to come. His latest Who episodes, pretty much certain to be leading candidates for the best in the series based on past form, hit the airwaves on 31st May and the week after.

Want to know if your ancestors were criminals? Maybe it's just me, but I think it's extremely cool that documents detailing something like 200,000 criminal cases tried at the Old Bailey between 1674 and 1913 are freely and easily available online. Plug in your family name (or any other keyword you want to give a run out) and start wandering through the lives of the guilty and the innocent from centuries past. There's loads of fascinating stuff in there. Could be a great resource for writers of historical fiction, alternate history, Victoriana, steampunk, whatever ...

And finally, turns out there's a Kindle edition of Bloodheir. See? I can pretty much tell just by looking at photos of the thing that the Kindle isn't the breakthrough device as far as my personal aversion to reading fiction on-screen is concerned, but there's no doubt Amazon's proactive involvement in the whole e-book adventure has livened things up a good deal. And the Kindle reader itself, despite looking over-priced to me, is still No. 1 in Amazon's own electronics sales chart, so what do I know? If anyone does buy the Kindle version of the book, let me know how the experience goes, would you?

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