WTF Wednesday: The iPad? Really?

So, since the announcement of the new Apple ereader-plus-the-kitchen-sink device, Twitter has been awash with jokes about the name Apple chose for it. They chose not the much-anticipated iSlate or even the iTablet, but the iPad. Seriously?

Okay, so I kind of get it–it’s a riff on iPod, and Apple’s hoping this device does for ebooks what the iPod did for digital music. But honestly, what is it about devices for ebooks that makes manufacturers so determined to give them ridiculous names? Granted that Kindle is okay (although what starting a fire has to do with ebooks is beyond me) and Sony’s eInk name is a downright win, the two latest high-profile entries into the market, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and now Apple’s iPad, are just jokes waiting to happen.

Oh wait, the jokes didn’t wait. They were all over Twitter within minutes of the announcement. To the extent that iTampon became a trending topic and SBSarah from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books asked what happens if you have both a Nook and an IPad. (I suggested iFlow.) Jody Wallace wondered if a future, slimmed-down version would be the iMini, while a bigger, souped-up one (possibly for the large print reading public) might be called the iMaxi.

Whenever an unmistakably silly and riffable name like this comes down the pike from a large and respected company, the first thing we wonder is where the logical people were when the name was suggested. How could they have come up with a such a train wreck of a name, something so patently laughable?

The obvious answer is…they knew EXACTLY what they were doing. And in Apple’s case, I totally think they chose iPad with their eyes wide open. People are talking about it. They are getting a ton of free publicity from having given it a name that makes most of us wonder what the marketing people were smoking when they came up with it. There is method to their madness.

What I’m NOT sure there’s a method to is the pricing. The least expensive version of the iPad will set you back $499 for 16GB of storage space. Maybe I’m overly price sensitive, but I’ve got an iPod that has 30gb of space and a video screen that cost only a little more than half that. And while you could argue the iPad does the music function AND the music/video function in the same device, it’s a device that (judging from the photo of it in Steve Jobs’ hands) isn’t going to fit in my purse. Yes, it’s smaller than my laptop, but it doesn’t look a WHOLE lot smaller than a netbook, and I can get one of those for $250 according to today’s ads in the local paper.

I’m sure there are a lot of people who will buy the iPad and love it. But for me, the price entirely quelled my (initially very positive) response. At $200-$300, I very well might have bought one, but not outside the realm of possibility. $300-$350 would have made it harder to justify. But there’s nothing this device offers that I don’t already have elsewhere that I’m willing to shell out $499 plus 8.25% local sales tax.

In other words, I guess I’ll be reading mostly dead tree books for a while yet.

Trash Talking Tuesday: Publishers Aren’t Always Wrong

I’ve gotten embroiled today in another Twitter conversation about piracy and one on Dear Author about authors airing their grievances with their publishers in a public forum. The two might seem totally unconnected, and in most ways, they are, but one thing that strikes me is this–when these discussions come up, the first party to get “thrown under the bus” is always the publisher. It’s always the big, bad publishers who irrationally want to be paid for their product. It’s the big, bad publishers who choose sucky covers for books and then force authors to accept them. Authors are at publishers’ mercy; readers are at publishers’ mercy. No one gets what they want EXCEPT the publishers.

Okay, so, I’m not here to be a cheerleader for the big publishing houses, because I don’t think they’re always in the right, but I’ll tell you what–I don’t think they’re always in the wrong, either.

For example, I know DRM is a touchy subject for the ebook readers out there and that they are unfairly being tarred with the brush of “pirate” because they just want to share their digital books the way they’d share print ones. I completely sympathize with that point of view. But by the same token, I understand why publishers feel they MUST use DRM and why they equate peer-to-peer sharing with piracy. For book publishers, the reality of digital formats means that a single copy of a book can be shared infinitely without any degradation in quality.

It’s as if we were living in world where Star Trek style replicators existed and any manufactured item could just be popped into it and reproduced ad infinitum at virtually no cost. If people could do that with print books (instead of having to copy them painstakingly page by page), you can believe that publishers would be trying to do something to paper books to prevent that, too. DRM may suck as a solution and do more to piss readers off than to protect digital books from being pirated, but publishers are over a barrel on this one. While it’s a poor solution at best (and doesn’t even really work), until the digital book market settles on a single file format a la mp3 and a model like iTumes comes into existence for books, they’re just trying to stick their fingers in the dyke.

And then there’s the issue of authors airing their grievances with the publishers. This particular round has to do with cover art. You can read the post on Dear Author if you’re interested in the specifics of the discussion.

Here’s the thing: when it comes to cover art (and by extension, titles), I’m inclined to believe publishers generally DO know what they’re doing. Even if the author hates the result, even if the models don’t look like the protagonists, even if the title makes the author cringe in mortification. All of the major publishing houses have been in the business of designing, marketing, and selling books for longer than any living author has been writing books. They haven’t succeeded in staying in business for 100+ years by being clueless. Authors are often surprised to discover that the title/cover that made them want to cover their faces in shame are actually beloved by readers and precisely what drew them to the book. This isn’t to say that every title/cover produced by a publisher is a winner, but on balance, I think it’s safe to assume the publisher has a better grasp of what sells than the average author.

Part of the reason I think authors don’t complain a lot in public about the publishers isn’t just that they’re afraid of the consequences (which is certainly an issue, especially for authors without a significant track record), but because in the final analysis, the publisher is taking the lion’s share of the risk (at least if it’s an advance-paying, traditional print publishing house) and therefore, you tend to err on the side of suspecting the publisher isn’t all wet. If you do think they’re all wet, then once your contract is up, it’s time to go looking for another publisher, and again, if you don’t have much of a track record, the last thing you want is to gain a reputation as someone who makes a big stink over things you really don’t know much about.

So, yes, there’s some fear there but also prudence and a sense of respect. You wouldn’t want your publisher complaining publicly about what a pain in the ass you were to work with and how you were completely clueless about how to write a book that could sell. That being the case, I think it’s just decent to return the favor and not trash talk1 your publisher–even if you’re sure it’s all true and your publisher fatally sabotaged your career. There are just some places you’re wise not to go.
1I hope no one will construe this to mean I think the letter by Barry Eisler that was posted at Dear Author constituted “trash talking.” It was actually anything but. Which is precisely why I think writing and distributing it isn’t likely to cause Mr. Eisler any damage. That said, if I were to be moved to complain about something my publisher did, I doubt I could be so well-reasoned and insightful, which is one of the reasons I won’t go there.

Musing on Monday: My Brush with the 19th Century

Last week, a series of huge storms blew through Southern California. And when I say blew, I do mean “blew.” On Tuesday, the rain was accompanied by particularly large gusts of wind. One of these tore through the neighborhood just as my mom was outside the school waiting to pick up my kids (I was teaching at my office). The result was downed trees and downed power lines and an area-wide power outage.

When they arrived at our house (after finding three of the four possible routes blocked by trees/tree limbs), they discovered the pecan tree in the southwest corner of our yard was one of the storm’s victims. It missed hitting the house (although if it had, it would only have harmed on corner of the garage), but it didn’t miss hitting the power line. It didn’t completely detach the service line from the pole, but it seriously stretched it.

As it turned out, the entire neighborhood was without power from 2 that afternoon until about 5 on Wednesday morning, but we had to wait until 10:30 Wednesday night for someone to finally come out, remove the old line, and attach a new one above the fallen tree.

And thus the topic of my post. As I was wandering around my candle-lit house, it dawned on me that I was seeing things in much the same way the characters of my 19th century historical novels would have done. Of course, living without electrical power in the modern world is a good deal more inconvenient that it would have been for our non-electrified brethen who were, after all, accustomed to cooking meals and doing other day-to-day tasks without the help of electrical appliances like stoves and ovens and whatnot. They didn’t expect to have TV or radio or (ye gods how did I go 30 hours without?) the Internet, so they didn’t miss any of those things.

Even so, however, I was struck by how PRETTY everything seemed those two nights without power. Candles actually throw a surprising amount of light, particularly when well-placed, and after a while, it stopped seeming dark to me and instead seemed warm and cozy (even though, to be honest, the house was REALLY cold!). I became very aware in those hours how much softer things looked, how much less I noticed dirt (a very good thing for someone with my aversion to housekeeping, lol), and how relaxed that candlelight made me feel (once I got over the horror of figuring out how I was going to feed my family dinner without a stove).

After it was all over and the lights came back on, I almost MISSED the flickering warmth of candelight. My husband felt the same way. So we’re considering having a “back to the 19th century” night every now and again (with or without the assistance of the power company) just to enjoy it.

Thursday Throwdown: Why Piracy <> Lost Sales

This article in today’s Publisher’s Weekly, Attributor Study Finds Pervasive Book Piracy is garnering lots of attention in the Twittersphere author community, receiving lots of retweets from many different sources, most of them citing the story’s claim that ebook piracy is “costing” the publishing industry “as much as $3 billion.” Setting aside the fact that the “study” upon which this astronomical figure is based isn’t even methodologically sound (see Courtney Milan’s post for details), I have a big issue with the underlying assumption. Namely, that a pirated copy of an ebook is a book the publisher/author otherwise would have/could have sold.

To say that a theft represents a loss of income to the seller of the product assumes two facts not in evidence in this case:

1) The thief, deprived of the opportunity to steal the product, would have purchased it instead.

2) The object, having been stolen, cannot be sold to another customer who would have purchased it.

Assumption #1 drives me crazy because I would be willing to bet a very large sum of money (assuming I had it) that the vast majority of ebook pirates either never pay for books or do so only under extreme circumstances. They consider it beneath them and their mad skilz to actually pay for books. That’s why they’re out trolling torrent sites in the first place. People who don’t have any intention of pirating books don’t go looking for them on known pirate sites.1

In other words, these people are thieves, plain and simple. And just like a thief won’t buy the diamond bracelet because he can’t knock over the jewelry store, the ebook pirate won’t go and buy a legitimate copy if she can’t get it for free. (Special thanks to Courtney Milan for the analogy.)

That said, I saw a few folks on Twitter comment that they hate DRM and because they want DRM-free books, they think piracy is justifiable. I’ve also seen some people claim that it’s okay to download a pirate copy because the publisher hasn’t made the ebook available yet or that because they’re “trying out new authors” without financial risk, it makes them more likely to buy another book from that author down the road.

These are all, in my never-to-be-humble opinion, lame rationalizations for doing something you know is wrong–e.g., stealing. If you’ve ever knowingly downloaded a pirated ebook, I don’t care what your reason for doing so is: you’re still a thief. (The DRM rationalization is extra lame, by the way, because of my books that have turned up on torrent sites, the vast majority have been DRM-free from the publisher. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve yet seen my NY-published book–the ebook version of which presumably has DRM–turn up on a torrent site yet, although that may say more about the popularity of my book than it does about piracy and DRM, but the point is, no one has to resort to pirating to get the vast majority of my catalog without DRM.)

So, I think whatever that actual dollar value that can be assigned to pirated ebooks may be, it doesn’t tell us anything about how much money the publishing industry is losing from it because there’s no way of knowing what percentage of those downloads might have been sales if the opportunity to get pirated copies didn’t exist. I’m sure that the amount lost to piracy is far from zero. But it’s also far, far from 100% of the retail value of the pirated copies.

But Assumption #2 above is also interesting to me, because it points to one of the inherent problems with treating digital files as “inventory” in the first place. If the retail value of a pair of socks is $6 and someone steals that pair of socks from the store, it’s quite clear that the retailer is out those $6. The store can’t recoup that sale because the ITEM is gone.

But a digital file (whether it’s a book, music, software, etc.) isn’t a THING in the way a pair of socks is. The retail value of my digital book may be $6, but the fact that someone downloads the file for free from a torrent site does not in any way impair my publisher from selling an infinite number of copies of my book for that $6. The publisher didn’t make $6 on the copy of my book that was pirated (and yes, I’m simplifying, cutting out wholesale vs retail, etc.), but the pirated copy doesn’t somehow reduce the available stock of my book. There will still be just as many of my ebooks available for honest people to buy as before.

For these reasons, I have to admit that I don’t get all that bent out of shape when one of my books shows up on a pirate site. That’s not to say I like it or think it’s okay for people to steal my work, but I don’t see those illegally downloaded copies as lost sales or money out of my pocket because I don’t think those people would have bought my book in the first place.

I do, however, see the people who make pirated copies of book available as the worst sort of slime, because they absolutely KNOW they are doing something immoral and illegal. Book piracy is largely a crime of opportunity, and the people who provide the opportunity are the prime offenders.

Now, tell me what you think.

1In a very limited number of cases, I think people stumble across books on a torrent site without realizing it’s a pirated copy. The reason I believe people do occasionally download pirated books in all innocence is that a CP of mine got a fan letter from someone who could only have gotten the book in question from a pirate site since it was no longer available for sale from the original publisher. I doubt the reader would have written a gushing email to the author begging to know when the next book in the series would be available if she’d realized she’d stolen it.

Goal Setting Time!

I’ve often said I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions because I figure if there’s anything I should stop or start doing, I should start doing it/not doing it when I think of it instead of waiting until January 1st. Something’s either virtuous and a good idea or it’s not, right?

That said, goals are not the same as resolutions. Goals are the targets you set for yourself and you don’t expect to wake up on January 1 and have them all accomplished. And I do think goals are useful, as long as they fall within the Erica Ridley guidelines for goal-setting, which are as follows:

* Goals should be specific
* Goals should be quantifiable
* Goals should be realistic
* Goals should be attainable
* You should be accountable

Erica gave a great explanation of all five guidelines on the Manuscript Mavens back in January of 2007, which you can still read here. (By the way, have I mentioned recently that Erica’s awesome paranormal gothic Regency, Too Wicked to Kiss, will be released by Kensington Books in their Zebra line in just two months’ time? If you haven’t already, hop over to her website for the book. It’s chock full of fun stuff and extras.)

So, now that we are a full week into the new year, here are Jackie’s specific, quantifiable, realistic, and achievable (cough) goals for 2010:

1. Write or revise every workday, even if I don’t feel like it and even if only dreck comes out.
2. FINISH at least two projects with word counts over 40,000 and two under 40,000. (In 2009, I was real good at starting, but very bad at finishing. Aside from one novella and two very short stories, I didn’t actually write THE END on anything.)
3. Submit at least three proposals/completed manuscripts to major publishing houses.
4. Submit at least two short stories/novellas to major epublishers.
5. Read a minimum of one book per week (I have really been falling down on this one and I know it’s not helping my writing).

That’s it. Pretty simple, really. I could have been a lot more specific about the individual projects I’m planning to work on, but decided that probably wasn’t a good idea since a sale of any one project could derail my plans to work on others (especially since they’re mostly unrelated to each other and/or targeted to completely different genres/publishers).

Check in with me again in about 358 days to find out how I did ;)!

Happy Epiphany!

12thNight_225x340So, today is officially the last day of Christmas. Epiphany is the day on which the wise men supposedly reached Bethlehem to give the baby Jesus his gold, frankincense, and myrrh (and, according to the Colbert Christmas special, his weed, lol).

I have no gold, frankincense or myrrh to present to you today, but I do have the final, full version of the Twelfth Night anthology. Now, instead of twelve individual files, you can download one instead. I hope to also have a version available for Kindle in the next few days (still working out the process), and I’ll let everyone know when it’s up there.

In the meantime, if you’ve been putting off downloading all those itty-bitty pdfs, here’s you chance to download one big one!