Month: August 2006


Manifestly idiotic

I’m feeling a bit cranky tonight. For a few reasons.

Firstly, it’s a fucking Bank Holiday weekend again. I hate Bank Holidays. As someone who works for himself… sorry shareholders, as someone who works for you… I can pretty much choose my own hours, and days. All a Bank Holiday does is prevent me from choosing Monday as one of those days, because no one else is at their desk. And there’s no post. And the banks are shut. That’s annoying. Still, at least I can buy a sofa for just four-nine-nine, with nothing to pay until 2007 (four months).

Secondly, I feel sick. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m actually ill, or because I ate a whole large Vegetarian Supreme pizza earlier. But either way I feel like at any moment I could throw up bits of pepper and sweetcorn on to my laptop’s pretty keyboard.

Thirdly, I have a shit load of work to do tonight and I can’t seem to get motivated. This may be related to the other things, or it may be that I’m having a bad day. Either way, it makes me crankier.

I mention this crankiness because it might explain why I’m about to break my rule of never slagging off other publishers on Vox. Unless you count Michael O’Mara, which I don’t.

Flicking through Publishing News while I await motivation to beam down from space into my brain, I see a story about a company called Gravity Publishing Press and its plans to reveal…

‘its version of the e-book publishing future. In an article published on its web site today, the industry newcomer has a surprise in store for e-book developers everywhere.’

Ooh! A surprise! I love surprises! Is it a puppy?

No! Even better! It’s a retarded puppy that’s been rolling around in its own excrement!

‘”We couldn’t make any sense of the orthodox view of e-publishing,” says editor Stella Whitaker. “Until we cut out the Internet from it. Then it all became clear.”‘

Lost me there, Stella. But do, go on…

‘Gravity Publishing intends to provide an e-reader that simply displays the text of the books and nothing more. Readers will be able to upload texts in a book shop from a disc or, in later developments, from a vending machine, but not over the Internet.
“The Internet is a big red herring. The use of reading matter differs greatly from the iPod model of music consumption….’

Gravity Publishing in eyes different from ears shocker. Sorry, Stella, pay me no heed. You were saying…?

‘When you realise that the lack of rights security comes from expressly delivering texts into computers and computer-like machines that can talk to the Internet, all else follows,” says Stella.’

No, I’m going to have to stop you there, Stella. I can feel the bile rising in my throat. And this time, there’s no sweetcorn to make it taste better. I mean, seriously, what in the name of living buggery fuck are you talking about?

Let’s ignore the fact that we’re talking about an eReader, designed by a company whose website looks like this and whose submissions guidelines read in part…

‘Type your proposal in less than 1000 words and include a single page of your best paragraphs from the work.’

Your best paragraphs? You have to be kidding me.

But, yes, let’s ignore their qualifications at electronic design, usability and software engineering. After all, as Publishing News tells us, they’re ‘talking to’ Korean manufacturers about building the reader. The Koreans! Those Japanese and Americans are toast.

Moving on.

What’s most unbelievably ridiculous is the the notion that ‘when you realise that the lack of rights security comes from expressly delivering texts into computers and computer-like machines that can talk to the Internet, all else follows…’

Of course! The Internet enables piracy, therefore removing the Internet from the equation removes the risk of piracy. Why the hell didn’t I – or anyone else – think of that? What a fucking moron I am.

But why stop there? Once you realises that the drowning of babies comes from expressly delivering [sic] those babies into bathwater, all else follows. Simply by throwing out the bathwater, the drowning baby problem is eradicated completely.

Splash!

Hey, wait, where did the baby go?

Stella, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but a huge – really, really huge – number of the benefits of eReaders stem from connectivity. The ability to connect them to the Internet allows book buyers to download new titles from the comfort of their living room, deckchair, train carriage, university halls of residence, or wherever else their broadband, dial-up or mobile connection is available. No need to trudge to bookshops. No need to wait. No need to queue. It allows eReader software to be continually updated with new features. It allows book buyers to look up words and phrases they don’t understand or concepts they would like to read more about via Google. It allows them to be better than the paper books they replace. Technological. Advancement.

And, yes, it also allows piracy. Or rather copying. Which is sometimes good, in the case of Creative Commons released ebooks like (cough) Blood, Sweat & Tea, and bad in the case of most other ebooks that are sold for money.

Which is exactly why companies like Apple and Sony are spending so many millions of dollars on digital rights management (DRM) technology. The same kind of technology that protects songs on your iPod, or videos on your video iPod.

Can you honestly imagine anyone would buy an iPod that you had to take into a music shop to add songs to? And if those songs were contained on disks that the bookshops/vending machines had to get delivered by publishers (in armoured cars, presumably, to prevent piracy at source)? And if iPods could only use music published originally in Apple’s proprietary format? Why not just buy a CD? It’s far, far less of a pain in the arse.

Do you honestly think it’s a huge coincidence that the most successful e-formats (mp3, HTML, jpeg…) are the most open? The ones that anyone can use? And that the media companies who have made the biggest gains in the Internet age have been the ones who have embraced the openness of the web, and not tried to hide from it (Apple, AOL when it realised that locking things behind walls was a recipe for failure). Jesus, Gravity, who are your role models? The Luddites and King Canute?

As a publisher, you’d think I’d be applauding Gravity who – I have to admit – will make it almost impossible for pirates to rip off their format. For much the same reason that there’s so little piracy of Betamax videos. No one wants to pirate a dead format. (That’s unfair to Betamax. At least their technology was good. Not Korean, for sure, but still good)

The Internet is an inevitable part of future eReaders – and the future in general. You can’t – and shouldn’t – try to resist it. Instead, the answer to piracy of ebooks, like piracy of all things digital, is to create rock solid DRM systems in tandem with legal download services that are so easy to use that using the book equivalent of Bearshare or (pre-settlement) Kazaa rather than the book equivalent of the iTunes store is just too much hassle.

But I could be wrong. I’ve only been writing about – and doing – this stuff for years. And that makes me part of the ‘e-establishment’ that Gravity boasts of defying. Why not have a read of Gravity’s manifesto for yourself and see if I’m missing something.

Or, if you can’t be bothered, here are ’some of my best paragraphs of the work’… (my comments in bold – sorry)

Using the Internet to deliver books into electronic readers is the biggest mistake publishers will make – at least this decade. The presence of the Internet is inhibiting the electronic publishing model and the energy spent in finding ways to deliver books securely on-line is wasted. If this sounds like heresy, read on…
Heresy? It sounds like bullshit. Is that the same? But, let’s not forget, they laughed at Buster Keaton…

On-line purchasing has done little to widen readership, or make the supply of reading material fit natural reading patterns. Books are actually more expensive than ever and are available for less time.

Yes it has. No they’re not. No they’re not. You either made that up, or are living in the 1980s when there was a Net Book Agreement and no Long Tail.

Sony supplies on-line books protected for use only in its own reader. Perhaps no one in Sony can now remember the fate of its own-format Betamax tapes, but it is a solution doomed to the same failure. Why? Because it’s a solution driven by its Internet-enabled e-reader, not by the reader of a book.

Jesus. They actually used the Betamax example, as if it supports their argument. Where are they going with this?

Going off on holiday a publisher loads ten manuscripts he’s received from an agent into his reader from his computer in order to free himself from the tyranny of the holiday laptop.

All these variations of e-book use are possible because a non-communicative reader cannot send its information to anyone nor copy it to another machine. Publishers need not fear pirating and illegal distribution of their wares.

But. But… So, there will be connectivity with computers. But only one way? It’ll be cracked in ten minutes, as happened with the iPod. Except it won’t, because, again, no one is going to buy these things.

Another customer enters with his own e-reader wanting the latest best-seller by Brown. The assistant pulls Brown’s disk off the shelf, loads the contents into the reader in seconds and issues a receipt… An e-publishing model along these lines is likely to make texts more secure. As prices fall and reading moves over to the e-reader, the demand for pirated copy will gradually fall away.

No. No it won’t. Unless by ‘fall away’, you mean ’soar’, as people demand an online equivalent to trekking down to their local bookshop to download the latest ‘Brown’ (as the manifesto puts it) from a disk. Presumably they mean Dan Brown. They don’t say. But then they also use both ‘disc’ and ‘disk’ in the same document, so maybe they don’t know. And don’t get me started on the use of disks/discs in the first place. Why use something as advanced as disks, why don’t we just use punched cards and be done with it?

Andrew Kennedy is an author and consultant editor at Gravity Publishing and is working on the next phase of e-book development.

Andrew Kennedy is an idiot.

And so is Stella Whitaker. And I blame them both equally for my cranky mood.


A poor sort of memory that only works backward

Saturday evening, fresh back from a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe with Pond. What sport!

Adam and James are – as you know – doing shows up there, Adam has an album to promote, and James has both an album and a book. Busy boys both. Pond and I helped out as best we could – primarily by turning up on nights when there were press in, whooping like stooges.

Marked differences in Adam and James’ performance styles include the fact that James was pleased to have us buy him a beer or two after the show, while Adam demanded his vodka and cokes throughout. You’ll note which one of them is the doctor.

So, care and feeding of the talent aside, what else happened?

The journey was fun. Arranged to meet Pond in the office a little after 11 – following dinner with the indescribably great Alison. Of course, I was always going to be late, but that lateness was compounded by a chance encounter at the Charlotte Street Hotel with some folks from an ad agency. One you’ll have heard of.

It seems the ideasmen had spent the day brainstorming a campaign for a new brand of dog food. Australians, Japanese, Americans, Brits – the cream of the agency all brought together, given a bar tab and a pad of paper and told to create. “How’s it been going?” enquired us. “Pretty good,” said the fat one, “we’ve pretty much nailed it”

We were all a bit drunk.

“You know what I think would make the perfect pitch?” I asked, pouring myself another half-glass of their expensed rum.

“What?”

“A dog food that ten out of ten dogs preferred. Not eight, not even nine. You know, one that even that last dog – the fussy fucker who hates everything – had to grudgingly admit, was pretty amazing. One that really got the dog community talking… Barking.”

Silence.

Exchanged looks.

And the skinny one takes out a pen, picks up a napkin and writes my idea down. I mention the episode here only because I need witnesses.

So, back to the office just before 2am, just time to help Pond chop a couple of hundred words from the London by London manuscript before hopping in a cab for Heathrow, via my house to scoop wet clothes out off the washing machine and in to a bag.

Great journey, no traffic at that time of the morning.

Two hours later and we’re on the Heathrow Express, heading back to London, cab to Kings Cross and a train to Edinburgh. Terror, terror everywhere and not a drop to drink. We finally arrived at our flat around noon, having not slept for fifty years. I went sleep for a couple of hours while Pond finished TFT. I’m not really one for managing by example.

Comedic highlights of the festival were Stewart Lee (who has doubled his bodyweight since his days of Lee and Herring) and Richard Herring (who has stayed about the same, but seems to have morphed into a fat version of my ex-girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. Which made me very happy).

Scott Capurro was absolutely fucking superb too, as were Jim Jeffries and Tim Minchin.

I ran in to the latter in the toilets of the Gilded Balloon at about 3am on my last night. He was talking to an enormously wide black guy about whether his (Minchin’s) ironic use of the word ‘nigger’ was understood by audiences, or whether he came across as a terrible racist.

The context was a song about things that go together like “ignorance and racism, and R ‘n’ B and niggers”. I interrupted his conversation to reassure him that it was fine. I think he was pleased to get a definitive answer. That may also be the last time you see the word ‘nigger’ on Vox, so lap it up, nigga.

In the ‘good but not great’ camp lay (posh boy) Will Smith, who was perfectly funny but very same-old, same-old and Doug Stanhope who just wanted to be Bill Hicks, but wasn’t.

Worst act of the Fringe: Topping and Butch. Awful, just awful. Really, really awful. I’m saying no more. Awful.

Other non-show highlights…. the Edinburgh launch of Fringe at Centraal which was fun for all sorts of reasons, none of which are ever going to appear on Vox…. seeing Adam and James in front of an audience of people who had never seen them before. Needless to say they killed…. getting a phone call at 10pm from a researcher for Richard and Judy. “We need you to come back to London tomorrow afternoon to talk about blogging on the show. Give me a call to confirm the details.” A ten hour round trip when I’m only away for a week. Yeah. Thanks. No. Dave Gorman and Petite Anglaise did it instead. Oh, and I met someone very interesting. But that can wait for a post of its own, another time.

More on the trip from Pond here.

Ok, I’ve displaced enough work. Got to get the Blood, Sweat and Tea Creative Commons edition live, got to finish editing some manuscripts, got to reply to 1045 unread emails. Got to eat. Got to sleep.

Ooh, a text!

Later.


I’m happy and I know it

Having a blog can be pretty fucking weird. Good weird, but weird.

A couple of days ago you’ll remember, I mentioned being in a fug – which I was. As it turned out, it was a two day fug, only really ending last night when Clare, myself, accountant Mark and later Rob went to the pub.

Turns out a few pints of Stella, a couple of bottles of wine and then later £1-a-drink night at The Gardening Club with Rob and a gaggle of American LSE students who claim you look like Robbie Williams (I don’t) is the ultimate fug cure.

Pound a drink night, incidentally is brilliant. I woke up to a pocketful of receipts, all for two pounds. Trashed for little over twenty quid. Like being a student again. I also woke up curled up happily on the floor, next to my bed. Would the extra two steps have killed me?

Oh, that reminds me, Robin Williams is in rehab. Great quote from his publicist… ‘He found himself drinking again’. He must have been devastated.

So yes, blogging a fug can have great results. After reading Vox, not one, but two ladies have very kindly offered to make me dinner. Countless folk have emailed me amusing jpegs (remember Yoda dog?) to cheer me up. A stripper has introduced me to her sister. And I’ve been invited on an EasyCruise. An EasyCruise! A long weekend on a big orange boat, surrounded by the kind of people who would vomit on you soon as look at you. Reckon we’ll get on famously.

I can just imagine sailing down the Riviera, enjoying the stunning scenery, the amazing weather and the beautiful people sunning themselves on the sand. And then suddenly, piercing the calm, comes the massed voices of a stag party from Hull. “Oy-oy! You fookin rich wankers.” Good old Stelios. Putting the class into lower class.

Meanwhile, in other news, Scott’s blog is really starting to hot up. He’s just posted his real reasons for leaving Waterstone’s – which are pretty damning for the big-W. Also, Adam’s show kicks off at the Fringe on Saturday – James’ has been going for a few days. You should go, even if James is a racist. What else? This week’s London by London is absolutely brilliant – and includes an interview with Noel Clarke – oh, and Tom’s appearance on London Today is up on You Tube.

Reasons to be cheerful, all.

I’m off home to make a toasted sandwich.

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