Tag Archives: e-books

Links for October 16

Josh and I spent the last two weeks in London and Paris, having a splendid time and getting to hang out with an astonishing and wonderful variety of people. Now we’re back, trying desperately to get caught up. While I clean 400 emails out of my inbox (not an exaggeration), I found a handful of interesting links that had accumulated:

  • Avon just launched a Facebook app, Avon Social Reader, that will let readers preview and discuss Avon titles and buy some of them DRM-free from AllRomanceEbooks.
  • I recently signed up for Daily Science Fiction, lured in by Nicole Cipri’s wonderful “A Silly Love Story”, and have been enjoying it; it’s easy to make time to read one short story a day, and the quality’s pretty good. Newcomer SnackReads looks to be aimed at the same market, but instead of a free plain-text email to read in a few minutes, you get a $1.99 epub file to read over a lunch break or commute. They’re launching with Suzy McKee Charnas’s long-OOP story “Scorched Supper on New Niger”.
  • Want even more short fiction? Cemetery Dance is putting out a bunch of short horror e-books to lead up to Halloween.
  • A 12-year-old interviews China Miéville about Railsea.
  • I interview Jo Walton (on video) about Among Others, just before or just after it won a Nebula Award. I haven’t watched this and have no idea whether it came out well, so if you get a chance to watch it, let me know what you think!

Link Roundup

Some fun things for the weekend:

  • At every convention I’ve ever gone to, rule #1 is “don’t freak the mundanes”. However, some mundanes are very good at freaking themselves. (h/t Andrew Porter)
  • Chicon and Dragon*con will be doing some joint programming, connected by two-way video links. I’ve looked into doing this sort of thing at Readercon, mostly to bring in guests who can’t travel to the convention for one reason or another, and there are a really astonishing number of ways for it to fail even if you have substantial infrastructure and experience with videoconferencing. Not all the problems are technological: if you’re a speaker, for example, do you face the live audience or the camera? If you’re a moderator, you rely heavily on body language; how can you tell whether your long-distance panelists are fidgety and bored, or itching to say something but too polite to butt in? It’s very complicated. I will definitely be going to some of those program items to see whether they can pull it off.
  • Speaking of Worldcon, if you want to meet up there, drop me a note! It’s a working vacation for me, and I’d especially love to connect with small-press publishers who don’t often come to New York.
  • At long last, Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction series will have digital editions. These books are excellent reading as well as priceless snapshots of how SF has changed over the years. Not mentioned in that press release, but hopefully included in the digitization project, is The Best of the Best, Volume 2, an anthology of superb SF novellas from the past 20 years. That book is probably my third-favorite anthology of all time, and I have read many, many, many anthologies. (The first two in my personal pantheon are Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year #14 (1984) and Spider Robinson’s The Best of All Possible Worlds. It’s a close call, but I think Best of the Best, Volume 2 edges out Judith Merril’s The Year’s Best S-F: 11th Annual Edition (1967) and Arthur W. Saha’s The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories 13 (1987) for third place. Barely.) Some of the very best work in the field has been done at novella length, going back to the days of skinny pulp paperbacks that really did fit in your back pocket. If you haven’t hunted down Dozois’s homage to the SF novella, do; you won’t be disappointed.

Finally, my friend Rachel Silber kindly sent along “Just Glue Some Gears on It (and Call It Steampunk)”, a smashing blend of chap-hop and barbershop-style harmony:

Link Roundup

I spent the last week on vacation and came back to a pile of links in my inbox! The least I can do is share them with all of you.

What else happened while I was out?

Downloading Books for Dummies

The big news today is that Wiley is suing 27 unnamed Bit Torrent users for seeding copies of For Dummies books. According to the Wiley spokesperson quoted in the PW article, “Our objective is to approach them and to settle if they will agree to stop the infringement, sign a release to that effect, and agree to pay modest compensation… Our goal is to educate and settle.” I think this is an interesting approach and certainly preferable to the Metallica approach of picking one person to make a very expensive example of, though I do wonder how much “education” the defendants want or need.

Coincidentally, longtime Genreville reader Celine Kiernan just sent me the link to an essay by Susan Connolly discussing the ethics of book piracy, as well as the full text of the interview Connolly conducted with Kiernan on the topic. With regard to educating pirates, Connolly writes:

The arguments around ownership and rights to work are well established…. However, I think that rather than simply bang a drum about the inherent validity of intellectual property rights, we must seek to understand why it is that certain individuals find these arguments to be unpersuasive, or outweighed by other moral and practical considerations.

Without this understanding, I do not feel that we can come to accurate conclusions about the ethical status of book piracy and any policy considerations that result from this status.

And Kiernan, like many others before her, notes that piracy is inextricably linked to how easy it is for a reader to legitimately obtain a book. (This tweet about “Piracy is demand not met by the publishers” was among the most retweeted comments from the Books in Browsers conference last week; at a glance, I didn’t see anyone arguing with it.) “I can only bring this western European perspective to the subject, but I am aware that piracy has different resonances in different parts of the world,” she says. “There are many other portions of the world who do not have access to well distributed fairly priced books nor a working library system.” And she adds:

In so far as I feel in any way qualified to comment on this problem of global distribution (again, I would much prefer to hear from those who are directly affected by it please – can we get those voices included in this conversation?)  it seems to me that the longer piracy is used as a Band-Aid for distribution/pricing problems, the longer it will remain the only available solution. Radical change is needed and that can only come about with a large vocal public objection to the problem and then a concerted effort by political and business interests to change the current situation. If the ‘solution’ continues to be the use of pirate copies coupled with business/political apathy then nothing will ever change.

I highly recommend reading both Connolly’s essay and her interview with Kiernan for an idea of where the “education” of book pirates–and of publishers–might begin.

EDIT: Literary agent Ted Weinstein points me to his rebuttals of the “demand unmet by publishers” concept.

Berkley/NAL Digital Imprint Encroaches on Mass Market Territory

In the clearest sign yet that e-books are starting to replace mass market paperbacks in publishers’ eyes, Berkley/NAL is launching a new digital imprint, InterMix, that will publish genre fiction at mass market prices (around $6.99). More info is here.

This positioning is rather clever, as $6.99 is actually quite high for a romance e-book but calling it “mass market” sets it up to be compared to print formats instead of other e-books. It also raises the troubling specter of a world without mass market paperbacks for people who can’t afford digital reading devices. Seanan McGuire wrote very eloquently about this last month, and I think her post bears rereading, especially this part:

I grew up so far below the poverty line that you couldn’t see it from my window, no matter how clear the day was. My bedroom was an ocean of books. Almost all of them were acquired second-hand, through used bookstores, garage sales, flea markets, and library booksales, which I viewed as being just this side of Heaven itself. There are still used book dealers in the Bay Area who remember me patiently paying off a tattered paperback a nickel at a time, because that was what I could afford. If books had required having access to a piece of technology—even a “cheap” piece of technology—I would never have been able to get them. That up-front cost would have put them out of my reach forever.

I understand that demand for mass market paperbacks is down, and demand for e-books is up, and publishing companies don’t really have a lot of spare cash to throw at formats that don’t sell well. All the same, I hope to see a world where mass market imprints like Berkley Sensation can happily coexist with InterMix, and where the rush to the digital frontier doesn’t leave anyone behind.

Linkydinks, Special E-Text Edition

I get a holiday Monday; you get links.

Bring on the Digital Galleys

If you’re not subscribed to the PW Daily email (and why aren’t you? It’s free and you can sign up right here), you may have missed this announcement:

Beginning September 15, Publishers Weekly‘s romance and science fiction/fantasy/horror reviews sections will accept digital galleys for review consideration. This includes galleys for digital-first publications in those genres.

We especially encourage small and independent presses to make use of the new system, which we hope will make it easier to send us galleys three to four months ahead of publication. Uploading digital galleys is also an eco-friendly alternative to packaging and shipping physical galleys.

All of PW’s current submission guidelines apply to digital galleys. We accept .epub, .mobi, .rtf, and .pdf formats. Please only submit each book once; there is no need to submit both physical and digital galleys of the same title.

Publishers may access the upload system at http://www.publishersweekly.com/egalleys. Please send error reports, questions, and feedback to service@publishersweekly.com.

I am pleased as punch to be spearheading this effort, and grateful to my reviewers who are willing to make the digital plunge. Please spread the word to all the SF/fantasy/horror and romance publishers and publicists you know.

Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Goes Digital, Searchable, and Free

From the press release:

The third edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the definitive reference work in the field, will be released online later this year by the newly-formed ESF, Ltd, in association with Victor Gollancz, the SF & Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, whose support will enable the text to be available free to all users. This initial “beta” version, containing about three-quarters of the total projected content, will be unveiled in conjunction with Gollancz’s celebrations of its 50th anniversary as a science fiction publisher.

The first edition of the Encylopedia, whose founder and general editor was Peter Nicholls, appeared in 1979, and contained over 700,000 words. A second edition, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, appeared in 1993 and contained over 1.3 million words. Both editions won the Hugo Award from the World Science Fiction Convention, in addition to numerous other honours.

The beta version of the third edition will contain some 3 million words, including about 12,000 entries and well over 100,000 internal links. The entries cover every area of science fiction, including authors, illustrators, movies, music, games, and fanzines. The text will be completed, through monthly updates, by the end of 2012.

The decision to go digital and free is generating considerable buzz. Given how much previous editions have sold for, it’s clear that the SFE has plenty of revenue potential. The question is how, or whether, that potential will be realized when the content is available and searchable online for free (in the style of other reference websites like Merriam-Webster’s dictionary site). Managing editor Graham Sleight dropped me a note to say that he’s seeking views on whether people would want to buy the SFE in print, e-book, or app format, and he invites Genreville readers to respond either in comments here or with tweets to @sfencyclopedia. I hope you’ll comment here; I’m very interested to know what you think.

Story Snippets That Add Up

Tipster Adam P. Knave points me to Laszlo Xalieri’s online fiction experiment “This One Time,” a series of daily stories and story fragments that can be read on their own, in order, out of order, or as parts of a slowly growing whole. The table of contents gives a tantalizing hint of each one:

1. This one time a flaming yellow snarling thing came down out of the sky and quenched itself in the e. colerific river I can see from the fire escape.

2. This one time I was sitting in a little cafe/restaurant thing that was about as wide and long as the main hallway in the house where I grew up — and it really wasn’t a big house.

3. This one time I knocked a letter opener off a desk and it dropped right through the top of a leather loafer and nailed itself into the top of my foot.

4. This one time I threw a ratty old green tennis ball for my dog Alf to catch and another dog just flew in out of nowhere and swallowed the damned thing whole.

Each of those links goes to a longer piece, though I rather enjoyed reading all the short versions at once and trying to see how they fit together. Xalieri’s up to 84 chapters, so if you think you’re likely to get sucked in, best to wait for the weekend.

Speaking of short fiction, Orbit has announced plans to start publishing short stories as e-books. April 18 will see the U.S. release (with international availability to follow “in the very near future”) of new fiction by Mira Grant, T.C. McCarthy, Jennifer Rardin, and Jaye Wells via orbitshortfiction.com. At least some of the stories will tie in to established series, but I expect they’ll be intended to stand well on their own as digital gateway drugs to the longer works. No mention of price, but given that the Orbital Drop already puts up one full e-book a month for $2.99, I’d guess the short stories will cost less than $2.

Brian Keene Calls for Dorchester Boycott

Dorchester is struggling to come back from the brink of dissolution, and in the process they seem to be angering a lot of authors. Brian Keene, who published several books through Dorchester’s Leisure imprint, says he agreed to relinquish any claim on funds owed to him in exchange for the full print and digital rights to his books. He also says that Dorchester isn’t honoring this agreement:

Since January of this year, unauthorized digital editions of my work have been sold via Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Sony. These digital editions were not made available for sale until well after the rights had reverted back to me. Dorchester’s response, in each case, has been to blame someone else and assure me that “they are looking into it” and that I would be “financially compensated” and that “it wouldn’t happen again”. Except that I haven’t been financially compensated and it keeps happening again.

…If you care about horror fiction, and more importantly, if you care about the people who write horror fiction for a living, and if you disagree with this publisher’s methods, history, and “mistakes”, then please consider withholding your financial support of Dorchester Publishing and Leisure Books. Boycott them.

Keene’s list of people who have committed to the boycott includes Haikasoru editor Nick Mamatas (who commented that “the fact that they barely release anything makes [a boycott] easy!”), bestselling author F. Paul Wilson, and the World Horror Convention. The #boycottdorchester hashtag is also getting a fair amount of Twitter traffic.

Meanwhile, Dorchester sent out a message to their email promotion list, asking which of their former print books should be released as e-books. Robert Swartwood says this isn’t as innocent as it sounds:

What’s happening here is while Leisure is on the cusp of being forced to give back the rights to many of its authors because those authors’ books are about to go out of print, they’re looking for reasons to keep those books in print and hence hold onto those rights.

It seems very clear that both publishers and authors need to be really careful about digital rights, especially when digital publication can affect whether a book is in print (a contractual term with a lot of implications). It’s very easy to track whether physical books are showing up in bookstores despite the publisher not having the rights to print or sell those books. It can be trickier to prove that a digital store didn’t accidentally flip the “in print”/”out of print” bit on their source copy of a file that they got from the publisher years ago when the publisher did indeed have the rights to create and sell the e-book. And when digital publishing can be used to keep a book in print long after the author expected their rights to revert, while not contributing to the physical sales numbers in Bookscan that can significantly affect an author’s future contracts and career, the consequences to that author can be significant.

Consider this mess yet another argument for having a good agent–and a good lawyer.

Going Digital: A Personal Journey (part 2 of 2)

If you haven’t already, you might want to read part 1. That covers the physical and practical aspects of becoming a devoted e-book reader after 30 years of reading paper books. Now I’m going to get more into the philosophical side.

In four days of reading e-books, my sense of what a book is has changed. Suddenly even small paperbacks that I would have happily shoved in my coat pocket a week ago seem so heavy. The trade paperback of The Name of the Wind that I borrowed from a friend is unthinkably enormous. (I’ll probably return it to her and borrow a digital version from the library.) I’ve heard endlessly about this sort of change in thinking on a societal scale, of course, but it’s different to experience it personally.

I really get the evangelism now. It’s the library-in-my-pocket thing for me, more than anything else. I don’t remember feeling this way about portable digital music, because it didn’t change my listening habits; I’ve never had a big iPod, only a little 2GB Shuffle on which I generally listen to one album or playlist at a time, same as I did on my Walkman and my Discman and my Minidisc player (remember those?). I’ve never minded waiting until I got home to put a new album on my Shuffle if I was tired of the one I had going. Now I use my phone the same way, fine, whatever, no big deal. But e-books are changing the way I read. Over the weekend I interrupted my reading of Loss of Separation, a pretty grim horror novel, to read a fluffy Regency romance. I’ve never been a book dabbler before. Putting a book on hold so I could read another book is shocking and strange, because with paper books it’s much, much harder to do. I might lose my place in the first book, or even lose the book! No worries about that now with automatic last-page-read bookmarking and good file management. As with libraries, the impractical has become practical. Technology is wonderful.

It’s awe-inspiring to hold this little chunk of metal and plastic and think, Right now I could be reading a horror novel or a romance novel or a fantasy collection or a science fiction anthology, or if I don’t like those I can download a million million others. Whatever literary itch I have right now I could scratch, right now. I can’t even imagine how it feels for people who buy books, who can pick and choose among all the books available for sale. For the moment, to save my budget, I’m limiting myself to what I can get legally for free. Do you know what’s out there legally for free? More books than I could read in my lifetime.

Do I still love paper books? Of course I do. Do I still love sitting in my living room, as I am right now, and being surrounded by my fabulous personal library? Of course I do. Do I want that personal library condensed down impossibly small and in my pocket for me to access whenever I want, with full-text search and easy one-handed reading? Of course I do.

However. (There’s always a however.)

Do I want my friends to be able to visit that virtual library the way they can visit my living room now, to browse and borrow and exclaim over shared old favorites? Of course I do. Any library needs a door so people can take books out and (hopefully) bring them back, and right now DRM’d e-books only have windows through which we can see but not touch.

While I posited a publisher swap-paper-books-for-e-books program on Twitter yesterday, I doubt many people would actually participate in something like that. Ownership is still valuable in this era of content licenses. So is the trust that lets you watch calmly as someone takes your book and walks out the door. I trust my friends that much. Libraries trust their users that much. Publishers don’t seem to trust readers that much, and no one wants to do business with someone who doesn’t trust them. As Ta-Nehisi Coates recently wrote about getting to know people online:

You can accomplish quite a bit over the net. The only real barrier is faith. As long as you’re clear that the parties will be honest, speak in good faith, and avoid a debate team approach, you can get a lot done.

It’s one of the reasons I’m so hard on people, here. Bad faith–intentional or not–rots the foundation of communication. If you can’t trust that I’m sincerely agreeing, or disagreeing, with you, how can we speak with any sort of depth?

Faith is indispensable.

I want to see that kind of faith and sincerity in the e-book conversation. Right now it’s still all about theft. We simply have to get past that somehow, because lack of trust leads to digital security theater, and it is impractical and wasteful and offensive and foolish.

As an example, consider the number of hoops I had to jump through to read DRM-protected NetGalley e-galleys on my phone. First, to even access the pages where I could download those files, the publisher had to personally approve me. Then they had to send me the link to the galley page (though I could have found it by searching NetGalley). Then I had to download the galley to my laptop and open it with Adobe’s software, which I’d already installed and authorized. Then I had to install Aldiko, the one and only Adobe DRM-compatible Android app, on my phone and authorize it. Finally I was able to connect the phone to the computer and copy the files over. The only thing I don’t have to worry about is deleting them, because they’ll expire the day the book comes out. The whole experience felt as though a disapproving butler allowed me to enter a mansion, followed me around to make sure I wasn’t stealing the silver, and searched my bag when I left. This is not a good frame of mind in which to write a review.

I’ll keep jumping through those hoops and setting aside my personal frustrations with them, because I have a professional obligation to consider as broad a range of books as possible, even the ones that are awkward or annoying to read (like the giant bound manuscripts that hit my desk occasionally). But why would your average book blogger put time and effort into helping to promote books from a publisher that treats reviewers and readers like thieves? It’s so obviously counterproductive as soon as you take human feelings into account.

Most readers just want to read and talk about books, not profit off of them or rip off publishers and authors. Most readers think publishers and authors are awesome. Or at least, most readers think authors are awesome. I don’t think most e-book readers think very highly of publishers anymore, and that’s tremendously sad, because of course all the people who work in publishing started out as passionate readers. If publishers alienate potential future publishers, then the prediction of the industry’s death is self-fulfilling.

It seems entirely unconscionable to let that happen. As much as things are changing, I absolutely believe that traditional publishers have a place in the digital world. As much as writers struggle to earn money, I absolutely believe that traditional publishers can support writing careers. But they’re not going to get there by driving their customers away. In addition, within the community of readers and authors, lack of trust is causing tremendous distress and divisiveness.

Now that I’ve become a devoted e-book reader–which in the end really was as simple as finding the right reading device for me–I will be doing a lot more thinking about how publishers can ethically, respectfully make money off of people like me. I joked to friends the other day that I was about to start the Please Raise My Taxes Party, because I’m so tired of the notion that having a few extra pennies in my pocket is preferable to libraries staying open. Maybe first I should start the Please Charge a Few Cents More So You Can Pay Authors Well and Absorb Losses from Going DRM-Free Party first. The principle is the same.

Going Digital: A Personal Journey (part 1 of 2)

What follows is the story of my first happy experiences with e-books, and my thoughts pertaining thereto. I will endeavor to discuss this experience in a way that might not be entirely novel but will be at least moderately interesting.

Last Wednesday, I bowed to the inevitable and traded my beloved old Nokia in for my very first smartphone, an LG Optimus T running Android. I did all the usual new-phone things, downloading games and getting used to the Swype text entry interface and importing the ringtones I’d made out of NES game theme music. (You knew I was a nerd, right?) Soon I felt pretty comfortable with it.

The next day, I opened my work email and found a message from a Solaris editor offering me a digital galley of Conrad Williams’s forthcoming Loss of Separation. I’m a big, big Conrad Williams fan. It would take weeks for a paper galley to arrive from the U.K. I could have an e-galley on my phone, right now. I wrote back and said, Sure, send it over, I’ve never been able to make this e-book thing work for me but I have a new phone and maybe it will be the e-reader of my dreams.

In the four days since then, I have read about 75% of Loss of Separation on my phone, using the excellent FBReaderJ app. I’ve also downloaded a bunch of e-galleys from NetGalley and figured out how to make Aldiko speak with Adobe DRM so I could read them on my phone. I started one of those galleys, didn’t like it, deleted it, and started and finished another. Almost all of this has taken place on the subway, which is where I generally do most of my reading, so in that sense nothing has changed. But in other ways, much about the way I see books has changed.

For example, I want to reread the Song of Ice and Fire books before the fifth one comes out (I believe! I believe!). I own paper copies. Why can’t I just rip them to digital the way I can with my CDs? That’s annoying. But! It turns out I can borrow digital copies of all four books from the NYPL. So I just have to dig up and renew my dusty library card and then I’m all set. This is astonishing. Reading e-books may turn me into a library user again for the first time in years and years. Going to the physical library? Inconvenient and time-consuming, and there’s no guarantee that the particular branch I go to will have what I want. Downloading books from the NYPL site? Quick, easy, awesome. Libraries are suddenly relevant to my life again.

(If I were in the mood to make political statements, I might make one here about the folly of expiring library e-books and how important it is that libraries be able to use digital books to keep bringing readers in. I would certainly note that digital books have not for a moment made libraries obsolete, and fie on anyone who says as much.)

Best of all, it’s physically easier for me to read e-books than paper books. All the other e-readers I’ve tried have been too big for me to hold in one hand, but the phone fits perfectly in my left hand and I can use my left thumb or fingers to flip through the “pages”. My tendinitis-plagued right arm can rest. This is a huge, huge deal for me, and all by itself is probably enough to make digital books my default format from now on.

That’s the practical side, and so far, it’s fabulous. But there’s a lot more to digital reading than just the practicalities, and this post is long already, so I’ll leave the philosophical side for part 2.

Is the Free the Enemy of the Paid?

When I posted my list of places to get legally free fiction online, commenter T Moore replied: “As a struggling writer and publisher you just put a nail in my coffin.”

I’d like to open this up for wider discussion.

People have more options for ways to spend their sitting-and-looking-at-something time than ever before. Books used to compete with newspapers and magazines, and then with films and television; now they also compete with video games and the entirety of the internet. So I’m not surprised that Moore feels threatened by a blog post that promotes cut-throat competitors who can’t be undercut because they’ve already dropped the access price to zero. Obviously, all things being equal, people will choose free entertainment over entertainment they have to pay for.

My question is whether all things are in fact equal.

There are lots of reasons that people spend money. Some people pay $30 for exquisite hardcover reprints of novellas while others read the same novellas online. They’re paying for a sensual experience that cannot be had for free. I get lots of books for free from work, but I still buy books written by my favorite authors, or published by my favorite publishers; I see those purchases almost like charitable donations, a way of saying that these people make my world better and I want them to be able to keep doing that. I’m paying for the feeling of contributing to my community. People also happily pay for scarcity (limited editions), personalization (author inscriptions), and convenience (faster shipping).

Most pertinent to this conversation is that people pay for the expectation of quality. I would suggest that those legal free fiction venues introduce readers to new authors, help readers build up an expectation of quality work from those authors, and thereby encourage them to later pay for those authors’ new works.* In addition, the readers get lots of information and entertainment for very little investment of time and no investment of funds. As someone who’s in favor of reading and encouraging readers, I think this is a pretty valuable service to provide to the reading community.

* It’s no coincidence that many people, most recently and famously Neil Gaiman, say the same thing about pirated books. That conversation has been had many times in many other places and I don’t feel a need to recapitulate it here, but I figure someone else will bring it up if I don’t head it off. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s focus solely on legal entertainment.

So who loses out, in this world? As far as I can tell, only authors who haven’t earned that readerly expectation of quality (because their work is poor or because they haven’t gotten a lot of exposure), and publishers that don’t provide an unusual and valuable service or experience. And in both cases, I don’t think the existence of free entertainment options is really the problem.

Bring on the discussion; just keep it reasonably civil, please.

Legally Free SF/F E-books, Short Stories, and Podcasts

While discussing book piracy with a friend, I started coming up with a list of places to find legal free speculative fiction online. A few other folks kindly suggested some links. Here’s what I have, but I’m sure there’s more. Please suggest your favorites in the comments!



Short stories:






How Are You Observing National Short Story Week?

I love the idea of National Short Story Week; just because the nation in question is the U.K. doesn’t mean we can’t observe it on this side of the Pond. Maybe I’ll read one of the enormous collections that can really only be consumed in full over a four-day weekend. If you’re a SFWA member, you could get started reading and rereading Nebula-eligible works, now that nominations are open.

Angry Robot is–pardon me, they’re British, Angry Robot are–observing the holiday by announcing the December 1 launch of individual digital short story sales through their online store. You can buy stories individually or bundle them in a sort of make-your-own-anthology setup. I’ve wanted this sort of thing for years, though of course in my ideal world the store wouldn’t be limited to stories from a single publisher, and you could share your anthology TOCs and see which ones were most popular and turn them into POD print books as well as e-books. As I see it, the short story is the closest publishing equivalent to the song. It’s high time we started treating anthologies and magazines like albums, and giving customers the opportunity to make their own mix tapes.

In nonfiction news, the Science Fiction Oral History Association (which I did not know existed until this weekend) has launched an extraordinary podcast, Space Dog, which will broadcast recordings from SF history. The first episode features Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Lester del Rey, Frederik Pohl, and Gordon R. Dickson shooting the breeze in 1976. Wow.

Authors’ Rights Become Readers’ Headaches

Over the weekend I became aware of Lost Book Sales, a site for recording complaints about books that one wanted to buy but could not. The most common reason for lost sales appears to be “not available in my region”. Jane at Dear Author (one of the co-creators of Lost Book Sales) has more on this in two posts, with a succinct summary of her opinion in the first post:

Does foregoing digital sales in hopes of a foreign rights sale to a native publisher really make good business sense in today’s burgeoning digital market? I don’t think it does because depriving a reader of a legitimate path to purchase books makes it an easy battle for pirates to win.

In the second post, she adds:

The territorial rights issue is rife with problems.  The authors are telling readers to contact the publishers.  The publishers are saying that they don’t have the rights.  The readers, particularly the international readers, are in the dark and feel buffeted on all sides.

One illustration of this comes from author Aliette de Bodard, who lives in France and is often frustrated in her search for books in other languages:

The official argument is something like “wait for the publisher to release the book in your country”. Well, guess what. My country is France. The ebook I want is in English (or Spanish. Or Vietnamese. Or whatever). Chances of the ebook being released in my country in that language? Close to nil, the market is too small for most SF/F books.

So, I have two choices. I can fake a US/UK IP address and a US/UK credit card to buy where I want; or I can pirate the book. None of them are really legal; and one of them involves way too much hassle for what should be a legit purchase (while actually leaving me still open to prosecution for fraud).

…PS: and yes, as a writer, I know it’s a rights problem. But, quite frankly, as a customer, I still think it borders on the insane. Cracking down on people who buy English books from non-English countries is tantamount to pushing people into the arms of pirates, as far as I’m concerned.

Translation, international, and digital publication rights are obviously important in ensuring that authors and publishers get paid fairly for their work. But when this sort of tangle over international editions prevents that work from being bought in the first place, and with downloading illegal e-books getting easier every day, it’s starting to look like the system might need some revamping.

The Power of Geek Compels You

Last night I finished a freelance project at 1:30 a.m. and got to bed at 2:30 a.m. I spent that intervening hour reading Clash of the Geeks. Yes, I downloaded a PDF and read it on my laptop, something I generally refuse to do. (I am pro-e-book in theory but have yet to find a way of reading e-books that really works for me.) Yes, I stayed up an extra hour past my bedtime despite knowing that I really needed to turn out the light and get some sleep. This little e-chapbook was just the sort of temptation I find very difficult to resist. Maybe I was hypnotized into reading it by the dewy gaze of the unicorn pegasus kitten.

Clash of the Geeks cover image

Or maybe not.

The chapbook is free, and DRM-free; the contributors and instigators request that anyone downloading it make a donation to the Lupus Alliance of America. All the details on both counts are at UnicornPegasusKitten.com. I love that so many people in the SF/F/H community are using e-books to raise money for good causes! It’s wonderful to see geekdom being a real force for good in the world.

Cheap, DRM-free Genre E-books from Weightless Books

The fabulous Gwenda Bond just linked to Weightless Books, an e-book store that stocks a wide range of titles from two of my favorite indies: Small Beer Press and Blind Eye Books. All the books are DRM-free PDFs and priced to sell. Looks like a very cool little venture, and it’s heartening to see publishers collaborating on an e-book store given the recent news about Samhain.