iPad Envy

Based on the early reviews and this video, courtesy of the Re:Print blog at PopMatters,

I’d love to get an iPad. What I don’t want to do is part with $500 or more to get one. Then there’s the fact that I am not an Early Adopter. In my first job out of college a wise programmer told me, “Never buy the Point-O Version of anything.” I’ve stuck with that advice and haven’t gotten burned since.

I also can’t help thinking about Notion Ink’s Adam, which might be more suited to me once it comes out. This is because unlike the iPad, it won’t come with the just a plain LCD. It will have a Pixel Qi screen, capable of mimicking e-ink, perfect for me as someone who would use it to read books in digital format.

There is also the matter of the house needing a paint job…which means: House First, Digital Toy Later.

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9 thoughts on “iPad Envy

  1. Yeah, this is a much better template.

    I’m gonna reserve judgment on the readability of the iPad until I get my hands on one. I’m hoping that the iPad will pull down Kindle prices enough whereby I can buy ’em both. Within a year, I’m betting the price of the iPad will have also fallen quite a bit. Not sure what to make of the Adam, or the other devices out there…

    By the way, rather than finding a dead-tree publisher, why not self-publish? I think it is, or will be, a viable option (at least on the Kindle). I haven’t heard anything about this for the iBookstore.

  2. TR, thanks. I think the look is more modern and readable.

    It’s funny, the new project I’m kicking around is essentially self-publishing. (Though I’m also thinking about it for the novel I’m shopping around. Awhile back I determined that if I couldn’t find a dead-tree publisher I would self-publish.) There’s a real bias in the publishing industry against self-publishing. As someone who is friends with many musicians, putting out your own CD is no big deal. It’s standard. The music industry doesn’t hold it against an artist if they previously put out their own CD.

    The publishing industry really hates DIY. I think it has to do with the whole Publisher-As-Gatekeeper mentality. Or they see so much drivel in the slushpile that they think it impossible to even conceive of well-written stories that have been self-published. I’m heartened to see people like chef Grant Achatz and blogger/pundit Andrew Sullivan go the self-publishing route; in the former with his Alinea cookbook and the latter with his collection of photos The View From Your Window.

    I’m curious to see what’s up with the iBookstore regarding indy or DIY publishers. Without the need for a printed copy, the economics of self-publishing become very attractive. I think you’re right regarding prices. Single-use devices like the Kindle and Sony Reader are bound to come down in price much more quickly int he coming year.

  3. This is a FAR better interface than the grey one, rich!
    And regarding the iPad, I’m an amish when it comes to technology, there is a lot of joy to be found riding the “maxxed hardware on old tech” wave.

  4. hictio, yeah, I understand about maxing out the old hardware. I’m using a 30GB video iPod that used to be my sister’s. The hard drive died and so I just put a new one in there. It’s cheaper to max out old hardware. It’s expensive to be an Early Adopter.

  5. No doubt about that, specially regarding Apple early adopters… The price of hip is expensive, not only on the products themselves, but on the mistakes (or experimentation of the company) as well.

  6. Okay, I find this interesting so let’s flesh this out a little bit.

    1) First of all, who are these self-appointed “gatekeepers” of our literary tastes? And given the amount of crap that gets published every year, why haven’t they done a better job? In a sense, by buying into the notion of “gatekeepers”, we are effectively drinking the Kool Aid.

    2) The fact is that if you are unpublished, it’s hard to find an agent or a publisher. That’s just a sad fact. So, fuck ’em. The technology now exists where you can reach an already-vast and ever-growing number of potential readers and avoid the whole Publishing Industrial Complex. When I read about publishers getting pissy with Amazon, it does make me laugh. The sustainability of the publishers’ business model in this Brave New Digital World is not the same thing as the sustainability of the writer’s business model. Publishers – and agents – have become so used to writers being beholden to them (they are the “gatekeepers” after all) that they confuse what’s good for themselves with what is good for the writers.

    3) Correct me if I’m wrong – a writer receives 5% of the price of every hardcover sold. So if a book costs $20, then the writer receives $1. So why not sell the e-book on Amazon or iBookstore for $1? You have a vast, global (potential) readership. Readers will be pleased – they only have to pay $1, and they get your book instantaneously, wherever they are in the world.

    3a) This reasoning only works if the technology is there. A few years ago, I would have said that there was no way I would read a novel on a screen. But I was amazed when I first saw the Kindle. It’s awesome! AWESOME! I could read a novel on it. Shit, I could read Gravity’s Rainbow on it. It’s a game-changer. I’m betting that the iPad is equally fantastic. And as you mentioned, there’s more stuff coming down the pipe.

    3b) It’s important to distinguish the incentives for an established writer vs an unpublished one. For an established writer, there is obviously greater incentive to maintain the current publishing paradigm. But for you – even if you DID find a publisher – you probably won’t get a lot of marketing dollars spent on your book, you probably won’t get much of an advance, you probably won’t have a promotions budget, and if your book doesn’t sell well, you probably won’t get signed up for another book. So, what’s in it for you exactly? Why grovel at their feet? Why humiliate yourself for 5%, just for the privilege of putting money in their pockets?

    3c) Yes, the physical book is a beautiful thing. Yes, I would love to hold that beautiful, rough-edged, object with my name on it. But does it really make sense anymore? Remember that there are only three things that should matter to a writer: i) to write the book that you want to write, unsullied by the oft-compromised hand of others; ii) to reach the largest readership possible – into the hands of, in theory, every person who wants to read the book; iii) to get paid.

    4) I understand that if you remove these self-appointed “gatekeepers”, then there will be a deluge of crap that will hit the market. Crap upon crap. This is something that concerned me. But, look what is happening to the Kindle. The crap gets ignored. The good stuff – or at least, the interesting stuff – rises to the top. In truth, this is what happens with the physical book as well. Books are discovered, and it’s usually by word-of-mouth. Marketing never works, because each book is unique. It’s always been about word-of-mouth. And it always will be. And this system seems to me to be infinitely fairer than “gatekeepers” filtering stuff.

    Okay, I’ve unloaded a lot. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

  7. tr, okay, this took me a bit of time. I appreciate your thoughts. So here goes…

    1) The Gatekeepers are the agents and editors. Agents are in the business of finding books that are salable; something they believe will be published. Editors acquire books they think can get their company to sell. With an editor, you need someone who is not only good at editing a book, but is also a forceful advocate for your project within the corporate hierarchy. Having spent many years working in corporations, I can’t tell you how important that advocate role is. I’ve seen perfectly good projects killed because its champion didn’t have power within the organization. I’ve also seen shit projects get crammed down the throats of workers simply because the advocates for said projects had power.

    2) I’m totally with you on this. It’s damn near impossible to get an agent without having been published. The Publishing Industrial Complex (PIC – I like that) is going through the same changes that have already hit the music industry. Publishers used to have a more nurturing relationship with the writers they published. That’s been gone for some time. The MBAs turned it into a slightly more genteel version of the music industry. But they still disdain DIY. I think it has to do with both the current structure and who it benefits and it’s also generational. Gen-Xers and under don’t have a bias against DIY. It’s generally those older and those beholden to the current system.

    3) Writers get 10%-20% of the hardcover and softcover price. Their agent usually gets 10% of the writer’s income for domestic sales and 20% for international. Finding out who gets what percentage of royalties is one of those closely-guarded secrets. So for a $20 hardcover a writer can expect $2 -$4. Here’s the catch: they don’t get any of that until they make enough to cover their advance. Say the advance is $20,000, a writer with a 10% royalty rate on a $20 hardcover would have to sell 10,000 copies, a large amount for a first-time author. And if they only gave the writer such a modest advance, guess how much the publisher will spend on marketing? Jack shit. Writers not named Grisham, King, and Steele, have to spend part (or all) of their advance money on their own marketing efforts. More and more you wonder why the publisher even bothered acquiring the book if no effort was going to be put into selling it. It resembles a bad business deal for all parties. What seems to get lost in all this is that a publishing contract is a contract for a business deal. Writers should approach it as such. Unfortunately, they often don’t.

    Also, if your first book does NOT make back its advance, you will not have a second book with that publisher. I’ve actually seen this happen.

    3a) Between print on demand (POD) and digital reading devices, technology is changing what is possible with publishing for the better for writers but it requires a shift in mindset on the writer’s part. As Seth Godin put it,

    The good news: There’s a new job, but this job hasn’t been filled yet. It’s not stable enough for a publisher type to grab it. It’s not boring enough for a bureaucrat. Instead, it’s a job for someone with a writer’s sensibility and awareness, but it requires entrepreneurship and organization.

    What happens when the people with great ideas start organizing for themselves, start leading online tribes, start creating micro products and seminars and interactions that people are actually willing to pay for?

    What happens? The people with the ideas won’t need the infrastructure supplied by a big publishing house. You can hear the air rushing coming out of that balloon.

    3b) For established writers, there will slowly be less and less incentive to keep the current system. But you’re right, there is little incentive in the current system for new writers. The whole system is stacked against new writers.

    3c) I love books. But books are the medium for the stories. Before books, stories were told orally and on the walls of churches. When our kids are adults, there will still be dead-tree books, but they will be a rare special-edition kind of thing for people who want the tactile sensation of reading a book, a collector’s edition kind of thing that can be signed by the author. Reading stories will be done for the most part on electronic devices. To think otherwise is to ignore what’s happening. Once people think of a novel or work of nonfiction as a file on a computer hard drive, the shift will happen. It’s happening now. But as I’ve said before, because of the nature of books, the shift will be slow, much slower than what happened in music.

    4) Sure removing some of the gatekeepers will be confusing on some level. (I don’t think they will be totally removed. They’ll find a way to survive by adjusting their roles.) But the good stuff will get brought to the top…eventually. People finally figured out that Moby Dick and the Great Gatsby were great books…after their authors were dead. 😉 Of course, those guys didn’t have the Internet to allow fans to talk, meet, and commiserate.

  8. I think we’re pretty much in agreement…

    Some further thoughts:

    Just to be clear – in the past, writers went DIY because they couldn’t find a publisher. One has to distinguish that from going DIY because publishers are irrelevant. In fact, to use the phrase “DIY” is to buy into the publishing industry’s “frame.” Moving forward, most writers will be going DIY. Publishers will go along with this, with the idea of skimming the cream off the top – the “cream” being the writers who sell, not necessarily to find writers who are gifted. Publishers will do this, and not even notice that they are being superseded. It’s classic “disruptive technology” a la Clayton Christianson.

    Publishers have been good at rolling their eyes at writers and talking down to them. “You don’t understand that it’s a business.” Well, it’s time for writers to move on. It’s just business.

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