Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Shape of Fiction

It has been a while since I've posted. Many thanks for the emails during that period and the warm wishes. I regret that I had to take some time to recover from an illness - and I suppose I'm still in process. But I certainly feel much better.

But enough of that. There is plenty to catch up on. Emails to be answered, posts to be made, and lots and lots of editing.

This post, however, is about none of the above. It is about how the genre publishing industry has changed over the last few years. Mostly, over the last 16 months. Genre fiction has always been popular in alternate formats - ebooks, audio, websites. And it seems to be growing in popularity.

There is far too much to cover, so I'll stick to audio and ebooks. Within those broad categories, I'll focus on downloadable (my word) audio and Amazon's Kindle (maybe I'll touch on some other e-readers).

On the off chance no one noticed, audio books that can be downloaded direct from retailers have become popular. Amazon has been busy buying most of the industry (Brilliant Audio - located here in Michigan - and Audible.com).

Perhaps you ask: Amazon.com? The online bookstore? The bookstore that discounts hardcover and paperback books by as much as 40%? Why, yes, that Amazon (and I know they now sell everything under the sun). But let's pretend their primary business is printed books. Then what's up with the Kindle? (e-book reader) And these audiobook publishers? Too many questions here.

Well, if you've not heard of the Kindle, it's worth taking the time to do so. Most likely something like it will be what books are "printed" on in the future. If not that medium, then some audio format. By the way, the new Kindle can play audiobooks as well as allow one to purchase books electronically and have them delivered right to your reader - zero waiting, zero shipping, bad news for UPS.

With this nearly paper-thin device, you can hit Amazon.com, purchase a Kindle compatible ebook for $6.99, and be reading it in minutes - unless you have my Internet connection, then waiting for it to be printed on paper and shipped is a bit faster.

Amazon claims there are over 300,000 books available, and the Kindle can hold up to 1500 of them. So it is a virtual library shelf as well.

Certainly ebooks have been around for a while. The difference here is the device. It uses WI-FI and the 3G wireless network. This means books can be had in route to a convention. Now a means of producing an electronic autograph is required. Why else rush to get a copy of a book while heading to a convention?

I can hear the Apple users screaming: Been doing it for years with iTunes! Yes, yes. :) Apple devices, like many other electronic devices have been capable of downloading ebooks. My guess is there are as many ebook formats and readers as there are devices Well, maybe more formats and readers. The iPod, iTouch, and iPhone have been organizing forces in this industry for some time. They are also the source of SCS (Secondary Capitalization Syndrome).

In a clever move, Amazon released an applet for the iTouch and iPhone allowing users of those devices to read kIndle books. This brings together a very lArge market for Amazon, and helps promote the Kindle (priced at $359.00 on Amazon.com). Oh, it is about the same price as a loaded iPhone, except you can't make phone calls with it. But you can listen to audiobooks, surf the web, read newspapers (seems like surfing again), subscribe to podcasts, RSS feeds, or even have the Kindle read to you. I don't mean listen to an audio book, nope. It will read the text to you, albeit in a rather dull, unanimated (not a real one either), electronic voice.

All of this in 16 color grayscale! (from the promotional photo, you can see how thin the device is; how colorful it's surroundings; and how happy it makes the reader). 16 color grayscale? Oh my. Then really, printed genre books tend to be equally as colorful. We must rely upon the language for our color.

And it will read to you!

But why let the Kindle read a book when you can simply download an audiobook to the Kindle, or iThing? This books are not the 10 cassette tape monsters with special headset adapters or the past (Amazon bought that company). They are no CDs filled with MP3s. These are books with proprietary formats that can be downloaded to the Kindle (Audible.com format - remember who bought them?) Oh, and Apple iThings can use aUdible.com books as well. So can a few other devices that seem to change with the seasons.

Alas, the post is getting lengthy. Suffice it to say that genre fiction, and every other form of fiction and non-fiction, is becoming electronic. I've not tried the KIndle, but I would be tempted - if not for the price. I have tried iThings, and even the kIndle reader for the iTouch. Even on the small display, reading isn't difficult. The functions are limited. Unlike the Kindle, you cannot highlight or word search (at least not the last time I checked). Still, it allows you to carry around a vast array of books (Amazon has free Kindle books as well). This makes reading in a doctor's office a bit easier, as you can turn off the book when your name is called. And while on the road, you can listen to the audio edition.

13 comments:

jeffwedwards said...

I finally succumbed to the pressure and bought an eBook reader in March: the Sony PRS-505. Yes, there is a newer Sony device available, but I felt I could get by without the extra features.

It took me a few days to get used to the device, but once acclimated, I began to enjoy it very much. Free eBooks are bountiful (there are even blogs devoted to finding free eBooks) and now my eBook "to be read" pile is bigger than my traditional "to be read" pile -- but because the entire "stack" is hidden within my Sony, no one must ever know!

Charles Gramlich said...

I've definitely enjoyed my Kindle 2 so far. I've got a lot of stuff already loaded on it to read.

William Jones said...

Jeff - I've not seen this reader yet. I'm curious what attracted you to it over others. And are you using it right now?

William Jones said...

Charles - Spill the beans! How do you like it? Do your students use it? I can see the appeal for text books as well. Okay, maybe from the readers standpoint. The royalties are clearly lower for authors.

jeffwedwards said...

Hi, William! Honestly, I picked the Sony based upon price. I don't need wireless Internet access or a keyboard on my eBook reader. Yes, a backlight would be nice, and an electronic dictionary, but I sacrificed such niceties in order to pay less.

I've been very happy with the device. The first full-length novel I read on it was for review, and once the review was written (for Innsmouth Free Press), I was able to delete the novel from the Sony and from my backup drive. That was quite convenient.

Some eBooks I will keep for reference, like HPL's "Supernatural Horror in Literature," but many I delete immediately after reading the last page.

Steve Buchheit said...

What works for me regarding the Kindle is the free networking that comes with it, but mostly the electronic paper technology it's based on. When I read a white paper on it about a decade ago (I had to think hard about how long ago it was), that's when I knew eBooks (although they weren't called that back then) might be a true market force. Now I think the thing that is keeping the Kindle from sweeping the market doors open is that people are looking for an "all-in-one" device, and the e-paper just can't handle the other things it would need to do (although it has the potential). Other devices are crowding it out. As such, I don't think the eBook revolution is going to come out of the gate with guns a blazin'.

Matthew Baugh said...

I knew you'd been silent for a while but hadn't heard of your illness. I'm sorry to hear it, but glad to see you up and running again.

William Jones said...

Jeff - Virtual stacks. :) Does the device allow you to make notes or bookmark? I'm just curious. Seems like it would be very useful for reviewing books.

William Jones said...

Steve - I've seen demos of color "paper." That version can also be rolled up - as it is nearly paper thin.

You're probably right about the Kindle - not being all-in-one limiting its sales. Although we have the technology to pretty much create such a device now (including pulling it apart with "roll-up e-paper" display appearing). I think it is a universal standard that will hinder such a creation. After all, someone has to make money on it, and universal standards make it difficult to dominate the market.

William Jones said...

Matthew - Thanks!

I don't know that it was any news of import. :) I can say I have read Dante's book and experienced it now as well.

Frozen lakes are over rated. :)

jeffwedwards said...

William - Notes: No. Bookmarks: Yes. The device comes with software to be loaded on your PC, but I simply use it like any other USB device and drag eBooks into its folders. Many people recommend the following eBook software, but I have not tried it:

http://calibre.kovidgoyal.net/

Rick said...

I'm going to ask the obvious writer's question here- should we write differently for works that will be audio presentations. If that's the shift, should we somehow change what we're aiming for into a piece written for an audio production?

Gwabryel said...

I hadn't heard of your illness too. I'm sorry for that. I am happy to see you again and I hope you feel better now.