Books

Are book publishers making the same mistakes a the record labels?

Its certainly starting to look like it. TechDirt (via Slashdot) is pointing to an article in Slate which notes that publishers are worried about Amazons Kindle is about to give them the same dominance in book selling that Apple enjoys in online music distribution.

TechDirt then goes on to point out that Apples dominance is a result of the record labels demanding DRM on everything, creating the massive lock-in that Apple has been able to take advantage of.

If the record labels had, instead, pushed for an open solution, then anyone else could have built stores/players to work as well, and it could have minimized Apples ability to control the market. Yes, everyone is now opening up (including Apple), but it took a long time, and Apple had already established its dominant position.

And now book publishers are doing the same thing. Its the publishers that are pushing for DRM and limitations that will inevitably result in users being locked into Amazons platform. If the publishers had pushed for more open solutions, then barriers to entry would be lowered and a more competitive market could develop.

DRM is one of those technologies that looks like an easy solution in the short term but, in reality, it consistently comes back to bite us all.

Now thats what I call a dead parrot

William Berg, an American classics professor, has discovered (via Slashdot) that the Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch is 1600 years old. The original version, told by Greek comedy duo Hierocles and Philagrius, concerns a man who complains to his friend that he was sold a slave who dies in his service.

His companion replies: When he was with me, he never did any such thing!

The joke was discovered in a collection of 265 jokes called Philogelos: The Laugh Addict, which dates from the fourth century AD and which has now been published as an ebook.

Today were going to show you eight silent ways to excite a geek

Waiting for a science fiction film from Ridley Scott is a bit like waiting for a bus. Nothing for 25 years and then two turn up at once.

As Ive already mentioned, Scott is planning to bring Aldous Huxleys Brave New World to the big screen. It now seems that Brave New World will be the film he makes after he’s brought Joe Haldemans The Forever War to cinemas.

I first pursued Forever War 25 years ago, and the book has only grown more timely and relevant since, Scott told Daily Variety. It’s a science-fiction epic, a bit of The Odyssey by way of Blade Runner, built upon a brilliant, disorienting premise.

The Forever War tells the story of William Mandella, who returns from from weeks or months of active duty in the interstellar Forever War to an Earth which, after centuries of change, is no longer his home.

A Brave New World for Ridley Scott

Sometimes it feels that an unoriginal film – either a remake or an adaptation of a book or, worse, a computer game – is being announced every other week. But every now and then an adaptation appears in the pipeline that looks like it might be worth keeping an eye out for. Heres an example:

Ridley Scott is planning to direct Brave New World.

All is not rosy, however as revealed in an interview with io9, and they are still struggling with the script:

[W]ere still struggling with that one. I have 40 things on the go at once. But thats a very important one. And sometimes, some surface faster than the others. Its partly luck of the draw. Even with a good writer, hell do it and screw up. So then you go back to the table and start all over again, its hard. The hardest single thing is getting it on paper.

That said though, its positive that they are bothering with a script – and not going straight to the storyboard as seems far too common with many of the summer blockbusters – and I will be very interested in seeing what Scott does with Aldous Huxleys dystopian classic.

Quote of the Day: Irresponsibly repressive


It was also disingenuous of Random House to suggest that the novel might incite violence. Certain members of the population might choose to commit an act of violence, but that is not the same as the book itself inciting violence. To pass the responsibility in this way to the novel was a betrayal of the author and of free speech.

- Jo Glanville on the firebombing of an independent publisher.

Marketing Atheism

Geoff J Henley has a point:

My goal is to integrate skepticism into popular culture. When we watch commercial TV, read newspapers, attend weddings and sporting events or drive through our neighbourhoods at Easter, religion all gets a free plug. But to find something about scepticism, you have to go look for it on the Internet or at a bookstore.

And heres what he came up with:

Via the New Humanist

Dealing with fan mail the Heinlein way

Dealing with fan mail is a problem faced by many authors – especially as their popularity grows. CT2 reveals that Robert Heinlein had an entertainingly unique solution to this – the form letter.

While a form letter such as this may be a bit impersonal, some acknowledgement is better than none and it is impressive that Heinlein managed to reply to pretty much all his mail. There is probably also something revealing about fandom in the fact that a mere 21 responses were enough to cover the vast bulk of Heinlein’s mail.

Sadly this approach was abandoned in 1984 when, according to Heinlein’s wife, Ginny: “with the advent of computerization in our household, we no long use the form letter to answer fan mail. I find that it is possible now, with the computer, to write individual letters in reply to fan mail faster than I could check off the answer on the form.”

Rowling wins copyright claim

Author JK Rowling has won her legal battle in a New York court to prevent the publication of Steven Vander Arks Harry Potter Lexicon which, she claimed, would cause her irreparable harm as a writer.

The TechnoLlama’s take on this is worth reading:

I believe it is a prime example of the growing conflict between traditional copyright owners and fans generating their own content based on existing material. My opinion has been that while content owners are usually happy to allow fans to tinker with the source material, they will sue if the fan crosses the commercial line.

I mentioned this case back in May, agreeing with Orson Scott Card’s view that, while the Lexicon may not be scholarly, it certainly falls within the realm of scholarly comment – so much so that the Lexicon website was reputedly used by Warner Bros when making the Harry Potter films. And it certainly isn’t going to do any irreparable harm to Rowling as a writer.

The court agreed that the Lexicon conveyed new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings but found that it copied distinctive original language from the Harry Potter works in excess of its otherwise legitimate purpose of creating a reference guide.

In other words, too much copying and pasting and not enough use of quotes left the Lexicon open to a charge of plagiarism.

The TechnoLlama notes that originality thresholds are higher in the US than the UK and questions whether a different decision would have been reached on this side of the Atlantic.

For now, though, the Harry Potter Lexicon is dead and it will be interesting to see what impact this ruling has on the mess that is copyright law going forward, especially in the case of derivative works.

The Deadbooks Project

Eight years in the making, spanning 150 chapters, involving 100 actors, and about 40 musical groups from almost as many countries, Hasso Wuerslins SF-Horror series, The DeadBooks is being transformed into something rather different on the Net.

Its not really a novel anymore, but nor is it a movie, nor an old-time radio show, though it contains attributes of all those story-telling techniques. Its called a Hyper-Serialization and the first 10 hour season is set to launch on August 18th.

Take a look.

Elric heads for the big screen

Film adaptations of novels is a less than consistently successful enterprise, not least because the two mediums are very different and have very different strengths and weaknesses. It also doesnt help that much of the complexity and depth that makes a classic novel so well read tends to get smothered out in the film version of the story in order to appeal to as large a mainstream audience as possible.

Even so, I do sometimes read an announcement of an upcoming adaptation and really, really hope that they dont screw it up. Paul and Chris Weitz are planning to take on Elric of Melniboné for their Depth of Field production company.

According to Chris Weitz (who wrote and directed The Golden Compass):

Of the great classic fantasy series it’s the one that hasn’t been done yet. My brother Paul and I liked those books growing up and we’ve met Michael Moorcock and he trusts us to take those books forward

There isnt much else about the film available as yet, apart from a 2010 release date, but it is one that will be worth keeping an eye out for. And one that really do hope that they really do manage to get right, because Elric really isnt your traditional hero.

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