Monthly Archives: October 2007

The New Sony Reader and the Fujitsu Flepia

When Sony finally released its updated Reader, the PRS-505 a few weeks ago (pictured at right), Peter N. Glaskowsky from CNet was one of the first happy reviewers to take a look at the new edition of this famous ebook device. He bought the new model to replace his old 1st generation Sony Reader (the PRS-500), and his write-up of the new version, which I recommend you read, shows he’s pleased with the improvements. The new Reader boasts more onboard memory, a new interface button layout, and comes in one of two colors (silver or dark blue). What many people aren’t aware of is that it’s capable of MP3 playback (yes, both music and audiobooks!) and that you can mount it as a read/write drive by USB to either your Mac or PC, to drag folders of RTFs, PDFs, and other supported ebook formats onto the device. It also has both a Sony Memory Stick slot and a standard SD slot, giving you as much as 10GB of storage space. Sony Connect sells E-Reads titles for the Reader at just $8.99 a pop, or you can purchase our non-DRM Sony ebooks from Fictionwise. This Christmas, the Sony Reader is probably the best device deal, for under $300 at Best Buy.

Meanwhile, Fujitsu has readied 2 new color ebook readers that represent an effort to break away from standard grayscale sooner rather than later. The Flepia, in either an A4 or an A5 size, is WiFi enabled and can display 4096 colors on its screen, but there are limitations… it takes about 10 seconds to redraw a screen (aka. flip a page) and bleeding edge technology doesn’t come cheap. The problem stems from e-ink panel technology, which is based on creating a static image that does not refresh until you request it to do so, in order to conserve energy, and color technology in this realm is still percolating and expensive. When Fujitsu showed a demo version of this technology over a year ago, it didn’t blow many people away as much as it delivered a proof-of-concept device. The final versions Fujitsu announced as Flepia models won’t be available in North America, probably because color e-ink like this is still considered too expensive for our market. However, you can expect future ebook readers for the mass market to eventually incorporate color like the Flepia does.

– Michael
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Major Publisher Adopts New Ebook Standard

Hot news from a report in Publishers Weekly on October 25th!

Hachette Book Group USA announced that it will release all of its ebook publications in the International Digital Publishing Forum’s new file format standard for ebooks. The format, Open Publication Structure 2.0, was adopted by the IDPF in September and allows publishers to create a single digital book file instead of many files for the multiple formats currently needed to make an ebook available for all retailers and on all devices. Hachette is the first trade publisher to adopt the standard. This should cut ebook publication costs and make more titles more widely available.

The underlying message here is that Hachette is telling retailers that if they want to sell in a specific format it is their own responsibility to convert it to that format: Hachette will
not burden itself with the cost of producing multiple formats. Not only are they the first to adopt the standard but also they’re using their weight to overthrow any retailer’s expectations that publishers will continue to provide multiple formats in the future. For example, eReader will now have to convert Hachette’s files to .PDB with DRM at eReader’s own expense before they can sell a Hachette publication to their customers. This is the start of a big publisher revolution to reduce conversion costs and spend more money on making more titles available!

We hope that Hachette is the first of many publishers to adopt this standard and we encourage all others to follow their lead.

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Queen of the Orcs: King’s Property

Queen of the Orcs: King’s Property
By Morgan Howell
Published by Random House, 2007.

Glaciers have erased the past. The mountains are diminished. The plains are scraped bare. The First Children have departed, and their works have perished. Only tales remain, worn thin by retelling.

Chapter One

Dar walked alone down a mountain path, bent beneath a load of firewood. The trail she followed hugged steep rocky walls that blocked the morning sun, so the air and ground still held the night’s chill. Nevertheless, she walked barefoot and wore only a tattered, sleeveless shift with a rag to cushion her shoulders. Dar moved quickly to keep warm, but the sound of a distant horse stopped her short. None of her neighbors owned one, nor did anyone in the tiny village beyond the far ridge. Only strangers rode horses, and strangers often brought trouble.

Dar listened. When the hoofbeats died away, leaving only the sound of wind in bare branches, she continued homeward and arrived at a hollow devoid of trees. Its stony ground had been prepared for spring planting. At the far side of the hollow lay the only building—a rude hut, built of rocks and roofed with turf. The horse was tied nearby. Dar was considering leaving when her father’s wife emerged from the low building with a rare smile on her face. The older woman called out. “You have visitors.”

The smile heightened Dar’s wariness. “What kind of visitors?”

Dar’s stepmother didn’t respond, except to smile more broadly. She moved aside, and six armed men stepped from the dark hut followed by the village headman, whose air of self-importance was subdued by the soldiers’ presence. Dar’s father came after him. Last emerged Dar’s two little half sisters, looking frightened. All watched Dar carry her load over to the woodpile. She set it down, then asked her stepmother again, “Thess, who are these men?”

“King’s soldiers,” replied Thess.

“Why are they here?”

“There’s a levy for the army,” said the headman. “Our village must provide two.”

“Then they’ve come to the wrong place,” said Dar. “My brothers are dead, and Father’s too old.”

“It’s not men they want,” said Thess.

“I’m no fighter,” said Dar.

Thess laughed humorlessly. “Then you’ve fooled me.”

“Not all who serve the king need fight,” said the headman. He turned to one of the soldiers. “She’s the one.”

“Father, what’s going on?” asked Dar, already guessing the answer.

Her father looked away.

“This was his idea,” said the headman.

“It’s for the best,” said Dar’s father, his eyes still elsewhere.

“Best for her,” said Dar, casting her stepmother a resentful look. “She’ll be pleased enough to have me gone.”

“I’ll be glad for some peace,” retorted Thess. “Always the proud one, you.”

“Unlike some, who’d tup a man for a space by his fire.”

“You’d be a wife, too, if you weren’t so willful.”

“She’s best suited for the army,” said the headman.

“I’ll determine that,” said the soldier in charge. Though he was the youngest, his helmet and arms were finely made, and his armor was metal, not leather. “Murdant, see if the girl’s fit.”

The murdant, a man half again the age of his officer, slowly circled Dar, taking in her sturdy grace. He thought her old to be unmarried, perhaps two dozen winters. Though unkempt, she had pleasant features—large dark eyes, a delicate nose, russet hair, and full lips—making him surmise it was her temperament that had kept her single. As if to confirm this, Dar stood with a defiant expression, fists clenched at her sides.

“Show me your teeth,” said the murdant.

Though Dar realized the murdant was unlike some suitor who could be scared off by a show of temper, she pressed her lips tightly together. The murdant only grinned, then roughly pinched her cheeks with his thumb and forefinger to force open her jaws. He got a quick glimpse into Dar’s mouth before she struck a blow that he easily warded off. “She’s got her teeth and the rest of her looks sound enough.”

“She’ll do,” said the officer.

The headman bowed. “Tolum, we always fulfill our duty to the king.”

The officer regarded him disdainfully. “This spinster’s no great sacrifice.”

Thess entered the hut and returned with a small bundle wrapped in a threadbare cloak. “I’ve gathered your things,” she said, handing them to Dar.

The tolum mounted his horse. “March her to our camp and be quick. I’ll be waiting.” Then he rode off.

The murdant addressed the other soldiers. “You heard the tolum. Move!” He turned to Dar, who clutched her bundle with a stunned look on her face. He had seen that expression before. Her people have given her up, he thought. She has nowhere to turn. Still, he doubted her defiance was extinguished. “You fixing to give us trouble?”

Dar shook her head.

“Then come along, we have to catch up with a horse.”

Dar turned to bid farewell, but her family had disappeared into the hut.

#

At first, only the tread of the soldiers’ booted feet broke the silence. Dar walked blank-faced among the men, considering what to do. To buy time, she trod as though her feet were tender, hoping to slow the pace. Dar knew the path would pass a steep slope that was covered with loose rock. They won’t expect me to scramble up it barefoot. Dar was certain she could elude the soldiers, whose armor would encumber them, and escape into the heights above.

Dar tried to imagine what she would do afterward. I can’t go home. The headman would declare her an outlaw, and Dar was certain no neighbor would risk sheltering her. She would have to go far away, and that was her dilemma. In the highlands, a woman without kin had no rights or protection. To dwell anywhere, she would have to beg some man’s leave, and Dar had no illusions what price would be exacted. She recoiled at the thought.

When the soldiers marched past the rock-covered slope, Dar made no escape attempt. Having weighed her options, she chose what seemed the lesser evil—an uncertain fate with the army. The path turned away from the tumbled rocks and headed into a valley. As Dar trudged toward a new life, she thought of the one she was leaving. She would miss her half sisters but little else. Her relations with her father had been strained ever since her mother’s death. This day’s betrayal was only his latest. Life in the stone hut had consisted of hardship, visits from unwanted suitors, and the barbs of a spiteful stepmother. Dar tried to cheer herself with the thought that she was abandoning these afflictions; yet she already suspected they would be replaced by different ones.

#

As the marching warmed the soldiers, their tongues loosened. “Do ye think the tolum will get himself lost?” asked one in an accent foreign to Dar’s ears.

“Even he can follow hoofprints,” said a companion.

“And his horse has sense,” said another, “even if he lacks it.”

“At least he listened to the murdant today,” said the first soldier. “This one came easy enough.”

“That’s ’cause she’s like you,” said a soldier with a grin, “worthless.”

His companion regarded Dar. “You worthless?”

Dar’s face reddened. The soldier leered and answered his own question. “Well, you’re good for one thing.”

“Unlike you, Tham,” said the murdant. The others laughed.

“At least my mum cried when I marched off,” said Tham. “I saw only dry eyes today.”

“Not like yesterday.”

“Aye,” said the murdant. “Get one that won’t be missed—that’s what I told the tolum. Hey birdie, will you miss them?”

Dar remained silent.

“Maybe she’s happy to be gone from that dung heap,” said one of the men.

“Sure,” said another. “It’s fun being a soldier.”

A soldier laughed. “Especially if you’re a woman.”

“I’ve heard no talk of war,” said Dar. “When did it begin?”

The murdant grinned. “For sooth, you’ve lived under a rock. Kregant’s been at war since the day he was crowned. Soldiering’s been steady work.”

“What’s the king fighting over?”

“Whatever he wishes. I just follow orders.”

“And what will I be doing?” asked Dar.

“Cooking.”

“You marched all this way to get a cook?”

“The tolum’s commander wanted mountain girls. Said they’re tough.”

Dar regarded the murdant and the others. They bore the look of men who lived hard. It would take a strong woman to serve with them, she thought. Yet a glimpse at the murdant’s eyes warned Dar he wasn’t telling all the truth.

“How long will I serve?” she asked.

“Not long,” said the murdant, his gaze fixed elsewhere.

#

For a while, the route was familiar to Dar. It crossed the valley, climbed the far ridge, and followed it. By noon, they left the ridgeline and descended into a winding valley Dar had never visited. At the lower altitude, the trees had already leafed out. The marchers halted by a stream for a brief meal before moving on. By early afternoon, they reached camp. The tolum paced about the clearing where his horse grazed. Several soldiers stood nearby. One was tending a small fire. A short distance away, a blond-haired woman sat with her back against a tree, facing away from Dar.

“You took your time,” said the tolum.

“The girl’s barefoot, sir,” said the murdant. “She slowed us down.”

“That’s no excuse, Murdant!” The tolum shot Dar an irritated look. “By Karm’s tits! How can you not own shoes?” Then he took the murdant aside, and they talked in low tones. Afterward, the tolum returned his attention to Dar. “Lie on your back.”

“Why?”

“You don’t question orders,” said the murdant. “Soldiers who do are whipped. Now, lie down.”

Dar obeyed. The murdant nodded, and a large soldier walked over, straddled Dar, and sat upon her chest, pinning her arms with his knees. Another soldier grabbed Dar’s ankles. A third knelt down and gripped her head between his knees like a vise. From the corner of her eye, Dar spied another soldier approaching. He bore something in his hand that glowed. She fought to free her arms, but the man on her chest shifted more weight to his knees until the pressure was excruciating. “Don’t struggle,” he said.

Dar grew still, and the soldier on her chest eased up a bit. By then, the fourth soldier stood over her, and she could see that the glowing object was a brand. Its end resembled a five-pointed crown outlined in fire. As it came closer to her face, Dar closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. An instant later, she felt a searing pain on her forehead accompanied by the smell of burned flesh. Dar fought against crying out, but failed. The men released her, and she sat up. The pain was intense.

The murdant tossed her a water skin. “Pour water on it,” he said. “It helps.”

The water eased Dar’s pain just enough so she could control her voice. “I came without resisting. There was no need to do that.”

“All women in the orc regiments are branded, lest they run away.”

“Orc regiments!” said Dar, her pain momentarily forgotten as she recalled the nightmare tales.

“Correct,” said the tolum, “and a branded head bears a bounty. To keep it on your shoulders, you must stick with your regiment.”

“What do orcs want with women?”

“I have no idea,” said the tolum. “I fight alongside men, not monsters.”

“They have women wait on them,” said the murdant. “I’ve seen it often.”

“You also told me I’d not serve long,” retorted Dar. “This brand betrays that lie.”

“Aye, I spoke false,” said the murdant. “But now that you’re marked, I have no need.”

“We’re done here,” said the tolum. “Chain her to the other girl and move out. We must return by the morrow.”

A soldier went over to the tree where the woman sat and pulled her to her feet. Then Dar could see that the woman’s ankles and wrists were bound and an iron ring was locked around her neck. Attached to the ring was a long length of heavy chain from which dangled several bells. The soldier removed the woman’s bonds, but not the iron ring. Using the chain, he led her closer to Dar. At the far end of the chain was a second ring, which he locked around Dar’s neck. “You’ll wear this till you reach your regiment.”

The chain wasn’t overly burdensome, but Dar saw how it would hinder an escape. The belled links were noisy, and, off the road, they would tangle easily. She approached the stranger at the other end, who appeared several years younger. Dar’s fellow captive was well dressed by highland standards; her clothes were clean and almost new. She also wore shoes. She turned to gaze at Dar. Beneath the angry brand on her forehead, her eyes were red and puffy from weeping.

Despite her pain, Dar tried to smile. “I’m Dar.”

“Leela,” replied the woman in a nearly inaudible voice.

“Move out,” commanded the tolum, who had mounted his horse. He urged his steed forward, setting a brisk pace for the soldiers and women that followed.

Dar gathered up the links of chain so it wouldn’t snag on something and so she could walk next to Leela. When they were side by side, she saw tears flowing down Leela’s face.

“It’ll be all right,” Dar said.

Leela stared ahead, oblivious. Dar gently touched her arm without getting a response. The girl’s face was emptied of every emotion except sorrow. Its desolation made Dar wonder how Leela’s parting differed from her own. The bundle that Thess had prepared was an indication. At lunchtime, Dar had inspected it. Within the worn cloak were a spare undergarment and a shift even more ragged than the one she wore. Dar’s footwear and good shift were missing, as were the beads her mother had given her. Leela’s garments bespoke a loving send-off, one that made Dar both envy and pity her.

Soon, the tolum’s pace had Dar panting, and she gave up trying to start a conversation. She trudged along, concerned only with keeping up and her own misfortune.

– Copyright 2007 by Morgan Howell. All rights reserved.

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Print Is Dead? Not Even Close!

There’s a lot of e-book buzz about Jeff Gomez and his new book, Print Is Dead. From the introduction to Print Is Dead:

“While print is not yet dead, it is undoubtedly sickening. Newspaper readership has been in decline for years, magazines are also in trouble, and trade publishing (the selling of novels and non-fiction books to adults primarily for entertainment), has not seen any substantial growth for years. More and more people are turning away from traditional methods of reading, turning instead to their computers and the Internet for information and entertainment. Whether this comes in the form of getting news online, reading a blog, or contributing to a wiki, the general population is shifting away from print consumption, heading instead to increasingly digital lives.”

I may be an e-book evangelist but I wouldn’t dream of saying print is dead. For now and the foreseeable future the handheld reader of choice is called the book. Or p-book (p for print) as opposed to e-book. Or, as some refer to it, “book-book” to distinguish it from virtual versions. For all our valiant endeavors to produce an electronic reader, nothing matches the elegant form and functionality of the printed book. E-Reads’ sales confirm it: despite the ease of downloading our titles, fifty percent of our revenue comes from the sale of print copies.

What is dead is the old way of distributing books, in mechanical vehicles to brick and mortar vendors. Bookstores, even the fabulous giant Barnes & Noble chain, are dead stores walking. The day that the print on demand press was introduced (summer of 1998), the bookstore beast took a shot to the gut. Boast though they may about sales B&N and other book chains are mortally wounded and it’s just a matter of time before they hemorrhage to death. The good news? Before you can say Rest in Peace, a new, healthier, more profitable and infinitely more efficient distribution model will take its place. I’m happy to say I predicted it in 1992. Nobody listened then. Maybe they’ll listen now.

– Richard Curtis

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HarperCollins Helps Authors Get Online

Thanks again to Publishers Weekly for more exciting news.

HarperCollins announced a pilot launch of the Author Assistant program, designed to help authors build and maintain personal websites to promote their books. This web-based toolset will allow authors to create a website and include biographical information, blog posts, coming attractions, Q&As, photos, links to other articles and posts, browse inside widgets, and even a map of other Harper authors that fans have in common. Authors own any content they create for their pages.

The initial launch involves 40 Avon Romance authors but the program will roll out through all HarperCollins U.S. imprints by mid-2008.

The current feature set “reflects the basics of what authors need to publish content on our site,” according to SVP for Global Marketing Strategy and Operations Carolyn Pittis, who says they plan to add numerous other features, driven in large part by “what authors want.” One of the most likely additions is a video component, as well as feeds to provide third-party syndication. They expect to be adding more two-way features.” In general, the program is intended to be a way of matching up author-generated content with marketing know-how.

Sounds like a great way to help everyone sell more books. That’s another idea we like a lot.

— John

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Subterranean Press and Baen Books Do Ebooks Deal

Here’s a tasty ebooks tidbit recently in Publishers Weekly.

Subterranean Press, a small, independent Science Fiction publisher will release some of its titles as ebooks under a new agreement with Baen Books. The titles will be sold individually and will also be a part of Baen’s online subscription service, Webscription, which offers electronic editions of titles on a subscription basis. Many titles become available online before the print editions ship. Other publishers who sell subscriptions through Baen include Del Rey and Tor Books. William Schafer, publisher of Subterranean, said the deal with Baen will expose his titles to a wider audience.

All of Baen’s electronic products are offered without DRM protection, an approach to which Baen remains committed. Baen publisher Toni Weisskopf said “We don’t treat our customers like criminals, and they don’t act like them. We’ve found that if you treat your readers with respect, they become repeat customers.”

We like to see more publishers making the move into ebooks and DRM-free makes a lot of sense, too.

– John

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