Monthly Archives: April 2009

William C. Dietz’s Words for Hire #1 – Game Tie-Ins

William C. Dietz is the best-selling author of more than thirty novels, some of which have been reissued by E-Reads. Recently he was invited by the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) Bulletin to write a bi-monthly column called “Words for Hire,” exploring the world of media tie-ins and novelizations. The articles demystify a fascinating genre and we’re delighted to reprint them as a regular feature in these pages.
RC
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William C. Dietz introduces his first column:

Over the course of these columns I plan to drill down on the business end of work-for-hire by examining the way gaming companies view tie-in novels, the way TV/Film companies approach them, and the important role publishers and agents play in the process. That includes why companies commission tie-ins, what they look for in writers, and how the selection process works.

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Judith Regan Back in Spotlight, Trailing Clouds of Glory

The party was ostensibly in honor of the 55th birthday of Hollywood media expert and bestselling author (Guerrilla P.R. 2.0) Michael Levine. But all eyes were on hostess Judith Regan, back on the Big Apple scene after an adventurous sojourn in Hollywood trying to establish an imprint backed by News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch. The venture came to grief, and a hack doggerlizer summarized the subsequent shenanigans in Publishers Weekly‘s 2007 year-end issue:

Judith Regan filed a brief
Seeking millions in relief.
After News Corp’s Chief Commander
Pulled the gynarch’s plug and canned her.
Faulty judgment her transgression,
Buying O. J.’s faux confession.
Tempers soared from hot to fissile
Over her abrupt dismissal.

Her lawsuit settled, Regan seems ready to take what’s left of New York publishing by storm, if that’s what she chooses to do.

The party, held in her spacious Grecian isle-white penthouse, was wall to wall with coast to coast movers, shakers, media people and photographers. Guests were invited to “dress to intimidate” but with few exceptions business attire was the couture du jour. This reporter wore his most intimidating fire-engine red power pocket square but no one seemed to cringe, or even to open a path to the hummus dip.

Dick Morris toasted the guest of honor and told a naughty story about him.

RC
Poem excerpt (c) Richard Curtis reprinted from Publishers Weekly, December 31 2007, Reed Elsevier Magazines.

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Amazon Updates Kindle’s Document Support and File Fees

Starting on May 4th, Kindle will now be charging users $0.15 per megabyte for files they email to their Kindle via its wireless connection (Whispernet). This is up from the $0.10 charge for files without any size limit. Is this literally nickle and diming? Well, not exactly. I think it’s likely a protective move because the fees that Amazon is paying to maintain the service are more than they anticipated. Any file’s cost will now be determined by rounding up to the nearest megabyte. It remains free to transfer the file yourself via USB.

I hope this is not the slippery slope of charging more for Whispernet services as time goes on, because one of the best successes of the Kindle has been how popular its wireless service is (for example, see this XKCD comic).

But the good news is that now Amazon is supporting RTF and DocX files for their conversion process (albeit “experimentally,” so that they don’t guaranty it will be perfect), whereby you email a file to your Kindle email address and Amazon converts it to a Kindle compatible file (emailing it back to you for free, or to your Kindle for $0.15 a MB). DocX is Microsoft’s latest Word format, which is a default for newer versions of MS Word, while RTF is the old standby and the format that E-Reads uses to maintain many manuscripts in our archives. Good on them for pushing the format envelope a bit more like Sony has been doing.

– Michael Gaudet

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Stats Confirm: Kindle Is No Country for Young Men and Women

A Kindlista compiling data on Kindle use confirms our highly unscientific observation that the majority of the device’s owners are adults (35-54) or seniors (55+). If you like graphs and pie charts, visit Kindle Culture and see for yourself.

Says the site’s blogger:

“The resulting data suggests that the largest group of Kindle owners by decade are in their 50s. The next two largest are owners in their 40s at 19.1% and owners in their 60s at 18%, making the total number of Kindle owners between the ages of 40 and 69 an incredible 58.6%. Owners above 70 make up an additional 8.1%, with owners under the age of 40 accounting for just over a third of all Kindle sales.

Using broader target demographic standards, the results look like this:

Younger adults (18-34) – 22%
Adults (35-54) – 38.4%
Older adults (over 54) – 37.3”

Among Kindle Culture’s conclusions: “The Kindle might also be a popular 60th birthday present…”

Note to family and friends: a gift certificate to Bloomingdale’s will be perfectly fine, thank you.

RC

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Can You Be Sued for Downloading a Book?

E-book piracy is a billion dollar business, and a good percentage of it comes from user-generated shared files. Pirate websites list millions of these files, enabling visitors to download music, movies, pictures, and e-book texts that their Internet peers are sharing, all free. As E-Reads’ Michael Gaudet pointed out in his analysis of e-book piracy, “Most of the listed files are ripped from purchased media, and in some cases they are leaked material that has yet to be made available at retail.”

Though the operators of pirate websites are cagey and some are downright defiant, a recent Swedish court decision found four co-founders of one such site, Pirate Bay, guilty of being accessories to copyright infringement. The perpetrators have each been sentenced to 1 year in prison and fined $3.5 million ($14m total).

While copyright owners rejoice in the decision, their happiness may be short-lived, for there are numerous websites ready to take Pirate Bay’s place. If the beast grows ten more heads, legitimate publishers may be forced to seek other measures. One of them is to sue visitors to these sites who download shared files. People like, um…you?

Surely, no book publisher is going to sue some kid for sharing an e-book file, right? Well…

Consider the case of one Patricia Santangelo of Wappingers Falls, N. Y. It happens that four years ago she was one of thousands of people accused of illegally downloading and distributing music. They were sued by the Recording Industry Association in a bid to make an example of ordinary people whose file-sharing activities were draining publishers and recording artists of legitimate, copyright-protected revenue. The plaintiffs didn’t care how much it cost to bring the action – that’s how much it meant to them.

Many of those sued settled, but Ms. Santangelo decided to fight it out in court. According to the New York Times, “The industry eventually dropped its suit against the mother. But it filed a new one against two of her children, Michelle and Robert, ages 20 and 16 at the time.” Just recently her family and the recording industry reached a settlement, and it will cost the Santangelos $7,000. They have denied wrongdoing.

So we ask again: can a book publisher or association of publishers sue participants downloading texts from an e-book file sharing site? The answer is – sure. Would a judge throw the suit out as frivolous? Not if he or she bought into the arguments of such righteously indignant copyright owners as the victim who recently posted a blog asserting that piracy was no better than mugging or shoplifting.

See you in court.

RC

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Too Young for Kindle? A 29 Year Old’s View

Here’s an insightful comment on our recent posting, Are You Too Young For Kindle?
RC
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Well, I’m 29 and I got a Kindle as a gift at the beginning of 08 right when they went on sale during Christmas 07. I LOVE my Kindle. Would I have bought one if it wasn’t given to me? No, but I would have been salivating with jealousy any time I saw one on the street. I didn’t pay money for books before I got my Kindle because books are too easy to come by. So I’d agree that my disposable income isn’t something I’d spend on books (I work in book publishing too) generally. Now, however, it’s almost too easy to drop $5.99 here or $9.99 there (btw – $9.99 is the absolute max I’ll pay for an e-book) for a book. I also have a NYTimes “headline story” subscription for a $1.99/month which gives me the top 15 or so stories of the day. I wouldn’t have taken a NYTimes subscription of any kind before then. It would have seemed like a waste of paper when I can get the gist of the news online.

The best feature is the “sample read”. If I pull a sample book its almost a sure bet that I’m going to buy the book. My buy rate has DRAMATICALLY improved since I got the Kindle. The Amazon library is a big deal as well. The library coupled with the wireless download is a hurdle that will be mighty big for any $99 application to beat…

The price point of the Kindle is only half the problem. I think young people would spend money on a piece of hardware they’d use. The sad fact is that many people don’t read enough to make a nearly $400 commitment to a piece of hardware. I carry my Kindle with me everyday and I use it regularly. The average reading in the US is like two books and a fashion mag, right? These people aren’t dropping $359 for a Kindle. All the 80G iPods, iPhones, and Wiis out there tell you that young people will shell out the dough for something they want and that they’ll use. Books aren’t the thing for the majority.

Also, I think old people were the ones commenting on the Amazon community pages because old people are the only ones who’d be tickled enough to go to an Amazon community page. I’ve had my Kindle for more than a year and I’ve never felt the need to visit the Amazon community. I didn’t need to ask a lot of questions on how to use it and I don’t really have the time to “make friends” with other people who have a Kindle just because they have a Kindle…

IMHO.

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Extension Eases Google Deadline Mass Hysteria

Publishers, authors and agents breathed a collective sigh of relief to learn that New York judge Denny Chin has granted a four-month extension to authors and other content owners to decide on the merits of the recently negotiated settlement between Google and author and publisher groups.

Andrew Albanese of Publishers Weekly reports that Gail Knight Steinbeck, leading a group of authors upset about the pressure to decide without adequate information, was thrilled. “We now have to time to really sink our teeth into what this agreement will mean,” she said. One of the few parties who are less than delirious is Authors Guild, which was among the original key movers in forcing the settlement. “We’d hoped for a shorter extension of time, since we’re eager to get on to the next phase of the process,” the Guild’s Paul Aiken told Publishers Weekly.

We recently wrote about how the impending deadline was making agents and publishers crazy. “Some more time for everybody to sort out their rights would be welcome,” we urged. Happy to know the stay of execution will be implemented. One way to profitably occupy the extra time you’ve been granted is to study the detailed guideline to the Settlement written by Joy Butler, an entertainment, intellectual property and business law attorney in Washington.

RC

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Reuters Reports Sightings of Doomsday Virus

While World Health Organization experts alert the world to a potential swine flu epidemic, a viral threat of another kind, a software worm, “is slowly being activated, weeks after being dismissed as a false alarm,” say computer security experts. Jim Finkle, reporting for Reuters, writes that the malevolent Conficker program ” is quietly turning thousands of personal computers into servers of e-mail spam and installing spyware.”

We first wrote about this late last March, when alerts went out over the Internet that an attack would be unleashed on April Fool’s Day. Though it failed (to our knowledge) to materialize, authorities were by no means satisfied that the threat was a prank or the software was a dud. The ultimate game plan of Conficker’s programmers – criminal, political, vandalism, hoax – is unknown, but we do know that it is designed to surreptitiously install a botnet virus on a PC (it hasn’t yet developed a taste for Macs) that enslaves the computer, directing it to send out email spam. The computer’s owner has no clue that this is going on under his nose.

“This is probably one of the most sophisticated botnets on the planet,” Reuter’s Finkle quotes Trend Micro’s Paul Ferguson. “The guys behind this are very professional. They absolutely know what they are doing.”

Stay alert: the worm’s creators are by no means finished with us.

RC

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Lexcycle’s Stanza Application Now Belongs To Amazon

Lexcycle announced yesterday that they’ve been acquired by Amazon, which either comes as good news to you if you like industry consolidation, or bad if it worries you what Amazon might be planning (eg. the curious case of Mobipocket). However, Marc from Lexcycle was quick to dispel some of the fear by way of his blog:

“We are not planning any changes in the Stanza application or user experience as a result of the acquisition. Customers will still be able to browse, buy, and read ebooks from our many content partners. We look forward to offering future products and services that we hope will resonate with our passionate readers.”

Lexcycle Inc. has been of the little Davids of the ebook world. They are a little group that set out to build an ebook reading application for the iPhone and they quickly fostered a great following. Their free application, Stanza, has been one of the break-out hits among ebook enthusiasts, allowing people to use their iPhone to gain access to unfettered free e-books on the net, while supporting major formats like .pdb and mobipocket (non-DRM only). They were also able to wrangle Fictionwise.com & eReader DRM support, including shopping for ebooks (so you can buy E-Reads titles) through Stanza via its online catalogs (with a special Stanza account). And most importantly, they’ve been rallying support for ePub. Stanza has one of the best implementations of support for the darling new standard.

But rather than attempting to defeat one of the roaming giants of the digital frontier, Amazon’s Kindle, it seems that they’ve allowed themselves to be gobbled up. Amazon surely noticed that Stanza was more popular than their Kindle application for the iPhone. So, what will happen? Could it mean Kindle support (finally) on Stanza? Or is it a way of competing against (and potentially blocking) Barnes & Noble, who now own Fictionwise?

In the minds of many Stanza fans, Stanza should be an open ebook reader and open sales platform, where all sorts of vendors can feed various formats, DRM’d or otherwise, and allow everyone to compete fairly. This is contrary to the strict boundaries that Amazon uses to protect its sales. But I think the agenda at Lexcycle has always been to give people a great tool to read, and that’s why working with the very powerful (and wealthy) Amazon is still a means to that end. I think that’s how Stanza was envisioned at its onset, so I’m not necessarily worried yet. Both companies have been responsible for the growing acceptance of ebooks in the last year. These are all people who genuinely care about the ebook experience. They could be a good fit.

– Michael Gaudet

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Are You Too Young for Kindle?

Michael Cader, blogging in Publishers Lunch, says that “The Kindle is probably the only major consumer electronic device aimed at older buyers.” He cites a survey conducted by Bowker: “The device is favored particularly by people aged 50 to 64, and women like it disproportionately more than men, while the iPhone is heavily preferred by those in the 35 to 49 bracket,” Cader writes.

In one respect, these data should not come as a surprise; generally speaking, adults simply buy more books than the young, period – 60 percent of book purchases are by older persons. But because we associate e-books and reading devices with youthful innovation, the numbers bear some attention.

The party most interested in these demographics is Amazon itself, creator of the Kindle. Amazon asked visitors to its Kindle Community page to disclose their age, and as of this writing 1652 responded. That’s a huge number of responders and we’re not sure why the question elicited so much action. By way of comparison, the second most responded to question garnered only 20 replies! Nor are we sure why respondents felt compelled to relate their life stories in response to the simple request for “Average Kindle Owners Age” (“59 3/4 years old here…no arthritis here yet. Probably will start suffering from it when I turn 60.”) I guess seniors talking about their age like to add a flourish or two..

In any event, though we didn’t sift methodically through every response or tally the average, it was clear from a random clickthrough of responses that the majority of those answering the question were in their fifties and sixties.

On the trail of these absorbing factoids, I randomly selected and debriefed a 25-year-old male about his, and his friends’, attitudes towards Kindle. Interestingly, this interviewee works for a publisher and uses the device in his professional capacity.

Me: Do you own a Kindle personally?

Him: No.

Me: Because?

Him: The expense. I can’t afford one. [It currently lists for $359.00 on Amazon.com] My friends can’t either.

Me: Do you read books on another electronic device?

Him: No, call me old fashioned, but I like printed books. And they’re also economical compared to the Kindle. If you read eight or ten books a year, buying them is cheap compared to buying a Kindle. Some of us either borrow books from the library or from each other, so it doesn’t make sense to buy a Kindle.

Me: But you spend money on music.

Him: I would rather spend my money on music. I can listen to music while I’m doing something else. But reading a book is a dedicated activity. You can’t do something else while you read a book.

Me. You call yourself old-fashioned. Doesn’t that strike you as ironic, that a 25-year-old is more old-fashioned than a Kindle-reading fifty or sixty year old man or woman?

Him. [Shrugs] I guess so.

Are you too young for Kindle? The answer is right under our noses – for kids, it’s simply too expensive.

Though Kindle is sitting high atop the e-reader heap, a competitor producing a $99.00 device could topple the Goliath, or at least give it a good healthy fight.

RC

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