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The Age of the E-book?

by DeAnander Sun Jan 10th, 2010 at 11:19:29 PM EST

I started exploring the strange new world of e-publishing about three years ago when planning my downsizing and relocation. I knew I was not, no way, no how, going to buy a reader from Micro$oft or Amazon (both come with large sticky strings attached, as in heavy DRM and the usual attempt to tie the user to the vendor’s document format). So I bought the Jinke Hanlin direct from China, at that time rather an undertaking that eventually involved the Bank of China and a lot of faxing....


[x-post from Feral Scholar] The Hanlin is one of a new breed of “palmtop” devices with a high-res, high-contrast B&W screen that tries (and succeeds pretty well) to look like a printed page. It is paper-white with black print and graphics, quite easy on the eye (much more pleasant to read than a glowing TFT screen). Only the tiniest trickle of power is required to coerce the black pixels into staying “lit” (the unpowered state is blank off-white). On a standard cell phone battery, the device will support 3000 or so page-refreshes — a lot of reading; and it will sit quietly on standby for weeks. It all sounds rather green; very low power draw, small, open source (it displays PDF, EPUB, and several other open formats), and — hey — e-books don’t require killing trees, bleaching pulp, shipping tonnes of paper all over the globe, running giant presses, using toxic inks, shipping more tonnes of finished books all over the world, and so on. And even people with small houses can have shelves of books.

All this I suppose is more or less true — though I have no idea what the environmental cost of manufacturing one of these doodads really is, and no one is as yet required to tell us [when will carbon-cost and toxic-byproduct labelling on all industrial items become as mandatory as ingredient and “nutrition” labelling on foods?]. But my foray into the new world of ebooks, as I’ve pursued the subject further, has raised many questions — some of which strike pretty deep into the heart of property rights law and capitalism-as-we-know it, not to mention the cultural meaning of books as artifacts. [I invite anyone who’s more familiar with this technology to respond with corrections, expansions, and alternative takes on the phenomenon.]

------------

Ebooks come from two worlds, one on each side of a wall which, were it physical rather than notional and legal, would be many metres high and festooned with barbed wire, searchlights, and guard towers:  the wall of Copyright.  On the “public domain” or “out of copyright” side of the wall is the book space occupied by e.g. Project Gutenberg:  tens of thousands of classic (and some rather obscure) titles, all copyright free and being transcribed, packaged into CDROMs, transformed from plain text to HTML to EPUB to PDF format by all-volunteer labour driven by the human impulse to share knowledge and information.  On the “copyright” side of the wall is everything from low-cost self-published e-books to best-sellers owned and controlled by the various big publishing corporations.

The price for an indie ebook seems to range between 5 and 10 dollars, with “whatever you think it’s worth” (conscience pricing) in a minority of cases.  DRM (digital rights management) in most cases amounts only to a heartfelt plea “not to share this book.”

The price for a mass-market popular title currently in copyright varies from 10 to as much as 30 dollars, but in most cases hovers around half of the hardback edition price.  So for example, if you want the latest Terry Pratchett or similar best selling sci-fi paperback equivalent, it’ll be 10 or 12 dollars, and there will be a bewildering variety of formats.

Some of the formats will be heavily DRM’d.  As with software licensing (because ebooks are essentially a mix of content and software), there are the more draconian versions (the ebook is keyed to one individual’s reader and cannot be read on any other hardware device — Microsoft Reader and Kindle, as far as I know, work like this), the somewhat less draconian versions like the new Barnes and Noble “Nook” (you can share your book with a limited number of others in a limited set of formats), and so on.  Vertical integrators (aka monopolists) like Amazon want to tie their own proprietary reader to their own ebook format (though their reader is capable of reading some open-source formats as well).  The formats themselves are evolving.

If you want some idea of the morass of formats and the bewildering array of devices already on the market, this comparison table makes interesting (or daunting) reading.

I’ve been chatting over the implications of ebooks with a friend who is in her spare time an indie publisher.  As a publisher she is quite excited about the ebook option and is publishing her own first novel in electronic form (as well as Print on Demand, another technology having sweeping impacts on the publishing biz).  As a publisher she welcomes the ebook format as a way to make books more accessible and cheaper;  the minimal cost for a POD short-run copy is about $12, but after the original formatting and publicity, ebooks are “free” to “produce” (all they cost is download time and bandwidth), so she can charge a lesser price for them.

As a writer I’m rather excited by the technology as well, and for the same reason;  I could charge very little for e.g. a volume of collected essays, and yet keep it “in print”.  It’s also very easy to publish a book pro bono, costing only labour and download hosting space.

As a reader, however, I have some misgivings about the heavily-hyped trend toward ebooks.

I keep running across the language “please do not share this ebook,” not to mention elaborate DRMs designed to micromanage and control the reader’s use of the text.  This seems to me to violate one of the primary attributes of the social artifact “book”, as we have known it:  one of the essential features of books — perhaps the most essential, culturally — is that we lend and borrow them.  For the last several generations, books have been a medium of social bonding, exchange, and networking.  What does it mean for “book” to become “licensed software”?

And what does this mean for the equally important social construct called “used bookshop,” where traditionally, even low-income people could find affordable books (particularly in paperback editions)?  In the world of ebooks there is no such thing as a “used book”.  One copy, one owner, seems to be the desire of the publishing corporations.

Without used bookstores and book lending/sharing, will the market for books remain lively and robust?  Is the ebook “revolution” a strategic strike by the industry against the used book stores?

What does “edition” mean, when ebook content can be updated at any moment, typos fixed, text cut or added?    What guarantee does reader B have that the ebook she bought in December is the same “edition” as the one recommended to her by reader A in May?  Does it matter?  Should readers, like purchasers of software, be entitled to upgrades and patches as authors refine and improve their work?

What will the role of media “piracy” be in the ebook world?  I note that e.g. Harry Potter fans have been manually transcribing the 600 and 700 page novels into PDF, on a volunteer basis, to share them with the world of people who can’t afford $15 or more for a physical copy;  how can DRM circumvent this kind of dedication and zeal?

The entry cost (price of a reader) is not slight either.  It ranges from $250 up.  If the majority of publishers migrate to ebook-land, how many people will be de facto excluded from reading current publications by their inability to afford the reader hardware?

What happens when reader hardware becomes obsolete?  Is the owner guaranteed the ability to port his/her library forward to the new generation of readers?  Are ebook readers going to join iPods and cell phones as huge contributors to landfills and toxic “recycling” depots for electronic gizmos?

What becomes of public libraries?

What becomes of hundreds of thousands of titles that are not “commercially viable” enough to be worth a publishing corporation’s time and effort to scan, OCR, error-check, and format into several ebook standards — yet remain under copyright so that it’s illegal for anyone to distribute them for free in open formats?  Today, the answer to the reader seeking such book is “abebooks” or (if you are lucky) your own excellent local UBS.

As a “reading experience”, I find my Hanlin reader slightly inferior to the average mass market paperback in page and font quality (and page turns are annoyingly slow);  I would happily pay 3 or 4 dollars for a used paperback copy of a well-loved book, but I would definitely not pay 10 dollars for one.  For me to “digitise”, say, my collection of used Terry Pratchett paperbacks (35 books or so) at $10+ each is an investment of $350+ — on my present budget, ridiculous, even for the attractive convenience of being able to carry the entire collection around in my pocket.  

Living as I now do, on a fixed and fairly slender pension, I am realising that the death of used book stores following the complete takeover of the book market by ebooks (which will probably not happen in my lifetime, as the physical inventory of used books is still so enormous) would mean that I could no longer afford to own any recent popular titles.  My reading would be limited to indie publishing and OOC classics.  Given the accelerating immiseration of what was once the middle class in N America, a growing number of people might fall into this “can’t afford ebooks” class.  What would this mean for reading habits, literacy in general, as a class marker?  And again, what does this mean for public libraries?  Would they continue to lend out “old fashioned” paper editions specially printed for collectors and libraries only?  (and if paper editions became sufficiently rare and collectible, how could libraries continue to buy them or dare to lend them out?)

There is an enormous structural difference between ebook readers and MP3 players:  the ability of the end-user to rip CDs to MP3 made the MP3 player enormously attractive and swiftly ubiquitous.  You could convert your own existing library to the portable digital format.  There’s no equivalent ease of converting a paper volume to an ebook:  good OCR is expensive, scanning is time consuming and requires fairly extensive computing resources, and some formats are difficult to produce correctly without a fair amount of technical expertise.  Not to mention the legal dobermans ready to unleash on any person who (gasp) shares an ebook with a friend without paying the appropriate licensing fees!

The ebook’s challenge to the used book store (and to interpersonal book lending and borrowing) raises many questions about content control, enclosure, copyright, and so on.  For how many years should copyright persist?  Is the “free market” a sane or workable way to fund the arts?  What would be a better way?  How will indie/grassroots publishing react to the ebook wave?  Could authors make a living on a “shareware” and donation basis?

And one last speculative question about the ebook phenomenon:  given our situation wrt peak oil, possible economic implosion, seriously disruptive conditions possible in the near future, is it wise to commit literacy, record-keeping, publishing, and the rest to relatively fragile high technology?  Paper books, after all, can be read even when the power is out and the Internet is down.  Heck, they can even be burned for domestic heating when times get tough.


So... how much would you pay for an ebook?  How about for an ebook version of a paper book that you already own?  Would it be a good investment?  Why?  or why not?  What are the implications of the technology (for Us, as in the low-budget resistance/subversive elements -- defenders of the Commons -- or for Them, as in the big-budget owner/controller/Enclosers)?  Is the ebook reader an "appropriate technology" or just another path towards absolute Enclosure and artificial obsolescence (version churning)?

Display:
Even though large parts of the world and many old and famous bookshops and libraries have fallen or may fall into the grip of the virtual media and all the odious apparatus of E-Book domination, we shall not flag or fail.

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight against E-Books with all our might, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our books whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall fight in the bookshops and in the libraries; we shall never SURRENDER!

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 12:59:36 AM EST
Perhaps my brain is a bit dulled by several days of darkness and rain in a row, but I can't tell whether ATinNM's comment is a humorous reprimand (i.e. he found the tone of my article too partisan and anti-ebookish) or a statement of genuine personal anti-ebook feeling cloaked in mild sarcasm.

My own feelings about the technology are conflicted.  I've been reading Thorne Smith's "Topper" (which I somehow never got around to until now) as an ebook on my Hanlin, and am finding it fairly pleasant.  Stuffed into the device I have several other Project Gutenberg titles, including Trollope's Barsetshire novels (which I never had the patience for as a young pup, but think I may enjoy a lot more in middle age).  It really is rather impressive to be holding a shelfsworth of weighty literature casually in one hand.  The technology is exciting, undeniably so.  It seems to have such enormous promise.  I live nowadays where clearcuts -- and the damage from clearcutting -- are painfully visible.  Fewer dead trees is a concept I can definitely get behind.

The real issue, I suppose, is not so much the technology -- which aside from issues of toxicity, resource consumption, accessibility, is more or less value-neutral -- as intellectual property law.  The technology merely leads us back into the mess that is intelprop...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 02:15:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm guessin' the latter - genuinely anti-ebook - interpretation.  I'll join that fight any time. Where do I sign up?  I'm guessing they're not so easy to burn, though...

Also, hi, DeA!  

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 02:45:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
not so easy to burn, and they give off toxic fumes :-)


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 03:12:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Guess you missed or forgot a previous discussion.

I like paper.  I like reading books.  I really don't like reading E-Text.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 06:11:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
winston churchill, or winston smith?

is this the exact change for the toll?

stirring stuff!

the only positive aspect to writing for e-books rather than for paper would be html, having live links in your pages.

i never had an e-reader, so a lot would depend on the UI and the physical presence of the e-reader, its heft, how it sat on my knee on a long train ride, whether it was aesthetically designed would also factor, is it a functional lump, or an accessory? not in the fashion sense, but in the sense of making friends with it.

pairing!

the question of property rights is one of the gnarliest ones around, as we all know, making artistic creativity pay is a lot harder these days, (see TBG's many good comments about this at ET), yet some have leaped the hurdle of enclosure and seen profits rise as they trusted their fans more, and were generous with them.

i used to be a classic bookworm, coming back from the library in rural hawaii with 5 or more heavy tomes to ponder in the jungle, or going camping alone up on dartmoor with the gormenghast trilogy.

so the idea of being able to go further with more knowledge, packaged in lighter form, certainly has an appeal.

since 2004 i hardly read a book any more!

main reason? they seem like yesterday's news, and the internet has subbed in and then some for my urges to imbibe others' ideas.

it's difficult for me to concentrate on reading a novel, f'rinstance, when my laptop beckons, it's incredible potential to entertain and educate in real time, it's tingling with topicality, you might say.

but laptops are still hot and bulky compared to a tree-book usually, and you can't take them to the beach and read them in a hammock, as the salt breeze and sand will kill them.

so while holidaying in costa rica, i effortlessly re-kindled (!) my affection for books again, and happily left my 'top behind.

what would make me plump for an e-reader?

first of all it should be extremely light, and preferably with the ability to hover in space wherever i set it, (a great feature for laptops too!).

it should be able to go online and it should handle html.

it should have solar panels built in to the 'cover'.

at this point we're looking at a notepad, aren't we?

and a Gutenberg project writ long and large, volunteer or taxbased.

great diary, i have more to share, but gotta run right now...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 07:40:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I read a number of books on my iPhone on the beach. Just get a sealed case and off you go. They pack light, and they're actually easier to read one handed when a baby decides to sleep in your arms than a book is. Since the iphone is pretty much always on my person it's much better for fitting a couple of pages into the gaps in the day.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 10:45:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
i can't read the print unless i make it large enough that then makes only about 4 words visible, PITA.

scroll overload!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 04:51:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Books won't die. Paperbacks might die, and good riddance.

I've recently gotten a Sony PRS-505, which are quite affordable in Europe, and I have read more books in the last few months than I did in the year before that.

Didn't pay for a single one of them. Although I will probably pay when the price/convenience-calculations look better. (As is gradually happening with mp3s.)

by Trond Ove on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 08:04:52 AM EST
is the ability for the content owners to change what's on your reader, ie to change "edition" without you necessarily knowing it.

If you don't own what's on your ebook, and don't even control what's on it, the potential for manipulation is immense.

I've been offered an ebook a while back but have not even bothered to try to use it.

::

Oh - welcome back, De, thanks for the thoughtful diary!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 08:28:25 AM EST
That's a matter of law and practice. That's what government is for. Is the danger of automatic updates greater than the benefit? Does it depend on the book?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 10:46:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How about version control? We're talking decorated text here. File size is negligible.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 11:00:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but if I buy an Amazon Kindle, will it be subject to French or US law? Or another one?

It's certainly more worrisome for some texts than others. There's already been the case of a book being taken off the kindle by Amazon remotely from people that had already paid for it, because of a copyright fight.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 11:12:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's what global governance is for.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 01:03:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... to be a prediction of exactly what government will not do.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 04:03:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's what government is for.
 

Writing from the US, I must say you redouble the point of Jerome's concern, rather than qualifying it.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Jan 12th, 2010 at 12:01:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My guess is that e-books will increase the sales of print books, as has happened with music.

BBC:

The total number of albums sold in the US during 2009 amounted to 373.9 million, according to chart compilers Nielsen SoundScan.

They added that more vinyl records had been purchased than any other year since they began compiling music sales figures in 1991.

There will be big changes in the infrastructure of the publishing industry, but for consumers there will be more choice of both content and delivery. There has been a great increase in 'sampling' - try before you buy - by consumers. Sampling enables a customer to check the product or producer before purchase.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 08:54:49 AM EST
The legacy formats - vinyl, cassette - have become a form of art status wank, and so you'd expect the same to happen with print books. A company near me is already offering high quality hand-printed hand-bound limited edition etc etc, and they're busier than ever, even though the editions cost five figures.

There will certainly be more choice, and a lot more piracy. But I'm not sure how the current music model is working. What's the distribution of those album sales. What media are selling? Who's buying them, in what contexts? Does this count small-run sales from the likes of CD Baby which - irrespective of quality - are often just vanity efforts from the point of view of actual income?

As for books - people don't understand that book publishing isn't about wood pulp, it's about social networks and caste relationships. Being an author is (supposedly) high status, so there's no lack of people who want to sample the benefits for themselves.

But the status comes from significant cultural sanctification in the MSM - getting mentioned, getting reviewed, getting interviewed, getting talked about. The physical process of being in print is almost the least significant part of that. The PR engine, the links between reviewers and cultural trend-setters and PR people, and the party/launch scene are vastly more influential.

Just being able to sell an e-book won't confer that sanctification on anyone, in the same way that getting a few tracks onto iTunes doesn't mean you can give up the day job.

In fact electronic publishing has been around for more than a decade now, and you can still find ghost sites which once sold the idea of electronic publishing to enthusiastic wannabe authors, and delivered very little.

If I had no scruples, I'd be doing the same with Kindle etc publishing - setting up a site which promised electronic publishing opportunities in return for a reading fee or subscription, and included a store where 'customers can buy your book', a forum, and all the rest.

My guess is there will be a lot of that, and perhaps not so much actual writing.

As for the writing - I have mixed feelings. A lot of amateur writing is desperately bad - it's much worse than amateur music, for some reason. But corporatisation has also locked out a lot of talented people from publishing, who deserve a voice.

The smart move would be for the talented people to form marketing and PR collectives - like record labels, for digital print. I don't suppose that will happen much, but it should, because it's going to be the only way to cut through the noise that's about to hit the industry.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 09:32:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Johnny Kniga is a small but thriving Finnish publisher with whom I negotiated prior to them becoming an imprint of the publishing giant WSOY, which is in turn owned by the Sanoma Corporation - publishers of Finland's largest daily newspaper. Their original policy remains intact in spite of the 'takeover'. They have customer loyalty in a niche market - built very much on the sort of networking and promotion systems you describe - but under rock'n'roll rules.

Finland has one of the highest (if not the highest) books sales per capita.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 10:07:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... swing to a larger share of the income coming from performance.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 04:06:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's the common wisdom. I suspect the truth is more nuanced - there's more stadium-level music, and stadium acts are charging outrageous prices, which has created a boom for the tour support industry.

But that doesn't translate to interest lower down the food chain. E.g. with fewer pubs, there are far fewer venues for pub music now, which can mean less opportunity for cardboard box CD sales.

I'd love to see a comprehensive state of the industry report seeing who's making money and how, but I'm not sure such a thing exists.

The trade mag Music Week in the UK barely acknowledges anything and anyone who isn't signed to a major label, and they don't seem to accept that there might be more to the industry.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 05:29:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It may be an American observation ... further down the food chain in the US, its become easier for musicians to put together dates that are worth their while, because they can know in more detail where their fans are to be found.

The pay for American musicians well below the level of the stadium shows is normally a share of the cover charge, so the more effective they are in finding places to play where they have fans, the better their income.
 

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 07:15:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
my impression is that the usa has a lot more venues, fairs, and functioning, if abysmally remunerated 'scenes', aka a musical kulcha, whereas england's scene is a lot more poppy flava of the moment and therefore much more prone to novelty/artifice-as-goal, and industry shepherding.

here in italy, places to play are dwindling on the local level, while stadiums fill still.

only thing missing from a globalisation pov is itinerant chinese musos!

summer festas do provide some outlet, but pay is minimal, symbolic, accompanied by free food and wine.

i know very talented bands who have to show up at 6 for sound check, eat at 8, and then go on at 11 or 12 to play for 2 hours, then drive home with 50 euros a head, in time to fall asleep at dawn.

ain't living long, like this!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jan 12th, 2010 at 12:00:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - The Age of the E-book?
scanning is time consuming and requires fairly extensive computing resources

Ripping a CD was once hard, then it became easy.

A modern office scanner/copier/printer can scan a stack of paper as easy as it can copy a stack of paper. You just get the result to a file. So the problem is to get the book to a stack of papers, which is done by cutting of the spine.

The difference lies in having to sacrifice the artifact, and for many this is insurmountable. But it only takes one and I know people who would gladly do it just to save shelf space.

And it only takes one to copy, then it can be made availeble to all through the magic of the internet.

If e-books becomes popular I expect lots of copying. I am not sure it will though, the lack of titles on Pirate Bay suggests to me that e-books are not all that popular even amongst early adapters.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 10:17:23 AM EST
Um . . . don't look for titles, look for subject/topic/genre collections.
by Zwackus on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 05:28:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I could be seriously tempted-if there were a legal way of uploading the books I already own. By scanning the barcode, for instance.

It could, if the software were right, be a rather good way of swapping/lending books.  Put a time limit on the file transfer, after which it reverts to your e-reader.  Never lose (or guiltily acquire) a loaned book again.

Spoken by one who still has, on my conscience after a quarter of a century, a substitute teacher's school prize edition of Jason and the Argonauts: never returned when the teacher was absent on the last day of term...

by Sassafras on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 02:54:54 PM EST
I have no doubt that the publishers (as they become more and more MPAA/RIAA-like) would say that no one who bought a used copy of a book was entitled to download a fresh digital copy.

Copyright law as it stands seems hopeless;  the bulk of the profit goes to the middlemen, who are gatekeepers ensuring that no author can reach an audience without them (this has just changed, but it may take us a while to catch up).  In many cases the publisher, not the author, owns the copyright because the author has been forced (as a condition of publication) to sign over his/her rights to the work.  So even if a book is out of print, the author cannot decide to republish or to give it away.  That seems all wrong.

If somebody made me World Dictator for a week or two, copyright law would change significantly.  Authors/artists would have absolute control over their work until their death, after which it would become part of the commons.

It seems that there should be some better way of "supporting the arts" than commodification and marketing.  As we've seen in the last several decades, freemarketism in media leads to consolidation of ownership, commandeering of "public" media for purposes of private propaganda (advertising and censorship);  vertical integration in publishing leads to an obsessive focus on "sure things" and short term (seasonal, for example) marketing blitzes.  I wouldn't say that the overall quality of arts and letters has soared during the neoliberal era.

Maybe all art should be GPL and artists should be supported by donations, grants and foundations (stipends) rather than chasing the big carrot dangled by for-profit marketing based on celebrity status?  My experience is that serious artists -- poets, singers, writers, painters, the lot -- are not really motivated by the prospect of getting rich.  They are motivated by an inner need to communicate and share;  what they want is an audience, recognition, connection with readers/listeners.  Potboiler novelists and plastic-pop musicians perhaps are solely motivated by money-wealth, but if that carrot were removed the world would still be full of art... maybe better art, at that.  Any takers?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 04:23:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
DeAnander:
Potboiler novelists and plastic-pop musicians perhaps are solely motivated by money-wealth, but if that carrot were removed the world would still be full of art... maybe better art, at that.  Any takers?

i certainly agree with this.

when you think about ten million dollars spent on just publicity for a madonna album, and think how many talented artists could have been encouraged by that money spent on instrument libraries, for example.

if one removed these monolithic industrial icons from the middle of the public square, the vacuum could be filled with many whose destinies would remain peripheral under the present system, which guarantees shallowness.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 04:48:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But people like potboiler novels and chart trash. They like it even if a suspicion that it may be cynically manufactured sometimes clouds their normally sunny and forgiving nature.

In an ideal world we could all make art for social and personal improvement, while firing our own pottery and growing our own herb gardens.

In reality that's a very middle class fantasy, and a lot of people aren't in a position to understand that it might be possible for them - they're too busy surviving to worry about culture.

I don't understand art. It clearly goes in phases. I'm still awed that some of the music released by Virgin in the early 70s ever charted - it's so hard to imagine it happening now.

But does that necessarily mean that if you removed the homogenising control-freakish corporates of today, you'd get a sudden art explosion? Or that some people weren't doing it for money and sex rather than personal expression?

Removing the middle men on the Internet hasn't necessarily created an explosion of original, pithy, passionate creativity. It mostly seems to have created a generation of imitators and wannabes who want the superficial look of fame without having anything interesting or challenging to say.

My guess is that in fact you wouldn't get more creativity by throwing money at art - you'd have to turn off the TV and radio completely first, because they always monopolise the creative space. With them out of the way, and more face to face art, something interesting might happen.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 05:40:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Most people agree 90% of everything is crap. Getting them to agree which bits aren't and which bits are is harder.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 06:11:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a difference between Pop Culture and High Culture.  The first is driven by mass consumption.  The second by other considerations.  This is not to say either is "Good" or "Bad," I'm talking audience appeal.  You can get 50,000 people to a rock concert.  You're not going to get that many to listen to Mozart's String Quartets.  

The finances of each follows ...  You can make money, sometimes serious money, venturing into the Pop Culture World.  In the High Culture World breaking even is a major accomplishment!  Pop Culture gets it's 'nut' from ticket sales, High Culture from Patrons and state subsidies.  

Pop Culture has a pull towards vacuous stupidity.  High Culture to insider snootiness.  

With music recording technology approaching the adequate versus live performance Music, Pop and Hi, has gone Scalable: two/three percent of the market participates garner 95% of the market.  Everybody else has a long, hard, slog merely to exist - never mind "Making It."  And this follows through with every 'genre' I can think of: Film, Fine Art, Theater, & etc.

From this stems ... both Pop and Hi Culture have their Formulas.  The closer one gets to the Formula-of-the-Month the easier it is to break into the two/three percent.  "Creativity," then, becomes "Clever Formula Manipulation" resulting in a banal, jejune wasteland of The Blahs.  Not so surprisingly, Pop Culture can handle this better than Hi Culture.  Pop Culture can depend on a steady supply of fourteen year olds who can be wow'ed by the Same Old Thing because it isn't the Same Old Thing, to them.  Hi Culture doesn't have a steady source, or at least to the same degree.  

In either case, the Internet is being used more as a marketing medium than a performance venue.  It takes skill - even genius - and long hours of gut wrenching slog-on to bring a work to where it is 'audience  ready.'  (Eye's nodes 'cuz eye's dun do'ed hit.)  Putting that much effort into a project with the intention of using the 'Information Super-Avalanche' (aka, The Internet) as your only venue is foolish: the chances of 'Making It' is very, very, slim.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 07:07:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
But people like potboiler novels and chart trash. They like it even if a suspicion that it may be cynically manufactured sometimes clouds their normally sunny and forgiving nature.

people like junk food too, till they get turned on, they don't know better yet, even if it's killing them.

ThatBritGuy:

In an ideal world we could all make art for social and personal improvement, while firing our own pottery and growing our own herb gardens.

you forgot the birkenstocks!

right now it's a scorched earth, it'll take time for the mycchorizae to regenerate, and that can't get going properly until they stop napalming.

ThatBritGuy:

In reality that's a very middle class fantasy,

if that is true, is it wrong because of it?

i think it's more universal than that, but i can't prove it.

artists are middle class by default, unless they become superstars, at which point they become latter-day royalty.

artisans are working class, aspiring, if we have to talk about class at all.

ThatBritGuy:

But does that necessarily mean that if you removed the homogenising control-freakish corporates of today, you'd get a sudden art explosion? Or that some people weren't doing it for money and sex rather than personal expression?

Removing the middle men on the Internet hasn't necessarily created an explosion of original, pithy, passionate creativity

why do i think of chernobyl, and the freakish flora that is springing up there?

making music for sex, hmm, a fair trade, honourable motivation, not always so the result.

music can help us remember we're animals at heart!

'personal expression' yes that is the holy grail i guess, but these words have been co-opted so thoroughly it feels funny to use them any more.

ThatBritGuy:

It mostly seems to have created a generation of imitators and wannabes who want the superficial look of fame without having anything interesting or challenging to say.

that is sadly ever the case, since way before the internet.

ThatBritGuy:

My guess is that in fact you wouldn't get more creativity by throwing money at art

maybe the aim is off. see comment about madonna.

ThatBritGuy:

you'd have to turn off the TV and radio completely first, because they always monopolise the creative space. With them out of the way, and more face to face art, something interesting might happen.

bullseye! the internet is a move from the total catatonia  of TV. the radio, pre tv, (like the first phonographs) actually was a force for encouraging musical creativity, due to its limited nature and social penetration at the time.

face to face is the ultimate acid test.

i love how you write, even when i disagree, lol.

does the house concert thing work in the uk?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jan 12th, 2010 at 12:37:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Copyright law as it stands seems hopeless;

We have allowed "fictitious legal entities" to accumulate more rights and powers than mere individual citizens.  This is at the heart of most of our current problems, not just copyright law. The problem lies in putting the genie back in the bottle.

BTW, I was assigned Barchester Towers as required reading for 19th Century English History and fell in love with Trollope.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 06:05:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It was "The Way We Live Now" that got me into Trollope, and I blush to admit this was one case of a video adaptation (BBC) leading me to the original book rather than the other way around.  Still pretty relevant, actually -- a few changes of name and the plot could be drawn from yesterday's and tomorrow's headlines.  

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 06:54:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's an excellent novel, and should be essential reading on every economics course - and yes indeed, so very relevant now.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 07:04:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I worked on a project a decade ago that was going to provide movies to home consumers over the Internet. Just like YouTube does now, but quite radical at the time. At first I though it would be great, because I'd be able to get titles from that long tail of obscure movies that are outside of the 10,000 items available (at that time) at a typical neighborhood video rental store.

I found out that the company's strategy was to compete with neighborhood video rental stores, and that included the 10,000 title quota. So I bailed out of the project.

That is problem number 1 of e-books: I would guess that well over half of my personal library is so obscure that it will never make it to e-book format, regardless of copyright restrictions.*

Problem number 2 is that computer technology goes obsolete really, really fast. I can read books printed 100 years ago (or 500, if I could afford them), but can't read my 3.5" floppy disk drives from less than a decade ago.

Plus no risk of DRM hassles once I've gotten it into my little library.

Downside of books: When I croak, who's going to inherit all my obscure books?

* Where can one most easily find a comprehensive index of e-books, regardless of format or vendor, to test this hypothesis?

by asdf on Mon Jan 11th, 2010 at 10:05:35 PM EST
That is problem number 1 of e-books: I would guess that well over half of my personal library is so obscure that it will never make it to e-book format, regardless of copyright restrictions

That's unlikely for anything written in the PC era. There is not a significant cost involved in converting a book to e-book format, as books are composed in electronic form to begin with.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Jan 12th, 2010 at 01:54:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How long does your average book publisher cares about maintaining those electronic forms ? How long does the median publisher exists ?

I wonder why the various National Libraries aren't asking for those electronic forms to find their way to their hard disks...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Jan 12th, 2010 at 02:47:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no idea how to look for an e-book. (Tried a few Google searches.) Is this book available?

The Leading Edge, by Goro Tamai? Published in 1999.

by asdf on Tue Jan 12th, 2010 at 10:45:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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