Monthly Archives: April 2012

Paul Cadden — Hyperrealism

I just got introduced to the work of Scottish painter Paul Cadden, who works in the hyperrealism style. His works with graphite, charcoal and paint are done with meticulous detail and many of them are indistinguishable from photographs, but are even more textured than photographs. (He works from photos often.) You can check out his work at his site. The originals cost way too much for my pocketbook but if you live in the UK, you might be able to catch one of his exhibitions, and maybe prints are available somewhere. Here’s a brief interview the artist did with Olivia Palermo and one of his most famous works:

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Follow Up: Some of the Logistics Publishers Face Currently Regarding E-books

In regards to Nila’s comment on my DRM post, here’s some explanation about what’s involved with e-books for publishers from Michael Hyatt at Thomas Nelson, a large to medium sized press.  Every one of the things that he’s talking about here requires personnel to do it, and tech support personnel and production and accounting systems developed and maintained to do it. It can be done with a small number of people — the smaller the press, the more that’s needed which is why small non-electronic presses have been slow to digitize their lists — but first you have to get to that point. It is a vast infrastructure that had to be hastily built. When I put this material up at SFFWorld, the general reaction was enormous denial that this involved costs and human power and most importantly, planning. One thing that has been increasingly clear over these early years is that people do not want to deal with the business realities of e-books on a large scale. It says something, I think, to the fact that the Internet up until maybe six years ago or so has successfully presented the image of being a free party where every wish is provided with ease, when in actuality it all costs money and requires people who either are paid or who give the cost of their labor for payment in other forms. We pay a lot for our Internet and the tech to access it — way more than we ever did for movies, television, libraries, etc., but we don’t want to look at that cost. I’m going to touch on this more later because I think it’s going to be a major issue of our future now.

The transition to ePub as the standard — again which tech people have been predicting would happen for the last several years — is going to solve a lot of the issues Hyatt is talking about below. It will allow publishers to greatly streamline their e-wares. But not completely as different vendors will still have different protocols and platforms. But it’s definitely going to make it easier if the market can move from six main formats and various stragglers to one main format and various stragglers:

 

Digital preparation. Granted, most new books start out as a digital file. If they aren’t already digitized, then they have to be scanned or manually keyed in. But that’s only the beginning. Publishers must then format the books, so that they work on all the various e-Readers.

Currently, there are about six major formats. Some are similar, but each has its own nuances and quirks. In addition, publishers must collect and add all the relevant metadata so that customers can actually find the books when they search for them.

Quality assurance. Once the publisher gets the eBook formatted for a particular eReader, he then has to take it through a quality assurance process (often referred to as “QAing” the book) to make sure that each of the major eReaders renders the pages correctly. This is a time-consuming and laborious process.

This is fairly easy with books that are straight text. But few are this simple. When you add epigraphs, pull quotes, tables, charts, graphs, illustrations, footnotes, etc., it quickly becomes complicated. In this sense book publishing has become much like software development. At Thomas Nelson, we have seven full-time people managing this process, and we’re currently looking for three more.

Digital distribution. Once publishers have finished the QA process, then they have to distribute the files to the various eRetailers. You might think Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and Sony are the only ones out there. They’re not. We are currently distributing our eBooks to more than twenty separate accounts.

Each of these has a different upload protocol and digital asset management system. When something changes in an eBook (e.g., simple corrections or a new edition), publishers must re-distribute the new file and ensure that each eRetailer has the current version. Publishers must also collect payments from these accounts, ensuring that they are getting paid for each download, so they can, in turn, pay their authors.

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The Next Emerging — DRM goes bye bye

One of the issues in trying to have discussions about the emerging retail e-book market is that many people have difficulty understanding what the word emerging actually means. We are so used to viewing technology as rapid that when versions of tech and products impinge on our consciousness, many people expect everything to be fully in place, fully available, fully operational, etc., as if all it took is the wave of a magic wand as soon as we realize we want something. In reality, technology percolates for years, being refined in research labs, academia and through governments into a more and more workable product for the general public while infrastructure and personnel begin to be built slowly and sporadically. Start-ups explore possible options of a market for the tech. Tech people and wealthy, tech savvy early adopters buy crude and expensive versions of proposed products. Then a major retailer undertakes to break the market out in a large way in general retail and enlists major suppliers to help.  If it’s successful, then the rest scramble to catch up, with infrastructure being thrown up like a hastily erected fort, new companies coming into being, frantic contract and international trade negotiations, and new applications hastily devised.

E-books went through this exact same process. E-books (electronic text,) and various concepts of portable devices for reading them have been around for thirty years, used widely by academia and the education market, the subject of countless experiments and small operations.  Then Amazon, the major retailer, decided that it would open up the market and try to dominate it for as long as possible by creating the Kindle, a workable e-reader that would have Amazon’s full infrastructure and tech support behind it. Book publishers, having been burned for millions in the first go-round of e-books back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, were faced with a problem — they didn’t have the tech personnel, infrastructure, ability to digitize and knowledge of the consumer electronics market to throw themselves into the market willy nilly. So they went with what Amazon wanted, which was a DRM which locked customers into the Kindle platform, and which would be different for each major vendor, out of fears of piracy, lack of technical control with vendors and many other factors.

All the way back to 2008, I was pointing out that DRM was temporary, an unwieldy stop gap measure done out of caution and immediate demand that would be removed once the emerging market was on its feet and had enough vendors come out to play.  It soon became clear that ePub, the open source electronic format that was heir to past platforms, was going to be the likely most workable general and transferable format selected and become the standard, which would certainly be easier for publishers as they dealt with a growing pool of customers with different sorts of devices and a much needed increase in the number of retail vendors.  Once Apple, Barnes & Noble and Indigo came in enough to puncture Amazon’s monopoly, and it became clear that the main market for e-books would soon become not e-readers but all sorts of computers, including smartphones, publishers would have enough leverage and enough of a retail market to go forward without DRM.  This didn’t set well with many people, however, who screamed that if DRM wasn’t removed right this minute from every e-book format, the publishers would find that they had no customers. Point out that the e-book market was growing at 200% with DRM, so that was sort of a worthless threat, and you’d get a fusilage of unrealistic views on e-book production, contract negotiations, and how e-book piracy meant nothing and would kill us all at the same time.

Back in 2009-2010, I said give it five years and the e-book market will be fully established and by that time I expected DRM to be largely gone. And so it seems to be coming to pass — Macmillan, who has been in the forefront of the large publishers dealing with the emerging market, is now putting out large chunks of their list without DRM, including the Tor/Forge list, and the other publishers are quickly following suit or likely to be. What’s also remarkable is that they’ve gotten Amazon willing to go along with this idea, but this is presumably because Amazon has seen the writing on the wall and knows that being able to sell e-books and print content to people with other devices than a Kindle and multi-device needs has become the far bigger market than the Kindle that launched it all. Now that e-books is a big emerging global market, the training wheels are coming off, though I’m sure retailers like Amazon will still find uses for DRM in some areas.

Does this mean that you can have a sane conversation about the e-book market now? Probably not for a few more years yet. But it does mean that the emerging market is transitioning towards established market pretty much right on schedule. SF author Charles Stross has done several blog posts on this and related topics recently that are cogent and informative, including the issues of Internet revenue, Amazon’s spiderweb strategy with e-books, and feedback that he gave when requested to Macmillan about their DRM removal plans. Worth checking out, especially this one. (Yes, I’ve fixed my linking problem.) You can find Macmillan/Tor’s announcement here at Tor.com.

 

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Some Funky Videos to Travel By

The way it goes for most writers:

Harrison Ford is rolling over in his airplane cockpit:

Okay, yes, it is a truly freaky resemblance:

An enormous waste of gas, but also pretty impressive:

 

 

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Reset in a World Without Dick Clark

Oh now, where has that big, red reset button gotten to? Ah, there it is:

That’s better. (Thanks to Aspex Design for that one. )

Unfortunately, in unburying myself from the rubble of life today, I learned that Dick Clark had died at age 82 from a heart attack after a medical procedure. And with his passing, it feels as if we have truly said goodbye to the 20th century. Clark, whose family worked in radio,  started out in radio around World War II as a teenager, did some local t.v. hosting and news work as well, and became the host of an East Coast t.v. dance show Bandstand, which ABC then picked up and turned into American Bandstand, catapulting Clark into a national fixture. He would host the show from 1956 to 1989 when it finally left the air and became its chief producer, and also put out another well known music and talk show, The Dick Clark Show. During that period, his production company would also go on to put out numerous hit game shows, daytime t.v. shows, specials, award shows, movies and radio programs, one of the more recent ones being the So You Think You Can Dance global franchise, which was developed from a portion of American Bandstand. He also produced and hosted the famous top forty radio music countdown show American Top 40 for, again, decades.

He was the quiet media mogul with the soft radio voice and unflappable demeanor. He also barely seemed to age for decades, earning him the nickname “America’s Oldest Teenager” and countless jokes about deals with the devil. That changed in 2004, when he suffered a debilitating stroke. In the 1970’s, Clark started hosting a New Year’s Eve special in New York, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, which became a mainstay t.v. and music event that everyone over the age of 10 in the U.S. (and elsewhere) has been familiar with in starting every new year. When he had the stroke, the show had to sub with Regis Philbin, but to see in 2006, a still rehabilitating Clark came back to host it with the help of his heir apparent, Ryan Seacrest, and singer/actress Hiliary Duff. His face had been greatly changed, no longer eternally youthful, and his speech was still greatly effected, but he served as a model for those dealing with post-stroke recovery. His speech and mobility improved over the years, and he saw in 2012, his last one. He was awarded a special Emmy in 2006.

Few people have probably had as much impact on the fields of music, dance, television and radio as Clark did, or perhaps worked harder at it. He was part of a group of figures, like Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson, who took us by the hand from the post-war world to the communications age, who helped feature black performers during the civil rights era, and who offered genial commentary of the sort that has pretty much gone in the wind at this point.  Somewhere the cultural plates just took a tectonic shift, and that age, which certainly includes my formative years, has truly passed. It seemed worth noting. Thanks for all the smooth company, Mr. Clark. The next New Year’s will seem a little strange.

 

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