August 8th, 2010


Book 'em, Dano!

RRRRIIIIIIIING!!! Okay, class. Eyes up front. Today's lesson -- marketing buzzwords. Specifically, "blue ocean."

Now, for those who don't know, "blue ocean" refers to market share. People doing graphs and Power Points tend to reflect their company's progress in the color "blue". It's psychological based on the appeal of the color. So, when doing a pie graph, the goal is a "blue ocean", or to see as much of the pie chart taken up by the blue color representing the company.

Everybody with me so far? That's good!

Now, why am I bringing this up? Well, there's been a lot of buzz about ebooks lately. I've at least considered one of the merry gadgets myself, although I'm still debating if I want one of those, a Linux tablet (yes, they exist. You have to look really hard, but they exist, and 9 out of 10 of them are powered by Android)), or just go with an Android phone.

But Peter, I hear some of you saying, if you go with one of those last two options, you won't be able to download books from major publishers! That's true, and that's irrelevant to my interests. See, I hate DRM. I've already been stung by DRM. I bought an ebook, only to find that it won't read on my Linux computers. I need an "official" Adobe Reader, the kind available for either Mac or Windows. (The most recent Adobe builds enable people to embed code in .PDF's that "phones home". One Linux nut posted a list of instructions to block that from happening. I responded, "Why not just use Ghost View?"). So a book I bought and own is mostly inaccessible to me. Most of your ebooks have a "kill switch" that publishers can use to eliminate the books remotely. This has already happened, in fact, with Amazon killing a George Orwell book on the Kindle. You download books and they are trapped on these machines. You can't lend them out, you can't share, and according to the license, you are only licensing data, you don't own shit.

I've been keeping ebooks in mind for Project X. I mean, I'd be a fool not to. Just because I'm not thrilled with ebooks doesn't mean anyone else is. But if I do an ebook and I have any say, I won't DRM it. I mean, someone buys it, they should be able to back it up or read it on their phone or whatever. I'd be a hypocrite if I stump so much for digital rights and tie my own works down like that, and I'd be deservedly smacked for it.

Allow me to introduce you to Nicholas Negroponte. He is the architect of the One Laptop Per Child project, which Windows and Intel attempted to kill and failed miserably. He was on CNN recently, and said that, as far as regular book usage goes, the physical book will be dead in five years. As far as text books, I can certainly understand that idea. Text books are expensive and need to be updated frequently. Given how cash strapped state governments are now, that is certainly a real possibility.

But as far as ebooks themselves? No. They won't kill off print. At least, not right now. Allow me to explain why.

When you're a tech junkie who has lived as long as I have, you LOVE new tech. And I've seen a lot of "This'll be the wave of the future!" things. Sometimes, it works. DVD supplanted VHS. Then again, DVD had clear advantages such as durability, longetivity, portability, convenience, and a dramatic improvement in feature presentation. But the road it traveled is strewn with the bodies of the dead. Super 8 video. RCA's Video Disc technology (it actually used a version of a phonograph needle). Sony was so confident that people wanted movies that they released mostly movies on the PSP, to the point where there were five times as many movies as games. The public just didn't buy it. You can still find new releases on audio tape and VHS. You have to look, but you can find them.

Downloadable MP3's were supposed to end CD's. "Soon, people will not buy physical discs anymore!" Not only is this wrong, but sales of vinyl albums have increased from year to year.

My theory is that ebooks are selling so well because right now the price is attractive and no one really has a reason to say no. It's not some revolution in the buying public, it's just how it is. People generally aren't concerned with things like DRM and that, which is why Windows and the Apple iStore do so well. People like me are a very small segment of the market. The current economic recession is coming on the heels of extended credit and Generation Y, when things were selling like crazy to people with near-zero sales resistence. EVERYTHING is selling less now (especially computers, much to the chagrin of M$). Except some things which have acquired a trendy cache. The iPad is doing gangbusters (and forcing the adoption of open standards on the web. The iPad is turning out to be one of Open Source's best friends), for example.

This is where the problem lies. Any time there's new technology, people assume the old is on the way out. For every one like VHS that takes a critical hit, others like CD's stick around. Will print die? Maybe. But I'm not sure of it yet. People are finding the limitations of new technology as they use it. For example, indie comic publishers are no longer so keen on the iPad as the Savior Of The Industry. That took about four months.

This isn't to say this is a bad thing. What ebooks and the like do is create new markets, not necessarily supplant old ones. Some markets are big simply because the people have no other choice. People who want ebooks but can't get them? They want to read, they have to go with print. With a new market opening up, it's not that it's taking over so much as people are getting the option they want and are going with that.

So, as far as practicality, yes, ebooks will torpedo print. No doubt about it. But print will not only continue, it will thrive as writers start writing things for their fellow heads. It will be bumpy, and it won't be like the glory days before the recession hit, but then again, it'll never be that extravegant and wasteful again.

The market is definitely changing. And instead of fearing for it's death, we book lovers should be doing what we can to help it survive. That means making good stuff for those still there instead of bitching about those leaving. We should embrace them all. We are writers. We tell stories to other people. It's not a good idea to wall anyone off from what we have to offer. Comics are surviving. So will we.

Wait...That's A Comic Book?!?

This has been on my mind for a few days now, and I think it's time to put this out there.

At work, I was taking a phone call, and there was some idle chitchat while waiting for the next screen. I'm a movie geek, and the woman on the other end told me how great Shutter Island was. I casually mentioned, Yeah, I heard it's really faithful to the comic book.

" was a comic book?" She thought comic book automatically meant capes.

Nowadays, comic book movies are everywhere. They're coming, with talk of the Green Lantern movie being a trilogy shot and released in the same manner as Lord Of The Rings.

Last year at San Diego, at the Marvel panel, someone from Marvel asked, "How many here saw Iron Man?" Every hand shot up. He then asked, "How many are reading the comic?" Most of the hands went down.

For all the hype and trendy cache of comic books right now being made into movies, sales of comics are falling, and have dropped about 20% year to year. Why? This is the best advertising! It's not free, people are paying for it! Why aren't the book selling?!?

I think comic book movies are killing comic books.

Think of the advantage of a comic book movie over current comic books. The story is more straightforward and self-contained. You get it all at once instead of over the course of several months. And before, comics were not a communal experience. Well, they were, but your choice in other people was limited. Most comic book nuts are also movie nuts. Suddenly, these characters they enjoy can be discussed with more people. Not only that, but more than one person at a time can watch a movie. That's trickier to do with print.

People who want their comic book fix have an alternative. One that doesn't have to be justified to outsiders ("No, comics aren't just for kids...."), one that outsiders are a part of. They can read a comic and be done in twenty minutes, or they can get a movie they will watch over and over again. One they can enjoy without knowing fifty years of comic book history. It's not the fantastic world of the comic book they want, its the crowd-pleaser movie structure that has been studied and refined for the past thirty years.

Simply put, people who love the characters find more direct enjoyment in the movies than in the mercural world of comics. And since they can get those characters without dealing with the bullshit of comics, they are doing so. If they made a Sound Waves TV show, I don't think there'd be any increase in demand for the book, just the TV show if it was done well. The comics may increase in sales due to curiosity, but it's not like I'd be in the Diamond Top 10.

I enjoy comic book movies myself. But anyone thinking spin-off media will save the day is in for a rude awakening.

All I Want For Christmas....

At the comic shop. They try to sell me a bobblehead doll.

I don't like bobbleheads. It has to be a real special (i.e. funny) thing to make me buy a bobblehead.

"How about a Katherine Hepburn bobblehead?"

Dude, that's not cool.

"Okay, come up with something funnier."

I thought for a moment, then said, "A bobblehead of deNozzo from NCIS. So that when you smack him in the back of the head...."

Shit, I should be a toy maker. I could have sold a bunch of them right there.