Philosophical Musings

July 5, 2009

Where Cory Doctorow is Wrong – You won’t Make Money Selling Books in the Future

Filed under: business,Copyrights,Digital Culture,ebooks — Elad Kehat @ 9:57 pm

I was delighted to find an interview with Cory Doctorow in the July-August 2009 issue of Harvard Business Review (available here, but behind a paywall). I’m a huge fan of Cory, and while there was nothing new in that interview, it was still fun to read.
The point of this post however is spread the word about the interview (for that there’s twitter…), but rather to take the opportunity to say that I think Cory’s got his views on the future of books wrong, and to bring my own experience as a counter example.

The case in point is his claim (oft-repeated elsewhere) that an electronic book isn’t a substitute for a printed book, and thus authors can expect to keep making money by selling printed books in the future, while giving away e-books for free to gain publicity.
Of special interest are the following question-and-answer:

HBR: What about the Kindle? Doesn’t it throw your model into question?
CD: I don’t think so. First of all, anyone who’s willing to spend $350 on a Kindle is not someone who’s going to cheap out about spending 10 bucks on a book. The Kindle may come way down in price, but I think it’s going to do that by adding a bunch of features that increase appeal and the volume produced. Once you load the Kindle up with features, you have the same problem you have with a computer – it becomes too distracting. So I’m not all that bothered. Now, maybe I’m wrong about this, and if I am, then I’ll have to figure out another way to make money on my books. Of course, spending 10 years at the coal face of electronic publishing will give me the tools to find that new income model.

Like I said, I’m a huge fan. I read many of Cory’s books. However, I never paid for them. I read them all in e-book format on my Sony Reader (a competitor to the Kindle). I spent far more than $350 on Sony Readers (I bought 3 of them to date – for my wife and my father as well as for myself), but that doesn’t make me not “cheap-out” on spending $10 on a book. Even though I admire the author, if he gives the e-book away for free, I see no problem in not paying for it. Moreover, future features notwithstanding, my Reader is, and has been since I bought my first one 2.5 years ago, my preferable way to read books. Whenever faced with a choice between a printed book and an e-book, I choose the latter. In fact I go out of my way to acquire an e-book version of a book that I want to read even when I have the printed version available at hand.

Obviously, this single counter-example – myself – does not mean that the majority of the market will behave the same as I do. Cory himself seems to acknowledge the exceptions to his expectation by saying that “It’s a rare person who treats an electronic book as a substitute for a printed book” – that could leave me as one of those rare cases.
Nevertheless, I don’t think that he supplies any strong arguments to support his expectation that my case is going to be the rare exception. His main argument is the problem with reading off the computer screen is its myriad distractions. I disagree. My reason for preferring to do my long-form reading on my Sony Reader rather than my computer screen(s), is that it’s much more comfortable for curling up with in bed, on the sofa, or reading on the table during breakfast. Laptops, even NetBooks, are too big and uncomfortable for that, and Smart-Phones are too small. The average paperback has the near-perfect form factor for book reading, and the Kindle / Sony Reader manage to improve on that!

Finally, we’re discussing here an author who gives his e-books away for free. As most books become available in digital editions, and digital readers proliferate, the publishing industry is going to experience the same fate the music industry did. No DRM scheme would save them (as Cory had claimed himself in the past).
In conclusion, I think that Cory had better put that coal face to good use. If anyone can find a new income model for authors, it’s him.


November 25, 2007

Just Say No to Linda O’Connor (and Yes to Wikipedia)

Filed under: Digital Culture,postmodernism — Elad Kehat @ 8:12 am

Linda O’Connor, a middle school librarian from New Jersey, has launched a campaign in her school to “Just Say No” to Wikipedia. You have probably heard the reasons before:

“Teachers and students have found at least two cases of incorrect information while using Wikipedia”

Wow, at least two errors, that’s nothing new, but here’s the real problem:

“Kids just take it for gospel, they really do, and that’s my concern about it.”

Apparently, wisdom does not transfer by diffusion. Just spending your life in a library with books all around you  is no guarantee that you’ll become smart. Let us try and see then whether our dear librarian could have come up with a better solution, in just two steps.

First, teach the kids that what they read online isn’t gospel. While you’re at it, why don’t you teach them that what they read offline isn’t gospel either. (Neither is the gospel gospel for that matter, but this is a pro-real education rant, not an anti-organized religion rant so I’ll stop there). Teach them to think for themselves. Teach them to corroborate the “facts”.

“A teacher researching Martin Luther King Jr. found white supremacist information in his entry”

If you taught students the bare minimum of rationale and critical thinking, then they should be able to recognize white supremacist information when they see it, realize that it has no place in a Martin Luther King article, and seek additional sources.

“The problem with Wikipedia, the school officials said, is it can be modified by anyone.”

And here comes the second step – realize that your students are people too  – “can be modified by anyone” includes them. Why not let them contribute something?

Instead of launching a “just say no” campaign, I’d rather see Ms. O’Connor suggest that her students take up a subject, learn all about it from various “authoritative” sources, then go into Wikipedia, look for errors and fix them. This way students could learn that there are inaccuracies in Wikipedia, learn how to look for additional sources and corroborate information they find online, and even give something back to society by making Wikipedia, a free source that’s easily available for everyone, more accurate.

Unlikely. I just hope that the digital generation are smarter than their parents.

November 13, 2007

Content is King… Louis XVI

Filed under: business,Digital Culture,entrepreneurship,movies — Elad Kehat @ 9:47 pm

Marc Andreessen has a thesis that Holywood (where big studios rule) might become something more like Silicon Valley (where entrepreneurs usually remain stock holders in their creation). He describes it as:

“a shift of power from studios and conglomerates towards creators and talent”

And the very next day I found two interesting items that corroborate his thesis:

First, check out Killer Bean Forever – a full feature animation film apparently created single-handedly. Here’s how Jeff Lew, it’s creator describes his work:

“For the past 4 years, I’ve been working at my computer 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. I’ve spent my entire life savings and maxed out credit cards. After all this time and effort, my movie is almost done. I present to you a preview of my feature film directorial debut… Killer Bean Forever.”

Sounds just like a technology entrepreneur describing his startup.

Second, here’s yet another example for how marketing doesn’t need big budget – “Producer Thanks Pirates for Stealing His Film.”:

“Our independent movie had next to no advertising budget and very little going for it until somebody ripped one of the DVD screeners and put the movie online for all to download. Most of the feedback from everyone who has downloaded “The Man From Earth” has been overwhelmingly positive. People like our movie and are talking about it, all thanks to piracy on the net!”

Obviously, that wouldn’t work if the film sucks – then you’ll need a serious marketing budget to push it.

In any case, I’m banking on this trend to deliver some good movies instead of the crap that’s produced by Holywood studios today. I just watched Ocean’s 13 (yet another crappy sequel) on DVD, and one of the previews was for No Reservations – which seems like a crappy rip-off of a very good German film I watched a while back – Bella Martha. If content is king in Holywood then right now it’s King Louis XVI.

MLM 2.0

Filed under: business,Digital Culture — Elad Kehat @ 3:15 pm

“Consumers trust their friends and acquaintances far more than any other source.”

So says a Forrester “strategist”. Makes sense. But the corollary is wrong:

“Facebook, which brings a unique solution evolves advertisements to endorsements and encourages members to subscribe to a brand in what we are calling “Fan-Sumers” (an evolution of the consumer). As consumers share their affinities, brands can advertise using trusted social relationships.”

Apparently, in order to be a strategist at Forrester you need to be good at coining new terms (fan-sumers), that are rip-offs from your betters (Toffler’s prosumers – Update: Jeremiah says it wasn’t a rip-off, and I apologize. Nevertheless, Toffler is basic reading if you’re any kind of strategist). However, Mr. Strategist doesn’t have to ask “why?” – why do consumers trust their friends and acquaintances more than other source?

Here’s why I sometimes trust a friend’s opinion more than an expert, and always more than an ad – because it’s honest. It’s because I believe that my friends have my own interests in mind when they recommend a product, and not any commercial interest. More than that – if a friend was ever to try to promote some product to me in order to receive a benefit from a third party without disclosing that, I’d never trust their opinion again, and would seriously question whether they’re actually my friend.

Facebook’s “amazing” strategy that Forrester is touting seems more like MLM 2.0. Make money working from home, touting products to your social network friends, only you don’t even make money…

Fortunately some clear thinkers realize that. Nick Carr’s “The medium is the message from our sponsor” had me rolling on the floor…

November 2, 2007

Why Digital Text Trumps Analog

Filed under: Digital Culture — Elad Kehat @ 1:08 pm

I often find myself trying to explain why it is that I read so much more today than ever before but dead trees never play a part in this activity.

The preamble to this blog post by Nick Carr caught my attention, as a good explanation:

 My column in today’s Guardian looks at Marshall McLuhan’s second life as a prophet of internet media. A couple of my references had to be cut from the column for space reasons. Here’s the full text, with links.

Read the second and third sentences again. Each sentence contains an important point, but it’s mentioned in a very casual way so it’s easy to miss.

Didn’t catch it yet? Take a look at David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous.

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