Horrible Author Thinks Libraries Are Outdated Concept

LibraryEarlier this week, Terry Deary, author of the popular (in the UK) Horrible Histories series, started quite the shit-storm when he declared that libraries “have been around too long” and are “no longer relevant”, among other things. Apparently Deary just wants people to buy his books instead of getting them for free. Never mind the fact that he also says library use is declining in the UK, which would seem to lessen the impact on his bottom line.

First off, something I wasn’t aware of is the fact that UK authors are paid a small fee every time one of their books is checked out from a UK library, with the total amount capped at £6,600 annually. That sounds like an awesome idea that I wish was feasible to implement in the US. I have a feeling that it wouldn’t fit into library budgets, however. Even still, that payment wasn’t enough for Deary, who feels entitled to the sales he thinks he would have made if those were books bought instead of checked out.

Deary’s rant, focusing as it does on his need to get paid, manages to come off as petulant, greedy and classist to boot. In one gem of a quote, he declares that “this is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature” because I guess poverty is no longer a worldwide epidemic, right? Poor people who want to read should just skip a meal and pay for books instead, and when physical books go the way of the buffalo, they should start paying for e-readers and internet access too. (But that’s a whole other issue.)

Never mind the fact that books are more than just commerce. A good book is food for the soul, and libraries make readers. Readers buy books. Just because it’s possible to get books for free from the library doesn’t mean people stop buying books as well, and it never has. I’ve always got a good half-dozen books checked out from the library, but I still spend $50-$100 a month on new and used books.

Also, it’s a fallacy to assume that if libraries went away that people would buy as many books as they borrowed. I buy a lot of books as it is, but I’d probably have to double or triple my budget to buy as many books as I check out from the library. It’s just not going to happen. It’s the same fallacy record labels use to claim that every pirated mp3 equates to a “lost sale”. When people can get things for free – from the library or by piracy – they tend to pick up more than they would ever buy.

Of course, libraries are about more than “free books”. They’re one of the few public spaces where you can sit and work or read and use the wifi without having to buy a cup of coffee. They provide easy access to computers and the internet for people who wouldn’t have access otherwise. They offer community events, meeting places, educational programs and more. Also, librarians do more than shelve books. They’re skilled researchers, talented educators, and passionate evangelists for great books. Every librarian I’ve ever met is a huge book-lover, and you don’t want to get on a book-lover’s bad side.

Ultimately, you have to wonder what exactly Deary was thinking when he decided to air his complaint. I suppose he felt like an iconoclast declaring a subversive opinion, but mostly he just came off like an avaricious, tone-deaf idiot. It’s bad enough that bookstores are closing by the dozens; if libraries started closing down at the same rate, I’d consider us lost as a species.

To paraphrase John Waters: “If you go home with someone, and they don’t like libraries, don’t fuck ’em!”

For Sale: Used Ebooks, Electrons Slightly Creased

"Used Books And Vinyl"Amazon raised eyebrows in the publishing world last week with news of a patent they received for reselling used ebooks. Several authors I follow on Twitter expressed immediate concern, including Chuck Wendig, who wrote a hilariously foul-mouthed blog post and began tweeting jokes about used ebooks.

Now, it’s possible that the patent is just Amazon covering their bases. Apple is known for patenting technology that never sees the light of day, and I’m sure they aren’t the only one. It’s also possible that the patent isn’t exactly what it sounds like at first blush.

However, it’s hard to imagine how reselling used ebooks would work any better than piracy does for authors. Authors don’t actually receive royalties when you walk into a used book store and buy their book second-hand, so would that still be the case if you buy a digital version of their book “used”?

Also, what exactly does it mean for an ebook to be used? It’s not like the files degrade, after all. It’s generally understood that used books are cheaper than new books in part because of wear and tear. Would it make sense, then, to discount a used ebook? Amazon’s currently system involves selling new and used books side-by-side, sometimes with a fairly prominent one-click button to buy the book used, so would they also start displaying cheaper “used” versions of ebooks?

Along those lines, I can definitely understand why the immediate reaction from authors was disbelief and concern. A form of this business model already exists on a website called ReDigi, which bills itself as a “pre-owned digital marketplace” and lists “used” and “new” prices for MP3 files right next to each other despite the fact that the files are probably identical. The whole thing just feels sketchy, and if Amazon goes down the same route, they’ll do nothing but alienate authors and other content creators.

However, I do think there is a counter-argument to consider. After all, as more of the content we consume starts existing only in “the cloud”, what exactly does it mean to own something digital in the first place? In most cases, companies make a clear distinction between owning the “license” to content and owning the actual content. A license is something that can be revoked, and digital rights management means that you can’t circumvent that license.

If I’ve spent hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on digital books and music, what happens to those licenses when I die? Do they just evaporate into the ether, or should I have the right to hand them down to my heirs? What if I read and enjoyed an ebook and would like to give it to a friend to read at her leisure?

If you start thinking about license transfers on the personal level instead of the corporate level, they start making a bit more sense. The problem to solve is finding a way to allow someone to give an ebook to a friend without also making it possible for a corporation to sell thousands of copies of that book without paying royalties.

It might actually all come down to branding, really; the concept of “used ebooks” is patently absurd because calling something “used” is irrevocably tied to its existence as a physical object. However, if you reframe it in terms of digital content, transferring content licenses starts sounding a bit more reasonable.

Ultimately I think there needs to be a legitimate way for content licenses to be transferred between people, and if Amazon has figured out a way to do it, it might not be such a bad thing.

eBooks Might Not be the Death of Print After All

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Don’t Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay“, Nicholas Carr discusses how the apparent decline in eReader and eBook sales seems to signify that physical books aren’t in their last gasp after all. While I do agree with the general premise of his article, i.e. that physical books won’t disappear from the face of the planet any time soon, I have to wonder what is causing the downward trends the industry is experiencing.

For example, I can tell you that I haven’t bought a new eReader because my 3rd generation Kindle still works just fine (despite the fact that the case seems to be swelling at the bottom). I was momentarily tempted by the new Kindle Paperwhite when it first came out, but they’re still fairly pricey and the plain fact is that my current Kindle doesn’t need to be replaced. Also, I’m not really sold on buttonless touchscreen readers. I like being able to hold my Kindle one-handed and turn pages without needing to move my hand.

I have to wonder how often Kindle owners feel the need to upgrade to the newest model as soon as it comes out. eReaders don’t seem like the sort of technology that would inspire upgrade fever. The hard drive on a Kindle is nearly impossible to fill up (unless you load it with audiobooks and music) and the main thing it needs to do is display text, which doesn’t require too many bells and whistles. If you really want to play games or use apps on a handhold device, you’re probably in the market for a tablet instead of an eReader.

It also make sense that the biggest customers for book purchases are book lovers who either 1) insist on sticking with physical books out of familiarity and comfort or 2) buy books in every medium (like me). That’s why I am particularly intrigued by Carr’s suggestion that ebooks “may turn out to be just another format—an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback”. This definitely jives with my current buying habits.

When it comes to new books, I almost always buy digitally, but for most big new releases I buy audiobooks from Audible because I am far more likely to read a book quickly if I listen to the audio version. I do still buy a decent number of Kindle books, but usually only when they’re on sale. I’m a sucker for $1.99 price tags, so if I catch wind of a sale on a book I’m interested in, I’ll buy it despite the fact that I might not read it for years. As for physical books, I’m pretty much addicted to used book stores, so I walk out with books basically every time I walk into a Half Price Books. Additionally, there are still some books that can only be bought in print, such as the unabridged version of Jorge Luis Borges’ Collected Fictions.

Kindle Additionally, it makes sense that there are some books that are well-suited to buying on a Kindle. The recent upsurge of self-published books has created a glut of digital-only content, and although I am still wary of self-published books in general, I think they will continue to thrive on ebook stores. I’m also likely to buy lightweight fare like urban fantasy novels on a Kindle because they’re normally priced to match mass-market paperbacks.

Ultimately I think it’s likely that eReaders will live side-by-side with physical books for the foreseeable future. It’s possible that physical books will eventually become more of a specialty product for connoisseurs like vinyl records, but I think that’s a long way down the road from now. I don’t think print publishing has anything to worry about until we reach the point when grocery stores start stocking cheap, nearly-disposable eReaders instead of printed copies of the newest sensation like Fifty Shades of Gray.

LA Noire: The Collected Stories From Mulholland Books

I really don’t mean to be a Mulholland Books fanboy, I swear, but they just keep announcing such cool stuff that I can’t help myself. Their newest announcement ties in two of my favorite things: videogames and crime fiction. It turns out they’re going to release a tie-in volume of short stories involving characters from LA Noire, Rockstar Games’ upcoming game about a 1940s police detective.

I’ve already pre-ordered the game, after hearing only a handful of details. For example, it stars Aaron Staton from Mad Men, and is reported to have some of the most detailed facial animations in any game to date. It also has a fascinatingly complex interrogation gameplay system that immediately piqued my interest. I may very well end up reviewing it on GamerSushi, the gaming website run by some of my friends.

However, this announcement regarding a short story collection has cemented my firm belief that Rockstar knows their stuff. Writing is one of the areas where videogames still feel a bit anemic, but the calibre of talent assembled to write stories in the LA Noire universe makes me hope that the game will also have a robust and well-developed story.

Right off the bat, they’ve got my attention with Duane Swierczynski, who recently became my new favorite author after I read and reviewed his upcoming book, Fun and Games. However, I’m blown away to see such luminaries as Joyce Carol Oates, Joe Lansdale, Lawrence Block, and Andrew Vachss included as well. Mulholland will be releasing each story online over the next few weeks, and I look forward to reading and discussing them. I only wish all media tie-ins would bring this much quality to the table.

Warren Ellis: Crime and Science Fiction are the Same Thing

First off, the good news is that Warren Ellis has a new two-book deal with Mulholland Books, who are also the new home of one of my all-time favorite authors, Charlie Huston. I read Crooked Little Vein last year and thoroughly enjoyed that vulgar little volume, which alternates between dark humor and varieties of sexual weirdness normally found only in the darkest corners of the web. I haven’t read anything else by Ellis yet, but I may start in on some of his graphic novel work soon.

As part of the announcement of his book deal, Ellis wrote a blog for the Mulholland Books website, wherein he discusses the similarities between the crime and science fiction genres, and why he writes both:

[W]hen I write science fiction I’m a crime writer, and when I write crime fiction I’m an sf writer.  I’m talking about our lives, and the way I see the world.  I’m writing about the new thing, the disruptive event that enters that world, its repercussions and the attempts to deal with it.  But I’m talking about where I think I am today, and what I think it looks like.

Ellis’ argument is that both genres, while nominally about strange worlds (either sfnal or criminal), are actually social fiction, wherein authors discuss the ills in our society, either real or potential. It’s a fascinating argument, and made me think about what draws me to both genres.

I’ve been a lifelong scifi/fantasy reader, but over time I’ve started reading more crime fiction as well. My first big exposure to the genre was in high school when I started reading Elmore Leonard after seeing Out of Sight. In more recent years, I’ve found myself voraciously reading the works of Huston, Gregory McDonald (Fletch), and others. I think I’m most drawn to crime fiction by the urgency and danger inherent in the form.

However, I think it’s what Ellis identifies that keeps me coming back to both forms. I love stories that hold up a mirror to society, that play with the nature of our world and reality. I think that works whether they’re discussing a multitude of alternate universes or a drug-ridden slum in New Jersey. I look forward to reading what comes next from Ellis and Mulholland.

Hello and Welcome!

Hi there! I’m your host, Jeff, and I’ve started this blog as a place to discuss books and reading. I’ve been writing occasional reviews for the past year or so of books that I’ve received from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, and I thought it might be nice to put together someplace a bit more official to host those reviews. I’m planning on expanding my reviews to cover more of the books I’m reading, including new and older works, in physical, digital, and audiobook formats.

I’m constantly reading one or more books, and for the past few years I’ve had a goal to read at least 52 books in a year. It seems to keep me on my toes to have a goal and a deadline all combined in one, not to mention it’s one of the more enjoyable goals I’ve set for myself. I read a variety of things, although my taste tends generally towards science fiction and fantasy of a slightly surrealist or unsettling variety. I don’t limit myself to one genre, however, and happily read mysteries, thrillers, young adult, literary fiction, short stories, westerns, graphic novels, and even the occasional romance (as long as I can pretend it’s actually another genre).

I’m also especially fascinated with the book cover design process, and will fully admit to regularly and shamelessly judging books by their covers. After all, I’m much more likely to pick up a book and read the blurb on the back if it has a well-designed cover. I may occasionally point out or discuss book covers that I find particularly well designed or interesting, although I don’t begin to consider myself an expert.

Some of my favorite authors include: Jonathan Carroll, Iain M. Banks, Dan Simmons, Philip K. Dick, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Diana Wynne Jones, Haruki Murakami, Charlie Huston, Joe Abercrombie, and more.

I look forward to discussing my favorite habit/obsession in this space. Happy reading!