The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘thought process’

The Path

Posted by BigWords on April 8, 2016

When I was offline (not that I am technically back online) there was a lot of time to contemplate the way things had turned out – choices, decisions, strategies. The constant reminder that so many of my plans had gone sideways was mitigated by a line which I’m still, all this time later, not sure if I came up with. There was a circuit which turned a large circle round the three small villages I took to examining. A long straight road, a rather erratic road, a few paths which led nowhere… Walking and thinking helped concentrate ideas from loose concepts into something usable.

It was during a particularly nasty day – howling winds and sleet rain – I found myself on a different road, walking into the rain, with the knowledge that I was going in slightly the wrong direction. I knew where I ought to be heading, but there wasn’t a way to get back to the correct area. To my left, in the general heading I needed to be moving in, there was trees. Biting back the feeling that venturing off the well-known into the unknown, and aware that I didn’t want to appear in a headline a decade hence reading “unidentified skeletal remains found in woods” I pressed on.

And here’s where the line, the phrase which has been rattling around my skull for the last year, came into play. I was moving carefully, over fallen trees, pushing back branches to move past thick growth, leaping over a small stream that wound lazily past the trees… My footing always one mis-step away from a bad ending, something occurred to me – this was a lesson. Something to be learned from, and something to remember. And it is where the line came from – popping into my head perfectly formed, and feeling like I hadn’t earned it.

Some people walk the well-worn path, while others make their own path.

I looked it up in a couple of quotation books and came up with nothing. Am I smart enough to pull that out of thin air? I still don’t know, and there’s a part of me which is quite happy to run with it as a gift. I don’t need to press my ego by stating that it is mine, because it really isn’t. It’s something larger than me, and I’m not sure I would lay claim to it anyway. It’s something which we should all think – something which should push us. We can do what others have done, the same successes and the same failures. Repeating what others have done isn’t difficult. It is copypasta life to go with the safe options.

The clock ticks on. Old ideas, put together to deal with specific problems which no longer matter, merge with the modern complexities which demand new methods of attack. A suggestion made twenty years ago, a brusque off-the-cuff dismissal of what was then the done thing, came back to me – a way of bringing together a lot of people to do something which mattered. More and more, I find myself wanting to leave a legacy which isn’t about me, or about what I can do. I want to see people take something and go their own way with it, to build and adapt to their own requirements and show the kind of imagination I find remarkable.

And the final note today:

We should blaze our own paths, irrespective of history, tradition, orthodoxy and arbitrary rules. I’m bringing that to what I am doing, taking careful steps to keep in mind the ways others are operating – making choices (sometimes very difficult ones) which are going to separate opinion. That’s cool. I don’t expect everyone to be on board with some of the things that I’m going to be instituting, but there’s no knock-on to the people who aren’t playing along. I’m balancing things so that people aren’t going to be adversely affected.

But that’s skipping ahead. Spoilers.

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Some Thoughts, Part Eleven – Piracy

Posted by BigWords on April 25, 2010

The debate of the moment, in case you haven’t been reading many blogs recently, is centered firmly on book piracy. There have been so many opinions already expressed (on both sides of the existing framework of the argument) that it would be the height of foolishness to attempt to continue the debate further. Having spent more than enough time on the matter of technology as the solution to many existing quibbles, I think it is more than appropriate for me to re-phrase the problems of publishing in a manner which has more potency than the simplistic theme of good versus bad (or legal versus illegal, or moral versus whatever…) which so many have waded into without examining why we got into this mess in the first place. I thank the publishers (who have every right to protect their investments), agents, authors, and readers who have already published their views, because without the wealth of opinion already available, this would be akin to shouting in an empty room. You guys have made the topic breathe, so I can now begin to smother the life out of the argument once and for all.

Firstly, everyone is to blame. If you haven’t done something to actively protect copyrighted works, or take down a website hosting illegal material, you are as much to blame as anyone. Even those who have stated that piracy (of any kind) is reprehensible, and who would never themselves download a title they did not pay for, are as much to blame for the current situation as those who are actively making such titles available. The main problem with digital publishing is not one of DRM-free titles, or the ready availability of titles online, or even the fact that way in which the basic business model of releasing books online has been liberally adapted from an industry which was driven to the brink of disaster by ineptitude, arrogance, ignorance and fear – the way in which publishers are ready to follow the music industry’s terrible example has led to the current situation as much as the way that manufacturers of e-book readers have fumbled on the basic requirements for a stable digital publishing landscape. In posting about e-books, I failed to address the problems of multiple formats as a serious issue; the current situation is the fault of every single individual who hasn’t stood up to the way things are done, asking questions which are so basic in their nature as to have surely been thought of before now.

Why can’t a reader handle all file types?

This isn’t a software question, it’s a marketing question. There is no reason that a universal reader couldn’t be created with multimedia-capabilities, though the fact that there isn’t an “ultimate reader” doesn’t seem to bother most people. This is, in part, the reason why piracy is taking money away from the e-book industry, with indignance at having to pay multiple times for different formats of the book (if a download all formats option isn’t included) fueling the rise in copied works. Some have even claimed that it is morally fair to do so, using roundabout logic to validate their belief that ownership of one format is equal to ownership of all formats.

Why, then, are there so many formats?

Money. And arrogance. The idea behind issuing various formats cannot be easily squared with the evidence that a fractured marketing base is bad for customers, yet we see book after book being released across multiple file extensions. This, as should be fairly obvious, is an unsustainable way of doing things. Does the way in which the music industry (with so many different file types) influence publishing to the degree that no original way of doing business can emerge? Are we so blind as to ignore the problems here?

Furthermore, the fact that there are still publishers who are willing to relinquish control of the e-books to a third-party (Amazon, for one) is something of a problem. The loss of control in how an e-book is sold is a big issue. If I was to lay the blame of piracy at one door, it would be the inconsistencies in format, DRM (which I’ll be savaging in a moment) and numerous other factors… Saying “It’s someone else’s problem is not an acceptable answer. Which is the main point of this post. Take. Responsibility. NOW. It isn’t much to ask that people stop laying their problems off on someone else, because I’m sure that the DMCA folks have better things to be doing – they are, after all, going to have better success with film and music content, which also raises the profile of copyright theft. E-books aren’t especially sexy for news reports, so tackling the theft of such material should be an opportunity for publishers to look at the alternatives which are open to them.

DRM (digital rights management), however it is implemented, is as much of a curse as it is a cure. There have been a couple of times in the past when I have had to illegally copy protected software to be able to use it in any useful way. When I buy something I expect it to work. I don’t want, for example, to sit around for three hours while a series of to-and-fro exchanges are made between my computer and the server which validates the software… And then, when you think the software is ready to use, it refuses to run because there is something (which is never explicitly stated) on the hard drive with which it is not allowed to co-exist. Annoying in the extreme, and royally piss-taking when the software costs more than my computer. So DRM is not the solution anyone wants. It may stop lawful consumers accessing material, but it does nothing to stop pirates ripping the text and sharing it via their preferred methods.

The Grand Plan For Writers, Agents & Publishers

  1. Take control of all sales in-house.
  2. Get rid of the competing formats
  3. Create e-books which open within their own reader software.
  4. Issue websites infringing copyright with legal notices directly.
  5. Take down websites which infringe copyright if they don’t comply.
  6. Begin proactively hunting websites which infringe copyright.

Take that in for a moment. Savor the thought that there could be a better way to do things. And, best of all, it will make the digital publishing industry stronger than the music and film industries have managed to be in regards to online theft of material. Tackling those point (in order) I will show that the solution has been around as long as the concept of e-books has – even longer, if you count some of the early open-on-delivery programs which appeared in the early nineties.

This is simple – stop passing off e-books to third-party sales. It is the publisher’s property to sell, so why are companies being allowed to capitalize on something they had no hand in making, no hand in marketing, and had the dumb luck to be permitted to sell. The vultures who take a cut of the proceedings are a major problem. How, for example, are the protections put in place to ensure payment is received, then audited? This, of course, is the responsibility of yet another company, further cutting into the royalties. All that is needed to sell e-books is a damn big server, a competent IT team, and a few websites to promote the book – cut out the middle-men, and the profit margin increases a touch.

The interim solution to multiple formats seems so simple. Get rid of the competing formats, so that the reading public has a chance to acclimatize to a standard format across all publishers. This would take some lengthy discussion regarding which, of the numerous formats available, manages to fulfill all of the requirements, but it would remove the weaker formats altogether. The people who are selling .txt and .doc files of novels ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for releasing such openly-redistributable formats. The no-protection status is a pain to deal with, and I would suggest that the sale of such formats is an immediate cause for concern for all. If such little attention is paid to the fragility of a title’s continued marketability in digital format, what other errors are the publisher making?

The next point is based on my experience with the cover-mounted CD’s of the nineties, which opened in their own Macromedia players. It’s an elegant solution to having control of content, and gets rid of the issues inherent in any particular reader not being able to open a specific file extension. It would also give rise to true multimedia projects as I have already outlined. This is the one area I can see being fought over endlessly, and I refuse to accept that such a solution cannot be reached via common sense. It would be better than the current messy solutions to inconvenient problems, approached by numerous individuals over quite a length of time. Here’s the crux of the current problem – we didn’t get to the status quo by design. Everything in digital publishing was attained by trial and error, and some brilliant ideas were dropped in favor of easier methods. We need to take back control of the technology.

The next three points are connected, so I’ll deal with them together – the pirates are out there. We stumble across pirated material when we are looking for other stuff, but they’re not exactly hiding, are they? They are, most of the time, very open about what they do. And yet the publishing industry – along with music and film counterparts – are behaving in an entirely reactive, rather than proactive, manner. It’s long past time since we should be behaving more along the lines of self-enforcers. Running off to daddy every time the bully steals your lunch money ain’t big, and it’s hardly (with so much evidence) working. A better way of dealing with piracy is to hunt down the people taking money from writers, rather than waiting for the inevitable “gotcha” moment where they are uncovered (given that they aren’t even hiding, the shock and awe is diminished, but still…), then the warnings, and the legal threats, and *yawn*

Pfft. There’s a stand waiting to be taken, yet nobody seems to take the hint… The websites hosting illegally-shared texts should be hit hard by publishers whose material is being stolen. That means doing “whatever it takes” to get them offline. If that means some illicit cracking, then so be it. The pirates are operating outside the legal framework, so it seems right that a “fight fire with fire” position would make sense. Legal and moral issues? The pirates don’t seem to be bothered by such trivialities, so publishers shouldn’t pay too much attention to the implications either.

There you have it. Everyone – yes, even you – can have the blame of piracy squared against them. It’s time to take responsibility for what belongs to us, and time to make sure that those who would steal the hard work of authors are made to feel hunted. Until the playing field is leveled – and the rules of the game are changed – the pirates will always have the upper hand.

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Some Thought, Part Ten – Respect

Posted by BigWords on April 24, 2010

There has been some rather eloquent posts already written examining respect – with people making clear points which really shouldn’t need making these days, but I have yet to see any serious or committed reexamination of online behavior guidelines. There’s no reason why it should have been so completely abandoned by the masses, and an adoption of the basics could possibly halt online diatribes in their tracks. The idiots who decide to gang up on an individual (Richard Dawkins has faced such a firestorm of moronic personal attacks in his forum) really deserve to have some sort of public admonishing. The ability to comment isn’t a democratic right. You may think anyone has the right to litter the internet with abuse, but you would be wrong – someone pays for the hosting on forums, and on blogs, and pretty much everywhere that matters. So… A majority-led charter signed off by the group, where a code of conduct is adhered to? Yeah, that’s one way of going.

But wait… Removing a person from one area of the net would send them off in search of other haunts. And that isn’t much better than throwing a violent drunk out of a bar – it moves the problem on, but doesn’t remove the problem at the root – we need to be thinking along lines which have the potential to resolve problems. My concept of the future of the internet being much tighter than it is, with blogs, forums, and other communications all tied to a single account, would give people the ability to inform of improper behavior (racism, for example) so that the online activity of the individual can be peer-monitored. There is much to be said for this move away from fragmented identities (handling accounts on WordPress, Blogger, Google, forums, Disqus, Twitter, and elsewhere is not the perfect solution to an online existence), though this opens up a world of hurt when the account is cracked. Problems, you see, are merely opportunities in disguise after all – by linking all internet activity to a single account we could see a larger uptake on discussions which are split across the expanse of the internet, merging thoughts which, before now, would need members of both communities to make the connection.

So what other means would be employed to keep people from baiting and bullying their way through the digital landscape?We need a way to combat the bullying which has driven teens to suicide, and the efforts of a few (a Facebook campaign by YA authors f’rinstance) are admirable. And Facebook has a solution I like… The use of buttons which flag up user activity to a third-party oversight group (child protection buttons already take advantage of this technique), with levels of punishment appropriate to activity, could skim off the users who deliberately attack random people with their words. A safeguard (or several) would be needed to prevent people being flagged for no reason, though a simple and effective check and balance system could have its’ place in stopping this. There is much to be done in fighting bullying, but online respect has other areas of interest to me, which are less well highlighted than the more obvious areas.

It is a good idea to remember just how much of the internet is filled with commentary and personal opinions, and how much of that is of objectionable content – even leaving aside the obvious contenders for note here, it should be pointed out that a staggering proportion of the web contains openly hostile content. “Parody or horribly offensive” is the gray area in which some revel, though I find it hard to accept that an openly offensive-for-the-point-of-being-offensive stance is remotely amusing. Some “extreme” areas of the web (Goatse – don’t click the link) have managed to cross over into a less powerful force thanks to memetic dilution (the Olympic Games logo riffing off the image is part of this), but there are other, less savory areas we have to trawl through before we get the full scope of what is needed for a better internet. A safer, less trouble-wrought internet for the masses to enjoy – the folks who wouldn’t necessarily go out of their way to hunt down the squick which lurks out there.

Managing The Internet

The use of “NSFW” as a warning to those who may not want to click a link is useful (if only to keep people from getting fired from their IT jobs), and the idea which has sparked off the use of this acronym is one which is possibly the most audacious proposal I’ll be making here… A voluntary rating for search-engine age-appropriate content:

Green Locations

1 All-ages text and images.
2 May contain inappropriate words
3 May contain inappropriate words and images

Amber Locations

4 Teen-relevant sites, with monitored content
5 Teen-relevant sites, with unmonitored content
6 Teen-relevant sites, may contain inappropriate material

Red Locations

7 Mature themes / content
8 Mature themes, content may offend some
9 Mature themes, content will offend most

Black Locations

X Adult-only material

At present search-engines are very inefficient at filtering content to age-appropriate settings, and adding a single digit to each website to validate the level of inappropriate of offensive material before adding the site to search parameters would make the internet just a little bit better than it is. The level of filtering would take precedence over other search requirements, putting the emphasis on which material is suitable for the intended audience. The use of color-coded symbols beside each link would help casual surfers avoid anything which is too harsh for their tastes, whilst allowing those of us with dark sensibilities to continue looking in amazement at the absolute strangeness which exists around the internet.

Protecting The Internet

Censorship, which is always a hot topic, is another area of respect in which too few actions and too many commentaries are present. Saying that blatant censorship of content is wrong is no longer enough, and a more proactive anti-censorship stance would help bolster confidence in what is disseminated through the web. The fact that Google has begun listing instances where content has been removed at the instigation of governments goes some way to doing this, but the disrespect for users is still apparent. That doesn’t begin to compare with the disrespect shown to authors, while Google systematically steals work from publishers irrespective of copyright, nor does it come close to the abysmal behaviour some major software companies.

Respect (in a particular example) means that you thank people for work done in the form of payment – not merely a “thank you” (if, indeed, you manage to get as much as that), and Microsoft’s behaviour when security loopholes are pointed out is one of the things which irks me. I’ve never written code for them, but know people who have. People who, in their own time, have solved problems which Microsoft couldn’t deal with. And this is something which crops up time and time again – the larger the company, the less respect they give consumers. We live with this situation mainly because we have little option, but a stance should be made every now and again to remind them who is in charge of the relationship… Companies answer to the public, not their shareholders – if we decide that we don’t like a service, we have the power to make it go away, simply by ignoring it.

Sliding ever-so gently off-topic, but I’m on a roll…

Policing The Internet

While I am bringing up what material is unsuitable for children to view, I should also make mention of the groups who would have us believe that the internet is policed in some fashion. It isn’t. Far from it. The internet is, and has been compared to for a while now, a frontier town in the Wild West. The only laws imposed on it are those which the users demand – I’ll be taking a few pot shots at this in my next post, but for the moment I don’t feel inclined to tackle the blindingly obvious.

I think I have covered everything I set out to tackle here, but if anyone has additions to make I would welcome them. This post is already longer than I intended it being, so I had better stop before I run off into other, unconnected, areas.

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Some Thoughts, Part Nine – Questions

Posted by BigWords on April 16, 2010

Questions.

I’m good with questions, mostly because I ask a lot of questions.

People who don’t ask many questions, bumbling their way through problems (or, if you like, opportunities) will probably be unaware of the joy in finding a nugget of hitherto unknown information which answers more than the immediate question. I like those answers. The kind which expands the universe, whether intended or not. In the grand scheme of things these following questions aren’t big. They’re not the kind of questions which are required to fundamentally change the way we think, but they have been playing on my mind for a while, and they will inform my next post (half-prepared and awaiting some tinkering) as the answers I have been playing with aren’t the ones I want. I’m not good at answering my own questions, and many people reading this will probably also know how the answers we provide for ourselves aren’t always the best.

The group mind is more powerful than the individual in many regards, though (as I will soon come to show) there are troubling difficulties in halting movement when an inappropriate shift in direction is indicated. Here, because the questions are direct and – mostly – of common acceptance, I should be able to see that the puzzles which have been halting movement of any degree are unfounded. Maybe I will uncover aspects of the situation which has been hidden. I may have a revelation or two, or see clear what has been clouded by insecurity, doubt and self-awareness. They are the kind of questions which you are probably asking yourself from time to time, and by highlighting them I hope to see the places where answers can be pulled and twisted into a rough groundwork for something which is needed. It won’t take long to read through, and you don’t need to answer any (or all) of the questions. Pick one and run with it. You don’t need to answer at all if you don’t want.

  • When do you consider a post, comment, thread, tweet or article to be bullying in nature?
  • Where do you believe is the appropriate place to make your concerns about online bullying?
  • Have you ever felt intimidated, or have you intimidated anyone else online, and how do you feel about that?
  • Have you ever felt that a point has been made against an individual which wasn’t necessary?
  • How have you intervened in a situation where you weren’t directly involved, and had no stake?
  • What preventative measures for online bullying do you want to see implemented?
  • Where are the connections between online bullying and real life consequences for you?

I was going to lead into the anti-bullying thoughts with something else, but the questions have been ticking away in the back of my mind. It’s hard to concentrate as it is, but with the preceding questions scratching at the inside of my skull any attempt at a cohesive line of thought gets derailed in circles of logic, the kind which were employed in the destruction of super-intelligent computers in hokey old SF television shows. The online behavior etiquette which most of us half-adhere to doesn’t always tie neatly withing the framework of respect, or hold up to what we would do in personal interactions. There’s a strange “not me” mentality when a lot of people go online, and statements which would, in any other media, be considered abhorrent are somehow underpowered to a state where they can be used freely. There’s enough unbidden vitriol running through the web to last an eternity, so we need to work out ways to stem the hostilities.

But that isn’t enough. Not while I’m on the subject of online behavior, because there are other things involved in respect for our fellow netizens – and I have to point out, right now, that I hate that word. We need better Life 2.0 terminologies. Back to the subject, and there are so many places where there aren’t clear-cut guidelines that it can be daunting to know which of the actions I see are appropriate, which are borderline, and which are inappropriate, and we’re forced to examine the rise of web conventions here. The numerous websites, blogs, articles, and forums which specialize leads to a major dilemma – is there now a line between specialist subject non-fiction books and online material? Should we shy away from certain things because it is a disservice to an author who may return to a work for a revised copy, or can we run with online updates, and the interactivity which digital data provides?

This, I must admit, is a very personal conundrum. For the past few years I have been thinking of ways to improve knowledge of certain topics, and that has led me to the (very few) titles already published on the subject. There is the possibility of the author returning to the work for an update (unlikely, but possible) so I have held off working on it. And the related problem of online databases crippling the publishing possibilities of other titles is a problem which I have pondered. Is this an aspect of respect we have to consider in addition to the other, more obvious, abuses. Providing for free that which others wish to sell… Seems like there’s an ethical debate inside that problem, though I will refrain from adding further words here. Questions are, by their nature, unfinished things. I like the unfinished, the almost, the not-quite-there-yet… These questions, and more, fill the air as we wander through new multimedia puzzles, asking, probing, questioning… We will not find all the answers right away, and some answers will probably linger on.

But I like questions, so I’ll be happy regardless of the presence of answers.

My post on good and bad online behavior is pending…

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Some Thoughts, Part Eight – Interactivity

Posted by BigWords on April 8, 2010

qrcodeYou might have seen these images appearing on products such as soft drinks, comics, posters, and DVDs, and in newspapers and magazines. They’re not an entirely new technology, being based off the same concept as barcodes, but QR Code is way better at engaging a curious audience who may not intend to interact with your company, product or ideas. And yes, before you ask, the image to the left is a real QR Code, and it does link to a specific page. To find out where it will take you, all you need to do is aim your mobile phone at it.

This, of course, is old news to anyone who has spent more than a couple of minutes online since the turn of the century, but it is necessary that I bring it up before I get to today’s Big Idea. I’m striking out into the field of games again, but this time with an eye on the more traditional version of gaming. Boardgames have come a long way in recent years, but the basic components are relatively unchanged – the cardboard base, plastic (or metal) figures to move around, cards which contain instructions to the player…

It’s all so mired in the 1930s that I can’t help but get the queasy sensation in the pit of my stomach every time I think of cracking open one of those games. This is 2010. We have a gazillion television stations to keep us entertained, more DVDs than you can shake a mongoose at, and streaming music available from so many sources that even hermits who have had no human contact since 1958 are bopping their heads to the tune of Lady Gaga’s  Telephone.

Time to take a look at “family games” (and not the kind played by John Phillips).

The first thing which screams out for attention is the board itself. A basic boardgame has a set board, with each game played on it relying on the player knowing where they want to end up – so that strategies can be used to attempt a favorable outcome. That, in and of itself, is very linear. It’s a pre-digital, static solution to gameplay. It’s why I can never play Monopoly more than once or twice a year. It’s why I haven’t bought a boardgame in nearly three years. It’s something which (more than any individual aspect of the format) could be dragged into the 21st century with ease. The technology which most readily comes to mind for this is based on the Kindle.

Yup, that Kindle.

The black and white E Ink screen has the ability to bring boardgames an added level of complexity which I approve of. Unnumbered tiles showing QR Codes, codes which change upon each game being begun, would give the boardgame new challenges which, until now, have been absent. This is a massive move away from what people are trying to accomplish with outdated design, and there is the possibility that we could even see narrative begin to encroach upon this method of gameplay. If the game is intended to link to webpages, there might as well be a story constructed around the game itself.

Before I get too far ahead with that idea, I also want to point out something else which has been bugging me about the way we look at boardgames – Linearity. You go from Point A to Point C via Point B with nary a though of the options locked off due to the construction of the rules and accepted modes of travel. Boardgames, two-dimensional as they are, have much more to offer than straight lines across the board, and opening up the entirety of the board would give players much more opportunity to express themselves through their individual personalities. By removing the blank areas unused by the game, more playable area is opened, and (with this in mind) any horizontal or vertical movement of players is allowed to continue unimpeded by the board itself.

I’m throwing out all of the traditional elements, so I may as well discard counters as well. I’ve always suspected that the reason why counters are still used is a throwback to tradition, but tradition is only useful when it provides something that cannot be answered by other means. The other means, in this case specifically, would be answered by using lights to indicate where each player has ended up in relation to the rest of the game board. This answers where the player is, but using the E Ink we can also learn who each player-character is. This is all about story, remember. The blank, featureless counters which are used to mark position is so many games are an abject lesson in how not to engage players with the game, because there is no emotional connection to the thing which represents them in the game. Once you give a name, and a face, and a story to the in-game player-representation, you begin to add emotional resonance.

Modern games should always have some emotional response from players, otherwise you may as well be playing chess.

Turn-based gameplay is fine, and actually enhances the tension in many games. Indeed, turn-based gameplay is one of the crossover elements which brings boardgames and some computer games together, so an audience won’t be completely out of their depth upon seeing just how far the format has changed. I like chess as it is, and some classic games have nothing added by innovation – and really, how do you expect to better a game which has proven itself for centuries? The answer: You can’t, and by adding layers to it (as a Star Trek inspired board has done) you remove the soul of the game. The games I’m suggesting get overhauled are those in which limitations to the gameplay are limitations to the enjoyment of the game.

Here’s something else to add to the mix – dead squares. I know I made a big deal of opening the board out, but as the game progresses, certain squares can become unusable. If it adds to the gameplay, it’s something to consider.

This game actually began life as a possible handheld game, but I could never work out how to use the large chunks of backstory within a limited space. It’s massive, and only gets bigger the more I try to explain it, so I’m holding off further elaboration. I’ve had several goes at making playable versions, but the only way it would really work is if there was a randomizing factor at the beginning of each game. E Ink is the key, and the reason I don’t expect this type of game to appear anytime soon. In the meantime I’ll leave you with a rough approximation of what the board would appear as at the beginning of a new game…

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Some Thoughts, Part Seven – Games

Posted by BigWords on April 7, 2010

This follows up some of the themes which have threaded themselves through the previous posts, but I’ve managed to avoid presenting any proper views about computer games as they fall a way short of the central themes. Revolutions in gaming maybe a tougher sell than any of the other suggestions so far, being as they are (by necessity) group works rather than the output of an individual. The role of a writer in developing new games has changed significantly over the years, with the glory days of text-adventures giving way to the effects-heavy FPS genre. Is this a retrograde move for the writer? Can we still have deep, meaningful discussions within the framework of games which exist with the direct intent of shooting as many people as possible in the face and crotch? Okay, that may be a tad unfair. There are some very intelligent games out there, and using the possibilities which an interactive narrative provides is something which needs more thought than merely setting up the reasons why the NPCs must be obliterated.

The first thing which I have to point out is in regards to in-game fiction – the metafiction – which has been underdeveloped as a tool. I remember spending as much time reading the contents of the books in Deus Ex and Fable, and reading the pads in Doom 3, as I ever spent actually trying to beat combatants. The contents of those documents were, and are, fascinating insights into the world surrounding the characters, but they always seemed to be unfinished. They were scraps rather than texts. The hint of a wider world outside of the confines of a game is, in some way, very relevant to what I have been going through regarding the novel. I pointed out how, by building the world of a story, we are slipping away from novels as single entities, and I am now of the belief that this is an area in which games so much more than they are at present. This isn’t, as much as it may seem, an attack of any sort on gaming. The prospect of something in an existing medium being fully deployed as another tool in the writers’ arsenal should be something everyone looks for, and it entirely possible now thanks to larger memory capabilities.

I thought that the reading material in games would have expanded by now, but there seems to be a hesitancy in developing any part of the game which isn’t essential in moving the story forwards to each successive climax. The “boss levels” may have died away somewhat, but the insistence on pushing the game ever-onwards has stunted the quiet moments between firefights. I like those quiet moments, so their deployment in modern games is something of a disappointment. There doesn’t even have to be much work done to fill out the in-game books, seeing as how Project Gutenberg has done all the hard work of separating the public domain titles from those still under some degree of protection. Even without resorting to the plunder of PD novels, there is a large and untapped group of short story writers who would be grateful for the exposure which ‘publication’ in a game could bring. It’s unconventional, but it’s an entirely acceptable way of breaking through the walls holding new talent back.

I’m not going to cover ARGs again, mostly because the collected thoughts of the last few posts have managed to lay out my views on the subject well enough for now, but it wouldn’t hurt games to look to the ways that ARGs have fully embraced immersive worlds. How much better would GTA4 have been if it truly blurred the edges its’ in in-game internet and the real internet? It is all to easy to see that the fiction is just that, but by engaging gamers through verisimilitude (that word again) there are untapped possibilities. Even the small concessions to reality in most games are tainted by in-jokes, references, and sly digs at the competition. Lets imagine how, if we expand the game outwith the confines of the PC, the console, and the limits of current thinking, we can begin writing a new dimension into entertainment. I’m coming back, of course, to world building again. This time, in light of what has been brought up in the last couple of posts, I’ve the feeling that I may be pushing my luck.

This is the Big Idea for the day. This is the idea which will tighten your sphincter and make you wish you never started reading these thoughts. This is the idea which has the potential to break the internet. This is… Okay, so it’s damn clever, maybe a little insane, and probably illegal in several countries, but it’s giving me immense enjoyment to have found an outlet for mega-fiction on a scale as yet untried. We know that in fiction there are several areas which are expected to be completely made-up, because saying that a well known fast-food companies’ products are dangerous is a fast road to the courts… But what if there were companies whose sole reason for existing could be to drive fiction? What if there were a few name-only companies, branded and given web identities, listed in various directories, and with supposed shareholders, employees and offices, whose sole reason for existing was to drive the narrative of story.

Think about this for a moment. I’m dead serious. Writers need companies they can say anything about, otherwise the games, novels, television shows and films they craft would be lacking in credible realism, though using fictional companies can only lend so much realism. If they could access the rights to use several companies which “exist” (at least in name only) to insert into their fiction then the problems of finding decent-sounding company names would be eliminated. Adding a further level of complexity, the companies could use the fictions crafted around them to either attack each other or to merge, making their existence a strengthener for the fiction. How many times have you seen a company mentioned in a film or television series, then hit Google looking for the company’s home page? It would add so much value to writing about business… Add a fictional stock market in there, and you have an ARG, the background for film, television and novels, a MMO, and ten kinds of interactive fiction which still requires naming.

Yes, thank you. I am a fucking genius.

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ARG developers are advised to check out the new Transmedia Producer credit which the PGA have ratified. It legitimizes an area of writing which has long been important to the internet, and may encourage others to join me in coming up with new ways of thinking about the ways in which traditional outlets can be subverted.

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Some Thoughts, Part Six – Intermission

Posted by BigWords on April 6, 2010

I’m taking a breather here, and pondering word meanings again. Intermission indicates a break between performances (and this is as apt a term for what I’m doing here as any), and is also inter this mission. I’m gloating at how clever the title is, but there is a reason I need to stop for a moment – we need to go back over the last few posts and examine something.

David Baldacci, of all people [1], is spearheading the move into a fully-intergrated-multimedia e-book experience, and while the notion of “giant leaps forward” contains exciting prospects, it doesn’t really get to grips with some of the concerns which are raised by the prospect of an unbalanced readership. However much I have promoted the use of radical ideas (especially in concern with the future of e-books), there is something to be said for the stability and longevity of a hard copy. I’ve already touched on some of the ways in which books could stretch out into covering, but the possible applications are really irrelevant as long as the format itself faces such difficulties as contractual problems, simplistic implementation, format woes, and poor marketing. I have no doubt that progress requires concerted efforts on behalf of everyone, but there is something which hasn’t been looked at to any degree yet. Something which we need to discuss before rushing headlong into the crucible of multimedia convergence. And so the question is raised…

What is added to the value of a hard copy to enable it to compete against e-books?

Will the future of books lie in packaging them with DVD-Roms? Or codes printed on the inside jacket to allow access to the online content? Or do we open up the online content by keeping DRM at arm’s length? The truth probably rests in all three of these answers, because publishers will want to maximise the visibility of their product in an already-crowded field. Art, music, film, and software books would benefit from being packaged with DVD-Roms to illustrate content (as some software books have already proven); using codes would open up SF novels to self-sustaining ARGs running interconnected content… But ignoring DRM may be the hardest sell of all. Publishers (and I’m stepping away from publishers of books specifically, to look at the wider use of the word) are enamoured with DRM because it gives the false promise of protection against piracy.

Do I really need to spell out the reasons why I haven’t bought a game produced by EA in over three years? Is it not fact enough that all of their “protected” games are being copied and distributed via P2P? So what benefits does DRM confer? I’ll let slip one of my big thoughts straight off the bat, so as to give everyone time enough to contemplate the horrors which are in store if their use in e-publishing isn’t curbed – DRM encourages piracy. DRM is a challenge to the pirates, which encourages them to see hoe quickly they can strip the software and make it available to others. It is also, in many cases, a pain in the ass for those using the product legally, especially when the DRM damages other software housed (legally) on the computer. I’ve had to reinstall massive amounts of data because an errant line of code in DRM has seen fit to disable video editing software, so can attest that the use of such undesirable practices has negative real-world effects. Your brand will be damaged by bad protection methods.

How, then, should we approach the verification of “approved users”? I like e-mail as a method of building blocks of manageable data, and even though there are problems with collecting information about those who have purchased items online, it is still less troublesome than any other method which is easily implemented. It is the basic answer to nearly all problems posed by multimedia, and there are enough people already used to using e-mail for identification purposes that it doesn’t seem too imposing for readers wanting to sidestep the problems DRM brings.

I’m not done yet. The second thing which has yet to be openly discussed may have the potential to shatter publishing in two. It is clear that there are problems for traditional publishers when it comes to creating e-books embedded with multimedia, so I suggest this – the big publishers will have minimal influence in the future of e-books. Just as the early web was carved out by pioneers, the new formats will be embraced by self-publishing. The benefits which have been emphasised by some advocates of self-publishing routinely ignore the possibility to throw off the shackles of traditional complications (and the associated problems created by lawyers) to provide something new. Though I never intended to come to the conclusion that self-pubbed titles may be the way e-books could evolve, it seems to be something which makes sense.

Thus I conclude the intermission and return to the regularly scheduled assault on old-media thinking.

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[1] I was always under the impression that the e-book would be led towards a multimedia future by that luminary of the cyberpunk movement, William Gibson. It’s probably too much to ask for, but a fully tweaked-out edition of Neuromancer would be top of my list of books which could gain added value through enhancements.

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Some Thoughts, Part Five – Marketing

Posted by BigWords on April 5, 2010

I’m coming back to the world-building again, so I can tie in with some things raised in connection regarding the Extras I mentioned. This will lead into thoughts on marketing in due course, but my main focus is on the perceived problems with side-issues such as podio, vlogging and other new-media which are struggling to maintain the levels of interest which marked their early days. Podio, in particular, has come under more scrutiny than it really should, given how malleable and open the basic concept is – and this is partially the fault of early successes not leading to more breakthrough authors. The format is, if you believe the reports from the front lines, not living up to its’ full potential. I posit that there is something inherent in the way we look at media which is to blame, and suggest that the way such things have been approached by writers is too mired in traditional thinking to continue as is. Remembering the way other audio successes have accomplished their status is vital in crafting an effective assault on the market.

Nathan Bransford recently pointed out that a novel cannot be turned into a phenomenon by the publisher, and that is fine as far as the novel itself goes. I’m not going to disagree with him, but I will point out that there is a vast difference between a single novel and the world in which the story takes place. Stories, as I pointed out, are not bound by novels. We should be looking at the problem of how to create popular stories and not novels – two very different things in the digital era. This is something which should begin long, long before the book is sold, never mind published. The current advice is to start publicity as early as possible before the novel hits the shelves, but there is no standard set. Keep researching this area, even after digesting this post. I’m sure you will be wondering how all these disparate things are connected, being grabbed seemingly at random… Well, they are connected, and in ways which authors should be already be considering – it doesn’t take much work to come up with a wholly-contained and flowing narrative utilizing the strengths of the internet, and you too can mastermind a phenomenon if you put all your energy into doing so.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock… This is the sound of your window of opportunity slipping away. It is the sound of other authors stepping up to the challenge. It is a sound you should be listening to. There is little time, and little opportunity left, once the book appears in shops, so pay attention to the flow of media which attracts attention outside of the publishing world. This means podio, short videos on YouTube, multiple websites, and an eye towards a simple ARG which builds your characters up in the minds of potential customers. Yes, customers. Lets not be artistic when it comes to getting the novel out there, because it’s a business, and in business you need targets to hit. The artistry comes in deploying just enough material to grab the peoples attention, but not enough material to damage any sales. It’s all about raising questions and withholding answers, and this is where we can really learn from the past.

One of the most celebrated radio plays in the history of the medium is War Of The Worlds, and it still has a certain power to this day. The effectiveness lies in verisimilitude, and this is a vital point. In using podio effectively, strength rests in its’ immediacy. While I’m pointing out the obvious, I’ll also add that the most effective lie is sold to an audience wrapped in truth. If you are using in-character audio to build a market for a novel, then lower-key is more effective than a full-orchestra production. Same thing goes for video, with CCTV having much more power to sell the fiction than a glossy HD short film. When plotting out the back-story for a novel, the material which would provide such content generates itself if done thoroughly enough. This opens up a secondary marketing tool beside hooking potential readers into the characters’ lives. You may not have deliberately looked at an ARG, but it is very likely that you have seen elements of one if you spend enough time online. The most effective ones are designed with the specific objective of blending in to the rest of the web. Once people invest enough time into the characters they will be more willing to invest money in the novel.

The in-universe marketing plan is only one side of the equation, and some blatant (i.e. traditional) marketing is also required, but using fiction to sell fiction is still a under-developed area which needs more uptake before being dismissed. The requirement for authors to use accepted social media is still important, but relying solely on this doesn’t answer my earlier question – what investment (as a reader) do I have in the characters before I drop my money on the novel? The answer is one which you should come to on your own. Of course, if you are intent on relying on a Facebook fan page, it is essential that communication is not restricted. Proper discussions, which doesn’t include endless press releases or ego-stroking. I used to be very interested in a particular SF series’ fan scene, but since it turned from a to-and-fro with the audience to a narrower focus, spewing out information rather than engaging people with ideas and nuggets of behind-the-scenes material, I lost interest. I’m sure others left at the same time, disappointed with the shift away from interaction.

Communication is vital to every aspect of marketing, even if no stakes are involved. It doesn’t matter that a novel isn’t being run through the presses, because we (as authors, readers, listeners, viewers, or merely interested observers) are curious about the world around us. This is the primary reason why ARGs work, and why we should foster as many connections with potential readers and collaborators as possible. Looking at the interlinking segments of the internet as being held apart by barriers is old-media thinking, and trying to interlink everything is verging on madness. A happy medium is difficult to find, but the balance at the moment for most is skewed in favor of the kind of press ads which wouldn’t look out of place in a magazine. This is the internet. Use it.

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Some Thoughts, Part Four – Comics

Posted by BigWords on April 4, 2010

Comics, which wasn’t necessarily going to be my next port of call in this narrative of possibilities, have a long and varied online history. I’m not going to debate the differences between markets here, mainly because manga, BD, US comics, and the British “funnies” are similar enough in structure (if not in content) to make anything I have to say on the matter universal. With falling sales figures in various areas continuing unabated (indeed, sales are dropping faster than ever for some formats), there is a need for new ways of thinking. Bold and game-changing thinking. The recent revelations that skipped weeks has damaged the number of returning customers is, in part, a touchstone for this post, though I have already covered some of the thoughts which I will be expanding on at the ComiXtreme forum. Whenever I attempt to show inherent possibility in an existing medium I normally hit one of two walls – there are people who believe that things are just fine the way they are, and there are those who would point to the difficulties in implementing things which are radically different to what we have available now. I will address both of these issues here, and also setting to rights a couple of things which I was already planning on covering during the course of my series outlining the ways in which multimedia can step out of the shadows of old media.

First I want to cover the point raised about skipped weeks hurting the reader base. This is not a problem when you are dealing with digital comics, and it is here I will look at distribution. When you think of distribution models, and there are a few very effective ways of shifting content online, you’ll probably ignore the most influential methods of transmitting information. Reports vary, but even accepting lower-end figures, the trend of P2P and torrents as first-call destinations for content seems to have the edge on everything considered “reputable.” This, you might automatically assume, is all illegal, right? Not so. There are many, many legal torrents out there. I listed some on this very blog a while back. Citing all torrents as damaging, as some ignorant politicians and music industry spokesmen have done in the past, is akin to calling television, or books, or magazines – as a medium – evil. The method of distribution is beautifully simple, efficient and sustainable, and more should be done to nurture legal alternatives to the illegal filesharing activities which have come to dominate news reports. It’s going to be hard for some to accept, but this is as legitimate a method of dissemination as any old media.

Looking on at the file-sharing sites with growing impotence and frustration, some publishers have locked themselves behind pay-walls. This only serves to make the publisher invisible, their content hidden from casual surfers who might – upon discovering the information contained within their site – decide to support and follow future ventures. The primary frustration which many face when dealing with paywalls is the quality of content. How, if I must pay for the privilege of viewing before being granted access, can I judge the relative merit of the service? It makes no sense as a business model. To retain position in a rapidly changing digital landscape, visibility is paramount to success, and by shuttering down the barricades on intellectual property, all that is being achieved is media autism. The content is there, but it is shut inside its’ own little world, unable to communicate ideas with the wider community.

Torrents are something we should look at with new eyes. They are very effective at spreading material across a consumer base and contain vital information which can be used to make marketing decisions – two things which shouldn’t be ignored in the rush to condemn the pirates. With the ability to tell how many times a torrent has been downloaded, we can effectively tell which seeds are more popular than others, which seeds are being ignored, and the re-seeding rate (i.e. how many people left the content on their computers rather than deleting the data). This is the kind of feedback which will be familiar to readers of British comics in the seventies and eighties, where readers were urged to say which parts of the comic they preferred, and which they would rather not see return. Can any other method of distribution gather such vital information without any direct contact with consumers?

Ah, but that is what we need to look at. Consumers are those “who consume,” not “who pay.” There’s no way to make money from torrents, and torrents should only ever be part of the solution to survival in the digital age. When there are so many ways to exploit the immediacy of the internet, this shouldn’t be a problem. If a single method of getting material to people is employed there will always be holdouts (which is an area certain companies still fail to take heed of), so we’re forced to look at multiple releases. We’re coming slowly, but surely, back to the ideas which I started thinking about concerning the effectiveness of DVDs in approaching material. Most major releases these days have two (if not more) DVDs. There is a stripped-down, bare-bones release for people who want the film alone, and there is the double-disc full of extras. I propose that the same could be applied to comic-books without too much difficulty due to the existence of the online media presence of most comics publishers. A two-tiered system will also legitimize increased subscription charges for those who wish to get all that can be gained from the digital comics which will replace .pdf’s and .cbr’s – the two most common forms of current digital comics.

A new type of e-reader, able to perform more complex functions would be required for digital comics to grasp their full potential, but once a common standard is agreed (and not merely limited to the US publishers) we will see readers return in greater numbers as the extras provide seemingly fresh content. But what content? For charges to be levied for the increased benefits of multimedia capable digital comics, there needs to be that multimedia in already in place. Ah, but we do have some things which we can use without incurring costs, and the material isn’t troubled by annoying rights problems.

  • Alternate Angle. The concept of looking at a scene from a different vantage point is now a well-cemented aspect of DVDs (and I’m drawing heavily on that format for these ideas), so using something similar in regard to comics is a no-brainer. In the case of comics, this would be the ability to view alternate covers (if such things exist for a particular issue) / the pencils / the plain inks / the colored, text-free cover.
  • Zoom. Using magnifying tools to zoom into a specific panel on a .jpg or .pdf is fine, but the results can sometimes be blurry. HiDef should be used for all subscription downloads.
  • Commentaries. Audio and video featurettes about the character(s), the title, the publisher and / or the creative team would give reason for returning to canceled and much older titles to be brought back from obscurity. The use of interviews would also give space to unused storylines and developments which were never expanded on, especially when the title was culled for sales reasons.
  • Extra Scenes. If the script is included in the package, it would be a benefit for the readers to see which storylines never made it to print. It’s fine hearing about unpublished stories, but to see them would add considerable value, while at the same time not costing anything if they had already been started.

For those of you who would state that you do not require enhanced functionality from something as simple as a comic, I reassure you that none of the enhancements presupposes the extinction of the most basic forms of online comics. The plain styling of existing formats will remain active for as long as people only wish to read digital comics as they would the hard copies. The main benefit of .cbr folders are the ease of use – they do not require special software to be used, and they have many users already familiarized with them. It’s not a zero-sum game, as proved by the many .pdf comics also available. There is enough room in the market for both the simple and the complex. For those of you who would claim that the implementation of such a complex reader would not be cost-efficient… Well, you have a very minor point. The advancement of any media costs money, but the benefits far outweigh the costs – look at how DVDs have so completely replaced video, and the Blu-Ray format is quickly overtaking DVD as the format of choice for new releases.

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Some Thoughts, Part Three – E-Books

Posted by BigWords on April 1, 2010

There is going to be more details on my view of world building soon enough, but it is time to lay to rest a couple of issues I have with the way we look at e-books. This market has been a source of enough opinion already, but there are so many areas in which writers, publishers and the underlying software in severely under-performing, that it really needs to be addressed item by item. We are, of course, talking about a digital format, so there are distinct advantages to the collation of information surrounding them than traditionally published titles – software generates an unbelievable amount of information, and yet nearly everyone is (with some exceptions) ignoring the possibilities. I’ll try to keep things simple for now (on a subject I am returning to later), so that the debate can be re-shaped with more focus on the information-generating powers currently being left idle.

Data Collection

The requirements (as I see them) for successful data accumulation are as follows:

  • Total sales (all time)
  • Monthly sales figures
  • Weekly sales figures

It is possible to determine which titles are rising in relation to others, and analysis of trends, purchasing habits, and customer returns (where a second title by the same author is later published) could move e-books into a more central position in the publishing industry. Real-time analysis of which hard copies are selling, which are stagnating, and which are dropping in sales on a day-by-day basis would be an impossible task, but there is no reason that the information from their digital cousins can’t be put to good use. Extrapolating larger movements may be beyond the data, but for specific information we are on safe ground.
The second part of this information is in regards to format. Are the .pdf’s selling more than .azw? How do .txt downloads compare to .fb2? Breaking down the overall sales figures into categories based on their format will show which e-readers are being used, making more direct advertising possible by marketing to the demographic which is most likely to purchase the title on a specific platform. That, I’m afraid, came out as a bit of a tongue-twister. Here’s the English translation – if there are more people purchasing the .txt version, then you push the .txt copy. If more people are using the Kindle download, you push that. It isn’t ignoring the other sales, but refining the marketing to focus on the area in which the best return is coming from.

  • Direct links from Blogs
  • Direct links from Facebook
  • Direct links from MySpace
  • Direct links from Twitter

One way of separating the sales information between impulse purchases and recommendations would be to have the number of links to the download page tracked. With this, it is possible to note how many sales were the result of direct links rather than casual browsing of the site, so that already-successful books (which are gaining further links) can be more heavily marketed so as to result in hardback and paperback sales. But there are problems in using this data set without trying to discover the variables which lead either to a sale, or to the visitor departing empty handed. It is a given that writing is a creative act, but selling (and the marketing behind the selling) is a science as much as anything. We need to think more scientifically about the way that sales are occurring in digital formats.

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Double-blinds

There are three main elements which can affect the selling potential of a title, and those need to be addressed individually and as a collective force – beneficially or otherwise – to the potential of an e-book. Using double-blinds (webpages which are identical in all but one aspect from the main sell-through page) can help show which aspects of the shop window need to be spruced up to encourage people to part with their money. There are enough websites already established whose purposes are specifically geared to selling books, so implementing some of the following suggestions should be taken with the full knowledge that the market is still fragmented. Unless a title is an exclusive, any data collected will be tainted by the fact that other locations are in direct competition.

Cover Art

Does the cover art attract more buyers than not? Or is it, in fact, irrelevant to the eventual sale? Does it turn people off the idea of buying the book? There are so many reasons why digital copies have potential to supersede sales of hard copies, and this is one specific area in which e-books are vastly different to the ones on your shelves – they need not necessarily even have covers. If two sites, differing only in the inclusion of the cover art, could be compared over a reasonable length of time, there would, undoubtedly, be a considerable amount of data to indicate whether the cover art is helping or harming sales. This information would then inform all future releases by the publisher, strengthening market position with hard facts rather than supposition and perceived wisdom handed down from bricks and mortal sales outlets. The one genre which would be most affected by this would probably be fantasy, which has – for a long time – relied on the power of a strong visual on the cover to entice casual readers.

Preview Chapters

Here’s another aspect which people don’t seem to be taking enough attention of, and it is one of the areas in which the success or failure of a specific release may hinge. Do readers appreciate previews? Of course they do. To say, from this one statement of fact, that the addition of a preview is beneficial to all titles is, however, rather limiting in establishing their overall status in the way e-books are sold. Until it can be established that a preview is helping the sales, we won’t know for sure that the inclusion of such things on sales pages are adding to the uptake of purchases. Again, a proper study would be needed to see which books perform less successfully when a preview is included on the sales page. It would be interesting to see how well a popular book (something in the highest sales bracket) compares in two instances – one with, and one without a preview. Would it matter to overall figures? Probably not, but the data which could be collected from this type of study would be very interesting.

On-site Reviews

This is the one aspect I am still undecided on, especially since there is no “minimum IQ requirement” to access the internet. If reader reviews are included at the point-of-sale location, then there will undoubtedly be the usual slew of poorly thought-out, barely-literate, venomous bile – aimed as much at the writer or publisher as it is at the book in question. You can, if you wish, see some of these types of comments on Amazon. Unless moderation is implemented in advance of comments being shown, any possible discussion which could be generated by the reviews and comments will be irrelevant. I like hearing well-constructed arguments in favor of, and against, titles, but there are limits to what should be allowed. Overly-glowing reviews always feel like the hand of those involved in the release, while the most bitter attacks feel like the work of people aggrieved for reasons unconnected to the title. Both extremes should be avoided, as they have equal ability to sour the prospect of a purchase.

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There have been calls for a serious and informed chart for the e-book specifically, but the way in which charts normally work are skewed towards the top 100 best-selling titles. With songs, or films, and especially games, this isn’t a problem – those markets are moving fast enough that anything outside the top hundred are rapidly shifting, but books have a way of staying much, much longer at a respectable position. Bronte, Austen, Dickens and Shakespeare will always be sold, so the classics must be taken into consideration when looking at charts. I like the US music chart method – separating the releases out into genre, because this seems to make more sense than a grand list of everything. It makes sense that payed and free, and fiction and non-fiction be separated, but I would go farther than any previous suggestions. An independent body would be able to verify figures, and remove suggestions that slight-of-hand is at work in buoying certain heavily-backed releases. A group without vested interest in the success of a title would also give readers confidence in the numbers being thrown around by publishers.

I’ll come back to the subject of both e-books and marketing soon enough, but this seems to cover everything I want to say here. Adding to this would merely serve to confuse an already complex set of issues, and I want there to be clarity in these thoughts.

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