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Category Archives: amazon kindle

You Really Want to Be an eBook-Only Author?

You try telling Jonathan Franzen his next novel isn’t actually being printed:

What also gets squeezed, or I should say what gets squeezed the most, is the ability of publishers to continue printing books on paper. As Crain says, “It may not be possible for a single company to publish e-books at that price and also retain the infrastructure necessary to publish ink-on-paper books.” I added the emphasis, but I think it’s pretty obvious that it has to be there: as I noted above, one of the forms of control at stake in this haggling over price points is the publisher’s ability to determine how or even whether to release eBook versions alongside the printed product. If Amazon is committed to wresting control over price points for eBooks, it’s also exerting indirect control over what the profit margins have to be for printed books to compensate for the losses incurred over eBooks. Being print-first (organizing one’s whole production chain from acquisition to fulfillment around the print copies of a book) may end up being a luxury no publisher can afford.

Granted, there’s a lot of sense here (in fact, it’s a great post), but given that it took a generation for authors to even warm up to the idea of having their books done in paperback original, I’m guessing it’ll be a while before the idea of only being in electronic print sits well.

Beyond the very real, very sensible cultural reasons for keeping print alive (remember how Amazon disappeared everyone’s copy of 1984?), with POD technology and printing advances in general it’s become cheaper and cheaper to do a print run, which also makes me think publishers won’t be ditching those printed books any time soon. If publishers really want to stay in print–even at a highly symbolic 2,000-copy print run–I’m sure they can find ways to do it. After all, how cool would it be to have a $50, author signed, gold-plated, personally numbered, anti-Kindle edition of . . . you get the idea.

And then there’s this:

Mass culture hooked us on stockpiling: units cheap enough to buy without regard to need, constant advertising and prods to purchase for the sake of purchasing, a huge but barely differentiated menu of products—all these factors, the basic DNA of the culture industry in the classic sense, are now playing out under new circumstances as a desire to fill our hard drive with more music than we will ever listen to, television shows or films that we may never watch, and now with text files we’ll probably never read.

Jacques Attali’s bizarre little study Noise details some of the more abstract consequences of the economics of stockpiling (e.g.), but the concrete point that is somewhere in his analysis is that stockpiling is pleasurable in a way that even purchasing is not. The very process of searching for and acquiring difficult-to-find media—whether that is in the bowels of a used bookstore or on a bitTorrent site—is inherently pleasurable and does not diminish very much with repetition, or even with failure. You might always find it tomorrow, and if you find it today, there will be something else to find tomorrow.

This may be the salvation of the publishing industry, although generally we’re wont to fill our hard drives with electronic media because when you download it from iTunes it costs a good deal less than comparable physical versions. (And we’ve just learned publishers don’t really like really low price points for their books.) Perhaps subscription download systems, which seem to be working out well for audiobooks, are workable model for ebooks in the future.

Reading on the Kindle

Amazon Kindle

Reading George Eliot on Kindle

Andrew Seal has finished reading all of Middlemarch on the Amazon Kindle, and he has a report of his experiences therein.

I found this report particularly useful since Andrew’s reading habits seem to parallel mine in a number of ways. He likes a lot of physical interaction with a book while he reads it (underlining, annotating, etc), and he reads a lot of the classic works of the English language, which one would assume would be a perfect match for the Kindle (because they’re free in the public domain).

On that latter point, Andrew says something a little interesting:

Middlemarch is, like many public domain books, free to download through the Kindle store, although people who get frustrated by inessential details might find the frequent errors in paragraphing irritating enough to shell out the few dollars for an official release. (Basically, the problem is that there are too many new lines—paragraphs break in the middle—but in almost all cases it is after a sentence, and the new lines aren’t indented, so it’s easy to tell where a real new paragraph begins. There are also a handful of simple typographical errors probably resulting from a visual scanning program—Balstrode for Bulstrode occurs maybe about four times. At any rate, I will continue reading free copies when I can.) Additionally, Project Gutenberg has a lovely option for downloading a Kindle-friendly file of its texts—the mobi. Some public domain books (like Jude the Obscure, strangely) are not available in a free edition in the Kindle store, so this is quite useful.

I’ll agree that a few out-of-place line breaks and obvious misspellings here and there aren’t going to ruin anyone’s reading experience, but it is noteworthy to see that this sort of thing has become to tolerable, especially with a classic novel. I think for most of us, if we saw similar errors in a print work, those would immediately be marks against the work, or at least the work’s publisher. But in the case of Kindle + free + George Eliot, such mistakes become wholly acceptable. It’s an interesting set of norms that building up around e-texts, and I wonder if it doesn’t speak to our era where nothing is really permanent and everything can be instantly corrected and republished.

But beyond that, Andrew’s remarks on the annotation functionality offered by the Kindle isn’t making me want to drop my pencil:

You can “highlight” blocks of text, and you can write notes, both of which are viewable when reading back through the text, but which are also collected in a file called “My Clippings” which displays all these highlighted selections and notes along with the “location” of the source in the text and the time you created it. (One related note: I have yet to figure out how to, or if I can, get the current time of day to display on the Kindle.) This has its uses and its drawbacks—it’s nice to have everything collected and ordered in one place to obviate incessant flippings through the pages, but it also means that if you’re reading more than one thing at a time, then the “clippings” quickly get a little jumbled. I was reading some of Pope’s poetry (also free, and it displays fine) earlier this month, so there are a bunch of highlighted selections from that which interrupt the chain of notes and highlights from Middlemarch. It’s very easy to figure out which is which, but I can imagine that if I were reading and marking up four or five texts at once, it might grow tedious. More generally, the “My Clippings” file should really be something more like a sortable spreadsheet rather than a simple text file—capable of being ordered not only by date, but also by source; its navigability could be greatly improved. Similarly, there are unfortunately no hyperlinks to take you to the “location” in the text from which the “clipping” comes; you have to copy down the numbered location, go to the actual text, and search for that location—it works, but again it’s tedious.

Frankly, that sounds like a nightmare. I do think that the Kindle’s ability to search a text for a word or phrase would be very helpful (I already do this fairly frequently for Google Book), but the clippings element sounds like it needs a lot of work. I’d rather just stick with the system I’ve devised for keying in on parts of a printed novel that I think I’m going to want to come back to.


The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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