Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Amazon Will Destroy You - apparantly.

I’ve just read Joe Konrath’s blog entitled ‘Amazon Will Destroy You’. It’s written to the Traditional Publishing industry in general and is a summary of the mistakes they have made in both underestimating, and failing to engage with the digital market. It has drawn a good deal of comment, not least of all for its tone.

I’m an admirer of Konrath and even if he hangs up his laptop tomorrow he will most certainly be remembered as one of the pioneers of digital self publishing. And while his tone is certainly fiery and uncompromising it’s no different from the one he uses to give encouragement to aspiring writers.

What does bother me is his failure, in this instance, to apply any of his usual ‘dry your eyes and quit being a baby’ philosophy to himself because if this is how he feels with fame and fortune firmly in his grasp one can only imagine the scene when his former publishers actually gave him the bullet two years back.

That said, the conversation he had last week with Amazon’s 'Key People' must have been pretty interesting too because by the time he sat down to write his blog the following Monday he’d convinced himself that not only were traditional publishers non-essential but that their entire industry was doomed.

He makes this last assertion in such cataclysmic terms that I was surprised it ended without reference to a time of great suffering and darkness or mention of a foul pestilence stalking the land.

Konrath is a stickler for precision, as evidenced by his frequent and detailed breakdowns of sales and revenue but he makes no attempt back his claims up here which is a shame because we all know there is truth in much of what he says.

For Amazon though, he is full of praise: ‘They're all about challenging themselves to do better, to focus on the future, to learn from the past. They're all about pleasing the customer.’

But again, this is stuff most of us know and Konrath should be careful that he does not go from being Self Publishing’s poster boy to simply being Amazon’s boy.

Here is Felice Therese, Online Content Manager for a Traditional Publishers on how she promotes ebooks.
Here’s Philip Jones, Editor of Futurebook on why the Traditional Publishers are far from finished.
And finally, here is the man himself, Joe Konrath.


If, like me, you believe that the Heart of a Nation is its people then you may be disappointed to discover this is less a tale from India’s heart and more a voyage of self discovery in which its people appear mostly as chai wallahs, shopkeepers and grinning flunkeys.

The Westerners Reece meets come off a bit better but rarely get described in greater detail than their name nationality and approximate age - even Jan, the Czech man she travels with for the last quarter of the book has only a minor supporting role, we never get to know him.

However for the first half of the book the absence of characters, likable or otherwise, is an advantage because Bindi Girl is a superb companion for anyone wishing to get to grips with India’s spiritual side, a subject on which Reece clearly has not just a sound working knowledge but a deep respect as well.

She steers us through the labyrinthine world of Hindu deities, the intricacies of meditation, yoga, Buddhism the vagaries of Rainbow gatherings and India’s curious enclaves of long stay Westerners.

Her spiritual outlook also allows her to be philosophical not only about the many of the downsides to foreign travel, insects, heat, disease but also the unpleasant situations in which solo female travellers sometimes find themselves and where most of us would become infuriated Reese simply checks in with her mental state and uses these incidents, to spring back into action like a form of spiritual judo.

As a writer she has considerable descriptive powers and her chirpy, personable style and uncluttered solo perspective work very well initially but as Bindi Girl unfolds and Reese’s plans, and purpose become less and less clear more pages are devoted to her dreams and thoughts, her relief at finding accommodation with decent facilities and staying in huts on beautiful beaches.  

As her frequent descriptions of paradise blur into each other the latter part of the book starts to read less like an exploration of India’s heart and more like a round robin holiday email from someone with too much time on their hands. We also get very little feel for India as a country despite that fact that she regularly traverses great swathes of it by bus and train.

At the very end of the book she gives us a brief snapshot of some of the poverty and squalor that lies much closer to India’s heart than its beaches and temples but its not enough to make Bindi Girl live up to its title ambitious title and by the end we feel as relieved as she does that the journey is finally over.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Swimming with sharks and why some books should never go 'e'.

I thought I was a bona fide ebook convert, in fact I was actually starting to enjoy using phrases like ‘redundant format ’ and ‘digital revolution’.
Then on Tuesday an old friend gave me a copy of To Unplumbed Depths written by early scuba pioneer Hans Hass.

It was published in 1972 and is packed with hundreds of beautiful colour pictures from 35 years of diving in exotic locations all over the world. It’s a fascinating insight not only into the birth of scuba diving but also into the way our oceans used to be not so long ago.
I’d convinced myself that printed text, whether it be on the screen of my kindle, or bound in calf skin is still just a barcode that doesn’t become a story until its processed by my brain but this second hand book has made me reconsider.
Even though I know that an ipad can faithfully reproduce all the information in Unplumbed Depths, I cant help feeling that in this case the additional functionality and portability is less not more.
Here, beside me, is the original version that Hass himself approved and as he stares out boldly from the dust jacket, fists on hips, I’m reminded that although he revolutionised the way people dive he probably didn’t think the same needed to be done for the way they read.
Letting the pages flutter past my thumb I have to agree. They have a sweet, slightly musty smell and the numerous photos are printed on paper that feels  as smooth as water. The pictures themselves have a rich colour and grainy quality I remember from my dad’s old National Geographic magazines.
It compliments the subject matter beautifully; stunning seascapes and marine wildlife juxtaposed with gleaming, mid 20th century technology and a cast of characters who look as if they’ve stepped straight off the set of an early Bond movie. Then there are Hass’s descriptions, vivid yet at times dispassionate:
‘We accompanied whale hunters and succeeded in filming sperm whales under water including the final struggle and death throes of a harpooned specimen. On that occasion we heard the shriek of the sperm whale: it is reminiscent of the creak of an old barn door.’
Cumulatively, the experience is of an artefact from a bygone era, lovingly crafted by a man who swam with sharks wearing trunks, fins and an oval mask and who believed that the best way to discourage them from eating him was to shout underwater in his guttural Austrian accent.
If I ever read the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo it will be on my Kindle because I’m confident that Larson’s work will survive the translation to digital format but if I’m going to get the most out of Unplumbed Depths it will be by reading it the way Hans Hass intended me to.

Here's Julie Bosman of the New York Times talking about the difference a well made hardback can have in a crowded market.

Here's Philip Jones, editor of Futurebooks on why self pubbing poster girl, Amanda Hocking still wants still wants traditional bricks and morter retailers for her books

Finally, here's a great piece by Nick Duerden of the Independant on why designers and graphic artists are helping to keep traditionally published books at the forefront of the industry.