The Nameless Horror

For all their hoopla and the effort that went into its development, Bookish is nothing more than a promotional vehicle for books produced by the three publishers funding the site, with an underpowered book recommendation gadget that’s not ready for prime time. As playwright Clifford Odets once wrote, “You’re selling fish four days old.

One Ebook, Slightly Used

So the world has learned that Amazon is thinking of allowing ebook reselling. The lunacy of the term “used” in conjunction with a non-degrading (and limitlessly copiable) digital product is summed up nicely by Chuck over here and I won’t retread that.

There are more details about the application via ReDigi (pinch of salt alert: yellow) over here, but the short of it is that this seems to be a delete original/new owner gets a copy instead technology. Ignore the hilarious guff later in the press release in which ReDigi desperately fling business jargon in a bid to make it seem like what they do is any different.

Points!

  • Firstly, as Gareth Skarka points out in the comments at Wendig’s den of iniquity, this is just a patent application. Patent =/= plan to use. Not necessarily.

  • Secondly, it may be that the ReDigi suit finds for the record company, in which case similar models for books would rather be dead in the legal water. However, transfer of “used” software licenses between users has - Wikipedia tells me - been ruled legal in the EU.

  • Thirdly, assuming (pinch of salt alert: red) that Amazon were to use a “check book not on account still” system (“only resell confirmed Amazon purchases” if you like), the original user inevitably retaining a copy for themselves - because, let’s face it, that’ll happen - means an effective halving of your market. Original person buys a copy. Keeps it. Sells a copy of that copy to someone else who you don’t then sell to. This… yeah, I can’t really get too worked up over that, to be honest. If they don’t use such a system, all bets are off. But I think they’d have to.

  • Fourthly, no way would they be the only people doing it, mind. If copy-selling becomes A Thing, there will be other companies doing it.

  • Fifthly, I rather like to think of people owning ebooks they buy, rather than renting them. Consequently, just as I can’t stop you selling your hardcopy books on ebay or giving them to a charity shop, I shouldn’t want to stop you doing the same with your ebooks, just on principle. I wouldn’t want you setting up a mass distribution system to make money from duplicates, because that’s clearly cheating, but trading in your single copy… eh, whatever.

  • Sixthly, such a thing would inevitably see more publishers cling desperately to DRM in a bid to stop copied copies leaking out, and that’s only a good thing for Amazon (et al.) and a bad thing for everyone else.

Conclusions!

And here we come to the big “who gives a shit because…” point: this probably won’t make a significant fig of difference from an author’s earnings point of view, because anything worth copying and selling is probably already available piratically, definitely mass-distributed, and the same arguments about dealing with - or embracing/ignoring/accepting/whatever - piracy more or less apply.

Could such a market devalue books? What, more than Sony and its 20p editions? Could it dent customer base/royalties more than anyone who’s so inclined already being able to get just about anything for free?

It looks like a dick move by everyone involved on the surface, but on principle, if you own a thing, you should be able to do with it as you want, and that includes reselling it. If there’s a lock on unscrupulous copying-for-money, fine. If there’s not, ReDigi, Amazon et al. are idiots and I’d rather give all my shit to the Pirate Bay because at least no one’s making a cheaty dime out of it.

Final question: Is there anything right now stopping you, gentle reader, from offering to email a copy of The Best Book Ever by Some Writer that you’ve got to a mate in return for a quid via Paypal or a pint after work? Because no, no there’s not.

Aside from legitimising and facilitating the process, what, then, does this ultimately change?

Here Is A Thing With Monsters

As the title suggests, Snakes On A Plane-style, here is a thing with monsters for you (not, sadly, a Billy McPugh sequel though). Virginia Day Zero is completely free, gratis, etc. and you can go and get it and read it and all that malarkey direct from me as a Kindle/epub zip, from Kobo, or from Smashwords in all formats (the epub is the same bar the required SW title page, but the others are auto-converted from a .doc - which, on a Mac without MS Office, turns out to be a total cocking nightmare. If it’s a Kindle .mobi you want, I’d download from my site because the formatting is slightly better since it’s hand-carved).

Virginia Day Zero

As the title suggests, it’s set in the same universe and at the same time - that time being the end of the world - as Day Zero. In fact, in the first draft of that book it formed an independent sub-story showing some of what was going on outside Philly. It was excised in editing, and so here it is, free of its shackles, and very spanky and neat. Neither story spoils/aids the other, reading one will do no harm to the other, nor is either necessary to the other. Independent. Completely. FWIW, this one has more of a backwoodsy, King-ish sort of vibe to it, whereas DZ has a lot more set pieces and action. Ish.

Enough! Story infodump!

Murph and Rory Caulfield are two regular kids in the small town of Coombs in rural Virginia. When their uncle goes to fetch the local sheriff after finding “something bad” on his farm, the boys go to check it out for themselves. What they find is more than just bad, though - it could kill them and everyone they know.

The race is on now. First to escape, then to find out what’s happened to their family and their town. If they can do that, they can think about finding a safe place to hole up away from the horrors that pursue them.

But day zero is here, and maybe there are no safe places. Not any more.

There you go.

Cover pic, incidentally, is ‘Lonely nights wear on' by Gill Garrett (cc by).

(And yes, it is on Amazon, but it’ll cost money there until it filters through SW to B&N and iBooks and I can flag it for price-matching down to zero. Avoid that for now.)

(And yes, I’m still working on the last writer’s cut of the old Penguin books. The last one is a total bastard of a thing, but I am getting there.)

(And in the meantime I’m also working on careful planning for another thing for my agent. Because I’m overloaded with free time, what with having two kids and my wife back to work.)

(Quad-paragraph parenthesis chain, mothertruckers.)

How Not To Fix Amazon's Review System

Part of me thinks there’s no point nitpicking at this load of old toss from the HuffPo, but the other part of me knows it should be getting on with some work, so here we are.

So, then:

  • No review should be anonymous. Reviewers must give their full name and email address. This will give authors and publishers a chance to authenticate or challenge the reviewer if he or she so chooses, and bring an imposter to the attention of Amazon. After all, the author is fully transparent, so why not his or her critic.

No review is anonymous, nor have they been for years since Amazon did away with anonymous reviews. Every review now has a name. One, I assume, tied to an email address.

I assume Adler’s confusing “anonymous” with “using a name other than your real one”, and what a barrier having an email address will be to keeping people on the straight and narrow, eh?

I can register an email address in the name of any of my three horrible cats and then swear blind, in the guise of that cat, that I really am them and, yes, my review of that Mouseketeers DVD criticising its inedibility and depressingly wipe-clean vomit-proof surface was genuine. I can do this because an email address isn’t worth piss.

Secondly, I don’t know I’d want to enforce real names/email addresses on reviewers in a world where people can go apeshit at a poor review of a kettle they’re fond of, but YMMV here.

The reviewer should volunteer his or her age in general categories and gender. This would, of course be helpful to an author and publishers to have some approximate knowledge of the reader.

This isn’t actually a terribly bad suggestion - assuming it’s voluntary - but the idea that the author or publisher should be the main ones to benefit from the data for what’s supposed to be a guide to other customers is a bit weird. A review system that, once you’d logged in, showed you, the customer browsing a product, its top reviews/ratings based on people closest to you in age/gender (as well as a link to all the others), might be a bit more nuanced. Of course, it’d also have to take into account everyone’s geographical and social background to be genuinely useful, etc. etc., but it might be a bit more helpful than the mysterious “relevancy” by which so many places default-sorts search results.

Of course, then you’d get people who didn’t want to volunteer that information finding their reviews down-ranked or buried, and that might be seen as making a “voluntary” option more of a compulsory one if they wanted to be taken seriously, and that would be a whole different can of worms.

No review should be less or more than 100 words. A serious reviewer should not merely “vote” his or her opinion but, at the very least, offer a brief explanation.

Reviews of exactly 100 words, then? These are bound to be of much greater value! I’m now going to offer a brief, considered explanation of this suggestion and its benefits in precisely 100 words:

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

Point made, moving on!

Eliminate the star system. It is far too subjective and can be abused, and give a false impression of quality of the work or encourage rejection without it being read. An intelligent reader searching for a book should make his or her judgment the same way that they would pick a book at a library or a brick and mortar bookstore.

I can confidently state that this will never, ever happen. Coincidentally, this is also the only suggestion I’d agree with entirely. Amazon (and everywhere else) is riddled with one-star I SAW A TRAILER AND THIS WILL BE SHIT reviews of things not even released yet that at least doing away with a 1-5 ratings system would stop such bollocks fudging the averages. YouTube did it, way back when, switching to simple like/dislike options in addition to comments. Even if all Amazon (and everywhere else) did was do the same (and they now include the likes at least), I’d applaud it.

Never going to happen, though.

Sidenote:

Gone are the days when a handful of established and respected literary critics were solicited to seriously review books and offer opinions that might influence readers on their choices. This is not to say that there aren’t intelligent and experienced reviewers currently pursuing their craft, but their opinions are offered in a fractionalized arena where there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of circles of influence.

Boo fucking hoo, to be frank. A handful of established and respected literary critics knew - and still know - their trade, but the idea that coverage is now shallower (in terms of individual readership) but broader (in terms of covering more than a relative handful of books) can only be a good thing. Especially if it allows more reviewers, in blogs or zines online, the chance to be taken seriously by publishers and writers alike.

Sidenote 2:

Adler’s bio is self-provided (it’s longer on IMDb and comes from his own publishing label). Always take anything with a pinch of salt from someone who describes their own writing as “masterful”. Kudos to him for still coming out swinging at nearly 86, but still.