Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Gripe and A Brilliant Idea

I'm behind on my Linda Howard reading. I'm behind in reading in general, hence the 255 books in my to-be-read pile. But, Linda Howard latest from last year never even hit my pile. Not sure why, but I found it at the library this week - Veil of Night. Loved it, by the way!

No gripes with Linda Howard at all. My gripe is with her publisher. I love my Kindle. The best thing about it is the ability to save hundreds of books and have them my fingertips. I want this book in my library, so its logical to want to put it on my Kindle. BUT, $13.99???? Are you serious??? I love how Amazon disavows any association with the price - Price for this product set by publisher. Heh. Now, I love Linda Howard, but won't be buying this for my Kindle. I'll be waiting until the end of June comes and the paperback comes out at 7.99. Further, I'll be waiting for a few people to buy, read, and trade, so I can pick up a used copy for half price. Hence, the only person to profit off that transaction is my used bookstore.

I cannot conceive why the Big publishers do not get that this kind of pricing drives readers away from their books. They do exactly the same thing I do. Is it as the self-publishing gurus like J.A. Konrath suggests that they are trying to save their traditional publishing model by discouraging ebook sales? Or they think they are all that and can get away with putting that price on things, that they are so indispensible we as the consumer will suck it up and pay that? (I won't - Libary please!)

These publishers use this same philosophy when they take a great best-selling romance author like Nalini Singh and move her from paperback to hardback. And usually right in the middle of a great series, they switch from first paperback release to hardback and try to suck $30 out of my pocket. I get she's big and has a readership that begs for this transition. But, this is the model they are using right now on Nalini Singh's Kiss of Snow, releasing May 31st. I have all the other books in this series in PAPERBACK, now have to switch to hardcover. I have been dying for this story! But this transition screws up my bookshelves and screws with my pocketbook. And now they want to screw with my Kindle.

I follow very few authors to hardback. I will wait until paperbacks are released and go to my used bookstore before I purchase. There's a few exceptions - Suzanne Brockmann to name one. And Nalini Singh will probably fall in that category. But Linda Howard did not, J.D. Robb's In Death series did for awhile, but now is not, Janet Evanovich did not and Sherrilyn Kenyon did not.

What I can't figure is why you want to be cost prohibitive for readers? I know I am not the only person to read 3-5 books a week. (Yeah, I heard that. Why is my book pile so big if I read that much? Well, I quit reading for awhile and I kept adding books to it!) My reading philosophy demands I balance that $30 against how many books I could get at the used bookstore for those same bucks. And I'm a BIG library patron.

I'll stop on this topic, because yesterday I read a model for future ebooks that made my head spin. I so want into this world - Enter the Active ebook. I'm going to post part of Joe Konrath's blog on this topic here, but take a quick click over and check out the full post. It's worth your time just for the idea.

JOE SAYS:

There have been a few efforts to blend video with text, but these require even more expensive vehicles ($500 iPads rather than $140 Kindles) so I don't see these being widely adopted anytime soon. Plus, I don't think a video/text hybrid is what draws people to books.

So I spent some time pulling a Steve Jobs. Instead of guessing what the future holds, I looked at what people are currently doing.

Jobs, as you know, paid attention when music fans began converting and trading mp3s. While the music industry tried to fight it, Jobs created a user-friendly portable device (the iPod) that played mp3s. As a result, a computer company is now the biggest music retailer in the world. All because he watched what fans are doing with music and gave them something to make it easier for them.

That made me look at at what readers are doing with books.

On sites like Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Shelfari, Goodreads, and Librarything, readers are running book groups, reviewing, recommending, sharing what they've read (and how much they've read), and discussing books.

When a book is very popular, readers are writing their own fan fiction.

Readers often contact the author, to ask questions, or say how much they enjoyed a book, or demand a sequel.

It's important to note that readers are doing these things independently, without the author or publisher prompting them. This is what readers enjoy doing with book, above and beyond reading it.

Which makes me ask: why aren't we giving readers what they want?

Enter the Active Ebook.

I'll make an admission. It kills me that my print books are still owned by publishers, who are pricing them too high and sticking it to me with poor royalties.

Because my agent reserved the "interactive multimedia" clause in my contracts, I've been salivating to come up with a way to release these on my own.

So I thought about enhanced ebooks like the Big 6 did. Maybe I'd add some video and audio. Maybe an mp3 director's commentary at the end of each chapter, explaining things about why I wrote it. Linkable footnotes, pictures, and maybe even some games like word search.

But that wasn't evolution. That wasn't Ebook 2.0.

I was missing something. Something big.

User aggregated content.

I've talked about this before. Google is a billion dollar company because they allow users to navigate websites that other people created.

YouTube is all content created by uploaders, for free.

Most of the big internet successes of the last decade were because of users adding to the site.

And as I explained above, users are eager to add content concerning books. The want to do reviews and recommendations and talk to authors and even write fan fic.

All of this happens outside of a book.

What if it happened inside of a book?

What if you don't join a social network to discuss books, but instead you joined a book that was a social network?

Here's how this scenario plays out in my head:

I'm on my ereader, and I get an electronic invitation from a trusted friend to buy Whiskey Sour by J.A. Konrath. It's only $2.99, and the description looks good. Not only that, but it has a community of 12,393 people, so there will be plenty to do.

I buy the book with the click of a button. But rather than begin reading right away, I message my friend who is also in the book, and we decide to join the 4:00pm Whiskey Sour Book Club. There are eight other people signed up for that time slot, and we can all read and discuss the book together. There is also a 3pm slot open, but that's for fast readers, and my speed is moderate at best. The 4pm is a moderate speed club.

Since 4pm isn't until later, I browse the Whiskey Sour Forum, and read a few reviews. I also join a chat session and meet two of the other readers who are in my 4pm Book Club. One of them is a bit abrasive, but the bot monitoring the chat session warns him, then kicks him off. Typing on my keyboard becomes tedious, so I plug in my headphones and we voice chat for a bit, talking about thrillers we liked.

Four o'clock rolls around. I'm in the kitchen, making a sandwich, but my ereader calls my home phone to remind me of the start time.

I read a few pages, enjoy them, then let the ebook read to me until the chapter ends. There are already two people in the bookclub forum, discussing what they read. I join in. Others enter, and my friend links to the FAQ and Author Notes on Chapter 1, which we all discuss.

Whiskey Sour has a full length, author-read commentary, where Konrath explains where, why, and how he wrote certain scenes.

Some of the group wants to continue, but I'm curious to listen to the mp3 commentary, so I beg off and decide to join the 6pm Club for Chapter 2.

The commentary is interesting. Konrath is an entertaining guy, says a lot of funny things. But I realize I'd enjoy it more after I finish, so I pop into the next book club.

Me and another guy read straight through and discuss the book all night, and when we finish I write a review of it in the forum and recommend it to my friends via my ereader. I also notice that Konrath is having a live chat tomorrow, and sign up for it.

The next morning, I find I can't get some of the characters out of my head, so I pop into the forum again and read some of the user created stories. These are fans who have written about the characters in Whiskey Sour. Most of them suck. Some aren't bad. Some are even as good as Konrath. I rate a few, recommend a few, and vote for the top five.

I watch TV for a bit, until a screen comes up saying it is chat time. I sync my ereader with my TV and watch Konrath's talking head as he fields a Skype chat. Several people express that they wanted a longer ending. Konrath says he's working on one, as well as three new chapters which will be inserted into Whiskey Sour at the end of the week.

"Hemingway said that a book is never finished, it's simply due," Konrath says. "But now, books no longer have to be finished. They can continue to grow and improve for as long as the writer is alive. And beyond."

He says that the new additions will be marked as such. People can read the original, or the new version.

I get on my ereader, and ask it to call me when the new material is uploaded. I also ask for updates when people respond to my forum comments, or vote on my review.

Then I finish listening to the audio commentary, pop into the forum to discuss it, and wind up text chatting with Konrath, who is talking about his latest book.

Sounds pretty good. I click on the link to buy it.
Sure beats surfing the internet and watching TV.

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