Monthly Archives: April 2012

DRM, Intellectual Property, and E-books

There is a nice primer on DRM technologies on wikepedia, although I think some of the information may be dated. Basically, DRM (which stands for “Digital Rights Management”) refers to technology that allows the publisher of certain content to place restrictions on said content, inhibiting unsanctioned reproduction and transmission of said content. It can be applied to virtually anything digital: from music to movies, from computer games to e-books. Obviously, our interest here is in e-books.

 

Here’s an old post written by an DRM opponent. At times, it almost sounds like paranoid delusions, but it does raise some very good points (and perhaps, computers should be a cause for paranoia).

 

Anyway, here’s the issue in a nutshell. You can write a book over the course of a year or two, slaving away, toiling day in and day out to dress it up in elegant prose, make your characters multi-dimensional and full of all-too-human charm, devise ever-more intricate plot twists and turns to produce the next literary masterpiece. And all that effort and work can be encapsulated in a few thousand kilobytes of data storage, whereupon it can be copied almost instantly by the click of a mouse. It is so easy to copy digital information. In fact, it is too easy.

 

Enter DRM. DRM is an attempt by the big media and technology companies to protect the intellectual property of authors and other artists from exploitation by unprincipled people who want to consume their works without rewarding them for their efforts. Unfortunately, the solution is a bit of an Orwellian bear. The classic example of overreach occurred when Amazon remotely deleted copies of (ironically) George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” (again, see the Wikipedia link for further details).

 

The fear, and it is a legitimate concern, is that the big technology and media corporations like Apple and Amazon and others, will gain access and control over more and more aspects of our digital lives through the use of DRM. Do I really want someone from Amazon snooping around my computer, or setting up software that will snoop around my computer automatically (which is far more likely), in the name of DRM? The potential for abuse is nearly unlimited.

 

But I, as a writer, still want to be paid for my work. And as competition drives the prices of e-books lower and lower, I am filled with increasing concern that I’ll never be able to make a living at what I love to do; so, every sale counts.

 

In the end, I think I must rely on the goodness of strangers (I know that sounds cheesy). But really, I think most people are generally good and most people will generally choose to pay for an e-book if they are aware of the relevant issues, particularly if the e-book is priced reasonably. So, I think the potential abuse of DRM is the greater evil here. Even though I am a writer, I think DRM should go.

 

That appears to be the way the tide is shifting, anyway. Check this out.

Vampires, Death, and Immortality

Who wants to be a vampire? Seriously. The vampire craze is so prevalent, I must ask the question: if you could, would you want to be a vampire? What’s the plus side to a positive answer? Immortality, I suppose. Us mortal creatures have a natural tendency to fear death. Some of us believe in a better life after this one, but tales of heaven and nirvana could just as well be fictions for all we know. Perhaps death is simply oblivion. There’s really no way to prove it otherwise. Given that, it is quite natural to fear death and to seek some way of avoiding it, no matter the cost.

 

So, the greatest and most obvious advantage to becoming a vampire is not ever having to die. A bite, followed by some sort of transformation, then one is all set to ride the tides of time walking the earth for century upon century.

 

That, to me, is somewhat tempting but for a number of ancillary reasons besides the obvious. Don’t get me wrong, living forever is a grand idea from the get go. Death? Who needs it? But I am also drawn to the natural expansion of experience that comes with such immortality. Wouldn’t it be wild to have seen Egypt in its heyday? Or to have been there when Columbus changed the world forever by discovering America? To know with certainty what life was like in the 1600’s because you had been there and lived it? Such a wealth of experience and knowledge is certainly one of the stronger draws the vampire has on the modern reader. Plus, think of all the things you could study and learn. I was a philosophy geek in college, so I was naturally drawn to all things intellectual. It would be fantastic, I think, to study quantum physics, transfinite math, and a host of other subjects that just beg looking into.

 

But alas, there are a few drawbacks to becoming a vampire. There is that whole needing to drink blood thing they got going, for one. I mean, I’m not squeamish around blood, but I don’t think I want to depend upon it as my only source of food. Then, there’s that whole notion that vampires are cursed, shunned by God and forever damned. Perhaps the being damned bit is just another way of saying “cursed” to wander the world forever. But since immortality might not be a bad thing (as discussed above), calling it cursed or damned might be doing it a dreadful disservice, unless there really is a God from whom the vampire is forever cut off. Then, you truly are cursed. There are ways for a vampire to die, and if upon extinction your soul is sent to hell, then none of that extended experience and gloriously long life would really be worth it. Finally, the traditional vampire is generally seen to be an enemy of humans. I mean, vampires regard humans much like humans regard cows (unless you go that “Twilight” route). I, for one, do not want to pit myself against the interests of all humanity. That’s just me.

 

There is also an issue with boredom. The notion of immortality might be appealing now, but four or five centuries from now? Would I feel the same way? I’m not sure. Sure, I would know physics, and high-level math, and a host of other esoteric subjects, but after a while it all just disintegrates into intellectual sludge, I’m sure.

 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are the people we care about. Unless all the people you know become immortal as well, the yawning expanse of time would become quite lonely and sorrowful. And if that’s the case, it’s not worth it.

Announcement: Blog Tour Approaching

Just a reminder:  Bewitching Blog Tours will be sponsoring a blog tour for myself and my book, “Drasmyr,” during the month of May. The tour will begin on May 7th. The particulars of the tour, including which sites I will be visiting, will be announced at some point in t

he future.

Apple, Amazon, and the DOJ Lawsuit

I admit it. I purchase most of my books from Amazon these days. However, I’m starting to rethink that. Amazon has become a monster and it looks like things are about to get worse. For those unaware, the DOJ (Department of Justice) recently filed a lawsuit against Apple and a number of the big publishing houses (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, Penguin, and Macmillan). The DOJ suit accused the defendants of colluding and fixing prices. Basically, at issue is the Agency Model that Apple devised for legal agreements between itself and the other book publishers. According to this model, the publishers in question were allowed to set their own prices for ebooks as long as the price stayed consistent with other retail outlets. So, if HarperCollins wanted to sell an ebook through Apple for $12.99, that’s fine, as long as it sets the price at $12.99 when it sells through Amazon. Prior to that, Amazon had been negotiating contracts with the publishers that allowed it, as a retailer to set the price of the ebook it sells. So, it would often sell books for $9.99, or other lower prices, even willingly eating into its own profits to capture market share. It was an effective strategy that promoted faster growth for an already enormous company.

 

Apple’s Agency Model, however, stymied Amazon’s interest here. It prevented Amazon from undercutting other retailers and kept profits for the publishers at a reasonable level. Then, the DOJ stepped in and filed a lawsuit against Apple and those mentioned publishers. Three of the publishers settled (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Hachette Book Group) while Apple, Penguin, and Macmillan intend to fight it out in court. The lawsuit concerns me for a number of reasons (I’m rooting for Apple, in case you were wondering).

 

One, the whole monopoly issue is of concern. Amazon is a monster in the retail industry. It’s kind of a habit; whenever, I want to purchase a new book on-line, I go to Amazon. It’s been that way for about ten or fifteen years or so. How many other people are like that? And now, all the regular bookstores are gone in my town. All we have is a used bookstore and our own computers. So, if we want to purchase a new book, on-line is the way to go, and Amazon is the biggest name out there.

 

Two, I’m also an indie writer of fantasy fiction. As a rule, indie authors have to start small and grow big (actually, all authors… actually everyone has to take that route). Anyway, since I’m not carried by a big publishing house, the biggest advantage I have over a Brandon Sanderson or a Tad Williams is my ability to set the price on my ebook low (currently it is selling for $2.99 at Smashwords). So, my question is: how long will it be before Amazon’s cost cutting practices take that advantage away? How long will it be before I’m in direct competition with Brandon Sanderson’s latest smash-hit ebook selling at a mere $1.99? I know, those are the perils of capitalism, but it is certainly a cause for concern.

 

For those interested here are a number of other articles on the DOJ lawsuit I scrounged up off the Internet: padgadget article, the news tribune article, and a business week article.

 

Anyway, whatever the outcome of the DOJ lawsuit, one thing is clear, the book publishing industry is changing even as we speak.

Announcement: Blog Tour Approaching

Just a reminder:  Bewitching Blog Tours will be sponsoring a blog tour for myself and my book, “Drasmyr,” during the month of May. The tour will begin on May 7th. The particulars of the tour, including which sites I will be visiting, will be announced at some point in the future.

 

Why Are Vampires Horrific? Mind vs. Monster

Legends of the vampire abound the world over. The myth has morphed from the tales told around a campfire to world-wide box office hits and best-selling books. Throughout, the nature of the vampire has slowly changed, or perhaps been deliberately muddled. In modern times, the vampire is undergoing even more change. In horror movies (as opposed to something like “Twilight”), an emphasis is being placed upon the vampire as monster. Where once the vampire of horror resembled a human being with only a pair of slightly-too-large sharp canine teeth as tell-tale signs of its true nature, it is now being more consistently represented as a hideous monster, or  a human-like being that transforms into a hideous monster when it is time to feed. With modern special effects it is relatively easy to make a creature horrific-looking: white-grey skin, finger-nails like claws, and mouths filled with row upon row of vicious, sharp teeth. Add to that a growling, beast-like visage, and the transformation is complete. But is all this “beefing up” of the vampire’s bestial nature necessary?

 

I would argue no. It works at a superficial level; the visual effect of a horrific vampire, such as the one Colin Farrell played in the re-make of “Fright Night” can be quite disconcerting the first time you see it on the screen. But that’s as far as it goes. To me, the greatest horrific characteristic of the vampire is its human-like intelligence. Here is a monster that feeds on humans, slaying them, transforming them into its own kind, and it is as smart as any of them, often times smarter with centuries of experience on its side. To me, that has the potential of creating a truly terrible monster, yet it is hardly used as well as it could be. To me, the visually horrifying vampire does the myth as a whole a disservice because part of the horror that came with the myth was the notion that the vampire appeared almost completely human—perhaps he was a little pale, and he had those two sharp teeth I mentioned, but beyond that it was easy to mistake him for one of us. A bite from a vampire seen at a distance could easily be mistaken for a kiss. Turning the creature into a hideous monster changes that dynamic in a fundamental way and something is lost when that happens. He becomes a killing machine, a mechanism for cheap thrills and slaughter. I prefer the vampire that plots and schemes, that has a plan. This requires more subtlety in the writing, but I believe it is worth it. A story where one can see and feel the intelligence of this diabolical adversary would be far more effective than simply presenting a brutal killer with supernatural powers.

Fantasy Literature: E-books vs. Print Books: A New Dilemma

The following thoughts don’t apply to just fantasy books alone, but probably to all forms of literature. While ruminating about what to write for this post today, I had an odd thought, one that was inspired by an e-book I read recently. I’ve read about four or five such books using the kindle app on my smart phone. So far, I have enjoyed the experiences with the e-reader. I had misgivings at first, but they were soon put to rest. Now, however, I have developed something of a new misgiving, one based on my experience with the e-book, not just pre-use prejudice.

The books I’ve read on the e-reader have been either very short, or just of average length (probably no more than four hundred double-spaced pages). The last book I read seemed almost to be written in an “abbreviated” fashion. That is, the action moved very quickly, was described at the barest level of detail, and still amounted to a semi-decent read (not 5-star, but perhaps 3ish). I was wondering if the medium, namely the e-book, affects the whole nature of the book. I don’t just mean in terms of formatting and technical use. I mean, does a print book become a whole different book if it is transferred to an e-reader? Does the different medium affect the quality of the reading experience even though the exact same words are read?

With the print book, you have the book opened to your page, but you actually read two full pages before you have to turn a single page. The e-book (at least on the smart phone) only allows about half as much information to be displayed on a single page. It is broken up into easily manageable chunks that you flick through with a simple finger motion. Also, the pages can only be read one at a time; they appear sequentially; so, at any given time, you have about one-fourth the information in your field of vision that you would find in a print book. The result is that you are flicking through pages at a much accelerated rate compared to the print book. Does this affect your reading experience? Does it favor, say, action-packed books with a marked brevity of description, that spur you on e-page after e-page? Are long, elegant descriptions inhibited because they won’t fit in an easily manageable chunk?

I don’t know. But as a writer, I am very interested, particularly, because, at least for the moment, I am only writing e-books. The “abbreviated” e-book I mentioned above is what started this train of thought. The writing was such, that I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it in a print book. On the flip side, does a classic like “Lord of the Rings” make an effective transition to an e-book? That is something I intend to investigate… eventually (when I get caught up on all my reading).

What do you think?

Interview on The Vampire’s Shadow

Tylerbleu of The Vampire’s Shadow has posted an interview with yours truly concerning my novel, Drasmyr. Here’s the link: Interview with Matt. Go check it out and let us know what you think.