How it really feels to close a bookshop

Field's Wattpad profile page.
Field’s Wattpad profile page.

Bookseller Greg Field is an inspiration. While he closed the NSW bookstore he has run for 10 years, Sunset Books, last week in the face of tough economic realities, Field has also posted the first third of his new mystery novel on global story sharing community Wattpad and launched an app business. His is a story that demonstrates what can be achieved as the book industry faces dramatic change, as he explains …

When did you decide to close Sunset Books, how long had you been pondering it, and what were the key reasons behind your decision?

The moment? I’m not sure when exactly but I knew things at the shop had to change by Christmas 2012. By January 2013 I knew it was over. The key reasons for closing my beloved Sunset Books were like this:

  • Given the rapid change in the publishing world recently I was keenly aware that my shop had to stay both relevant and profitable. It stayed relevant but it didn’t stay as profitable as it needed to be. Bookselling is damn hard work; it takes energy, passion, drive, intelligence and business skills just to stay afloat as a ‘bricks and mortar’ bookseller right now (well anytime actually – but right now is harder). I never made a loss as a bookseller but things were getting too hard for me to justify continuing. Bookshops are not public amenities, they have to make money – and mine was making less and less every year.
  • I wanted a change. I’m a person who embraces change and I’ve been working as a bookseller for over ten years now. I’m ready for new ventures – so bring it on!

What would you say to a friend who said they were planning to open and bricks and mortar bookstore in the current climate?

Not all bookshops are in the same position as mine. There’s still a place for relevant and profitable bricks and mortar bookshops in Australia. I have the greatest respect for the lovely people that front up at their bookshop’s every day and try to make ends meet. But – to repeat – bookselling is hard work and to succeed you have to be passionate and inspired. If they had the desire and the business plan right, then I would advise my friend to approach with caution. I would recommend they seriously consider both the state of physical retail and the state of publishing in Australia before sinking their ‘hard earned’ into a bookshop.

Did you consider running an online only version of Sunset? Or going into ebook sales? If not, why not?

I did briefly consider an online only version of Sunset but knocked back the idea because I’m not in love with my own brand. I inherited the name ‘Sunset Books’ from the previous owner and if I did go into an online only business I would consider starting a brand from scratch.

I tried ebook sales but found it difficult. There are a number of obstacles for the average bookseller wanting to morph into an ebook seller. Firstly, you’re taking on a massive market and numerous powerful competitors. Most bricks and mortar retailers need to learn new skills to create a successful online business. Even if they already have those skills, the nature of selling ebooks puts you toe to toe with marketing giants and there are issues surrounding both price (product and platform) and DRM which can inhibit success.

You’ve said you might consider opening another bookstore one day. Under what circumstances?

I’ve always loved dealing with people face to face, and one of the greatest joys for a bookseller is being able to assess a person ‘in the flesh’ and recommend an appropriate book. While search engines and social media are good ways to discover a new book, there is something very human and magical being able to have this type ‘real time’ interaction.

My personal opinion is that ‘bricks and mortar’ retail has to progress to a place where either:

  • Customers are prepared to pay a premium for the physical interaction and experience of browsing. (Currently I don’t think they are.)
  • Or, internet retailers have to expand to include physical experiences for their customers.

If I felt the business plan was viable, I would consider re-opening a physical bookshop under one or both of those circumstances.

You had some fun with the closing down sale by updating us all via social media on which books were last to sell. Did this help boost sale sales? Were there some surprises?

Ummm, no, I don’t think it helped boost sales. But it did help me stay sane and not yell at people when they walked in wild eyed and started the inevitable set of ‘but why’ ‘you can’t’ what’ll I do now?’ ‘what’ll you do now?’ ‘the internet is killing us all’ conversations.

The Twitter hashtag #lastbookstanding was really just a distraction for me as things came to an end. Predictably, children’s books sold out early. I was interested to see that hardcore reference books (dictionaries, etc) sold out even before children’s. I thought Google had killed most of that – but no… not yet.

I was shattered when my two long term favourites (a dog eared Robert Pattinson bio and ‘Your Horoscope 2011’) were knocked out of the running on the last day. For the record, I was left with only three titles on my ‘everything one dollar’ final day: ‘Top Stocks 2010’, Cliff Notes for Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ and Drama Classics Notes for Ibsen’s ‘The Dolls House.’ I assume the last two were not on this year’s syllabus.

What will happen to Sunset’s social media channels now?

I’ve switched my Twitter handle from @sunsetbooks to @GregPField and I’ll close down the shop’s Facebook page.

You’ve been an early adopter of new technologies (social media, apps etc) while bookselling. Has this played a role in your decision to move on?

I guess so, I’m excited by the possibilities opening up via the ‘digital revolution’.

How did Lazy Dad Studios come about? Any upcoming apps we should know about?

Lazy Dad’s was the result of my quest to create an app. I started investigating ebooks about the same time I got my first iPhone and I immediately realised ebooks could be apps and vice versa. From that point I’ve used many apps and started investigating how to build them.

Recently, I got together with an old uni friend of mine who is now a full time coder and we started Lazy Dad Studios. Our first app, Words4Cards is about to be released, it’s a collection of occasion appropriate quotes and sayings categorised into ‘Funny Birthday’ ‘Inspirational Birthday’ ‘Get Well Soon’ etc. Each quote has a direct link to Twitter, Facebook and email. Just for fun we also threw in a ‘shake for random’ feature which ended up working like ‘Magic 8 Ball’ except instead of – ‘concentrate and ask again’ you get Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde.

You’ve used Wattpad to publish your novel Death on Dangar Island. Why Wattpad? How have you found it as a platform for promoting your work?

I’ve posted the first third of Death on Dangar Island on Wattpad so far. Posting publicly has helped me focus on editing the manuscript to the best of my ability. I love writing and hate editing, so I can get lazy when it comes to going over my work and tightening it up. Posting on Wattpad in small sections helps me get through that.

The story is a murder mystery and I would love people to start reading it and trying to figure out who the killer is, but promoting my work and building a platform using Wattpad is actually secondary at this stage. The user interface on Wattpad is good, they make it easy to post and edit your story. I think of it as a working version of the manuscript available for public scrutiny and comment.

Are Lazy Dad Studios and writing your main gigs these days? Any other work/projects on the cards?

Yes, at the moment. I have some ideas about the future of book retailing that I would be interested to work on down the track.

I reckon booksellers are exactly the kinds of people who can succeed in the world of digital publishing. Would you agree, and if so, why?

Experienced booksellers could make ideal digital publishers; they have business skills, the marketing skills and an eye for a decent book. Many traditional booksellers would have to make an adjustment to the digital world if they wanted to participate, although there are some I can think of that would be ideally suited to the role.

Many of us feel torn between lamenting the demise of the book world we’ve known and loved, yet embrace emerging opportunities in the sector.  What will you miss the most about your ten years running Sunset, and what do you look forward to most about this brave new era in your life?

The smell of the place, the splendid, slowly moving panorama of covers and titles. Friendly customers sauntering through, stopping every now and then to inspect a title that’s taken their fancy. Little children laughing with glee as they run through the doors. The warm, intelligent people that have been my colleagues and peers. That’s the good stuff.

I look forward to working hard at something fresh and new and to the challenges and opportunities that arise from my current projects.

(Phew – that was a cathartic experience.)

 

 

Reading our leading women

awwbadge_2013Are you up for a reading challenge this year? I’ve already started mine, with a Miles Franklin-related project called Reading Stella, which you can learn about on a new dedicated blog, but it ties in with the broader national Australian Women Writers Challenge (see previous post), and I’ll be broadening my reading list accordingly.

With My Brilliant Career out of the way already this month, I have several days free to read non-Miles Franklin works before moving onto My Career Goes Bung in February.

I’ll be starting with The Secret River, because the Neil Armfield directed Andrew Bovell theatre adaptation is coming to Canberra next month. It’s top of a long list of must-reads by Australian women (many of which have coincidentally been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, or are contenders for the inaugural Stella Prize, also named for Franklin):

  • The Secret River by Kate Grenville
  • The Harp in the South by Ruth Park (for its ranking in the First Tuesday Book Club top 10 Aussie books to read before you die list)
  • Two Steps Forward by Irma Gold (because it was a finalist in the Small Press Network’s most underrated book award last year, and Irma is a fellow Canberran)
  • The Point by Marion Halligan (a novel set in Canberra by another local author to mark the Centenary of my home city)
  • Am I Black Enough For You by Anita Heiss (because Anita is one of my favourite writers and Andrew Bolt one of my least)
  • Love and Hunger by Charlotte Wood (because it has received such rave reviews and is about her passion for food, which we love to cook, eat and share)
  • Us and Them by Anna Krien (because animal welfare matters to me as a committed vegetarian)
  • All That I Am by Anna Funder (the Miles Franklin Literary Award winner in 2013)
  • Miss Peabody’s Inheritance by Elizabeth Jolley (I found it on GoodReads while reading up on Jolley and liked the sound of it!)
  • Madeleine by Helen Trinca (a biography to be published by Text in March, and a must because aside from Helen Garner, Madeleine St John is perhaps my favourite Australian woman author)
  • Destroying the Joint edited by Jane Caro (due out through UQP in May, on a topic close to my heart and compiled by a favourite commentator)
  • People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (a multiple award winner which only pips her earlier bestseller, Year of Wonders, due to its subject matter, an illuminated manuscript)
  • Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett (another multiple award winner last year)
  • Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears (and yet another a multiple award winner last year)
  • Nine Days by Toni Jordan (I attended Toni’s writing course at the Sydney Writers Festival last year and loved it. Also this has received glowing reviews)
  • The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper (because it is such an acclaimed work of narrative non-fiction)
  • Of a Boy by Sonya Hartnett (because it’s been on my shelf for years waiting to be read)
  • Drylands by Thea Astley (it’s been sitting on my bookselves for years too)
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (for its ranking in the First Tuesday Book Club list)

It’s highly likely that many of these books will lead me to others by the same author – for starters, Grenville’s book is the first in a trilogy, and is complemented by a non-fiction work about the experience of writing it. It was extremely difficult to choose only one each of the works of Charlotte Wood, Toni Jordan and Geraldine Brooks too.

What a series of treats these reads will be! I hope you’ll join me in taking up the challenge.

Book in for the 2013 Women Writers Challenge!

Australian Women Writers ChallengeWhich of the many books on your to-read list will you pick up (or click on) next? If you’re as indecisive as me, it’s a struggle each time.

In 2013, I will have a mission to guide me. I’m signing up for the second annual Australian Women Writers Challenge, with a plan to read 27 books by Australian women writers, many of which have been gathering dust on my real and virtual bookshelves for years (the full list to come in a future post).

I found out about the event too late in 2012, but tracked the progress of other bloggers who joined in via Twitter and GoodReads with interest. So what exactly is this giant digital book club, how did it come to be, and how can you get involved? Founder ELIZABETH LHUEDE explains all …

1. What is the Australian Women Writers Challenge all about, and what inspired you to launch the campaign?



The Australian Women Writers Challenge is a reading and reviewing challenge organised by book bloggers. It asks people to sign up and read, or read and review, a number of books by Australian women throughout the year, and to discuss them on book blogs and social media. Through the challenge, we hope to draw attention to and overcome the problem of gender bias in the reviewing of books in Australia’s literary journals, and to support and promote books by Australian women.

Indirectly, the challenge was inspired by the VIDA count, an analysis of major book reviewing publications in North America and Europe. This count revealed that male authors were far more likely to have their books reviewed in influential international newspapers, magazines and literary journals than female authors.

An analysis of Australian literary pages by Bookseller + Publisher showed a similar bias (reprinted in Crikey in March 2012). 

From my own experience I know the problem isn’t just with male readers not reading books by women; it’s more entrenched than that: women, too, are guilty of gender bias in their reading. This is part of a much larger problem of devaluing work labelled as being by a woman. A 2012 study quoted recently by Tara Moss demonstrates that this bias exists independent of the actual quality and content of the work (see excerpt here).

To help solve this problem, the Australian Women Writers Challenge calls on readers to examine their reading habits and, if a bias against female authors exists, work to change it by reading – and reviewing – more books by Australian women. The quality of the work is there: it’s up to us to discover and celebrate it.


2. Is it just a coincidence that the challenge arrived on the scene around the same time as the Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing?



The challenge owes a lot to the people who created the Stella Prize. Kirsten Tranter, one of the Stella panelists, wrote about the VIDA statistics in early 2011, as did many others in the early part of that year. Without the Stella Prize, the challenge wouldn’t have been the success it is.

3. How highly would you rate the influence of Miles Franklin on all of this, and why do you think she has become such a symbol for women writers in this country?

The Stella panelists chose Miles Franklin as a symbol, I believe, because no women were shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2009 and 2011, despite the prize having been established at the bequest of a woman – one who, incidentally, chose to publish under a male pseudonym.

I can see the strategic reasons for adopting Franklin as a symbol, but I also think it’s a symptom of the problem. There are far more talented Australian female authors. There are also other literary prizes that have been going for years that don’t get anywhere near the publicity of the Miles Franklin Award, such as the Barbara Jefferis Award and The Kibble and Dobbie prizes. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of these awards before I started researching books to read for the challenge. Why is that, unless it has something to do with the fact that they, in varied ways, celebrate women?

4. A year on, do you feel the campaign has been a success?

The challenge has been a huge success. The Huffington Post Books blog published a wrap-up of recent releases of books by Australian women, Overland blog announced 2012 as The Year of Australian Women Writers, it has been mentioned on Radio National, and the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life blog counted it among the 20 Greatest Moments for Women in 2012. I couldn’t have hoped for more.



5. How important has social media been to its reach?

Twitter especially has a major force in getting word out about the challenge, and has helped publicise the many reviews now linked to the blog (well over 1300). Recommendations via book bloggers and, to a lesser extent, Facebook have also been important. The real spikes in terms of hits on the blog, however, have come after mentions in traditional media.



6. You’ve done some survey research into AWW’s impact. Have you seen the results of that research yet?

A brief look at the results has revealed that the majority of respondents didn’t sign up for the challenge, but had heard about it; a majority of these also happened to read more books by Australian women this year. There are many other factors beside the challenge which have raised the profile of books by Australian women in 2012, so the challenge can’t take credit for this result, but it is a very encouraging trend.

Of the people who did sign up for the challenge, a majority read more books by Australian women than in previous years, and most reviewed more and read more broadly. A majority of respondents credited the challenge for their having a greater awareness of authors’ names, book titles and a sense of the breadth and diversity of genres being written by Australian women.

7. Do you have anything different planned for AWW in 2013?

In 2013, the challenge will remain basically the same, with the aim to read and review more books by Australian women. One change is that there will now be a ‘read only’ option for people who are reluctant (or too time poor) to review. This is a gamble – as it could easily diffuse the challenge’s goal. But it is my hope that people who sign up for this option will actively participate in the challenge.

How can they do that? By discussing books they’re reading on social media, using #aww2013 on Twitter, posting comments on the AWW Facebook page, discussing the books in the AWW GoodReads group, and – especially – by commenting on book bloggers’ reviews. Book bloggers have made a huge effort to read and review these books and I’m sure they appreciate people commenting.

8. Are the goals for the campaign the same, or have they grown with the movement?



The goal for the challenge remains to help overcome gender bias in reviewing, and also more generally to support and promote books by Australian women.

9. How can readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, the media and bloggers get involved?



The best way to get involved is to sign up to the challenge, to pledge to read and review books by Australian women in 2013, and to encourage others – friends, co-workers, family members, book group members, local librarians, school teachers and bookshop owners – to join as well. You can sign up here.

10. Can men participate (of course I know they can, but you never know, some might be too shy unless you extend them a really warm invitation!)?

Men are very welcome to participate – as they were in 2012. One male participant in the 2012 challenge was David Golding who recently wrote a wrap-up post on his participation which included a call for more men to sign up.

Another participant from 2012 is Sean Wright from Adventures of a Bookonaut blog. Sean has joined the AWW team and will be looking for ways to help get more male readers engaged in the challenge. (If you have any ideas, let him know!)



11. Who is/are your favourite Australian woman writer/s?


This is a tough question. I can honestly say my knowledge of books by Australian women is still too limited for me to have a favourite or favourites. This year I have discovered a wealth of genuine talent  – world-class authors I didn’t know existed this time last year – and I’m convinced there are many more to discover. My favourite genre is crime, particularly psychological suspense, and in those genres I’ve enjoyed the work of Wendy James, Rebecca James, Sylvia Johnson, Sara Foster, Caroline Overington, Angela Savage, Sulari Gentill, Nicole Watson, PM Newton and my friend Jaye Ford. But one of my goals this year was to read widely, which means I’ve read a lot of single books (46 so far) by different authors. The only authors I’ve repeated have been Gail Jones, Charlotte Wood and Margo Lanagan (two each). It’s not enough to go on to develop a favourite.

12. What were your top three reads by Australian women writers this year?



Only three? Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy, Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts tie for first, and a shared tie second includes Emily Maguire’s Fishing for Tigers and PM Newton’s The Old School, while Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper comes in third. These are all very different books but, in my view, compelling reading. (Sorry, that’s five, isn’t it?)

13. What are you planning to read next?

I’ve just finished Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, an emotionally devastating and imaginative speculative fiction novel, and before that was Annabel Smith’s Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, a very readable literary book about sibling rivalry. I have a huge stack books by Australian women to read, both recent releases and older titles, but I’m also keen to get back to my own writing which I’ve neglected this year while working on the challenge. Creating the new websites has required fulltime work for the past few months, and I need to get back to my own writing.

13. Could you tell us a little about your own writing? Has your work on the challenge pushed your own literary career along?

I started writing novels after I finished my PhD (in 1995) and I’ve had success in competitions with several romantic suspense novels and a fantasy title, but so far no acceptances from publishers. My latest story is a page-turning psychological suspense novel which draws on some hair-raising encounters I had working as an intern counsellor at a private hospital, as well my experience growing up with a schizophrenic father.

Earlier this year I attracted the attention of literary agent, author and former editor, Virginia Lloyd, who loved the story and agreed to represent me. With a great team now supporting the AWW challenge, I hope to get on with writing my second psychological suspense novel in 2013.

Have I been inspired by what I’ve read? Without a doubt. It has also been intimidating to see the depth, breadth and quality of the work that is out there – work that clearly doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s scary, in a way, to go back to my own writing now with this new ‘anxiety of influence’. I would love to write with the richly textured imaginative flair of Margo Lanagan, or the terrible emotion of Eva Hornung, or the compassionate humanity of Charlotte Wood. I would love to write crime with the sense of history and stylistic precision of PM Newton, or have the exquisite appreciation of nature and human heartbreak of Favel Parrett, or the contemporary feel and nuanced characters of Emily Maguire. I’d love to write suspense, mystery and history with the scope and readability of Kate Morton – and to have my books be half as popular with readers. I doubt I can do any of those things and I feel grief about that. I know the next step in such thinking would be “Why even try?” But what I can do is what I’ve always – sometimes hesitantly – tried to do: to write as skilfully and honestly as I’m able, informed by who I am and my unique experience of the world. If one day I get published and find readers who enjoy reading the stories I’ve created, great: that will be a dream come true. If not, at least I can be an active and appreciative reader of those writers who have a great deal more talent than me.

 

Dabbling in digital storytelling at drabbl.es

drabbl.esCanberra writer and entrepreneur Ellen Harvey has launched a new global platform for writers who can cope with word limits. The drabbl.es website, which is live but in alpha testing, invites visitors to create 100 word stories in one of dozens of subject areas, from journalism to crime and chick lit to biography. It’s an addictive format, and one that will appeal to writers of all genres and experience levels. Ellen took time out from her busy schedule to answer some questions about drabbling and literary start-up life for Boomerang Books. 

How and when did you come up with the idea for drabbl.es? 

The idea for drabbl.es came about as I was thinking of a way to write, collect, share and get others to do the same with 100 word stories. My writing group at the time loved the idea and I would give them ‘homework’ tasks to write 100 words around a certain theme. I wanted to read their drabbles, and they wanted to read other people’s drabbles too. Drabbles have been around for a while, the term originating from Monty Python, and are quite popular on online blogging platforms such as Livejournal. At the end of 2011, my husband, Lachlan Blackhall, and I were having a conversation about how to make this 100-word story-sharing website a reality. It was then that drabbl.es really started to take form, including many features and improvements that we can’t wait to implement on the website in future versions.

How long have you yourself been writing drabbles?

I have been writing drabbles since I was 14 and sharing them with friends via email and online blogging.

What’s your day job? 

My day job is split into three segments really: I’m a writer working on my first manuscript. I also started a company with my sister this year called BnE Media (www.bnemedia.com) where we create animated storybook apps for children. And of course, I work on drabbl.es.

And your dream job?

This is pretty much the dream. I am able to travel while working, I am able to write full-time, and I am able to work on interesting projects.

How many of you are involved in the project and what are the key roles?

As mentioned earlier, my husband is a key member of this project. He works with many start-up companies and is the ideal partner to have for this website. Plus, it’s great fun to be working on something with Lachlan. David Elliot and his team at Agile Digital are amazing–they worked tirelessly to make sure we had demos for workshops and a working version to begin this first trial in October.

How long has it taken to get the site up and running?

The idea was developed into a working website early in the year, and we were able to secure our developers (Agile Digital) in April. In six months, we have been able to start our first trial.

Now that drabbl.es is live, how much work is involved in running and promoting the site?

It’s actually a lot more work than I thought. Running a website, especially one in the early stages, means that I read 95% of all the drabbles. Drabbles are then randomly picked to be ‘promoted’ on social media, as well as advertising our challenges on social media so users know there are new ones. Running a trial, in particular, means I sort through feedback results and am constantly updating the development strategy for the next version. It definitely keeps me busy – but I love it all the same. It’s a new experience that I wouldn’t get anywhere else.

When do you anticipate leaving alpha stage and launching proper?

We plan to have the alpha trial running until the end of January (although we may continue into February). The site will still be live after that, but behind the scenes we’ll start working on the beta version. We’ll then release the next version and collect feedback. I love the idea of an evolving website that is exactly what its users want. After the beta trial and redevelopment, I think we’ll launch the proper version.

Will there be iOS and Android apps for drabbl.es?

I certainly hope so! To me, drabbling is definitely something that can be done on the run. You can be at a concert and write about the song you just heard; you can be watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks and describe the atmosphere; you can take a picture and explain what it means to you right then and there while still being in the moment.

Why should people post to drabbl.es rather than Facebook or Twitter or their own Tumblr/blog?

Drabbl.es allows people to tell stories. That is our aim. We want to read about a moment in someone’s life and feel as if we experienced it with them. Drabbl.es is about connections. Facebook and Twitter statuses have developed to the point where they are often used to talk about a very specific moment, but once the moment is over, the update or tweet is often no longer relevant. We want drabbles to have longevity and to mean something a week, a month, a year, a decade after it’s published. Tumblrs and blogs allow users to write as much as they want–we want to encourage creativity by having the word restriction.

Might we see drabbl.es anthologies in ebook form in the future?

It is definitely something that we’ve thought about. Possibly as a way to deliver drabbles daily, weekly or monthly to users interested in particular genres or users. Almost like a newsletter, but hopefully delivered straight to your eReader. That being said, we’ve also thought about users able to export their drabbles straight to ePub/mobi and upload to the various stores themselves. It’s something we’ve thought about, but still a little while off from implementing.

How will you deal with copyright issues ie does the writer retain copyright and what if you were to publish a book, would you have to ask for permission?

Writers always retain copyright. As a writer myself, this is something I feel very strongly about. When they post on the website, the work is always theirs. If we were to publish a book, we would ask the users for permission.

What about moderating the drabbles to ensure nothing defamatory or racist etc is posted, is that a big job? 

Currently, our users are wonderful and don’t make it a very big job. I imagine it may turn into one, though. Our website is only as good as the users on it, so I hope that our users will alert us to anything they think we should check out, in addition to our own moderation.

What’s the end goal and how will you make money/pay for the site?

Ideally, and it’s a big dream, I’d love drabbl.es to be on the Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook stage–something people do for fun, but is totally addictive. Regarding making money, we believe the site can make money in two ways. Firstly, sponsored challenges are a logical step. The challenges are already part of drabbl.es functionality and with our view that drabbl.es can be written about events and experiences, then having drabbl.es host challenges for other companies seems reasonable and something the drabbl.es community would do because they are already using the challenges section of the website. The second way is by creating levels of paid users. There will always be a user type that is free and without advertising, but if they want more functionality, such as linking drabbles together or adding more than one picture to a drabble for example, they would need to pay for their account.

How did you come up with the extensive list of drabbl.es subjects? Can contributors suggest more?

I searched for writing genres on Google and came up with a multitude of sites that declared they had the best list of writing genres. I ended up just picking the one I like the best and started with that. The list is a work in progress and I would love for users to suggest more.

What other online forums exist for posting drabbles ie what’s your competition?

A wave of citizen journalism sites have cropped up in the last year and I feel that this is probably our major competition. They all allow their users to add pictures, follow other users, get email updates, comment and socialise on the websites. What’s more, they all promote that their site is about storytelling. Despite this, I know that our concept and website is strong because our 100 word restriction on the stories is a challenge (and an addictive one at that) which only enhances and promotes creativity.

The blogger, the press pack and that speech

With the ACT election just over, a Federal election looming, and the US election this very week, it seems like a good time to review a couple of books that inhabit that world: The Marmalade Files by press gallery journalists Steve Lewis (News Ltd tabloid national correspondent) and Chris Uhlmann (political editor of the ABC’s 7.30); and The Rise of the Fifth Estate: social media and blogging in Australian politics by Greg Jericho (political blogger Grog’s Gamut).
Continue reading The blogger, the press pack and that speech

The iPad mini arrives November 2

At last, there’s an iPad for ebook readers looking for a device you can hold in one hand – but it lacks the retina display of current iPad and iPhone models.

The world had its first look at the 7.9-inch mini during an event streamed via Apple TV and live tweeted/blogged from 4am this morning.

Booku’s take on the device? It looks more like an enlarged iPhone 4, but with rounded edges, than an iPad. It’s thin, but larger than I was expecting. I might still prefer to read on the iPhone when on the go, but we’ll see. I’ll be ordering a mini as soon as Apple will let me to find out.

The mini will be available for pre-order in Australia via the Apple website from this Friday, October 26, with the WiFi version shipping November 2. The cellular models will ship a couple of weeks later (that makes my decision – WiFi it is).

The middle-sized iOS gadget sports the same number of pixels as the iPad 2, so no retina display, but also no need for dedicated apps. This means all 275,000 iPad apps will work on it from day one.

It’s more expensive than most of its direct competitors, including the 7-inch Google Nexus and the Kindle Fire (which is not available in Australia but has been hugely successful in the US), but that is unlikely to prevent it from overtaking their sales.

The pricing for Australians is: Wi-Fi: 16GB, $369; 32GB, $479; 64GB, $589; Wi-Fi + Cellular: 16GB; $509; 32GB, $619; 64GB, $729.

Coinciding with the long-awaited mini’s launch are new versions of the iBooks ereading app for iOS devices, incorporating Twitter and Facebook sharing of highlights, continuous scrolling and better iCloud integration; and a new version of Apple’s iBooks Author enhanced ebook production software with embedded fonts, easy insertion of mathematical expressions, easily updateable titles and multi-touch widgets.

The mini features a dual-core A5 chip, FaceTime HD front camera, 5 megapixel iSight rear camera and faster WiFi.

With 29.6 square inches of total display, Apple says its screen is 35% larger all up than that of a 7-inch Android tablet (such as the Google Nexus).

The mini is 23% thinner than the iPad 3 and 53% lighter. It comes in black (with a slate back) and white (silver back). A new, purpose-built and aluminium joint-free smart cover is also available in six colours: pink, green, blue, dark grey, light grey and red for $45. The mini uses the new Lightning connector, matching the iPhone 4 rather than earlier iOS device connectors. It comes with Siri voice recognition.

The device is 200 mm (7.87 inches) high and 134.7 mm (5.3 inches) deep. The WiFi version weighs 308g while the cellular model weighs 312g.

The event included a couple of other hardware announcements. There is an updated full-sized iPad, the iPad 4, which features double the performance for CPU tasks, double the graphics performance, and WiFi that is potentially twice as fast. It’ll sell at the same pricepoints as the existing iPad 3.

Apple also announced a new version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro including retina display (to match the existing lone retina notebook, the 15-inch Pro), and updated Mac Mini and (wafer thin) iMacs.

Print will go within 50 years: Penguin CEO

Outgoing global CEO of Pearson (parent company to Penguin and The Financial Times) Dame Marjorie Scardino reckons that 50 years from now, her company is unlikely produce any more printed products – quite a statement considering many in the industry believe ebooks will never replace the printed book entirely.
Continue reading Print will go within 50 years: Penguin CEO

Wish I was going Bookcamping today …

It’s Bookcamp day, and I’m stuck in an office in Canberra. Boo hoo.

Philosophers on the future of the book are congregating in Brisbane as I write, preparing to make their pitch for what the Bookcamp unconference will cover.

This year’s special guest is designer and writer Craig Mod. Mod is a former product designer at Flipboard and the author of four Kindle Singles about ebooks: Hack the cover, The digital-physical, Post-artifact books and publishing and Books in the age of the iPad. Lucky Bookcampers getting to hang out with one of the world’s biggest thinkers on “emerging technologies, people, ideas, and stories in the fast-changing business of connecting writers with readers”.
Continue reading Wish I was going Bookcamping today …

Cherry blossom, footy finals and new gadgets: it’s September!

It’s handy being a geek and a September baby. Launches from Sony, Amazon, Kobo and Apple all land around about this month each year, well timed for birthday gift requests, even if some involve long term contracts (the new iPhone) international wrangling (Kindle) and long waits (Kobo).

Last year, my birthday meant a crimson Sony Reader. The year before, a white Kindle. In 2012 … maybe, if the rumours are true, a 7- to 8-inch iPad (dubbed the Mini by the media).
Continue reading Cherry blossom, footy finals and new gadgets: it’s September!

The Numinous Place gets up

Experimental ebook/app The Numinous Place will be published late this year or early next year after a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter raised more than $75,000 for the project.

You can read more about The Numinous Place in an earlier post here and see the campaign at Kickstarter here.

Backers helped take the tally to the target goal with 12 hours to spare. Staufer emailed supporters immediately to let them know that The Numinous Place had become seventh highest funded publishing project in Kickstarter history (though let’s face it, it’s very early days for crowdfunding!).

Check out those that have been more successful on Kickstarter here.

Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception is at the top of the list, having raised $287,342 thanks to 4242 backers before its July 17 deadline. In fact, the campaign raised $250,000 in its first week. Continue reading The Numinous Place gets up

Last chance to crowdfund ebookstravaganza

An ambitious interactive ebook project with support from Russell Crowe has raised $US35,000 via crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, but its creator won’t see a cent of those pledges unless the campaign can more than double that amount within a couple of days.
Continue reading Last chance to crowdfund ebookstravaganza

Tips for bookish bloggers

I spoke recently at the Australian Booksellers Association Conference in Sydney on blogging and social reading and have been meaning to share my presentation more widely ever since.

Below is an outline of my tips for booksellers on writing blog posts. You can check out my social reading presentation (think Readmill, GoodReads etc) on Prezi here.

BLOGGING TIPS

How do you decide what to post about? I’d recommend you keep a list somewhere – perhaps in notes in your phone or in a notebook or diary – of ideas as they pop into your head.

You might be inspired by a conversation, a news report on television, another blog post or an article you read in a magazine like Bookseller+Publisher. Ideally in this case you’d look for a new angle on what you’ve read.

So for example, a couple of weeks back Pan Macmillan digital first imprint Momentum announced it would be the first major Australian publisher to ditch DRM.

I wanted to write about this – and to applaud it – but given it had already been announced had to find a way to take the story a step further.

I did some more reading on DRM and thought about it for a couple of days then wrote a note to Joel Naoum at Momentum to ask whether retailers had agreed to support the move, or whether it was only Momentum titles sold on the publisher’s own website that would be DRM-free.

Naoum wrote back acknowledging there were some issues with retailers, so I then contacted several key retailers and suppliers via Twitter and email to find out whether they would in future or were already set up to sell DRM free. All responded that they either already were or would soon be doing so, which I felt was sufficiently newsworthy to work into a blog post.

Some types of blog posts are:

  • Posts inspired by other blog/social media posts or media reports
  • Reviews (of books, online and bricks and mortar bookshops, other blogs and book-related platforms, a TV program/film/plays with book tie-ins, apps or YouTube videos)
  • Interviews with authors or experts in the industry
  • Descriptions of what you’ve been doing/thinking about books and the industry lately
  • A calendar of events related to your store and books and writing generally
  • An opinion piece on an issue in the industry
  • A discussion about such an issue
  • A news story – in the rare case that Bookseller+Publisher don’t beat you to it!
  • A campaign to achieve something
  • Information/how-to
  • Guest post from an expert/fellow blogger/staff member/visiting author/publisher/personality who loves your store
  • Your response to a guest post
  • A public letter to someone in a position of power
  • A list – of useful stuff eg people to follow on Twitter

Whatever you choose to write about, make sure it’s on topic and thus relevant to your niche audience. So for example, for me to post a vegetarian restaurant review on ebookish wouldn’t work at all.

Structure

No matter what type of blog post you’re writing, remember to write it so that the reader will be drawn in from the first paragraph. If that means cutting and pasting the most interesting or well written paragraph from further down in your post, or opening with a quote, great.

Try to keep your posts short – under 500 words is ideal. If you must write something that is much longer than that, consider writing a summary at the top so that readers get the general idea even if they don’t read on.

Style

Be yourself. Write the way you’d speak during an intelligent, but informal conversation. If you’re not sure whether a post is working, try reading it aloud to yourself or to a family member or friend. The clunky sentences will leap out at you that way.

Finally

Write about what you know and be passionate about it. Your enthusiasm will win readers over.

News wrap: Overdrive, Book Depository, Kobo and The Canberra Times

Just in case you read my last post and thought I’d lost touch with developments in the ebook world while reading Game of Thrones, here are my thoughts on some recent happenings.

1. Opening of OverDrive’s Australian office

Earlier this month US-based ebook distributor to Booku.com OverDrive announced it is opening an Australian office (in Collingwood in Melbourne).

This follows on from earlier news that they are working with the team from recent acquisition and Australian start-up Booki.sh on a browser-based ereading platform called OverDrive Read.

It’s great for Booku.com customers that our supplier now has a base here. It’ll mean a boost to local content as the team seals more deals with Australian publishers.

2. Book Depository’s ditching of ebooks

The company second only to Amazon as that most despised by independent booksellers, and indeed owned by Amazon these days in any case, has ceased selling ebooks, Bookseller + Publisher reports.

The people at Book Depository, which is UK-based and gained a huge share of the global printed book market by selling online and delivering free of postal charges, probably figured it wasn’t worth trying to compete with Amazon in the ebook space (or were given instructions to that effect by their US masters). If they’d continued, they’d essentially be competing with themselves, and given Amazon has so much of the market sewn up, why bother?

One Australian publisher told me he believes Amazon has as much as 80 per cent of the ebook market in Australia.

All this makes you wonder how long Book Depository will continue to compete with Amazon in the printed book space.

3. Launch of Kobo’s Writing Life

Self-publishing authors have a new starting point for ebook production following the arrival of Writing Life at Kobo.

Digital publishing consultant Anna Maguire has written a comprehensive post on the news here.

The coolest thing about Writing Life as far as I can see is that it allows authors to download the ePub (ebook file) version of their work created through Kobo, store it on their own hard drives, share it with friends, or sell it via other platforms (yes, including Voldemort Amazon).

The other most interesting point in Anna’s post is that a Kobo spokesman told her they claim to have 15 per cent of the Australian ebook retail market. If that figure is tallied with the Amazon one above, that leaves 5 per cent for the indies, Google and Apple. That seems unlikely to me and is, we can hope, indicative that the 80 per cent figure for Amazon is inflated.

4. Axing of The Canberra Times Literary Editor

During my seven years at The Canberra Times I occasionally filled in when the current literary editor, Gia Metherell, was on leave. I wrote regularly for her and continued to do until very recently. I read her section every week. I’m very sad that the pages will shortly be filled with content from the SMH and The Age and that her position has been made redundant. Not because I don’t rate the Sydney or Melbourne content, but because the local perspective on national and international works and coverage of the local literary scene will disappear from the newspaper.

That said, I believe the literary community here will rise to the challenge and build a new forum for book reviews, author interviews and literary news. Perhaps it will be crowdfunded – if so, it’s sure to succeed, because the audience is strong and loyal. The readership will grow, too, because such a publication will of course be digital and thus have broader reach.

The business model for newspapers may not be sustainable as it stands, but that doesn’t mean there is not a demand for their style of content if it is published in new and innovative ways.

If you’re interested in keeping track of developments in this story and showing your support for literary coverage in newspapers, you could join the Facebook group Save the Canberra Times Literary Pages.

The night my iPad attacked

The moo cow Tabcoosh.

The other night, around 10pm, my iPad nearly broke my nose. I was lying in bed watching a Cherry Healey doco about freegans on ABC iView (taking a break from my pilgrimage through the five existing Game of Thrones books, but that’s another blog post). The iPad was sitting on its folded over cover on my chest … until it fell forward and whacked me on the nose.

It’s fallen before, but usually I’ve managed to catch it, or it’s landed gently. On this occasion, I was genuinely concerned for the integrity of my bone structure. I checked to see whether there was any bleeding (none, and bones were intact, phew), then decided it was high time I joined my toddler son as the owner of a Tabcoosh.
Continue reading The night my iPad attacked

Why booklovers need newspapers

The SMH replica app allows a tablet user to see the newspaper as it appears in print.
After 14 years in newspapers of which 11 were with Fairfax titles, and seven were online, I have some pretty strong views about recent events in that great newspaper company.

As an avid reader and book lover so should you. Newspapers have long encouraged and supported their journalists as they add the writing of books to their creative output. Without their newspaper jobs, these journalists simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to devote their time to the writing of books.

There are too many current or past Fairfax journalists and columnists who have become authors to mention here, but some names that spring to mind are Maggie Alderson, Mia Freedman, Peter Fitzsimons, David Marr, Chris Womersley, Annabel Crabb, Roy Masters and Kirsty Needham.

I’m most concerned for those friends and former colleagues who have already lost their jobs, or may do so in coming months.

I’m also worried about how those who keep their jobs will cope with all the uncertainty and change.

I’m devastated about the impact cuts have already had and will continue to have on the quality of the content coming from the SMH, Age and Canberra Times.

I’ve also always been a passionate reader of Fairfax content, whether it’s in newspaper form (rarely these days), on the web on my computer, on my iPad via an app or on the iPhone as a mobile optimized version of the websites, and whether it’s content I’ve found by flipping or scrolling through Fairfax’s own pages or via a recommendation from a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn contact.

However we find or read the content, it’s a huge enrichment for our lives.

As a journalist who was lucky to be poached from Fairfax by a small start-up publisher a year ago, before the outsourcing of sub-editors started the current doom and gloom, I have mostly happy memories of my time there. Fairfax is a great company. Its people are exceptional as writers, editors and mentors to those building media careers.

A little part of me is angry about some management decisions made over the years, particularly the ones that involved head-in-the-sand statements like, “No, you can’t publish that online, it’s a print exclusive” and “No, we can’t publish a replica app because it might impact on print sales”.

The latter particularly frustrated me because replica versions (like those found on Zinio or PressReader) seemed like such a simple and cheap way to get Fairfax content onto tablets for readers interstate and overseas, or for those who had an allergy to newsprint, and who thus couldn’t access the print edition.

I replaced my print delivery of the SMH with a replica app subscription in 2010 and haven’t looked back. I’d do the same for The Canberra Times today if they offered one.

I’ve always believed that if your readers want to receive your goods in a particular way, and you can provide the goods to them in that way relatively cheaply and easily, then you should do so.

Print has been over for a long time, and the direction CEO Greg Hywood has finally shifted the business in is the right one.

A digital first policy and the appointment of social media editors for each title are necessary steps forward. A little late, maybe, but better late than never.

As for Gina Rinehart, well, wouldn’t it be great if everyone who felt strongly about keeping her off the board invested in a few Fairfax shares themselves. Don’t hold your breath.

What do you think the future holds for newspapers?

Do you, like me, believe Fairfax should pull back further on printed editions to save on printing and distribution costs and provide print subscribers with tablets and app subscriptions?

I reckon that will happen in time.

I also think they should look to charge for longer form journalism, focusing on depth and expertise rather than trying to compete on breaking news, though this will only work if they expand still further on their social media plans to ensure their content is discovered.

As for how you can help to support Fairfax’s great journalists, the most important way is to pay for their content. Subscribe to an app or paid website. Buy a print edition (if only to show your grandchildren so they know what a newspaper used to look like). Buy some shares. Or join the Get up! Campaign to promote its editorial independence.

DRM is so 2011

Digital rights management for ebooks is dead.

Readers knew it couldn’t last. It was simply a matter of when publishers and retailers would realise it was unsustainable.

Cutting edge Australian publishers like Pan Macmillan digital offshoot Momentum Books are leading the way by announcing they will remove DRM from their titles within months.

It won’t be long before their competitors realise they risk looking like dinosaurs, and mean ones at that, unless they join the push.

Though none of the other major publishers have announced they’re ditching it yet, I have heard the excuse, “Well, it’s the retailers who impose it on the publishers in any case.”

It’s an excuse that they can file away for good. The retailers are telling me they are either already selling books without DRM upon request, or soon will be.

Booku.com is among those who are keen to support publishers who make the shift.

Booku.com’s supplier, Overdrive, already offers DRM-free books in ePub and PDF format, and they’re coming soon to Booku (so are browser-based books a la Book.ish following Overdrive’s purchase of Booki.sh recently, incidentally).

ReadCloud, which is the ebook provider for many Australian independent booksellers, “can work without DRM, not a problem,” according to its CEO Jeremy Le Bard.

Kobo is already working with DRM-free titles for publishers, says Malcolm Neil, its Director Vendor Relations Asia-Pacific.

Even Google has come to the party. Mark Tanner, Strategic Partner Development Manager at Google, told uBookish that Google allows publishers to sell their ebooks without DRM today.

We won’t hold our breath on the Amazon or Apple front. That said, Apple did remove its proprietary DRM from all music in the iTunes store back in 2009, so perhaps I should have a little more faith in the Cupertino crowd.

Momentum publisher Joel Naoum says they are working through the issues with selling ebooks without DRM through retailers.

“Unfortunately it’s not a straightforward matter, though it does appear at this relatively early stage that most (if not all) retailers will be able to sell our books without it,” he says.

Hooray for Joel (who was my predecessor as Booku blogger, by the way) for leading the way on this front as in so many others.

Perhaps he has been inspired by innovative publishers like O’Reilly in the US who have long ensured their titles were available without the restrictive encryption software.

O’Reilly’s General Manager & Publisher Joe Wikert says his company believes that “digital rights management (DRM) is a bad idea”.

“We have a very simple theory: Trust your customers to do the right thing and you’ll earn their business.”

Hear, hear.

(See today’s earlier post for an outline of what DRM is all about.)

So why do we have to deal with DRM?

It’s not hard to understand why some book publishers are keen on DRM (Digital Rights Management encryption software which limits the potential uses of the file).

They’ve seen the music and film businesses struggle in the face of mass piracy.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry estimates that some 95 per cent of global music downloads are illegal.

Ebook files can be downloaded illegally just as easily, even when they are “protected” by DRM.

There are few statistics on the phenomenon, but according to Google, there were between 1.5 million to 3 million searches for pirated books per day on its search engine in 2010.

The German Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association said in 2011 that illegal down some 60 percent of electronic books were being downloaded illegally there.

I can honestly say I’ve never tried it, but people tell me you can find online instructions for stripping DRM from an ebook, and complete the process, in seconds.

These same people use this knowledge in what I’d see as an ethical manner. They buy books from different retailers then strip the DRM so that they can read them all on any device or app (so for example, stripping the Kindle’s walled garden DRM would allow you to read a Kindle ebook on a non-Kindle e-ink ereader).

Amazon won’t like it, and it contravenes their licence agreements with consumers, but given these individuals have paid for the book, why shouldn’t they be able to choose how they read it and on which device?

Stubborn policies like those of Amazon and Apple restricting the use of their ebooks to specific platforms are among the key reasons for ebook piracy.

Other such “ethical” reasons include consumer views that as they have paid for a book, they should be able to lend it to a friend just as they could a printed book; and that they deserve a right to permanent access to their ebook library, whichever retailer they’ve purchased it from.

DRM is the enemy of these well-meaning ebook buyers. Some see it as such an evil they actively lobby against its implementation. Check out Defective by Design and you’ll see what I mean.

There are less noble pirates who are just lazy, ignorant of the law, or utterly unconcerned about breaking it, and it is possible that DRM makes some difference in their levels of piracy.

Often, illegal downloading is driven by a frustration over availability of content, or high prices. Consumers learn via social networks of a book, film or television series that is taking off overseas, try to download it legally, and discover that it is not available in their market for territorial copyright reasons, or in their preferred format due to complex licencing agreements (or the publisher’s lack of technical expertise). Keen to consume the content as soon as possible, they turn pirate.

A shopper compares the high Australian price of a book with that of its much cheaper US equivalent and in frustration, turns to an illegal download service.

A busy would-be customer ponders the complex registration process required to download one file, and decides piracy is easier.

Solution? Publishers and booksellers need to make their content available in a timely manner, for quick and easy download using as many platforms as the consumer desires, and at a reasonable price.

If they do this, and have faith in the market, DRM will become redundant.

In fact, I reckon it’s on the way out already. Read my next post to find out what’s led me to this conclusion.

Publisher pounces on mummy porn

HarperCollins has moved swiftly to sign up a new erotic fiction author, Indigo Bloome, in a bid to cash in on the Fifty Shades phenomenon.

HarperCollins paid the author a six figure sum in a three-book deal, brokered by literary agent Selwa Anthony with Harper’s publishing director Shona Martyn. The first title, due out July 1, is entitled Destined to Play.

If you’re a straight woman over 30, there’s a good chance you’ve already succumbed to peer pressure – or been driven by curiosity – and bought a copy of the internationally bestselling “mummy porn” novel Fifty Shades of Grey (you can buy it and the second and third novels in the Fifty Shades trilogy for $10.82 each here).

EL James has become a publishing sensation over the past year, not because her books are brilliantly written or encompass generation-defining themes, but because as works of erotic fiction, they contain dozens of detailed sex scenes, many featuring bondage and discipline and sadism and masochism.

For those who are squeamish about the riding crops and floggers, the ordinary, bookish heroine (Anastasia) and incredibly sexy, powerful, wealthy yet troubled hero (Christian) help on the aspirational side.

Which girl hasn’t at some point dreamt that a hot billionaire might sweep them off their feet? Especially if said mogul has a good heart and the potential to be saved from decades of internal turmoil by her love and support.

The New York Times reports more than 10 million copies of Fifty Shades of Grey have been sold. Universal Pictures and Focus Features won a bidding warn for the film rights. Publishing houses are desperately seeking erotic fiction authors in the hope of cashing in on its popularity, which is partially attributed to the fact that ereading devices make it easy to read such titles on the sly, even if you are travelling on a bus or train, for example.

HarperCollins’ Martyn told a Sydney Writers Festival event audience last week that her publishing house’s regular meeting to discuss digital projects had been plotting an erotic fiction strategy the very week Anthony approached her with Bloome’s book.

Bloome is a thirtysomething mum with kids in primary school, and therefore publishing under a pen name. HarperCollins is rushing her first book into ebookstores by July 1, with a print edition to follow September 1. This is remarkably fast for a legacy book publisher.

Incidentally, Martyn said the biggest seller of her ebook titles to date had been John Howard’s Lazarus Rising, at 9000 copies, which is about the same number that Fifty Shades of Grey sold in Australia within its first week of reissue through Random House last month.

Fifty Shades was initially published as an ebook and print-on-demand paperback in May last year by The Writers’ Coffee Shop, a indie publisher and book community based in NSW. According to Wikipedia, it was originally developed as a Twilight tribute and published episodically on fan fiction websites, then on James’s own website, FiftyShades.com. The author is a London television executive, wife and mother of two.

I’ve just finished reading the book on the Kobo platform as an exercise in research into social reading and was intrigued to note that the Kobo Pulse “pulse”, which tells you how many others are reading at the same time as you, was at full strength most of the way through. There were only a handful of comments, including one deleted by the author – perhaps she was embarrassed by her initial thoughts on the book – and one comparing it to Twilight.

Even as I write on a Sunday morning, some 16 people are reading the Australian edition of Fifty Shades on Kobo. 1600 have read it on the platform so far. Of those, 41 have clicked “like” and 3 “dislike”. Readers have selected parts of the text and clicked highlight 250 times. You can bet many of those are sex scenes, though I also highlighted a couple of opera titles – Christian is a classical music buff. I liked this line too, “One minute he rebuffs me, the next he sends me fourteen-thousand-dollar books”.

So, is it any good?

Honestly, not really. I have friends who gave up because they read the first few chapters and wondered what the fuss was about (the first sex scene is in Chapter Eight of 26).

It does remind me of the Twilight books, but also of a Sweet Valley High spin-off series I read as a teenager, Caitlin (the Love and Promise trilogies), in which the heroine is an incredibly wealthy and beautiful individual with issues, just like James’s Christian. From memory she has a boyfriend with steel grey eyes just like Christian’s too.

The characters are card-board cutouts, their dialogue wooden and repetitive. I cared so little about them that I would prefer to read a dot point summary of the second and third books than actually read them. Anyone want to send me one?

The only interesting things about the central couple – their careers – are touched on but never examined in depth. Christian’s business sounds intriguing, but we never learn more about it than that it is staffed by good looking blondes, includes research into sustainable farming and is facing a major challenge. Anastasia is a literature graduate who wants to work in publishing, but we’re oblivious to what sorts of books she wants to publish, or why.

The plot revolves around their relationship and sex life, which frankly, is boring. Sure, he’s a little kinky, but most of these are standard sex scenes. I’m wondering why any woman who was feeling frisky would bother reading a book like this rather than taking their husband or boyfriend away for a dirty weekend or, dare I say it, hunting down some free iPad video porn.

There is that old issue that perhaps with the exception of James Deen the men who star in porn vids are usually the opposite to a woman’s fantasy, and the women hardly aspirational … but that’s another story (and business opportunity if the sales of Fifty Shades are any indication!).

One Kobo reader, Linda Thornton, summed it up quite nicely, I thought, with this comment on the final page:

“What can one say, “holy crap” would probably cover such a senseless stream of clichéd drivel. The author’s relentless pursuit to see how many times she can cram yet another sexual exploit into a page in order to exploit the reader into buying two more volumes can only be marveled at. Triple crap.”

But hey, it’s a publishing phenomenon, and these are always intriguing to read to gain insights into what does turn readers on.

Allen & Unwin gets Short-y

While I have been cocooned away in chilly Canberra studying, Allen & Unwin has been busily launching two new digital lists, mirroring recent developments at fellow digital pioneer Pan Macmillan where Momentum’s titles are already making waves on bestseller lists.

First up, early this month, Allen & Unwin shorts arrived. The Australian publisher has just published five short fiction ebooks: Charlotte Wood’s Nanoparticles (which I had already read in last year’s Get Reading anthology), Tom Keneally’s Blackberries, Alex Miller’s Manuka, Peter Temple’s Ithaca in my Mind and Christos Tsiolkas’s Sticks, Stones.

“Some of Australia’s best-loved novelists also write great short stories,” the publisher writes on its website.

“They can be hard to find, but now digital publishing offers new opportunities for short form writing.”

So true. How wonderful for authors that they can finally make money from short forms, and how equally brilliant for us that we can buy them individually rather than having to buy a whole collection.

The A&U publicity material says “For less than the price of a cup of coffee, you can download a story on the train to read on the way to work.”

This I can vouch for too. I read two Kindle Singles this week, and knocked them over in less than an hour each. A&U has prices its shorts at $1.99 each (although Booku.com is offering them for $1.81 here).

Did I mention I’ve been locked away with my MacBook and a bunch of journal articles for the past couple of weeks? It’s end of semester crunch-time at university, and the research proposal for my Social reading, long form journalism and the connected ebook project was due in last week, with a presentation on it coming up this Wednesday. I mention this because it’s all about short form non-fiction ebooks. You can take a look at my slides on Prezi (a very clever zoomable presentation software program I find much more fun than PowerPoint) here.

Back at Allen & Unwin, the publicity department had just finished their teaser campaign for the shorts, when it was time to move on to promoting the next phase of their digital strategy: reviving works by classic Australian authors like my cousin Miles Franklin (OK, first cousin twice removed, but still!).

Both My Brilliant Career and My Career Goes Bung are on the list.

A&U’s House of Books also includes classic titles by Thea Astley, Alan Marshall, Eleanor Dark, Dymphna Cusack, Katharine Susannah Pritchard, Xavier Herbert, Kylie Tennant, Marcus Clarke and Henry Handel Richardson.

The PR tagline for the list is “Good books never die in the digital age”. I’m hoping that more childhood favourites, many of which are out of print, will come back to life in this ebook era.

More recent works by Blanche d’Alpuget, Nick Earls, Andrew Riemer, Judith Armstrong and Rodney Hall are also being revived.

The first 30 titles will become available in June 2012. Additional titles will be added to the list each month thereafter. Print lovers will be able to buy physical copies via print on demand technology. The books will be listed at between $12.99 and $19.99.

Apologies for the appalling headline pun. Couldn’t resist.

The big gorilla is firing up

The Kindle Fire.

Amazon looks set to give the Australian book market a mighty shake-up.

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Amazon is seeking warehouse space in Australia.

The Australian’s IT section has this week run a piece outlining rumours that the Kindle Fire’s arrival in Australia is imminent.

It seems the greatest of all the ebook industry gorillas (so-named by Scribe founder Henry Rosenbloom during a speech he gave at an Australian Publishers Association conference last November) is finally setting up shop in Australia.

The SMH says Amazon.com.au changed its name to Amazon Corporate Services last year, and “has appointed two vice presidents of the American parent – Michael Deal, associate general counsel, and Jason Bristow, the online retailer’s treasurer – to the local company’s board”.

It also reports that several marketing staff have been hired here.

If it’s true that Amazon is about to make a big push into this market, what will this mean for us readers and for the rest of the industry?

In my view, it will be very bad news for any ebook retailer that has not already established a niche for itself here – I’m thinking about the Copia-powered Australian Publishers Association/Bowker Titlepage Plus solution here, but also any of the independent booksellers yet to implement an ebook strategy, and those who will have to rethink existing strategies in coming months, like Booktopia and Dymocks, who learnt just before Easter that their supplier Google was pulling out of reselling.

Kobo’s Malcolm Neil reflected at a Copyright Agency Limited event earlier this year that while Kobo still has strong market share, this had fallen as new players including Apple and Google set up shop here. Kobo was a pioneer in the Australian market, selling local ebook titles via its own site and partner retailer RedGroup for some time (starting in May 2010) before entrants like Booku, Booki.sh, ReadCloud, Apple and Google joined the fray.

Amazon’s Australian ebook stocks were limited when Kobo launched, but they had the advantage of offering the Kindle device, locked into the Kindle store, to this market for seven months before the Kobo and iPad arrived.

With a dedicated, local marketing presence and the prospect of local multimedia content (music and video in particular) becoming available via the affordable and portable 7inch Kindle Fire colour tablet here, Amazon would have the power to shake up not just the book industry, but the television, film, music and gadget market too.

Given the outcome of international legal action on book pricing has gone in Amazon’s favour, a local push will likely see further drops in ebook prices here. This will benefit consumers in the short term but will hit publishers’ bottom lines hard and is unsustainable. The greatest risk it brings is that consumers’ expectations on price will be locked in at these unsustainable levels, impacting on the future viability of many of our beloved book publishers and booksellers.

Me? I’m anti-Amazon because of this pricing strategy, and because I like to be able to choose to buy my ebooks from whichever retailer I like, be that a gorilla, Kobo or (and this is always my first preference) a local indie like Booku and those who have partnered with Booki.sh and ReadCloud.

But I have to say I’m tempted by the Kindle Fire. After nearly two years of lugging my iPad around in my handbag, I have finally given up. It stays home. My Sony Reader comes out to play. A device that has been designed for reading and offers many of the benefits of the iPad in a smaller form has definite appeal – not as much allure as the mythical iPad mini (of which there are rumours again), but a little more than the Kobo Vox, which had plenty of pluses but didn’t quite nail it for me. The rumoured Google Nexus tablet would be worth a look too.

Meanwhile, Bookseller + Publisher has a couple of big ebookish stories this week.

The first wraps up the ongoing legal stoushes in the US and Europe over the agency pricing model used by Apple and major book publishers. B+P points readers to this piece in The Bookseller.

B+P also reports that Kobo is expanding into new international markets and is set to launch its global self-publishing program within months.

Ditch Google now: ABA president

How the news broke.

Australian Booksellers Association president Jon Page reckons Dymocks and Booktopia should immediately close their ebookstores and find a new partner after Google announced it would pull out of its deals with the pair from January 2013.

Page was not surprised by the development (read his blog post on it here).

“I always thought there were too many risks partnering with Google,” he said.

“If I were Dymocks or Booktopia I would shut down my eBook store ASAP and find an alternative quickly. ”

Google announced it was pulling the plug on its reseller program with booksellers just before Easter – shrewd timing that meant the mainstream media mostly ignored the news.

The program only launched in Australia five months ago.

Booksellers who had partnered with Google when they opened their ebookstore, including Dymocks and Booktopia in Australia, now face weeks or even months of uncertainty.

From the end of January next year, Google will move to selling ebooks through its Google Play interface only – though current retail partners could look to end the relationship and start afresh with a new supplier sooner.

According to the official announcement here, results to date demonstrated that “the reseller program has not met the needs of many readers or booksellers”.

I’m interpreting this as “no one much was buying Google eBooks via resellers” – and why would they, when they could always go direct to the Google eBooks site.

No matter how poor sales have been, the process will have been a worthwhile one for Google. The access it has had to Dymocks and Booktopia customers in terms of publicity and sales will have made sure of that.

Others agree. Here’s a quote from a comment on the Google announcement:

“Google eBooks was the only way the independent bookstore where I worked was able to jump into the digital book world, a necessary piece of the future of bookselling. It met the needs of all my customers who tried digital books for the first time and all my customers who wanted to support the little guy with every book purchase. Many of my customers got Google accounts so they could buy eBooks through our website. I feel betrayed, like Google strung us and the ABA along, using us as guinea pigs as they developed their eBook market presence.”

Here’s the official response I received to my email queries from Google Global Communications and Public Affairs Manager Kate Mason:

“Our ebooks reseller program has not been as successful as we’d hoped so we will be phasing it out next year. We want to give partners as much notice as possible so they have time to make adjustments. This change stems from that strategy and the feedback we’ve received from most ebook readers, publishers and resellers.”

Neither Dymocks nor Booktopia have responded to emails. Booktopia was still “proud to partner with Google to offer our Australian readers thousands of Google eBooks™ from a wide variety of international and local publishers” on its ebookstore homepage. Their only reference on Twitter was this:

@seandblogonaut: @booktopia are you still offering eBooks via google? hearing reports that you are not?
@booktopia: @SeandBlogonaut We are until next January.

Dymocks, too, is still spruiking the partnership on its website.

QBD The Bookshop and The Co-op Bookshop had both signed with Google ahead of the Google eBooks launch in Australia last November, but neither was yet selling ebooks by last week.

The other huge ebook news story of last week somewhat overshadowed the Google news (happily for Google). You can read it here. The US Justice Department and 15 states sued Apple Inc. and major book publishers last Wednesday, alleging a conspiracy that raised the price of electronic books.

JK Rowling and the great Pottermore scandal

For around the 475th time this decade, I’m angry on behalf of independent booksellers.

This time, it’s with JK Rowling, who in signing affiliate agreements with Sony, Barnes & Noble and Amazon for the sale of the Harry Potter digital editions has supported the giants but locked out the indies who have hand-sold her books to millions of children all over the world.

Last week, on Tuesday, Rowling finally made the Harry Potter series available as ebooks via her Pottermore website, www.pottermore.com. The Potter stories had been conspicuously absent from ereading devices and ebookstores over the past two years as Rowling pondered and negotiated a digital way forward for the books – she had retained digital rights when signing contracts with her publishers and wanted to get the model just right.

I have no problem with her subsequent decision to sell direct to readers, ensuring that as the author, she will rake in most of the profits.

As a huge Potter fan, I can’t wait to experience the full Pottermore site once it launches in the next couple of weeks. Digital Quidditch, anyone? I’ll also be buying the entire series as ePubs and reading them all over again, and can’t wait till my toddler is old enough to read them himself.

On a positive note, Rowling has signed partnership agreements with key publishers of the print editions, like Scholastic and Bloomsbury, to provide them with an undisclosed share of ebook sales via Pottermore, which seems only fair, given the vast resources they have devoted over the years to editing the books and marketing the Potter brand as well as Rowling herself.

My problem is with the great author’s decision to allow only Sony, Amazon and Barnes & Noble to sign affiliate deals for the ebooks. This means the three retail giants (intriguingly, neither Apple nor Google has got a look in) can direct their readers via website links to Pottermore in exchange for a cut.

Indie booksellers who have hosted Potter events with schools and libraries as each of title hit the shelves, who have made their staff dress up as Ron, Hermione, Harry and Dumbledore and open the store early, or stay back late, and held competitions for the best Potter costume among their junior customers, have been shut out all together. They’ve filled window displays with Potterabilia, and held tie-in events with the film adaptation, but when it comes to digital, it was all for nought.

Rowling must provide indies with the same opportunities to promote her titles to their customers as Sony, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. She owes it to them, as a mark of gratitude for the years they have spent selling Harry Potter to bookshop lovers, helping to make her the success she is today.

Indies here in Australia and all over the world are making the transition to digital. Dozens of stores here have opened ebookstores during the past 18 months. Rowling shutting them out will impact on their brands in this fledgling market, as well as on their bottom lines, indeed their futures.

Come on, JK, give your greatest supporters the respect and the opportunities they deserve. Open your affiliate program to the indies today – and at the very least before Pottermore’s big launch.

SWF tickets now on sale

Top of my list to see at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival (tickets for the May 14 to 20 event are on sale now) are former head of MI5 and now novelist and Man Booker Prize judge Stella Rimington and former CIA interrogator Glenn Carle.

I could never be a spy, but can’t get enough of insights into their professions (Spooks, anyone?).

Among the big events I’m saving up to attend is the lunch marking the presentation of the inaugural Stella Prize for the best book of any genre by an Australian woman writer (May 18, 12pm). Wendy Harmer is hosting, and will be joined by Tara Moss, Di Morrissey, Anne Summers, Anita Heiss, Anna Krien and Sophie Cunningham.

Heiss’s session the day before, Am I Black Enough For You, looks a cracker too. She’ll be talking about her new book, written in response to Andrew Bolt’s infamous “White is the new black” column.

Cunningham will be talking about her writing life to open a day long session on Thursday, May 17, entitled The Forest for the Trees: Writing and Publishing in 2012. She’ll then chair a panel on what it takes to get published. In the first afternoon session, Australian publishers Margaret Seale (Random House), Sue Hines (Allen & Unwin) and Alison Green (Pantera Press) will discuss 2012’s challenges and opportunities with Picador UK publisher Paul Baggaley.

That’ll be followed by a session on the importance of literary journals, which leads into the ebookish session of the festival, “Off the Beaten Track: Digital and Other Ways Forward”. Former Booku.com blogger Joel Naoum, of Pan Macmillan digital imprint Momentum, will discuss recent industry developments with digital publishing consultant Anna Maguire, of Digireado, Elizabeth Weiss, of Allen & Unwin, and David Henley, of Xou Creative.

The day wraps up with a session on the year ahead with HarperCollins publisher Shona Martyn, literary agent Sophie Hamley, Shearers proprietor Barbara Horgan (who appears to be the only bookseller on the festival program) and Cunningham.

All this for $35. OK, so maybe I won’t have to save up for that one. The Australian Book Industry Awards dinner is a little more expensive at $220 a ticket, but you won’t find a better way to gain insight into what (and who) makes the industry tick than attending this joint publishing and bookselling industry event. It’s on the Friday night, from 7pm.

Many of the same bookish types will be at the 60th Book Design Awards on the Thursday evening. Tickets are $77.

There are several events related to journalism and social media I’d like to attend, but I’m locking myself away at the State Library for some workshops instead this year. The first, on the Friday morning, looks at Short Fiction in the Age of e-Publication. Author Rodney Hall will be looking at tailoring writing for e-delivery. No doubt there will be some tips and tricks to help me with my research on and publishing of longform journalism and short non-fiction in ebook form. You never know, I might pull a couple of old short stories out of the bottom drawer too.

That afternoon, Toni Jordan will be exploring the essentials of cool chick lit. And yes, there is such a thing, and the writing of it is not as easy as you’d imagine (otherwise we’d all have written several bestselling works of commercial fiction already).

When I was a twentysomething Sydney-sider, I used to dream of landing a spot on the list of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists, and attended the presentation to the winners at the festival each year. Given absolutely zero novel-writing went on between festivals, it was never going to happen. The closest I got was joining the judging panel for the award a few years back. SMH literary editor and founder of the event Susan Wyndham will be on hand to announce this year’s winners on Sunday, May 20, at 2.30pm.

It’s the ability to commit to creating a long piece of writing, and to seeing the project through, that I admire most about young writers. If you’ve ever written a novel, or a novella, or a memoir, or a thesis, give yourself a pat on the back even if you haven’t been published. Just getting on and doing it is a huge achievement.

Check out the full festival program at www.swf.org.au. You can save your chosen events into a personal schedule to print out or save for later smartphone/tablet reference (there is a download to calendar option but I couldn’t get it to work on my iPad).

Many of the events are unticketed, so you could just turn up, admire the Harbour views, grab a bite at Fratelli Fresh across the road, then drop in on a random session for some serendipitous literary magic.

See you there!

Farewell, my little pixels, iPad 3 is here

Australians will be able to order the third generation iPad from today (or queue up for one on March 16 when it ships). They’ll do this because it offers retina-ish display (try a million more pixels than HDTV, at four times as many pixels per inch as the previous model) and a vastly improved camera (5 megapixels, in line with that of the current model iPhone).

At 9.4mm thick and 680g, it’s a similar size but a little heavier than the last model – in fact back to around the weight of the launch iPad. Pricing starts at $539 (the base model iPad 2 moves down to $429).

Apple says it sold 15.4 million iPads in the last quarter … that’s a nation-full of people who may be wishing they’d waited till this week.

When uBookish checked at 6am, orders were yet to open as the Australian version of Apple’s online store was closed. “We’ll be back soon … we’re busy updating the store for you and will be back shortly.” At 7am, the site crashed altogether. My browser offered this message: “The site could be temporarily unavailable or too busy”. (Update: By 8am the site was live for pre-orders)

The 4G-ready device (though there has been no announcement about 4G connectivity for the iPad in Australia) comes in black and white, like the iPad 2.

The camera and the 2047 x 1536 display (iPad 2 has 1024×768) are the reasons for this.

The retinal screen will display a million more pixels than HDTV, according to Apple, which also claims it’ll offer 264 pixels per inch and 44pc better colour saturation.

So from 15 inches, you won’t be able to distinguish a pixel, Gizmodo reports. It’s not quite as brilliant as the latest model iPhone display, which offers 326 pixels per inch for optimised viewing at 10 inches.

For readers, this is great news. The crystal clear rendering of text on the iPhone 4 makes for magical reading – better than on the printed page were it not for the screen size. App publishers will now rush to update existing and upcoming titles to make the most of the new display.

If only Apple would reconsider and launch a 7-inch model for ereading … the iPad really is too heavy to carry everywhere, leaving many ebook fans stuck with a Kindle, Sony Reader or Kobo as well.

As for the camera, its specs are on par with the latest iPhone at 5-megapixels with side-illuminated sensor, 5-element lens, infrared filter, auto-exposure, auto-focus, auto-face detection and HD video recording.

The device will sport an A5X chip with quad core graphics.

It’ll cost $539 including GST for the 16GB model, $649 for the 32GB and $759 for the 64GB. The Wi-Fi + 4G will start at $679 for the 16GB model, rising to $789 for the 32GB model and $899 for the 64GB.

Apple also announced that there are now more than 200,000 native iPad apps.

A new version of its Apple TV gadget is available for order now and will ship the same day as the iPad. It will cost $109.

It offers an updated user interface and improved program availability (the day after broadcast TV has its turn).

For a full wrap and a blow-by-blow look at this morning’s launch, check out Gizmodo.com.

Please note, this post was originally published at 7am AEST on March 8. This version is unchanged but was reinstated on March 12 following a server outage.

It’s time to snub Microsoft and Nine

The withdrawn Cudo deal.
How should Microsoft and Nine be punished for this week’s unbelievable Cudo book piracy scandal?

Cudo, a daily deals site, offered Australians a $99 ereader package featuring 4000 free ebooks, many of which neither Cudo nor its Chinese business partner owned the rights for. It had sold 2317 e-readers, grossing $229,383, by the time the deal ended, Paidcontent.org reports.

Cudo had been proudly spruiking the fact that the Harry Potter books were in the mix, when JK Rowling has yet to make her series available as ebooks anywhere in the world (they are due for launch soon as part of her Pottermore venture with Sony, and will no doubt sell like hotcakes).

The Lord of the Rings books were also among the freebies, and Rupert Murdoch might have something to say about that given his publishing house, HarperCollins, owns the copyright to Tolkien’s works in Australia.

Has anyone told Rupert or JK about it? Presumably they heard about it on Twitter and began to fume, just as I did.

I cannot believe that a mainstream business could be so ignorant about copyright. Until the error was pointed out, Cudo was actively onselling stolen goods to the Australian public, showing an utter disregard for the livelihoods of authors, publishers and booksellers.

As the Australian Booksellers Association put it in their press release on the issue, “That this site is supported by two media organisations that regularly take significant steps to protect their own rights in relation to their intellectual property and content also raises serious questions.

“The ABA would have thought that the Nine Network and Microsoft, who are both partners of NineMSN, would be sensitive to the issue of piracy given the effect piracy has had on the television and software markets. This is apparently not the case.”

It is scenarios like this that threaten the viability of our literary culture. How many Australians saw the deal and will now feel entitled to download in-copyright books illegally? Because if an organisation like Cudo, affiliated with two major corporations, can do it, why can’t they? Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that everyone who saw the deal before it was taken down has since been made aware of its scandalous nature.

Cudo says had not shipped the ereader and CD in question before pulling the deal, and is providing a replacement ereader with a selection of out of copyright titles to those who had placed an order. This is something, but not enough to make amends.

So, back to punishment.

We could all go and download pirated versions of Microsoft software and upcoming blockbusters on Channel Nine as revenge.

Though I can’t think of a single Nine program I could be bothered to pirate even if I was the pirating type (I’m not, I want to support the creative industries so that they will always be in a position to provide us with film, television and literary brilliance).

As for software, I’d rather pay than pirate to support innovation where I can there too, but I’m over Microsoft in any case. I have spent far too much of my precious time trying to get around the fact that Explorer prefers us to use Bing for search over Google.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and piracy is always wrong.

I’d suggest that instead, we start a campaign to switch from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.org, Apple iWork or Google Docs, and from Channel Nine to, well, just about any other channel (this should be easier, most of us have already done so).

Make the switch! And say no to Cudo.

A viable model for journalism + the Longform app

I can’t pretend to be unbiased when it comes to longform journalism ebooks (see previous post on Fairfax Media’s move into ebook publishing).

I’m a journalist who always writes more than she needs to (and feels frustrated at the waste when precious sentences, and even entire interviews forming part of a feature, are cut to fit arbitrary spaces).

I’m an avid reader who loves to consume long features in magazines and newspapers (or better yet, online via my iPhone or iPad).

I’m a publisher with a passion for books, tablets and ereaders who intends to publish longform journalism ebooks (written by others as well as myself) and short fiction – good reads in short bites.

I’m also a part-time student working on a Masters research project entitled “Social reading, longform journalism and the connected ebook”. Over the next four years, I’ll be investigating the processes behind and consumer reaction to publications just like Fairfax Media’s Framed. I’ll be experimenting myself with similar processes, but incorporating subscription updates to journalistic ebooks; links, multimedia and reader feedback within the works themselves; the trail that such works create in social media channels; and the question of which of these connected pieces of content can be considered part of the works themselves.

So, I reckon Stephen Hutcheon is onto something, and I’m putting lots of time and effort – and even some cash – into finding out for sure.

Given the opportunity, journalists will want to delve more deeply into certain stories, and publish longer works that reflect those efforts, rather than the needs of the daily and weekly news cycles.

I feel sure that readers, when confronted with a story of national importance that grabs their attention, as McDonald’s does, or piques their personal interest due to its very localised or specialised subject matter, will enthusiastically spend the odd dollar or two here and there to buy a longform ebook.

That being the case, the ebook also offers (at last) that holy grail for newspapers – a way to make their customers pay for digital content. Just as we’re used to paying for apps, we’re happy to pay for ebooks. Its a business model that works, which is more than can be said for those of most newspaper websites.

Internationally, there are plenty of examples of longform journalism taking off. The Longform app for iPad (from Longform.org) is another recent launch, and worth a look if you’re into in-depth news and analysis. It offers a curated selection of the world’s best feature writing, from sources like the New York Review of Books, Slate and Mother Jones.

I dipped in this week and discovered some quirky pieces I’ll read over the weekend – one on depictions of the librarian in erotic fiction (evidently boys do make passes at girls in glasses), another comparing JRR Tolkien with Christopher Paolini (did you know the former was a terrible uni lecturer?) and a couple looking at the power of Google and Facebook.

The app allows you to read either in the original online format, or in the Longform format either on or offline, with a choice of fonts, adjustible font size and column width. You can read what’s already on offer in the app, adding and removing feeder publications as you go, and saving stories to read later via your onboard Readability account. You can also send articles you find elsewhere in your travels to Longform via Readability, Instapaper and Read It Later, and share any story via email or social media.

Read up. With the rise of the long form, the future of journalism has finally arrived.

SMH joins longform journalism ebook push

Fairfax Media has published Australia’s first newspaper-driven longform journalism ebook.

Framed, by Sydney Morning Herald Asia-Pacific editor Hamish McDonald, is available to Kindle and Kindle app users via the Amazon website, and is priced at $1.99.

It’s a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism, examining a shocking incident in Australia’s history deemed the equivalent to Britain’s Guildford Four and Birmingham Six cases (in which ten individuals were wrongly convicted over IRA terrorism bombings – remember Daniel Day-Lewis in In the Name of the Father)?

According to McDonald, Australia’s criminal justice system bears similar guilt, for locking up the so-called Croatian Six more than 30 years ago. The young Croatian-Australians were convicted of plotting to plant bombs around Sydney, and each served time in prison. McDonald has found evidence to suggest the men were set up by the intelligence service of the then Communist Yugoslav state.

He tells of the involvement of unwitting police officers (Roger Rogerson was among those who carried out the arrests) who may have acted inappropriately, of a judicial system turning a blind eye to flaws in evidence, and to Canberra officials covering up knowledge of the Yugoslav role.

He speaks to some of the men, and to members of their families. It’s a riveting read – I finished it in 45 minutes.

The 10,000-word title will be promoted via a 2000-word extract published in the print edition of today’s Sydney Morning Herald, on smh.com.au and in the SMH iPad app.

Sydney Morning Herald tablet editor Stephen Hutcheon has managed the project. He told uBookish in an exclusive interview yesterday that the publication came about because the newspaper was unable to publish such a lengthy work in its own pages, either in print, online or via the app.

“It wouldn’t have looked as good as a big block of text online or in an app,” he said, adding that longer pieces like these need extra formatting and breaking up into smaller chunks to work in those formats.

Hutcheon, who has been following developments in ebooks and longform journalism for some time, proposed the long work be published as a Kindle ebook, and having received clearance from the newspaper’s editor and editor-in-chief, went ahead and did just that this week.

“This is a very low key thing,” he said.

“Everyone is just happy to give it a go.

“We’re just seeing whether we can do it, and what the reaction is – whether there is room for longform journalism.”

Initially, Hutcheon submitted the work to Amazon’s Kindle Singles program, but it was rejected – probably because Amazon’s publishing program is, like most of its activities, heavily US-centric. The email he received suggested Fairfax publish the work directly for Kindle themselves.

Hutcheon, who as a former SMH website editor is experienced with html coding, did the file conversion himself once the book was edited in house. He then spent a fitful night hoping the advertised 12-hour turnaround before the ebook would be live in the Kindle store would be accurate. It was, and you can download the book here.

Hutcheon chose the Kindle format because it allowed him to reach a wide audience via the Kindle apps for smartphones and tablets as well as the Kindle device itself. However, he did not rule out making the work available through other channels.

“We haven’t signed away exclusive rights to Kindle,” he said.

McDonald is the author of four previously published books, including Mahabharata in Polyester (2010, University of NSW Press) and Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra (co-authored, 2000, Allen & Unwin).

A former Fairfax journalist, Charlotte Harper worked as a web producer on smh.com.au from 1997 to 2001.

Get your teeth into some artful romance

Aidan Turner makes a very sexy Rossetti.
This is a “what I’ve been devouring” post. Finally, 12 years after it was first published and swiftly accumulated a swag of awards, and in between episodes of the luscious Desperate Romantics (pictured), I’ve completed Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. The printed edition has sat on my shelves (in eight different houses, in three cities) since 2000.

I hate to admit it, but part of the problem was always its size. I’m not scared to read long books, but holding heavy books for hours at a time is another matter.

When you can buy an ebook version from Booku.com for $11.36, why would you lug the brick print edition around for two weeks while you trawl through the multicultural and multigenerational North London saga of the Iqbals and Joneses?

If you haven’t read White Teeth, I’d get my teeth into it soon.

If bookish non-fiction is more your thing, try Stop What You’re Doing and Read This, a collection of essays (including one by Zadie – isn’t it hers most fabulous name) on the experience of reading, why access to books should never be taken for granted, how reading transforms our brains, and how literature can save lives. It was published late last year.

After I’ve finished that, I’ll track down the four-part Channel Four television adaptation of White Teeth, and find another couple of weeks to read her later novels, The Autograph Man and On Beauty.

In between chapters about misbehaving Muslims and Jamaican Jehovah’s Witnesses, I spent spare January moments utterly engrossed in the BBC 2 series Desperate Romantics, another tale filled with quirky characters, in this case a band of outrageously brilliant and infamously misbehaving 19th century artists and poets. The series was inspired by the Franny Moyle book about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives Of The Pre-Raphaelites, and after delving into their lives on screen, I’m itching to get my hands on the text version.

Desperate Romantics is a luscious romp with the odd tragic interlude. You may want to watch it in private rather than taking your iPad out – one of the scenes would almost certainly have looked like a porno to the woman on the next treadmill at the gym.

Unrelated to that scene of course, but I’ve become a little smitten with Aidan Turner, who plays the Bohemian Dante Gabriel Rossetti (do a Google images search, you’ll recognise his paintings). But as is the case with Orlando Bloom as Legolas, it’s only when Turner is in character – the costumes in the series are absolutely stunning – that I swoon.

Speaking of swooning, dip into Rossetti’s poetry, as well as that of his sister Christina, in The New Penguin Book of Love Poetry. If you only buy one book of poetry in your life, make it this one.

Innovative Vox worth a look

I so wanted to love the Kobo Vox, but it hasn’t quite won me over.

As a colour ereading device, it’s got a lot going for it. The market is, I reckon, ripe for a 7″ colour ereader like the Kindle Fire, which is not available here in Australia, or the occasionally rumoured iPad Nano, which would be my dream device. The ReadCloud-powered indie booksellers’ Cumulus is an option, especially for those who want to support our literary culture, but it’s cheaper for a reason (see my earlier post).

The Vox is brought to us by multinational ebook retailer Kobo, which partners in this country with Collins and what remains of REDgroup (the Borders and Angus & Robertson digital businesses) as well as retailing direct via its own website and apps.

Kobo is an ereading innovator. For most of its titles it uses the industry standard ePub format, meaning they can be read on any ereading device. In turn, if you buy a Kobo e-ink ereader, like the Kobo Touch, you can read ePub books purchased from other stores, including Booku.com.

It’s greatest strength, though, is found in its apps for Apple and Android gadgets (the Vox is customised version of the latter). Kobo customers reading via these apps can distract themselves with all sorts of nifty social media and award add-ons. Kobo Pulse allows you to see at a glance how many other Kobo users are reading a particular book and page at the same time as you. Swiping the pulsating semi-circle indicator takes you away from the narrative and immerses you in all sorts of data on the book and its readers – how many are reading it now, how many have read it, what they thought of it, and which of your Facebook friends have read it. You can select text extracts to share via Twitter or Facebook too.

For further distracting ereading interactivity, close a book and check out Kobo’s Reading Life. This section of the Kobo app is a personalised hub of information about you and your books. See a book cover mosaic of all your library titles. See which awards you’ve won (and isn’t it about time we grown-ups were given some recognition for starting a new book, for reading all night long, for using the in-built dictionary, and for finishing a title). Check out stats on your reading habits: what time of day do you do most of your reading? How many pages do you read an hour? How many hours per book?

It’s all very cute and intriguing, but did I mention distracting? And if I posted on Facebook every time I won an award my friends would rapidly get sick of hearing about it, I’m sure. Also, most of the reader comments I’ve seen while using the Kobo app have been a waste of space. I reckon this is a technology whose time has not quite come.

Still, the Kobo Vox makes the most of social reading. When you switch it on, it takes you straight into the Kobo app (the first time via a groovy welcome to Kobo animation/jingle). If you’re a big Kobo fan, and happy to stick with Kobo from now to eternity, that might be a good thing. There’s an intro video clip, and a quick set-up wizard, both of which appear as soon as the device is switched on. It takes a couple of minutes to be up and reading (you can sign in via an existing Kobo password or via Facebook).

The Vox comes in a range of colours, and while it’s a little bulky compared to its e-ink siblings (two heavy for one-handed reading), looks pretty racy. Its colour screen is bright and clear – images sparkle. Other pluses include its built-in WiFi for instant book downloading and size and weight (much smaller and lighter than the iPad). Kobo provides some full colour children’s, travel and cookery titles to make the most of this. These are fairly standard and PDF-like in appearance. We also bought another, a Peppa Pig story, for my toddler son. He was surprised that he couldn’t click on the words or pictures to hear sounds or inspire movement. Apple still owns the children’s book space with clever interactive apps like Nosy Crow’s Cinderella, Hairy Maclary and Paddington Bear.

But if you want to be able to easily buy and read ebooks from other retailers, like Booku.com, Google eBooks or one of the ReadCloud-powered independents, that’ll be trickier. To read an ebook I’d borrowed from my local library, I had to download the Overdrive app (not available in the device’s limited appstore, but via the Overdrive website), connect the device to my desktop computer and fiddle around for ages to transfer it across. I was unable to open some of the other ePubs in my library, and couldn’t find any simple explanation in the instruction manual or online. No doubt there would be a way, but after spending three or four hours trying, I gave up and went back to my Sony Reader and iPad.

That said, Booki.sh books (Booki.sh powers Gleebooks and Readings ebookstores among others), look terrific on the Vox. Being browser-based, they’re easy to import onto the device.

The lack of the standard Android appstore is a disappointment. The selection of apps in the onboard appstore is poor, and finding the apps via the web browser and downloading that way clunky. If you’re primarily after a tablet for email, internet and social media, I’d go for a standard Android tablet or an iPad.

The Vox currently retails for $269.99 and comes with 8GB of storage. It offers no camera. In contrast, the bottom of the range iPad 2 is $579, but comes with 16GB of storage and a built-in camera. The iPad is the only device that allows you to read ebooks from just about anywhere: Apple’s own iBookstore, Booku.com and your local library via the Overdrive app, Amazon via the Kindle app, Kobo, Google and ReadCloud via their apps, and finally, from Booki.sh, using the web browser. If you want it all, I’d save up the extra $300, and hold out till March, when we’re likely to see the iPad 3.

If you want a no-frills option with some flexibility (ie not the locked-into-buying-from-Amazon Kindle), the e-ink touchscreen devices like the Sony Reader ($178 – my review is still coming, but in short, I’m loving it) and Kobo Touch ($129-$150) are great. They support all ePub formats, are easy on the eye and handbag, and are suitable for poolside reading in bright sunlight.

If you’re enticed by the combination of Kobo’s social reading technology and a colour tablet, but don’t want to fork out for an iPad, then consider the Vox. You never know, while you ponder your options, they might even drop the price some more (it originally launched here at $299, and retails for $199 in the US).

Digital diary dates for 2012

Photo: Wolf Concepts' award-winning Caesar's Filofax ad (www.wolfconcepts.com).
Have you started filling in key dates for 2012 in your digital diary yet (read on for a list of ebookish events)?

I switched to using Calendar on the iPhone earlier this year and still miss my Filofax terribly. I am convinced that the act of physically writing an event into the diary ensures its details are etched into my memory too. Typing something in via a touchscreen doesn’t seem to have the same effect at all.

In fact, I’ve just read a blog post that explains why this is indeed the case very well, here on Lifehacker.com:

“With writing, you use your hand to form the letters (and connect them), thereby more actively engaging the brain in the process. Typing, on the other hand, involves just selecting letters by pressing identical-looking keys.”

The trouble is, the Filofax is too heavy to carry around everywhere, whereas the iPhone is always on hand. Sigh.

But back to key dates. There are already plenty of 2012 dates for digital publishing fiends to add to their diaries, written or otherwise. Here are just a few for you to ponder entering:

  • The Australian Society of Authors’ E-Exchange forum, February 18, Sydney, with other states to follow through the year.
  • Copyright Agency Limited member seminar and digital publishing guide launch, including guest speakers Mark Tanner (Google eBooks) and Sabine Heindl (NBN Co) February 23, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne.
  • Perth Writers Festival, February 10-March 3.
  • Adelaide Writers Week, March 2-18, 2012
  • The Australian Society of Authors’ Creating and marketing an app, March 16, Sydney, with other states to follow.
  • Creating your own ebook workshop, March 23-24, Melbourne, with other states to follow.
  • Sydney Writers Festival, May 14-20.
  • Australian Publishers Association’s ebook essentials for editors seminar, June 5 (Sydney) and June 7 (Melbourne).
  • Australian Booksellers Association annual conference, June 17-18, Sydney.
  • Emerging Writers Festival, TBA June, Melbourne.
  • How to publish your ebook course, University of Technology, Sydney, Tuesdays, 6-8pm, from mid-year with dates TBC.
  • Australian Society of Authors’ How to publish your ebook – six-week course (identical syllabus to UTS course above), from July 4, Sydney.
  • Australian Publishers Association digital marketing seminar, July 5 (Sydney) and July 10 (Melbourne).
  • Byron Bay Writers Festival, August 3-5.
  • Melbourne Writers Festival, August 23-September 2.
  • Brisbane Writers Festival, TBA September.
  • Various must-attend if:book events, dates and venues TBA.

    I’ll try to keep this page (and my iPhone calendar) up to date as the year goes on, and hope to see you at some of these events.

  • Please don’t buy a Kindle this Christmas

    I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with the Kindle. It’s a nice gadget, and I like nice gadgets. But Amazon makes it hard for Australians to buy the model of their choice (the white Kindle 3 wasn’t available here, the Kindle Fire isn’t available here, the Kindle Touch isn’t available here).

    In my view, as such they treat rest of the world non-American customers as second class citizens.

    And once I actually got my hands on the model I wanted after a friend visited the US last year, I found the buttons clunky, the shape unwieldy for handbag carrying, and the lack of Australian content infuriating. I sold it on eBay two weeks later.

    This Christmas, my feelings have swung further to the negative, so far, in fact, that I can’t see any way back.

    When I discovered that my film director and academic sister, who loves indie bookshops nearly as much as I do, had bought her second Kindle, I felt the muscles in my shoulders tense.

    When I learned that the communications director of a nearby not-for-profit writers centre had bought a Kindle for her partner for Christmas, I scolded her publicly.

    But when I saw that the Copyright Agency Limited was giving away five free Kindles to entice members to fill out a survey, I was livid. Furious. Incredulous. I mean, seriously. As far as I’m concerned, the non-profit rights management organisation giving away Kindles is like the Slow Food Movement giving away McDonald’s vouchers.

    After learning that Amazon has some 60 per cent of the US ebook market and perhaps a similar stake here, I decided the time had come to take anti-multinational giant action, so here I am, imploring you to reconsider your ebook and ereader buying plans.

    Sure, Amazon’s books are cheap, but are you willing to sacrifice the livelihood of all our indie booksellers for the sake of a few bucks? When did you last attend a book launch, with free wine and cheese, in an Amazon store? And do you really want to own an ereader that locks you in, preventing you from buying and reading ebooks from other retailers like Booku.com, Gleebooks, Readings, Pages & Pages, Avid Reader, Shearers, Books for Cooks, Kobo, Apple and Google?

    Can’t you see that it is the people behind our indies that promote great Australian writing? When did you last receive and act on a personal recommendation on an Aussie novel from an Amazon staff member?

    I’m hoping you’re keen to buy books from a variety of sources, to support diversity in bookselling and in our literary culture. And I’m imploring you this Christmas to consider an iPad, an Android tablet, a Sony Reader or a Kobo instead.

    There’s a red Sony Reader in my Christmas stocking, and it’s lighter and better looking than the Kindle (review coming soon). I’m just about to unwrap the Kobo Vox, which looks like a great low-cost tablet option too (review coming soon too).

    The D Publishing furore, exciting Earls news and if:book’s ebook

    So, surely the digital publishing world is winding down for Christmas? The list of announcements and industry stoushes must be coming to an end? Nope, not if the buzz around D Publishing’s contracts, Exciting Press’s Nick Earls deal and if:book Australia’s first ebook are any indication.

    According to Crikey’s new Lit-icism blogger, Bethanie Blanchard, the furore over Dymocks’ D Publishing venture’s author contracts continues. She provides an excellent analysis here. D Publishing is a new venture for the book retailer, launched only a few weeks ago. Bookish social media users have been in a flap ever since with warnings for authors over what has been described as “Australia’s worst publishing contract”.

    I haven’t seen one of the contracts, but would argue that any author can negotiate with any prospective publisher, and if that publisher won’t budge on clauses of concern, then they’re probably not going to care much about the author and their book/s in the future either, so the author should look elsewhere. Smashwords might be a good start, though it is possible to go it alone too. Services like BookBaby and Lulu are other options to consider.

    If they’ll have you, the mainstream publishers still seem to be the best bet in terms of creating a professionally edited, well-designed and marketed product, though Australia’s own Nick Earls has just spurned the legacy publishers to sign a 12-book digital distribution deal with a small US start-up, Exciting Press. Bet they’re excited!

    Meanwhile, the good people at if:book Australia have just published a free ebook, Hand Made High Tech, containing ten essays from Australian writers on the future of books and reading in a digital world. It’s edited by if:book Australia manager Simon Groth, and published using the WordPress-powered PressBooks platform. You can download it free for Kindle, as an ePub file for your e-ink reader, as a PDF, or read it online. There’s a hashtag, #ifbookessay, so you can join the conversation while reading too.

    The opening chapter is by Associate Professor Sherman Young, author of The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book (UNSW Press 2007) and Media Convergence (Palgrave, 2011). I haven’t yet read the latter, but recommend the former to anyone who is interested in the future of the book. Sadly, it is not available as an ebook, but you can order the print version. It’s a very beautiful object as far as printed book go.

    I’m looking forward to reading the second chapter, by Australian publishing veteran Peter Donoughue, the former managing director of John Wiley & Sons Australia blogs about industry developments at Pub Date Critical. It was one of his posts that finally helped me get my head around the wholesale versus agency models for book distribution.

    The other essayists are author John Birmingham, founder and CEO of Norg Media Bronwen Clune, digital poet Jason Nelson, journalist, novelist and podcaster Myke Bartlett, comics guru Jackie Ryan, writer and game developer Paul Callaghan and author of the Writer’s Guide to Making a Digital Living Christy Dena.

    A very appy bear called Paddington

    Nostalgia reigned as I first shared the new iPad app edition of the 1958 children’s classic Paddington Bear with my son.

    I suspect the same would be true for most of you.

    A copy of follow-up title Paddington in the Garden is among the favourite children’s books to have survived on my shelves for decades, having inspired me to take ownership of my own little corner of the garden as a child.

    The next generation will be no different. I bought a little Paddington toy a year ago for my son, and was touched to find upon reaching my desk one morning that at age 15 months, he’d thoughtfully popped it into my handbag to take to work.

    HarperCollins Children’s Books (UK) is the publisher of the new iPad edition of Paddington Bear ($A1.99 from iTunes), having partnered with youth digital specialist Bold Creative on the software, and a fine job they’ve done in putting it together too.

    The design is stunning. The digitised RW Alley illustrations are crystal clear, with bright colours and plenty of white space to boost their impact.

    There are lots of in-app options: to buy the printed version, to appear in a portrait with Paddington, to record your own reading of the story, to send a message to author Michael Bond (who lives near Paddington Station in London himself, these days), to share news of the app’s arrival via email, Facebook or Twitter, and to be read to or read on your own.

    The text appears on each page in a horizontal box that can be dragged off, to leave the illustrations in full view.

    The app is full of very cute, yet simple, interactive animations. Touch a pigeon to giggle as it defecates on the footpath. Tap your finger on Paddington as he sits on a cafe table, and watch him fall over on, thus covering himself with, cake. Readers can tap on a London bus to hear a bell, or on a black cab to hear its horn toot.

    My son loved all of this, but especially the pigeon animation, which he takes much delight in activating over and over again.

    Watching him play with these elements reminded me of the fun he had with books like Spot’s Noisy Car – before he tore the flaps off and wore out the horn button.

    The iPad can never replicate the fun of little fingers poking their way through the holes in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but it has other benefits Eric Carle may never have imagined.

    What do you call an ereader virus?

    Aaargghhhhhhh!
    Hopefully you’ve been having too much fun at Christmas parties to notice that uBookish has been a bit quiet of late – but not so much fun that you won’t notice our flurry of activity in coming days.

    The lack of posts is not through choice – I have a long list of ideas at the ready (Part III of my November newsfest on Titlepage and the Book Industry Strategy Group report, my review of the Sony Reader, an update on the Australian Publishers Association’s Business of Digital Rights Seminar and a look at ebook distribution to name a few).

    As well as the usual lack of time, I’ve been held back by a series of trojan attacks on my PC (read on for some advice to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to you, and for a very silly joke about malware and ebooks – which we hope are two words set to rarely appear in the same sentence in future).

    About three weeks ago, our Norton software started warning that its expiry date was near. I tried to click through to pay another year’s annual fee, but had no luck. After hitting submit, the dialogue box would just hang, looking as though it might at any time congratulate me on renewing my subscription, but in fact never doing anything much at all. I tried several times, but eventually in frustration put the task to one side for a quieter day.

    There were more urgent matters to consider (I thought), like marking student papers, writing a news story for Bookseller + Publisher and compiling some research for the Copyright Agency Limited’s upcoming guide to digital publishing.

    It was in the process of the latter task that I first noticed a problem. Google searches result lists would look safe enough, but clicking on the links would lead me to all sorts of utterly irrelevant pages.

    I tried rebooting and that seemed to fix it. Then, a few hours later, the problem would return. A couple of times, the PC crashed, but it came back to life. One morning, I spent three hours trying to fix the problem by again trying to restore our Norton subscription (still no luck) and then installing and running Microsoft’s Security Essentials.

    Lifehacker recommends the Microsoft product ahead of all others, and it did find and remove about a dozen trojans, malware files and viruses.

    I’d hoped this would solve everything, but there was one file that Security Essentials singled out but did not remove as it didn’t recognize it. Perhaps it was this one that was the killer, because that evening while I slept, my husband was working on our Samsung laptop when it crashed completely.

    We can’t even get Windows to start up (believe me, I have tried, wasting another three hours the other day).

    So now I’m wondering about the family photo collection.

    My poor students are still waiting for their marked feature stories.

    I’m trying to get into work early enough to do my blog posting before colleagues arrive and expect me to be at work on our magazine, but failing because it’s Christmas and my family needs me more than ever outside of childcare hours.

    Our fingers are crossed that a friend who has some Linux expertise will be able to access our files and revive the PC for us when he has some time later this week.

    It’s all helped in my decision about whether to buy a Mac or PC next (though Lifehacker warns that while less so, Macs are vulnerable to attack too).

    Please beware of malware this Christmas, and make sure your anti-virus software is up to date. At the very least, take Lifehacker’s advice and make sure you browse safely.

    With spammers and hackers constantly hassling me via email, automated blog posts and PC threats, I have had a grim thought. For how long will my iPad, iPhone and Sony Reader be safe from their devious and costly (in terms of time and money) plots?

    Which brings me to the joke (discovered here).

    Q: What do you call an ereader virus?

    A: A bookworm.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    Non-Stop News November: Part II

    Gleebooks’s ebooks site.

    Google has announced that it will power ebook offerings from national retail chains The Co-op Bookshop (which sells primarily academic and trade books on-campus) and QBD The Bookshop (a clearing house and discount specialist) soon (in addition to those of launch partners Dymocks and Booktopia, whose Google eBooks-fed sites went live three weeks ago).

    Like Amazon, Google has an affiliate program whereby booksellers, publishers, web site operators and bloggers can sign up to take a commission on books sold when they refer their users to Google eBooks.

    It sounds tempting to a blogger like me until you consider the fact that you’re sending your readers’ money offshore, rather than supporting a local business like Booku or your local bricks and mortar indie, an thus potentially encouraging the contraction of the market. One of the main reasons I still buy the odd printed book is to make sure my local indie, and its equivalents in various holiday destinations, stay in business.

    Hopefully the indies are looking at options for offering a similar set-up to like-minded bloggers and publishers.

    Speaking of indies, other adventurous bricks and mortar bookshops (in addition to those working with ReadCloud as mentioned in the previous post here) that will face the search engine results challenge from Google are those in partnership with another cloud-based ereading start-up, Melbourne’s Booki.sh.

    Booki.sh, which is based on a web browser rather than downloadable file model, partnered with Victorian indie chain Readings to launch a pilot store in January this year. In November, they helped Sydney favourite Gleebooks, Tasmania’s Fullers, Queensland’s Mary Ryan’s (also in Byron Bay), Melbourne’s Books for Cooks and Brisbane’s community minded Avid Reader to enter the ebook market.

    All of the indies battle existing giants The Book Depository and its new owner Amazon as well as Apple and Kobo (which powers Collins Booksellers’ ebook offerings here as well as the now Pearson-owned Borders/Angus & Robertson online store and the standalone Kobo online store).

    Speaking of giants, Pearson is the parent company of Penguin Books, and speaking of a big month in the book industry, Canadian-founded Kobo was bought out (for $US315 million) a few weeks back by Japanese ecommerce company Rakuten in a move expected to encourage its growth.

    On Kobo, did you know that like Dymocks, it has recently followed in Amazon’s footsteps and announced plans to publish books as well as being a seller of them?

    Are you keeping up with the nation’s most recent book news? It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

    I haven’t even gotten to the Federal Government’s Book Industry Strategy Group, which handed down its final report on November 9 (the same day as the ReadCloud/Pages & Pages event and the day after Google eBooks arrived in Australia), or the planned Australian Publishers Association/Bowker Titlepage-based ebook retail platform (the final piece in the ebook retail puzzle in this country).

    My take on those in the next post, Part III, coming soon to uBookish. Read Part I here.

    Non-Stop News November: Part I

    Click on the image to see the Google advantage in action.
    After more than two years of watching their local publishing colleagues get digital, tech giant international competitors eat into their market, and a handful of locals like Booku.com enter the fray, many of Australia’s top independent booksellers are finally, happily, in a position to provide their customers with ebooks … in time for Christmas, too.

    It’s great news for the industry and for consumers. The more players there are in the market, the more seriously the publishers will have to be about meeting our demands, by which I mean providing us with the ebooks we want to read, at an appropriate price point, when we want to read them.

    The more Australian retail players there are in the ebook market, the more virtual hand-selling of our own authors’ works there will be, and, one would hope as a result, the more Australian authors being published.

    The opportunity that indie ebookstores bring to sell Australian – and in specific cases, hyper-local – books to a global market has to be a good for our literary scene too.

    Serendipitous meetings with books we’re sure to love are just as much more likely in an online indie as a bricks and mortar in my view. See how long it takes you to find a book you’d like to buy when browsing in Apple’s iBookstore compared to Booku and you’ll see what I mean.

    Speaking of multinationals, it intrigues me that while Google had been talking about launching its ebookstore in Australia for more than a year, it chose to go live the day before the first of several independent bricks and mortar Australian booksellers opened their own ebook arms last month.

    The search engine behemoth announced the opening of its own ebookstore, and two others in which is partner (with Dymocks – which is separately soon to launch its own publishing arm, D Publishing – and Booktopia), on November 8, several days after the invitations for the November 9 opening of Mosman indie Pages & Pages’ launch (in partnership with Australian social reading tech start-up ReadCloud), had gone out. A coincidence? Perhaps.

    Pages & Pages will be followed later this month (or not long after) by fellow ReadCloud partners including Better Read than Dead (of Newtown), Shearer’s (Leichhardt), Abbey’s (Sydney city) and indie chain Berkelouw. ReadCloud says it is working with some 200 bookstores.

    Some will sell the previously mentioned Cumulus tablet.

    All of them will face a great challenge from Google in that many of their customers will find them via a Google search. Will Google eBooks pop up in those same search results? A quick test suggests yes, it will, though not at the top of the page. Not yet, not on my terminal, anyway. That said, take a look at the image below and see where Google eBooks appears when you search for “eBooks Sydney”.

    For more on Google’s plans in Australia and details of the latest Booki.sh-powered indie ebookstore launches, see Part II here.

    The quick ebook fix vs library loans

    How good are ebooks for instant gratification?

    Want to read a book now, right now, rather than heading to a bricks and mortar bookshop or library, or waiting till Christmas on the off chance that someone will buy it for you? Download an ebook.

    I loved libraries as a child, but in recent years have found my impatience to read the latest/newest/most popular book when I want to read it means they’re not much use to me.

    When I heard that my local library service here in the ACT was offering ebooks, I saw the potential for dramatic savings.

    I popped into the Kingston library and joined. With library card (and its magic numbers) in tow, I signed up online for Libraries ACT’s digital service.

    The range is small. Few publishers have signed up – probably because they’re concerned that people will stop buying their ebooks if they can simply borrow them digitally instead.

    The first book I tried to borrow, Anh Do’s The Happiest Refugee, was available for ebook loan. But there was a waiting list of 35 people ahead of me. I’ve wanted to read this book for quite some time – it’s won so many awards and I expect it will be an uplifting tale with plenty to remind us of how lucky we are – so I figured I’d wait.

    Publishers could in theory make their books available to every potential library borrower instantly. They choose to impose digital rights management (DRM) restrictions on each title so that it can only be shared with a certain number of readers at any one time, and/or for a certain amount of time. The library runs this warning on its ebook pages: “Copyright Protection (DRM) required by the Publisher may be applied to this title to limit or prohibit printing or copying. File sharing or redistribution is prohibited. Your rights to access this material expire at the end of the lending period.”

    Some three months later, in the middle of a massive deadline week for the magazine I work on AND for the class I teach at uni, I received an email to let me know it was my turn at last. If I logged on within five days, I could download The Happiest Refugee and read it on my iPhone or iPad instantly.

    I read the email then went back to more urgent tasks. On Saturday morning, I remembered, hunted down the email, and clicked on the link that would take me to the book.

    Noooooo! I’d taken longer than five days, and had the option of forgetting all about it, or moving back to the bottom of the waiting list. There are still a couple of dozen ahead of me, and I’ve decided to buy it from Booku instead so I can read it over the summer.

    Another book I’ve been meaning to read for ages, The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, had a shorter waiting list. My name reached the top after only a month-long wait. I downloaded it immediately to avoid any risk of missing out again, and was reading within a couple of minutes. Now I can’t stop.

    If you haven’t read The Kite Runner, join the 20 million or so who have bought a copy to date and make some time to do so soon. Like the Happiest Refugee, it is moving and devastating yet inspirational. I can’t stop thinking about it. Vividly drawn scenes are replaying themselves in my mind constantly. I’m grappling with issues raised each time I put it down (well, put down the Sony Reader upon which I’m immersing myself in the experience). You can buy it instantly here for $10.18, and at that price, why wouldn’t you?

    Cumulus adds colour to the ereader scene

    The Cumulus at Pages & Pages.
    Started your Christmas shopping yet?

    I’ve been wishing my family all had ereaders so that I could give them Booku vouchers, or that I had enough cash stashed away to buy them a Kobo, Sony Reader, Kindle, iPad or the newest kid on the block, the Cumulus.

    The Cumulus is a colour tablet based on Google’s Android mobile operating system. It’ll soon be available in a handful of bricks and mortar bookstores, mainly in Sydney. Some of our more cutting-edge outlets, like that of Australian Booksellers Association president Jon Page, Pages & Pages in Mosman, Sydney, have decided to encourage ebook reading rather than hoping the digital revolution will go away.

    I had a play around with the Cumulus last week at its very own launch party at Pages & Pages (which coincided with the launch of that retailer’s own ebookstore, powered by Australian social reading start-up ReadCloud).

    The Cumulus has some positive selling points: it’s cheap for a colour device at $199, it’s smaller and lighter than the iPad (and not that much heavier than e-ink devices like those from Kindle or Kobo), and given it runs on Android, offers access to plenty of unbookish apps and content as well as ereading. Users can download books from most ebookstores (including Booku.com) and read them on the device, which makes it much more versatile than a locked-in-to-Amazon Kindle. There’s even a camera, though not a very powerful one (1.3 megapixel).

    The Cumulus measures 193mm x 115mm x 12.5mm and weighs 380g. The battery lasts for seven hours and takes three hours to fully charge.

    But the 7″ capacitive touchscreen frustrated me. No doubt I’ve been spoilt by the super responsive screens Apple’s iGadgets sport.

    A year or so ago I reviewed Telstra’s ridiculously named Telstra’s T Touch Tab, or was it Touch T Tab? Not a name that will be remembered as one of the greats.

    Cumulus, now there’s a name suited to our cloud tech times.

    Anyway, the Telstra tablet was awful. It was heavy, clunky, and featured a strange metal fold out stand and a touchscreen that required extra oomph in each swipe or tap. My mother received a free one with her home broadband bundle a few months later and never even took it out of the box. I read recently that they’ve discontinued the product and was not surprised.

    The Cumulus’s screen reminds me a little of that of the T Tab. It was more reactive, but not as sensitive as those of my iPhone or iPad.

    I’d always be prepared to pay more for a device with a responsive touchscreen, especially for reading where swiping to turn the page is a fairly regular occurrence.

    So as it turns out, I won’t be buying a Cumulus, or a Kindle, for either of my parents this Christmas.

    I am still keen to take a look at the Kobo Vox, which is $100 more expensive than the Cumulus but hopefully worth it, and to compare the new e-ink Kobo Touch and latest Sony Reader.

    The Vox is due to hit the market here later this month, but the Sony Reader is available now. Sony have lent me one for a week to test. Stay tuned for my review.

    A second chance for Janie (+ this book)

    The book's original cover.

    When did you last read a book you knew nothing about by an author you’d never heard of?

    If you’re anything like me, recommendations, reviews and revisits to favourite authors past play a big role in your reading choices.

    So when a colleague who reads a book a week told me back in April 2007 that she thought I’d really enjoy Growing Up Again by Catriona McCloud, I took it home and put it on the to-read bookshelf. I’ve moved house five times since, adding the very purple-covered book to a box, lugging it from one house to the next, and placing it back on the shelf each time.

    It survived My Great Big Book Cull (last time we moved I vowed to buy only ebooks from then on and sorted my printed books into those I can’t live without – 20 cartons – and those I can bear to part with – 20 cartons).

    Last week, I had to do a further cull to make room for all those self-improvement books I mentioned here recently, so I picked up Growing Up Again to toss it in an out-box, thinking that if I hadn’t read it yet, I probably never would.

    I decided to have one last read of the blurb on the back cover. If my aforementioned colleague thought there was something in it for me, she must’ve had a reason.

    “Janie Lawson’s life hasn’t turned out quite the way she’d hoped. Nearly forty, she’s in a marriage that’s frozen over with a mother-in-law she despises …”

    Ah ha! That was the problem first time around. In 2007, I was years from 40, co-habiting but not yet engaged, and thought I’d end up being great friends with my future mother-in-law. I’ve grown into this book.
    I read on.

    “Before Janie can make the final step toward divorce, though, her fate is taken out of her hands. Janie wakes up in her old bedroom and finds it just as it was in her teens …”

    Swept back in time, and into her 15-year-old body, Janie sets out to right some of the serious wrongs of the 1980s – starting with saving Lady Diana Spencer from the clutches of the Camilla Parker Bowles-loving Prince of Wales. She tries to prevent the Tiananmen massacre and warn authorities about serial killers, nuclear disasters and terrorist attacks.

    It was the Lady Diana reference that made me open the book and start reading rather than sending the book to the departure lounge. I remember the engagement of Charles and Diana vividly. I was one romantic little girl. If I’d known then what we know now, I would’ve been devastated for Diana, and tried to save her from heartache too.
    Janie is a sweet character, and the maturity and charm with which she steers her parents and friends towards better lives is fairy godmother-like.

    The cover (whether the original as pictured on this page or current as seen here) leads you to believe you’re picking up a work of chick lit, but there is no time travel in Bridget Jones. I daren’t compare Growing Up Again to The Time Traveller’s Wife because I made the mistake of seeing the film before I read the book. The film was so awful, I’m not sure I can be bothered to read the book now.

    If you’re looking for a light summer read for the beach bag, you could do worse than McCloud’s book. It’ll demand your attention from start to finish, and make you giggle as well as frown at times. It addresses some serious issues, from gambling and alcoholism to Down Syndrome and dyslexia, amid the froth and frivolity.

    I’m glad I gave it a second chance, and am now pondering what I’d do differently if I had my time again.

    Read more books? Definitely!

    Growing Up Again is on sale here at Booku.com for less than $9.