The Bog of Lost Scholars

December 2, 2010

Switching to Ebooks

Filed under: Publishing and Writing,The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 12:44 am

I’ve made the switch to ebooks — almost.

Recently I realized that I’m doing the majority of my fiction reading on my iPod Touch. I still have plenty of paper books, I still like paper books, and I still check out paper books from the library, but when it comes to actually making the time to read, I’m more likely to read on my Touch than I am to read the paper book. The Touch is always on me and easy to pull out when I have a few spare minutes. I can go immediately to where I left off; there’s no danger of a bookmark falling out, and because of the small screen size, there’s no hunting across two pages to find where I left off (a constant problem when I was trying to read Foote’s The Civil War, and one reason I’ve only finished the first volume). If I’m reading something huge, like The Lord of the Rings or The Count of Monte Cristo, that’s okay; the book still fits in my pocket and doesn’t weigh any more.

I knew I’d completed the switch when I read Bujold’s latest, Cryoburn, on the Touch. I’ve got the paper book as well; I only opened it once to look at the design and layout. Overall, I’m now an ebook reader…

…but I’m not yet an ebook buyer.

No, this is not a confession of piracy. All the ebooks on my Touch are legal copies. But most of them are free — Project Gutenberg downloads, fanfiction stories downloaded from Archive of Our Own, free sample books from various publishers, etc. I’ve bought a few Baen books and a few books from Fictionwise when it still had a good micropay program, but the total number of ebooks I’ve paid for might not hit two digits.

Why? Because when I buy a book, I want to own the book.

If I buy a book with DRM, what happens when I need to convert the book to a different format, or the DRM authorization server is shut down, or I switch to a new device and discover I’ve used up all the devices I was allowed to authorize the book on? I’ve lost the book, unless I want to break federal law and strip the DRM.

If I can’t own the ebook, then I don’t want to buy it. Baen’s books are great, because there’s no DRM and I can download different formats when I need to. But Baen only publishes a couple of the authors I really love to read.

I have a few hundred paper books that I want to get in ebook format someday. The books I love enough to keep in my house are mostly ones I love enough to pay twice for them, and some of them were bought used anyway, so this’d be a great chance to finally pay the author. But if the ebook comes with strings attached? I’m not that desperate to have it.

April 19, 2010

Books for Entertainment vs. Books for Research

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 11:06 pm

A recent post by Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, helped me pinpoint one of the disconnects I feel as a publishing professional with the discussion of ebooks and publishing changes.

In On Demand: Get out of the Way, or Give Me the Clicker, Sarah says:

But look at the progress elsewhere in entertainment media, and look at the puzzle that is publishing. If you’re in publishing, do you know about the alignment and collaboration of different technologies to make it easier for me to do something else: from my couch, I can watch tv, watch a Netflix movie, watch something from Hulu, play a game, or listen to music.

And it finally clicked for me: Most of the discussions I read about ebooks are focusing on reading as entertainment. But university presses aren’t primarily about books as entertainment; they’re about books for education, reference, in-depth scholarship.

Not that on-demand doesn’t apply to these uses! Of course I want to get information as fast as possible. If I’m trying to identify a weird bird outside, it does me no good to order a book that’ll get here three weeks from now — but it also does me no good to fire up the Wii or download a movie. If I need to read a particular person’s scholarship on Clarice Lispector for a journal article, the Wikipedia entry isn’t going to help. If I want an in-depth study of Sweatt v. Painter, I may not be thrilled about waiting until September for a book, but Netflix is no help either — I might be able to find a documentary that gives an overview, but not the level of detail I need. When I have a specific need, I’d rather get the book now, but I’m willing to wait because there’s no substitute.*

On the other hand, if I’m looking for something to keep me entertained while I’m waiting at the bus stop or sitting up with a sick kid at 2am, if one book isn’t available, I’ve got plenty of other choices: a movie, or a game, or a different book, or a book I already own. It’s in the publisher’s interest to make their book as easy for me to get as possible, because there’s plenty of other books and activities to compete with it.

*Yes, sometimes there is a substitute — an online source, or a preprint in a university’s Open Access repository, or another study by someone else. But the number of choices for, say, scholarly studies of the relationship between writing and violence in Spanish American literature is far more limited than the number of choices for “how can I entertain myself for half an hour before I go to bed?”

November 19, 2009

Thoughts on Harlequin Horizons

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 1:58 am

Up-front disclaimer: I work for a university press and have worked there for fifteen years as of the end of this month. I do not speak for my employer, the university, the state, the university press community, etc. etc.etc. That being out of the way….

Self-publishing is a perfectly legitimate endeavor. If you want 100% creative and marketing control over your work, or if you want to receive 100% of the profits from your book, self-publishing is the only way you’ll get that. If you regularly do lectures and have a built-in venue to sell your books, or if you’re an expert in a narrow area and you know how to reach the other people interested in that subject, self-publishing can work very well for you. Doing your family genealogy? Writing a book that’s of great interest to people in your small town but limited interest to anyone else? Great! Publish it yourself!

I’d even argue that some of the vanity publishing services can be worth the money for some people. I can readily imagine, say, a well-off lecturer who wants a book to sell on their tours but who’s too busy to do all the legwork of getting an ISBN, finding and hiring a copyeditor, designing a cover, etc.; for them, it may be worthwhile to pay a flat fee to a service to get these things done for them.

But the more I’m reading about Harlequin Horizons, the more little things bug me.


June 18, 2009

Recent Reading: How to Write a Novel

Filed under: Publishing and Writing,The Castiron Reading Journal — castiron @ 11:29 pm

Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, How Not to Write a Novel. Numerous examples of what doesn’t work when writing a novel. Entertaining, and “Where Not to Send Your Novel” just capped the reading experience.

September 28, 2007

Unacceptable Use of Trademark

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 10:51 pm

I just caught myself suggesting that my boyfriend go to and Google for a particular MP3.

Bad use of word Google, a trademark of Google, Inc. Bad, bad. No intellectual property treats for me.

February 14, 2007

A Cheesy Poem

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 1:10 am

In Response to Omar

Perhaps some chips and salsa, not the bread;
Unless they’ve made a fresh batch at the store,
and if the butter’s soft enough to spread.
Some chicken wrapped in corn tortillas, or
Some fries, some cheese, a bowl of soup;
A piece of toast. A salad would suffice;
Or I could cook some of that ugly goop
from greens and peanut butter. Water, ice;
A glass of beer — the good stuff, not the lite;
Perhaps agave lime beer for a change;
Or cola, tea, or even, red or white,
That wine; a common meal, or one that’s strange:

I’ll take whatever’s on the table now —
But always thou, and thou, and ever thou.

January 1, 2007


Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 9:05 pm

The ISBN-10 is dead. Long live the ISBN-13.

(Actually, the ISBN-10 will still be lurking along for as long as pre-2006 copies of books exist, but as far as new books go, it’s 13 all the way!)

December 29, 2006


Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 5:26 pm

I am utterly thrilled to have received a Smart Bitch Title for my entry in their Duncan’s Big Misunderstanding Contest (entry #6).

(Don’t worry; I won’t let it go to my head.)

December 20, 2006

One Single Sentence

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 6:00 pm

Kim Allen tagged me to answer answer Richard Feynman’s “one-sentence challenge”: If all knowledge about your field were about to expire, what one sentence would you want to pass on to the future? (Feynman said about physics, “Everything is made of atoms.”)

My field is publishing, and my specific job centers on data wrangling. So my one-sentence advice to the future would be, “Make it easy to change a single letter.”

That covers classic moveable type, of course. It also covers electronic work — if you don’t have native files, or they’re in a format you can no longer read, it’s no longer easy to change that one-letter typo on page 47. And if it’s hard to change a single letter, it’ll also be hard to change a sentence, reformat the text to fit a different page size, etc.

December 19, 2006

Yuletide Done.

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 10:51 am

Note to self: Volunteering to write a pinch hit story for Yuletide Treasure is a helpful act to the fic community and good practice for forcing your brain to spit out 1K+ words in a week. However, it is not conducive to sleeping. Sleep is also good, as is having brains to accomplish paid work.

Anyway, my original Yuletide story and my pinch hit are done, and I’ll talk more about them in January when authors are revealed. I’m very pleased with how I did on my original assignment; I think I had a good idea on the pinch hit, but the execution left a bit to be desired. Still, I hope the recipient will still find it an interesting story.

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