Articles by Max Rivlin-Nadler

Living in a DRM-Free World

Digital Rights Management, the software that helped protect the copyright of books, but turned out to be a rather large hindrance to many readers, is beginning to go the way of the Dodo. More and more businesses that sell eBooks are taking the plunge and ditching DRM (including Lulu). But has the loss of this security measure affected sales? Has the eBook market been flooded with pirated copies of books that drag down the market and result in losses in profit to authors and publishers? In short, no.

Tor Books, the high-profile science-fiction publisher dropped DRM last April, and they have seen “no discernible increase in piracy on any of our titles, despite them being DRM-free for nearly a year,” according to their editorial director, Julie Crisp.

Consumers of eBooks have long been in favor of getting rid of DRM. It has made a hassle out of switching eBooks from one reader to another, and hindered the reading experience of readers who have paid to read their favorite authors.

Authors as well have applauded the move away from DRM. However, some larger publishers believe that DRM-free copies of their books published in other territories will find their way back to their own market, thus increasing the likelihood of digital piracy. Still, Tor’s report that there hasn’t been any discernible change in sales and readership is proof that DRM didn’t do much to protect authors.

“The move has been a hugely positive one for us, it’s helped establish Tor and Tor UK as an imprint that listens to its readers and authors when they approach us with a mutual concern — and for that we’ve gained an amazing amount of support and loyalty from the community,” Crisp reported.

When it comes to independent publishing, DRM has long been considered something that was once thought necessary, but is no longer needed, especially in a reading atmosphere that so proudly supports its writers.  Already, video games and music have begun to move away from these protections, as well.

What will be interesting is to see is if anyone will stick to DRM in the next few years. How have you felt as a Lulu author in a DRM-free world? What other minor changes in the publishing model would you like to see happen over the next few years?

Worldreader delivers with mobile phones and eBooks

When we think of an ideal e-reader, we tend to visualize something like the Nook or Kindle or iPad — a device that has the dimensions, but not necessarily the heft of a book. Most us probably don’t think of our cell phones.

iPhones screens have remained relatively small and don’t lend themselves to sustained reading. While the Samsung Galaxy screen is big for a phone, it still doesn’t compare to the ease of reading on a tablet or Kindle. It might seem less than ideal for us, but for awhole sector of the world’s readers, cellular phones are now the central medium for reading eBooks.

In developing countries, where landlines have been skipped entirely and millions of people have directly adopted cell phones as their main interaction with technology,  eBooks are now being read in massive amounts on older, smaller phones that run off of a 2G wireless connection. The non-profit organization Worldreader, which used to just distribute Kindles to children in Africa, has now begun a mobile application where anyone with a mobile phone can access up to 1,400 eBooks for free.

Susan Moody, Worldreader’s director of marketing and communications, told the website Mashable that, “Feature phones are omnipresent in the developing world. They’re people’s lifelines; they’re where they get their access to payments and the Internet.”

Worldreader takes advantage of Creative Commons licenses to make available classic children’s books like Nancy Drew and Black Beauty. They also partner with larger publishers to offer such all-time favorites as Matilda and the Magic Tree House series. In addition, they offer a good amount of Africa-centric literature. Taking advantage of existing technological infrastructure to get kids hooked on reading is a wonderful idea, even if it puts eBooks on some unfamiliar territory.

Through the project, Worldreader has found some interesting (but somewhat predictable trends) — young women read a lot, and Romance is the most popular genre.

eBooks, often heralded as the end of publishing as we know it, continue to fight against that idea by introducing great works to even more readers everyday, readers who will search for even more books.

Would you ever read on a small cell phone screen with a slow 2G connection? Have you? What other ways can eBooks continue to reach out?

Image courtesy of WorldReader

Writing and work ethic

A dear friend of mine told me the other day that she couldn’t understand how I was able to write. “I just sit down at my computer and, well, eventually I start writing,” I told her.

“No,” she said. “I mean, I don’t understand how you can make yourself do something that is so incredibly frustrating to me. I hate writing — I can’t believe you do it for fun.”

I replied, “Well, it’s not always fun.”

Because as we writers know, it isn’t always fun. Sitting down to write, there are always those “no good, very bad” days where writing isn’t something that relaxes us or even something we take pleasure in. It drives us insane. We want to do anything but write. (The Internet seems like a great place to hide from writing. Talk to any writer and they can tell you all about the most mind-numbing waste-of-time websites on the Internet and how they have spent considerable time there.)

So why do we stay writing, even as day has turned to night, a long frustrating night into another bleary-eyed morning? Why do we keep writing something that might never find a huge audience, or something we know is just going to get cut in edits?

I believe that’s where work ethic comes in, and even though only a few lucky people on this Earth get to call writing a job, there is some aspect of being a writer that demands you take it as seriously as your job. You are producing art, but you are also doing “work.”

That’s the separation between people who write opportunistically and without much labor and writers who have to sit and struggle through a piece, and toss and turn all night because wow-does-that-scene-stink. Sometimes you have to force yourself to write, just because you told yourself you would. Even if nothing good comes of it, at least you put more hours into your craft, your strange and beautiful desire to translate and work through ideas on a page.

A writer’s work-ethic comes from the knowledge that it’s not that first hour where you write your best, but that third or fourth. That moment when the words (after losing all sense from endless re-reading), begin to coalesce into something extraordinary and true. A writer’s work-ethic is knowledge that the payoff isn’t always in the moment of writing itself, or even publication, but the fact that you participated in part of a long history of a phenomenon of inward-thinking and art. It’s beautiful to be a part of, even if it’s not always fun or prosperous.

So the next time someone asks you why you write, why you can’t make an event or go out that night because you have to do it, and why you can’t just write another time,  maybe it’s best just to say, “Because I need to. Because I want to.”

Should eBooks even try to be books?

Photo Source: Gizmodo

We can all agree that when it comes to eBooks, we’re still at the very early stages of their existence. Like early video games or early films, we have yet to push the boundaries that will ultimately define the format.

In a piece for Gizmodo, businessman Kane Hsieh asks why we persist in creating eBooks that are still grounded on the model of a physical book. Like when television shows were simply filmed stage plays, he believes we’re at the beginning of a long period of innovation — if only we allow ourselves to get the technology and the business model right.

He writes:

The problem with eBooks as they exist now is the lack of user experience innovation. Like the first television shows that only played grainy recordings of theater shows, the eBook is a new medium that has yet to see any true innovation, and resorts to imitating an old medium. This is obvious in skeuomorphic visual cues of eBook apps. Designers have tried incredibly hard to mimic the page-turns and sound effects of a real book, but these ersatz interactions satisfy a bibliophile as much as a picture of water satisfies a man in the desert.

Which is exactly why eBooks should keep changing. Only when authors conceive of eBooks as something different than a physical book (which, we’ve established, aren’t going anywhere), will eBooks really take off and come into their own. Something that Hsieh points out is the rise of serialized fiction — authors can now write books and release chapters as they go — imagine receiving input from your fan-base on what should happen next, or where you’ve gone wrong and possible corrections you can make.

Another great point he brings up is the idea of bundling print and digital books together. He describes how in other technology shifts, like the one from a CD to MP3 to putting them on the cloud, you only had to buy the song once. Yet with books and eBooks, you end up buying the book several times as you buy it physically, digitally, and then sometimes again for digital as readers shift. He makes the great point that the time is coming for a flat price for a book, both digital and physical, to be yours in perpetuity.

That brings him to his last point, which is the idea of a eBook subscription service, similar to the music-sharing site Spotify. Book subscriptions hearken back to the age of book-of-the-month clubs, when you would get a different book each month. Now, Hsieh, and a lot of businesses, are pushing for a subscription to all the eBooks you would want to read for a single monthly rate.

These are all interesting ideas, and definitely are exciting for fans of both reading and technology.

Do you think eBooks will continue to change? How so? And would you buy a subscription to all eBooks? Let us know!

The Modern Poet

It’s National Poetry Month and in conjunction with Poets.org, we are celebrating the works and contributions of poets from all over the world.  Check out all of the happenings here.

Poets face an interesting dilemma in the contemporary publishing field — while the rest of the industry is in flux, their lot remains mostly the same. Poetry will never produce huge runaway successes like fiction or non-fiction, but it has a devoted, loving fan base who show up in droves to see poets read as well as for the classes they teach.

And while the rest of the writing world migrates towards independent publishing, poets have been doing that for some time — they have produced chapbooks and other artistic distribution methods for as long as they’ve written.  And because poetry is so compact and the poet so fervently believes in their material (as well as being more of a presence in their poetry than say, fiction writers) they are first-adopters of many new technologies, from the wonders of dial-a-poem to poetry in motion.

So eBooks are no different. Poet Susie DeFord self-published her eBook of poetry “Dogs of Brooklyn” after years of trying to get it published through a traditional publisher. She told Galleycat:

“I paid to submit to first book contests for almost two years, so I lost money and time trying to do it the old-fashioned way. I suppose that time spent revising/ editing/ swearing/ and feeling rejected made for a better book and some character building, but there are so many cool easy ways to self-publish and get your work out there from blogs to books. I think poets and writers in general should try to make their book the best book possible and not rush into publishing.”

While rushing a book out doesn’t help the work, knowing that one can publish their book of poetry and have it on hand for readings is a huge boon to poets, who often do much of their selling through readings and events.

But the switch to eBooks has not been entirely smooth. Because of the added formatting issues of poetry, a lot of poets have had issues when converting their verse to eBooks and eReaders. Because spacing and breaks are so important, and the viewing and formatting options of eBooks can easily be altered, poets are having a hard time getting their formatting right. Ira Silverberg, director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts, told the Washington Post:

“Right now, we’re talking about conversion of print files to digital files and the greatest issue is in the poetry community. If you’re working on a Kindle or Nook or Kobo device, and you shoot up a page, you lose the line breaks depending on how you’ve formatted your preferences.”

Poets are trying to work out the kinks, however. Judging on the level of creativity that goes into a poet’s existence, we’re betting that they’ll figure it out.

What has your experience been independently publishing poetry? Have you had issues with your eBook formatting? How has it changed your life as a poet?

Are eBooks a different genre than print ones?

eBooks as their own genre?

Writing in The Guardian, Stuart Kelly has proposed a radical idea: that eBooks should be treated as a different genre than regular print books. Why? The fantastic possibilities of eBooks shouldn’t be bound (haha) to the confines of print and pages. In short, Kelly calls for something that proponents of eBooks have been saying for a while: let’s treat it like a bold new invention, rather than a standard digital copy of a physical book.

Of course, there are always going to be eBooks that closely mimic a regular physical book. eBooks based on older works, or eBooks that would like to closely mimic a physical one because of market reasons (think of Harry Potter — you only want one version running around, really). But the possibilities that eBooks (as a genre) present have yet to be fully explored.

For one, we don’t read eBooks like we read a physical book. Physical books have a monopoly on our attention and also don’t receive information from us. They are static. eBooks are often read as one choice among many of digital applications, with the ability to be amended, personalized, and improved.

An eBook that allows an author to change section, to move up plot points depending on reader input, to change the entire setting based on a reader’s location — that is a wholly different genre than that of regular books, and is obviously where we’re heading (some of the more adventurous of us). Not only that, but eBooks can be constantly updated to provide for further coverage of a current event (or a fictional one). Imagine an eBook that updates the details of a giant, mythical battle, as it was happening. It would basically be a real-time report of total fiction. In other words, incredibly exciting!

I believe that eBooks will become their own genre, much in the way that board games became video games. First, they were limited facsimiles of the original, then they became immersive and even more user-oriented. While some eBooks will remain very much similar to our concept of a regular book now (as they should), enhanced eBooks will become their own genre, replete with all the technological wizardry and components that the medium (tablets, computers, phones, etc.) can afford.

We have barely begun to scratch the surface of what eBooks can do, and a call to think of eBooks as something wholly different from our romantic notion of the hardback will lead us to some very interesting (and cool) places.

As authors, what do you think about eBooks as their own genre?

Social media for book lovers

Social networking meets your reading addiction.

The New York Times recently ran an excellent profile of Goodreads, a super popular book-centric social media platform. The site launched in 2006, and as the Times notes, has over the last 7 years become “the largest source of independent reviews on the Web, with 21 million and counting.” Like all successful social media sites, its popularity springs from the relationships and communities it fosters, and if this article is any indication, these ties are booming.

I was also happy to note that the piece paid special attention to Goodreads’ relationship to independent publishing. It notes the wild success of “Wool,” a series self-published sci-fi books by Hugh Howey that received serious attention after being featured by one of Goodreads’ most popular book clubs (later it mentions that Howey’s series was optioned by 20th Century Fox!).

The Times attributes the particular advertising power of sites like Goodreads to the “membership model.” In short, recommendations or reviews written by friends (be they online or off) tend to be more effective motivators because they’re understood to be trustworthy and personal. Could literature-focused social media platforms provide the non-traditional advertising avenue self-publishing authors need to break through to a wide audience?

Though the Readmill’s iPad app has been around for a while, in early February the company launched an (even more mobile) app for the iPhone. Readmill is a digital reading platform with a built-in social media interface. One part digital marketplace, one part bookworm Facebook, the application – now available for both iPhones and iPads – allows users to purchase eBooks from vendors online and read them via a slick, minimalist interface on their mobile devices. It also lets readers share favorite quotes, track reading stats, and get recommendations from friends and followers.

Competitor apps like Wattpad and BookShout point to a growing market (and hopefully a growing demand). We’ll see if apps like this catch the public interest, but I think they could provide excellent opportunities for self-publishers trying to get the word out as well as serious readers looking for their next page-turner.

Are you a part of any of these book-centric social media platforms?  What has been your experience?