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RIP: Cassette Walkman

Posted on : 26-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : Gadgets

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The mix-tape is one step closer to being forever forgotten. Gizmodo reported today that Sony has killed the Walkman:

After 30 years, Sony has announced that they will stop manufacturing and selling the venerable cassette Walkman. In a poetic twist, the official death of the Walkman lands on the iPod’s 9th anniversary.
Full story

It far outlived legwarmers, but not quite Jesus. Memorex anyone?

Murakami on Contemporary Narrative

Posted on : 21-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : Literature

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Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, had the following to say in an interview with the Paris Review:

I’m a writer of contemporary literature, which is very different. At the time that Kafka was writing, you had only music, books, and theater; now we have the Internet, movies, rental videos, and so much else. We have so much competition now. The main problem is time: in the nineteenth century, people—I’m talking about the leisure class—had so much time to spend, so they read big books. They went to the opera and sat for three or four hours. But now everyone is so busy, and there is no real leisure class. It’s good to read Moby-Dick or Dostoevsky, but people are too busy for that now. So fiction itself has changed drastically—we have to grab people by the neck and pull them in. Contemporary fiction writers are using the techniques of other fields—jazz, video games, everything. I think video games are closer to fiction than anything else these days.

Murakami’s novels include The Wind-up Bird Chronicles, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Norwegian Wood, and Kafka on the Shore. He is also the author of several short story collections.

Borders and BookBrewer to Launch eBook Publisher

Posted on : 18-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : ebooks, Literature, Publishing, Technology

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Last week, Amazon announced its Singles program, a service that will digitally publish works ranging from 10,000-30,000 words, catering to independent authors. Today, Borders announced it is teaming with BookBrewer to launch Borders – Get Published, a service that will publish works of indeterminate length. This service will be available to any author or blogger, as it features a method to publish content via feed, directly from a writer’s blog.

Borders promises to make the works available across several devices and readers, including “iPhone, iPad, Android-powered tablets, eReader, Aluratek Libre Pro, and Velocity, Micro Cruz Reader.”

The pricing for the service has also been announced:

BORDERS – GET PUBLISHED(TM) Powered by BookBrewer gives authors a choice of two publishing packages: the $89.99 basic package and the $199.99 advanced publishing package. Under the basic package, BookBrewer will assign the book an ISBN (a $125 value), and will make it available to all major eBook stores at a price set by the writer. Royalties will be based on sales and will vary with each retailer. Authors who choose the advanced package will receive a full version of their ePub file, which they will own and may share with friends, family or submit on their own to eBook stores.

You may have noted that the Kindle (and other devices) are conspicuously missing from the list preceding the press release. However the advanced package offers an ePub version of the text, meaning that work can be transfered between online retailers pretty much seamlessly.

While writers can feasibly put together similar packages for themselves and make them available to any of the online retailers, the pricing and the feature that allows writers the ability to essentially blog their way to a book and edit afterward has a certain appeal. There are already several ongoing blog and wiki based projects like Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear’s Mongoliad.

Certainly, Get Published offers another option for writers without agents or publishers.

The question is whether this is a good thing or a bad one. One of the grand failures of Web 2.0 is that user-generated content produces much more questionable or just plain bad content than it does good. We have to endure hours of the “bad” to find those few second of the “good stuff.” And a novel is a different animal than a two minute song or a video. There’s a real time commitment involved in every single published work. Will these services produce income for the companies like Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble, only to produce stagnant markets? They will certainly (at least initially) be filled with many of the novels that have been shopped at the big publishers and rejected several times.

If the service sounds too close to a vanity press to garner a second look, consider that they offer distribution, and unlike most vanity presses they can and will deliver. And with the initial fees paid, the author is free to take his or her work to whichever retailer he or she desires, at whatever price. Most important, authors claim the vast majority of the profits from those retailers. At amazon, that’s 70% of the profits, far more than any of the big print publishers offer. The pricing model offers legitimate incentive for established writers to publish electronically. It’s a good bet that we will see established authors publishing in these markets.

Another factor to consider, from both a consumer and production standpoint, is that these services have the potential to put the digital rights in the hands of the artists and writers. Decisions about DRM will no longer be made by publishers under this monetization platform. They will be made by the person who should make them: the writer.

National Book Award Finalists

Posted on : 17-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : Awards, Literature

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Fiction Finalists:

Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America (Alfred A. Knopf)

Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule (McPherson & Co.)

Nicole Krauss, Great House (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Lionel Shriver, So Much for That
(Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)

Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel (Coffee House Press)

Kindle Singles Announced

Posted on : 17-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : ebooks, Publishing, Technology

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Heart of Darkness, Daisy Miller, Turn of the Screw, War of the Worlds, Animal Farm, The Metamorphosis, The Old Man and the Sea, The Awakening. All of these works have at least one thing in common. They were written in that nebulous word count space that publishers rarely risk investing in, at least in fiction: the novella. Henry James called it the “blessed form,” but it’s a form that, despite its wonderful potential, has remained an anomaly in the modern print publishing model–too short for the major houses and too long for the journal market.

However, there’s promise that this form may emerge in new ways. This Tuesday, Amazon made the following announcement:

Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch “Kindle Singles”–Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today’s announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.

Most people agree that the book, in its traditional print form, isn’t going anywhere soon. Sales may be flat and in general decline (last year Bloomberg reported a 1.8% overall decline while ebooks tripled), but enough readers seem to prefer print to keep the industry going for some time.

But the amazon announcement shows that there may niche markets where the digital book can thrive alongside the print one. It seems a perfect fit. The cheaper production cost makes publication viable, and the short length fits the reading pattern of most web/digital readers. There may even be opportunities for new publishers that specialize in forms that perform well in the digital market. The success or failure of ventures like “Singles” will sort that out.

On the other end of the keyboard, “Singles” will provide an amazing opportunity for writers, both beginning and established, to explore the form with access to new published models.

Man Booker Winner Announced

Posted on : 15-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : Awards, Literature

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From the Booker Prize site:

Howard Jacobson is tonight (Tuesday 12 October) named the winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for The Finkler Question, published by Bloomsbury.

London author and columnist Howard Jacobson has been longlisted twice for the prize, in 2006 for Kalooki Nights and in 2002 for Who’s Sorry Now, but has never before been shortlisted.

The Finkler Question is a novel about love, loss and male friendship, and explores what it means to be Jewish today.

The Booker Prize short list:

  • Peter Carey for “Parrot and Olivier in America” (Faber and Faber)
  • Ms. Donoghue for “Room” (Picador; Pan Macmillan)
  • Damon Galgut for “In a Strange Room” (Atlantic Books; Grove Atlantic)
  • Howard Jacobson for “The Finkler Question” (Bloomsbury)
  • Andrea Levy for “The Long Song” (Headline Review; Headline Publishing Group)
  • Mr. McCarthy for “C” (Jonathan Cape; Random House)

Second Life Revokes Educator Discount

Posted on : 15-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : Rants, Teaching, Tech and Teaching, Technology

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At a time when universities across the country are being forced to make deep cuts, Second Life announces:

2) We will adjust how education and non-profit advantages are provided, effective Jan. 1, 2011.
All education and non-profit private regions of any type, purchased after Dec. 31, 2010, will be invoiced at standard (i.e. non-discounted) pricing. All currently discounted renewals which occur after Dec. 31, 2010, will be adjusted to the new price at that time. To continue to provide entry-level, private spaces to educators just launching their programs, we will be providing Homestead and Open Space regions to qualifying organizations without their meeting the retail full-region criterion. Customer Support will be available to answer any questions that you may have about these changes.

And in reaction to this ridiculous decision, universities may have to abandon their virtual campuses. From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Officials at one discussion session here at the Educause conference yesterday spent an hour debating whether or not they should relocate their campuses—taking all the buildings, quads, and people and carefully moving them elsewhere.

The focus of the session was virtual worlds, and the academics were discussing whether to take their virtual campuses out of Second Life in protest, after the company that runs the online environment announced the end of a generous education discount.

University cuts are a result of state and federal budgets. Those cuts are not only equating to lower teacher pay, but few classes offered (hiring freezes are in place all over). In addition, the entire nation is falling behind far too many countries in student performance across the board.

Now Second Life wants to revoke a 20% discount on virtual land, effectively removing opportunities for campuses that are trying to start programs that incorporate the use of their environment to benefit students. I guess they are happy to simply remain a huge shopping mall and playground for escorts, furries, and goreans.

AOL Considers Buying Yahoo

Posted on : 15-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : Technology

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From the Wall Street Journal:

AOL Inc. and several private-equity firms are exploring making an offer to buy Yahoo Inc., according to people familiar with the matter, devising a bold plan to marry two big Internet brands facing steep challenges.

Silver Lake Partners and Blackstone Group LP are among the firms that have expressed interest in teaming up with AOL to buy Yahoo or trying to take it private on their own, these people said. They added that at least two or three other firms could be interested in participating if a formal buyout proposal is drawn up.

Read more: http://tinyurl.com/25hbmks

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