Connecting with e-migos

Joe Posnanski coined a term, e-migo, to describe Internet based acquaintances and friendships. I will present blogs from 2 e-migos here.

Jeff Kirvin and Mike Cane have been blogging about mobile technology, content production, and content consumption for some time. They interested me to begin with because they concentrated on ebooks and writing, even before 2000. Kirvin started a Yahoo and then later Google group called “Writing on Your Palm”, ostensibly to discuss technologies for writing. Before Kindle, Nook, iPhone, and Kobo, Kirvin and other enthusiasts have been reading on our Palm Pilots* for over a decade. We used to get our books from Peanut Press in a DRM’ed container format originally designed for PalmOS. Peanut Press later became eReader, which in turn was acquired by Fictionwise. Barnes and Noble bought Fictionwise, took the technology and ported it to the Nook.

* In this history is the main reason for why I just can’t get into e-ink readers (like the Kindle and Nook). I started reading on my Handspring Visor, which was a Palm Pilot knockoff. The screen was black on green, and it looked worse than it sounds. The contrast was low, and there was only so much one can fiddle with to improve the visual quality. Regardless, my point here is that e-ink still does not provide enough contrast for me. As soon as I could, I upgraded to color screens with increasing resolution, from my Visor. I’ve never looked back; I love reading black text on a true white background. The drop-off in readability when I go outdoors is something I can live with and can be ameliorated by cranking up screen brightness. The e-ink screens are still too low contrast for my tastes.

Kirvin has since moved on to a new domain space. He is a writer of fiction and tech; he also blogs a fair bit about the writing process. Part of it seems painful, trying to shape his vision to match his vision. He has a few insights into technology and writing on mobile platforms, which, luckily, isn’t impaired by whatever ails him in terms of publishing fiction.

He noted a recent appearance by Rob Dickins, former head of Warner Records in the UK, who suggested that lowering prices can be a tool to combat piracy. Industry insiders are appalled at the very idea of selling digital content cheap. Like a music album for $2 cheap. Paul Quirk noted that Dickins is making this suggesting after making his money during the halcyon days of $20 CDs. Jonathan Shalit noted that the cheapness of the container will in turn devalue the contents within. That is, selling an album for $2 will give the perception that the music isn’t worth anything more than pocket change. Thus the art is no longer art, but something disposable. Dickins responded in a comment on Music Week (hat tip: Nate Anderson):

Unfortunately Paul is reacting to headlines and rather than serious debate, is speaking in sound bites My point addressed online albums of which we all know has around 80% piracy and by bringing the price down to a ‘non-decision’ payment, I believe piracy could be countered to a degree but more importantly it would bring in the enormous peripheral buys This would allow physical albums to be developed to really give the fans something special at a much higher price points as illustrated by Nine Inch Nails ‘Ghosts I-IV which would make the retail experience much more interesting to the consumer and the retail outlook more positive My worry is that we are seeing an erosion of prices rather than radical decisions……erosion is a passive way to fade out whilst radical thinking is a way to actively build an exciting industry for the future rather than clinging on to business models which are failing us Music has billions of consumers and I for one want to see albums selling tens if not hundreds of millions on a regular basis

My sympathies are with Kirvin, Dickins, and author Joe Konrath, who made a similar argument as Dickins for lower ebook prices. I think Shalit’s analogy is weak, but I think the fact that some people think it makes it something one needs to address and not ignored. In part because these people will need convincing before they release their content. I know each successive generation will lead to a gradual push along the lines of cheap and open ‘content’, but there are backlists I want access to, and before I die, thank you very much.

My snide comment is this. What if the elitist snobs truly think that art will be devalued with the advent of cheap prices? What if they realize that, assuming the $1 book or movie or music album comes, not all artists will get a boost? How depressing would it be if the bump in sales resulted in more units sold of schlock fiction and not, oh dear, literary fiction? What a blow to egos. </snide>

I would love to see the relative sales numbers from iTunes, to compare the distribution of sales across artists. It would also be lovely to see how that compared to the distribution of CD sales of the same artists (and I suppose Amazon would be in a great position to make this analysis.)

Another e-migo, from Palm Pilot days, is Mike Cane. He is a… passionate advocate of technology as a tool of consumers, not producers. Under the cruft, he wishes for easy access to authors’ works because, you know, he wants to read them. He also wants to make things simpler for writers to publish.  Having a publisher dictate to a consumer where, when, and how he should read is obnoxious.

On a final note: I detest how authors, publishers, and critics contribute to the schism of literary and genre fiction. I think that’ is why the argument about devaluation of a books metaphysical worth based upon it’s cheapening monetary value irks me. To me, the point of being an artist, more so than any manufacturer, is to bring a work to market. We will always need food, cloth, nails, hammers, screws, bricks, and wood. Books, music, movies, TV shows, paintings, and sculptures are luxury items. They provide respite, no matter how temporary, from the difficulties of our lives. But we do not need them.

That is why Oprah Winfrey’s first go around with Jonathan Franzen struck such a wrong note with me. If Franzen is a true artist, he would want his works disseminated. It is strange for his clique of snobs – and that is what these authors,  publishers, and critics are – to try an limit access to literary works. Just be glad the Winfrey gave you press and made your books approachable. If an artist has something worthwhile to say, he would want as large an audience as possible.

Forget about monetary gain; I had thought that the satisfaction of creating ideas and having people attend to them is the ideal.  What does it matter if Winfrey is the one who led her audience to the work? If writers were snobs, I would argue that gives them all the more reason to suffer Winfrey’s attention. She would mediate the writer’s experience with the proles, and he will have a soapbox to help (I would go so far as to say teach) readers understand the themes in his works better.


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