virtualDavis

\ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Blogger, storyteller, flâneur. G.G. Davis, Jr's alter ego…
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Print Books: Purge or Hoard?

Although I love my print books, e-readers, in one form or another, have become my primary reading device over the last few years. I barely touch my print books, although they are still beautiful and important to me. But they sit on my bookshelf as a decorative and intellectual art form… When I voiced my reluctance to ship my books, one of my editors, horror-stricken, said: “You have to take your books with you! I mean, they are books. They are so important!” The book lover in me didn’t disagree, but the practical side of me did… In the end, I decided to leave 80 percent of the books behind, donating them to bookstores and even throwing some old, tattered volumes in the garbage. Readers, what would you have done? (NYTimes.com)

Books

Image by henry… via Flickr

Old news. Familiar question. Sort of…

I just returned from the Writer’s Digest Conference where the question of jettisoning or clinging to print collections came up several times. No consensus, but an interesting question.

This winter/spring is “out with the old, in with the new” time for me, so I’m lightening my load in as many ways as I can. My 2012 word-of-the-year? Agile. I’ll revisit this in the months ahead. Am I throwing too much too fast for you to follow my line of reasoning? Yes, I am. Concept still jelling. Actually the concept and the conviction have jelled, but I’m still sorting through how to explain my mission. Dump nonessential baggage and travel light. Simplify. Cut the crap. Chase the dream… As you can see, I’m still in beta on this!

Nick Bilton‘s July 27 post, “Print Books: Should They Stay or Should They Go?” cuts right to the chase, and I suspect that his decision to pare print down to 20% of his collection will be an increasingly common phenomenon.

I’m not there. I like digital, but I’m a sucker for ink and paper and bindings. I’m passionate about marginalia-filled white space and flattened relics which tumble out of books instantly transporting us back to an orange poppy in Big Sur or a teenage romance. I’m not ready to swap my bookshelves and floor/windowsill/desk stacks for a slim digital facsimile. Not yet. Purge I will, but not the books. Not now.

What about you? Do you feel the urge to purge?

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Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, Sunday

Take a skinny dip in the data stream from the last day of the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012 (WDC12). After the intensity of the last two inspiring days, most attendees are simultaneously exhausted and sad to go. The energy, connections, and cross pollination at WDC is infectious, so saying good bye to new and old friends is tough. Back to the garret! But with a band of new co-conspirators. Read the rest of this entry »

Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, Saturday

Day #2 of the Writer’s Digest Conference in the chilly, slightly snowy Big Apple… The mondo snow blizzard promised was not delivered, but you wouldn’t know one way or the other inside of this world-unto-itself hotel and conference center. What follows is a mashup, a digital scrapbook. Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, Friday

Thrilled to be returning to New York City this year for another round of Writer’s Digest Conference (WDC12). What follows is a loosely curated overview of the data stream generated over the course of the three day conference. If I’ve overlooked a salacious tidbit, please let me know. I’ll add it in ASAP. Thanks. Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

Born Again Books

Book Sculpture by Guy LarameeWith the increasing popularity of electronic readers and e-books, the future use of hard-bound books also comes under question… French Canadian artist Guy Laramée tackles it from a decidedly philosophical — and creative — perspective, carving intricate, three-dimensional landscapes that look amazingly real up close. (TreeHugger)

Based in Montréal (only an hour and a half north of me), French Canadian artist Guy Laramée tickles the already ticklish debate over the destiny of printed books. Fusing art and anthropology Laramée carves books into sculptures which arrest the viewer not only with their intricate three dimensional beauty, but with the cascade of questions each piece compels. Why books? Why vintage books? What are the implications of destroying words and ideas in order to create romantic, usually natural scenes? Read the rest of this entry »

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

Amazon lending up to 300k e-books per month (image via VatorNews)

Image via VatorNews

When Amazon launched Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, their free e-book lending library back in November it was a concept, a gamble, a challenge.

Amazon unveiled a long-rumored “Netflix-for-books” digital lending library Wednesday. Via yet another enhancement for Amazon Prime, subscribers who also own Kindles can borrow one (and only one) book per month from about 5,000 available titles. (Wired.com)

Less than three months later it’s taken off, and its potential is just beginning to take shape.

According to the company, customers borrowed nearly 300,000 (295,000 to be exact) KDP Select titles in December alone, and KDP Select has helped grow the total library selection. With the $500,000 December fund, KDP authors have earned $1.70 per borrow. In response to strong customer adoption of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, Amazon says it has added a $200,000 bonus to the January KDP Select fund, raising the total pool from $500,000 to $700,000 for authors. (TechCrunch)

Who knew libraries would profit indie authors in the digital age? Another encouraging indicator for storytelling buskers… Sure Amazon’s free e-books (like their free videos) are incentives to sell Kindles and Amazon Prime, but the numbers are encouraging at a time when writers are gushing content virtually uncompensated.

Am I gushing? Yes. Am I habitually, unabashedly pollyanna-ish? Yes! But I can’t help getting excited (and optimistic) about what this means for indie authors. I understand that Amazon’s motives are market dominance and an eventual payday, but there’s a fascinating shift afoot, and from the vantage of a latter day storyteller, it opens up exciting new opportunities fellow narrative crafters. KDP Select is starting to look a lot more inviting, right?

Amazon this morning announced that it has set up a $6 million annual fund dedicated to independent authors and publishers. Dubbed KDP Select, the fund aims to let indie authors and publishers “make money in a whole new way”… [When] a KDP author or publisher chooses to make any of their books exclusive to the Kindle Store for at least 90 days, those books are eligible to be included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and can earn a share of the KDP Select fund. (TechCrunch)

Of course, not everyone’s happy, and I suspect that it may be a couple of years before we can accurately evaluate the impact this will have on traditional publishers and authors. Plenty of cynics and skeptics are offering doomsday prophecies, but this warning in particular gives me pause, reminding me not to leap before I know how high the tide.

The Author’s Guild attacked Amazon after the Kindle Lending Library was announced, claiming that the program (in which Amazon actually purchases a copy of the book at cost to itself) “appears to be boldly breaching its contracts with these publishers. This is an exercise of brute economic power.” (HotHardware)

Brute economic power for sure, and risks abound, but at this early way station it looks like at least some authors are profiting.

Rachel Yu, a 16 year-old high school student, earned $6,200 in December from e-books she wrote and published via a related Amazon initiative called KDP Select… her children’s books, including titles such as “The Magical Dragon’s Three Gifts,” were among the most borrowed through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. (MediaFile)

Although this prodigy is still too young to enroll directly in the program, her parents fronted her success, suggesting that the KDP Select must be family-friendly and tolerant of round pegs in square holes. Not necessarily a common description for traditional publishing

Carolyn McCray, a writer of paranormal romance novels, historical thrillers and mysteries, earned $8,250 from the KDP Select fund in December. “KDP Select truly is a career altering program,” said McCray. “I couldn’t be happier with the tools, support and exposure it has given me. To say the trade-off of exclusivity on Amazon for the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library has been a profitable one would be a gross understatement. Participating in KDP Select has quadrupled my royalties.” (TechJournal South)

Amber Scott is a romance writer and earned $7,650 from the KDP Select fund in December. “Enrolling in KDP Select utterly transformed my career,” said Scott. “I’ve experienced not only a surge in royalties but a surge in readership thanks to the increased exposure. I love the chance to earn new readers through the innovation of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. What an exciting time to be an author.” (TechJournal South)

Three inspiring stories don’t define a rule, but the picture is promising. Where from here? I suspect the numbers from January will be exciting too, especially considering how many Kindles allegedly sold in the holiday fervor. Vice President of Kindle Content, Russ Grandinetti, touched on the proven marketing potential of offering free e-books through the Kindle library.

“We knew customers would love having KDP Select titles in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. But we’ve been surprised by how much paid sales of those same titles increased, even relative to the rest of KDP.” (eBookNewser)

Perhaps the digital age will see a return to busking and libraries. I hope so. And our first glimpse of Kindle Owners’ Lending Library invites optimism.

No Pants Subway Ride

On Sunday, January 8th, 2012 tens of thousands of people took off their pants on subways in 59 cities in 27 countries around the world. In New York, our 11th Annual No Pants Subway Ride had nearly 4,000 participants, spread out over six meeting points and ten subway lines… If you’re unfamiliar with this event, you might want to first read our history of The No Pants Subway Ride. Since this is the 11th year we’ve done this, there’s not too much to report other than it was another awesome time. (Improv Everywhere)

You’ve gotta love Improv Everywhere and their annual No Pants Subway Ride. Unless you’re too stiff to drop your trousers in public without blinking an eye. Unless you’re too uptight to smile and laugh when the fellow next to you drops his trousers in public without blinking and eye. Spontaneous acts of generosity and hilarity resuscitate levity which is darned near as important as nourishment, respiration and sleep. So say I.

Can you recommend another upbeat improv video or post?

If you’re in need of a wee bit more shake-of-the-blues improv happiness, check out “Black Tie Beach“, “Worst Ice Skater or Best Entertainer? and/or “Welcome To Heathrow Airport“. Bet your day’s going better already!

Waiting Room Purgatory

Waiting Room Purgatory by virtualDavisA recent trip to the eye doctors to get my eyeballs checked and my spectacle prescription (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) updated yielded this wonderful image.

We were all waiting and waiting and waiting for our appointments. More precisely, one of the stages of our appointments. A blurry western was playing on a wall mounted television above and behind my head which accounts for the dull gaze. And the snoozing patients.

It’s an efficient place (name withheld for diplomacy/delicacy) in so far as patients are shuffled from station to station where staff run them through tests. One clinician laughed that it was “a bit of an assembly line“. You think? Most stations were quick-ish. But this last spot was slooooooow.

It’s worth noting that the cashier at the end of the assembly line way quick, efficient and eager. Go figure!

Alice in Wonderland: A Digital Dazzler

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Delightful dinner at the Essex Inn last night with writer friends ruminating on the future of publishing, book bundling, book/app convergence and other exciting changes in the realm of reading, writing, listening, watching and storytelling. An apt prologue to Chris Stevens’ lament this morning.

“I’m desperate for the book industry to produce some work that blows me away, but for now there’s a few Alice clones and not much else. I can see exactly why this is happening. The major publishers have completely abdicated responsibility for producing the digital versions of their catalogues: it’s all handed over to amateurs. You see it throughout the industry. From the typographical horror of most eBooks, through to the lacklustre iPad titles being produced.” ~ Chris Stevens (via eBookNewser)

A public domain book, (read free from copyright, royalties, etc.) Alice in Wonderland was revitalized by Stevens and a friend after they lost their jobs and had time on their hands. As a writer (The Times, CNET) and graphic designer Stevens was an obvious creator this this app which has already been installed on half a million iPads, but why didn’t the publishing industry beat him to the punch?

“The big problem is that most publishers don’t care about the iPad or eBooks very much, whether this is an aesthetic rejection based on the publisher’s historical reverence for the printed page, or a reflection of the relatively small profits to be made on the iPad so far, it’s hard to know.” ~ Chris Stevens (via Toronto Review of Books)

I suspect that traditional publishing wouldn’t sneer at 5,000,000 installs of a public domain property retailing at $8.99! And just in case you assume it’s all luck (Stevens admits that much of their success is luck), take a look at these reviews from iTunes’ Alice in Wonderland download page.

“The cleverest iPad book yet … For the first time in my life I am blown away by an interactive book design.” ~ Gizmodo.com

“Alice app for iPad points the way toward a new generation of pop-up books.” ~ Independent.com

“Alice in wonderland iPad app reinvents reading.” ~ TheHuffingtonPost.com

“A glimpse of the future of digital reading.” ~ BBC.co.uk

What are you creating?

Update: Friend and perenial inspiration Linda Hollier (@lindahollier) invites us on a plunge down the rabbit hole a century and a half after Lewis Carrol initiated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice found herself in a room with a little table. On it lay a tablet. To examine it she picked it up, swiped its screen and squealed with delight at what she found. There were stories with pictures that were interactive when she touched them. There were conversations going on in real time! There were maps and dictionaries, newspapers and magazines. She could play games and even draw using her finger.

She noticed a camera and a special app and before long was taking pictures of herself which transformed her at once into someone tall, someone short, someone with a huge funny face and then someone all squashed up. She squealed with delight. (here2here)

Linda’s playful exercise transports us ultimately into an example of the wonders available to us in this brave new world, wonders more abundant and accessible than ever before if we only stop (or even slow down) long enough to see and appreciate them.

Monday Morning Meander

English: Meander on the River Dee just west of...

Monday Morning Meander (Image via Wikipedia)

My Mondays typically are energetic, frenetic, anxious. All weekend I’ve been building up To Do lists and massaging my timelines, and by the time I crawl out from under the comforter to share breakfast with Griffin, my Labrador Retriever, my mind is already off to the races.

I suspect that there’s a Monday Morning archetype with lots of other caffeinated-before-your-caffeinated folks who know exactly what I’m talking about. Which validates my suspicions that we all need to break pace for a few moments and meander to refresh the dreams and go juices. If you’re understanding me so far, this post may be for you. Let’s meander together for a few minutes before we pull back into heavy traffic or return to slaying dragons or charming venomous snakes.

Are you social? Digitally social? Plenty gab to be had of late regarding merits and demerits of social networks, but GigaOm‘s recent post, “Do authors have to be social? No, but it helps.“, is worth a look.

Mat Johnson described the people he follows on Twitter as his “dream party guests — interesting strangers whose wit keeps me coming back.” But Johnson also put his finger on another reason that some authors like him have taken to social media like Twitter: the ability to connect directly with potential readers. As he put it: “I’ve never had a single ad for any of my novels, had a movie made or been given a big budget push by a publisher. Usually, they just throw my book out to reviewers and hope it floats. Twitter lets me hijack the promotion plane, sidestep the literary establishment and connect directly to my current and potential audience… It’s a meritocracy; if you’re interesting, you get followed.” (GigaOM: Tech News and Analysis)

I’m borrowing Johnson’s Twitter/dream party guests analogy the next time I try to explain the joys of skinny dipping in the tweet stream to a perplexed (or dismissive) audience. And while I’m thinking about dream party guests, what happened to Kevin Smokler? Was he abducted by aliens? Or is he just giving kevinsmokler.com a fall/winter rest. Back in the spring?

@ This is why we need your #TED talk. Tyler Cowen takes a cynical, skeptical look at stories http://t.co/413wn3jy #gagreflex
@karlsprague
Karl Sprague

Are you familiar with narrative pollyannaism? Fellow optimist Karl Sprague just introduced me to its antithesis, died in the cloth story skepticism. Economist Tyler Cowen’s TEDxTalk distills the dark, devious, dangers of storytelling in his warning, “Be suspicious of stories“.

Cowen admits a weakness for compelling narratives, but he’s concerned that stories oversimplify our messy lives. He reminds us that stories distort complex human nature, interactions and institutions potentially misguiding us and fueling bias and self-deception.

He’s right, of course.

As Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics at George Mason University and co-author of economics blog Marginal Revolution and an avalanche of economics books, Cowen is right about a lot. And despite taking a few laps to warm up, his dry, self-deprecating sense of humor prevails, gradually softening his admonition. And his nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s Living to Tell the Tale ultimately won me over.

“Life is not what one lives, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Stories do distort and oversimplify. But so do street signs, the nightly news, education, modern medicine, music and virtually every other human invention. His bottom line?

Be more comfortable with messy. Be more comfortable with agnostic…” (TEDxTalks)

I can live with that.

And what better way to wrap up than a digital recap of Sunday’s meander? Yesterday John Davis (@trekeast) and I escaped with our brides and progeny for a Parch Pond adventure. This Eddy Foundation wilderness holding includes a handsome pond which was frozen and snow-free, perfect skating. Here’s a clip shot by Mr. TrekEast on his iPhone:

For additional images from the outing, check out “Skating Parch Pond“.

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