Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Two Sentences From The Future

One: "I'm going to the library to buy a book."

The Espresso Machine -- and things like it -- will spell the end of bookstores. I don't have the numbers, but I have to think there are more public libraries out there than bookstores. And if there aren't right now, there will be. You won't go to a store to buy a printed book. You'll go to a neighborhood library.

Two: "What kindle are you reading?"

This is my nightmare, that the post-print generation does away with the term "book" and turns Amazon's Kindle trademark into the generic for electronic books.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Amazon Buys Lexcycle/Stanza Reader

Lexcycle has been acquired by Amazon.com!

The news showed up in my Twittersream via a re-tweet from someone I don't know.

I thought it was a poor joke.

Within minutes, Techmeme had the item.

Moments after that, I had the above link.

What does this mean?

1) Less choice. Although Lexcycle states:
We are not planning any changes in the Stanza application or user experience as a result of the acquisition. Customers will still be able to browse, buy, and read ebooks from our many content partners. We look forward to offering future products and services that we hope will resonate with our passionate readers.

The key word there is "plan." Amazon is the Boss now. They call the shots.

2) The further fracturing of eBook formats. It doesn't matter if Amazon "embraces" ePub now. That embrace would take the form of hands around a neck. So far we've had the "illusion" of a universal eBook standard with ePub -- because Adobe's hands were the only ones around its neck. Adobe's DRM is what made it possible for ePub to be embraced by the pearl clutchers of New York publishing. If Amazon adds ePub, it will have Amazon DRM. So while people can say it's ePub, it's really Amazon ePub. Incompatible with, for instance, the Sony Reader or any other device that licenses Adobe's ePub rendering engine and DRM scheme.

3) I doubt we'll see "Adobe ePub" on Stanza reader now. Check the very careful vetted-by-attorneys language in that original announcement:
announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement

Emphasis added by me.

An agreement is far different than saying "we have contracted to license." Ask any attorney. I suspect no contract was ever signed. If one had been presented to Lexcycle for signing, its completion was stalled by whatever acquisition discussions were concurrently taking place with Amazon. As Samuel Goldwyn famously said, "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's printed on." Stanza could agree to a license -- but until the papers are signed, it's meaningless.

4) Less choice for eBook buyers. Does anyone really expect Fictionwise and other stores to remain available on Stanza Reader now? Does anyone really think Amazon would permit competitors? Amazon doesn't even permit customer dissent.

5) Fewer sales outlets for independent writers. Lexcycle once stated it would create a way for such writers to easily create ePub to sell via the Stanza app. That won't happen now. Writers will be fobbed off to Amazon's Kindle Store, where they will be ordered to drop pants, bend over, and take the confiscatory financial arrangement Amazon (grudgingly, I'm sure) offers.

6) The end of Stanza Reader. Come on. Amazon is going to have two apps, one for Kindle and one for competitors? It will become the Kindle application, period.

And what of everyone else?

Sony: Its strategy is eventually to release a wireless Sony Reader that will allow publishers to independently sell their eBooks. Sony does not intend to centralize everything in its current eBook Store. Sony, however, causes me to lose more faith in its ability with each passing day.

Fictionwise and others who were available via Stanza Reader: This is not good news, contemplating that over sixteen million potential customers will at some point be taken away.

Other devices: Most device manufacturers intend to license the Adobe ePub rendering engine and DRM scheme. That was when they all believed there was finally an "ePub standard." That game has now changed. Given that Amazon did an iPhone Kindle app, could the company's intention now be to openly challenge Adobe's grip on ePub? Will it now license "Kindle ePub" to device makers? Will we see "Kindle Inside" stickers on future devices? ECTACO's jetBook remains the odd man out in all this, using FBreader as its ePub rendering engine and not supporting any form of DRM whatsoever. (If the assertion of @kirkbiglione is correct, that, like music, DRM-free ePub is the future, then one could argue that jetBook is the future of eBook devices right now.)

Pearl-clutching New York publishers: Amazon has just pushed you back into a corner again. A consequence you invite when you let the future happen to you, instead of creating it.

Writers: Screwed, screwed, screwed. As usual.

It's time for me to to educate all of you about just how important all of this is.

Look at how much time all of you spend reading from a screen. The future of reading is electronic, period. And I don't mean simply books. I mean everything.

This battle over eBooks and standards impacts everyday life in ways few of you have yet to realize. Until eBook reading devices entered the consciousness of everyday people, eBooks were thought to equal reading off a computer's monitor. I recall a hilarious and horrifying New York Times article where the columnist decided to "try eBooks" and did so by printing out a text version of a Project Gutenberg file.

Look at how far we've come since then: eBooks on Oprah. (Don't argue about whether that's good or bad, simply acknowledge it's now in the mainstream.)

At some point, all levels of government will realize that offering paper is costly and inefficient. Back in the 1980s, the U.S. government mailed to every household a pamphlet about AIDS.

These days, we'd be told to go a website for such information (as we are, right now, being told to go to websites for information about a deadly flu outbreak).

But what about information in longer form? What about Congressional bills, agency manuals, Requests For Proposals, and the like? People won't want to read such lengthy things off a computer screen, seated uncomfortably in an office-like chair at a desk.

It'd be better to publish them in eBook form. A quick download is far better than tying up servers with page requests.

And so, when the government wakes up to eBooks, all of this is going to finally start to become very, very important. Because the government can step in and mandate standards. The government is going to demand a universal standard -- a truly universal standard. One that can be used internally as well as externally. And "externally" doesn't simply mean to us, the population -- for breaking information or even for public school books -- but globally.

The government stepped in twice with television, first giving us the analog NTSC, and then the digital system in use today.

You see, we don't need an "iPod of eBooks" -- we need, cringe at this phrase if you must, a television of eBooks.

At some point, all of this is going to lead to Congressional hearings. You can put money on that. eBooks -- the future of reading -- is too important to be left in the hands of an allegedly "free" market.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The jetBook: A Real eBook Contender?

Look at this:

Click = big

These are two eBook reading programs on my desktop.

I have sized the windows identically.

On the right is the gorgeous LIT in Microsoft Reader.

On the left is ePub in FBReader.

How eerie is that?

If, like me, you're used to seeing fugly fugly fugly ePub in both Adobe Digital Editions and the Sony eLibrary software, the above should be a real eye-opener.

It was for me.

As you'll also notice, the fonts on the left are rather lighter than the MS Reader program. I don't know what I can do about that aside from increasing font size and ruining the look-alike.

But: look! Margins! Fonts that aren't fugly. A book-like presentation!

Why is this important?

FBReader is the display software for ePub files on the ECTACO jetBook.

You'll notice my text extract at top isn't centered -- this is my alpha of The People of the Abyss. This continues throughout the alpha version. I suspect the fault is mine: I'm probably not using the proper tag for it.

But this really makes me wonder if the jetBook does ePub eBook display better than the Sony Reader.

One other glorious thing: FBReader will hyphenate words when the font size is changed. Unlike, say, the Sony Reader, which won't break words and therefore leaves huge gaps between words when the font size is increased.

Alas, the ePub the jetBook can handle is of the no-DRM flavor, meaning no borrowing eBooks from public libraries and no buying of most ePub eBooks. And yet, for those who are philosophically/politically opposed to DRM, this is the first eBook reading device out there to offer something other than the fugliness of Adobe's rendering engine.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Something's Wrong In ePubville

I came across this link at MobileRead about free ePub eBooks for kids.

I downloaded one at random: R. Caldecott's First Collection of Pictures and Songs [ePub link]

I opened it in Sony's eLibrary software and Adobe Digital Editions.

Both were horrible.

I also tried Calibre, which did a slightly better job.

But still, I was so disgusted by what I saw, I couldn't even take screensnaps.

How is it so easy for people to create terrible ePub? And then set it loose on the world to give ePub and eBooks something akin to a festering lip sore?

The worst LIT I've ever come across had blank lines between paragraphs (which is also an ongoing sin in all formats) -- never anything as atrocious as what I saw here.

Previously here:

Is Adobe Hindering eBooks?
Ah, Gorgeous LIT!
The Native Beauty Of LIT

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Book Notes And Free eBooks

That whole Apple App Store thing is frustrating some developers. This is a lesson for Palm not to do the same with the Palm Pre eStore. Not a tight eBook connection with this item, but I think there might in the future, so I want this link here.

British Publishers Try to Find the Money in E-books
The topic of pricing also drew heated commentary. “We need to adapt our thinking about payment” said Makinson, who is of the mind that publishers are “short-changing authors” if they don’t price e-books the same as physical books. Rebuck, too, called for parity in pricing while e-books are in their infancy in the British market, and said, “as we go on we can adjust.” And Barnsley came out strongly against the practice of “micro pricing” and selling chapters individually, preferring a subscription model. She said e-book reader manufacturers, network providers and others involved in the retail chain would like e-books to be priced as low as possible. But “they see [the book] as the petrol in the car, while we see it as the wine in the bottle.”

I'm not a fan of subscriptions. I can't figure out what's good about that for any writer.

Source: NYPL Digital Gallery, The New York Public Library.

The Humbug: Edgar Allan Poe and the economy of horror.

An interesting article that casts Poe within his place in time. Yet it misses the point: all of time is the wrong time for certain people.
If Dupin sounds uncannily familiar, that’s because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, like every other author of detective fiction, not to mention the creators of a thousand TV crime shows, is incalculably in Poe’s debt. “The children of Poe” is what Stephen King calls the members of his guild, and with good reason. But horror stories predate Poe, and have many other sources. Not so the literary sleuth. All detective stories and police procedurals begin with the intellectually imperious C. Auguste Dupin: methodical, eccentric, calculating — and insulting. We, mere readers, are so many Watsons, Hastingses, and Goodwins. Poe is the only Holmes.

And anyone who asks this:
Between Poe’s lies and Griswold’s forgeries, it can be difficult to take the measure of Edgar A. Poe. Was the man an utter genius or a complete fraud?

Doesn't understand genius or Poe.

Now for a jarring change of topic -- the baddest badass book trailer EVAR: MEEB Like This. Go watch.

Free eBooks!

Someone has taken the second issue of the classic comic book The Blue Beetle and turned it into a free ePub eBook.

Put Your Dreams First is a free PDF for a very short time.

And tomorrow only, Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie, shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009, will be free.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Moriah Jovan: Print Has A Future

Um, no. It'll be the fuel source for cooking the squirrel.

"Small Places" Catch Up On This Twitter Novel

Writer Nick Belardes has published all the tweets that so far comprise his ongoing Twitter novel, Small Places.

Twitter Novel In The Twitterverse: Read The First 358 Tweets Of ‘Small Places’

I'm beginning to think that a Twitter novel is a new animal. I don't mean the brevity (Ken Bruen has haiku-like writing in most of his books!). It's the streaming delivery.

There I was enjoying several Small Places tweets. The character Milt was about to write something important on the whiteboard. I was all worked up to see what this revelation was going to be. And then the next tweet cut away from that to other characters! I've never experienced that sort of movie-like suspense with novels. Novels are more like a continual experience, whereas a Twitter novel is like a movie: cut-cut-cut.

Right now, the gold standard of Twitter novels is Small Places.

This is your chance to get up to speed. Go read!

J.G. Ballard Interview

To truly appreciate the intellectual depth of this man, see this interview.

This was done in 2006. Well before anyone really had any hints of the impending financial crisis we are mired in. Yet look at these quotes:
'The danger is that consumerism will need something close to fascism in order to keep growing.'

Aren't we headed there? Yes.

Because consumerism makes inherent demands, it has inherent needs, which can only be satisfied by pressing the accelerator down a little harder, moving a little faster, upping all the antes, and this could, you know… In order to keep spending and keep believing, we need to move into the area of the psychopathic. That's the fear.

Have you ever seen such thinking from an economist? From any pundit on CNBC? Yet after Ballard states it, there's an Aha! moment.

Free Audiobook Podcast: Mop Men

Writer Alan Emmins emailed me:

The Mop Men podcast will publish a new audio chapter each week. The first two chapters are already available.

Two ways of doing this:

1) Click above link then Podcasts there. That will open a pop-up player.

2) Go to the iTunes Store and search for "Mop Men". (I won't put an iTunes link because that screws up things for people sometimes.)

What POD Really Means

Apex Book Company did a post about POD. I tweeted the link to Karen Sayed of Echelon Press. She had something to say!
Okay, this is one of my pet peeves. There is such a HUGE disconnect in terminology where this topic is concerned. You are mixing apples and oranges.

POD is PRINT on Demand. It is a form of printing NOT publishing. The venue in question with regard to self-publishing is vanity or subsidy publishing. That is where an author goes to someone else and has them do the bulk of the work for a fee. Ipublish, publish America, etc.

When you SELF publish you go to a PRINT on Demand company, it is NOT a publisher, it is a PRINT house. LULU is NOT a publisher, they are a PRINTER. Publish America is a Vanity company.

This becomes an issue for those of us who use the PRINT technology to run traditional publishing houses. People who don’t use the terminology correctly have polluted the industry waters with confusion that has seeped into the rest of the industry making PRINT on Demand books undesirable when in fact they are in most cases superior in quality!

If those in the industry, authors, publishers, printers, would stop feeding misinformation to the general public there would be a lot less confusion and questions.

AS for the topic, self-publishing is a viable option for anyone as long as they take it seriously and do it responsibly and properly.

Also see what writer Adam Christopher did with POD.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

R.I.P. Writer J.G. Ballard, 78

There are writers who come along, see what others have done, and then do things differently.

And then there are writers who come along, don't care what's been done before, and go ahead and do what they want to do.

J.G. Ballard was the latter kind of writer.

I'll leave it to others to do the long analyses.

I just want to focus on one point that I think many people don't know.

Ballard pioneered a form of writing he called "condensed novels."
A necessary ambivalence pervades these texts that makes them easier to quote than to paraphrase. The increasing compression of Ballard's prose through the 1960s renders it even more resistant to summary, as it moved closer to the condition of the advertisement ("What can Saul Bellow and John Updike do that J. Walter Thompson, the world's largest advertising agency and its greatest producer of fiction, can't do better?").

To this end Ballard developed the form of the "condensed novel." As Pringle and James Goddard describe them, "the narratives are stripped of surplus verbiage and compounded until they are only skeletal representations of what they might otherwise have been." The linear progress of the minimal narrative that remains is further broken by a division into separately headed paragraphs; the temporal and spatial relations between fragments are variant. As did the cut-ups, Ballard's narrational style derives from the collage techniques of the surrealists: "The techniques of surrealism have a particular relevance at this moment, when the fictional elements in the world around us are multiplying to the point where it is almost impossible to distinguish between the 'real' and the 'false' – the terms no longer have any meaning."

In 1958 Ballard created an entire novel designed to go on billboards.

Emphasis added by me.

All of the writers on Twitter squeezing fiction into that form are actually following in the invisible footsteps of Ballard.

Know your history. Say a prayer for the man even -- especially -- if you didn't know.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Writer David Hewson On Publishing's Future

Writer David Hewson: Parting thoughts: the state of publishing
I'm not qualified to offer advice to publishers or big book companies even if I had something useful to say. So let me focus on what I know and love: writing. Authors are, I think, on the brink of a new and exciting age. We will no longer be confined by the schedules and norms of the print industry. Those literary forms that once seemed so hard to get published - novellas and short stories - suddenly make sense because they match the instant release of digital. Backlists become resources to be revived, not lost titles that never again see the light of day. And there will, I'm sure, be new types of media and opportunities created in the years to come too.

Emphasis added by me.

There's much more there. I extracted, of course, the bit that agrees with my own view of things.

Hewson sees independent bookstores as helping to keep publishing -- read, I think, as printed books -- alive. I don't think so. Not if they don't become independent eBookstores too.

Love Your Copyeditor

Writer Nick Bellardes has published a picture of his copyedited manuscript for a book coming out later this year.

What's in RED is the work of the copyeditor.

Now go look.

I've railed about the dying dinosaurs of print and other such things, but I will never, ever say anything bad about copyeditors (though I almost did).

A copyeditor will turn the kind of stream-of-madness dreck I write here into something sensible (well, OK, my stream-of-madness fiction -- this stuff is really beyond help!).

Every writer needs a copyeditor. Amateurs don't see the need.

As I was finishing this post, Nick tweeted me: "I hope you say that's the blood of the saints on those pages ..."

Yes. Copyeditors are saints! Aptly put.

Another eBook Sleeper Awakens

Apple Needs to Sell eBooks.
So, what I think is that there’s a need for another party (Apple) to step in and take control over the state of e-book affairs. Right now its like the wild wild west. There’s tons of different stores selling almost 10 different e-book formats. There’s no real standard for pricing, there’s no expectations for customer purchase experience and there’s no rules for what a reader should be able to do. Amazon is THE ONLY player who has the entire thing down to a science, but they’re only one experience and a costly one at that.

People hear the term "eBooks" and they know they exist.

But it's not until their money is on the line that they devote the time to researching what they've gotten -- or will be getting -- into.

And, like Brandon above, the initial and lasting impression is that the entire eBook landscape is screwed-up, broken, and almost more trouble than it's worth.

I've raged over and over for Apple to do eBooks.

I still think, deep down, Apple does have a plan. And the reason why this plan has not come to pass is because, Apple being Apple, they don't intend to do a half-assed job of it. Doing eBooks correctly would also involve adding code to their existing applications. Maybe even OS X itself.

And right now, Apple is making a ton of money with the iPhone, is busy thinking up new APIs and things to add to it to fend off the Palm Pre, and also working on that chimerical Apple Tablet.

It's bloody All Hands On Deck over there.

Plus add in whatever distractions Steve Jobs' health create.

I am, however, convinced that Apple could enter eBooks and, despite all the current players, dominate it.

I have my own plan for how Apple could do that.

I hope Apple has one of its own too.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Quote Of The Day

Over at The Militant Writer, Mary Walters has written a screed that's attracted lots of attention.

One Comment I just had to pull a bit from to run here:
The first thing that needs to be understood is that there is no formula for making a book successful. Anybody who tells you that “if my publisher just did a little more X and supported the efforts with some Y my book would be a bestseller” is full of shit.

If such a formula existed, it would be done over and over and publishing would be a cash rich industry and we’d all hang around the pool and be very fashionable.

That's from Benjamin LeRoy, Publisher of Bleak House Books. Bleak House has published Victor Gischler, Anthony Neil Smith, Nathan Singer, and others. With those writers, if he hasn't figured out The Formula, I doubt anyone else will.

(If anyone from Bleak House reads this ... I'm still tapping my foot, waiting for your stuff in eBook form.)

Behind The Scenes Of A Writer

Writer Ben Mezrich has written some killer books. See this and this.

All anybody usually sees of a writer is the published work. Not what happened before all that.

Ben gave everyone a glimpse of "before all that" today on Twitter:

Google BS: People Are Waking Up

Legally Speaking: The Dead Souls of the Google Booksearch Settlement
This column argues that the proposed settlement of this lawsuit is a privately negotiated compulsory license primarily designed to monetize millions of orphan works.

That sounds awfully familiar. Let me see ...

Is Another Suit Against Google Book Search Coming?
Google has arbitrarily stepped in as an uninvited third-party to put "in print" thousands (perhaps millions) of books that have been out-of-print.


Microsoft To Re-Enter eBooks?

That's what Mediabistro's Mobile Content Today thinks: Speculation: Will Microsoft's ZuneHD Include an eBook Reader?
There's a lot of interesting speculation about the rumored Microsoft ZuneHD which resembles an iPod touch with a large multi-touch touch screen. One speculation we have not seen about it so far, however, is whether or not it will be an ebook reader to compete with the Kindle or, at least, the Kindle iPhone app. Why would I think it might be an ebook reader if no one else does? A friend recently pointed out (tweeted) that the old Microsoft Reader, and ebook app nearly a decade old now seems to be in a revival phase.

It looks like Microsoft is now offering a new eBook creation tool too. [Update: I've been informed in Comments that this tool has been around, is not new, and is in fact six years old.] I'm pretty sure Microsoft used to tell people to go get OverDrive's ReaderWorks to create LIT eBooks.

It also seems Microsoft is now offering a choice of DRM flavors too.

Kirk Biglione's reaction:
It's Zune HD. Will probably have a reader built in. Zune is NOT the future of ebooks (or anything else).


Microsoft would certainly have to do things differently to re-enter the eBook game.

1) Dump the Passport activation of MS Reader
2) Develop versions of MS Reader for iPhone OS and Palm's webOS
3) Build eBook ordering directly into MS Reader
4) Really lean on publishers to lower their prices
5) Update the MS Word LIT-creation tool (Word 2003? Say what?)

Yes, LIT is very pretty. But no, it's not US$17.71 worth of pretty!

If Microsoft really does re-enter eBooks with the Zune HD, it'd highlight another misstep of Sony -- which never included its Sony eBook reading software in the PlayStation Portable.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rough Notes On Punking eBooks

The problem: There is no way for an individual independent writer to be published in eBook format for sale.

(Note: I do not count Amazon's Kindle Store and its confiscatory ass-backwards money split; its proprietary eBook lock-in file format is also detrimental to the interests of all writers.)

1) WordPress-like easy blogging system with an eBook eCommerce component
- WordPress.COM does not have this
- WordPress.ORG has a plug in, but:
-- not every writer wants to devote time to webmastery
-- personally, I still recall what happened to Gear Diary -- (I'm not the only one!)

2) There are no indie eBookstores
- indie: not owned by Amazon, Apple, Google, Sony, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Microsoft or other behemoth
- indie eBookstore would carry titles current behemoth eStores do not
-- print indie bookstores carry titles not found at B&N/Borders
-- comic book stores carry fanzines

3) Apple and Amazon cannot be entrusted with freedom of expression
- Sony probably can't be entrusted either

4) Am not attracted to sites such as Lulu, Smashwords, et al
- perception of sludge pile (worse than slush pile)

5) FictionWise, others, won't deal with single writer
- combination of writers banding under a shell company label?
-- Chaplin, Pickford, Fairbanks, Griffith United Artists model

6) Universal eBook Catalog
- list every eBook available
- become the discovery source
- break the "Let's look it up on Amazon" cycle
- must be an entity in itself to preserve freedom of expression
-- I still think The Pirate Bay should do this

7) No ePub tools for writers
- Adobe InDesign expensive and complex
-- complexity not needed for all-text
-- writers don't do design
- software must be blog-easy
-- multiple eBook eejit-proof templates like Apple's Pages

I no longer believe that eBooks will enter the mainstream via the mainstream.

I now believe in the analogy to punk music in yesterday's post.

What needs to happen:

ONE eBook gains a Word of Mouth (WOM) reputation
(Note: there are over 16 million eBook devices now [iPhone/Touch])
- genuine word of mouth or PR-assisted?
-- PR-assisted cannot move something that's shit
-- only genuine WOM matters
-- WOM moved The Fountainhead in 1940s

Unknown contributing(?) factor: Blog Book Tours

An eBook with WOM cachet and must-read-ness that's available only as an eBook (in a format that cannot be printed out) could help push the needle from print books to eBooks

WOM must be of such scale to achieve Internet escape velocity
- must enter mainstream culture, not be confined to Internet Culture

That eBook must not compromise by going into print

That eBook must be dedicated to the Cause of eBooks

Given possibility of piracy, eBook should not be seen as money-maker

Rough notes. But I think eBooks now have to grow from the bottom-up, not be dispensed top-down from the self-appointed Publishing Gods of New York City's Mt. Olympus.

eBooks are the future and are too important to be left up to publishers.

We live the precedent: The Internet grows from the bottom-up.

Things Only The Future Can Know

I plop this in here as being eBook-related in that it's of interest to writers.

I left a Comment on Warren Ellis's blog last night and had what I believed was an original thought: that the future is not only a point in time but a culture. Someone else must have made that point too somewhere and I suppose it just happened to rise to the top of my wee brain at that moment.

What brought on that thought was the video below. Before you play it, I want you to think about how you would explain it to someone who has never experienced Internet Culture. I contend that it can't be done. And because of that, I also contend that it's not possible for us now to project how fictional human beings in an extrapolated future will be affected by their technologically-advanced (or, really, technologically-different) surroundings. All of that is "air" to them. We don't think about the air we breathe. Same with those future people.

Now the video:

OK. Now consider this piece that someone made me aware of on Twitter today: The Tweets Of Roland Hedley

These are artifacts of the future.

And there's not a single writer out there who ever imagined these in any story ever written.

Direct-Publishing Dirge

This is Why Self-Publishing isn’t Taken Seriously
The way for self-publishing to get taken seriously on a large scale is not if a Dan Brown comes out of Lulu. Frankly, I don’t care if some potboiler hits it big in the mainstream. People here should know that’s where I’m coming from – I’m more “literary fiction” minded, as generic as that term can be. For self-publishing to really be taken seriously, works of “serious” fiction need to come out of Lulu, and Lulu’s poetry site shows that this is not the demographic they’re aiming for. I know terms like “serious” are subjective, but I think you can tell the difference when something is written with more ambition.

That excerpt isn't the impetus for the post, but it's the part I wanted to show here.

Aside from what he points out in that post, there's this too:

Click = Big

Self Publishing Book Expo

Wow, with "friends" like that, producing HTML vomit like that, who needs enemies? It reminds me of those lines from Glengarry Glen Ross:
What you're hired for is to help us -- does that seem clear to you? To help us. Not to fuck us up ... to help men who are going out there to try to earn a living.

I dread imagining the plaid-suited hucksters who would be attracted by that website.

Paper Books = Death

Following up on my prior post: The Horror Of Paper Books

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tessa Dick Needs Your Help!

Tessa Dick Needs Help
I’m losing my home, and they’ll probably turn off my electricity this week. I will therefore be out of communication for a while. I can sleep on my brother’s couch, but I will have to have my dog and cats “put to sleep”. Such a soothing phrase for killing my pets!

Please help and help spread the word!

A Very Dangerous Post

Post-punk publishing

This is one of the most thought-provoking writing/publishing posts I've read in a long time. Equating the current Internet/e/eBook writing scene with 1970s punk sets off all sorts of bells in my head.
Once you get into the statistics around publishing houses, they come to resemble the lottery. The odds are stacked hugely against the would-be author. Publishers, understandably, try to rig the game as much as they can, which is why they commission books by brand name celebrities and get professional ghost writers in to do the hard work. It’s why they pick a narrow band of titles each season and work with the media, wholesalers, TV book clubs and chain stores to market those authors within an inch of their lives. It’s the illusion of choice. And there are still no paths of certainty — even JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer can’t believe their luck. Faced with this, there are two options: despair or, as Joanna suggests, bypass the system altogether. It strikes me as the only sane option.

Christ, I've been in "the system."

Never again. Not ever.
Both posts [cited within] reminded me of the late 70s/early 80s independent boom in music, the British post-punk movement catalogued in Simon Reynolds’ fine ’Rip It Up and Start Again‘. The impetus of punk and its DIY ethos splintered into hundreds of bands and labels across the country. Interestingly, this was also time of heavy social recession. The Pistols’ ‘No Future!’ slogan created a vacuum which was filled with an urgent sense of the present. You didn’t have to learn to play like Eric Clapton or wait to be signed by EMI. Suddenly anyone could do it. And they did. If you had something to say, you said it. Now.

Emphasis added by me.

The above post cites this other post -- Punk Write! -- which has this eye-opener:
When the people with the power to publish books set the standards of quality and when the people writing books internalise those standards to the extent that everyone involved even uses the same language to talk about it, it smacks of the kind of entrenched elitism that the punk rock movement was rebelling against. It feels like EMI and Sony and Warner telling musicians what is good and what is bad and musicians doing their best to live up to those judgements. It feels like we should be fighting it, taking a stand against it, starting a ‘punk write’ movement. Here’s a three-act plot, a website, and an iPhone. Now go and write a book.

The above post quotes from another post:
“There could be all sorts of reasons why good writing gets rejected. But if it’s good enough then it’s almost certainly going to be published eventually, so long as the writer (or his or her agent) persists.”

Unasked there: Will the writer be alive to see publication? A Confederacy of Dunces, anybody? Bueller? Bueller?

And what of writers who are "good enough" to actually be published by ink-on-paper publishers? Do you know how many I know who wonder if their current book is the final one their publisher will do?

You can be "good enough" -- you can be downright excellent (and these writers I know are) -- but be stuck with a publisher who does nothing but print a book and leave it at that. Or get trapped in a time -- say now -- when the economy is crap and the price of a book exceeds a McDonald's Dollar Menu Survival Meal, so people just stop buying books.

Going back to the first post I cited:
A fortuitous chain reaction caused a number of elements to coincide. There were all these bands and labels, of course, but there were also sympathetic DJs on national radio. most notably John Peel. Furthermore, the record shop and label Rough Trade set up an independent distribution network, which channelled all these new records to the new record shops that were opening around the country. Taken together, there was an infrastructure which connected everything. The synergy enabled things to work that much faster with further reach. A band could have a record pressed, Peel would play it, Rough Trade would distribute it and thousands of late night listeners were able to go out and buy it. Records by the likes of Scritti Politti would have information printed on the sleeves breaking down the costs and details of recording and so on. When people bought the record, it empowered them to make their own.

This is what's lacking.

What's the equivalent of a DJ for a writer or book? A reviewer? Which reviewer and where?

Distribution? What, those cowards at Amazon or at Apple? Don't cite any Print On Demand place to me. I won't buy paper any more. And people won't wait for a mail delivery in this Instant Internet Age.

There's also a big difference between music and books: It takes longer than 3-5 minutes to experience a book (although, granted, most people should be able to tell on page one if a book is good or not -- or at least whether or not it speaks to them).

There are still pieces missing before writers can be liberated from the existing system. These pieces need to be created by people who aren't writers but who want writers to succeed.

Where are those people? Bueller? Bueller?


I'd forgotten the lesson of comic book publishing.

Once upon a time, you would go to a neighborhood candy store or drug store and once or twice a week the racks would be filled with a new delivery of comics.

As circulations dropped, stores closed, and fandom matured, independent comic stores sprung up. This led to an explosion in comic books publishing divorced from the DC/ Marvel/ Archie/ Dell/ Gold Key/ Charlton and Comics Code Authority model. Suddenly artists and their friends could pool some money and launch a comic. New distributors sprung up to serve the new outlets. Even the mainstream comics jumped in with special editions to be sold "direct" (as it was called).

I've said it again and again: the Internet is like SF/comic book fandom. Most sites and blogs are equivalent to fanzines. Some of these online fanzines have become prozines and some have become "real" publications.

I'm just jotting notes here (thanks to Warren Ellis for that idea!), so not really running towards any conclusion right now.


Amazon hard at work reclassifying books.

Reclassified authors in new Amazon-furnished company home.

Gore Vidal is awake:
What kind of a childish game is this? Why don't they just burn the books? They'd be better off and it's very visual on television.

It's Tuesday. Where is Amazon's official policy statement?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gigabyte Touchnote: Moriah's Next eBook Device?

Poor Moriah Jovan.

She is hooked on her eBookwise antique:

But lately she's been agitating for a machine that was actually born in this century.

And she thinks that machine will be an Asus EeePC.

The silly lass.

No, Moriah. You can't haz.

Instead, look at this:

That's a PDF in portrait mode on a ten-inch backlit color screen.

And it's a netbook too. It's the Gigabyte Touchnote T1028M 10” Touchscreen Netbook.

It has one of those screens that twist and flip over to become a tablet. It does landscape and, as shown, portrait.

If you have to get a frikkin clunky-ass netbook for your next eBook device, get that one.

Here I am bugging Chippy to demo a PDF on it for me:

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The PDF he chose was formatted to display two pages on one sheet, so that's why you're not seeing the edge-to-edgeness of a one-sheet PDF.

But still.

The CrunchPad: For Home Only?

This weekend I stopped in J&R to see what was new.

I happened upon one of those hp notebooks with a 12"-inch screen that twists around to form a tablet.

Conveniently, someone had already twisted it into a tablet, so all I had to do was pick it up to get a taste of what it would be like to hold that 12"-screened CrunchPad.

Uh... um... it's rather big.

I'm not going to count weight because the CrunchPad won't have the heft of that hp.

The size of it, however, tells me a CrunchPad is something I'd keep at home and not tote around on my shoulder.

Which I really think is the market they're aiming at: couch-surfing.

I'd use it for that as well as reading the ton of free PDF-formatted eBooks that have been sitting on my hard drive.

For $300, it'd be worth it. But if it was $300 for eBook-reading only, I'd go with a Sony Reader.

The Universal eBook Catalog

I really hate having to think up things that people who make a huge multiple of my yearly income should be bright enough to envision and propose on their own, but it seems this is my curse in life, so here goes.

Appropo of my prior post, emphasizing freedom of buying choice, I propose the formation of the Universal eBook Catalog.

This would list any eBook available for sale.

It would be searchable by all possible elements: title, author, publisher, price, subject matter, genre, file format (ePub and the rest), DRM, hardware, etc.

This would be a catalog that would list everything. Nothing would be verboten.

If it's on the Internet in eBook format with a pricetag, it would be listed.

The primary thing about this Catalog is that it's just that: a catalog.

It's not a bookstore.

All it does is show what's available and then offers links to where the eBook can be bought.

This would be akin to the function of, for example, The Pirate Bay, which has links to items but does not offer that content itself. (In fact, it would probably be in the best interest of everybody to have The Pirate Bay do this. Point to another group of people who have been as fearless as they have been and are!)

Listings would be absolutely free.

I see this as being underwritten by advertising.

Advertisers would be eBook makers, eBook Stores, and publishers. (I can also see TV shows and movies based on books -- or that have book spinoffs -- as advertisers.)

There's recently been a proposal for a cataloging format -- but that is only to formalize how publishers should structure their information.

This catalog would aggregate all that information in one place.

Given the actions of Apple and Amazon, I think it's time for something like this if only as a matter of self-defense.

eBooks are too important to be given up to monopolistic interests who cringe in the face of political or moral opposition.

Brave New Bluenoses

Preface: Before publication, I stopped to do some background reading. A hacker is taking responsibility for this mess. Someone else is backing him up.

I don't buy that as a complete explanation. What about the writer who sounded the first alarm back in February? What about Amazon's own public statement on the matter?

And now onto the post as originally written:

I took two days off Twitter and during my absence a huge scandal erupted over Amazon banning certain books from search results, rankings, and lists.

Why should anybody be surprised?

Apple was the first to ban a book. And it seems it has managed to do so with impunity too! (So much impunity, in fact, they did it a second time!)

Given that action, why shouldn't Amazon have been emboldened to act similarly?

We've all be hypnotized by convenience for the sake of our own good.

Everyone is in a selfish swoon over the immediate gratification the abominable Kindle offers.

That selfish pleasure comes at the cost of screwing publishers and turning direct-publishing writers into Amazon's indentured servants.

When you give up your power and assist a monopoly, don't cry later on that you're being abused.

This is what it's about: No one company should ever have enough power to deform the marketplace to its liking.

Not Apple, not Amazon, not Palm, not Microsoft, not Google, not Barnes & Noble, not Sony.

I've stood against the tide of Kindle worship because I could see what it would lead to: exactly the kind of behavior Amazon has revealed itself to be capable of committing.

This is why I've stood against everyone in favor of the Sony Reader. You might have to be inconvenienced right now to load books onto it via old-fashioned cable, but Sony is in this for the long run and sees its Reader as a universal eBook device.

That means when wireless of the Kindle kind is finally built into it, it will offer owners a freedom of buying choice that we have only seen a sneak preview of with Stanza Reader on the iPhone.

Each publisher, each author, can sell directly to readers without surrendering power to a colossal intermediary such as the Apple App Store, Amazon's Kindle Store, or even Sony's own eBook Store.

Freedom of choice in the eBook marketplace should be the vision in the forefront of every reader's mind.

Screw having your eBook right now.

When you go for that, you're giving up the power to have all possible choices later on.

Exactly what kind of future do you want to have?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Will This Change The Entire eBook Market?

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch -- who I've raked over the coals a number of times -- last year proposed an inexpensive basic touchscreen tablet with a target price of $200.

The above photo purports to be some sort of production mockup of the final product.

If this goes on sale even at $300 -- 50% above the target price -- it could change the entire eBook landscape.

Suddenly, all those PDFs that have been irrelevant for portable reading rise from the dead. They would look incredible on that full-color roomy screen.

Browser-based ePub eBook readers such as Bookworm suddenly become useful too.

And if this baby is hackable -- which I suspect it will be -- even gorgeous LIT might come back to life.

It's about time for me to drop off the Net for the day, so that's all my weary mind can think of at the moment.

But really, who wouldn't want this?

I'm in. I want to buy. Take my damned money, Arrington!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pro Version Of Abyss Markup

I got curious about the code underlying the professional ePub of The People of the Abyss, so I opened it up to peek inside.

The above is a partial screensnap.

Every frikkin element, every frikkin paragraph, is IDed.

The CSS, when run through Print Preview in WordPad, runs to four pages!

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Native Beauty Of LIT

So of course Moriah Jovan couldn't let me rest.


She told me to run my Abyss files through ReaderWorks Standard and see what happened.

I've never done a LIT file before.

Downloaded the software, installed it, and when it came time to choose the files, I just selected all of my source files and told it to use them.

What resulted wasn't an eBook so much as a melange of one. Last chapter was first, followed by all of the photos -- each on a separate page! -- then the cover, introduction, and then the chapters in order (except the last, which was Biblically first).

This isn't even alpha. This is pre-alpha!

Still, I drooled.

Here are some snapshots (click on each for big).

Right off: it looks like a book!

Yes, the spacing is all off, but still book-like!

Proper indented blockquote with centered italic subhead.

The Yes!es are flowing down the side as they should (although I'd open the line spacing more in the final).

I knew those dammed hyphens would cause trouble! Here too!

Again, spacing is incorrect, but it's soooo much like a book.

Smaller type experimented with in extract.

One of those tables. I'd fix that font and spacing, of course.

Proper blockquote.

Another Table. Spacing incorrect top and bottom. I'd see if I could get a thinner border too.

Seeing Abyss in Adobe Digital Editions, in the Sony eLibrary software, and even on my LifeDrive in MobiPocket format, none of them felt like a proper book.

Only the defunct LIT format has given me that experience.

I'm beginning to wonder if Microsoft exited the eBook field too soon.

Ah, Gorgeous LIT!

Writer and eBook wiz Moriah Jovan did a multi-format eBook for someone.

The first version of it I happened to see in the old -- and just about now-obsolete -- Microsoft LIT format.

It's just absolutely gorgeous!

I hadn't looked at anything in MS Reader for ages.

On the other hand, I've spent several weeks of consecutive days looking at my The People of the Abyss alpha eBook in Adobe Digital Editions.

So the contrast between these two was shocking.

First, MS Reader on the PC opens in a book-size window. And, as you can see above, it looks like a page from a book.

Contrast it to Adobe Digital Editions, which even after filling the screen, presents a glob of text that never, ever feels or resembles a book page.

Second, even the way MS Reader handles quotation marks is beautiful. They're tucked in with the precision of printed typesetting.

The first eBook I ever read was in MS Reader on a now-dead Toshiba GENIO Pocket PC (it had a great four-inch screen, huge at the time).

The GENIO is dead. So is the LIT format.

Given what eBooks look like recently, it might be a shame that LIT is dead.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Is Adobe Hindering eBooks?

Despite agitating for eBooks over print books, I have to confess I haven't looked much into the sausage-making process of ePub-formatted eBooks until earlier this year, when I began the Sisyphean task of converting Jack London's The People of the Abyss into a free ePub eBook.

At the time I began, I couldn't find any such ePub version of that book.

Yesterday, it came to my attention that someone -- using proper ePub expertise and skills -- has created such an edition.

Looking at the "professional" version was revelatory.

Several formatting problems that were stumping me apparently turn out to be a shortcoming both of the underlying code for ePub (XHTML) as well as the engine driving ePub display in Adobe Digital Editions!

In other words -- it wasn't me!

Let me first establish that this isn't a trick or rigged. This is the professional Abyss and my version showing up in the Adobe Digital Editions library. The pro one is first:

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Let's see what an opening chapter page of Abyss looks like in the authoritative printed version:

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Each chapter opens with an extract of some kind: poetry, a quote, an interview. Notice how the above is formatted.

Now see what it looks like in my alpha version:

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Remember: this is still alpha. I have yet to go in and really fix that bit. Given my poor knowledge of HTML, getting it right stumped me. So I was very keen on seeing how an expert professional would handle that.

This is how:

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Don't go all faint yet. This post has just begun!

InfoGrid Pacific, creator of the professional-level ePub, notes:
People of the Abyss (Jack London) 4.9MB Added 2009-02-12

Notes: Created with IGP:FLIP. Embedded font used on title page. Centered poetry and images display incorrectly in ADE

Emphasis added by me.

ADE = Adobe Digital Editions.

The awful significance of that note will be made clear towards the end of this post.

As I was writing this, I was complaining about ePub creation issues with Moriah Jovan on Twitter and she led me to the idea to also view the professional version in Calibre, which can also display ePub. That too was a revelation.


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Notice that the display formatting is perfect. Look particularly at "Goldsmith" -- it's properly rendered in Small Caps in Calibre, but not In Adobe Digital Editions!

I also want to note that my alpha doesn't have justified text yet. That's "easily" fixed via a change in its stylesheet. But it's worth noting that Adobe Digital Editions didn't support justified text until a few months ago!

More poetry is required as further illustration before I turn to something else.

From the printed version:

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My alpha version:

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Since I was mystified as to how to accomplish that formatting, I just enclosed it in a Blockquote for the time being so it'd stand out for later formatting.

The professional version:

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And now Calibre:

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But what's going on here? The per-line formatting is OK, by why isn't it all centered as in the printed version?! I don't know what's going on there (nor have I tried to rip the ePub back down to the source files; maybe later).

Now let's turn to the issue of Tables!

From the printed version:

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From my alpha version:

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Yes, I'm using Courier there as a placeholder. But I want you to notice that I have done my best to adhere to the printed formatting.

From the professional version:

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What is that?! It's hardly anything like the printed Table! Why are the items on the left not aligned flush left? I see some additional information in that Table too, which leads me to believe they've used a different edition than my source text (which I've tried to conform to the printed version used in this post). Even so, why are the denominations all out of alignment?


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The table looks the same -- but notice, Calibre shows it centered! Calibre, unfortunately, seems to also throw in an additional blank space right before the chart.

Another Table.

The printed version:

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My alpha version:

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The professional version:

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Again, why isn't the list of items aligned flush left?


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Again, the table looks the same -- but notice, Calibre shows it centered! Calibre, unfortunately, seems to also throw in yet another blank space right before the chart.

Now let's turn to something that is really damning of the code underlying ePub: Fractions!

From the printed version:

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My alpha version:

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Yes: I know I have the fraction incorrect in one place. This is an alpha version. It hasn't gone through the final pre-release line-by-line proofing.

The professional version:

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They don't even try for the fraction symbol, however! They cheat with decimal!


Let's see another example.

From the printed version:

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My alpha version:

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The professional version:

Click = big

And now Calibre:

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I doubt most readers will catch the issue here. It's this: the code that is the basis for ePub creation doesn't have code for every fraction.

Fractions outside the code have to be created with hand-made code!

Look closely:

The one-half fraction looks clean. That's because there's code for it. But for the six-sevenths? Go scratch! Create some handmade code!

This is inexcusable!

We are supposed to have a technology here to encompass all of the printed word.

I have a design background. I've been educated in design and type. I've made money doing design, so you could say I'm a paraprofessional (but not an expert or dedicated to it). I can see crap because I've been trained to do so.

How can HTML leave us in a lurch when it comes to something as basic as fractions? Why must they look like crap?

And I am mistaken that there isn't code for captions for photos and illustrations too? Will I have to work around that by editing the Abyss photos to include a caption made of a bitmap font?

It makes me wonder what other shortcomings reside in the underlying code that's been chosen.

It was Hadrien of FeedBooks who reminded me in Twitter to separate ePub from the technology used to display it.

Which brings me back to Adobe. And the awful significance of that note about how Adobe Digital Editions renders ePub.

Here it is: the Adobe software also powers the display of ePub eBooks on the Sony Reader. That Adobe software will also be the engine for other eBook readers too.

In other words, this formatting inability will be poisoning a large percentage of the eBook-reading hardware ecosystem!

Hadrien doesn't believe this is much of an issue.

I do.

As Adobe incrementally (and glacially, it seems) improves its ePub rendering engine, it's going to become larger.

How do we know that all current hardware eBook readers have enough ROM space to accommodate an upgrade?

And what about rendering speed? Although the new Sony Reader model 700 is peppy, what would happen when a larger block of Adobe code is shoved into the model 505? Would it become unusably slow?

Adding ePub to the Sony Reader made the original model 500 obsolete. Would another Adobe update make the 505 obsolete too?

And how is it, to begin with, that Adobe -- which sells InDesign as an eBook creation tool (among other things) and which sits on the IDPF -- can't create an ePub rendering engine to properly display ePub?

I think this mess provides a plausible explanation for Apple not entering eBooks. Apple's people can't be snowed. They have a heightened radar for crap. Steve Jobs himself must have sampled some ePubs on a Sony Reader -- and maybe even eBook samples on the abominable Kindle.

He must have alternately been disgusted and amused.

Disgusted because it looks like crap and isn't up to Apple's design heritage.

Amused because he knows it'd be easy to exterminate!

Do you really think a company like Apple -- which helped to pioneer desktop publishing, which brought design sensibilities both to dull metal boxes and to operating systems -- would rally around the current state of eBooks?

Apple already has a software tool that can be expanded to create a writer-friendly eBook creation tool: Pages.

If you haven't seen Pages, don't own a Mac, go to an Apple Store and play with it. It's filled with template after template so that even near-blind design illiterates can produce a flyer or booklet or resume without revealing their suckiness at design.

It's not too big of a stretch to see Pages extended to encompass eBook publishing -- but eBook publishing based on an Apple standard that won't throw away several hundred years of design progress.

Why should Apple bother to go with ePub? Stop to consider the millions of iPhone and iPod Touch devices out there. Their numbers crush the current population of all current eBook reading devices.

And if the rumor of an Apple tablet with a ten-inch screen are true, then perhaps Apple won't even have to bother with eBooks at all. Because a ten-inch screen could make the point moot by adequately displaying all existing PDF eBooks.

Apple doesn't have to play the current eBook game. It can create its own game. Just as it did with the original iPhone. And iPod. And Macintosh.

From what I have seen, it seems to me that Adobe is a big clog in the eBook pipeline. Due to its DRM scheme for ePub, it enjoys an advantage of near-Microsoft proportions. And it also seems to me this very lack of competition has caused it to act just as lazy as any monopoly.

After all, who else is there to turn to?