Archive for January, 2010

iPad looks like a bust for porn

January 29, 2010 Comments off

I’m off to Miami today for a short mini-vacation that actually has nothing to do with books (other than I’ll be reading them), so just a quick post today. I had a couple of people ask me yesterday how Apple’s iPad will affect porn, or vice-versa. I don’t think it’ll have any effect whatsoever either way, an assessment the folks over at Fleshbot, a porn blog that you probably don’t want to open at work, agree with (thanks to the lovely Dan Howe for the pointer).

As Fleshbot puts it, the iPad - which Apple is trying to position as a device in between a laptop and a smartphone - is actually “the worst of both worlds.” Not only is Apple absolutely dictating what you can put on it by forcing you to buy content from iTunes, where porn is not allowed, it also doesn’t have a DVD drive so you can’t watch your smut that way. Worse still, as I mentioned yesterday, the iPad doesn’t handle Flash, which is the format most web video, including lots of porn, is done in.

Fleshbot also points out another reason why the iPad is a poor choice for porn - it’s too big. No one will believe you if you claim you’re taking it to the bathroom for some “reading,” and there’s also no way you’ll be able to… uh… hold it with one hand.

Some of this may sound silly but there’s a very serious point to be made here: it’s not a good sign if the porn industry doesn’t like your technology.

Of course, that didn’t stop some porn companies from hopping on the Apple bandwagon. Just as soon as Apple announced the iPad on Wednesday, my inbox starting filling up with press releases from companies of all stripes claiming their content is optimized for the device. One of the culprits was Digital Playground (the same folks with whom I dined in Las Vegas), who claimed:

As a member of the Apple Developer program for the last decade and specifically the iPhone developer program since its inception, all Digital Playground iproperties automatically sense whether or not the user is using an iPhone, iTouch, or iPad and customize the experience on the fly. Digital Playground users who purchase an iPad will note the seamless integration between the desktop, laptop, iPhone and iPad.

There’s actually a couple of problems with that. I suspect Digital Playground is exaggerating (something that never happens in the porn industry, oh no) its involvement with Apple’s developer program. If the above is to be believed, where is DP’s iPhone app? As Leon Phelps said in The Ladies Man, “I would pick you up in my car except that it, uh, does not exist.”

Secondly, I’m not sure that anyone but Apple’s highly valued partners - like the New York Times, Major League Baseball and book publishers named in its press conference - can claim to know how the iPad works, and how their content will display on it, at this point. I suspect porn companies are pretty low on Apple’s food chain, so there’s no real way to know how their content will display on the device until it’s released in March. Connoisseurs should beware claims to the contrary.

Categories: apple, digital playground, sex

iPad doesn’t look like a friend to authors

January 28, 2010 2 comments

Thank the stars it’s Thursday because that means the iPad frenzy is over. My quick thoughts on Apple’s latest gadget: I’m thoroughly underwhelmed. Yes it’s snazzy and yes it does a lot of things well, but there’s a bunch of things it doesn’t do - or that other things already do admirably - that really have me questioning how the iPad can be useful.

The iPhone already does just about everything the iPad does. The iPad has a bigger screen, which makes watching movies and looking at photos and websites even better, but that’s about where the advantages end. It has no camera and, like the iPhone, it apparently can’t handle Flash, the format that many websites and videos use. This isn’t such a big deal on the iPhone, but on a bigger screen you expect websites to have full functionality.

Also like the iPhone, the iPad uses a virtual touch-screen keyboard. While it’s nice to have one that’s bigger than the iPhone’s, I imagine typing anything more than a few lines on the iPad will be just as painful. Don’t believe me? Try typing for a while without resting your palms on the keyboard and you’ll see what I mean. Apple will be rolling out iWork apps (Pages and Numbers, etc.) with the iPad, but this software - especially Pages - will be hampered by the virtual keyboard. Steve Jobs did promise a physical keyboard attachment, but if you need a portable device that you can type on, a netbook is a much better - and cheaper - way to go.

Don’t even get me started on how useful or desirable the full 3G-enabled iPad will be here in Canada. Once we start talking about data rates here, all bets are off.

There’s going to be tons of disagreement out there between the Apple faithful and the regular Joes (I’d say PC supporters, but are there any of you left?) over whether this is a hit product, or a miss. I have a Mac and an iPhone and love both dearly, but the iPad at this point looks inferior to just about any netbook I’ve tried. Netbooks also look like they’re going to improve significantly later this year, when versions running Google’s Chrome operating system become available.

Mind you, the very first iPhone had a serious flaw - no 3G connectivity - that was quickly corrected. The rest, as they say, is history. Of course, the iPad could equally end up being a quickly forgotten Apple product… Apple TV, anyone?

And before we forget that this is a blog devoted to books in general, and a certain book in specific, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the iPad’s book capability. Jobs also announced a service called iBooks, which is basically a repackaging of the e-books already being sold over iTunes. Yes, the e-books look pretty good on the iPad and yes, they are in the open e-book format - which will read on any device - and yes, it will give single-purpose devices such as Amazon’s Kindle a run for their money. But, unlike Amazon, Apple doesn’t appear to be encouraging any sort of self-publishing ventures.

As I mentioned the other day, the thing I like about what Amazon is doing is that it’s letting any would-be author publish via the Kindle. Apple’s iBooks service is being done in conjunction with major publishers, including Penguin and HarperCollins et al. Apple has also amassed quite the reputation for being very strict and closed about its iPhone app approval process. Put those two together and it doesn’t look like the iPad will be any sort of friend to authors looking to publish independently, which is unfortunate given the expectations that this device would change the game in many ways.

The iPhone or the iPod, this is not.

Categories: apple, books, internet

Sex, Bomb and Burgers goes global

January 27, 2010 Comments off

With this blog almost a year old, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some stats. More specifically, I’m curious as to where exactly in the world are people coming from to read my daily musings/inane rantings? Well, the top five countries aren’t terribly surprising, as just about all of them represent the world’s most populous English-speaking nations:

1. United States
2. Canada
3. United Kingdom
4. India
5. Germany

I’m not really sure why Germany beats out Australia, which ranks seventh (after Turkey). Maybe it’s because Germans are really into porn? That is, after all, how most people end up here when using search engines.

Speaking of Google, it’s thanks to the company’s fantastic Analytics tool that bloggers can look at all at these stats. What I find most interesting is the map that displays where traffic is coming from. I’m pleased to report that at least one person in almost every country in the world has viewed this blog over the past 11 months.

The exceptions are: Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Bolivia, Paraguay, Honduras, Cuba, Haiti, Greenland, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Mongolia, North Korea, Burma, Laos and a bunch of African countries. None of those, with the possible exception of Serbia, should be any surprise. Most either have very little computer and internet infrastructure, are incredibly oppressive regimes or have nobody living there.

I think that’s pretty cool. A handful of people in Iraq have read this website and even one lone soul has checked it out from Afghanistan. I wonder if it was Osama Bin Laden? Behold the power of the internet!

You’ll have to excuse this post as my mind is thinking internationally. I recently got some further good news regarding Sex, Bombs and Burgers and international distribution. The i’s haven’t been dotted yet and the t’s haven’t been crossed, so I can’t share any further details yet, but stay tuned.

Categories: internet

Timmy’s vs. McD’s: The war for breakfast

January 26, 2010 1 comment

The breakfast war: it’s on. Oh yes, it’s on. Yesterday, Tim Hortons fired the latest salvo with its new Egg McMuffin… er… English Muffin sandwich. As you can see from the picture, it’s the spitting image of McDonald’s famous breakfast sandwich. I can’t comment on how it tastes because I personally find the Egg McMuffin disgusting. I suspect Timmy’s version, which I hope to never have to try, will be pretty similar.

Tim Hortons, which is about as Canadian as tundra, began selling its version of the McMuffin on Monday for $1.99. As the Financial Post reports, Timmy’s is leading the breakfast sandwich pack with about 51 per cent of the market, all of which comes from its biscuit and bagel options.

The muffin sandwich, however, is the healthiest of all the choices. By way of comparison, the muffin sandwich with egg, cheese and sausage packs 410 calories, 23 grams of salt and 890 milligrams of sodium. The same sandwich on a biscuit has 520 calories, 33 grams of fat and 950 milligrams of sodium.

The ball is now in McDonald’s court. Maybe now we can figure out why the company is charging nearly $3 for the exact same sandwich. That amount, by the way, is nearly double what Americans pay for a Sausage McMuffin.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: McDonald’s Canada is almost as bad as the cellphone industry in terms of hosing its customers. For those who actually like these sandwiches, let’s hope this war gets a lot more heated.

Categories: food, mcdonald's

Self-publishing no longer a dirty word

January 25, 2010 Comments off

All eyes will be on Apple this week as the company is set to unveil its latest gadget, which pretty much everyone expects will be a touchscreen tablet computer of some sort. For months now, the iSlate or iPad, or whatever it’s going to be called, has been the subject of intense speculation by technology reporters and bloggers. Every last detail, from its technical specifications to price tag, has been guessed at. It’s gotten to the point of ridiculousness, where even normally quality media have joined in on the guessing game. PC World, for example, ran an article over the weekend with the headline “Apple Tablet an Ideal Business Tool.” That’s a pretty bold statement to make about a product that doesn’t exist yet.

Much of the hype arises from Apple’s track record. The company did, after all, revolutionize music with the iPod and wireless internet with the iPhone. It also stems from the company’s utter secrecy when it comes to new products; by remaining absolutely quiet about them until they launch, Apple has created an entire ecosystem of hype that is fed by everyone from financial analysts to bloggers. As a result, the company barely has to promote its own products since these people do it for them.

Nevertheless, one of the other reasons why the Apple tablet is creating such a buzz is that some people are hoping it can do for publishing what the iPod did for music - that is, reinvent the market and haul it into the digital age.

The movement is already well underway. has so far been the leader in the so-called e-reader market with the Kindle, a nifty device that simulates the look and feel of a book with its “e-ink” technology. Amazon touted the Kindle as its hottest-selling item during the Christmas holidays, while the forecasts continue to pour in on how electronic book sales are supposed to skyrocket. E-readers were understandably all the rage at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with a number of companies promising their own models. Apple, of course, could clobber them all with its announcement on Wednesday.

But are e-books ready for prime time? It’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time now, from the perspective of both a writer and a reader, and I must admit to mixed feelings about the issue.

For authors, e-books present an incredible opportunity, and there is indeed major change coming in how books are published. Under the old system, a prospective author would pitch his or her book to editors at various publishing houses in the hopes that someone would go for it. If the author was lucky, he or she would score a deal and the publisher would sell printed copies of the book through bookstores or online through Amazon, Chapters and the like. The author would earn an upfront advance and then a small percentage - usually something like 10 or 15 per cent - from the sale of each copy. The publisher and the seller would split the remaining 85 to 90 per cent. Overall, while the author could still earn a handsome amount if the book sold well, he or she got comparatively little of the overall pie.

The new system that is emerging is giving authors considerably more power - and more potential reward. Now, pretty much anyone who can string two words together can sell an e-book through Amazon, for delivery to the company’s Kindle e-reader. If you’ve got that great unpublished novel sitting around on your hard drive, now’s your chance - Amazon’s Digital Text Platform can deliver your book to a growing audience of Kindle-equipped readers.

And it’s getting better. Just last week, in preparation for Apple’s tablet, Amazon revised the terms of how people can do this and boosted the earnings they can get up to 70 per cent of the retail price, which the author gets to set. Not only does this system empower every would-be author out there - and there must be thousands if not millions of unpublished books in just the English-speaking world - it also gives them the potential to earn some serious money. I’ve done the math; if I self-published my e-book on Amazon for just $5, I would earn more money per copy than under my current publishing deals.

But who will buy these e-books? After all, the New York Times reports that many of the Kindle’s best-sellers are those books that are given away for free. Well, that’s true - nothing sells quite like free. But this is again where the system is changing. Under the old regime, book publishers used their hefty portion of the cover price to promote the book. They had contacts with people in the old media - television, radio, newspapers - who they could rely on for promotion. They could also send authors on tour to do book signings, readings, lectures and so forth. All of this would translate into awareness of the book, and therefore hopefully into sales.

The new system puts the onus of promotion squarely on the author, which opens up a world of possibilities. A couple of buzzwords (which I am growing increasingly loathsome of) come into play here: social media and crowdsourcing. You don’t have to be a marketing wizard to spread the word about your self-published e-book using social media tools such as a blog (like this one), Facebook and Twitter. Aside from interacting with people on those sites and spreading the word personally, if you’re willing to spend a few bucks, Google and Facebook have made it ridiculously easy to run ads on their respective services (I’m running ads for Sex, Bombs and Burgers on both right now).

Word of mouth - or word of email/text - is also quite powerful online. There have been countless examples of things that have gone viral on the internet and there is always the possibility that it can happen to your book. One good example that comes to mind is Chicago band OK Go. They’d been around for a while but only hit it big in 2006 after uploading a video to YouTube for Here It Goes Again, which featured the band in an elaborate dance routine on treadmills. The video became a huge hit on the site and the band’s popularity exploded. The same is going to be possible for books, especially after websites devoted exclusively to self-published books (YouRead?) inevitably take off.

So where does this leave old-guard publishers? Well, if you add up all of the above, it doesn’t sound good for them. If the internet, Amazon and e-readers all conspire to cut them out of the equation, the future doesn’t look too bright for publishers, does it? Perhaps - but that’s where the reader experience comes into play.

I’ve had a chance to play around with both Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader, and I’ve read full books on both. To be honest, it’s not an experience I’m fully sold on yet. The e-ink displays are nice, but they still give off glare in brightly lit areas. And, at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, plain old books never run out of batteries (both readers died on me at key times). I’m also somewhat old school in that I like collecting shelves of books; when I glance at them, they take me back to a certain time and place. Digital books, for all their portability and convenience, offer no such nostalgia.

Mind you, the same could be said about CDs. I used to like looking at them on my racks - each album reminded me of a certain feeling or experience. But now, they’re just a pain to move and keep free from dust. I get just about all of my music digitally now, with CD purchases reserved only for those very special bands whose packaging I must have (cough Tool cough).

I’m not sure about how the mass market will react to e-books, but I think I’m going to treat them the same way I do music. For the really good stuff, I’m still going to buy the physical printed version. For the time-wasting, beach-reading fluff (cough Dan Brown cough), I’ll buy the cheaper e-book. That way, if the book sucks, I won’t have to be reminded of the time I wasted reading it whenever I look at my shelf.

I suspect there’s a lot of old-school readers out there who will want to stick with printed books for the same reasons. Just like the internet hasn’t (yet) killed off newspapers and magazines, I suspect there’ll still be room for the printed page for years to come. The other problem is that with the flood of self-published e-books that will surely come, it’s going to become much more difficult to get your particular book noticed, which is where the old guard’s promotional system still holds some appeal.

One thing is for sure, though: book publishers are going to have to adjust to the new reality and are going to have to do more for authors - especially the established ones - to keep them from going the potentially more-lucrative self-publishing route.

UPDATE: Damian Kulash of OK Go recently posted an open letter about how YouTube and his record label, EMI, were not allowing the band to put videos up on the site that can be embedded. The problem is that YouTube’s software doesn’t allow ads to play over the video when it is embedded on non-YouTube sites. This is super-ironic given how the band rose to prominence.

Categories: amazon, apple, books, internet

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