Archive for September, 2010

Smut driving e-book sales on Amazon

September 30, 2010 Comments off
Hey, check it out - a story that combines two of my most discussed topics here: e-books and porn. Slate has discovered that some of the hottest selling (or downloaded) e-books on Amazon are erotica, and even downright pornographic, including titles such as Office Slave and Compromising Positions. As the story puts it:

There’s no point in dancing around it: Amazon is distributing men’s erotic fiction, and its bargain-basement Kindle pricing — in many cases, this material, too, is given away for free — means that some of it shows up on “best-seller” lists…

…Every time a major new content platform — print, film, cable, VHS, DVD, the Internet, mobile phones — has experienced massive growth, it has either been driven by a porn boom or at least brought the porn industry along for the ride. (The biggest exception is probably radio.)

Of course, this stuff isn’t the least bit surprising - not only is much of the technological side of it covered in Sex, Bombs and Burgers, but my book also actually rubs up against some of what it motivating these e-book sales. I’ve mentioned before how one reason why people don’t buy SB&B is because it has the word “porn” in its subtitle. Some people would, understandably, rather not be seen reading such a book in public places for fear of what it allegedly says about them (“Eww! That loser is reading a book about porn. He must be a pervert!”). 

The e-book version therefore, read on an e-reader, obviates that problem for both “clean” books like mine that just happen to mention something “nasty” on their covers and for the “nasty” books themselves. An e-reader is the digital equivalent of the nondescript brown paper cover that some stores used to sell porn magazines in, and e-books allow you to read whatever you want in public without fear of scorn. 
Combine all that with the self-publishing ability that Amazon and other e-bookstores provide and there’s very obviously going to be a huge boom in pornographic e-books, as Slate is finding.
The trend is really a textbook technology case. It’s still relatively early days for both e-books and Amazon’s foray into them, and the company is only too happy to let porn provide the content that mainstream publishers are still somewhat reluctant to part with. After all, if Amazon wants to sell Kindles, it has to give people something to read on them. But, as the Slate article suggests, it’s likely only a matter of time before Amazon comes under pressure from the usual suspects, and is perhaps forced to clamp down.
What the article didn’t touch on is that this is exactly what gives other e-reader makers a competitive advantage. Kobo, the Sony Reader and many others use the open ePub format, which means that anyone who wants to write and distribute a porn e-book will be able to have their work readable on those devices (Amazon’s Kindle does not easily support ePub). Even if Amazon does crack down, writers of such works will be able to make them available for download through their own websites.
Eventually, when the e-book market grows and matures, many of those erotica/porn releases will be replaced on bestseller lists by mainstream titles and the prevalence of smutty content will be marginalized. The Slate story is thus an important piece of historical reporting - it’s documenting how this particular market is getting started.
Categories: amazon, ebooks, sex

Pizza for nerds

September 29, 2010 Comments off

Everybody knows nerds love pizza, so it’s a little surprising that this took so long: presenting, the Star Trek pizza cutter. As you can see from the picture below, it’s a pizza cutter in the shape of the U.S.S. Starship Enterprise:

This particular gem comes from the folks at, purveyors of all sorts of nerdly novelty items (i.e. the Tauntaun sleeping bag and the Ladies of Star Wars playing cards). It’s only $24.99 and will make a nice counterpart to that Klingon cork screw you’ve got.

Categories: food, Star Wars

Mainstream media needs to chill out on tech

September 28, 2010 Comments off

I came across two tidbits of news yesterday that seemingly covered different areas, yet I couldn’t help but put them together in light of stuff I’ve been thinking about lately.

The first was a story about the controversy surrounding AquaBounty Technologies, the Massachusetts-based company I wrote about a while back that has genetically engineered a super-salmon. The company’s fish, which grows faster than regular salmon, is on the verge of being approved for human consumption in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration.

There are many people protesting this, of course, for all sorts of expected reasons: the fish are untested, they could contaminate wild salmon stocks, they’re a travesty against nature, etc. As the Mother Jones article says, the latest concern is that the salmon - because they have genes from other fish - could be more allergenic.

The second story that piqued my interest was a report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which studied how the media covers technology news. There’s a ton to digest in the report, but here are the parts that really got my attention:

The biggest single event or storyline during the year involved the perils of technology: the hazardous yet compulsive practice of texting while driving. Nearly one-in-ten technology stories were about this subject, more than five times the coverage of either the U.S. plan for broadband access and six times the coverage devoted to the debate over net neutrality… 

…The findings suggest that in the mainstream media, particularly on front pages and general interest programs, the press reflects exuberance about gadgets and a wonder about the corporations behind them, but wariness about effects on our lives, our behavior and the sociology of the digital age.

The first story seems to support the second and indeed, it’s a topic I’m well acquainted with. In the realm of our little science and technology section on, we can write about whatever we want, however we want, whether it’s positive or negative. But the only time the so-called front-pagers - the media covered by the report - come calling on us for stories or commentary, it’s either to cover the launch of some new gadget or the perils of the latest technology. In other words, if it’s not Apple launching a new iPhone or Facebook’s latest brush with privacy watchdogs, the mainstream isn’t interested in technology.
Oh how true it is. The media obviously shapes public opinion on issues and the underlying result that the Pew study is getting at, particularly with that second finding, is that technology is mistrusted by the shapers of mainstream values. To me, that’s very sad because the world is clearly, unequivocally better because of technology. If you don’t believe that, you may want to think twice the next time you take an aspirin for your headache or eat a banana in the winter.
The stories that extol technology’s virtues are few and far between in the mainstream, and those that do exist are usually overwhelmed by ignorant reader comments that have been shaped by that mainstream negativity. A good example is a story that recently appeared on CBC (I didn’t write it) about how scientists believe new food technology is imperative to feed the world’s growing population - a central theme of Sex, Bombs and Burgers. Here’s just one sample reader comment, that pretty much sums up some of that negative sentiment: “I’ve heard a lot of lies. This one ranks at somewhere at the top. What is needed is less technology, and more of the old ways of doing business!”

That relates directly back to the protests surrounding the AquaBounty fish. While new technologies certainly should run a gamut of tests before being unleashed on the public, there does come a time when we need to chill out and let things happen. New technologies do bring unintended consequences, but the defining characteristic of the human species is our ability to adapt to such events. If the genetically engineered salmon really do provoke more allergies, scientists will either fix that with other technology or we’ll figure out a way to deal with it. If we - and the media - continually worry about what might happen, nothing ever will happen.

Categories: food, GMO, media

Milking the golden cow that is porn

September 27, 2010 Comments off

When it comes to the pornography industry, it’s notoriously hard to get straight answers - a fact that’s especially true when it comes down to money. Estimates as to how much the industry takes in vary greatly and in most cases, it depends on who you talk to you. Anti-porn groups often like to under-value the industry in an effort to make it seem smaller than it is, while the producers themselves exaggerate for exactly the opposite reasons.

The other thing that makes it really hard to get good numbers is the fact that there is no dividing line between adult companies and their mainstream counterparts. Mainstream businesses, from cable and internet providers to hotel chains and electronics makers all have their fingers in the pie, so to speak.
Case in point: the news last week that ad agency M&C Saatchi has won the global account for ICM Registry, the U.S. internet registrar that is going to run the .XXX domain name. For the uninitiated, internet registrars are the companies that websites buy their addresses from. They, in turn, are governed by the non-profit ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICM has been trying to get the .XXX domain established for ages, and ICANN is on the verge of doing so.
Porn companies, however, have been up in arms over the move, saying that the creation of a specialized website won’t prevent what it is intended to do, which is to make it harder for minors to access adult content. The companies are also hopping mad that they’re going to have to answer to a new cop - and one that is not affiliated with them at all. According to the industry’s lobby group, the Free Speech Coaltion, “.XXX would end up costing webmasters millions in unnecessary fees, if passed, and also make it easier for the wrong people to target adult material online.”
Given that ICANN and ICM have drafted a contract, it sure looks like the domain is going to go through despite the porn industry’s protests, which probably means the company is going to get rich, and Saatchi is going to benefit as well. According to The Guardian, the agency will “focus on developing a campaign, set to launch on both sides of the Atlantic from January, to increase responsibility with the adult entertainment industry. A consumer campaign will roll out later next year.”
Flowery statements of intent aside, you can add M&C Saatchi to the list of big mainstream companies that will be profiting from porn (if it isn’t doing so already).
Categories: internet, sex

Chapters/Indigo employees have good taste

September 24, 2010 Comments off

As gung-ho as I am about the encroachment of e-books, one thing I’m not looking forward to is the inevitable decline of bookstores. Just as CDs seem to be the last thing HMV sells these days, I imagine it’ll be a similar situation with books in the not-too-distant future, given that the sales trajectory of e-books is growing much faster than digital music did.

I say this because I love bookstores. I love going to them and walking around aimlessly, open to whatever will catch my attention. I do this at least once a week at the huge Chapters store near the CBC building.

I was there yesterday and, what do you know, there’s Sex, Bombs and Burgers under the staff picks section:

That’s two Chapters/Indigo stores to pick my book in a week. If you haven’t bought it yet, do you need any more enticement? Come on - two Chapters employees can’t be wrong!

But seriously - thanks to Kern at this particular store for picking SB&B. There are of course digital equivalents to this sort of “staff pick,” but in this particular area you’ll have to forgive me if I’m somewhat opposed to future trends.

Categories: books, chapters