Sunday, December 20, 2009

Media Week 51: Cormac McCarthy, Cranford, Libraries/Google, eBooks, Magazines

All Cormac McCarthy as the film version of The Road finally makes it to the big screen. (I'm one book into the border trilogy myself). This weekend in addtion to a review of the film by Wil Self (here), The Observer profiles the author (here):

McCarthy spends a lot of his time at the Santa Fe Institute, near his home in New Mexico, a multi-disciplinary institution set up by the Los Alamos physicist Murray Gell-Mann to study "complex systems". McCarthy lunches there and counts a number of the scientists among his friends. When asked recently, in a conversation with the Wall Street Journal, about the nature of the catastrophic event in The Road, he answered by saying: "I don't have an opinion. It could be anything – volcanic activity or it could be nuclear war. It is not really important. The whole thing now is, what do you do? The last time the caldera in Yellowstone blew, the entire North American continent was under about a foot of ash. People who've gone diving in Yellowstone lake say that there is a bulge in the floor that is now about 100 feet high and the whole thing is just sort of pulsing. From different people, you get different answers, but it could go in another three to four thousand years or it could go on Thursday…"

By nature, you can't help feeling, McCarthy tends toward the latter timeframe. He is the great pessimist of American literature, using his dervish sentences to illuminate a world in which almost everything (including punctuation) has already come to dust. He once argued that he could see no point at all in literature that did not dwell on death. His touchstones are Dostoevsky and Melville; he hasn't much time for Henry James.

This evening (Sunday) in the UK a new series based on the Gaskell Cranford books starts: A second series of Cranford is coming. Apparently, no one has read the books so don't know then endings (Link)
Writer Heidi Thomas had again brilliantly fashioned the stories of Elizabeth Gaskell into something wonderful, greater than the sum of its parts. I get irritated when the show is dismissed as ‘costume drama’ as I see it as an original work by Heidi, based on classic short stories. I think the first series succeeded because viewers were surprised both by the narrative – as they had no way of knowing where the story was heading – and also by the boldly comic tone and versions of the bizarre events that Mrs Gaskell had witnessed in Victorian Cheshire. In television the term aspirational is used to describe shows such as Desperate Housewives, meaning viewers wish they could live like the characters. I think the same was true for Cranford: people wish they lived in a tight little community where people know your business and there are a set of rules and rituals to live by. I also think the audience welcomed a show dominated by strong, distinctive female characters.
Libraries have asked for help controlling what they expect will be high subscription prices for the Google Book Database (Link)

The American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries and the Association of Research Libraries said that there was unlikely to be an effective competitor to Google's massive project in the near term.

It asked the government to urge the court to use its oversight authority to prevent abusive pricing of the online book project.

"The United States should carefully monitor implementation of the settlement, including the pricing of the institutional subscription," the library organizations said in their letter, which was dated December 15 but released on Thursday.

It was addressed to William Cavanaugh, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's antitrust division.

David Pogue in the New York Times questions whether eBooks should wear protection (Link):

All right. So: should e-books be copy protected?

As an author myself, I, too, am terrified by the thought of piracy. I can’t stand seeing my books, which are the primary source of my income, posted on all these piracy Web sites, available for anyone to download free.

When I wrote about my concerns a year ago, my readers took me to task. “For all you know,” went their counterargument, “the illegal copies are just advertising for you; people will download them, try them out, then go buy the physical book. Either that, or they’re being downloaded by people who would not have bought your book anyway. Why don’t you try a controlled experiment and see?”

Well, it sounded like it could be a very costly experiment. But I agreed. My publisher, O’Reilly, decided to try an experiment, offering one of my Windows books for sale as an unprotected pdf file. After a year, we could compare the results with the previous year’s sales.

The results? It was true. The thing was pirated to the skies. It’s all over the Web now, ridiculously easy to download without paying.

The crazy thing was, sales of the book did not fall. In fact, sales rose slightly during that year.

Stephen Covey's extends his already widely distributed publishing and promotional operations to include a digital rights deal with Amazon. The Guardian suggests this startles New York publishers (Link)

The move has put a chill over New York publishing houses already struggling to keep up with the ebook revolution. One of their big fears is that of becoming separated from their backlists, the titles that act as the cash cows of the industry, bringing in a steady and increasingly crucial income in the insecure digital world.

As jitters spread, some big publishers have moved to defend what they claim is theirs – the digital rights to the backlist.

Borders UK staff are expected to lose their jobs during Christmas week and as many as a 1,000 jobs will be lost as the chance of a last minute reprieve looks remote. (Link)

Magazines are getting ready for tablets and there may be lots of benefits to be had (Link):

Publishers like the iPhone, but it has drawbacks, especially its small size. That’s where the tablet is expected to come in.

Few tablets are on the market today. (Mr. Wallace keeps a 10 1/2-inch piece of foam and paper on his desk, his best guess at what a tablet will look like.) Hewlett-Packard and other hardware companies are developing touch-screen tablets that are expected to look like a much larger iPhone. Apple, too, is rumored to be working on one.

“The technology will allow these magazines, and these advertisements, to look as good as they look on the magazine page,” said Louis Cona, senior vice president of the Condé Nast Media Group.

As good — or better. Wired’s mockup has elements like interactive graphics, links that take the customer to a floating window rather than a new page, and the ability to play video and audio. “You can put as many pyrotechnics in there as you want to,” Mr. Wallace said.

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