October 2009

Marco and Tiff on ebook readers

I love this post by Marco Arment about ebook readers, particularly this tidbit:

Tiff plowed through more than 20 books on the Kindle. At one point in the middle, she read a book on paper (because it wasn’t available on the Kindle) and absolutely hated it. Her commentary was priceless: she couldn’t easily look up word definitions, she couldn’t change the font size, it was awkward and lopsided to hold near the beginning and end, and it would lose her place if she fell asleep while reading.

My ebook reader [a Sony PRS505] is awesome. Not only is it useful for work-related reading [I often put manuscripts on it so I can read away from the computer and can’t fiddle with them as I read,] but it has increased the amount of overall leisure time I spend reading, as I’m more in the habit of reading—long form—than I have been in years, both electronic and print.

Zendikar Intro Packs: Bought White, Pulled Black

Short version: I opened one of the White Zendikar Intro Packs and aside from the white foil card being correct, the rest were the Black Intro Pack cards!

Long version: I recently got back into playing Magic: The Gathering. It seems that a lot of people have had their interest rekindled lately, and my local game store has been stepping up the Friday Night Magic events, so I’ve grabbed some cards and played in my first tournament over the last week. The tournament was an Ironman draft using older cards, and I won in the first round before being quickly eliminated in the second. After claiming my booster pack prize, I picked up a few of the Zendikar Intro Packs so a friend and I could quickly play on Saturday. Having heard the talk of how good the Black Rise of the Vamires deck was, I bought it, along with the White Kor Armory and Blue/Green Unstable Terrain packs.

All the foil cards were correct. However, my White deck actually contained the shrink-wrapped set of Black cards; so I ended up with two Black decks, and a trip back to the game store after playing a few rounds of Black vs Blue/Green to acquire a White deck. This one, I opened in the store to be sure I was getting what I was looking for!

2D6 Feet in a Random Direction

2D6 Feet in a Random Direction is one of my favorite gaming podcasts. It delivers gaming news from well-connected and knowledgeable hosts [Chris Hanrahan and Brian Isikoff] and guests, reviews, actual play reports, and California and USA west-coast gaming scene news.

The show’s producers recently had some issues with their web hosting, and so I offered to and have taken over hosting the site—leaving Chris and Brian free to work on the show itself.

If you’re a gamer, the perspectives from the 2D6 cast are well-worth listening to. If you’re regularly buying and trying new games, I’d classify it as a must-listen!

Further Piracy Thoughts

Here’s a few more bullet points from the Things I Think About Piracy department, as a followup to ICv2, Gaming Book Piracy, Quality of News. Most of this addresses “media” piracy; software piracy is a whole different kettle of fish, I think, as you can profit from using pirated software.

  • I don’t think piracy is a compliment. You like my stuff enough to use it, but not enough to pay for it? Ugh, that’s kind of crummy middle-of-the-road like, isn’t it?
  • I don’t think that anything you do with a file or physical media you’ve bought should be considered piracy or illegal unless you actually duplicate it for or make available copies to someone else. Make a half-dozen backups. Copy and paste the text into your own custom version of the file. Print out a copy that can be handed around the gaming table, and when that copy gets beaten up and ripped, shred it and print another copy. Rip that DVD to your hard drive and copy it to your iPod. Photocopy the book and paste all the pages onto your wall in some bizarre wallpaper homage to Shadowrun, Second Edition.
  • I try not to support DRM or other sort of restrictive publishing schemes, either as a publisher or a consumer. I’m afraid it’s not completely unavoidable—after all, commercial DVDs have DRM on them, and I’m not about to stop buying DVDs. And within the last year, I’ve accidentally bought a DRMed ebook or two, but I try to avoid it. As a publisher, I do not believe that restrictions that can impair paying customers are the right thing to do. That said, sometimes publishing partners, licensors, etc, demand or impose DRM; you can’t always blame the creator for it.
  • I think that piracy that is personal—giving some music or a copied DVD to a friend, for example—is far more acceptable than putting the exact same thing online to be downloaded by total strangers. When I share things, I want to share it with people who are going to help enrich my experience! (I still loan books that I enjoy to my friends, too. Fancy that!)
  • I think the library is an awesome place to get books, audiobooks, DVDs,and CDs that you don’t own. Enjoyed it? Maybe you should buy a copy. Didn’t like it? Hopefully the next person that takes it out does! Some libraries are even lending out ebooks and other modern formats, now!

ICv2, Gaming Book Piracy, Quality of News

ICv2 is one of the last sites that report on the hobby gaming industry in a general way. By general, I mean they don’t have a specific focus—they don’t cover just indie games, or just CCGs, etc.

This week, ICv2 published the following article:
Change Roiling Book Business
. The second part of this article talks about the Espresso Book Machine—an awesome print on demand [In the literal sense, not the “short run printing service” sense] machine that for only $100,000 + consumables can print softcover books in less than 4 minutes. This piece of machinery could have a positive impact on publishing, bringing backlist and rare titles back into print in bookstores and educational facilities.

The first part of the article is about ebook piracy, and it is entirely sourced from Randall Stross’ October 3rd article on NYTimes.com: Will Books Be Napsterized?

I am not going to talk about piracy yet. I am going to say one simple thing: when discussing piracy as it relates to the game industry, taking all your source material from one article which is not related to the game industry, and not adding any additional material that directly relates to the game industry [Such as, for example, talking to some publishers as to how they feel about the article and piracy trends] is lazy reporting. It’s even lazier when said article is the top article on ICv2 that day.

Briefly, to talk about Stross’ article: Yes, ebook piracy is going to increase as more devices are capable of electronically reading ebooks—and that means one thing for me in my publisher hat: there are also more reasons for people to buy ebooks. In the end, I care about how many units I can sell and how many dollars I can make, not how many copies are pirated. 10,000 sales and 100,000 pirated units is still better than 9,000 sales and 50,000 pirated units. There are exceptions to this (especially in the software/service market), but in the book/ebook publishing market, I think it’s pretty clear.

(Tangent: In Stross’ article, he also claims that the RIAA has said inflation-adjusted sales of music have dropped by more than 50% in the last 10 years, even accounting for digital sales. He doesn’t link to any proof of this RIAA claim—not even info directly from the RIAA. I googled a bit but couldn’t find a direct quote that backs that up, although I did find this page on the RIAA site, which links to a PDF that shows numbers that do not indicate a 50% drop, although the article doesn’t list the methodology or if it it’s adjusted for inflation.)

So now we’ll talk piracy a bit. When I say piracy, I mean “duplicating something you don’t own the rights to copy for noncommercial use;” I’m not speaking about people duplicating and selling commercially available products. And let’s remember that I am talking for myself—not anyone that employs me. I am not one of those creators that thinks piracy is some horrible awful thing. Rather, I think piracy is completely natural. We all want something for nothing, or for as little as possible, and we all like to share the things we like with people we like. I reckon there are very few people reading this who can say that they have never pirated anything. Before we had such easy digital copying solutions, we just had to work a bit harder to do it!

I also think there are situations where something may technically be piracy, but isn’t going to harm anyone. I’ll “‘fess up” with a personal example: I’m a professional wrestling fan. There is a great deal of wrestling material from the 70s and 80s that is not available in any commercial manner, but exists because fans at the time taped it from television or some of the people “rescued” the master tapes from the TV studio. I’d buy some of this stuff in a heartbeat if it was made commercially available, but even though World Wrestling Entertainment owns some of this material, it’s rarely available, especially as it was originally broadcast. So I don’t think I’m doing them harm by buying or trading for wrestling bootlegs … WWE, I assure you, if you ever release a Best of Stampede Wrestling box set, I am there.

There are books about wrestling, too. I buy those, too. I’m sure I could steal them, but when a book is $12 on Amazon, how much time do I want to spend looking for a pirated version, when I can have a nice version that I can read in my bathroom in the mail in only a week or so? (If that timeframe seems long, I’m in Canada and I mostly order from Amazon.com, not the Amazon.ca subsite. Better selection, and I prefer the American packaging on DVDs to the Canadian packaging, generally.) As a publisher, I have many conflicting opinions of Amazon. As a reader and a TV watcher and a player-of-games, I love Amazon; it does a notable good for me by providing a service that is easy enough to make it worth my money.

But I’m not going to sit here and deny that piracy does and can have an effect on the sales of new, modern media. That effect, however, isn’t always negative. Piracy can serve as a vector to introduce new people to a game, TV show, band, etc. And contrary to some opinions, many people introduced to something via piracy don’t just sit around and pirate it forever, as long as the product is worth buying. I know I sure don’t. I’ve had TV shows recommended to me, and before I’ve finished watching the first downloaded episode I’ve already ordered it online. Without piracy, I wouldn’t have even known these shows existed, or would have been otherwise ignorant about them. Is there a better way to learn if you like something than by actually seeing/reading/playing it?

Do you play a RPG regularly? And by that, I mean—do you play it more than once a month? Then you should be buying the stuff you use for it. If your character uses a bunch of the optional rules from Street Magic to kick magical butt, then you should own your own copy of Street Magic. I don’t see a good excuse not to. Whip out the “I’m a poor college kid.” line, and I’m just going to laugh: play the game without the cool stuff from Street Magic, then! Oh, is the game less fun without it? Then it’s worth owning! The same is true if you played a video game all the way through or read a book and learned from it.

If you regularly use a game, watch a movie, watch a TV series, read a book; and that media is available for sale from a legit source, you should buy it. If you loan your copies or make copies for friends, you should encourage them to buy it, too. If you regularly consume only pirated versions of media you enjoy, you don’t have the right to complain if that media takes a turn you don’t like, if their production schedule changes for the negative (fewer books, fewer episodes per season, etc), or is cancelled outright.

And, if you’re a pirate and haven’t actually gone out and bought a DVD lately, or a game, or a piece of software, let me tell you something else—the feeling of buying something you like that you could have pirated is pretty goddamned good.