- Suggested reading: Richard Adams Posted Apr 8, 2013, 10:48 AM by B. Morris Allen
The Amazon monolith
Posted Apr 8, 2013, 10:32 AM by B. Morris Allen
This morning, I got an e-mail from Goodreads announcing their sale to Amazon. By the time (moments later) I reached the Goodreads blog, there were already a thousand comments. People have a lot to say, but for the most part, they're divided. So am I.
I found Goodreads through fellow writer Fran Wilde. I tested it out, and found it had a lot of things I'd been looking for as a reader, and a few things I hadn't known I was looking for as a writer. Since then, I've been steadfastly posting reviews, adding books I plan to read, etc. I also post the reviews on Amazon - something I'd only done rarely in the past.
I buy most of my books from Amazon. I sell most of my books on Amazon. I link a lot of my reading to Goodreads. So, good news all around, right? Maybe.
I buy on Amazon because they have great service, good prices, and good reliability. Sure, I wish that Amazon would shift to the ePUB format, but I understand why they don't.
I sell books on Amazon because ... well, that's where the buyers are. They're there for the same reason I am (as a reader). It would be nice to have a more diverse bibliosphere, but having one major market does make my life easier in many ways. About half the time I keep my book on Kindle Select (and thus not on other markets) because of the benefits it offers. The rest of the time, I'm off it, because I don't want to encourage a monopoly, however currently benevolent.
That's the fear with Goodreads. At present, Goodreads is independent, impartial, etc. Will that change with Amazon ownership? Will Kindle sales be promoted over other ebookstores? I assume so. Why wouldn't Amazon do that? And in fact the blog post announcing the change is all about Kindle, down to the awkwardly posed photo of the founders holding Kindles with Goodreads stickers plastered on them.
Lots of commenters on the blog are worried about privacy. That doesn't trouble me much. Goodreads is already a social site; what I post there is not exactly private. But the question of continued impartiality troubles me, as does the continued growth of the Amazon monolith.
We'll see what the future holds for Goodreads. I'm not quitting, but I am checking out alternatives. I thought of LibraryThing, but it's apparently also part owned by Amazon. I'm sure there are dozens of others, and it may not be long before one of them emerges as the new independent reading site of choice. It'll be interesting to find out.
Or maybe someone else will start something up. Who has deep pockets, likes books, loves data? But these days people trust Google even less than Amazon, so maybe that wouldn't work after all.
Jack Vance, scrivener
Posted Apr 8, 2013, 10:39 AM by B. Morris Allen
In any case, it seems to me that Bartleby, with his understated refusal to conform, and especially to produce any service at all, fits most of Jack Vance's clerks almost to a T - they invariably go out of their way to avoid being in any way helpful. Unlike Bartleby, Vance's characters can usually be swayed with money. They're lazy, not perverse per se.
I have no idea whether Vance has read Bartleby, but at the least, Vance and Melville shared a love of the sea, and a common interest in the sometimes ineffable ways of the human mind.
Effective policy vs efficient politics
Posted Apr 8, 2013, 10:41 AM by B. Morris AllenI spend a lot of my time in countries where the word for politics is the same as the one for policy. Usually you can tell pretty easily from the context, and there is at least some overlap.
More troubling, at least for an ex-scientist, is that in many of these same countries, there's no distinction between "effective" and "efficient" - two words with vastly different meanings in English. They both get translated/interpreted as some version of "efficacious".A lot of the time, in the work I do, it doesn't much matter. We're almost always talking about efficacy/effectiveness (there's no important distinction in governance). But the conflation of the two terms in (many) Slavic languages tells you something about the language and the culture. When you can't tell the difference between whether something works with minimum waste, and whether it works at all, that's a serious problem.
Of course, I exaggerate. Scientists and engineers can tell the difference in any language. But a lot of laypersons can't, even in languages with separate words. And not having a word at all doesn't help. Maybe it's the work I do, but it does seem to me that these countries are a whole lot better at the politics than they are at the policy. So maybe there's a connection.
PS - don't get me started on the words that English lacks. Happily, we steal from so many other languages, that we suffer less from this than others do. Now, if we could just people to use the words right...
How to ruin reading
Posted Apr 8, 2013, 10:29 AM by B. Morris AllenI just got an e-mail offering "the first platform in the world that can put advertising in eBooks". I'm an author; I want people to know about my books, so I read further. The ad went on to describe ads to appear in the book - only at the start of each chapter. They could be video clips. The reader can't start reading until they wait 15 seconds for the ad.
The problem is that I'm also a reader. I applaud these folks for coming up with an innovative marketing technique. Unfortunately, it sounds guaranteed to ruin the reading experience. Imagine you're reading George Martin's next Game of Thrones novel. Arya is about to escape from captivity; there's a cliffhanger ending. Then...
"How would YOU like to save 25% on hemmorhoid medication?!"
"StarTrader - the new novel from Fitzning Gorbunkle! The alien Bargnarfs go head to head with Bolt Snazzle and his gamma blasters!"
Kind of draws you out of the moment, doesn't it? Kudos to these folks for a novel (so to speak) marketing idea, but here's hoping it doesn't take off. It seems to me that while they may understand software, they don't have a good grasp on what reading is all about.