Sunday, April 15, 2007

eBooks and Technopeasantry

Many moons ago I had a Palm Pilot. I could Hotsynch it with my work computer and keep my appointments on it. That's about all I used it for for some time. Oh, that and a MahJong game.

Then I discovered Mobipocket, which provided ebooks and stories including some good SF and fantasy. So I got an account there. I downloaded many stories and read them while waiting for something, like the start of a meeting, or an appointment with the doctor.

Eventually my laptop lease was up and it was exchanged for a new one and the program that synched the calendar was no longer supported at work - some silly security thing. I stopped using my Palm Pilot. My Mobipocket newsletter comes to a Yahoo mail account I have all but abandoned in favor of using Gmail and I kinda forgot all about it.

Until yesterday. I had cause to check that Yahoo account for something and saw the newsletter. So I clicked on it. Mobipocket has changed considerably! I searched around and found some Star Trek I wanted to read. They had 4 of the 6 part series available. I downloaded them. Then I searched on the web for the other two. I find that they're available on the Palm ebook site. Ok, downloaded them. Got all 6 for the price of two paperbacks. Not too shabby I think.

Then I come to discover that the two Palm ebook downloads can't be read on the Mobipocket reader. And I spend about an hour working out how to get the Palm books so I can read them on my laptop. They had ended up in my laptop Palm OS folder, since I downloaded that in a futile attempt to get my Clie to synch up with my laptop about two months ago. Since I can't figure out how to get them transferred to the Clie at all (not that it really matters, the battery on the Clie lasts about ten minutes these days) I need to read them on my laptop.

I discover that I have to load yet another reader, and this one, of course, can't read the Mobipocket ebooks. Oh, and while the Mobipocket reader was free, the Palm one cost $10. That made my 6 ebooks cost all told about as much as a hardback. Gee thanks.

I really would buy lots of ebooks if a couple things happened. Get them in a format that you can read on any kind of reader. Get someone to produce a portable reader that costs less than three or four hundred dollars and *also* reads any ebook I wanna buy from anywhere. Tell you what would be really cool. That electronic paper I read about - figure out how to use that stuff - lightweight, completely portable. I'd shell out for it.

Sadly, until then, I'll probably not read many things published in ebook format only.

And that leads into the "Technopeasantry" part of my title. I've been watching the discussion amongst SFWA folk (and bolder fans than I) about a statement the outgoing VP of SFWA asked Will Shetterly to post on the Live Journal SFWA community (Dr. Hendrix, the outgoing VP, doesn't "do" blogs). He has an issue with writers posting their works online and giving them away for free. He calls them "webscabs". This has raised some ire.

Now, see, even with my dismay at the state of things ebookish, if someone gives me the opportunity to read their work online for free, I just might start out reading it on line, but if I decide I really like what I'm reading, I'll certainly go out and buy (or go over to Amazon and order) that and other books by the author. (I have done this - I have a growing collection of hardbacks by those authors because I want to read their newest as soon as it comes out). How does this equate to "scabbing"? One commentor went on to post what he thought about that.

I won't go into all the details but there are a number of SFWA members (and others) who have posted on his use of the term "scabs" and "webscabs" to categorize the writers who give away their works for free. (nor will I go into the statement: "wikicliki, sick-o-fancy, jerque-du-cercle of a networking and connection-based order")

He also used a phrase "Pixel-stained technopeasant wretch" in this interesting paragraph:

Since more and more of SFWA is built around such electronically mediated networking and connection based venues, and more and more of our membership at least tacitly blesses the webscabs (despite the fact that they are rotting our organization from within) -- given my happily retrograde opinions, I felt I was not the president who would provide SFWAns the "net time" they seemed to want at this point in the organization's development, or who would bless the contraction of our industry toward monopoly, or who would give imprimatur to the downward spiral that is converting the noble calling of Writer into the life of Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch
(emphasis mine)

And there's been quite a bit of reaction to that part as well. Pixel Stained LJ icons and even a couple Cafe Press sites. To read more, should you have the interest, try a Google Blog search on Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch.

Finally, don't neglect to show your solidarity on April 23rd: International Pixel Stained Technopeasant Day.


julie said...

I'm with you on the readers. Yeesh. My husband buys a lot of ebooks and he juggles readers like mad. I usually read public domain books from Project Gutenberg on my handheld. They're in plain text format so I don't have to mess with a reader.

And yes, I am a pixel-stained technopeasant wretch - and proud of it! I happen to think this is an era of transition. Right now we have people paying two bucks for 500 words of splog copy (and people eagerly taking it), and microstock photography agencies paying a quarter a shot (if you'll pardon the pun). Eventually there will be a shakeout. In the meantime, those of us trying to make a living in these fields are going to have to consider diversifying and/or targeting the markets that pay well.

Whining isn't going to pay the bills. If it did, I'd be filthy rich! ;-)

Frank Baron said...

"Ink-stained wretch" was a common appellation for writers of my generation, particular newspaper folk. I wore it with pride until I retired my last typewriter.

I kinda like "pixel-stained" but could do without the "technopeasant" part.

Have never read an ebook but I believe they'll outsell the paper variety within 20 years. Okay, maybe 30.

Won't matter to me if I'm right or wrong though. ;)