• 31 Jan 2010 /  News, Opinion, Rants

    DRM'ed BookRecently several authors, including people like Cory Doctorow and J.C. Hutchins have reported that Amazon.com has gone to war with Macmillan Books, pulling their entire library off its virtual shelves. The New York Times reports that the reason behind this “ban” is a dispute over pricing of eBooks. The story is that Macmillan wants Amazon to increase the base price for eBooks to $15 US, up from $10 US and in response Amazon has stopped selling Macmillan’s products.

    Has Amazon Gone Too Far?

    Herein lies the problem with allowing Amazon to become so powerful as to dictate to publishers what they will be charging for the items that they’re selling. For years publishers have been telling authors just how much they would be selling the author’s works for and now the tables are turned. The average cost for a first-run hardcover book is approximately $30 US, or about $38 CAN if you live in Canada like I do. Authors receive royalties based on the selling price of the book, so a lower cover price means less money for the authors. Publishers never seemed to have a problem with giving authors less money for their books—the average selling price for a hardcover book these days runs around $20 US despite the $30 cover price. People just don’t seem interested in buying books at the current cover price so publishers are constantly dropping that price in order to get more books off the shelves which means that authors are getting less and less money back in royalties. For years books have been perceived as “disposable” by many people which is a huge problem in itself. Now that Apple has released it’s new “larger iPod Touch” (ie: the iPad), there are more options for publishers besides Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Nobles Nook.

    Amazon has thrown down the gauntlet and said, “We will sell your books on our terms or we will not sell your books at all.”

    Publishers Not Without Fault

    Publishers print thousands of copies of their books knowing that they will never be sold because it’s almost as cheap to print 75,000 copies as it is to print 50,000 copies—once the book is on the press and running, it really doesn’t take much more effort to print more copies. However all of these extra copies must also be transported and stored, and the paper doesn’t come cheap either so printing thousands of extra copies doesn’t really make sense. I’ve also read somewhere that Publishers feel that consumers will buy more books if they see more books on the shelves and that they commonly pulp (destroy/recycle) up to 40% of the books that they’ve printed! An article by the BBC in 2001 suggests that, “300,000 books are shredded in Britain every week.” A more recent article by the UK Daily Mail suggests that, “Publishers are quietly disposing of around 77 million unsold books a year.”

    This is insanity.

    eReading Devices Are Inherently Flawed

    Now back to the problem of eBooks and eReading devices. The main problem with these devices is that most of them rely on DRM and closed operating systems to keep their customer base. This forces the user to purchase a closed device to consume closed content and only the closed content provided by the retailer. In other words, once you start adding to your Kindle or Nook library you are pretty much stuck in buying only the content that Amazon or Barnes & Noble sells because you cannot read this content on another device, you cannot resell it and you cannot lend it to someone else. And, as I’ve said before, you aren’t even purchasing the content that you’re getting, you are RENTING it. This makes the provider happy but it doesn’t do much for the end user.

    Amazon’s End User License Agreement states;

    Use of Digital Content. Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon.

    Restrictions. Unless specifically indicated otherwise, you may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content.

    Which would make you think you own the content you’re purchasing, but while it says you can keep a “permanent copy,” it is a “permanent DRMed copy,” and we’ve already seen that Amazon can, at any time the wish, remove this “permanent copy” from your possession without you even knowing it. Also when someone owns an item, they generally have the right to resell it. Not so with Kindle eBooks.

    A very useful annotated version of the Amazon EULA can be found here.

    It is also common knowledge that Amazon is quietly compiling information on everything you read on your Amazon Kindle.  This includes any websites that you may be scanning via your Kindle, except that up here in Canada the websurfing ability of the Kindle has been locked out with the exception of popping over to Wikipedia because we know that Canada is on another planet and we should not be allowed to surf the web up here. Amazon also knows where you are on the planet when you’re surfing or downloading information to your Kindle by pinpointing you through the 3G mapping feature and Google Maps. So if you’re using your Kindle, Amazon knows. Common sense would also imply that devices such as the Nook and the iPad will also have these tracking features quietly included in their core software.

    An article by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing entitled “EFF’s ebook-buyer’s guide to privacy” states;

    “…your Kindle will periodically send information about you to Amazon. But exactly what information is sent? Amazon’s wording—”information related to the content on your Device and your use of it” —reads so broadly that it appears to allow Amazon to track all content that users put on the device, regardless of whether that content is purchased from Amazon. Some security researchers have indicated that the Kindle may even be tracking its users’ GPS locations. Is this the future of reading?”

    Which begs the question, “Do we have the right to privacy when using our eReading devices?” The answer should obviously be YES… but is this the real answer?

    Some Possible Solutions?

    With the Amazon vs. Macmillan in the news, now is the time for other publishers to step forward to say, “Yeah! We want more money for our products!” Amazon can’t pull them all off their shelves otherwise they won’t have any products left to sell.

    Secondly, Publishers need to rethink how they sell and publish books. Consumers enjoy the immediacy of an eBook but do not want the draconian DRM measures that come with a book in electronic format. You need to find another way to provide this content without DRM. You also need to look at new ways of providing physical books to the consumer—Most consumers only want to read the book, they don’t care if it’s a hardcover, trade, or mass market paperback. You should be providing them with choices from the get-go. Printing up 75,000 hardcover books in order to sell 25,000, sell off 10,000 as remainders and pulp the other 40,000 is just stupid and insanely wasteful. You need to start offering the consumer choices of format—Bibliophiles will be happy to pay $25 for a hardcover version of your publication which most other people would probably rather have a trade version or a paperback version. Sure you will end up selling books at a lower price, but you will sell MORE books in the end.

    You also need to start providing the consumer with an electronic copy of the book when they purchase the premium version (hardcover/trade) of the book. When the Apple iPod first came out, people could take ANY CD, pop it into their computer and put it onto their iPod, this is what we need from publishers for eBooks. Providing a CD with each book may not be cost effective, but you could certainly provide a PIN number in each book and allow users to log onto a website to download the electronic copy onto an eReading device of their choice.

    Finally eReading devices need to be as universal as iPods, but cheaper. If you want people to use your device then it needs to be open, and it needs to cost between $100 and $150. We also want the right to privacy and the expectation of not being tracked and scrutinized while we use the device that we’ve purchased. Retailers have no right to invade the consumer’s privacy by tracking their reading and surfing habits. It’s only a matter of time before a lawsuit pops up because of this.

    Purchasing a current eReading device is like purchasing an automobile that will only run on a specific kind of fuel that is provided only by the car manufacturer. For the consumer to buy into this is just plain stupidity and shortsightedness, but then that’s what retailers like Amazon are relying on. It’s about time that we, as consumers, start speaking with our wallets and stop being stupid because of the sheer convenience of immediacy.

    Use your head for more than a hat rack, people!

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  • 17 Nov 2009 /  Rants

    amazonkindleSo they announced on Monday that the Amazon Kindle is now available in Canada. (Please insert a half-hearted woo-hoo here.)

    The “new, lower” price is still a hefty $259 US (approximately $271.50 Canadian) plus you’ll pay an additional $31 Canadian (approximately) per device in Canadian Customs charges to get it over the border. It also appears that you need to log on to the (American) Amazon.com website to order the device as the Amazon.ca website doesn’t even list it for sale (currently). And while it says that the item “qualifies for FREE Super Saver Shipping,” I am unsure if that applies to items that are shipped over the border to Canada. Under the terms for “Free Shipping” on the Amazon.com website, it only talks about US destinations.

    While reading the various articles on the Kindle coming to Canada, I also noticed one important detail; The Kindle web browser will NOT work in Canada, “but customers will have free access to Wikipedia.”

    Why was the device delayed in coming to Canada after being launched almost worldwide about a month ago? No surprise there; difficulty finding 3G access for Amazon’s Whispernet connectivity that runs on AT&T in the US. Up until recently, only Rogers Communications had access to 3G connectivity, but since then Bell Canada and Telus Mobility have also announced that they now how a 3G network. Rogers Communications also lost their monopoly on the Apple iPhone when Bell and Telus announced that they would be offering the iPhone on their own 3G networks, although this didn’t seem to decrease the cost of running an iPhone. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—Whispernet is a liability, not a feature for this device. WiFi would be much easier and 10 times more effective and more economical.

    As usual, there seems to be all sorts of fawning and drooling over the announcement of the Kindle coming to Canada with so-called experts saying, “Canadians have been excited and have wanted Kindle” and “We know that Canadians are passionate about books and reading.” Well the second statement may be true, but the first statement is NOT. At least not for this “passionate reader.”

    Everyone continues to talk about the “ease of access to thousands of books online,” and how you can “subscribe to your favorite newspaper by subscription,” but the fact remains that the content is still protected by DRM.

    You do NOT own anything that you purchase for your Kindle! You are RENTING books!

    I don’t know how many times I have to yell this in the streets before it dawns on people that they don’t own the content that they are purchasing. You are paying approximately $10-12 to RENT a book that you could get at the library for FREE. You can also read this content on your computer as Amazon has released Kindle applications for the PC and Mac, however you still do not own this content and once you’ve consumed it, it’s worthless. You cannot resell your content, you cannot lend your content to a friend, and you cannot put this content on a shelf in your living room for all to see. (Although some people see books as just clutter anyway.)

    Also look at the price of the content with books starting at around $10 (US at Amazon.com) for brand new books downloaded to your Kindle device. What does this do to the authors and the publishers? Amazon is trying to fool you by offering books at a reduced rate in order to convince you to buy their price-bloated reading device. In the end, Amazon wins and authors lose. We have already seen that Amazon is quite capable of removing purchased content from the Kindle at any time they please, what makes you think they won’t do it again? Despite Amazon’s “promise” I have a hard time believing that any business in the same situation will balk at removing content when they decide that they need to.

    But the electronic book market isn’t limited to Amazon, Canada’s Chapters-Indigo also has it’s own eBook retail store called Shortcovers which allows you to purchase and download electronic book content via devices like your Apple iPhone, iPod Touch, Blackberry® Smartphone, and Android enabled phones using either WiFi, 3G, or by direct connection to your computer. One of the annoying things about Shortcovers is that it doesn’t download the entire book in one go, it downloads new chapters as you read them so you have to have a constant WiFi connection in order to read your eBook. Prices at Shortcovers also run around $10-12 Canadian for brand new books.

    PUBLISHERS: Your current business model no longer works. Get over it. Move on.

    I love Chapters-Indigo, I buy thousands of dollars of books every year from Chapters and other bookstores online, but I’m not interested in paying 10 bucks for ephemeral content that is essentially worthless after I’ve consumed it. If you want to convince me to consume books as data, then you need to offer me a larger incentive, like how about including the eBook with the printed book? Seems pretty logical to me! Charge a couple more bucks for the printed book! Throw in a PIN code with the purchase receipt so that people can log into their Chapters-Indigo account and download the eBook to their device of choice via the Shortcovers app. Very simple.

    Also, I would like to know why lately new hardcover books are being released with “list prices” around $38 (Canadian) but they are usually offered for sale at 30-50% less ($26.50-$19). If you can publish a first edition hardcover book and charge only $19 for it, then WHY aren’t you pricing it at $19 to begin with?! For that matter, why are we wasting resources on printing hundreds of hardcover books when publishers usually only sell about 30-40% of the print run while the rest either go to liquidators or get pulped as recycled paper. Wouldn’t it be more logical to introduce first run books as Trade Paperbacks at around $15 and print far fewer hardcover editions for institutions and die-hard fans to purchase? When you release a new book and then make people like me, a passionate reader, wait for almost a YEAR to see the mass market paperback; YOU ARE LOSING SALES. It’s almost 2010, how about we stop thinking like we’re still in 1970′s?

    eReading devices will never get a solid foothold in the market until the price drops.

    The fact also remains that there are many more cost-effective devices out there for reading electronic content at this price that do a lot more than just allow you to read eBooks! For under $300 I have the choice or purchasing either a Netbook, which will do a hundred more things than the Kindle can do or an iPod Touch, or even a cell phone for that matter. The price for these eReaders remains way too high.

    Also we’ve seen these devices seen eReaders starting to filter into schools, with at least one school choosing the Sony eReader over the Kindle because, “Sony e-readers have much more flexibility in what you can get, in terms of the files that it will read.” (Source: Brandon Kerstens, Director of Development at Blyth Academy, speaking to The Globe and Mail.) “Blyth Academy already has plans to provide Sony Reader Digital Books—preloaded with textbooks, course outlines and assignments—to all its students under an arrangement with Sony and textbook publisher Pearson Canada.”

    This is the future of eReaders, people! And in order to get that penetration into the schools of tomorrow, these devices need to be (a) cheap, (b) have a screen that is approximately 8.5 inches by 11 inches, (c) have an OPEN file format, and (d) provide easy connectivity. The next steps, which should follow almost immediately are; a colour screen, the ability to annotate documents right on screen in real-time, and the ability to connect to SMART Board-type technology within a classroom environment (which needs more penetration itself).

    Until these devices are open and cheap, they will remain just a geeky toy used by very few people. Take a note from Apple’s iPod; Provide an open device and the public will provide the content. Then you can monetize your own content on top of that.

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  • 01 Nov 2009 /  Rants

    Time—stock.xchng image ID: 632283I have far too many clocks in my house for one single person. Just sitting here at the computer right now, I have NINE clocks at hand. Ten if you count my wristwatch. I know that I have far too many because I just went around the house and set all of my clocks of my clocks back one hour for Daylight Savings Time.

    What is it with man and time?

    Why must man measure out and control every tiny second of the day?

    Back in the day, man would mark time with the sun. He would awake and get out of bed when the sun rose, and he would lay down and go to sleep shortly after the sun set. In the middle of the day, when the sun was directly overhead, he would put down his tools and have a bit of a rest and something to eat during the heat of the day.

    These days it seems that every single electronic device that you purchase has a clock in it. It’s almost as if manufacturers need to justify their existence by adding a clock to their product.

    “Hey, it might be a useless piece of tech but at least it has a clock in it!”

    I think part of the reasoning behind manufacturers jamming a clock into everything they can find is because of what they call “standby power.” It should be a tip off when people call it “vampire power,” so why do manufacturers continue to add this “feature” to their devices? It’s costing us BILLIONS of dollars every year! Surely we, as consumers, can afford to wait a couple of seconds for our Idiot Boxes to power up before something appears on the screen, no? Apparently not! It’s all about time.

    Deadlines are another tool of the “time people.” Why must people set arbitrary deadlines for things? In the industry I work in clients are forever setting arbitrary deadlines! Everything must end on time! I often hear, “This book must be finished by Friday.” and I think, “Why!?” When is this book going to print anyway? April in 20-freaking-10! So why are you setting arbitrary deadlines and unrealistic schedules? Why not do a proper job of it?!

    I’ll tell you why… It’s all about time.

    Time is money.
    Time is relative.
    Time is fleeting.
    Time marches on.

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  • 07 Sep 2009 /  Opinion

    Post No Bills

    I am not a marketer; in fact I go out of my way to avoid marketers on most occasions, I am just another random person from the Internet. I see so many companies trying to market their products and services on Twitter and failing miserably at it. In this post I’d like to give some free advice to those people whose job it is to market their company to the general public—A consumer’s point of view if your will, although I am only one consumer in the billions of consumers on the Internet.

    Below are a bunch of things you should consider before you create an “official” company presence on Twitter.

    Who is on Twitter?

    Twitter breaks down loosely into five different groups of people; The spammers, those trying to market their products (sometimes indistinguishable from spammers), the “professional” tech people (your Robert Scoble, your Leo Laporte), the tech-savvy consumer, and the people who really don’t know what Twitter is but there is a lot of talk about it and they don’t want to be left out (a lot of celebrities fall into this category). Some people also straddle more than one category.

    If you’re approaching Twitter marketing with the idea, “I think it’s a waste of time, but there’s a lot of people on it and it’s popular with the tech-savvy young folk” then you should not be on Twitter. You need to be willing to spend the time needed to keep your Twitter presence up to date and keep the communication with your customers and followers flowing in both directions.

    Twitter is about conversations and interactions; it is not a one-way street. If you don’t have the resources to monitor your company’s Twitter presence on your own, or you’re not willing to have an employee always monitoring your Twitter stream, then Twitter is not for you. Your customers (followers) expect you to reply to them in a timely manner if they address your company directly. This does not mean you need to monitor the stream 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but customers will expect some sort of answer if they have a problem and you have an “official” Twitter presence.

    If you are not monitoring Twitter yourself, then the person or persons monitoring the Twitter presence for your company should be “Twitter-savvy” and know a bit about the lingo when talking to people on Twitter. People will throw around acronyms like “DM” and “RT” and the person they are speaking to should know what these sorts of things mean in the context of Twitter.

    Choosing Your Twitter Name

    For your “official” company presence on Twitter, your Twitter name should be your company’s name. If your company name has two or more words, then use capital letters or underscores to separate the words, for example; CompanyName or Company_Name. Your customers should be able to find you quickly and easily when they do a Twitter search. If your company’s name is already in use by someone who does not represent your company or it is “squatted on” by someone who isn’t using the account then you can go to the people who run Twitter itself and ask them to release the account to you if you can prove ownership of the brand name.

    While you’re at it, it’s probably a good idea to set up a company email address those people who follow you on Twitter so that you can more easily service those users. Something like “Twitter@CompanyName.com” instead of the usual “support@” or “service@” would suffice. That way when someone in your Twitter feed wants to send you a query, you can easily reply with your Twitter-specific address.

    Your Twitter Icon and Homepage

    Your Twitter background should reflect the branding on your website. You shouldn’t waste this space but you shouldn’t go overboard either. Solid colours or single-image backgrounds are much nicer than tiled backgrounds. Remember that most people’s screens are going to be in the 1024 by 768 to the 1280 by 960 range, so keep that in mind when you add information to the left of the Twitter stream. You probably only have 150 to 200 pixels of width to work with there. Don’t go overboard with the information in this sidebar either, this isn’t the place to tell your life’s story or to put 487 links to all the various landing pages for your website. Keep it short and to the point.

    Your Twitter icon should be easily recognizable as belonging to your company. Remember that Twitter icons are small, so you may have to simplify your branding so that your customers can find your icon amongst the sea of other Twitter icons. And while you’re at it, you should also fill in your bio information and use the actual URL for your website, not a shortened version.

    Don’t Use Twitter as a Link-Dump

    If your Twitter stream goes something like; “We have widgets on sale now! http://www…” followed a week later by, “10% off all red aardvarks for the next week. http://www…” and so on, then you do not belong on Twitter. Nobody is interested in following link-dumping accounts—you might as well drop leaflets from an airplane you’ll accomplish the same end. Dumping piles of garbage links into the Twitter stream will get your account blocked by your customers and/or suspended by Twitter.

    It’s fine to post links to your product pages in your Twitter feed, but that shouldn’t be the ONLY thing in your Twitter feed. You also need to put some thought into what you’re saying when you post your links—if you want people to forward your link on in their Twitter stream, or “Retweet” your offer, then your offer needs to fit within the 140 character limit and include the text “RT @YourCompanyName.” This is also where URL shorteners come in. Find yourself a good URL shortener and use it! Some URL shortening services will also let you brand your short URLs, or hell, if you’re posting enough links you should get your web-savvy team to create your own shortened URLs that will redirect your links to your company website.

    Talk to Your Followers

    Part of being on Twitter is the conversation that goes on between users—if someone is following you and sends you an message, they expect a response. “But how do I know if someone is talking to me if I’m not following them?” you ask. Well, that’s another part of your “responsibility” on Twitter: in addition to monitoring your regular Twitter stream, you must also occasionally click on your @name tab to see if someone you’re not following is asking you a question. You could also type “to:” and your username into the Search box (ie to:MyCompanyName) to quickly sort through the Twitter noise and get to the people who are talking to you.

    Practice Good Customer Service

    If you’re not personally monitoring your Twitter presence then make sure that the person who is doing the monitoring is capable of making and keeping promises on your company’s behalf. For example, if you (or your agent) promises to look into a user’s problem and get back to them with a response then you need to make 100% sure that you get back to that person with a response! This is Customer Service 101. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t make up answers when you have no idea what you’re talking about. You don’t lose anything by replying, “I’m not sure how to solve your problem, let me ask my tech support people and I’ll get back to you.” Just make sure that either you or your tech support department gets back to the user. Leaving someone hanging on Twitter is a death sentence for your company brand.

    Special Twitter Offers, Coupons, and Contests

    There seems to be a trend lately on Twitter where companies who are just stepping into the Twitter stream have a contest to help them gain followers. In fact, this has been done so many times now that a lot of people have stopped following people who “tweet” or “retweet” these contest phrases because it makes so much spammy noise in the Twitter stream. If you want to gain followers on Twitter, your best bet is to get advertised through other Twitter users and that can only happen through investing in interaction and conversation. Contests on Twitter are great, and many people will enter them for the chance to win that iPod or new product, but you need to make that contest worth the effort. If you make it too difficult, then nobody is going to be interested and nobody is going to follow you.

    While in the same vein, you need to make any special offers or coupons you give away on Twitter worth the effort. Marketers often talk about the low coupon remittance—people aren’t going to use your coupons or take advantage of your special offers if it isn’t worth their time. For example, I often get coupons for “$5 off any purchase of $100 or more”—This is a useless coupon. It’s not even worth my time to try and remember your coupon code to get a mere $5 off a $100 purchase. If you want people to actually visit your site to use your coupons then you have to make it worth the effort.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that the first W in “WWW” means “World” as in “World Wide Web.” When you make a statement on the Internet, you are talking to the WORLD. If your special offer only applies to your specific country of origin (I’m looking at you Americans), then make it crystal clear at the beginning otherwise you’re going to waste people’s time and just piss them off. Simply saying “Free Shipping on all products using the code TWEET” is misleading, you should say something like “Free US Shipping.” Remember your International followers when making offers on the Internet.

    An Example to Follow

    If you’re looking for someone to learn from, have a look at the people over at the NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals). They have many people involved in Twitter over there from the highest office, down through marketing and down to the people who appear on their podcasts. Each one a character in their own right, and all of them interacting and conversing with their followers.

    If I send a tweet to @scottkelby (Creator of Kelby Media Group, which is part of the NAPP) then I will get a personal tweet back from Scott Kelby, not Scott Kelby’s assistant, but Scott Kelby himself—It might take a day or so, but he will reply. If I send a tweet to @NAPP_News asking a question about a product, then I will get a human being answering me in a friendly manner. The user behind @NAPP_News is capable of mixing her marketing duties with her contest duties with her just general shooting the breeze duties and it doesn’t occupy 100% of her day. If @NAPP_News says she will get in contact with the people over in subscriptions to find out about your missing issue of Photoshop Magazine, then you can be sure that you’ll either get an email from the subscription department, or you’ll get a reply from @NAPP_News telling you what happened. The people at NAPP know how to keep their customers happy and it doesn’t cost them a lot of time or money to do it.

    Most of the time the consumer just wants to know that a company is listening to what they’re saying.

    Technorati code: ngyftbevak

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  • 06 Sep 2009 /  Reviews

    Gamer ©2009 Maple Pictures

    Maple Pictures ©2009
    Rated: R [blood, violence, brief nudity, sexual situations]

    Starring: Gerard Butler, John Legaizamo, Michael C. Hall

    Imagine that Second Life was real. Anyone with enough money could pay to control the actions of another human being, or you could choose to earn money by allowing another person to control you. Nano technology is injected into your brain, replacing your brain cells with nanotech cells. Your player has complete control and you are merely their Avatar in a game called “Society.” Anything and everything is legal because both player and avatar have signed away their rights (The ultimate EULA?) in order to play the game. The world quickly breaks down into the rich paying to play the game and the poor, the homeless, the drug addicts, and the dregs of society working as Avatars to scratch out a living.

    Now take that game to the next level, think Quake, except now the people and the ammo are real. A reclusive billionaire, Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), has created a massive first-person shooter game called “Slayers.” The Avatars are now death row inmates who sign away their lives in exchange for the chance to win their freedom. The payoff: If your player wins 30 matches then you’re free to return to society.

    Many Avatars end up as red-shirted cannon fodder, essentially uncontrolled zombies in the game only to provide scenery, while others like Kable (Gerard Butler), are controlled by highly skilled gamers who are trying to reach the goal to win. Simon, a wealthy teenager and Kable’s player, has achieved rock star status and fame by winning an unheard of 26 matches playing Kable. But Ken Castle doesn’t want Kable to win. Castle has a sinister plan for his human-controlling nanotechnology (Don’t they always?) and Kable could ruin all those plans.

    So now Simon and Kable must band together with a hacker group called Humanz to win the game, destroy the nanotech, and save the world from the evil billionaire!

    * * * * *

    Overall I think the concept behind the picture was solid—games like Second Life or The Sims have been big in the media and that helps place this movie in the public eye. I like the idea behind controlling people as avatars as the next big thing in entertainment. Personally, I would have liked to see more “in-game” strategy and interaction rather than so much blood, gore, and head explosions. They were a bit over the top. The acting was average, nobody really excels or stands out. It’s a decent shoot ‘em up film, many reviewers are calling it a “B Movie.”

    I’m going to rate this movie;  three and a half stars (3.5 out of 5)

    Another movie to keep your eye out for is Surrogates with Bruce Willis as “Agent Greer,” which hits on the same concept of people controlling Avatars in RL, except in this movie the Avatars are robots.

    You can also go to the GAMER website, but it’s a bit clunky in execution.

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  • 09 Feb 2009 /  Opinion

    amazonkindle

    Same Product, Different Face

    Amazon releases the Kindle Version 2 today, ho hum. This is a perfect example of a product designed by a Marketer who has no idea of what the public wants, but they know exactly what they want to sell. Doesn’t matter what the consumer wants, just look at the benefits of locking the consumer into your store with a device that reads only your DRMed media content. What else could a marketing exec ask for? The Kindle version 2.0 offers nothing new worth having.

    The Kindle’s New “Features”

    New specs include; A thinner unit, 10.2 ounces (instead of the old 10.3 oz, wow!), a screen with 16 shades of grey (instead of the old 4) at a resolution of 600 x 800 at 167 ppi (pixels per inch), 25% longer battery life, more storage space, a 20% faster page refresh, and a text-to-speech option using a computerized voice. Formats supported; Kindle (AZW), TXT, MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; PDF, HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion.

    What’s Missing?

    What it still has that it doesn’t need; A butt-ugly chicklet keyboard, Sprint 3G “Whispernet” access which bloats the price, text-to-speech (do we REALLY need this?), a proprietary DRMed format (AZW) so that you cannot trade your ephemeral products with your friends or read them on other devices.

    What it still doesn’t have; A reasonable price, an SD card slot (why would you remove the most useful feature?), a touch screen, a use outside the US of A, support for Word and Excel files, and a colour other than white.

    One of the new features includes something called “Whispersync,” which allows you to switch between devices while you’re reading a book and pick up where you left off. This implies that you were stupid enough to buy multiple units. “No computer needed,” so why do you need to charge it via a USB cable? Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Also, I thought one of Amazon’s selling points was the fact that your library is all online, so why do I need more storage if everything is online?

    Target Demographic

    The Kindle continues to be targeted at business-type people who think it might be a “good idea” to be able to read their Financial Times or a book while traveling, but they are much too sophisticated to be seen carrying a newspaper or a book, the techno-geek who wants all the newest gadgets no matter the price, and the blogging media. People who actually want to read books wouldn’t want this product, at least not at this price. Sadly, people will still buy this product and wave the Amazon flag while yelling, “Hey! Look at me! I’m a geek on the cutting edge!” Sad really.

    —–

    plasticlogic1

    The Other Side of the Coin

    On the other side we have a company called Plastic Logic that actually appears to understand what people want in an eReader. Here’s a product that’s due out in 2010 with an 8.5 by 11 inch form-factor aimed squarely at the business consumer. We can only hope that Plastic Logic will look at the mistakes that Amazon is making now and not follow them in the future. One can only hope that they will take this same technology and apply it to a smaller, paperback-sized device aimed at bibliophiles like me.

    What’s Offered?

    For specifics on the device, you should go to the Plastic Logic’s website and have a read.

    The short list is as follows:

    • Less than 7mm (about 1/4 inch) thick
    • Weight less than 16 oz
    • form factor, as mentioned, is 8.5″ x 11” (or a full letter-sized page)
    • battery life measured in days not hours
    • support for a wide range of document types including PDF, Microsoft Word, Excel & PowerPoint, and others
    • E Ink Active Matrix Display
    • A touchscreen interface
    • Tools for acquiring, organizing and managing information
    • Wireless and wired access to content

    It also states that the device uses a “version of Win CE from Microsoft, but the features of the operating system are not directly visible to the user” and it “will support digital rights managed content,” which should keep the marketing grubs happy. One can only assume that DRMed content will be only one of the many formats offered and that it will support a wide variety of other non-DRM content. Since the unit will support native PDFs, there will be all sorts of copyright free content available from Google books. There will also be supporting software that runs on Windows and the Mac, which makes one assume that it will be easier to download and organize content. There is no specific mention of support for an SD card, but the hi res image of the device offered on the website implies that there is a port for them. As well, they hint at a colour screen for future devices.

    Also there is no mention of an estimated street price for this unit (to be announced in 2010), but one hopes that Plastic Logic is keeping their eye on what Amazon is doing and realizes that the average book reader will not pay that sort of money for the technology when they can get something ultimately more useful, like a Netbook, for the same price. If they found themselves in the $100-$150 range for a trade paperback-sized (5″ by 7″) version and around $200-$250 for a full letter-sized version, I think they’d be in the ballpark.

    So here’s a vastly superior device with a touch screen giving you the ability to do markup right on top of your document and use gestures to flip pages and type on an actual on-screen keyboard! I have high hopes for this product, hopefully Plastic Logic does not disappoint.

    YouTube Video

    Here’s a short product demo video from Plastic Logic.

    Image credits; Amazon Kindle from John Pastor on Flickr. Plastic Logic eReader from the Plastic Logic website.

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  • 31 Jan 2009 /  Opinion

    eText

    eReaders in the News

    There has been a lot of interest lately in eReaders and electronic books and with the expected release Amazon’s new “Kindle v2.” So I thought, as an avid reader and self-confessed bibliophile, that I would offer my opinions to the world on why the current crop of eReaders will not work. The primary problems right now include the price of the reader unit and the lack of a cross-platform format, but the problems don’t stop there. Publishers also need to rethink the way they market books.

    eReader Contenders

    There are a few different eReader units in the market today, but the top contenders are obviously the Amazon Kindle, the Sony eReader, and to a lesser extent the Hanlin eReader V3 (which was sold under various names depending on what country you were in). A quick look at Wikipedia will also give you the names of other eReader devices—The Digital Reader 1000 and The Iliad by iRex Technology, the Cybook Gen3 by Bookeen, as well as some other lesser-known devices. All of these devices use the same sort of display technology called electronic paper which was designed to mimic the appearance of conventional paper and claims to be less fatiguing for the reader’s eyes.
    Book Holding

    Design Weaknesses

    I believe that the manufacturers of eReading devices need to stop, step back and look at the design of their device before they get too excited about electronic books. For starters, let’s look at how people hold a book—Most readers will hold a book in one hand, generally using their thumb on the spine of the book to hold it open and their fingers to support the book, they’re not going to hold your 7″ by 5″ device in two hands as you see in so many advertisements, it’s just too uncomfortable. So the design of your eReader needs to have two equally-weighted halves to it, possibly even two screens as people (in the Western world) naturally want to read from left to right. A two screen model could also have the advantage of allowing one screen to refresh while the user is reading the other screen, and having the ability of using one screen to perform other functions such as dictionary searches, bookmarking, indexing, etc while the other screen displays the current content the user is reading.

    Another advantage to using two smaller screens instead of one large screen is the price of the screen itself. A larger surface area, especially if you’re using touch screen technology is more expensive than say two smaller surfaces. And while we’re talking sizes of screens, let’s talk about the optimal size for an eReader—think paperback novel. Your average paperback novel is around 7 inches high by 4 inches wide, so if we made our eReader approximately 8 inches high by 5 inches wide and less than half an inch thick, we would probably be around the optimal size for most readers. Now think about this, you have two screens 8 inches by 5 inches, turn the reader 90 degrees and what do you get? You get a screen that has a form factor almost the same as a standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. Now you could use your dual screens to display letter-sized PDF documents at 94% of their actual size. So I’m thinking 2 small screens that when sitting flat lock together to form one larger screen with a thin bezel between the halves.

    Alternatively we could keep the single-screen tablet-type model. It would be cheaper than a double-screen, and you would want to keep that golden 5″ by 8″ screen size. But we also need to keep in mind how we want to hold this device. It should be the same thickness throughout, not thicker on one side as the Kindle is. If anything, it should be thinner near the bottom edge and thicker near the top edge so that when it’s sitting flat on a tabletop it angles slightly toward the viewer. Also there should be a bit of a groove down the left and right sides along the back so that when the user is gripping it the fingertips have some place to grab on to.

    Also, what is it with the klutzy chicklet keyboard on the Kindle? We have cheap touch screen technology these days, why do we want an ugly push-button keyboard cluttering up our eReader? Let’s take a page out of the book of Apple and get ourselves an on-screen keyboard in this thing. And while I’m on the topic of the Amazon Kindle, let’s lose the proprietary “Whispernet” connectivity that only works in the USA, there’s a whole planet outside the borders of the USA people! This wireless connectivity is just adding a huge unwanted cost to the base units. Nor do these units need to have the ability to play MP3s. Sure, it’s a nice bonus to be able to listen to music while you’re reading but all you’re doing is sucking power from the battery when you could be using a smaller battery and lowering the cost again. We have MP3 players, we don’t need them in our eReaders.

    What are you selling anyway? You’re selling an electronic book reading device. You’re not selling a portable web-browsing device, we already have those and they do a much better job of it. If you want to actually get your eReader device to the masses, you need to drop the price way down and lose all of these restrictive and useless “features” that you think you’re adding. This device needs to cost somewhere between $100 and $150. Personally, I would not pay what Amazon is asking for the Kindle—$359 for an eReading device is far too high, even if it did work in Canada, which is does not. The Sony eReader device is a bit cheaper at $250 for the lower end model, $400 for the higher end model. And the iRex iLiad runs as high as $600.

    Media and Accessibility

    Now let’s talk file types; We need an ebook format that will work across all types of readers and on computer screens. Nevermind your DRM crap, we already know that the DRM model does not work. Why must you keep beating a dead horse? These readers should also support, but not be limited to supporing; Plain text files, rich text files, Excel files, Word files, PDF files, ePub files, HTML, XML, JPEG, (static) GIFs, BMP and PNGs. In short, I should be able to plug an SD card into this device and read any sort of document that I want to. Of course this device will have an SD card port, and a mini USB port so that you can sync up your eReader to your computer. Your computer is the device you should be using to download new media, not your eReader.

    I also need to make a comment about the media, or the actual eBooks themselves that publishers who want to sell books to the public should know—I will not purchase ephemeral products. In other words, you will not be able to sell me MP3s, downloaded software, or downloaded eBooks. I will not pay $10 for a book that does not exist outside of the ether. When I spend $10, I want a physical object in my hand that I can read, save, put on a shelf or pass on to someone else to read. I am not going to spend my hard-earned money on data that is here today and might be gone somewhere else tomorrow. If you want to sell me an eBook then you need to take that data and put it on to something that I can physically possess. You can’t take a packet of data and put it up on a shelf to save for a future generation, nor does data appreciate in value as time goes on. I am a bibliophile, I have shelves full of books that I can touch and appreciate at any time that I want to, I don’t have to rely on an over-priced electronic device in order to access the words they contain. I can take one of those books off my shelf and pass it on to a friend any time I want to without having to worry about some stupid publisher’s DRM system getting in my face.

    Want to Sell More Books?

    Here’s what to do; publish your book as a trade paperback, then take the text of that book and put it on an SD card or a mini CD and then include that card or CD in the back of your trade paperback so that people with electronic reading devices can read your book on their eReader. Want to sell your books at the airport? No problem, sell the customer a pre-loaded SD card the same way you sell audio books on CD. Then they can pop that SD card into their eReader and read your book anywhere they are.

    Make your book accessible to the devices that people want to use to read them and lose this proprietary data nonsense. Get your books out there to the public by offering free preview chapters in eBook or PDF format and the readers will come. Get your books out there by offering free audio podcasts. You’ll sell a heck of a lot more books if you make your media accessible to the masses in more appetizing forms. Stop telling people how you want them to consume your product and listen to how they want to consume it.

    Want to Sell eReaders?

    Lose the stuff that doesn’t need to be there. You’re selling an electonic book reader, you’re not selling an iPod Touch. Electronic paper does not have the refresh rate or colour depth to make it an effective wireless media device. It was designed to display static type, use it for that.

    I am not going to spend $400 on a device that is “something” like an iPod touch when I already have a much superior device in the market, nor am I going to spend that sort of money on a device that can connect to the Internet when I can buy myself a Netbook for the same price and have 20 times the functionality that the eReader has.

    So if you want to sell more eReaders, stop trying to make a device that does everything and just make a simple electronic book that works!

    Images from the stock.xchng

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  • 01 Jan 2009 /  Opinion

    Books and Window from sxc.hu

    Is Reading a Lost Art?

    The other day I was having a discussion with some people about how reading was becoming a lost art, and how publishers could sell more books to more people. This also led to a discussion about hardcover books vs trade paperbacks vs mass market paperbacks and the amount of resources each format uses, which in turn led me to thinking about things like eBooks and eBook readers. Book publishers are finding it more and more difficult to sell old-fashioned dead-tree books in today’s world.

    “But Herne,” you think, “I’m reading right now.”

    Well, yes, you are reading, but are you thinking as you read? Chances are you aren’t thinking about a whole lot as you read. Our current level of technology has taken a lot of that cumbersome thinking stuff out of our hands. For the most part, most of us use very little of our brain’s power or imagination in day-to-day life, we certainly use less of our imagination than we used to anyway. With our level of technology and the Internet, we don’t need to imagine what we’re reading about, the Internet provides us with convenient pictures and narratives to tell us what we’re thinking. So is the Internet and technology making us more stupid?

    No, the Internet and technology is not making us as humans more stupid, but it is making us more lazy.

    Book Formats

    But back to the discussion at hand—Publishers want to sell more books, how do they do this? First of all, let’s briefly take a look at the different book formats; Hardcover, Trade Paperback, Mass Market Paperback, Audio Books, eBooks, PDFs, and Podcasts (Podiobooks).

    Hardcover books: Pros—Durability, better paper therefore longer life, higher markup for publishers. Cons—Higher costs, more (paper) resources used, larger format means the product is heavier, less portable, and therefore more costly to ship.

    Trade Paperbacks: Pros—Durable though not as durable as hardcovers, often better paper used therefore longer life, price markup for publishers decent, lighter than hardcovers so shipping costs are lower. Cons-Still cost more than mass market paperbacks, resource use still fairly high, larger size means less portable than mass market paperbacks.

    Mass Market Paperbacks: Pros—Cheaper for consumer, small format means several can be shipped for the cost of one hardcover, fewer resources (less paper) used to create them. Cons—Lower price point means less money for the publisher (and author), less durable, cheaper paper used.

    Audiobooks: Pros—Often more palatable to the consumer because they don’t actually have to read the book themselves, more portable. Cons—Production requires the use of voice artists or readers, which increases production costs, not to mention the costs of getting the audio files to an audio medium so that the consumer can purchase it.

    eBooks, PDFs, and Podcasts: Pros—Very few resources used to produce the content, self-publishing is a breeze. Cons-Harder to control the distribution and copyright, also requires some sort of technical device (eReader, computer, MP3 Player) to consume the content.

    The Secret to Selling Books

    So you want to know how to sell more books? Well, let me give you my opinion, one simple bibliophile’s opinion on how to sell more books. I purchase and read a LOT of books per year, and you know what entices me to buy more books? Content and pricing.

    “Well duh!” You say, “Of course content and pricing is going to influence how many books people buy!”

    Well here’s the thing… You want to sell more books and I want to buy those books, but I am not going to purchase a “fluff” fiction book for the same amount of money that I would spend on something like a technical computer book or a high quality photography or art book. So here’s the secret to selling more books: Give the consumer what they want for the price they want to pay! Duh!

    I am more than willing to spend $30, $40, $50 for technical books on computers, or guides for software, or for instructional books on photography, but I am not willing to spend that sort of money on the next “New York Times Bestseller” or some other kind of frivolity that is here today and forgotten tomorrow. I’m also smart enough to know that publishers spend a fair amount of money to get their products on these lists, so I’m not falling for that old gag. So how about we sell books at prices that people want to pay? Whoa! Simple concept! Publishers don’t seem to grasp it, though.

    Publishers historically release new titles to the market in hardcover at the highest price point and hope that they’ve generated enough interest in (or spent enough money on) their product that people will be willing to shell out around $35 (on average) to purchase this product. Yes, books will sell at this price because there are always people who are willing to purchase first run hardcover books; libraries, institutions, people who follow “best seller” lists without thinking, etc. So publishers will spend a bunch of advertising revenue to get their new books on the “best seller” lists and sell 20 or 25-thousand copies of the book at this price and about 6 months later they’ll often come out with the trade paperback version of the title. Many of the people who wanted the book when they first saw it come out in hardcover will now look at the trade paperback, now at around $20 (on average) and think maybe they should buy it now. So the publishers will sell another 25 thousand copies or so of the trade paperback. Then, finally, after about a year after the book first appeared on the shelf as a hardcover the publisher will produce the mass market paperback edition of the book, now priced around $10 (on average) hoping to persuade the hold out readers to purchase their product. This would traditionally also be the time to introduce the next hardcover book in the series, assuming that the first edition did well enough to warrant a second edition.

    This “traditional” schedule of publishing worked well in the past, but consumers have come a long way in the last 10 or 15 years. Now we have the Internet and electronic devices and we want instant gratification for everything! If you’re waiting a year to get your book into the hands of Joe-average consumer, then you are losing sales hand-over-fist. Publishers need to wake up now, take a hard look at what’s happening on the Internet and in the “new media” environment that is so commonplace today if they want to keep selling books in the future.

    As I said, I am a bibliophile—a book fanatic—and I’m not going to wait a year to purchase your book. If I’ve seen your hardcover book and it seems interesting to me I might make note of it to look it up later or purchase it secondhand but I am not going to shell out $35 for your average fiction book, and chances are I’m not even going to remember your publication when you’ve decided to publish it as a mass market paperback a year later.

    If you want to sell more books then you need to produce more titles in more formats so that people who wish to purchase them can do so more easily. Sure, you can certainly continue to produce books in hardcover format because there will still be those people willing to pay more for this perception of a “better” product, but most people like myself who consume a lot of content are smart enough to realize that “premium” does not always mean “better.”

    You need to start offering your products simultaneously rather than consecutively. I would much rather see the hardcover and trade paperback editions released simultaneously followed shortly, say within three months, by the release of the mass market paperback edition. I think you would sell a lot more books if you gave the consumer what they want to consume rather than making them wait for it.

    Premium Content vs. Premium Pricing

    When I think of “premium content,” I think of more content or something special that’s not included with the regular, lower-priced model.

    So how about we add a little carrot to those hardcover sticks we want to sell? How about we start including an eBook version of the book with every hardcover book we sell? Think of how little that might cost versus the large gains you would get back. Most publishers are using a page layout program such as InDesign or QuarkXPress, so it costs them nothing to export a second copy of the postscript file off into a PDF creation program. You take that PDF and you burn it on to a mini CD, and you include that CD with every book! Now we’re talking! Now I might be willing to spend that extra bit of money to purchase your book so that I have the option of reading it on my eBook reader of choice, but I’ll leave that for another blog post.

    In that blog post I want to talk about why eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Digital Reader could be amazing products, but are not making the impact on the market that they could because of the huge price points, the lack of a standard eBook format, and the paranoia called “rights management.”

    Image from the stock.xchng

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  • 29 Dec 2008 /  Site Related

    That’s always the way, isn’t it? You always have something to blab on about, you set yourself up a blog to say it and then you run out of time or steam.

    I’ve been short of both lately, so there’s been very little activity here. I’m also trying to get myself together and create a custom theme for this blog and for other domains that I own. Combine that with the “busy season” at work and you never get things done when you want to…

    So, anyway, here we are heading into 2009 and I’ve got lots to say about nothing.

    More soon…

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  • 01 Nov 2008 /  Rants

    Working for Peanuts

    The Global Recession

    They say that Canada isn’t in a recession, but recently the company I work for did something I never thought it would ever do. I’ve been working for the same Canadian Educational Book Design company now for about 10 years and recently, as a direct result of the USA’s financial crisis, my company laid off almost 20 employees and cut the remaining staff’s remuneration by 10%.

    Everyone was in shock.

    Yes, we knew that the economy was bad and we knew that we didn’t have as much work running through the company as we usually do for this time of year. We’re not a new company, we’ve won all sorts of awards for Textbook Design, we may even be the most prestigious Textbook Design company in North America, certainly Canada. Yet here we are struggling to make ends meet. Sure we’ve had slow spots before, but nobody ever got fired or laid off. We all got together and reduced the number of hours we spent on the clock or took holidays when things we slow, but this time it was bad. Really bad. For the first time in the company’s 26 year history, the boss was actually forced to reduce the numbers of staff and it hurt.

    The “New” Economy

    Here’s the problem in a nutshell, as it were; “Offshore pricing.”

    Places like China and especially India have huge numbers of people who will do hours of mindless and repetitive labour for peanuts. Someone figured out that if you put enough of these people in front of a computer and let them hammer at it long enough, eventually they could get things done. And the best part is that you can pay them about $3 per day and they’ll be happy to take it. There are “comp houses” in India that will run a couple hundred people in three shifts for six days a week and pay them next to nothing. Turn over is huge, but they don’t care because there will always be someone else willing to take their place. We’ve all seen the results of low ball pricing recently, with toys covered with lead-based paint and melamine in food, but it’s all about the bottom line isn’t it? Who cares who gets hurt?

    So what’s happening now is that all of the major US publishers are being run by the bean counters. These people have no concept of book design, content, production, or anything else related to creating a usable textbook, all they do is count beans. The fewer the number of beans it takes to get the job done, the better. They don’t care about how many man-hours a book takes to complete the job, or the extra processes that were involved because the editors rewrote four chapters, or the fact that a lot of work goes into preparing the electronic files so that they can be reused or re-purposed, all they care about is the bottom line. So when once a book design company would get $50-60 a page for a book, now they get $15-25 a page. And don’t try to negotiate these prices because if you do, then the bean counters will blacklist your company and you will not get work from them again.

    On the other side of the fence we have the authors, editors, and all of the other people who write these books and they’re expecting the Book Design companies, like the one I work for, to do the same quality job that we’ve always done. What they don’t realize is that for the money that we’re getting per page now we can hardly meet our day-to-day expenses never mind make a profit. You get what you pay for.

    And the bean counters don’t talk to the editorial side.

    Burning Bridges

    Recently a bean counter told us, “Don’t even THINK about asking for more money.” It’s almost like spitting in our faces—Take it or leave it! These people have no concept of reality. In some cases we are actually subsidizing the creation of the book because we are losing money on every page that we create! But we have to take every job that we’re offered because we have to keep the people that we have left working. So how can anyone stay in business when they end up paying out more than they’re taking in you might ask… Well, that brings us to the problem we’re having right now.

    These idiotic bean counters are burning bridges at an alarming rate. As more companies go into receivership, the number of people that they can screw goes down, however the companies in India are still there with their hands out saying, “Oh, we’ll do it for $3 a page. No problem.” But, when you pay $3 per page, you get $3 worth of quality and it shows in the end product. Think of that the next time you shell out $100 for a textbook for your child and you find glaring errors all the way through it, and then thank the bean counters for a job well done.

    What’s Coming?

    The US Presidential election is coming soon. With it comes promises of more spending for education, which means more textbooks. Also, 2011 is an “adoption year,” which means that all sorts of States will be updating their textbooks to new State Standards. This means a lot of work for a lot of people and when all of that work hits, the bean counters will be falling all over themselves trying to find someone to do that work for them. That’s when all the crap that they’ve dished out now, when times are lean, comes back to roost for them. They may have saved themselves a dollar today, but they’ll find that they’ll have to spend five dollars tomorrow just to catch up and that’s when the North American Book Design companies will have the last laugh.

    We just have to survive until then…

    (Image from the stock.xchng)

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