Sorry, I was reading!

24 May

Time flies when you are having fun, or when you have your nose buried in a book, so to speak.  I just realized that it had been a LONG time since I had posted a thing.

Books have changed, though.  For the first time since the printing press made books available to the masses, we’ve had a true revolution in books.  It’s a miraculous little thing called the e-book.

Traditionalists dislike it, instead preferring the tactile connection with a paper page.  While some traditions are things I hold dear, I must confess…I love the e-book concept.

Maybe it’s the moves over the years, with heavy book boxes and the fear of something being lost, overlooked, or damaged along the way.  Maybe it was two years in a travel trailer, with most of my personal library in storage and unavailable.  Maybe it was the continual stacks of books, unshelved because the book shelves were already crammed full.   My bookshelves never looked like magazines portrayed them, instead, mine were crammed with books.  Maybe too, it was the disappointment and dismay that discovering that a favored book was literally falling apart.

Then, there is also the price of books, both in terms of purchase price and environmental price.  While I value books, I also have to take care of business in regards to the usual bills.  I also care about the planet we live on, and would like to see the forests remain forests.  If you have never seen an area after it has been clear cut for a paper mill, you’ve never really seen devastation.  It’s pretty unsightly, actually.

So e-books, besides being the wave of the future, are a good thing, in my eyes.   It’s also going to signal the demise of some things that we’ve come to regard as cultural institutions, such as the book shop, the library, and even the printing companies.  It’s also created a new wave, something else we’ve never seen before: the independent author.

While magazines are not making the transition as easily to electronic formats, they are also going to have to adjust.  I love having magazines on my computer, but I want them in their entirety, advertisements and all.  You may wonder why on earth anyone would want more advertisements, especially as we are bombarded with targeted ads everywhere, gleaned from our searches and clicks elsewhere, but it’s simple: advertisements are often the way I discover new products, companies, sales, features, etc.  I have always found the small ads, usually located at the back of the magazine, especially interesting compared to the full page color ads throughout a magazine.  It’s simple why I like those though–they are the low budget ads, for smaller companies, for more customized niche products, and are more likely to be something that makes me curious or fills a need.  I’m not so worried about cosmetics, perfume, fashion, designers, expensive furniture, alcoholic beverages, etc. such as usually take out those big expensive full page ads, although some of them are interesting in terms of artistic and creative merit.  I’m thrilled to not be inflicted with the less-than-pleasant combination of aromas that a stack of magazines with scented ads creates.

The problem with the magazines is that they are limiting where you can view them.  With Amazon Kindle, you have to either have a full color Kindle or some are available on Android devices.  I use Kindle for PC mostly, as I haven’t taken the plunge yet and bought a Kindle Fire.  (Now if  you want to send me an Amazon gift card to use towards the purchase of one, I wouldn’t complain at all!)  Most PCs are full color devices, I haven’t seen a monochromatic PC in so long, I’d likely have a stroke if I was faced with one of those old monitors, but it still does not support magazine apps.  That means I can’t buy an electronic subscription from Amazon.

No, I’m not an infomercial for Amazon products, but over time, they have become my favored electronic reading material provider.  We also chose the Kindle, after much research, as a gift for my mother last year.  She loves hers, and has now decided that she wants to upgrade to the full color version in a larger size, and will undoubtedly purchase a Kindle Fire HD soon.  Kindle has a lot of features that I really like, and I have tried the Nook and Kobo for PC as well, but in my opinion, Amazon beats the others easily, especially in terms of available content and prices on that content.

But back to magazines…

I first started reading e versions of magazines long before I had heard of a Kindle or any other e-reader, for that matter.  Zinio was (and is) the provider I used.  Do I like it?  No, to be honest, after using Kindle for PC  & android, I prefer that interface.  So how can magazines improve their interface for electronic subscriptions?

  • Do away with proprietary interfaces that are excessively restrictive.  There is no reason that we can’t view magazines easily via whichever e-reader we choose to use on our computers.  I can understand not supporting the e-ink versions for many magazines because of the monochromatic display, but why not the other full color versions?
  • Add search features.  I love the ability to keep years of magazines on my device, without the fire hazard of having them stacked in boxes.  I like being able to flip through the pages without tears or missing pages too.  But, most of all, I want to find that article that I’m searching for without having to read the table of contents in 27 different issues because I can’t remember which one it was in.
  • Reduce electronic subscription fees.  The electronic version costs a lot less to produce and distribute because it doesn’t need trucks, postage, ink, printing presses, or paper. Why do I have to pay as much for the e-version as I would for the paper version?  It aggravates me.  Just like e-books should cost less than the paperback or hard bound version, so should e-magazines.
  • Offer entire sets of a particular past year of a magazine for a flat rate, preferably reasonably priced.  If the magazine is a good one, back issues are often very valuable for articles of all kinds, as well as research into past trends.  Include the advertisements too–sometimes, they are as entertaining as the articles are!  In addition, offer as many years of back issues as possible.  With e-formats, there is no real reason NOT to.
  • Include a print feature in whatever format the magazines are in.  Sometimes, you may want to print a page or set of pages.  It might be directions on how to make something, a pattern, or a recipe, but printing it may make the difference in its usability.  I can just imagine the fun I’d have if I could purchase some of the magazines I had made things from 20 years ago, and make them all over again for my granddaughter, after I’d also made them for her mother so long ago!

But why would magazine companies listen to me?  It’s not like I have a lot of influence on such things.  Consumers in general need to start demanding that companies listen to their desires and needs more, and quit accepting crappy service as their due.  But that’s a soap box I’ve been on for years, not that it’s helped a lot yet!

Publishing a novel and a small cookbook has shifted my perceptions of books, authors, and independent publishing.  A lot.  I’ve learned a lot.  Doing the Author Conversations series on the Dawn of Shades has taught me a lot more, both about authors and about books in general.  It has rekindled my interest in reading fiction too.  I had forgotten how enjoyable it could be.  I’ve also expanded my usual genre selection because of selecting authors, rather than books, for the series.  It’s made me broaden those old horizons.  I also asked the authors to send me either e-books, or digital portions of their books–I couldn’t face more stacks of books, to be honest.  I didn’t want to be intimidated by volume, and it’s not like reading is something I find difficult, especially in the digital version.

Why?  Physically, reading a book is difficult for me.  The book is heavy and awkward, and I have to sit at a table or desk to use one.  I had to give up my old favorite rainy-day activity of curling up in bed with a good book when I got hurt.  Since the injury has resulted in permanent disability, it’s not something I’m going to be able to do again either.  So, it’s just easier to have it on a screen and occasionally click to advance through the pages.  With the difficulty of holding the book removed, I can read as fast as ever, and most books are devoured within a few hours, all courtesy of an educational experiment decades ago when I was still a kid, and was taught speed reading.  I’m sure that I don’t normally read at nearly 1000 wpm, but I know I read faster than the average person.  (It’s not a sign of genius, by the way, but rather merely physically training the eyes to see pages in a different way than we usually do.  It was done with a machine that would light up each portion of the line/page to do that training, and worked on me fairly quickly.)

So, instead of the usual 2-3 fiction books per year that I had deteriorated to, I’m now reading that many a week.  I’m still reading non-fiction, and probably in roughly the same amount I had been, but there is a renewed pleasure in reading that I have rediscovered.  It probably doesn’t hurt that I am now justifying it as “research” though.  I have a second novel in the works, and while I have a general idea where the story will go, I’ve restarted it a dozen times in the last six months, after the story seemed to stagnate in my computer.  I figure that if it starts to bore me, it certainly will bore a reader!  By reading other writers’ efforts, I’m seeing what I like and what I don’t like more clearly.

Don’t get me wrong though.  I don’t read every book with a critical eye.  Sometimes, it’s nice to just read something because it’s a story and its interesting and entertaining.  Everything doesn’t have to be high drama and literary highbrow in nature to be worthy of a read.  I’ve read everything from children’s books to science fiction in the past month.  I’ve read some things I really LIKED, and I’ve read some things and thought, okay, we don’t want to go there ever again.

I’ve also written a lot of reviews of books.  Some have been guests, others have been books I read just because.  I thought some were awful too.  Independent publishing means that the awful gets published right alongside the great, and sometimes the awful looks like a story written by a sixth grader.  Even the awful has merit though–it’s a great example of what NOT to do.  I’ve also decided that I’m going to change how I reviewed books in the past for guests on the radio show.  I used to post the reviews on our website.  While that’s fine and dandy, I’m not so sure it benefits the authors very much.  So, I’ve decided that I will use two locations for reviews in the future–Amazon and Goodreads.  There are lots of locations with merit, but I can’t post it everywhere, I just don’t have that much time to invest in the reviews themselves.  I decided that I liked the format on Goodreads, and Amazon makes sense because it is now the largest seller of books, so it’s a case of putting the reviews where they will do the authors and their books the most good.  I have posted a lot of reviews on Amazon over the years, so I have a lot of them there.  On Goodreads, it’s going to take a lot of time to get the numbers up very high, as I just created an account there recently.

So…grab a book.  It’s a holiday weekend, the perfect time to lounge somewhere with a book, whether its beside a pool, in a park, or in the corner of your own sofa.  Of course, I’d like it if you bought a copy of The Time of Chaos, either in paperback OR e-book format (http://bit.ly/timeofchaos)   You could also whip up something chocolatey from All Chocolate (http://bit.ly/allchocolate).

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