That’s our buddy Michael Hastings on The Colbert Report (he comes in at 3:30), talking about his blockbuster article in Rolling Stone, which got its subject, General Stanley McChrystal, fired from his post last week.
In the interview, Hastings claims that the piece merely presented the opportunity for Obama to fire a general he disagreed with, but Obama himself cited “The conduct represented in the recently published article” as grounds for McChrystal’s termination.
More importantly, before Hastings became a superstar journo and slayer of kings, he wrote a few posts for this very website last summer. Why? We’ll never know. But you can find them here.
Recently, Apple’s been feeling its oats, and Steve Jobs has been picking fights with absolutely everybody, even bloggers who just want a portable porn pad. Here’s a breakdown of the two biggest Apple fights out there.
Apple v. Amazon
First there was terror. When the iPad was announced, Jeff Bezos messed his cargo shorts when he heard Apple was supporting both ePub and the Agency model. He promptly caved and let publishers walk all over him—although he did it, of course, with a minimum of maturity, because that’s how he rolls. But Bezos (not to mention publishers) got proper snookered by the sneaky Jobs.
Despite all the furor over Apple’s embrace of the agency model (which might not even be legal in countries where they regulate their corporations), the iPad isn’t selling many iBooks. Penguin claims to be leading the pack (you know, if you don’t count free Gutenberg books, which are “selling” twice as much as Penguin). But let’s not forget that iBooks aren’t very popular, in the scheme of iPad apps—in fact, Feedbooks distributes more books.
If the iPad does start selling tons of iBooks, well, publishers are screwed then, too. Apple can evidently force prices down to $9.99 if it feels like, and in April 2011, they can simply rescind the agency model agreement. Ha!
All this has led to, shall we say, some tension in the publishing industry. Publishers are choosing up sides, and even unleashing their wrath on unsuspecting authors who want to publish ebooks. Then there are the obligatory rumors that Kindle’s grip on the market is slipping, but since there’s a Kindle app for the iPad (not to mention iPhone and soon Android) I don’t understand how Apple will ever win a book fight.
And by the way, Google’s launching its own ebookstore, which I’m guessing and hoping will use Adobe ePub formatting. Meaning neither Apple nor Amazon customers will be able to read Google ebooks. Because Apple hates Adobe, too! Why? Well, more on that after the jump… …
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Twilight sucks. We don't have to keep talking about it. But we can, if you want to.
It’s pretty easy to work up a good hate for intellectualism—especially the smarmy, condescending kind. Books (or “literature” if you want to get snooty about it) and the serious discussion of them sometimes get confused for just that sort of pretentiousness.
One instance of such confusion is an essay called “I Just Want to Read,” by Ann Nichols, in Open Salon. In short, Nichols bemoans the overuse of formal literary theory, and pines for the days when, like the title says, she could read just for pleasure.
She makes some good points, especially about the ease with which you can fake hifalutin-sounding insights about literature (just learn and use a few words like “postcolonial” and “metafictional” and you’ll get a B in most lit classes). But for the most part, Nichols’s anti-criticism rant irks me, for several reasons. Here they are.
Nichols starts with an anecdote that immediately sets off my internal BS alarms. It’s the old when-I-was-a-kid bit, this time about a wide-eyed girl with a stack of books and a dream:
I was reading critically in the sense that I liked or disliked books, and knew what did and didn’t make sense or appeal to me, but there was not, at that blissful time in my life, any imposition of an external standard of quality or any requirement that I investigate the author’s prerogatives or background.
First of all, critical reading is not the imposition of an external standard of quality. …
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Douglas Preston is, first and foremost, a really bad writer. Normally, that’s the kind of thing I just ignore (there are plenty of them), but in Preston’s case, he’s also ungrateful enough to attack his readers and call them entitled Wal-Mart Americans, simply for wanting slightly cheaper ebooks. Then he pretended to apologize (but didn’t).
In other words, he’s a terrible writer who’s arrogance and contempt for his own fans makes him a perfect target for mockery and ridicule. (Side note: Preston’s writing partner, Lincoln Child, didn’t disparage his own readers, but when you lie down with dogs…)
Preston’s upcoming novel comes out tomorrow so let’s have a little fun with him. Knowing only the cover pictured above at right, and the horrible, cliched title, Fever Dream, five of our contributors guessed the premise of the novel. One of the following is the book’s real premise, the others are scurrilous lies.
1) On his deathbed, Sandford Crow dreams of his father’s lost collection of antique birdcages, each one representing a distinctive moment in 20th century history and in Sanford’s own emotional search for meaning. From his peasant’s education as a naturalist to the collapse of the world’s largest taxidermy empire, this stunning dreamlike narrative follows the rise and fall of the American dream itself.
2) Sammy, a tropical parrot, has fevered and vivid dreams that, one day, … start coming true! When Sammy’s beloved owner appears in his latest dream as the victim of a terror plot, Sammy must race to stop the plot from happening. A challenge with global consequences. Psychic bird. Terrorism. Pulse-pounding action and nonstop suspense. Preston and Child have done it again.
3) An FBI agent discovers that his wife—who he thought had died in the jaws of a ferocious red-maned lion in Zambia—was actually … murdered! He goes to Africa (taking an NYPD cop, cause what the hell) and it turns out she was murdered because of a painting of a bird.
4) Canaries suddenly start mysteriously dying all over town. Is it a mysterious bird plague? Could it mutate and start a crippling pandemic? The female researcher heading the CDC investigation is baffled. Little does she know, her husband has multiple personalities and one is a furry who dresses as Sylvester the cat and kills all the “tweeties” he can find. Too bad he only remembers the truth in his delirious yet lucid dreams…
5) After an explosion traps John and Thom Johnson in the bowels of a West Virginia coal mine, the two must take extraordinary measures to ensure their survival. The situation becomes more complicated when their sentinel, a prized island canary, dies, signaling the presence of toxic gases. As the brothers begin to drift from reality, it will take all their strength not to turn on each other.
6) Terrorists release a supervirus that causes violent hallucinations so severe that an entire village can be wiped out by the murderous fit of a single sufferer. As a retired detective defends his rural home town against suspected sufferers of the disease, he must find out who released the virus and why. The secret is in the birds …
Answer—and who wrote which fakery—coming in the comments.
Seattle Public Library
On Wednesday, blogger Eric Hellman wrote this recap of an event at which Mamillan CEO John Sargent spoke (via). Sargent’s comments on libraries were quite distressing; he described borrowing library ebooks like this: “It’s like Netflix, but you don’t pay for it. How is that a good model for us?”
Yikes. Sargent’s anti-library-ebook argument is essentially that borrowing physical books from a library is a major drag, so people don’t do it so often. Borrowing ebooks is super easy, and that will bring the publishing industry to its knees.
Hellman, who actually asked Sargent the library question at the event, says this: “he has gaps in his knowledge of libraries.” I would put it in slightly stronger terms: it sounds like Sargent hasn’t borrowed a library book in 20 years, if ever.
Sargent doesn’t know about online card catalogs, which allow you to order physical books and have them waiting for you at the branch of your choosing. He thinks ten people reading a book will destroy it. He thinks anybody can get a card to any library in the country (in fact, you have to be at least a state resident, as I found out last year when I talked to Rachel Martin, a librarian at the Seattle Public Library). Basically, Sargent doesn’t know much about checking out books.
More troublingly, he seems to see libraries as foolhardy businesses that aren’t charging (and aren’t tithing out publishers) enough. Personally, I see free access to public libraries as a fundamental human right in an industrialized nation. It’s a sizable difference of opinion.
And I’m noticing something else: the more Sargent talks, the more dictatorial and greedy he sounds. …
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What do these three have in common? They all have absolutely no business writing or "writing" books.
News about books and ebooks from around the web:
- Vapidity will continue to rule the bestseller list. Sarah Palin plans to “write” another book (get ready, Marcos), Lindsay Lohan has plans to hawk her crazed mutterings, and Hilary Duff just signed a contract to write a series of young-adult Da Vinci Code-style caper novels (I kid you not). Previously, we learned about reality star Lauren Conrad, who’s writing novels (plural) despite having never read a whole book in her life (which you should do, if you want to write one). Then there’s always Dan Brown, a terrible writer of stupid books (even his website wants to be a movie)… but he has 80,000,000 readers. And let’s never forget Douglas Preston, a horrible writer who’s so overprivileged and out of touch that he attacked his own readers for not paying exorbitant prices for his crappy books. Please help me solve this. If you like any of those writers, do me a personal favor: stop buying their books and watch TV instead. TV does mindless entertainment much better than books, and then books can go back to being carefully crafted works of the imagination, and not just paycheck tickets cranked out by illiterate uncaring morons and vapid celebrities trying to cash in on their fleeting fame. Publishing industry: I hate you. To wrap up this rant, here is a grossly unreadable article about nothing, written by an editor from Knopf. It’s a joke, right? Nobody’s that bad a writer, especially not a professional editor, right? Right?
- Borders is broke and starting heavy layoffs. Three months ago, while discussing the Nook, I noticed that Borders notably had no plans to release its own ereader/ebookstore. I said this about it: “Oh, and also… remember Borders? I’d say they have about 2 years of financial solvency left. It’s going to be like a brontosaurus dying.” Based on my understanding of the financial gobbledygook in the article in that first link, that timeline was just slightly generous. Ebooks are the way of the future, bookstores. Don’t be shy.
- Two weeks ago, the NY Times published this article by Motoko Rich about the prices of ebooks vs. paper books. It included this chart, which got everybody in a huff because it claimed that ebooks selling for as low as $9.99 will provide as much profit to publishers (not authors) as full-price, $26 hardcover books. Among the respondents: Gizmodo, GalleyCat, John August, and almost everybody else in the world. I just have one thing to add. Rich estimates the costs of printing and shipping at $3.25. Since online hardcover prices max out at about $15, that means, logically, ebook prices should max out at about $12. Since some new, hardcover, guaranteed bestsellers go for even less (like Stieg Larsson’s next one, pre-selling at Amazon for $11.50), ebook editions of those should come in at sub-$10. Which means maybe readers asking for $9.99 ebooks wasn’t so astonishingly entitled after all. Maybe the Macmillan/Amazon kerfuffle lost Macmillan more than it gained them. Maybe publishers should shut up about prices and windowing and all those other caveats, and just put their weight behind ebooks. Stop treating your customers like enemies, and maybe everything will turn out OK.
Douglas Preston is a jerk and an author who gets his jollies by viciously insulting his readers, and then continuing to insult them.
I’ve ranted twice about Preston in the past two weeks, and I’ve called him a hack more than once. I wanted to see just how good or bad a writer he is, so I borrowed one of his ebooks (Riptide) from the library. Turns out he’s pretty bad, and I’m going to show you exactly why. This probably won’t be the last time I make fun of Preston, but considering he still hasn’t apologized for insulting his readers (and pretty much all readers of ebooks), he’s got some insults coming his own way.
The point of this isn’t (just) to mock Preston because he’s a hypocritical, self-righteous blowhard who’s trying to exploit his readers instead of appreciating them. It’s also to put the lie to Preston’s comments about how readers don’t want to pay “the real price” for his books. Going by these passages, his readers are, in fact, significantly overpaying.
(This book, and most of Preston’s, are co-written by Lincoln Child, who didn’t insult his own readers. But he did sign off on this insultingly condescending open letter, so he’s guilty of at least aiding and abetting.)
Let’s have some fun.
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Douglas Preston: Still a jerk, now a much more careful jerk
An arrogant hack author named Douglas Preston appeared in a New York Times article two weeks ago, wherein he said that readers who wanted ebook editions of his book (and wanted them for less than the cost of the hardcover) were astonishingly entitled and, quite literally, he accused them of making America unhealthy.
So. That ticked some people off—including me. Two weeks later, Preston has realized that maybe he shouldn’t run around insulting his customers, and he has now offered up a half-assed backpedal (via), in which he attempts to mollify his readers with about half a Hallmark card’s worth of affection. He succeeds, however, only in proving he thinks his readers are stupid enough to believe his obvious lies.
Chris Meadows at TeleRead debunks Preston’s turnaround pretty thoroughly. I just want to add a couple of “how stupid does he think we are?” points about both the statement and his other new comments:
- Preston never apologizes. He should apologize.
- Preston says he wants to make money for Wal-Mart. In his original comments, he said “the Wal-Mart mentality…is very unhealthy for our country.” Is this a joke?
- He says he has no control over pricing or windowing (the practice of delaying ebook releases to force people to buy hardcovers), then says he supports windowing. He uses movies as an example of windowing, but fails to mention that movies in a theater offer more value and a different experience than DVDs, while hardcover vs. ebook editions of books offer exactly the same experience (and the people who disagree can still buy the hardcover).
- In his statement, he says, “We want to write the best books we can.” Uh, no. If that was true, you’d spend longer than 9 months apiece on them.
- He says he wants his “publishers to make [his books] available to you in the format in which you prefer to read them.” Come on, Preston, you’re not even trying.
- And, of course, the ultimate lie: “From our perspective, the most important element in all this is you, the reader.” What does it mean when my BS detector shrieks and then melts?
Look, Preston, here’s the thing: you write books because they make you money. You hate ebooks because you think you’ll make less money on them. You hate your readers because they want ebooks, and because they don’t like being bossed around, or being told they’re stupid and greedy.
You grudgingly crapped out this… this statement, whatever it is (not an apology), in which you transparently lie and say you like your readers. Hopefully, it’s not fooling anybody, but TechDirt put this news in the “good-for-him dept,” so you got at least one. Basically, you’re a jerk. But now you’re being slightly more diplomatic about it.
Listen, you owe your readers nothing less than a debt of immense gratitude, especially if they’ve allowed you to write full-time and make a decent living at it. You should be fighting your publisher to give your readers what they want. They don’t want free books, and they don’t want to rip you off. They just want a fair deal, and when you call that “entitlement,” you should come crawling back on your knees and beg for their forgiveness. Instead you throw this sloppy mess of platitudes at them. It makes me furious, and I’ve never given you a dime.
OK, deep breaths.
The person I really feel sorry for is Lincoln Child, Preston’s writing partner, who hasn’t said anything stupid about this. But then, he’s worked with this colossal jerk for years, so… I guess he’s not entirely innocent.
Bestselling author and mean mean jerk Douglas Preston
I just read this NY Times article (via) and I’m noticing a trend that’s really starting to infuriate me. It’s the use of the word “entitlement” by publishers and authors to describe their own customers.
In this article, author and complete jerk Douglas Preston is featured in this paragraph:
“The sense of entitlement of the American consumer is absolutely astonishing,” said Douglas Preston, whose novel “Impact” reached as high as No. 4 on The New York Times’s hardcover fiction best-seller list earlier this month. “It’s the Wal-Mart mentality, which in my view is very unhealthy for our country. It’s this notion of not wanting to pay the real price of something.”
This kind of thing drives me absolutely insane. The ebook release of Preston’s book is delayed by four months because Preston and his publishers want their hardcover money. According to those publishers, Impact‘s “real price” is $26. Speaking of entitlement.
But let’s see some peasants brandish pitchforks. Exactly what are the outrageously entitled Wal-Mart Americans saying? Here’s another paragraph from the article:
“I just don’t want to be extorted,” said Joshua Levitsky, a computer technician and Kindle owner in New York. “I want to pay what it’s worth. If it costs them nothing to print the paper book, which I can’t believe, then they should be the same price. But I just don’t see how it can be the same price.”
Hmm. That’s logical, sound, completely unentitled thinking. For years, publishers have been charging $20 or more for “hardcover” books, implying that some of that cost goes toward the actual production materials. Now, with ebooks, they’re trying to charge the same price for brand new ebooks as they charge for the outlandishly expensive hardcover editions.
The problem with this isn’t that customers are “entitled” to think they should get ebooks cheaper. The problem with this is that no publisher has yet advanced any logical explanation as to why the ebook editions SHOULDN’T be cheaper than the hardcovers. The burden of proof is on the publishers, and they haven’t convinced anybody.
Furthermore, it infuriates me when publishers think or believe that just because their pricing system has been a certain way in the past, that’s the way it should be forever. $26 is not the “real price” of a book. Dan Brown is not worth $26, Sarah Palin is not worth $26. And let’s face it, Douglas Preston isn’t worth $26. (You can just tell by his hair, can’t you?)
In reality, the hardcover of Impact goes for $14.29 at Amazon. If you want customers to pay more than $9.99 for the ebook edition, start by showing them a formula that goes something like this: [hardcover price] – [paper, ink, cardboard, and shipping costs] = [ebook price]. To sell a hardcover for $14 and then argue that the “real price” of the ebook version is up to $15… sheer madness.
Now, I do think publishers should be able to set their own prices. I also think Macmillan is incredibly stupid to raise their prices $5 per ebook. I hope it brings them to their knees. Fine, though, it’s up to them.
But when rich, bestselling hack authors (Preston’s crapped out more than a dozen novels in the past decade) start insulting their own readers, things are taking a wrong turn. It’s not readers’ “absolutely astonishing sense of entitlement” that makes us think technological advancement should bring down production costs, it’s basic common sense. And no matter how many times publishers say ebooks are expensive to make, it will never make sense to charge the same amount.
[UPDATE: Evidently, WordPress thinks it's March 19th, 2146. It's not, is it?
REUPDATE (RESOLVED): So that was bizarre, but it's over now. For a few hours or so, we were thrown 150 years into the future. Some odd pictures of C4 from the future, after the jump.]
So something weird just happened, and a couple of our finished and half-finished posts got published, even though they were scheduled for hours or days from now.
Evidently, either WordPress or our web host thought it was in Lost for a second, and forgot what year it was. Even when I changed the publishing dates to the 2011 equivalent, the posts were still published. Weird.
Anyway, doesn’t seem to be affecting anything else, so we’ll just see if it sorts itself out. But if some odd-looking half-a-post showed up in your Reader, please accept our apologies.
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