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A Radical Proposal: Let’s Make Books Fun Again!

Posted By Joanna Cabot On February 22, 2013 @ 10:00 am In books,reading | 7 Comments

[1]I read a lot of news stories as part of my work for TeleRead, and lately, I’ve noticed that many are dominated by a decidedly gloomy tone. Apple gets sued. Readers get sued. All five of the big publishers get sued. Then there are the copyright squabbles, the fair use disputes, author’s rights, reader’s rights, corporate overlord rights … it just goes on and on. And it’s all terribly complicated and difficult and cumbersome, and … well, pointless, really.

This is an industry that’s under threat from a million competing forms of entertainment, 95 percent of which can be accessed off the same device as the book, and this is how we’re going to solve the problem?

Here is my radical proposal: Can we make books fun again? How about the library in Slovenia that’s wrapping up mystery genre packages [2] for readers to unwrap like a present once they get them home? Or how about the Toronto bookstore that converted their bargains table into a vending machine that dispenses a random book [3] to all who play? Why can’t we have more stories like those?

Books can be very serious works of art, sure. But they’re designed to be entertainment, too. Why can’t it be fun again? Are we really going to lure the next generation of readers—who spend more time with their tablets than with their televisions—away from the Angry Birds and Netflix apps with doom and gloom and restriction and a scaling back of what we can do, instead of an opening up of it?


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7 Comments To "A Radical Proposal: Let’s Make Books Fun Again!"

#1 Comment By Marilynn Byerly On February 22, 2013 @ 10:16 am

Publishing is a business, not a feel-good charity, so it acts like a business, and these days, lawsuits and other nastiness is big part of business.

If you want to make it fun again, the first thing you need to do is leave this job where you have to deal with the business facts of this business.

Stop reading this site, too.

Those of us who have to live in this war zone have no choice, but you do.

#2 Comment By Juli Monroe On February 22, 2013 @ 10:39 am

That’s a really good idea, Joanna. I am an author (and a reader/writer for this blog), and I’m having a lot of fun with what I’m doing (downer stories aside). But you make an excellent point. What am I doing to make the experience more fun for my readers? Other than working hard to get my next book out, I’m not doing anything. And getting my next book out is my job. It’s not the fun extra that makes the difference between indifferent readers and raving fans.

I’m going to have to give this some serious thought. Thank you for making me think!

And if anyone wants to give me a hand, what, as a reader, would you like to see an author do to make things fun? I’m not averse to getting some help. :)

#3 Comment By Greg M. On February 22, 2013 @ 11:15 am

Isn’t fun relative?

Anyway, at the Kindleboards there was (is) a game were you signed up to play by saying what genres you normally liked to read (Comfort Zone) and what you wouldn’t read (Deal Breakers). Then you were randomly assigned a player who would pick a book (often three choices) that was outside the Comfort Zone but not a Deal Breaker. The whole idea was to find things to read you’d otherwise never discover. I played for a year or so and got a wide range of books, some not really my thing, others pretty good. It was fun, but players had to be willing to experiment a bit.

I don’t think there is a copyright on the game, so other groups could play a variation.

#4 Comment By Michael W. Perry On February 22, 2013 @ 11:32 am

The difficulty is that, with the digital revolution, we live in ‘interesting times.’ Change brings out the worst in some people because disorder is seen as an opportunity for gaining advantage, hence all those lawsuits.

Print books are fun. I can create a book whose contents and appearance I like and turn it into a cover and interior PDF that I send to Lightning Source. Within about two weeks it is available just as I intended it, all around the world. That’s fun.

Digital isn’t that way. Only recently have I found a way (InDesign 6) that lets me take my completed content and create ebooks for Kindles (.mobi) and Apple (ePub). I thought I could reach most of the rest of the market with Smashwords, but it turns out that their ePub submissions are still riven with headaches. Note that’s two submission to just reach two vendors and a third, still in beta, to reach some of the others. No one-stop for global distribution.

Nor do my woes end there. The ebooks I create are going to look different on different devices and apps. The iBook version won’t look the same as that for Kindles. The version on my Kindle 3 won’t look as good as that on the Kindle app on my iPad. Some things I can do on one platform can’t be done on another and, even it it can be done, my ability to control anything is blocked by export routines, plug-ins and obscure HTML-like code. It’s a bit like doing webpages in the mid-nineties when no browser quite worked like any other.

And that’s only touching on a fraction of the problems digital has created. There are also a host of contracts to contend with, pricing issues, and constantly changing corporate policies. Both Amazon and Apple seem to think I should have a lawyer on call.

I’d like publishing to be fun and it is getting to be more fun as the digital market settles down and those who hoped to bully their way to the top become more realistic. But it’s still about two years away from being fun rather than riddled with headaches and hassles.

–Michael W. Perry, author of Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments

#5 Comment By Deran On February 22, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

Ms. Byerly’s vitriol aside, publishing as business has always been a grind. 10, 20 years ago when my novels were getting published in paperback there were lawsuits, disputes over royalties, how to get books seen in stores etc. I read this blog as an author, I suspect many of the people who read teleread are also authors, or would be authors.

I think reading being fun is more a matter of the books that get published. of course, now that everyone can be published via Smashwords et al, it is again difficult to get eyeballs on specific titles, publishers are again trying to bully their way to the top etc.

I think the fun in reading is more about the books avb to read, and making them easy to access and read on machines that are easy to use.

And Ms. Cabot, I thoroughly enjoy your work on this blog and hope you do not stop working here. I especially enjoy your personal use reviews and your posts abt dealing with seniors and getting them comfortable with ereaders.

I am also really enjoying the set of newer bloggers here on teleread.

#6 Comment By Marilynn Byerly On February 22, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

Vitriol?

I gave the very same advice to her that I’ve given to former writing students and friends.

Sometimes, when the realities of the publishing business get too hard to deal with, you have to leave because it isn’t worth it, otherwise.

#7 Comment By Joanna Cabot On February 22, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

My point is though, it’s not about making it fun for the authors. That part needs to be transparent to your customer—it’s them it has to be fun for. I have no issues with using this blog to explore the less-fun businessy stuff. But I think we are seeing less coverage than we should be about making it *fun* for the reader. And the reason we are not seeing a lot of that is, few authors and booksellers are doing it. I have seen some do some neat things, like the book vending machine and one author who would customize the name of a minor character with your name if you bought the book direct from him. But not enough. And I suspect that if some authors devoted half as much time to thinking about this stuff as they do fiddling with DRM options and studying file sharing lawsuits, their sales would improve.


Article printed from TeleRead: News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics: http://www.teleread.com

URL to article: http://www.teleread.com/books/a-radical-proposal-lets-make-books-fun-again/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.teleread.com/?attachment_id=79599

[2] wrapping up mystery genre packages: http://www.teleread.com/library/surprise-books-packs-at-a-slovenia-library/

[3] a vending machine that dispenses a random book: http://www.teleread.com/news-roundup-2/morning-roundup-stories-you-may-have-missed-22/

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