Same old story – publisher preoccupied by paper

Bran HambricA few months ago, “The Last Tycoon,”  T.J. Stiles’ biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, received several withering reviews on Amazon.com.  Most of the critics hadn’t even read it.  They were owners of Amazon’s ridiculously successful Kindle digital reader.  Their enmity stemmed from the book’s high price in digital format – well north of the typical $9.99 for most titles.

Ultimately, the publisher reduced “The Last Tycoon” to $9.99, and presumably the reviews improved.

Apparently,  Sourcebooks, Inc. didn’t get the word, or worse, believe they can swim against the digital tide.  After all, the music business stuck to its guns, and CD sales are doing so well.  Why not the publishing business?

Oh, wait, iTunes is kicking everyone’s butt.  Nevermind.

Sourcebooks won’t be releasing their upc0ming Harry Potter wannabe,  “Bran Hambric: The Fairfield Curse,” by Kaleb Nation, in digital form – at least not initially.  Here’s why:

“It doesn’t make sense for a new book to be valued at $9.99,” said Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, which issues 250 to 300 new titles annually. “The argument is that the cheaper the book is, the more people will buy it. But hardcover books have an audience, and we shouldn’t cannibalize it.” An e-book for “Bran Hambric” will become available in the spring, she said.

That’s close to the same logic employed by the music business, but Trident Media Group’s Robert Gottleib takes it a step further:

“It’s no different than releasing a DVD on the same day that a new movie is released in the movie theaters,” he said. “Why would you do that?”

Considering the post-theater revenue of most movies, a better question might be why wouldn’t you do that?  Since the advent of the VCR, personal ownership of films has skyrocketed.  In the mid-80’s, when the standard price for a cassette dropped to a reasonable level, sales jumped.  It’s easy to forget that once upon a time it cost 69 bucks to buy a rental copy of “Foul Play” for your own use.

I’ve had a Kindle since Christmas, and since that time my reading budget hasn’t really changed. I do have more to choose from, so publishers are making less per title from me.  But that’s not a bad thing when you consider that I’m finding new authors, broadening my horizons.

Kaleb Nation is a first-time novelist.  How can limiting the availability of his work help his career – especially among the hardcore readers who own a Kindle?

Local Rhythms – A Kindle In Your Future

kindleFor any technology to be truly compelling, it must advance an already important process.

E-mail improves the essential task of letter writing.  An MP3 player makes listening to music easier.  A camera phone is used to take insurance company pictures of fender benders.

How many of those collisions are caused by distracted drivers talking on their camera phone is another discussion.

On the other hand, watching television online is no substitute for a high def flat screen.  Reading newspaper articles is one thing, but few people are ready for books on laptops.

However, someday – soon, I believe – book lovers will have a Kindle, Amazon’s electronic reading device.

Kindle is consumer ready for the same reasons that Apple’s iPod leapfrogged every other digital musical player back in 2001 – synergy and ease of use.

First of all, there’s no computer required.  Unlike the Sony Reader (the device’s only real competition), content is available from Amazon’s WhisperNet network.

A mobile phone signal is all that’s needed to order books, magazines and newspapers directly from a Kindle.

Most books are priced at $9.99, a nice round, iTunes-like number that’s also a fraction of what new hardcovers cost.

Like Apple’s 30-second song preview feature, sample chapters are free.  There’s no risk to learning that what might have sounded great in the New York Times Book Review isn’t all that

Kindle has a built-in dictionary, and those who read with a pen will appreciate the highlight feature.  I also like the note-taking keyboard.

More importantly, Kindle looks and feels like a book, which is why the just-announced Kindle iPhone/iPod Touch app will probably help the device’s sales.

Kindle’s non-backlit screen has a paper-like appearance, and is best used with a reading light.

A sturdy leather cover gives it just the right heft.

The second generation Kindle 2, unveiled in February, is thinner and has faster page turning, plus a text-to-speech feature that apparently has some book on tape companies squirming.

Unfortunately the once-standard equipment cover costs an extra 30 bucks with Kindle 2.

One more complaint – it’s impossible to give a Kindle book as a gift.  That’s a problem the iTunes Music Store once had and fixed.

Hopefully, Amazon’s close to solving it too.

Here’s the live music scoop:

Thursday: Down by the Riverside, Lebanon Opera House – A unique collaboration between two musical legends, the first synonymous with New Orleans, the second as rarified as gospel gets, come to the Upper Valley.   The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been bringing Dixieland to the world, while the Grammy-winning Blind Boys of Alabama have 70 years of “bringing the music of the church house straight to the roadhouse.”

Friday: Pariah Beat & River City Rebels, Main Street Museum – Fresh from a southern swing that included a stop at the massive SXSW event in Austin, Texas, Pariah Beat returns to a familiar haunt, joined by punk heroes River City Rebels and a few other friends.  Main Street Museum is a truly unique venue.  Imagine stepping into a Joseph Cornell box, with ephemera from bug collections, vintage toys, wall-mounted tube radios – and a BYOB policy.

Saturday: Onside, Salt hill Newport – The second of two local appearances for this Boston based band (they’re at Salt hill Lebanon on Friday);Oneside’s “First, To Last” CD was one of my favorites from 2008.  Like Pariah Beat, Oneside combines may disparate elements into a very unique, Americana sound. A DMB jam band vibe accented by electric banjo and a danceable energy makes every Oneside appearance a guaranteed party.

Sunday: Jenn Clapp, LACE – With First Lady Michelle Obama’s recently announced White House kitchen garden, going localvore is suddenly a hot topic.  Barre-based LACE – Local Agriculture Community Exchange of Vermont – talks the talk and walks the walk by supporting local farms and presenting events like this one, featuring New York-based singer-songwriter Jenn Clapp, as a way to promote sustainability that also tastes great.

Tuesday: Singer and Jordan, Tip Top Café – Phil Singer and Laurianne Jordan play the kind of folk music that was in vogue before Dylan went electric. They sing about trains, love gone wrong and leaders in need of schooling, all of which pair well with anything on the menu at this fine White River Junction restaurant.  Phil recently revised his “Dog and Pony” music website.  It’s now called smallflame.com, but it features the same cool music as before.

Wednesday: moe., Higher Ground – The standard by which plenty of indie bands are measured stops in Burlington for a two-night stand that concludes Thursday.  Named after a Louis Jordan song, they play a unique brand of improvisational rock.  Like Phish fans and the Deadhead, every moe. show is an adventure.  A bit of a drive, but it beats traveling to Bonnaroo, doesn’t it?