Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Nook Problem

Like most men, I'm a technophile. For those who didn't pass basic English, that means I'm a fan of technology. The Fortress of Solitude is stuffed with it, from my multiple big screen TVs to this cold fusion reactor I've got stuffed in a corner (I never seem to have enough banana peels to stuff into that thing, and it makes a terrible racket). If it comes in black and has blinking lights, I love it. The Japanese actually did research on the subject (of course they did), and they discovered that black pieces of technology with blinking lights (preferably in many colors) appeals to men more than anything else. Which is why your stereo, TV, DVD player, cell phone, and blender are all black with lots of blinking lights. If they could coat a woman in black plastic and give her lots of useless blinking lights, they would. Because the Japanese are strange.

One of the devices I recently purchased is a Nook Color. It's sleek. It's got a touch screen. It's in color. Though why that's important to me is beyond my understanding, because 90 percent of what I do on my Nook Color is read books, which is strictly a black-and-white affair. I choose the Nook C)olor over the Kindle and iPad because the former is basically a giant Motorola Droid; it runs Android and can be hacked to access the Droid marketplace. I've even been told by the Nook people at Barnes & Noble that they plan a massive update to turn it into a tablet. My nerd mind reels.

What I love about my Nook is the functionality. Believe it or not, I read a lot. I spend a good two hours a day on subways, and I need something to do besides look at some guy across the train pleasuring himself. ( Yes, men whip it out and do "that" on subways, in front of women. There is even a website where women post pictures of the offenders taken with their cellphone cameras, but I decided not to include that link. For more information on the problem, click this link: Click on and support women with a donation.) Anyway, when I'm not trying to avoid contact with my fellow human beings on a train, I'm at home reading (and also trying to avoid human contact). What's great about the Nook is that I can carry dozens of books with me at the same time. I'm currently reading Elric: The Stealer of Souls and The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian at the same time (to compare and contrast them. But that's another post). Without the Nook, I'd easily be lugging eight books around at the same time.

Really, my problem isn't with the device per se. My problem is with the publishers. See, there are books I can't get on the Nook. Admittedly, my reading tastes are pretty obscure. When I tried to find Fritz Lieber's Lankhmar series, I discovered they didn't have this in Nook format. Okay. I was disappointed, but I kind of understood. Apparently those books are out of print anyway. Then I went to look for an e-book version of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. That wasn't available in Nook format, either. How about Michael Moorcock's Cornelius Chronicles? Nope.

The problem is not unlike the early days of DVDs. Back when DVD players first came out, you could get all the latest films, but you couldn't get movies like Casablanca or The Wizard of Oz. This made a certain amount of economic sense. Hollywood studios had an incentive to rush out more recent movies, because they wanted to capitalize in the viewer's interest in what they'd just seen. Besides, the film was more readily available for conversion to the DVD format; in other words, they didn't have to go down to the cold storage vaults to get Casablanca out of storage (Yes, they have them; I've seen the ones at Paramount). They could eventually get around to putting out movies in their catalog sometime later. So I understand that publishers don't want to pay some desk monkey to convert a bunch of old books no one really wants into an e-reader format.

(Though I'll note that I can get Analysis of the Gospel of St. Matthew and Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, as well as a bunch of other obscure stuff. If I can find Lord Dunsany in e-reader format, I should be able to find The Last Unicorn, don't you think?)

Okay. So publishers just haven't gotten around to putting everything in Nook's ePub format. Surely, then, I should be able to find new stuff for my Nook. I searched for Elfsorrow, by James Barclay. No dice. How about Tim Aker's The Horns of Ruin? No, that's not available, either. Glen Cook's Darkwar (which just came out in an omnibus trade paperback)? Uh, no. And this is where I start to get steamed.

It would seem to me that since the publisher has a book in digital format already (in the form of a Word file on some editor's desktop), it would be a simple matter of converting it to the ePub format and making it available. I mean, wouldn't a publisher want to take advantage of the maximum number of avenues to sell their books? Even if only ten people buy Horns of Ruin as a Nook file, doesn't that mean they've sold ten more books than they otherwise would? How many people wanted to buy that book, discovered it wasn't in Nook format, and simply walked away from the sale? Not only that, but once the book is in the Nook format, the publisher never has to return to the book again. It's in their Nook catalog. They won't have to pay that desk monkey to convert the book later.

Maybe the answer lies in the Betamax/VHS wars of the 80s (or the HD-DVD/Blu-ray wars of the 21st century, for you youngsters out there). No one wants to spend all that time and energy (which converts to money in the MBA's mind) to convert books to a format when the winning format hasn't been decided upon. Only problem with that is, they're okay with the present situation enough to produce something, just enough content to keep me buying. It's not like it's that hard. I could publish in the ePub format. I looked into it; and quite a few people are self-publishing in this way. So it can't be that hard. It seems to me that publishers want it both ways.

All I want is my @!^$ book.

The Nook's functionality is severely reduced when I can't get what I want, when I want it. That's the whole point of the e-reader. You'd think B&N would use their muscle in the marketplace to force publishers to convert their already digital files into the ePub format. As in "No, we won't buy 25,000 copies of your book unless you also support the Nook. Have fun selling your book out of the trunk of your car...." Moreover, publishers should stop being mired in the "we publish books" mentality, which I believe may be part of the problem, too. If you put your newest releases in ePub format, I'll bet you sell more books, guys.

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