Sunday, January 24, 2010

Books, Audio-Books, Bray, Stross, and some new decade thoughts

Tim Bray just wrote two entries that reference Charles Stross, far and away my favorite recent sci-fi author. He started with a reasonable review of "Saturn's Children", which is have slowly been working though as an audio-book. I've read a number of Stross's books in paperback, and happily introduced others to my addiction. Not since picking up Snow Crash, have I had such an experience with a new author. His stories are denser with contemplative ideas than many books on the non-fiction shelves. Saturn's children, to my mind, isn't his best, but that is heavily influenced by the fact that I am listening to it as an audio-book.

As audio-books go, the reading is incredibly good. I've listened to audio-books on long road-trips for years. Ever since since Nat and I read 'The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe' series to each other going to/from Burning Man, I've been an audio-book convert. The nature of the medium means that it is slower than reading. I don't have many moments that are opportune for an audio-book. I listen to pod-casts when walking the dog. Maybe if I had an iPod doc in the kitchen I'd listen more, but I usually have NPR on. I just haven't found a good habit/rhythm for audio-books.

Bray also discusses a recent essay from Mr Stross about the Google Books settlement. I haven't been following the Google Books settlement too carefully, assuming that old-media was just trying to hang on to their aging business model. Stross does a good job arguing why aspects of that business model are appropriate. He isn't arguing that things shouldn't change. He is asking how can we preserve some of the benefits of the old model. If information is free, then author's like Stross will have a damn hard time making enough money writing books to pay the bills.

I'm curious to see how this all transpires. I expect that how 'information' is priced and purchased, will continue to change dramatically. Very few things of real value are truly free. In the beginning, there were pay-walls. Then you have ads. Now they are collecting monetizable data on our behaviors. The latest evolution comes from services that make it cheap and valuable for individuals to generate content (ne twitter/gmail/search) while at the same time they are generating value by monitoring the content in aggregate. It is easy to see how smaller content (IM/email/blog-post) works in this formula. Large content, such as a short-story, or even a full-length book are more challenging. Giving it out for free doesn't compensate the author comparative to their effort. This seems similar to some of the arguemts I've been hearing about why Hulu will start charging for some shows. It is a simple value/reward problem. Do you value the content enough to justify spending your hard won cash for access? I know that I choose to buy content on regular basis, be it book, movie, or music.

The last 10 years has seen the rise of the iPod and iTunes along with their switch to DRM-free formats. It has seen the digital camera all but replace film for all but the most serious photography work, resulting in a proliferation of free content hosted online, dramatically changing the business models for stock photography. It has seen the rise of online access to video content, initially as a pay-to-download model, now in a mix of ad supported streaming and pay-per-view streaming. In 2000 everyone could self publish online, but few did. With the rise of blogging, then the social web, anyone with some internet access can claim their corner of the web, choosing to enlighten us all with their thoughts, artistry, or just entertain themselves and their friends.

What will the next 10 years bring