Tag Archives: ebooks

Nook Adventure


If you read last year’s blog you’ll know I’ve been holding out against e-ink for quite some time, doing all my e-book reading on various colour screens. The recent price crash of Nook Simple Touches to £29 (a temporary offer only unfortunately, but isn’t it remarkable how the words ‘Sale’ and ‘Bargain’ affect brain chemistry) was an offer I really couldn’t refuse. Just how much of a price drop this is varies according to the different retailer’s calculations. In the UK they were introduced at £109, came down to £79, dropped to £69 to match the basic Kindle, but still didn’t sell when faced with Amazon’s massive marketing muscle. They sold even less than the Kobo readers promoted by WH Smith, despite the fact that technical reviewers frequently judged them the best basic e-ink device available.

But at £29 I suddenly became enthusiastic about e-ink and placed an order through Barnes and Noble. Lots of other stores had the promotion – Currys, Argos, John Lewis – and within a couple of days everywhere had sold out and my order was accepted with a delivery date ‘to be advised when stock becomes available again’.

I haven’t seen it yet but no doubt it will have a sticker somewhere saying ‘Made in China’ and it looks like the latest container ship docked yesterday. One thing for the Barnes and Noble store – their order tracking system via UPS is unmatched in detail.

Being used to finding rail tickets booked in advance for my local station at Norwich have been posted from Edinburgh I wasn’t surprised when UPS tracking showed the first sighting of my Nook in the Netherlands. Presumably the Chinese ship docked at Rotterdam. By 9.39pm it had reached Utrecht. It stayed there until 2.43am when it left for Brussels in Belgium arriving at 4.54am. It stayed in Brussels, no doubt enjoying a leisurely breakfast waffle until 11.18am today.

Where it transits next is still to be determined but they estimate it should be on my doorstep tomorrow sometime. All this for £29! I looked up the Royal Mail parcel rates and the quote I got for shipping that route in the same timeframe was £28.25 + VAT. Barnes and Noble really were giving them away.

More on the subject when I have the thing in my hands. Can hardly wait!


An eBook Rant

With a holiday coming up soon I decided to get serious about ebooks. It was time to get myself a proper reading device.

I pride myself on being an early ebook adopter having had  the venerable Microsoft Reader application on my desktop computers since the days of Windows 95. But from the end of the month – August 2012 – Microsoft is retiring this almost forgotten product. It lasted 12 years, venerable for a computer application, and for a considerable time now the fact is I’ve only been using the Kindle reader on my laptop and iPhone, using the brilliant Calibre software to convert format where necessary.

However a 15” laptop screen, great for watching films, is too big and unwieldy to be a great book reading experience. For portability I’ve mostly used the iPhone, and though its 3.5” screen just about works it’s too small to be really comfortable, especially when I keep losing my reading specs.

The ideal size for a book of course is the one evolution since the days of Guttenberg has ended up with – around 7”. The only problem with a 7” paperback is the 1” thickness which makes taking half a dozen on holiday a strain on the average, less than 6” capacity pocket.  I don’t like back-packs. Hence my need to buy a slim-line 7” eBook reader.

The obvious candidate, since I use the Kindle software, was a Kindle device. I researched the option thoroughly (such is my wont) and the price has certainly become attractive. The e-ink screen for reading in outdoor light is also a major plus for holiday reading. (So why, as a self-proclaimed early adopter have I taken so long? – confession I’m not an early spender).

I liked it so much I borrowed one from a friend. It was good but I found the ‘black flash’ of the e-ink page turn distracting. I’m told you quickly get used to this but I’m a believer in technology adapting to me rather than the other way round.

No such problems with the latest iPad which my friend also had (yes, an early spender), a superb screen, good range of books from the Apple store, but boy, is it expensive! I avoided thinking about value for money by deciding the iPad 10” screen is too big for my pocket in both the sartorial and financial sense.

After scouring reviews for 7” tablets I plunge in and buy a Google Nexus 7.  It’s new on the market and gets rave reviews as the best of the bunch. It arrives and lives up to expectations – a great screen for reading anywhere except bright sunlight, much better than my laptop in fact, and a snip at the price or so I’m reassuringly informed. Though more expensive than a basic Kindle (same price point as the Kindle Fire)  it has wider capabilities (translation: a gadget with lots of geeky toy potential – like GPS to get me back to my holiday hotel).

It’s when I start to purchase holiday reading that I have to stop and think. It brings home the widespread complaint that ebooks from commercial publishers cost pretty much the same as paperback books despite the glaring discrepancy in production costs.

Here’s the thing: when I buy a paperback I’m paying the seller for the paper, printing costs, physical transport from printer to bookstore, the helpful and charming staff’s salary, training her how to use the espresso machine etc.  When I buy an ebook I’m paying personally, upfront, for the physical infrastructure (the tablet reader) and the broadband delivery (ok a minor overhead as it’s used for a lot else) plus a cent’s worth of electricity contributed by the publisher. So why pretty much the same price?

And another thing: I could have gone to a wonderful second-hand bookstore (usually a lot more fun than a chain store selling new books) and bought a great paperback at a tenth the cost of an ebook.  True Fact: literature goes back over a hundred years, not all the best books were published in the last three months. Also books, unlike writers, improve with age. But there’s no second-hand market in ebooks – not only because of the technology but because of the different legal status applied – yes I understand the piracy issues but I really don’t like the way corporate interests always seem more important than consumer interests in the lobbyist-influenced decisions of modern lawmakers.

The way things are, except in circumstances where you’re prepared to pay a big premium for convenience or geeky toy-ness, I don’t think commercial ebook prices are good value for readers. Until things change, and I believe they’ll have to sooner or later, most of my reading is still going to be indie writers, second-hand paperbacks, and the public library.

Internet publicity

Usually authors who want to publicise their books are recommended to use social media. I’m sure it can be effective but it’s not a quick fix, it needs work putting in.

Facebook is probably the most versatile tool, but I’m not sure about it’s reach – it only communicates to people you already know, or those who deliberately seek you out then find you in the throng of others across the world who share your name.

Twitter has potentially a much wider potential to attract new interest with judicious use of hashtags. But how many billions of users are there now? The competition for attention is enormous unless you’re a major celebrity. Sure you can say something profoundly attention-grabbing in 140 characters, then a minute later you’re number 1000 in the profound twitter stream. Building a significant audience is a steep mountain to climb.

Instagram looked the most promising marketing tool to me. It’s the photographic equivalent of Twitter that got a lot of publicity when Facebook bought it for an astronomical sum just before the public flotation. Not yet as oceanic as Twitter, but sharing the hashtag basis so more focussed than Facebook.

Since the book I wanted to publicise, Watching Marilyn, featured Marilyn Monroe it meant I could base the marketing campaign around photos of her – of which there must be thousands to choose from, she was constantly photographed over a period of almost 20 years. And photographs of her, some well known, some rarities, are still hugely popular among an army of fans on the internet (I share the opinion that movie stars ain’t what they used to be). Definitely pictures of Marilyn attract more attention than photographs of the Cuban Missile Crisis which is one of the other major themes in my book, or photos of American political corruption (everyone just takes that for granted).

So my instagrams were photos of MM, where possible with an appropriate quote from the book for publicity purposes (Instagram allows more than 140 characters), and a #MarilynMonroe as well as a #WatchingMarilyn hashtag. And it did seem to work. My first instagrams attracted a handful of likes. Before long, as my audience grew, they were getting 50 or so likes each. I can’t tell what proportion of people who view the instagram (aka advert) bother to press the like button, but I assume most don’t, so the 50 likes represent a lot more views.

I was feeling reasonably pleased. Then I looked at the output of one of my fellow #MarilynMonroe hashtag users called @welovemarilyn. He/she (there’s no personal info associated with the account) was posting the same kind of photos as I was, putting up one or two every day, and was by then up to number 425 – probably over a year’s worth of dedicated uploading. For @welovemarilyn it was really working. Within 25 minutes of putting a picture online he was getting around 2500 likes.
That’s a hundred people a minute hitting the like button. How many more viewing? Within a couple of days, as dawn swept around the globe, he was regularly accumulating over 10,000 likes per photo, and for some photos where Marilyn is wearing an especially décolleté dress over 25,000. By daily posting of a picture of Marilyn Monroe @welovemarilyn has accumulated over 200,000 followers. And why not – Marilyn was a very attractive woman.

So if I kept up the campaign to promote my book for a year would I accumulate that many followers? Equally important, since instagraming is not my main occupation, how many book sales would it translate to? The followers of the #MarilynMonroe hashtag seem, in the main, to be nice people, sincere in their fandom, mostly gentle souls compared to many on the internet. But I don’t get the impression they’re great book buyers.

So would it be more effective to target my marketing at a more serious audience? There are currently 107,088 posts on Instagram with the hashtag #MarilynMonroe. There are 18 with the hashtag #CubanMissileCrisis.

The Free Weekend


The weekend of free Kindle downloads has just finished. So far it looks to have worked well. With a mini publicity campaign on Twitter to alert as many people as possible, the eBook version went free just after 1am Pacific Time Friday morning – yes, I was up to watch the computer screen. Amazon do say their servers can take a couple of hours to roll out a price change. It went free on their European stores at exactly the same time (I monitored that too) which would be about 9am local time.

Really I didn’t know what to expect. Would no-one download or would tens of thousands grab the freebie? I’d associated the marketing with Marilyn Monroe’s birthday so June 1 was the big day. By Saturday about 350 people had downloaded and it was showing as number 13 in the top 100 of the hardboiled Mysteries list. I was happy with this as a viral seed so I halted the tweet campaign. It would have been good to try for number 1 but I didn’t want to discourage the tens of thousands from paying for the book later.

On Monday morning the final results were in: a total of 455 free downloads from the US store, 40 from the UK, and 2 from the German store. Italy and France zilch, although they do have the excuse of not speaking the language. The English don’t, and going by population they seem only half as likely to read a book as an American. Wonder why?

In total though I’ll call it a round 500, some of whom may recommend it to their friends, and some, most importantly, may give it positive reviews on Amazon. I’m anticipating those will take a while to come through, so it could be a month before I can really assess how successful the marketing tactic was.

A Birthday Present

The Kindle Edition

My mystery/thriller novel Watching Marilyn has been out exclusively on Kindle for a while with sales showing a steady growth. Now the paperback has finally appeared on Amazon (US and UK) and apart from a peculiar color glitch with the “Look Inside” illustration everything looks good.

The story, set in 1962, is something of a homage to Hollywood noir, to my literary hero Raymond Chandler, and to a lost era of hope and paranoia. It features a private eye mixed up in the murky circumstances of Marilyn Monroe’s controversial death.

So, to jointly celebrate the paperback publication and Marilyn’s birthday on June 2nd (she’d have been 86!) I’m making the Kindle edition free to download over the weekend starting Friday 1st through to midnight Sunday 3rd.

Those are Pacific Time Zone dates by the way. It’s not clear if the Kindle store adjusts for European time in it’s other outlets, I’ll have to log onto Amazon and check for future reference.

According to expert opinion limited free downloads are supposed to be a good marketing move – they don’t earn royalties obviously but hopefully readers will put up some good reviews to encourage future purchases.

The paperback

The Devil to Pay

I like those classic pulp detective novels. The plots are original (they did come first) and the style is not as gratuitously anatomical as a lot of modern slasher stories. Also there’s the pleasure of the vigorous cover art. But for mystery novels which famously pride themselves on giving fair clues to the reader – how much can you trust the pictures?
Not much going by the many editions there have been of Ellery Queen’s early whodunit The Devil To Pay.
It’s not a particularly good detective story by the way. Queen seems to have worked harder on the romantic sub-plot than the crime itself. It’s his first mystery set in Hollywood and perhaps he was inspired by the Ronald Coleman, Loretta Young and Myrna Loy movie of the same name which had been released just eight years before in 1930
There is no connection at all between the movie and the book, it’s just a very popular title. In fact there had already been two previous movies with the same name, all with different writers and storyline. But this movie poster is a good starting place to get a serendipitous flavor of Queen’s book. Perhaps the first and only time a movie has given a fair representation of a literary theme, and quite by accident.
From the outset the covers of the book have been misleading. The earliest examples show a somewhat reptilian, almost claw-like, hand. In modified forms this illustration has probably been the most common cover used over the years.
Is it the Devil’s hand? Who knows. No such claw-like hand is in the book – the clue EQ writes about is actually a print, found on a dusty table, of what seems a normal hand except it has only two fingers! Two not five. Do illustrators and publishers ever read these books? Not often apparently. This was the first edition of the book. A similar hand reappeared on the 1941 paperback
My favourite cover, for purely artistic reasons, is this 1971 edition showing a Austin Powers-type dollybird holding a rapier. From her blond hair and pet monkey this is a minor character, Winni Moon, the girlfriend of the victim. Without giving too much away the monkey is a red herring. It plays no significant part in the plot (a sadly missed opportunity on EQ’s part). Winni does appear in the same room as the sword at one point but never actually handles it. And though her mini skirt and kinky boots may have helped sell copies they are totally anachronistic for a novel unambiguously set in 1938.
And by1966 the rapier has been replaced by a gun. No one got shot in the making of this book.
Meanwhile in Germany they had to contend with this. Playing cards? Not featured in the story. Statue of the Venus de Milo? No. Twin sisters? No. Twin men in hats with dark glasses? No. Oh, look very closely and spot the five fingered hand in there.
At least the Finns kept it simple – back to that claw.
This is wrong! Not factually, just ethically. This surreal Brazilian cover is a massive spoiler giving away Ellery’s last chapter surprise revelations. They’ve read the book but they don’t understand the concept of mystery. Not much point reading the second half of the book. Look away now.
To be fair the Italians did a respectable job with this 1990’s offering. Ellery really does dress like this (he’s in disguise). Though why change the title to the pedestrian “Hollywood in Confusion”?
But this is a book which is still in print in English. Have things improved? Sadly they’ve got worse. My least favorite cover of all is on a modern edition which has abandoned eye-catching sensationalism in favor of complete dullness. A sepia-tinged illustration of an attaché case full of dollar bills. Yes money is central to the plot but is there any such attaché case stuffed with cash in the book? Nowhere.
We have to wonder at the varied and inconsistent concepts publishers have of their target readership. But what’s obvious is that consistently over the years Ellery Queen’s The Devil To Pay has proved you can’t judge a book by its cover (except of course in Brasil)