January 30, 2006

A Film Company Uses the Internet for Activism

Why would a film production company try to develop an audience for their films instead of letting the distributor do it? The answer to that question explains the importance of Participant Productions and their website Participate.net. If the primary purpose of a film is to get seen, then it's no surprise that the Internet becomes a great place to help develop an audience. At least one film production company has realized this and taken it to the next level of activism.

Participant Productions has brought us films such as Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, North Country, MurderBall, and the forthcoming The World According to Sesame Street.

On Participate.net, you can...well...participate along the themes of each of the films. Each film becomes a centerpiece for a grassroots campaign to change the wrong discussed in the film.

Participant Productions understands the power of all media--not just the Internet and not just cinema--to bring people together and prompt them to take action. Watch Syriana in the theater and learn how to cut your oil consumption on Participate.net. Watch Good Night and Good Luck on DVD; demand the news once again report in the public interest on Participate.net. Watch North Country on Cable and learn how to implement a sexual harrassment policy in your school; it's on Participate.net.

"Convergence is in the mind of the beholder." Participant Productions creates movies with a purpose and tries to move people to action to make their world a better place to live. A nice example of transmedia.

NOTE: As of December 2007, Participate.net has become TakePart.com.

January 25, 2006

The Potential Effect of Soderbergh's Bubble on Film Distribution

While the entertainment business keeps its focus on the announcement of the CW Network I mentioned here late last night/early this morning, Ty Burr covers out another story with a potential effect on the entertainment industry, in particular film distributors, in today's Boston Globe.

Steven Soderbergh's new film Bubble will be released in theaters, on cable, and in video stores simultaneously on Friday.

What does this mean? Bubble isn't going to be that big of a film, but everyone is going to have their eyes on what this means for it. Will it garner more total interest by being available in so many media forms simultanously? How much will this damage theater distribution? At this point, it seems that the company may not have much to lose, but theater distributors will most definitely be hurt by it.

What is your all's take?

Be sure to check out the excellent article on Bubble here.

What does major shakeup mean for WB/UPN shows?

The big news in the entertainment industry today (well, technically yesterday now) has been the announced merger of the two newest American television networks, the WB and UPN. Both groups, who have competed consistently for the "number five" spot among Nielsen ratings, have had a few successes over the years but have lacked the ability to pull themselves far enough into success to avoid constant concern about folding.

The stations obviously hope that the merger will strenghen the lineup and make a fifth network alternative a permanent reality. At this point, the two stations will be taking the best shows in their lineup to put on the merged network in the fall.

Already, fan communities invovled in the various WB and UPN shows are concerned as to how this might affect their shows. The negatives is that some shows will have to be dropped when the networks are chosen. On the other hand, the positive is that the lineup for the new network--which will be called the CW Network--should be a much stronger contender.

How should the executives interact with the fan bases to decide what to keep and what to discard from the network lineup? What are the futures of shows that don't make the cut? Is this a place where transmedia could come in, where the network could promote shows that can't make the television lineup through the Internet?

Should the network think about branding itself in choosing content or instead choose the top shows from both networks, even if they don't fall into a consistent brand?

(Oh, and don't worry--it appears WWE Smackdown is safe!)

For more information on the big merger, see the full press release here.

January 24, 2006

Top-down strategies on sexuality in American media

Apparently, George Bush seems to be less than eager to watch Ang Lee's 'western' Brokeback Mountain according to spiegel.de/ . More surprising, however, is the fact that conservative film producer Michael Class now took the initiative and intends to create and award for films fostering the "moral values of the Americans" which display "patriotic sentiments and respect for the family" (translations from German). Recent films like Syriana and Munich are, according to Class, "morally confusing". Interestingly, on his list of films compatible with a conservative value system are recent blockbusters like Harry Potter, Star Wars and Narnia. Well, at the moment it seems to be a call for action only but a somewhat alarming tendency.
Fittingly, the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) apparently decided to put a legal end to the (in)famous 'booth babes', announcing a $5000 penalty on this year's E3 exhibitors violating the new 'dress code'...

January 23, 2006

Stephen King, CELL, and EW

For those of you that have read about the history of complex storytelling, many people trace the trends currently taking hold of television to the serialization of Charles Dickens' novels and other popular serials throughout the years (including those great 1940s Batman and Robin serial flicks I used to collect).

It's not as if this is a phenomenon that has gone away, though. That thought struck me as I was reading through this week's Entertainment Weekly, which included the first two chapters of Stephen King's CELL.

I'm not a big Stephen King fan, really just because I've never read any of his books, but my understanding is that he is an author that has quite a good grasp on issues like product placement and transmedia. He isn't afraid to share the first two chapters of his book or to try new methods of distribution (such as eBooks and releasing books a piece at a time). And I can't say that it's hurt him in the least when it comes to profits.

Has anyone else read through the stories in EW (where King is a regular columnist)? And for those of you who are probably far more experienced with King than I am, does he do this for a lot of his books?

January 19, 2006

Podcasting begins for As the World Turns

For those of you who follow this blog even semi-regularly, you've probably caught a lot of my posts on the world of soap opera. In fact, my thesis here at MIT involves the soap opera industry's adaptation to new ways to communicate with their fan communities and instances of transmedia storytelling.

With that in mind, the soap opera I am a fan of, As the World Turns, officially began podcasting this past week, with the podcasts available for download to MP3 players. The podcast is the dialogue from the show without music or background noise and with an audio narrator to transition scenes.

The show began the service on Monday. Its Procter & Gamble Productions sister show, Guiding Light, has been offering podcasts for a few weeks now and are now including daily commentary from various actors on the show, as well as features on certain characters on certain days.

This is all a part of the CBS Netcast initiative. The network even provides an Internet-only talk show about soaps called CBS Soapbox.

It's a little too early to know where this is going, but the trend is an exciting one to help transition one of television's oldest genres into the 21st Century.

January 17, 2006

Grassroots Journalism and James Frey

As you all may have already picked up on, reading through the week's Entertainment Weekly has become one of my favorite activities. And this week I saw some news that I wouldn't generally expect to see on EW: Gilbert Cruz's brief story on a challenge to the veracity of James Frey's memoir, A Million Little Pieces.

As a journalism major in undergraduate at Western Kentucky University and as a working journalist for several years now, I've always been interested in the impact that new technologies have on a form of media integrated in our country's very fabric: the press. And Smoking Gun's expose accusing Frey of several fabrications in his book is as good of an example as any of grassroots media outlets gaining power.

The Smoking Gun Web site would hardly be considered a traditional journalism source, with its using open records to show arrest reports of celebrities and other major stories. The site is instead indicative of the trend that Dan Gillmor writes about in We the Media, as journalism becomes more and more open source, and the relationship between the traditional press and the readers is becoming murky with the development of the citizen/journalist or the grassroots journalist.

The James Frey episode is added to the list of ways that show how the American public as a whole, a body with collective intelligence, can do so much more than the small number of legitimate or professional journalists covering an area; journalists shouldn't see this as a threat but rather a way to challenge themselves and make themselves better and continue to be a guide as a seal of quality for what's true and what's not. But one thing is for sure--these reader-driven voices must be paid attention to because they are where most of the news stories of today begin.

iTunes Network Ratings Boost and the State of IPTV

Good news for those of us living in the 21st century! NBC is crediting the iTunes Store with boosting their ratings:

NBC's "The Office" delivered a 5.1-its highest ratings ever-last Thursday among adults 18 to 49, a bump the network credits in large part to the show's popularity as an iPod download.

In fact, the series is NBC's top-performing video podcast available on Apple's iTunes, where it has been available since Dec. 6.

Such a connection between podcast success and broadcast ratings success is particularly significant because the NBC data is among the first available evidence of what network executives have been gambling on when striking their new media deals-that the new video platforms are additive because they provide more entry points into a show for consumers.

I've been relatively silent on the IPTV front lately because, to be honest, my primary feeling on the matter right now isn't excitement but fear. Right now both the IPTV and portable video markets are suffering from serious overfragmentation. The iTunes store proved that downloaded music is an extremely viable business model because they managed to get almost every record company on board. Sure, there are still some holdouts, but for the most part whenever I'm struck with the urge to hear new music from popular artists like U2 or obscure and underrated artists like Great Big Sea or Eddie from Ohio I can pop on there and $.99 to ten bucks later I'm a happy customer.

Alas, not so with the video market. Not only is each network offering up only a paltry few shows for downloading, but with so many competitors jumping into the space all at once and each staking out an exclusive claim on different shows, it's getting almost impossible to be an IPTV or mobile video enthusiast. My weekly dedicated TV diet consists of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, The West Wing, Mythbusters, 24, and House. (No emails about how I should be watching Battlestar Galactica or Lost, please – I'm plowing through both shows on DVD whenever I get a chance.) None of these are available yet on the iTunes store, and very few are available anywhere else. Even if I wanted to extend my media diet to shows like How I Met Your Mother and Desperate Housewives, then I would have to use iTunes for one and Yahoo! for the other. Extend this to the one show I watch that did make early moves into the mobile space, 24, and I'd have to switch cellphone providers just to pay more money to watch a halfhearted mobisode spinoff of the show!

People, this is dumb.

My forecast for 2006: media pundits will turn on mobile TV and bemoan how few people use it, completely ignoring the massive barriers to entry that are being thrown up between the fans and the content they want. Imagine if Ben and Jerry's tried to branch out into a new soy-based ice cream, but only offered three obscure flavors or made their customers switch from VISA to MasterCard in order to get the new soy version of Chubby Hubby – then cancelled the line because of "low customer interest." To overextend this analogy, imagine if a third party then began providing a DIY soy ice cream maker and people began posting recipes on the Internet using materials from your local grocery store. That ice cream maker? That's BitTorrent, and I for one am discovering the joys of DIY Phish Food. I don't like having to make it myself, and I'd happily pony up the cash to get it otherwise, but it's the only way I can get exactly what I want exactly when I want it.

People like Chris Thilk at TVSquad are already making snarky comments like "I think it's more than a little funny that people are turning to the shows on TV after trying them out on iTunes. After all, you pay $1.99 a pop on iTunes to "try" an episode that, if you had watched it when it was aired, would have cost you nothing." This is an excellent example of blatantly missing the point – people like me downloaded music from Napster because we couldn't get exactly what we wanted exactly when we wanted it anywhere else. You can't find Eddie from Ohio or Great Big Sea in Wal-Mart, and the number of times I failed to find an obscure album in even megastores like Virgin or Tower Records was ridiculous – and never mind the number of times the store was closed because it was 4AM on a Sunday morning. Those problems are gone with the iTunes store for music, and when the TV companies really get their stuff together and all provide all their shows on one unified service the IPTV and mobile video markets will explode. I watched The Night Stalker on iTunes (it stunk, but it wasn't a category-killer) and I'd happily give other obscure shows a chance at random times whenever I have a free minute, but I'm not going to TiVo something randomly. If the TiVo recommends and downloads Supernatural for me, fine – but you won't see a dime of that money, and chances are good that it won't. So why not put Supernatural on the iTunes store and let me throw you two bucks for the ability to watch it at 4AM on Sunday morning?

We've said it over and over again here at C3, I've said it twice already in this post, and now I invite you to say it with me at home: people want exactly what they want exatly when they want it – and when the property owners refuse to give it to them they lose out on revenue, generate resentment from the fans and drive them to illegal alternatives. This isn't just fans! This is a whole nation of causal viewers for whom it is impossible to schedule their lives around a silly TV schedule but find themselves with bizarre little pockets of time (like 4AM on a Sunday) they want to fill with something interesting. Pick whatever metaphor you want – whether it's a peasant killing deer on the king's land or freezing up your own batch of soy Coffee! Coffee! Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!, I don't care. The bottom line is this: a huge market opportunity is being wasted in Hollywood, most of us would-be viewers already use a working model every time we buy music, and we demand to know why Hollywood is wasting time.

So there it is in a nutshell. I fear for the IPTV and mobile video market, but if there are any Hollywood execs reading this post, please – I beseech you. Make your big 2006 New Year's resolution to make me, on 4AM on Sunday, January 7th 2007, just two bucks and one click away from watching Stargate on my computer, my cell phone, or my video iPod. I'll be here waiting with my pint of Cherry Garcia.

January 16, 2006

Homebrew Eyetoy Games ith Flash and the Status of the Peripheral

This is not exactly news since Flash8 was published last summer but recently the authoring tool is being increasingly used as a means for creating homebrew Eyetoy-style games and applications via the built-in .camera and .microphone classes and the BitmapData class. This new functionality makes it exceedingly easy to use difference blending (i.e. checking for color differences between two keyframes) to detect motion and implement gesture-control for webbased applications.
Furthermore, the recent 3rd generation drivers for the Sony Eyetoy allow users to plug even the new silver edition Eyetoys into their Windows XP/ 2003 Server PC and create games for it which come as close to commercial Eyetoy games as Indie games ever came to commercial-quality products. I'm playing around with a few demos at the moment and will post a link to the results when I have something.
Making a 'peripheral' device easily programmable by amateurs, however, IMO alters the 'status' of the hardware and its usage. While most PS2 and other console peripherals like Lightguns, the Gametrak or other, more bizarre controllers operated as a 'black box' which is plugged into the console and (hopefully) does what it's supposed to do, the programmable Eyetoy as an interface will probably change the way players interpret it as their interface to the game.
Maybe it will also boost the Eyetoy sales in the US which, as far as I'm informed, are less than satisfying at present; i.e., before the new eyetoy is released...

January 13, 2006

Terrorist TV

(Via Billmon)

Two Iraqi insurgent groups are producing TV shows (one with a talk show frame), in which military operations and the executions of members of rival militias are shown on-screen. Nibras Kazimi gives us the lowdown:

Remember the days when a bunch of ragtag hoodlums in ski-masks and training suits would hover over a hapless victim to read their jihadist manifesto? ...Well, times have changed if the latest video installment from the "Media Division of the Jaish Ansar Al-Sunna" is any measure to go by. In this 30 minute video, we see two individuals, Abu Munther Al-Ansari, and Abu Ahmad Al-Baghdadi, comfortably sitting in a studio modeled along a talk-show format... And I'm not talking about two stools and a desk; this is a modern studio with ample lighting, three camera angles and nice woodwork.

The Jaish Ansar Al-Sunna's talk show has hosts in ski masks, and shows clips of their attacks on US military targets, as well as their takeover of a neighborhood. (It's being distributed in RealAudio format.)

Their competition is the Omar Brigade of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, who have assembled their own version of Cops:

Zarqawi's Omar Brigade (set-up to kill and capture members of SCIRI's Badr Brigade) showcases a bunch of captured Badrists and has them utter their confessions on tape. This 11 minute video... 'interviews' about seven men, all of whom seem to have been recruited by 'Abu Zemen'... They all confess to all sorts of crimes from "raping Sunni virgins" to spying on the insurgents and giving away the locations of safe-houses and arms caches.

Abu Zemen, whose confession is shown towards the very end after we hear voice-overs from Zarqawi condemning Shias in general, lists the goals of the Badr Brigade as follows: to distribute drugs, to kill Sunnis and rape their women, and to kill Sunni university professors, doctors, and ex-officers.

The video ends with Abu Zemen being shot in the back of the head, as well as having his house blown-up [sic].

This is disturbing on so many levels.

January 12, 2006

Lessig on Second Life Jan 18

CC activist, IP lawyer and Internet scholar Larry Lessig will make an in-game appearance on Second Life next week. He has had a customized avatar kitted out for him and there will be virtual books for him to sign.

Date: Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Time: 5:30PM - 7:30PM Pacific Standard/Second Life Time
Place: Borrowdale/41/56 (the Pooley Auditorium)

http://secondlife.blogs.com/nwn/2006/01/lawrence_lessig.html...for cute avatar pix and more details.

January 11, 2006

Cultural Touchstones

Last night's episode of Scrubs featured a choreographed fight scene set to "King Fu Fighting." Hilarious, yes, but it got me thinking about cultural touchstones - those memes or IPs that can be referenced and commonly understood. (Of course, in the case of the Scrubs fight scene, there are layers of references, as "Kung Fu Fighting" itself is a reference - but that sort of analysis is for another time.)

Sitcoms like Scrubs or Family Guy often reference multiple different cultural touchstones to communicate a joke and descriptions of books and movies (whether to friends or to industry insiders) are often peppered with references to other works.

It is interesting is that fandom reverses this idea, using a single touchstone as a starting point, then expanding references around it - which can take the form of a collection of sound clips tied together by anime (and made by anime fans) or any given Star Wars parody.

Unique Advertising in EW

This week's EW featured two powerful and interesting ads, I thought, from various perspectives.

The first comes at the beginning of the magazine and is a two-page spread advertising all of the various Law & Order shows on NBC. They have all the characters from all three L&O franchises stretched across the page, appearing as if they are in the middle of an investigation. Behind them is a facsimile of Times Square, with several media properties particularly noticable--a Virgin sign, Loews Theatres, Planet Hollywood, Marriott, Kodak, and Novotel, with two huge ads in the background for the iPod and Universal's King Kong.

The ad is a success in two ways--both as not just showing transmedia but as showing crossover within the various television shows of a particular media property, L&O, with all of the characters appearing in one scene, despite being on their various shows. Further, it has product placement within an advertisement, something that is more and more possible but has only been utilized occasionally. I don't know if it has ever been done quite so well as in this ad.

Similarly, I thought the idea from L'Oreal Paris was interesting. They provide a pullout ballot for the Golden Globe Awards, with four L'Oreal ads appearing on the backs of the ads featuring Beyonce Knowles and two models. I've already torn the ad out and plan to use it for the Globes, so it was at least somewhat of a success. This may feel a little more gimmicky; I don't know. But it's an effective way to make it feel as if the ballot is "brought to you by L'Oreal."

Celebrity iTunes playlists

The idea of cool hunters is not a new one, but one form of cool-hunting rising in popularity is finding out what tunes celebrities download to their iPods. A new form of marketing at least somewhat based on reality, the iPod playlists are simutalenously an advertisement for Apple's iPod and iTunes, the cool celebrity who is releasing the list, and all of the cool musicians on the list.

Case in point: in this week's Entertainment Weekly's "The Must List," a regular feature in the magazine, they list the top 10 things you must see for the week. Number three on the list is the playlist of Fred Armisen from Saturday Night Live.

Is this just part of an iPod fad or a potential new avenue in advertising revenue, product crossover, etc. One would suspect this only works as long as you can be sure this is the authetic feeling of the celebrity and not something he or she is solely paid to say, but the trend is certainly getting the attention of consumers with placement like this.

January 10, 2006

Learnings from the 2006 CES Show Floor

Like over 100,000 of my closest friends, I immersed myself in the sea of consumer technology that is CES. As the tsunami of convergence washed over us on the convention floor, a few trends became apparent:

1) iPod envy. While Apple doesn't do CES, preferring Mac World Expo instead, it seemed every manufacturer was touting iPod this, iPod that. While all the usual applications where represented, such as docking an iPod into a home or automobile audio system, my favorite was the iDJ iPod DJ Mixer from Ion.

If anyone can be responsible for kicking convergence into gear, it's Apple. While mp3 players existed before the iPod, it's the iPod's ubiquity and household name that taught consumers they could hold their record collection in their hand and listen to it anywhere. Once that behavior becomes easily understandable, people apply it to other media as well.

2) The manufacturers are creating convergence devices full throttle, and they're starting to work with content providers and networks to make the convergence dream come true. From GPS devices that also play mp3 files, video game players that have GPS in them, to cell phones that play mp3 files, to 3G cell phones that clan play video, devices that can do more than one thing are the mainstream future, based upon the large number of these devices at CES.

Which leads to...

3) Content Everywhere. The infrastructure is being put in place to deliver content on all these unteathered devices. Eg: MobiTV, allows you to watch TV and listen to "radio" on your cell phone. Slingbox allows you to access your TV anywhere you have a broadband connection; or the new Yahoo Go! service, which was a favorite shown on many devices from TiVo to Nokia cell phones, to AT&T's Home Zone, to a mirror in your bathroom in Yahoo!'s house of the future.

Which fits hand in glove with...

4) Content on demand. Tivo. Sirus' Tivo-like device for satellite radio, the S50. Akimbo this. Napster that. Google's pay for view video download service. At CES, appointment television was dead.

The hardware manufacturers have the convergence religion, will consumers? Will convergence happen in our short attention lifetimes? It will if:

- Digital Rights Management doesn't strangle ease of use, or cross consumer expectations.
- Studios and other content owners/creators can price reasonably and give consumers the control they want.
- Distribution networks like cell phones and cable don't balkanize content by putting up barriers.
- All of the above works well together.

Fun gadgets from the CES tradeshow floor:

- Vex Robotic Design System from Radio Shack. Build your own robots, compete with them. Lego Mindstorms were also there.

- XavixPort, a device that allows you to hook up various sporting equipment so that you can get a workout "playing" a video game along the lines of Dance, Dance, Revolution

- Various VOIP Wifi phones, including Netgear's Skype Phone and Vonage's Wifi Phone from UTStarcom among others. There was also a USB VOIP phone. It's early, but VOIP should be cheaper than POTS in most areas and in Cities with ubiquitous wifi, like Philly and San Francisco in the near future, wifi phones make sense.

- The iRobot Scooba, an autonomous robot that cleans floors.

- The Xebra electric car, proving that if it has to do with electrons, then it's a consumer electronic device.

January 9, 2006

Back Covers as Cultural Artifacts

Actually the category for this would be something like 'cultural specificity of media properties', given that the back cover of a PS2 game box can be regarded as the 'paratext' of said game, in this case the fairly controversial Killer7. After the debate about the newly elected German government's plans on how to deal with 'killer games' (Killerspielen), the semantics of 'killing/assassination" in German game ad texts seems to be more pervasive than ever. One can only speculate whether the stigmatization of gaming and the focalization of the debate on gaming culture as violence culture support rather than restrict this process; especially bilingual ads as in the Killer7 example (French/German) are very revealing in this regard, While the French text highlights the multiperspectivity of the game and employs a neutral tone (incarnez l'assassin ou la victime, frappez avant que le 'Sourire Céleste' ne vous touche), the German parallel text uses an infinitely more aggressive and personalized style (Toete oder werde getoetet! Drück ab, bevor Dich die Kreaturen in Stuecke reissen! -> Kill or be killed. Push the trigger before the creatures tear you to pieces!). Other examples in the text show the same tendency.
Bringing up cultural discrepancies as an 'explanation' would be an easy way out, in my opinion. While this is certainly a symptom of cultural overlaps and many subtleties of the messages are 'lost in translation', the underlying factors are quite complex. Unfortunately, the is seldom an opportunity to look at examples in a culturally comparative way since there is no archive (yet?) at hand. Maybe a worthwhile endeavour? I'll start collecting from now on...

January 6, 2006

Toys as Transmedia

Now that the gift-giving of the holidays has subsided, I can begin to reflect on what the time of year means to a lot of people. Namely, toys.

Toys of successful franchises are transmedial entertainment in a corporation-approved setting. Children use the medium of action figures and dolls to create their own stories based on the IP of others. Toy makes have succeeded where purveyors of nonphysical media are still struggling: encouraging the audience to participate in the story.

There is, at least, some hope that we all can learn from toy makers.

StrategyWiki: The New GameFAQs?

Joystiq reports that a new collaborative website (StrategyWiki) is seeking to claim the title of "best free alternative to strategy guides" from gamefaqs.com.

Personally, once I found Gamefaqs, there were only two reasons I ever bought strategy guides. The first was to get production art and elaborately detailed statistics for complex games like Disgaea and Makai Kingdom. (Doublejump Books is by far the best commercial strategy guide company on the market. Bradygames is okay, while Prima's guides are complete rubbish.) The second was for games like Valkyrie Profile, in which maps and visual aids are key to understanding how the heck to proceed at some points. If StrategyWiki lives up to its promise, the second reason to buy strategy guides will be gone.

Of course, Wikis have their own drawbacks, as Tycho of Penny Arcade so eloquently pointed out last month. Given how contentious debates over what the optimal strategy for a given game is can be, it will be interesting to see how StrategyWiki deals with the inevitable differences of opinion that will crop up.

January 5, 2006

The Paratext of Fan Fiction

The fan communities that generate fan fiction are quite serious about their work.

For those who dismiss the work as either either the writing of fringe "geeks" with no real talent or education or else just the shoddy stories of bored teens or unemployed young adults...Well, that probably does apply to some of the population, but, by and large, the fan community is full of talented and aspiring writers who are serious about the fan fiction they create and the larger community of fan fiction writers that they are a part of.

Case in point--see this recent post by OneStone32 on the fanficrants community site on LiveJournal.

OneStone32 and those who respond to him are discussing the importance of labelling techniques in archiving fan fiction stories. The art of archiving shows the importance this fan community sees in their work as an extension to "official" content in a fictional series or else as a body of work all in its own, an official canon of work in a particular film series.

This type of information--the labels for what a story or group of stories is--is the paratext, and labeling what a story is and what it means to the stories that surrounds it is an important part of not only "legitimate" published writing but fan fiction as well.

Be sure to view this metacommentary on the art and rules of fan fiction, especially for anyone not well associated with the online world of fan fiction writing.

eBooks: Has their time come?

Gizmodo reports from CES that Sony's new reader (which is based off of E-Ink's e-paper technology) is looking very nice:

To give you an idea of just how good this display looks... I walked up to the counter, looked at the text on the screen and asked, "So when will you have working units to play with?" The reply: "This is a working reader." I mistakenly though the text on the screen was some kind of plastic overlay--that's how ink-like it looked. Then the PR rep increased the text size, searched through the table of contents and showed me some Manga comics. It is the first e-reader that seemed like I could sit down and spend hours on without experiencing eye strain.

Other notable features: There's no backlight, and no visible flicker. It's small and lightweight, accepts Memory Sticks and SD flash memory cards, has a USB port, and can be used to view downloaded websites. Sony asserts that the battery can support 7,500 page turns.

If all the above is true, and if Sony releases this at an affordable price point with decent third-party support, the long-promised age of eBooks may be at hand.

Assuming that happens, the publishing industry will have to deal with the same kinds of piracy issues that the music, film, and games industries are facing. There may be a way around this problem, however. Several science fiction authors (notably Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing) have released electronic versions of their novels under the creative commons license. These books (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Eastern Standard Tribe, and Accelerando being a few examples) have enjoyed much higher hardcopy sales than books by comparable authors with comparable promotion budgets.

Like in the anime industry (and *ahem* the music industry during Peak Napster) audience exposure to free content has served as a promotional vehicle and driven sales of the "premium" hardcopy versions of these books. While hardcopy may be on its way out, the idea of a two-tiered publishing system, where people who really like an author's work can either donate to the author or purchase some kind of premium eBook edition might well be the wave of the future in publishing.

January 1, 2006

New Year, New Stupid DRM Scheme

EMI insert

Via boing boing:

Coldplay's record label, EMI, has inserted a pleasant little note into all of their new CDs which discloses all the ways they've crippled the CD with DRM. The big problem, however, is pointed out by Cory Doctorow:

Of course, these rules are only visible after you've paid for the CD and brought it home, and as the disc's rules say, "Except for manufacturing problems, we do not accept product exchange, return or refund," so if you don't like the rules, that's tough.

What are the other rules? Here are some gems: "This CD can't be burnt onto a CD or hard disc, nor can it be converted to an MP3" and "This CD may not play in DVD players, car stereos, portable players, game players, all PCs and Macintosh PCs." Best of all, the insert explains that this is all "in order for you to enjoy a high quality music experience." Now, that's quality.

As I've noted before, the major problem with DRM is that it's designed to make inaccessible the exact same content which a media company wants to sell people in the first place. I'm certain that some bored code monkey will find a way around EMI's DRM any day now, and even without that happening, anyone with a CD burner, $12, an iTunes account, and a little sense can already make pirate copies of the album. I'm not even going to go into the level of consumer annoyance this has the potential to produce. People hate being forced to buy the same content twice, and given the trend towards people using iPods and other mp3 players to tote around their music collections, that's essentially what this kind of DRM entails for a large section of Coldplay's fanbase.

(And seriously, who is stupid enough to believe the 'this will maintain your high quality music experience' line? Are they going to change back to releasing albums on 8-tracks if they don't put DRM on CDs?)

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