Thursday, October 28, 2010

Do publishers need to rethink their approach to egalleys? Or, where I whine about my inability to get everything I want for free

It started when I read Michelle from Galleysmith's review of Carrie Philby by Caren Lissner. The heroine sounded quirky and independent, and I wanted to check it out. She had gotten it through NetGalley, but I couldn't find it there. I did find three other novels while browsing around to request. Imagine my disappointment when the first was returned within minutes with this email (identifying information removed):

I noted the suggestion about the profile, but my twitter, my blog, my website, and my K12 public school email address are all there. I don't know what other credentials I could supply for the publishers to vet me. I have used NetGalley lots, and have praised its excellent environmental model for delivering materials for selection. And since I am paying to have these files converted for my Kindle, I have a vested interest in being selective as far as requests and have made less than a dozen total.

This rejection plunged into a momentary crisis. Obviously, I had been judged by someone and found lacking to be granted access to this digital file. But the more I thought about it, the more offended I became. To me the refusal of the ARC was an absence of professional courtesy. I'm not a book blogger per se, but I have attended kidlitcon and have chaired and am chairing national library association committees. I write about books here and there, I present about ebooks and wrote about them for the June issue of VOYA. And I know I've sold dozens of copies of Sources of Light, which I first read on NetGalley, through glowing recommendation, and more than a handful of Wildthorn which I read from them as an e-galley, too.

But is it strictly a digital anxiety? I have have publishers mail me copies of ARCs, including the publisher in question. I could digitize and distribute those if piracy was my true intention. But it doesn't make me want to look for the ARC at NCTE or ALA Midwinter. Sour grapes, maybe, but still. So I began to think about what requires the publisher to mediate these requests in the first place. Was it an issue of which book I requested? It was a paranormal romance. Does that make it ripe for pirating?

One of my other requests was granted. I'm waiting to hear about the third. And Carina Press, the digital-only imprint, is going DRM-free...

Monday, October 25, 2010

ebooks: modern-day travel checkers?

One of my favorite moments of the School Library Journal Summit on the Future of Reading involved one of Frances Harris's self-possessed and articulate students saying he didn't purchase first-generation hardware. I admire him from a philosophical point-of-view, and while I believe all files should be device-agnostic as well, I have a real weakness for gadgets, even the ones riddled with the DRM the students also cannily rejected.

I remain convinced that the Kindle delivers the superior reading experience and am working on an ereader pilot project. But, unlike many librarians who have been lauding Amazon for allowing access for up to six simultaneous devices, I plan to begin by using only public domain text without DRM restrictions to manage manually. Isn't that utterly scalable? And we have enough call for spare copies of The Count of Monte Cristo, Ethan Frome, Edgar Allan Poe and Alice in Wonderland that Gutenberg alone could keep hundreds of devices in constant use. Of course, I believe the ultimate leap will be to student-owned hardware that kids can manage themselves.

I have been thinking about ereading for pleasure in terms of thinking about my own adoption of digital video. I purchased my first modern piece of Apple technology as soon as the video iPod became available. Prior to that shift, I had been using a Sony player with a similarly proprietary format and software management system. But the video capabilities proved sufficiently enticing to pull me to the other side. I found it fascinating I was able to download a digital file of a Hollywood blockbuster, a network series that updated itself each week, and converting my own files to watch on that tiny screen or hook into the television.  I remember watching Psych and Heroes for the first time from iTunes.

But my digital consumption habits have shifted in the past year. I realized that I have only purchased one series, from the BBC, in almost 18 months, and I haven't watched any of those episodes yet. The Kindle had supplanted the iPod video in my estimation. I have never used the Kindle daily, it was almost always a device for either travel or convenience, and sometimes for sheer novelty as with the videos or games. The fact of the matter is that there is too much good video content out there for free for me to continue paying the prices demanded for corporately controlled files which, as Francey's students noted as well, I cannot share or convert.   

Because the models are so unfriendly to libraries, the shift to ebooks produces equity issues as well. I bristled when one presenter mentioned requiring permission slips for ereaders. After all, those aren't required for texts of comparable cost or the reference books it's all the rage to interfile and circulate. And there are issues of access. I would never invest in browser-based ebooks (rather than downloadable files) because so many of my students wouldn't be ABLE to connect from home. I'm also concerned about prohibitions against simultaneous use, and 24-hour minimum checkouts when seven periods of students could be using the same print text. 

When I read about the Publishers Association suggesting that physical barriers to downloads limited to library premises, I realized I had to consider my own consumption habits. It's important to not to support models that don't take the missions of libraries and schools into account. On the whole, the Summit reinforced for me the absolute distinction between reading for pleasure and reading for information. Most of the speakers focused on factual retrieval rather than leisure reading, and while that is one role of the school library program, it is not the only one. I think of Elizabeth Hardwick, 

"The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination."

And, like the video iPod, I almost only opt to use the Kindle when traveling. And I wonder what the next miniaturized toy for the airplane will be? I once compared ereaders to electronic football games, but now I think they might be closer to those tiny versions magnetic of travel checkers. Effective and diverting, but no real threat to the more robust and pleasingly tactile objects.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My life as a reader

This meme was too fun not to jump into... Melanie Holtsman from Jacksonville my fellow NYC '08 Google Certified Teacher, is starting a fall blogging challenge, and for the first week offered this prompt:
What is your life as a reader like? Do you read for work, pleasure, instructions or emails? What is your favorite author and/or genre? What is your favorite reading spot? What did you like to read when you were the age of your students? 
Reading has been a constant in my life since before I was school age. I read for work, constantly scanning feeds for resources I can share with my faculty or ideas for student projects. Most days, I read blogs and tweets and articles online and in print. I also read for pleasure, averaging about four or five books a week, more if we're on vacation. As a high school librarian, I read a lot of YA literature, but my favorite genre is that of British domestic fiction, classics like D.E. Stevenson and Barbara Pym and newer comfort reading like Maeve Binchy, Sophie Kinsella, and Joanna Trollope. I adore Agatha Christie. Phillip Roth is another of my favorites, he seldom disappoints. I have also discovered over the past few years that I have a bit of a taste for science fiction. I still have a hard time with "fantasy."

When I was in high school, I read most of what I came into contact with -- classics, lurid Jacqueline Susann and Judith Krantz novels, some YA. I liked the Sunfire historical romance series and Maggie Adams, Dancer and Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington and Marjorie Morningstar by Howard Wouk. I re-read Gone with the Wind and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn regularly. I read American Psycho in high school, and, pretentiously enough, Ezra Pound's Cantos. I loved Katherine Anne Porter and Sylvia Plath and Erica Jong and Rona Jaffe pretty equally. I thought Absalom, Absalom! was the best book I was required to read for school, with To the Lighthouse a close second.

Thanks, Melanie, for giving me license to think about this for a little bit. I'm not sure I'll be in every week, but I'm excited for the Book that Changed your Life...


School, in books

I suppose we all choose to return to places where we feel comfortable. I've been reading a lot about school lately.

Not That Type of Girl by Siobhan Vivian. Natalie is an overachiever with her eyes firmly on the post-graduation prize, but she's susceptible to the charms of a bad boy...I especially enjoyed Natalie's conflicted relationship with Spencer, the girl she once babysat who is now running wild. It recreates a sense of high school competition rather faithfully. I think this will be popular.

You by Charles Benoit. Kyle is an sympathetic underdog who meets a Faustian newcomer out to exploit his weaknesses. This book starts strong, with a heady sense of adolescent obsession and a nice sense of sibling fidelity, but its ending was a little pat and did not really push the envelope. There will be inevitable comparisons to Cormier.

The Ivy by Lauren Kunze and Rina Onur. Set at Harvard, this book does a generally good job exploring the strange things that happen your first year away at college. Not terribly plot-heavy, and at moments strangely melancholy instead of frothy. Somehow, the characters seem younger than I felt at that age. First in a series.

Invisible Girl by Mary Hanlon Stone.  Not strictly a "school" book as it begins over the summer, but Stephanie's life with her abusive "bar slut" mother in Massachusetts is a crazy contrast with that of her prosperous family friends in California. They become suspicious of Stephanie after her insecurities cause her to misrepresent her life in Boston. Will appeal to the many teens who want to read stories of abuse and neglect.