Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Binge reading matters

Binge reading is something I have been wallowing in since the beginning of May when I belatedly discovered the  Spenser series by the late Robert  M. Parker.

Before I finally delve into the latest volume of the Outlander series by Diana Gabeldon I must re-define the 'binge'. The first book of hers I read in the first half of the nineties, hence the enjoyment of book eight counts not as a binge indulgence... it is merely fidelity. The true binge is to download an author's titles one after the other and read them without interruption. Kerry Wilkinson.makes it very easy with his DS Jessica Daniel procedurals, with three books at a time as a single Kindle click purchase. It's an enjoyable series and I have another three on my device before I return to Outlander. Time spent with the characters invented by  Peter May and by G.M.Ford, Enzo MacLeod and Leo Waterman was by no means wasted. In  each case there were about half a dozen stories. The chronology was (as usual) hard to figure out on Amazon, the pricing policy sometimes bizarre and there was an unaccountable gap in the Ford books with the penultimate volume not offered in Kindle format even if the more recent  title could be had.
Peter May's Enzo Files, stories areset in France and are centred on the work of half-Italian, half-Scottish Enzo Macleod. This former forensic scientist, now working as a biology professor at a French university becomes involved in applying the latest scientific methods to solve cold cases.
May continues ensures authenticity in the details of his books by researching tirelessly. When writing The Critic... which involves the wine industry and is set in Gaillac, France...  May took a course in wine-tasting, picked grapes by hand, and was invited by the winemakers of the region to be inducted as a Chevalier de la Dive Bouteille de Gaillac in December 2007

Ford's first book, Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca? was published in 1995. As well as being Ford's début novel, this book was also the first in a series of seven books based on the character Leo Waterman, a detective working in Seattle, Washington.

Says Ford… “Notice a pattern here?  Seems like I lose interest in a character about six books into the series.  By that time, I’ve shot him, stabbed him, thrown him off bridges and tried to drown him in the river, and am starting to feel sorry for the guy, so I move on to something else.”

Wilkinson's Detective Sergeant is such a well-written female protagonist that Kerry (sort of a gender-agnostic first name) is often obliged to remind us that he is indeed a man! 

And one who writes good stories.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Inflation defined

The year was 1967.

My weekly pay of GBP 35 added up to an annual salary of GBP 1,820.

That's the equivalent of about GBP 27,500 today, very close to the average salary of employees in the United Kingdom in 2014.

But I look at that amount... 1,820... with new eyes since for the past few weeks my daughter has been hunting for a flat to rent in London when she starts her studies next month.

Jessi and Kyra are looking for a furnished flat they can share.

They reckon they will have to pay 1,600 per month... not far short of what I earned per year back in the day when it was sufficient to maintain a family with a one-year-old baby.

Jus' sayin'.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Counting down

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Brash, brazen, beautiful

"All of a sudden, we were gifted a calibre of Hollywood actress who could be both beautiful and bald-faced. Along with good friend Katherine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall quickly cultivated a reputation for her frankness, never retreating from her place as Hollywood glamour-puss. Herein lies one of the most important and influential legacies left behind by Bacall... she gave a voice to the pretty face. And her voice, the voice, was brash, brazen and wrapped in the silky smoked hues of both a sex symbol and intelligent woman, neither mutually exclusive nor exclusionary."

More from The Conversation here

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book branding?

Back in the day when I could call myself a publisher in Switzerland we sold a crazy quantity of large-format books of photography. Our speciality was bringing out books not unlike those Benedikt Taschen put his name to so successfully in the years which followed. Ours were premium priced and distributed by mainstream partners including Collins in London and Morrow in New York. This was in the late seventies and I found myself reflecting on this at the weekend.

This was was the result of my introduction to Spotify. I spent Sunday assembling on the music service my favourite albums of that era. (Fleetwood Mac play as I write). The previous evening my daughter and one of her young men had cooked up a lovely curry and the conversation was as good as the food.

It turned out that Mischa is in the music business, managing a couple of bands. Not a huge surprise… I was doing the same when I was twenty-five. But what I did find very interesting indeed was one of the ways he is responding to the disruptive change which has overtaken the music industry in the decade past, his adoption of a business model which intrigues me greatly.

The book publishing sector is now also trying to cope with change. Indeed there have always been pioneering initiatives, some perhaps ahead of their time. Already at the beginning of the eighties I witnessed a brave attempt in Germany to break free of the strictures of conventional bookselling. Tchibo is to Germany what Folgers is to the United States, the leading coffee brand. And Tchibo has a good thousand retail outlets in prime locations, all with a very heavy footfall. In comparison Germany’s largest branded bookstore chain, Thalia, has only fifty-five branches.

The girl I later married worked for a Munich publisher whose output was exclusively available in the Tchibo retail coffee outlets. The cover prices were very modest, since no middle-men were involved, the print runs were enormous and there was widespread gnashing of teeth among the highly regulated bookselling establishment.

Tchibo cannily exploited a gap in the market, demonstrated out-of-the-box thinking, and even thirty years ago found books a very viable side-line. This was… it must be emphasised… long before Starbucks started putting on sale items which have no relation to their core food and beverage business.

I guess the Tchibo strategem stayed in my mind as we all in our own way tried to deal with the new realities of the internet and a world gone digital. As a storyteller I knew that I must embrace self-publishing, given the improbability of discovery in the slush piles of the established players.

In the nineties my concern was finding new ways of selling 'indie video'. My day job was producing soap opera for established German networks. But how make sales of content which was outside the mainstream? The DVD was a promising new medium at the time. 

Sure, I'd send pretty girls round the 'in' clubs with not cigarettes in their vending tray but with Xandy hat ein Handy on little silver discs! At the time, it must be said, the mobile telephone or 'Handy' was in Germany the next big thing.  That was hard to explain on Saturday evening to Jessi and her digital native with their smartphone so far beyond anything we could ever have dreamed of in the mid-nineties. Well... it might have worked!

It was a hesitant step in this direction that I made about eight years ago. I had thirty-nine chapters of a manuscript and the vague notion that a website-based hybrid form of self-publishing was thinkable for Sex& Drugs& Profiteroles. The idea was to release a chapter per week as an audio podcast hosted on what seemed at the time to be the most promising platform. The first thirteen chapters were to be free, but a one-time payment would be asked for from those wishing to carry on to the end. Each audio ‘chapter’, however, was preceded by a short video clip, a vlog in which the novel's heroine looks back on the events that the story relates.

Each weekly clip then closed with a call to action inciting the user to click through to the audio. The additional effort involved was far from onerous nor particularly demanding in terms of video skills which, in this day and age, are no longer exotic or unduly challenging.

In the case of my own project we didn't get further than Chapter Seven. But this was not on account of any basic flaw in the operational model. At the time I was working in Abu Dhabi and my 'heroine' was at university in England; our only direct collaboration was for the last two chapters which were coveniently locationed in Dubai. And our realization was that a venture of this nature is not made easier when thousands of kilometres lie between the participating creatives. I remain convinced that the video component enhanced the discoverability of the work in text or audio form, even if in 2006 YouTube was by no means as potent as it is today. A story that is difficult to find is a story which will never be read; this being a problem that few of the self-publishing enablers have adequately solved.

In spite of the setback with S&D&P I persist in believing that there are unconventional practices wbich the publishing business could adopt. And this is where what Mischa is doing with his bands set me thinking.

Gone are the days when the major music labels generously financed the productions of new artistes. For some the GarageBand app is enough for ‘self-producers’. But others remain convinced that a professional studio and experts behind the glass help in the creation of high-quality tracks. So who pays for this? Mischa and others are persuading commercial partners that ‘branded entertainment’ offers a way forward. The music end-product is offered exclusively as a bonus to, for instance, subscribers on a particular mobile phone virtual network (MVNO) or shoppers in a specific chain of stores. In a way this draws on the experience of Starbucks with their entertainment offerings.

Musing over this (with Crosby, Stills and Nash to inspire me) I thought back to the Tchibo episode. Might the approach today work for popular fiction? Might the next Fifty Shades Of Grey be on sale exclusively in La Perla or Victoria’s Secret boutiques? Very attractively priced books (possibly in e-book form) at the check out in branches of Zara or H&M, carefully curated to correspond with the profile of the customers of the respective marques? 

Friday, August 08, 2014

Outlander again

Here we have it , then, the latest volume in the Outlander series which I first discovered way back in the nineties. With my own background having both Scottish and American episodes I was captivated by Diana Gabaldon's storytelling. I also liked the time-traveling device which is at the heart of her narrative. The feeling that the oeuvre properly belongs in the historical 'chick-lit' genre never worried me overmuch.

And although the new book in its Kindle edition is in my view overpriced, it will be a download quite soon. I just hope it lives up to my expectations.

In September 2010 I complained that the later "books in the saga of Jamie and Claire have disappointed. In the most recent volume the author simply neglected to offer any kind of even temporary resolution of important sub-plots. This left me feeling, frankly, cheated."

I hope that will not be the case with the big, fat book with which I shall be spending a good few evenings to come.

Coincidentally a television series adaptation of the Outlander series will have its première tomorrow on the American pay network, Starz. Below are probably the 'standing stones' which were Claire's portal from the 20th to the 18th century. Advance reviews and reports concerning the series are quite kind.