Wk19: Wrapped Up in eBooks – the Australian side.

Apple's iPad with iBooks

This column is all about trying to write about new ideas. So much writing about digital online, and trying to say something that no one else has said is tough. But this week is an easy one. One big gaping hole that I have seen under-reported, and for Australia, unreported.

Why is the Apple iBookstore so utterly devoid of books? And in Australia, it is even worse?

I’ve covered the idea of “paperless” before, but what about the nuts and bolts of the ebook market as it stands today? And in Australia?

iPads are expensive, but the cost can be better justified if you were going to put a couple of hundred towards an ebook reader. And despite a lovely reading experience – the is NOTHING to read.

Well, not nothing. But pretty close.

For the last few months, I have had dozens of books I’ve been looking to read. And absolutely none are available on iBooks. We are not talking obscure ones either.

The new Tina Fey memoir (although it seems to be up now)
Street Gang – the new book about Sesame Street
That last Woody Allen book.
The Sondheim biography.
That Tom Waits bio….
…and so on.

Not particularly obscure books. But the point is this –

I’m WANTING to buy my first ebook, and so far I haven’t been able to. I am waving my credit card at you, begging for you to take it. Why don’t you want my money?

Let’s do a quick compare – iBooks Top 10 vs Dymocks Top 10. Only one – Charlaine Harris’s Dead Reckoning – appears in both lists. The rest of it is filled up by 99c books. Repurposed classics like 1984. Not to mention a huge collection of Free books.

iBooks are developing a different audience than a bookshop. The demographics are vastly different. The e-reader base in Australia is miniscule.

But they don’t come close to replicating a bookshop experience. Where I would say iTunes covers off 90% of what you can find in a regular Sanity store – what would you say for books? 20%? 10%?

But there is a bigger story here – which is some types of books have not become digital. Specifically – anything designed for a coffee table. How is an iPad supposed to replicate that? Of those cute little novelty books at the counter.

Other types are better suited to apps. Cookbooks, travel guides and dictionaries can be bought in the App Store, not iBooks.

So iBookstore is little more than a store for novels. And there is a gap for it to expand. Magazines. Comics. Newspapers. An e-reader can handle any text. Why restrict it to one type – novels?

But even for novels, iBookstore is shockingly lacking. No Harry Potter! No JD Salinger. No “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Genre stuff like Star Wars novels. Not even Da Vinci Code. Surely if any ebook will sell, it would be evergreen sellers like the ones above?

So where the bloody hell are they?

I don’t know – but my guess is they are crippled by the same fears we saw in the music industry a decade ago.

– Cost

Digitising, en masse, costs time and money.

– Red tape

New formats come new rights, royalties and deals. Some bigger authors could be squeezing more money. Some publishers may not be able to report digital sales. There are contracts to consider.

– Fear of supporting a format that makes less money

An odd one, but big at the time for music. Why support digital, when the money is in CDs? (The reason is CDs are dying and to not be left behind, and to make more money out of fewer people)

– Artistic stand offs

Like AC/DC and Metallica, some authors might be making a stand.

– Territory rights

A big one for Australia. A book could be cleared for e-sale in the US, but they haven’t investigated Australian rights (or anyone else outside of the US), so to play it safe they don’t allow AU sales.

All this is very frustrating for the people who pay for the people making these decisions – the readers. We don’t care about that stuff. I want to buy a book for my iPad. LET ME.

Why can’t I see the iBookstore on the web? You can only access it via an iOS device. What is the point of that? Kindle’s store is online and easy.

Why is it not just part of the bigger iTunes store? Why not attract those 50 million customers you have?

And why are ebooks not much cheaper? Most new releases seem to be $20, more than an iTunes album. Looking at Fifth Witness – $23 on Dymocks, $20 at iBookstore. Bossypants – $25/$20. Seems as though it should be cheaper no? At least around the same as an album.

I’m not usually cynical, but this time, I think perhaps Apple doesn’t want people to be able to see just how awful iBookstore is. How expensive it all is. And how bad the range is.

I did finish my first ever eBook the other day. I found a digital, pirated copy of the Tina Fey memoir. I couldn’t buy it anywhere (although it’s out now).

And it was great. I got over the fear of taking out the iPad on the train. I read the end of it in a park. Readability and navigation was all fine.

One thing that did annoy me was I couldn’t do anything else with the iBooks app. Searching for new books, looking at other books, would take me out of Tina’s. Closing the program meant I needed to actually search for the Tina Fey book just to pick up where I left off.

The other problem is, once again, I have nothing to read. I am now carrying a Charlie Brooker hardcover with me everywhere I go. Didn’t I get an iPad to prevent this?

I can be forgiving. The ebook market, especially is Australia, is just terrible for everyone – not just Apple. There are so many challenges ahead.

– Sorting out rights to international books.

– Sorting out a format that can hold all kinds of book content

– Think harder about the pricing

– Building excellent stores with good selections

– Building a reader base that uses e-readers

Because right now it is horrid. To the point where there kind of is no ebook market in Australia.

And it was very, very easy for me to find a pirated copy of Tina Fey’s book. I’m sure I could find more. And once again, industry will be racing against piracy.

And if it’s anything like music, it’s the Australian book industry has to wake up fast and embrace ebooks.

(thanks to Jess for the title)

30 for 30: Star Trek

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

10. STAR TREK

The cast of the original series of Star Trek

I watched and loved a lot of Star Trek. It’s not my favourite show ever, but has been with me for over half my life.

I’m a nerd! And not even the cool type of nerd that’s become hip. Fuck those pussies. I’m an actual nerd. And with that, comes Star Trek.

But the world conspired against me. It used to be on 4 nights a week when I was a teenager, and I usually slept in front of the TV anyway. It was, for several years, Star Trek followed by Letterman. This was how I grew up.

From age 12 or so, up until now. There’s simply no other show that has lasted this long. There are 725 episodes (across 29 seasons) and 11 films. So one and half times the Simpsons, and Star Trek were hour long episodes. Once I got in, how could I not be affected? It’s almost 800 hours of television!

I bring up Star Trek to stop people who I am bored with talking to me.

It’s pretty awful for anyone involved in the making of Star Trek, but I have often, very often, used Star Trek as a conversation killer. And sometimes a date killer.

OK, not so much a date killer. But sometimes you are talking to someone to see where they are at. And sometimes I come across cooler than I am – blame the job and the love of jokes. And when I realise I’ve wasted a drink or two talking to some girl I have no interest in, I bring up Star Trek.

It is pretty amazing how quickly the conversation stops. To most women, you’ve just turned into a slug or something.

It is even quite easy to do.

ALL you have to do is, when you’ve already started talking about stuff, say “Hey, you don’t watch Star Trek do you?”

It’s a beautiful line.

Because it looks like I am interested in furthering this connection. And the way I want to get to know you better is through Star Trek.

There are, as far as I’ve been able to determine, 3 reactions.

1) A quick dismissal. Maybe 3 or 4 more minutes of chatting, then next toilet, smoke or weak excuse break, our seats will be gone and we wont talk again.

2) A feigned (or genuine) interest. Basically the girl tries to engage in this conversation. This is a BOLD move on her part. She is going where no women drinking at this bar has gone before.

Oh, what do I like about it, you ask?

Well, I like the PREMISE. How it’s just a blank page for good writers to hang strong Sci-Fi IDEAS. (That goes down a treat with the ladies).

Oh you know Spock is Vulcan?

Actually, he’s a HALF Vulcan. (His mum was a human). (Girls love that line).

I’m not trying to be obnoxious really. This is just how I speak about nerdy stuff, that includes Trek.

Anyway, that soon ends.

3) The woman I am talking to is actually a Star Trek fan and we talk about Star Trek.

THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED.

I have used this tactic over 100 times. Yes, part of it was when I discovered it, I tried it out a lot. But god, there are a lot of annoying women out there, and sometimes I just want to talk to my friends.

And never, ever once, have I met a female Star Trek fan in the wild.

I haven’t seen every second of Star Trek. But I’ve seen a lot of it.

The original 60s stuff with William Shatner? Check. Seen them all.

The Jean Luc Picard/Patrick Stewart stuff with the robot? Yup.

Deep Space Nine, the lesser known one with the black guy that everyone compared Obama to, in the comics and sci-fi world anyway? Yup.

Voyager, the one with the woman captain? Say maybe half of that.

Enterprise, the one with the guy from Quantum Leap (and the god awful Diane Warren song). Again about half.

I read some of the original novels. One of my favourite comic book writer – Peter David – wrote some great stories.

I’ve seen all the movies, although I only just saw the 10th one, after the 11th one came out.

But my interests waned. In school, when I watched anything and everything, I caught every episode. When Deep Space Nine was cancelled in 1999, my active interest died there too. Like comics, I took a break, and music took over my life completely.

I don’t know a terrible amount of people who like Star Trek at all.

James likes it because we both grew up with it. Casey likes it, I think for the same reason as me – it was on and we watched a lot of TV as teens. Nigel. Really, I am running out here. You either like it, or you don’t. And then there’s that 3rd level where you loved it.

A girl I liked had a housemate who was really into Trek – she was a girl too. She had Trek stuff in the house – a big stand up cut out of a character from memory. I didn’t know her very well, but I told her I liked Star Trek.

Funny though because she got defensive. A bit dismissive. Oh, that old thing. I wasn’t being patronising – I’m a fan – but I guess for her, she’s had to put up with a lot being a Trek fan. People make fun, patronise and flat out misunderstand.

Not that it really matters, but she was a very attractive girl as well. She would be by no means a social outcast. But she was in the fanclub or something, and hung out with a group where she can express her interest. I just wish that she would have talked to me – not so we could have talked, but that the world has made her hide.

In the UK, I’m not sure I’ve met one Star Trek fan. I know quite a few Americans though – it’s where the show was created, and it’s natural, cultural home. It is a bit of an American view of the future.

Which is all very odd, because so much of Star Trek is in popular culture. Phrases like “where no man has gone before” appear everywhere (like in the end of Almost Famous). “Live long and prosper.” 50% of Futurama is pretty much Trek. Like chess – I don’t understand how you can see this world without knowing the basics of Star Trek. What do you think when someone mentions Warp Speed or something? Do you walk through life like it’s one big joke you don’t get?

I was very excited when the new Star Trek movie came out. I saw Star Trek: First Contact in the cinema, and was pretty excited to revisit this world in a darkened cinema and a big screen.

Above I stated that there are over 750 hours of Star Trek. Well, that new movie would be in the top 20 hours of that 750.

Not a terrible amount happens, but it’s a fun action film with some cool ideas. But what really got me is the tone of the film. I really hated Dark Knight, and that dramatic, emo bullshit. I’m an optimist and the future is bright. And Star Trek, that new movie, was bright.

It is the main reason I love Star Trek. It is so optimistic. There is no drama within the crew. They work on each week’s threat together. People of all races and genders (even the odd robot or hologram) working together. As an immigrant in the country I grew up in, I was drawn to this.

I love the idea that maybe one day we will all get along and live these exciting lives. How can you not be?

So if for some reason you want to wade into this whole mess of Star Trek, the 2009 movie is the perfect place to start.

The single greatest question facing mankind is clearly this:

Which is better – Star Trek or Star Wars?

In the late 90s, Star Trek got very bloated. Movies, two TV series, books, comics, blah and blah. It was too much.

Star Wars however was still 3 perfect movies (and a number of really good books actually).

So Star Trek was easy to bash in the 90s, where Star Wars was a lot like James Dean – it left a pretty corpse, and it didn’t age.

Then Star Trek went away, and Star Wars got bloated. Those prequels are awful. Some of the worse films I’ve ever seen. Now there’s a cartoon and an upcoming live action comedy(?) series. Almost all of it is shit. And it really shows how limited the Star Wars idea was. It really had no more to give.

Star Trek however, came back with a very good movie. The memory of past fiascos are fading. What made Star Trek great in the first place still stands.

But Star Trek has never been great in movies. It’s a great premise (Stage Coach in space) and the perfect set up for a monster-of-the-week. Whereas Star Wars was one epic story, start to finish. We are comparing apples and oranges.

In the end though, I like Star Trek. All those amazing stories. 40 years of great ideas, swash-buckling adventure and cool gadgets. It just can’t be beat.

And Luke Skywalker is a whiny sook and the dude kissed his sister. What the fuck?

(Alex Zane did a poll once on XFM asking this very question. Almost every caller said Star Wars. Zane responded to several callers with “How about that bit in Wrath Of Khan where Kirk screams KHAAAAAAAAN?” and none of the callers had actually seen it. So if you’ve not seen it, your opinion is pretty worthless)

So, I have mainly avoided talking about the actual content of Star Trek. The intricacies of which characters I like, what season was best, etc. I think there is enough of that on the internet.

If for some reason, you are a Star Trek fan, and you came across this, here are my top 20 stories (movies and 2-parters count as one) of Star Trek.

1. Best of Both Worlds (TNG, 1990)
2. The Visitor (DS9, 1995)
3. Past Tense (DS9, 1995)
4. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
5. All Good Things (TNG, 1994)
6. Far Beyond the Star (DS9, 1998)
7. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
8. The City On the Edge Of Forever (TOS, 1967)
9. Star Trek (2009)
10. Shattered Mirror (DS9, 1996)
11. The Doomsday Machine (TOS, 1967)
12. Crossover (DS9, 1994)
13. Mirror, Mirror (TOS, 1967)
14. Space Seed (TOS, 1967)
15. Descent (TNG, 1993)
16. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
17. I, Borg (TNG, 1992)
18. Q Who (TNG, 1989)
19. Explorers (DS9, 1995)
20. Endgame (VOY, 2001)

Looking at this list really makes it hit home – I do love this show. So many great stories! So many ideas! Every week was something different. A time bending character study, or an all out action packed dog fight in space. All tied together with this wish of living better lives, working together, and leaving our predjudice and hate behind.