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Daniel Pinkwater's brilliant, hilarious, life-changing books as $3 ebooks


Children's author, essayist and hero of literature Daniel Pinkwater has revived his classic backlist as a line of DRM-free ebooks! Each one is only $3, and there are some astoundingly good titles in there.

Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy From Mars was my first Pinkwater, and it literally changed my life. It's your basic nerd-discovers-he-has-special-powers book, except it's not: it's got saucer cults, green death chili, mystic bikers, and a sweet and inclusive message about following your weird without looking down on others. It literally changed my life.

The Education of Robert Nifkin is another take on an Alan Mendelsohn-like story, but this time, it's all about taking charge of your own education and an alternative school where the inmates run the asylum. It's probably no coincidence that I ended up at a school much like Nifkin's after reading Mendelsohn (here's my full review).

Young Adults is a hilarious, bawdy romp through the conventions of young adult literature. When got my first paperback copy, I walked around for days, annoying my roommates by reading long passages from this at them until they forgave me because they were convulsed with laughter. Dadaism was never so funny.

Wingman is such a beautiful, compassionate book about race, comics, and a love affair with literature. I read my copy until it fell apart.

What can you say about the Snarkout Boys? They sneak out at night and go to an all-night B-movie palace where they have comic, X-Files-style adventures with the paranormal and diner food. The Snarkout Boys & The Avocado of Death and The Snarkout Boys & The Baconburg Horror comprise the canon.

Fat Men from Space is the greatest paen ever penned to sloppy cooking. If you can't get enough of Shopsin's in NYC, or find yourself throwing everything in a frying pan at 2AM, you need this book.

Then there's Chicago Days and Hoboken Nights, a memoir as a series of comic essays that tell the story of Pinkwater's boyhood, his training as an artist, his late-night hot-dogs, and the forces that made him into the towering force of literature that he is today.

There's so much more!

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Noah Swartz reads Aaron Swartz's afterword to Homeland

Before he died, Aaron Swartz wrote a tremendous afterword for my novel Homeland -- Aaron also really helped with the core plot, devising an ingenious system for helping independent candidates get the vote out that he went on to work on. When I commissioned the indie audiobook of Homeland (now available in the Humble Ebook Bundle, I knew I wanted to have Aaron's brother, Noah, read Aaron's afterword, and Noah was kind enough to do so, going into a studio in Seattle to record a tremendous reading.

Here is Noah's reading (MP3), released as a CC0 file that you can share without any restrictions. I hope you'll give it a listen.

And a reminder that the complete Humble Ebook Bundle lineup is now available, including work from John Scalzi, Mercedes Lackey, and Ryan North, as well as the core bundle, which features Wil Wheaton, Holly Black, Steven Gould, and Scott Westerfeld!

Complete Humble Ebook Bundle lineup revealed!


Four more books have been added to the final week of the third Humble Ebook Bundle: John Scalzi's Hugo- and Nebula-nominated novella The God Engines; Dia Reeves's Bleeding Violet; Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill's Arcanum 101; and Ryan "Dinosaur Comics" North's To Be or Not To Be, a bestselling, choose-your-own adventure version of Hamlet.

These are added to seven other books, from authors including Holly Black, Justine Larbalestier, Steve Gould, Scott Westerfeld, Wil Wheaton, Yahtzee Chroshaw -- and me!

Six of the books are available on a name-your-price basis; if you give $15, you get the whole whack, including the DRM-free audio adaptation of Homeland, which I paid for out-of-pocket, read aloud by Wil Wheaton!

Bad arguments, great illustrations


Hugh sends us An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: "This book is aimed at newcomers to the field of logical reasoning, particularly those who, to borrow a phrase from Pascal, are so made that they understand best through visuals. I have selected a small set of common errors in reasoning and visualized them using memorable illustrations that are supplemented with lots of examples. The hope is that the reader will learn from these pages some of the most common pitfalls in arguments and be able to identify and avoid them in practice."

The ebook is gorgeous, and it's available on a name-your-price basis in Spanish and English. There are also print editions in several languages.

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Homeland audiobook: Wil Wheaton explains how Little Brother and Homeland make you technologically literate

The Humble Ebook Bundle continues to rock, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a bundle of great name-your-price ebooks, including Scott Westerfeld's Uglies, Steve Gould's Jumper, and Holly Black's Tithe. Also included in the bundle is an exclusive audiobook of my novel Homeland, read by Wil Wheaton.

I commissioned Wil to read the book -- it was pretty much the only way to get a DRM-free audio edition in the age of Audible -- and while he read, he had a series of conversations with the project's director Gabrielle di Cuir from LA's Skyboat Studios. In this clip (MP3), Wil explains how the discussions of crypto and technology in my novels serve as a spur to drive kids -- and grownups -- to research more about security and freedom.

You've got 11 more days to avail yourself of the Humble Ebook Bundle!

Homeland audiobook behind the scenes: Wil Wheaton explains his cameo to the director

The Humble Ebook Bundle is going great guns, with a collection of recent and classic books from both indie and major publishers, all DRM-free, on a name-your-price basis. Included in the bundle is an exclusive audio adaptation of my novel Homeland, read by Wil Wheaton, who also appears as a character in the novel.

When Wil got to the part where the protagonist, Marcus, meets "him" in the story, he kind of lost it, cracking up as he read Marcus's breathless (and thoroughly deserved!) praise of Wil.

Here's audio (MP3) of Wil explaining the context of the scene to Gabrielle de Cuir, the director who worked with Wil on his reading.

Listening to the raw daily studio sessions in February was a great treat, and I hope these outtakes give you a sense of some of that behind-the-scene action.

You've got 12 more days to score the Humble Ebook Bundle, which includes Steven Gould's Jumper, Holly Black's Tithe, Scott Westerfeld's Uglies, Wil Wheaton's The Happiest Days of Our Lives, and the audio adaptation of Homeland, read by Wil!

Self-published ebooks: the surprising data from Amazon


Hugh Howey, author of the bestselling, indie-original science fiction series Wool, has published an eye-popping, and important data-rich report on independent author earnings from ebooks sold on Amazon. Howey makes a good case that the "average" author earns more from a self published book than she would through one of the Big Five publishers, and, what's more, that this holds true for all sorts of outliers (the richest indie authors outperform the richest Big Five authors; less-prolific indies do better than less-prolific traditionals, etc).

Howey's report includes a lot of raw data and makes a lot of very important points. It certainly is an aid to authors wondering whether to do business with major publishers or go it alone. I read it with great interest.

I think that there are a couple of important points that Howey skirts, if not eliding them altogether. The most important of these is that all the authors Howey studies live and die by the largesse of one company: Amazon. This is the same company whose audiobook division, Audible, requires authors to lock their products to its store with non-optional DRM, and which has no real competitors in its space. So it is neither an angel by nature, nor is it subject to strong competitive pressures that would cause it to treat authors well when its own self-interest would cause it to treat them badly. As bad as it is to have a publishing world with only five major publishers in it -- a monoposony in which a tiny handful of companies converge on terms and practices that are ultimately more to their benefit than those of authors, it's even worse to have a world in which a single company controls the entire market. That's not just bad, it's catastrophic.

The second point is the opportunity cost of being your own publisher: almost all successful authors have to do things that aren't writing in order to sell their books (all the hustling, touring, etc that comprises the writerly life in the early 21st century), but if you're your own publisher, there is an order of magnitude more non-writing stuff that becomes your job. Going the traditional route makes sense for writers who can earn more by writing another book than they can by spending that writing time being a publisher; it also makes sense for writers who just aren't any good at that stuff.

Now, this second point does not militate against self-publishing per se -- rather, it suggests a new kind of service-bureau/publisher that provides services to authors that sit somewhere between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Companies like Lulu, Bookbaby and Smashwords already do this, and many of the big literary agents are starting to do this for their authors, especially with their backlists.

But the first point is a significant concern. In the 1980s, when the midlist collapsed and the number of mass-market distributors in America fell from 400+ to three, and the trade retail channels for mass-market books were dominated by Barnes and Noble and Borders, authors discovered that their careers could be suddenly and totally ended, merely because the mass-market distributor stopped carrying them, or one of the retailers stopped selling them. Writers who'd published a new novel every year for decades suddenly found themselves with no one willing to publish, distribute or sell their next book, or carry their backlists.

That's what concentration begets. It's a major problem, and an existential risk to the market that Howey has identified. There are ways to improve the odds for indie authors -- a plurality of payment systems, lots of different search- and recommendation services, more companies providing services to authors. These, of course, are exactly the sort of thing that extremist copyright proposals like SOPA and the TPP work against: by making the companies that serve authors and their audiences bear the liability for infringement, we shrink the number of companies that supply authors and ensure that only big players like Amazon, Paypal, Apple and Google can occupy those niches.

Pro-competitive ground-rules won't solve the competition problem on their own, but without them, no solution is possible. As creators -- and as audiences -- we are all best served by a churning and chaotic retail and publishing channel, in which many companies compete to offer us all the best possible deal.

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On the Road converted to ebook of Google Maps directions

Here's On the Road for 17,527 Miles, a 45 page ebook of driving directions for recreating the journey of Sal Paradise in Jack Kerouac's 1957 classic On the Road. Its author, German college student Gregor Weichbrodt, is selling it as a print-on-demand title via Lulu, in case you want a hardcopy to take with on your trip.

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Adobe ebook DRM changeover means

A lot of people are about to lose their ebooks. (Thanks, Florian!)

Campbellian anthology: more than 860,000 words of free fiction from new sf/f authors

A reader sends us The 2014 Campbellian Anthology, a free and DRM-free ebook (.epub and .mobi) with 111 authors eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and over 860K words of fiction."

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Who reads books in America, and how?


The Pew Internet and American Life project has released a new report on reading, called E-Reading Rises as Device Ownership Jumps. It surveys American book-reading habits, looking at both print books and electronic books, as well as audiobooks. They report that ebook readership is increasing, and also produced a "snapshot" (above) showing readership breakdown by gender, race, and age. They show strong reading affinity among visible minorities and women, and a strong correlation between high incomes and readership. The most interesting number for me is that 76 percent of Americans read at least one book last year, which is much higher than I'd have guessed.

E-Reading Rises as Device Ownership Jumps (via Jim Hines)

Out on Blue Six: Ian McDonald's brilliant novel is back


For ten years, I've been singing the praises of Out on Blue Six, Ian McDonald's 1989 science fiction novel that defies description and beggars the imagination. It's been out of print for decades, but it's back in ebook form, and I was honored to be asked by McDonald to write the introduction for the new edition. Ian's given me permission to reproduce that intro in full -- as you'll read, this book is one of those once-in-a-generation, brain-melting flashes of brilliance that makes you fall in love with a writer's work forever.

Welcome, lucky reader, to a glad moment in literary history: the republication of Ian McDonald's magnificent 1989 novel "Out on Blue Six," a book I've read dozens of times, and by which I am still awed and delighted.

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What's the most profitable price for an ebook?



Rachel Willmer, who runs the excellent ebook price-comparison site Luzme, summarizes the price-preference data she's captured from her customers. By measuring the point at which readers are willing to buy ebooks (whose prices are variable) and the volumes generated at each price-point, her findings suggest the optimal price for ebooks in different territories. This is important work: because ebooks have almost no marginal cost (that is, all their costs are fixed through production, so each copy sold adds almost nothing to the publisher's cost), there's lots more flexibility pricing strategies. If you make more by pricing your book at $0.01 than you do at $10, the right thing to do is price it at a penny and rake it in -- a rational business wants to maximize its profits, not the amount that each customer spends (I wrote about this at length in 2010).

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The Borribles are back!


I've been posting here about The Borribles for more than a decade (proof!). Michael de Larrabeiti's young adult fantasy trilogy from the 1980s remains among my most favourite examples of both YA literature and literature about London. The books detail the lives of the Borribles, a race of elfin, pointy-eared changelings, whose number swells every time a naughty child simply walks away from home and begins a new life as an immortal, pointy-eared trickster. The Borribles live by a strict code: they never work, only thieve; they do not handle or covet money; they squat in derelict buildings, and they must earn their names by completing a daring adventure, such as taking up arms against the hateful Rumbles, a race of covetous, materialistic overgrown rodents who inhabit an underground world called Rumbledom.

Today, Tor UK is relaunching The Borribles for a new generation as three ebooks with lots of extra art and other supplementary material. They're also still publishing the UK omnibus edition a (the great Tor Teen US paperbacks are sadly out of print, though easy enough to get used). Only the ebook comes with China Mieville's wonderful introduction.

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When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth: .mobi and .epub


Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson converted my story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth (from the collection Overclocked) into .mobi and .epub for easy viewing on an e-reader or mobile device. I probably get more fan mail for Sysadmins than for any other story, and it won the Locus Award the year it came out (it was later adapted to comics by JC Vaughn for the IDW book Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now). Give it a read!

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Cecil Castelucci's Tin Star: first five chapters free


Every new Cecil Castellucci book is cause for celebration around here, and her latest, Tin Star -- the first volume in a new young adult science fiction series -- is no exception. Castellucci's got a gift for characters and dialog (this being part of her success in her extensive work in comics) and a stellar imagination. The story -- researched in part through workshops with NASA for science fiction writers -- is a tale of romance, escape and adventure on a remote space station where the charismatic leader of a colony ship is revealed for a monster.

The first five chapters of Tin Star are a free download (other formats here), so you can make up your own mind. But I know that my copy of Tin Star's going straight into my Christmas holiday reading pile.

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Finnish science fiction anthology

Desirina Boskovich writes, "It Came From the North, my brand new e-anthology of Finnish speculative fiction, is now available from Cheeky Frawg Books. Cheeky Frawg, a small press run by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, is carving out a big name for itself as a quality purveyor of weird fiction and speculative literature in translation, with recent titles including the widely-praised Jagganath by Karin Tidbeck and very well-received Datura by Leena Krohn."

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Rudy Rucker's BIG AHA


Rudy Rucker sends us, "My new novel, THE BIG AHA, with an accompanying volume of NOTES FOR THE BIG AHA. Browsable as a free webpage, and available as commercial ebook and paperback. With fourteen chapter illustrations. The plot? Biotech has replaced machines. Qrude young artist Zad Plant works with living paint. But Zad's career is on the skids. Enter qwet---or quantum wetware. Qwet makes you high---and it gives you telepathy. A new psychedelic revolution kicks in. But hungry mouths begin popping out of the air and eating people. Zad and his partner Jane travel through a wormhole to confront the aliens. And they meet something stranger than ever imagined. What is the Big Aha? My wildest adventure yet."

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The Collected Progressive Apparatus: stories of Hugh Spencer

Hugh Spencer sez, "The stories they didn't want back in print are still not in print -- but you can read them anyway! My tales of living software, psychological censorship, trans-human dating and childcare responsibilities are available via download in The Collected Progressive Apparatus."

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Even Amazon can't keep up the "you only license ebooks" shuck


There's a whole bunch of things you're allowed to do with books that you own: sell them, give them away, lend them out -- stuff you can't do with your ebooks, by and large. Why not? Because ebook sellers characterize the transaction that you undertake when you plunk down your money as a "license" and not as a sale. You don't buy an ebook, you license it -- hence all the fine-print "license agreement" you click through at regular intervals in the course of paying for and reading books.

But everyone knows that's a shuck. Buying books is what we do. Owning books is what we do. To get a sense of how ingrained the idea of buying and owning ebooks is, have a look at this screenshot from Amazon, shown after a "license" to a book: "Now that you own your Kindle book..." it begins. If you own it, rather than a limited license to it, then you should get the full suite of ownership rights. Let's label this one "Exhibit A."

Amazon requires publishers to use Kindle DRM


A leaked Amazon ebook contract [PDF] shows that Amazon's default terms for ebook publishers is that they must use DRM, unless they can convince Amazon to leave it off.

Like most DRM vendors -- Apple and Google, for example -- Amazon spends a lot of time implying and flat-out stating that it only uses DRM because the big dumb media companies require it of them. The reality is that DRM's primary beneficiary is the DRM vendor. Once your book is sold with Amazon's DRM on it, only Amazon can give your readers permission to move them out of the Kindle jail and onto another device of your choosing. Of course Amazon wants to force copyright holders and creators to use its DRM -- it's a one-stop way of converting the writer's customer into Amazon's customer. Forever.

Remember: Any time someone puts a lock on something of yours and won't give you the key, that lock is not there for your benefit.

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Rise of predatory, parasitic spambooks


Charlie Stross considers the confluence of bookspam; Turing-complete, Javascript enabled ebooks, and auctorial disappointment and posits a hostile ecosystem of parasitic ebooks who go around devouring the competition.

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New journal of Southeast Asian science fiction: Lontar

Jason sez, "The first issue of my new literary journal, LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, was just recently released by Singapore-based publisher Math Paper Press. The issue's contributors are Paolo Bacigalupi, Kate Osias, Zen Cho, Paolo Chikiamco, Chris Mooney-Singh, Ang Si Min, Elka Ray Nguyen and Bryan Thao Worra, all of whom present speculative writing from and about the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam. The print issue can be ordered online through the BooksActually Web Store, and an ebook version will be available in the coming months. A 25% sample can be read for free at Issuu."

Issue #1 (Thanks, Jason!)

Feynman lectures as HTML

Here's an HTML-ified version of the Feynman Lectures on Physics, volume one, courtesy of the good folks at CalTech. We discussed these lectures when I reviewed Feynman, a biography in graphic novel form; they're justly considered to be one of the great works of physics instruction.

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Lego robot that strips DRM off Kindle books

Peter Purgathofer, an associate professor at Vienna University of Technology, built a Lego Mindstorms robot that presses "next page" on his Kindle repeatedly while it faces his laptop's webcam. The cam snaps a picture of each screen and saves it to a folder that is automatically processed through an online optical character recognition program. The result is an automated means of redigitizing DRM-crippled ebooks in a clear digital format. It's clunky compared to simply removing the DRM using common software, but unlike those DRM-circumvention tools, this setup does not violate the law.

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Cross a border, lose your ebooks

Jim O'Donnell was at a library conference in Singapore when his Ipad's Google Play app asked him to update it. This was the app through which he had bought 30 to 40 ebooks, and after the app had updated, it started to re-download them. However, Singapore is not one of the countries where the Google Play bookstore is active, so it stopped downloading and told him he was no longer entitled to his books.

It's an odd confluence of travel, updates, and location-checking, but it points out just how totally, irretrievably broken the idea of DRM and region-controls for ebooks is.

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How the Strand sells print books to ebook readers


Avi Solomon snapped this pic of the window display at NYC bookstore The Strand lauding the virtues of their "Real books priced lower than ebooks," including the fact that you can read them during take-off and landing.

Real Books... (via Boing Boing Flickr Pool)

Dutch ebook sellers promise to spy on everyone's reading habits, share them with "anti-piracy" group

Earlier this summer, the German Booksellers Association announced a daft "watermarking" process for ebooks that would introduce random variations in the text as a means of uniquely identifying them. At the time, I pointed out that this was just silly: firstly, it's not hard to detect and vary the watermarks (just compare two different copies of the text using a 40-year-old program called "diff") and secondly, because the fact that a pirate site has a copy of a book with "your" watermark in it doesn't mean that you've done anything wrong. It's not illegal to lose your computer, be hacked, or give your hard-drive away.

What I totally failed to anticipate was that booksellers and publishers would use watermarking as a rubric for tracking and sharing information about everything that everyone is reading. In the Netherlands, ebook sellers have announced that they will retain full reading records on their customers for at least two years, and will share that information with an "anti-piracy" group called BREIN (a group that already has the power to order Dutch ISPs to censor the Internet, without due process or judicial oversight; and who, ironically, were caught ripping off musicians for their anti-piracy ads).

I am not often shocked by the insanity of anti-piracy efforts, but this one has me agog. As a former bookseller, I can't believe that people in the business of putting books into readers' hands would casually spy on their customers' reading habits, and, worse still, turn them over to a sleazy third party with a track-record of bullying, corruption, and censorship.

It's hard to imagine a less ethical business practice. Piracy (that is, "reading books the wrong way") pales by comparison alongside of it. If the Dutch booksellers had set out to build the case for piracy as the safest, most virtuous reading practice, they could have done no better.

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Why writers should stand up for libraries

Earlier this summer, I worked with the American Library Association on their Authors for Library Ebooks project -- which is asking authors to call on their publishers to offer ebooks to libraries at a fair price. Right now, libraries pay several times more for ebooks than people off the street -- up to six times more! I recorded this video explaining why libraries and authors are natural allies.

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Penguin's insane policy on electronic galleys for authors

[Ed: An anonymous reader from the publishing industry wrote in with the following. I have every reason to believe it's true -Cory]


Update: An agent writes in to say: "Penguin ALSO doesn't want to give agents the hi-res final jacket image without charging. We can often beg/loophole/cajole -- but the official party line is they are supposed to charge $300. (???!) Mind you, this could pretty much ONLY be used to promote the book. We like to put the book jacket on our agency website, in our agency catalogues for foreign book fairs, make postcards, etc... but obviously we can't authorize any other territory to use this image. So essentially they are saying they don't want us to create promo material on the book's behalf, even on our own dime."

There's something going on at Penguin (interesting to see if it changes now that it's Penguin Random House, though all signs point no) that's so stupid and old school and against all authors that I thought I'd share.

In every contract in publishing, there's language (as you know) that gives an author a certain number of copies of the book, on publication. When ebooks came to play, agents began trying to negotiate for an electronic version of the book too, oftentimes successful. What they /can't/ get from Penguin (and a few other publishers, though notably Penguin) is a final PDF or even a final word doc of the book. Agents are told that Penguin puts work into the layout, edit and design and so agents can't just give that work away to foreign countries for them to use in their editions. That work must be paid for. I semi-buy that argument, though it makes me think two things: 1) Shame on them for getting in the way (as they do sometimes) of a foreign deal and 2) Penguin is contractually obligated to create the book anyway, with all of those pieces.

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