A New Order, Hardcover Prices, and the Analog Experience in a Digital Age

I was originally just going to do a quick post on a book acquisition, but as I was thinking about the experience, the post began to evolve into something more, and then it morphed again. There’s a lot to unpack here, so I’ll take this one subject at a time and hopefully it will be fairly coherent.

Recently I decided to pick up the last book I needed in the Malazan the Fallen series by Steven Erikson, The Crippled God. I now have the complete series in hardcover, including the Ian C. Esslemont companion books, though I do not have the prequels or other ancillary novels. I thought The Crippled God would be the easiest book for me to find from the main series, since it was the most recently published, in 2011. I remember the buzz back in 2011 among those who were waiting for this book release to wrap up the series. But in my search for this book, what I had expected to find, and what I actually found, were two completely different things.

Throughout my experiences in acquiring the Malazan books, both from Erikson and Esslemont, I found it incredibly difficult to obtain a hardcover book for a reasonable price that was not a library copy, marked up, or missing the dust jacket, while buying from a trusted seller. I used to be able to go to Powell’s Books in Portland to find used hardcovers, but they now mostly stock new releases in hardcover, and seem to rarely have the older hardcovers I’m looking for. Most of the other used bookstores in my area are gone, and those that remain primarily stock paperbacks. So I had turned to Amazon and eBay to try to acquire the books. I discovered that in most cases, books could be found, but it was likely to cost me dearly.

For example, look at this list of hardcovers available for The Crippled God on Amazon:

the crippled god

As you can see, a new hardcover of this book starts at $123, so it was imperative that I find an affordable, used copy. When following the link to the used copies, of which there are 10, the following information is presented:

crippled god list

There’s a few things to note here. Ideally I look for “Used – Very Good” condition. Why is that? Check out Amazon’s definition of “Used – Good”:

All pages and cover are intact (including the dust cover, if applicable). Spine may show signs of wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting. May include “From the library of” labels. Shrink wrap, dust covers, or boxed set case may be missing. Item may be missing bundled media.

I put emphasis on parts of this description because they are pretty important to me. Has the book been written on or had text highlighted? Does it have labels, a library stamp, or even a library checkout sleeve inside the front cover? Does it have the dust cover? In their descriptions, some sellers describe wear, markings and highlighting; others say that wear and markings/highlighting “may” exist (that’s not very helpful), and some sellers do not provide a good description at all. None state that the dust jacket is included, so it is impossible to know if you will receive one or not. Price is also a factor, with the two cheapest copies selling for around $30. A “used – very  good” condition starts at $50 (when including shipping and tax) to over $120 (the two most expensive copies wouldn’t fit in the screen capture). That’s a tough cost to swallow considering that the original list price was $29, and as established above for “used – good”, the quality of what you get is going to be a crapshoot. The final important factor is the rating of each seller. The first seller has the best rating at 93%, but that’s not great. Most sellers here fall between 91% and 88%. I generally don’t trust any sellers with a rating below 97%.

In the end I took a chance on a copy from eBay for a total of $17 and received a beautiful book, with very little wear, no markings, and the dust cover intact. eBay can be just as nebulous as Amazon, with lackluster descriptions, and in some cases the seller doesn’t even list whether the book is a paperback or hardcover! In this case I got lucky, as the next cheapest hardcover copy on eBay is $26 from a high volume seller with lots of negative feedback. After that the prices go much higher.

Here’s a couple other examples of costly Malazan hardcover acquisitions featuring Esslemont titles. Return of the Crimson Guard had a list price of $28 on release. Now if you want a new hardcover, prepare to pay over $162 plus tax. Last year there was one listed for almost $4000 (it has since been removed).

rotcg

For a “Used – Very Good” copy, the price begins at $60 and goes up from there.

rotcg list

One final example comes from Esslemont’s Blood and Bone. Again, the list price was $29, but in an unusual twist, there are no hardcover editions to be found on Amazon except for a signed slipcase version with some bland cover art for $78+. eBay often parallels Amazon, and I only found one hardcover, in “Used – Good” condition for $66 there. It’s nice to know that my hardcovers have some value to them, while my paperbacks are virtually worthless monetarily (but still have entertainment value to me). I was fortunate to win my hardcover copy of Blood and Bone in a contest at Fantasy Literature.

blood and bone
no hardcover available…

I’ve talked before a little bit about why I like hardcover books…how the larger print makes them easier to read, and there’s something about the tangible feel of holding a real book in my hands that just feels good. I call this an “Analog Experience in a Digital Age”. The more our experiences are converted to digital, the more nostalgia there is for physical , or analog, experiences, even among those experiencing it for the first time. One example of this is in my other hobby, pinball. Pinball nearly died in 2000 when competition from digital video games forced the biggest pinball company, Bally/Williams, to turn to slot machines, which were far more profitable. However, pinball has made a big resurgence thanks to its analog experience, with much of it coming from younger players who are largely unaware of its near death 20 years ago. A physical ball careens chaotically around a playfield and provides a feeling that just can’t be captured by digital games. And speaking of slot machines, that’s another example of nostalgia for analog…many people who play slots confess that they miss the spinning reels and the sound of coins paying out into the coin holder, because now slot machines are essentially a video game that doesn’t use coins, plays a jingle upon winning, and prints winnings on a piece of paper.

As far back as 2014 (and even early by some accounts), articles were being written about the demise of the paper book, with e-readers being touted as the future of publishing. In this article by the Economist (registration required), it explains that hardcover editions have traditionally been published first due to their ability to generate more profits than paperbacks. The author contends that the premium quality of a hardback is not challenged by e-readers; if anything, it is the paperback format that is threatened by its digital counterpart.

In this article from 2016 by the BBC titled “Are paper books really disappearing?”, it talked about the emergence of the e-reader, the bankruptcy of Borders, and predicts that reading books will be an unusual activity by 2026, although it hopes that we will be a “bi-literate” society – one that values both the digital and printed word. However, in direct contrast to the BBC articles stands this one from Inc. that was published over a year later, titled “7 Reasons Why Ebook Sales Are Falling–and Print Book Sales Are Rising Again”. It cites declining e-book sales and rising print sales as the basis for the article, although it cautions whether these numbers are a one-time phenomenon or actually will be the start of a trend. The author talks about what he likes about hardcover books, including how a physical book makes a more meaningful gift and how they are not “device-dependent”.

One of my favorite articles on this topic is by David Farrer of The Quad, who (satirically, mostly) lists the top 50 reasons why printed books are vastly superior to Ebooks. Here are some of my favorite reasons:

1. Zombie Apocalypse Test
When the zombie apocalypse knocks out the electricity in town and the internet is down, your books will still work just fine. You might even be able to fight off a zombie or two by swinging a sizable Oxford Dictionary.

4. Feel Your Progress
You can physically feel your progress through a book as the upcoming pages get fewer and fewer. Not so with ebooks.

11. Decoration
Books aren’t just for reading, they also decorate your walls and nightstands (and stairs, and floors, and counters, and rafters, and chimneys, etc.). Even as decoration, books breathe an air of intelligence into the room — unless it’s the Twilight series.

14. Haptic/Tactile Pleasure
Books have a feel to them, with texture, thickness, and weight. There’s more interactivity with the physicality of the book than there is with an E-Reader. Many people find the “feel” of books more satisfying and nostalgic than with ebooks (see, Baron, Words On Screen, pg. 142–7). Compared to the substantial tactile experience of books, a thin little E-Reader feels like a toy.

47. Artifacts
Books are artifacts, tangible human creations. Books are the stuff of archeology, history, and anthropology. They are part of our physical culture. Ebooks carry information, and they are fine for what they are, but they aren’t suited for museum displays. They aren’t precious expensive artifacts of bygone civilizations. They aren’t mementos of important times in our life, or childhood memories. Compared to books, ebooks are ephemeral wind.

I hope I’ve captured here why I prefer hardcover books and also why I have avoided e-readers to date. Most of all, I’m glad my Malazan collection is complete…

Reading Goal for 2018 Conquered

It’s done. I did it.

I hit (and exceeded) my reading goal of 12,000 pages for 2018.

This morning I finished off The Way of Kings. The sheer page count was intimidating, but I shouldn’t have worried. The pages, especially the last third of the book, seemed to fly by. Back at the end of September I predicted I’d have a review for The Way of Kings done by early November. Indeed, here we are in early November and I will be starting on the review shortly. But first, I’d like to talk about my approach to blogging this second time around in the context of my reading goal.

In a recent post titled “Dear Book Bloggers, I’m worried about you”, Redhead almost brought me to tears with her concern about book bloggers…particularly about how much of our lives, and time, blogging consumes. I know that all too well after crashing and burning in 2013. This passage that she wrote I particularly took to heart, due to the reading goal I set this year:

And you, the book blogger who decided ten reading challenges look fun, and you thought reading 100 books this year was a worthy goal (and don’t forget the bingo card!), and then college started up again, you got diagnosed with a chronic illness, you moved cross country, you had to give your cat away, and now you are wondering how are you ever going to meet your goal of reading 100 books this year?

I set an incredibly ambitious goal compared to what I had done in the past. Why did I do that? Was I looking to test the theory that history repeats itself? No, the key lies in what Redead wrote further on:

Book blogging is not and was never meant to be something you are required to do every day or three times a week or on any arbitrarily defined schedule.

Book blogging is not and should not be about keeping up with other bloggers. There isn’t some prize for reading the most books, or downloading the most eARCs from Netgalley or getting the most ARCs in the mail.

This is why I failed my book blog, and my audience, the first time. I have mentioned the multitude of other book blogs that were cranking out content like crazy during 2013. I felt that I couldn’t keep up, that I needed to provide an equal amount of content to be heard, that my voice was lost among the multitudes. It’s why I started reviewing TV shows, because I felt that I needed to provide something during the long gaps between reviews.

Redhead has shown an incredible amount of wisdom and sage advice in her post. (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to hike to a monastery high in the mountains of Tibet and find her seated cross-legged, wearing the robe of a monk and mastering throat singing while reading!) If I had simply kept plugging along at my own pace, not worrying about page hits and visitors, not obsessing about supplying enough content, I’d be in a very good spot right now. That’s because nearly all of those other bloggers that were cranking out content burned out, moved on to other projects, or just went silent. Had I taken my time and paced myself, I would have kept going without burning out. Book blogging is not a race, but if it was an apt comparison, there’s something to be said for that old adage about the tortoise and the hare. So in that context, how do you “win?” Redhead offer some insight in that regard:

Being the bloggeriest blogger who ever blogged is not winning. Winning is showing up. Winning is being your authentic self. Winning is talking about books you care about, books that make you think, or cry, or laugh, or grow. Winning is coming to the bloggish community as you,  not as who you think we want to meet. Winning is recognizing burn-out for what it is, taking a break when you need to, and keeping it fun.

Blog when you feel like it. Blog on a schedule that works for you. If you have a schedule that was working, and it isn’t working anymore, change it. Blogs are not made of stone and neither are  you. Your blog works for you, not the other way around.

Therein lies the true secret of reaching my goal this year: I have learned to manage my time appropriately. I fill in the dead spaces between book reviews with status updates, reading goals, interviews and book orders. And if I need a short break, I take one. So even if I hadn’t made my goal, I wouldn’t be upset. If I can’t post twice a week, or if  I break for two weeks between posts, so be it. I calmly accept that if someone follows my blog, and enjoys reading what I have to say, it is their choice as to whether or not they can accept that I can’t give them content everyday. To my readers who are content with those terms, I say thank you very much, it means a lot to me.

For now, it is time to celebrate success, and to wonder what I can accomplish by the end of the year, while imagining what next year may look like.

It’s time for me to acknowledge that I have won as a blogger – I showed up, I was authentic, I talked about how I felt about the books I read, and I blogged when I felt like it, without being worried about what other people wanted, and I still achieved my goal. That it is no small thing.

And it’s also time to give Redhead a big hug and thank her for caring, and for accepting me for who I am…and if there’s one thing that’s certain it is this: I’m certainly not the “bloggeriest blogger”!

Why I Don’t Review On Goodreads Or Amazon

There are a lot of things to like about Goodreads. It is a diverse community and there are many benefits to belonging – finding reviews and recommendations, tracking statistics on your reading, notifications of new releases, a strong author presence – among other things. But there are two gigantic reason why my reviews aren’t found on Goodreads:

  1. I dont like the review system
  2. And, the comments found in those reviews

Most of you who read my reviews know that I don’t use a scoring system. Why is that? Because a scoring system, unless extremely detailed, doesn’t offer any flexibility in assigning book scores. And even if you design in some measure of flexibility – such as a score of 1 to 100, or scoring using multiple categories – defining criteria for a scoring system is difficult to implement consistently. Books must either be compared against other books, or they must be compared against your own internal means of measure, which may be as simple as “I liked it this much”, or it must check off certain boxes to achieve a score.

In a system where the only rating options are 1 to 5 stars, there is a distinct lack of flexibility in assigning a rating. Furthermore, a rating is not an opinion; it is simply a score. There is no context within a score to give the value meaning. Let me use an example I have relied on in the past. Forsaken Kingdom has a total rating of 4.16 on Goodreads, while The Wise Man’s Fear has a total rating of 4.58. Those total scores, however, are disingenuous to my own rating, because I can only leave a score of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 in my own review. The Wise Man’s Fear has its flaws and is not a perfect book – I don’t equate it to my “cream of the crop” novels, so let’s say I gave it a 4. Forsaken Kingdom is a novel that plays it safe and doesn’t come close to attempting the depth and lyrical beauty of The Wise Man’s Fear, but isn’t terrible. So that means I should rank it lower but not too low, perhaps a 3. Now along comes The Crown Tower. I feel that it is better than Forsaken Kingdom but not as good as The Wise Man’s Fear. Yet my only scoring options are to make The Crown Tower equal in score to either Forsaken Kingdom or The Wise Man’s Fear, instead of somewhere in between.

This is the problem I have with the “star” scoring system – it allows zero flexibility when scoring books. And let’s face it, the score of a book can often influence its success or failure. Whoever set up the 5 star scoring methodology on Goodreads did the reading community a poor service. Amazon uses the same scoring system. This is primarily the reason why I won’t review on Goodreads or Amazon – I refuse to use that type of a scoring system. Yet on both sites, if I want to leave a review, I must use that system.

The other reason I won’t leave a review on Goodreads has to do with the social media aspect regarding comments on reviews. If I were to post a review, I would expect that like many social media sites where anyone and everyone can leave an opinion, the comments section would degenerate into arguments and name-calling. One need look no further than the reviews of Prince of Thorns. There are so many angry comments about rape, and also people saying things like “I can’t stand to follow a murderous character like Jorg” or “I don’t understand how a fifteen year old boy can be good at all these things.” I can see their viewpoint, and I respect it. I would never try to argue with them that what they are feeling isn’t right. That is their opinion.

Yet in the comments section, arguments and name-calling ensue. To me it seems that many of the reviews or comments missed the entire plot of the book – this boy was merely a tool used by a wizard and had little to no control over his actions. It changes the entire context of the story, yet it is as if none of these people actually read the book, or at least came away with an understanding. It’s far too easy to simply deride and shout down differing opinions, and it’s something I want no part of. At least here on WordPress I can moderate comments and ensure that type of thing doesn’t happen to me.

It’s a shame, because there are a lot of thoughtful and wonderful people on Goodreads that have interesting things to say, and aside from the scoring system, the site has some great features. Yet it is the baseness in the comments section that ruins it for me. If that was the only reason to avoid Goodreads, I could probably overcome it. But added to the scoring system, the site just isn’t a good fit for me. Perhaps one day I will reconsider, but for now I’m happy to stay exclusively right where I’m at.

The Limping, Crawling Blog

This post has been a long time coming, and I’ve been avoiding it as long as possible. I apologize to those of you who follow the blog, and feel I owe you an explanation:

It began some time ago, when I tried to introduce TV show reviews in order to be a little different from other blogs, and there was too much downtime between reviews. It came to a head when I attempted to write a review for Bloodfire Quest. I found that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t give voice to a review that would distinguish me from the multitudes of others out there.

And that’s really the underlying issue: there are a world full of book blogs out there. My voice is just one in a sea of many. At times, it has felt as if I were drowning in that sea of anonymity. Book review blogs are popping up all over, and there are many other sites that devote their full attention to books (some with multiple reviewers) and do it far better than I. Unfortunately, I’m not that focused. As you can tell from my blog, I have several different interests and hobbies.

The thing is, my other hobbies that I blog about are fairly unique – there aren’t any other sites like them on the Internet. Every post that I create here, adrift among the endless seas of book blogs, is a post lost for those other unique blogs. And I want to be unique and different, not just another book blogger. Blogging takes time, enthusiasm, and thoughtfulness, with time being the greatest factor. With 5 other blogs running, I’m hard-pressed to devote the time it takes to make this one outstanding. Two of those other blogs have brought up monetary possibilities, which also gives them an edge.

I’m going through a transitional phase right now. Maybe this will all blow over and some book will come along that sparks my imagination. Or maybe I need to go in a different direction. I might even have to shut this down. What I do know is that I need a little more time to decide what to do…

Nihilism and Tolkien

Pat’s blog today had a link to an article that seems to be causing quite a stir. It is a post that bemoans the state of modern fantasy, and you can find it here:

http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/lgrin/2011/02/12/the-bankrupt-nihilism-of-our-fallen-fantasists/

These “modern”, ‘gritty” books are not an antithesis to Tolkien – they are a response to the Feists, Eddings, and hundreds of copycats (including Harry Potter) that are a coming-of-age story about a young person’s journey to become a hero, which are derivative of Hobbits becoming heroes. During the 80s and 90s it seemed like you couldn’t take a step without tripping over one of these stories. This formulaic approach to fantasy lead others to desire a break with the stereotype and create something new. I don’t see the need to bash this “modern” fantasy…to expect authors to all re-write the Lord of the Rings is quite ludicrous. I love the response from R. Scott Bakker, found here:

http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/the-fourth-tribe-or-going-for-baroque/

As for myself, I’ll vote for what I like using my wallet. There are plenty of places to read reviews that allow me to determine whether or not to pursue a book. I’m not really into the realistic fantasy, as I prefer imagination to realism. Still, I recognize and approve originality over derivation, and there are plenty of outstanding works by authors like Sanderson, Rothfuss, and Hobb.

Were the modern, gritty, realistic fantasy to become too prevalent, you would see the same kind of movement that spawned its creation – the desire for something new. And then, who knows? We may be back to re-writing Tolkien after all, or we may be sailing into uncharted waters…