Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Are E-Books Such A Big Deal? Part 2

Well, I knew I'd come back to this topic, and so I have. What prompts my return is the announcement that for the first time eBook sales revenues in the US have topped hardcover revenues. Ebooks surpassed hardcovers in units sold some time ago, but unit prices are much lower. Now gross revenues have surpassed them as well, according to a new report from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and reported in (link to article here).

The study looks at revenue-to-date in calender 2012, in which time ebooks generated $282.3 million in sales and hard-covers generated $229.8 million. The article then goes on to look at comparative sales data from the same period last year and claims (incorrectly), "Almost exactly a year ago the tables were turned with ebooks hitting $220 million and hardcovers brushing $335 million." They included the statistical table from the AAP report which shows that the authors of the TechCrunch article had a hard time reading the table correctly, since the $335 million sales number was in fact for adult paperbacks, not adult hardcovers. Adult hardcover numbers were actually only 223.5 million last year, which means ebook sales passed hardcover, but not going in opposite directions; both grew, but ebooks grew more.

The big losers were adult paperback (down from $335 million to $299.8 million) and adult mass market paperback (down from $124.8 million to $98.9 million) which sort of confirms my earlier suspicion that ebooks were supplanting paperbacks more than hardcovers due to their lower price point and greater portability.

At about the same time Bowkers released a ten-country study (link to study here) on percentage of the population which had purchased and downloaded an ebook. Since only ten countries were studied, this is obviously not exhaustive, but it's still interesting. Here are the rankings for those ten countries:

India                     24%
Australia              21%
United Kingdom  21%
United States       20%
Brazil                   18%
South Korea         14%
Germany              13%
Spain                    13%
Japan                      8%
France                    5%

A couple observations on these numbers.

The India and Brazil numbers are striking. The parts of the third world which are in the process of breaking into the first world -- and India and Brazil are in the forfront of the --, have enjoyed explosive growth in digital connectivity in part because of infrastructure issues. Cell phones have become the communication device of choice because cell phone service requires modest infrastructure increases compared with laying land lines everywhere, so lots of folks have cell phones instead of land lines. Digital literacy has followedat a pretty healthy clip and that's pointed to as a partial explanation of the enthusiastic embrace of ebooks in those countries.

France's low adoption rate is striking but may have something to do with its traditional love affair with the printed word. A more tangible reason has to do with France and Germany both having regulations in effect which protect small bookstores and so encourage consumers to frequent them.
Here's a link to Paris-based blogger Frederic Filloux, who discusses this. The impact of the ebook revolution on bookstores in our country has been profound (although it's certainly not the only thing which put a squeeze on them). In the 1950s, New York City boasted over 330 bookstores. Now it is down to 30 (according to Andre Schiffrin, former head of Pantheon Books).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Upcoming Convention Gigs

I'm getting ready to shove off for Tempe Arizona and it occurred to me you might like a preview of where I'll be showing up this summer.

Next week I'll be the guest of ConSimWorld Exo out in Tmpe Arizona. (I'll be there late Monday the 25th through Thursday the 28th, with the 19th a travel day.) I'll be giving two talks out there, one on the Battle of Borodino in 1812 and the second my thoroughly revisionist take on Alexander's conquest of the Persian Empire.

In July I'll be at Historicon in Fredericksburg, Virginia from Thursday the 19th through Sunday the 22nd. No lectures there, just a number of games, including a couple rounds of Men Under Fire (which will be released at the show -- it just went to the printer) and two spectacular Mars Needs Steam games I'll be running with Tom Harris and Christin Sciulli. Tom and I will have a couple new vehicles, Christin's making a Victorian female hussar outfit just for the show, and Glenn Kidd's made some custom terrain which will make this the best-looking game we've run so far. Lots of pictures to come from that show.

In late August early September I'll be the guest of Celesticon out in San Francisco over the Labor Day weekend. I'll be there from Friday the 31st through Monday the 3rd with a nice busy schedule. I'll be doing a join panel on the Battle of Borodino with Dana Lombardy, giving my Alexander and the Persians talk again, I'll also be running a Men Under Fire game and a Mars Needs Steam game, with local assistance from Rich Schuldt and the loan of figures and terrain from his collection. I saw them last year and they really are spectacular.

Plan to stop in and say hi if you're in the area.

Friday, June 15, 2012

1:1200 Aerial Vessels Coming From Highlander Studios

Folks have asked about the progress on 1:1200 aerial vessels but we haven't had a lot to tell you until now. Rod at Highlander Studios just sent me these 3D views of the upcoming Aerial Steam Launch, which will be ready to ship in a couple weeks. This is not a cast model but rather uses the new 3D "printing" process where the miniature is built up layer-by-layer mechanically from a 3D rendering.

Here's a side view.

And a 3/4 overhead view.

The second release will be the Aphid-class gunboat. The 3D master still has a few bits to add, but here's the basic core vehicle.

Considering how small these guys are, I think the detail is going to be pretty good. I'm anxious to see how these turn out as I haven't had any expereince with the 3D "printing" manufacturing process so far, but it's clearly coming on strong.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sneak Peek at the German Space: 1889 RPG

Big news!

Uhrwerk Verlag has some sample art up on the upcoming German Space: 1889 role-playing game along with an overview -- in German, of course, but if you use the Google toolbar translating program it can easily convert the web page to -- well, maybe not English exactly, but sorta close ("Who Space: 1889 is not yet known: This role-playing adventure into between steam, air and adventure!") Hmm. Let's call it "Googlish."

. It looks as if the core rules will ship in July and the Venus worldbook is in the works to follow soon. I've previewed some art earlier and everything I've seen so far for this game is top-notch. As I mentioned earlier, if the German edition is well received (and it looks as if it will be) there's a very good chance of an English-language edition to follow.

Here's the link to the Uhrwerk Verlag announcement. Go take a look.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Another Amazing Conveyance From The Colonel

I have mentioned before the remarkable model work of Colonel O'Truth. You'll find a link to his web page in the permanent links for this blog and it's worth a look now and then to see what he's up to lately. Usuallyhe's up to  quite a bit as he is ambitious, prolific, and works amazingly fast. Here ia a link to his latest creation (also pictured above), which he calls the Bazalgette Light Armoured Perambulatory Contrivance -- because, honestly, what else could you call it? It features twin gatlings in the walker's left arm and a marvelously detailed and articulated grasping hand on the right limb. I gather the belly crewman handles perambulation while the upper crewman controls upper limbs and weapons. Visit the blog and see the closeups of the controls and arms, as well as a series of pictures covering its assemble from start to finish.

Most excellent stuff.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Legendary Writer Passes

By now, I imagine all of you have heard that Ray Bradbury passed on June 5. He would have been 92 this coming August. Honestly, there is not a single person on the planet who reads science fiction, writes it, or watches it on television, film, or in video games, whose life was not touched by Bradbury, and for the better. The New York Times credits him with bringing science fiction into the literary mainstream, and I think they are absolutely right. Although the Bradbury book which made the strongest impression on me at first was The Martian Chronicles, I think the one which left a more lasting memory was Something Wicked This Way Comes. It taught me that prose -- even fantasy and science fiction -- can be lyrical, that how you say something often communicates your meaning far better than what you say.

It's strange that just a few days ago I was writing about Edgar Rice Burroughs, certainly my favorite author as a youngster. Now I discover (I hadn't know this before) that ERB was Bradbury's favorite author as a youngster as well. What does ERB's prose have in common with Bradbury's? Nothing that I can see, aside from each writer having a powerful sense of adventure. I suppose that shows a talent like Bradbury's can draw inspiration from a source without ever simply imitating it. I also discovered Bradbury was a life-long friend of the film maker and special effects genius Ray Harryhausen, another big, big influence in my young life. No wonder I liked so much of Bradbury's writing.

Rest in peace, Ray.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Visions of Barsoom

It's too bad John Carter of Mars is bombing so spectacularly. The folks I've spoken with who have seen it liked it, and wouldn't mind sequels at all. The fault seems to be with the execution of the ad campaign rather than that of the film itself, and that's particularly disappointing. While I haven't seen it myself, I intend to and expect to enjoy it -- but we'll see.

The hub-bub surrounding the film's release made me think about how I envisioned Burrough's Barsoom, and why. I discovered Burroughs in the early 1960s through the paperback reprints released by Ace and Ballantine Books. I read the two editions interchangeably, but they had distinctly different cover art approaches, and both of them made major impressions on how I saw the world. The covers on the two competing editions of A Fighting Man of Mars probably illustrate this best.

This is the Ballantine Books paperback cover of the novel. Once I saw this cover, I always  envisioned the flying ships of Barsoom exactly this way -- flat and beamy teardrop-shaped vessels sprouting guns and with boarding parties sheltering behind the gunwales. The small flyers, each with a single fixed forward-firing radium cannon, also seemed to match Burroughs description to a tee. The ships were so important to Barsoom that I find it interesting Ace never provided a detailed look at them, but it was probably just as well. This image from the Ballantine edition was so powerful, I probably wouldn't have bought into another.

Instead, Ace concentrated on the people, and the Ace cover of A Fighting Man of Mars was without a doubt exactly how I envisions Red Martians, but not simply the Martians themselves. This is also how I imagined the city of Helium: the ancient spires, the twin moons in the night sky, the rooftop palace gardens -- seemingly peaceful but so often the scene of intrigue and violence. The subtitle of the Ace edition said so much: Hidden Menace on the Red Planet.

Images have enormous lasting power. No graphic novel or film treatment to date has been able to supplant these two visions of Barsoom, at least for me. I don't know to what extent this is a product of the inherent power of these two visions of the world, or to what extent it was due to these interpretations being the first I saw. But I suspect that, had the images been weaker, they would not have left so powerful and indelible an impression.