The Words In The Machine

It’s Tuesday the twenty seventh and I’ve just emerged from the Christmas festivities here. Mum’s gone home, after being here three days, and the girls have gone to the sales, leaving me alone in the house for the first time in almost a week. This room I’m working in is a jumble, from everything having been moved in here for temporary storage while the family descended, but this afternoon I’ll clear things and maybe have a shot at a piece about Wukan, which is long overdue.

But before that, a few things.

Among the presents this year, my girls have bought me a kindle. Complete with leather carrying case and a night-light, for reading in bed. And I must admit that I’ve taken to it like a fish to water. Downloaded already are 39 free G A Henty novels, the next Robert Jordan (number seven in the sequence), five Robert Silverberg collections (with some of my all-time favourite SF stories), two Walter Jon Williams novels, four SF novels for the planned SF workshop, a subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and another half dozen miscellaneous items… oh, and the two Chung Kuo prequels (just to have them on me at all times). Already I’m carrying it everywhere and dipping into it from time to time. And it is really useful having everything I want to look at in one place. I’ve limited myself to items that are either free or less than £2.99, so the exercise hasn’t cost me much either.

So here we are, with so many words in such a tiny machine. Almost a million words of prime Silverberg, and maybe four times that much Henty (on whom I shall blog some other time). I’ve already begun Henty’s book on Frederick The Great, and am partway through one of the stories in the Jan/Feb F&SF edition. It’s incredibly easy to use, easy to read and the only thing I have to say is why didn’t I buy one of these a year or two ago? Probably because of the price. Whereas now…

Using the device convinces me more than ever that – in the age of the ipad and ipod – this is the future for fiction. It also convinces me that most publishers have simply got it wrong having such high prices for their e-versions. There are a lot of books in the listings that would be selling ten times the copies and making probably five times as much revenues, if they were more sensibly priced. And, after all, ebooks don’t have to be stored in a warehouse, and there’s no printing costs. But some are still charging a tenner a book. And more.

Of course, being an avid book collector, I’ll still be buying hardbacks of my favourites, but when I can buy the whole of H Beam Piper’s work for 86 pence, what do I really need hard copies for? Which brings me to an idea I had when using it last night. Which is?

Why don’t publishers provide a free download for kindles in every copy of the hardcover they sell? Their customers would then be thinking they’d got themselves a bargain, and I’m sure the publishers would sell twice as many copies of the hardcover versions as they are now. But what do I know?

I’d like to hear your views on this one. I see this as a real sea change for publishing. And I think my old editor Nic Cheetham got it absolutely right re the e-book emphasis for the two prequels for Chung Kuo. They look lovely as ‘real’ editions, but I love the idea that fans can get hold of copies at a cheap rate on kindle. This way they’ll be coming back for more. Because what’s important are the words in the machine.

One last thing before I sign off. I saw the first of the two Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey Junior in last night, and I have to say I’m smitten. Guy Ritchie, I’m impressed. It finished and I felt like playing it again right there and then, at half one in the morning. Oh, and I even liked Jude Law in it. He makes a great Watson. And the steam punk trappings! Glorious stuff. Oh yeah… and I’ve downloaded a sample from the first Malazan Empire book. Will let you all know what I think.

Bye for now,

David Wingrove       Tuesday 27thDecember 2011