The first book ever written with a word processor

Dear reader,

On Teleread I found this entertaining bit of information:

By Dan Eldridge

I’ve always been a sucker for stories about the history of American pop culture. So when TeleRead founder David Rothman sent me an email last weekend with a subject line that read, “This Was the First Word Processor Ever Used By a Novelist. It Weighed 200 Pounds and Had to Be Brought in Though the Window,” I bit.

Truth be told, I don’t know the first thing about the history of typewriters or word processors—or pencils or papyrus or stone tablets, for that matter.Matthew Kirschenbaum, however—an author and associate professor of English at the University of Maryland—has spent years researching the literary history of word processing. And he thinks he’s discovered the first novel to have ever been written on a word processor.

word processor

That book—according to Kirschenbaum, at any rate—is Len Deighton’s Bomber, a WWII novel published in 1970. And as for the word processor? That would be the IBM MT/ST, orMagnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter, which was essentially a precursor to the word processors of the 1970s and 80s; it “allowed typists to create and edit a document before printing,” according to a CNN Money photo feature. (That’s the MT/ST in the photo on the right, which was taken in 1964—the same year the device was introduced.)

Kirschenbaum’s story about the first word-processed novel was published on Slate last Friday—and it’s a fantastic read. I’m guessing it’s an excerpt from the book he’s currently in the process of wrapping up for Harvard University Press, titled Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing. That’s one I’ll definitely be picking up.

Kirschenbaum previously authored a book about new media and electronic writing for The MIT Press (Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination), which makes me think he’s probably the sort of writer a typical TeleRead reader would enjoy. If you’d like to learn more, I’d suggest starting with this piece about Kirschenbaum and his obsessions, which ran a little over a year ago in the New York Times.

The best places for DRM-free e-books – part 2 of 2

By Joanna Cabot

From Part 1: I love DRM-free books! I know that for most people, DRM is an issue they might not think about often; if their books work, they’re happy. But for many more experienced e-book users, it’s an issue to care about. Unless, that is, you buy and read books that are DRM-free.

Smashwords logoThe books referenced and linked to below can be kept forever, converted using free software such as Calibre, and read on any device you might own. But where to get them? Here are some of my favorite sources:

3. SMASHWORDS

This is the Amazon of self-published books. Some genres are better represented than others, and quality can vary, but it’s a polished-looking ecosystem. You can view online (or download for later) generous samples, and read reviews and comments by other users.

For authors, it’s a one-stop shop; if you format your work correctly, Smashwords can get it into the Kobo, Kindle, Sony and Nook stores for you. There is also a growing sub-group of authors publishing via this platform whose books started their life with mainstream publishers and are being re-released by their authors, who have gotten back the rights.

Many free books are available, as well as for-purchase titles. Once you buy, you can re-download, in any format you choose, any time you need a fresh copy.

Five to get you started:

♦ Soul Identity by Dennis Batchelder (free): A computer hacker is asked to investigate a mysterious group that promises to transfer your wealth to your next life by tracking your soul into its next incarnation. A great suspense read.

♦ Alien Murders by Stephen Goldin ($2.99): Three sci-fi stories featuring a ‘literary broker’ who travels to alien worlds via virtual reality, and represents Earth’s cultural property to alien buyers.

Still Life with Murder by Patricia Ryan, writing as P.B. Ryan♦ Deadly Gamble by Connie Shelton ($0.99): The first in a series of mystery novels featuring Charlie Parker, an accountant-turned-detective.

♦ Radium Halos by Shelley Stout ($2.99): An excellent historical novel based on the true events of the Radium Girls, female factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning in the 1920s from painting luminous watch and clock dials with radium paint.

♦ Still Life with Murder by Patricia Ryan (free): The first in Patricia Ryan’s historical mystery series featuring Nell Sweeney. Originally published by Berkeley Books.

4. FICTIONWISE

Fictionwise was once the e-book destination. Their sale to Barnes & Noble, followed soon after by the agency pricing fiasco, left them a shell of their former self. But they did—and still do—offer a good selection of DRM-free e-books. (Look for the word ‘multiformat’ when you’re browsing, to tip you off.) You can also select a genre and then use a drop down to filter your choices to only this type of book.

One drawback: Sampling is primitive, and often not available, and you’ll need to look elsewhere for reviews. But if you know what you’re looking for, you can get some good deals here. I won’t list prices for the following titles; if you’re a club member and wait for a coupon code, you can do much better than the list price.

Five good ones:

♦ Masters of Noir: Volume One by Ed McBain: The first in a series, edited by crime great Ed McBain and others, collecting classics from the crime noir genre into one omnibus volume.

♦ 3rd World Products: Book 1 by Ed Howdershelt: A fun and clever little sci-fi tale about alien first contact with Earth. They see our planet as a business opportunity! Try book one, and if you like it, go to Howdershelt’s website to get the rest of them in a much cheaper bundle.

♦ Fellowship of Fear by Aaron Elkins: The first in a well-regarded series featuring an archaeologist detective.

3rd World Products Book 1 by Ed Howdershelt♦ Rx for Murder by Renee Horowitz: Another creative take on the detective genre, this cozy read features a pharmacist sleuth.

♦ Dell Fiction MagazinesAsimov’sEllery Queen and other Dell magazines, both current issues and a few months’ worth of past issues. These don’t expire, either. They’re treated like an e-book, and once you have one, it stays in your shelf.

5. AUTHOR WEBSITES

If you find an author you like and his or her work is DRM-free, chances are they own the rights to the work, and control their own collections. This means it’s highly likely the author has a website, where you can frequently get series books in a bundle at a significant discount.

Some to try:

♦ Cory Doctorow: Doctorow gives away the downloads to all his books for free. Most of them have short ads at the beginning; you can find links on his website to vendors for purchasing a clean copy, or you can purchase a print copy to donate to a school or library.

♦ Simon Haynes: This author writes the popular comedic space opera ‘Hal Spacejock.’ He is self-pubbing his new Hal Jr. series, and you can buy the first four volumes of the classic series in a bundle for $9.99.

♦ Diane Duane: This author of the children’s series So You Want to be a Wizard sells both the original published version and a new updated version which is only available at her site.

♦ J.A. Konrath: He writes detective novels, suspense novels and blogs that are revered by aspiring authors. You can get autographed or inscribed print books, as well as e-books—including a bundle of every book he sells, for $43.99.

♦ Blake Crouch: A suspense writer and sometime-collaborator with Konrath. Alas, no bundles, but all the books are there with links to vendors for purchasing, and bonus features such as reviews and excerpts.

So, is that enough to get you all started? Happy reading!

The best places for DRM-free e-books – part 1 of 2

As found on Teleread:

By Joanna Cabot

Project GutenbergI love DRM-free books! I know that for most people, DRM is an issue they might not think about often; if their books work, they’re happy. But for many more experienced e-book users, it’s an issue to care about.

If you acquire 100 Amazon e-books and then you buy a Kobo, how are you going to read those books? If you spend years as a loyal Sony customer and then buy a Kindle, what will you do with the books you’ve bought and loved? Unless you are blessed with some technical skills—and either a country whose laws permit format-shifting, or a moral compass that doesn’t care as much about the letter of the law—you’re stuck.

Unless, that is, you buy and read books that are DRM-free. These books can be kept forever, converted using free software such as Calibre, and read on any device you might own. But where to get them? Here are some of my favorite sources:

1. PROJECT GUTENBERG

This is the oldest e-book repository on the Web. It has over 40,000 free books, with more available through affiliates like Project Gutenberg Canada and Project Gutenberg Australia. These books are all public domain titles, but you would be shocked at what’s in the public domain these days. It’s not just Shakespeare and the Bible anymore—there arepulp sci-fi and mystery titles from the Golden Age, early issues of Scientific American andAstounding Stories, cookbooks, children’s classics (including books for very young readers, such as the complete works of Beatrix Potter) and more. Many are illustrated. Some have audio book versions. Most of the newer ones were prepared through Gutenberg’s Distributed Proofreaders program to ensure they are error-free. New books are added very frequently

Browsing can be a bit of a chore—some of the books are sorted into topical bookshelves, others are not. But if you know what you’re looking for, or stick to the ‘new release’ or ‘most-downloaded’ RSS feeds, you’re sure to find something good. And the scope of this project—their goal is to have every public domain book ever published—is incredible. This is truly an unparalleled resource, and one of the great gifts the Internet has given us.

Here are five books to get you started; I suggest downloading the HTML, as it seems to convert the cleanest.

Harvard Classics♦ The Harvard Classics: The vast majority of the works in Dr. Eliot’s famous ‘five-foot shelf,’ a collection designed to give a reader a complete classical education with only the books which might fit in a single shelf.

♦ The Best Short Stories: A collection of themed short story collections such as ‘The Best American Humorous Short Stories’ and ‘The Best Russian Shirt Stories,’ sorted by country or origin.

♦ The Golden Treasury, edited by Francis Turner Palgrave: One of the best poetry anthologies ever published. The poetry bookshelf has some other good ones listed.

♦ Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg: This series draws together Jewish myth and folklore from a variety of sources, similar to how the Brothers Grimm synthesized fairy tales from multiple sources.

♦ Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: My all-time favorite novel. A gothic story of the forbidden love between the beautiful Catherine and the mysterious Heathcliff.

2. DELPHI CLASSICS 

Interested in reading the great classics but don’t want to take the time to download two dozen Dickens books, or seek out individual volumes of Sherlock Holmes stories? Do you want to read Andrew Lang’s popular Fairy Books as they first appeared with complete illustrations? Do you want to learn more about the great artists or poets, but don’t know where to start? Delphi Classics is for you!

This store is known for their lavishly illustrated complete works collections (complete works of Dickens, complete works of Austen, and so on) but lately has branched out into two new series: Masters of Art and Masters of Poetry, which, as their titles imply, present the complete works of artists and poets. These books are very well-done, withDelphi Classics D.H. Lawrence numerous illustrations, biographical information and other goodies it would take a long time to track down on your own. They’re also updated frequently—with corrections as well, with new works, as they become available.

If you buy from Delphi’s website as opposed to the Amazon store, you can download the free updates at any time from your account. Two drawbacks:

a. Some of the files are very large, which may slow down a less robust reader.

b. Also, you have to pay separately for the .mobi and .epub versions. I tried converting a mobi version using Calibre and after 30 minutes of trying, Calibre crashed. I don’t relish paying again for an epub if I move to a Kobo Reader down the road, and I think Delphi Classics should amalgamate their editions and let their customers download a purchased title in whatever format they choose.

My five favorites:

♦ Delphi Poets: Emily Dickinson ($1.99) – Dickinson’s complete works, with bonus biographical material including Dickinson’s letters, as well as photographs and illustrations.

♦ Dickens eVolume Collection ($3.99) – The complete works of Dickens, plus biographical materials and extras, in a zipped file of 20 volumes.

♦ The Brontes – Complete Works ($2.99): The complete vollected works of all the Brontes, including their childhood writing and work by their lesser-known artist brother. Illustrated with photographs and reproductions and all the usual bonus features.

♦ Andrew Lang- Complete Works ($2.99): The complete fairy tales books, in order, plus his other short story collections, poetry, other writing and so on. As usual, illustrated with all the usual bonus features.

♦ Masters of Art – Leonardo da Vinci ($2.99): Da Vinci’s paintings in full colour, zoom-able, with bonus details. I reviewed this unique series for TeleRead earlier this year.

Publishing will survive through innovation

By Chris Meadows from Teleread

Is publishing “dying”? On FutureBook, Vicky Hartley expresses doubt. She points to a number of great new multimedia apps on tablets that demonstrate some publishers are finding ways to use the new capabilities of tablets to reach out to readers better than ever before. Heuristic Media’s London – A City Through Time is one example, and the works of children’s book-based-app publisher Nosy Crow are another.

I’ll admit to being rather impressed by the trailer on London’s website, but I think it might be a bit premature to generalize from just a few book-related apps like this to the entire publishing industry. While interactivity might be great for non-fiction works that seek to cover a particular subject in extremely detailed scope, or for illustrated children’s works that also serve as learning tools, it’s not going to do anything for the fiction market.

But on the other hand, perhaps I’m being too specific. Hartley’s overall thesis seems to be that there are plenty of opportunities for publishing to adapt and survive to the new technological world in general. There’s no reason the opportunities for fiction publishers should necessarily look anything at all like those for non-fiction or children’s books.

Of course, the question remains whether publishers actually will take advantage of those opportunities. The bigger houses haven’t seemed that eager to do so so far. On the other hand, smaller operations like Baen and O’Reilly have been innovating for years.

Booksellers say they are dying, but refuse to sell books

By Paul Biba from Teleread:

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How dumb is this!  When your market is diminishing, and your revenues are diminishing, just go ahead and refuse opportunities to make money.  The booksellers won’t hurt Amazon, they will only hurt themselves.

From Publishers Weekly:

Earlier this year when Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced a licensing agreement with Amazon to publish and distribute all adult titles from Amazon Publishing’s New York office under the newly created New Harvest imprint, independent bricks-and-mortar booksellers as well as the nation’s two largest chains, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, said that they would not carry them in their stores. Among other reasons for the ban, they cited the fact that Amazon would retain exclusive rights to the e-book edition. With the first two books about to ship—Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine’s Outside In (shipping Aug. 1) and Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids?(Aug. 8)—PW got back in touch with booksellers to see if they have changed their minds about stocking their competitor’s titles and found little has changed. In fact over the past five months booksellers have become more entrenched about their decision.

One contributing factor is the growing awareness of the lack of transparency in the way Houghton sold previous one-off titles licensed from Amazon. This helped to account for strong bricks-and-mortar sales for novels like Oliver Potzsch’s The Hangman’s Daughter, which had been originally published by Amazon as an e-book before being sold by Houghton in print. For book two in the series, Dark Monk, a full-page ad in the New York Times Book Review in June made no mention of either Houghton or Amazon, another irritant to booksellers. The fact that indies said that Houghton sales reps have been up front that New Harvest titles—that are in the fall HMH catalogue– have been licensed from Amazon hasn’t made them anymore likely to carry the books.

E-books do not ‘cost nothing to produce’

Via Teleread, By Chris Meadows

We’ve all heard the argument that e-books should be cheaper because they don’t have printing, shipping, and warehousing costs. Blogger Deanna McFadden, who works in digital publishing, takes exception to writer Michael Chabon’s recent statement that it’s unfair publishers should get the same royalty as paper books for “an e-book that costs them nothing to produce.”

McFadden attributes this sort of statement to ignorance of all the costs and hard work that go into readying a book for digital publication, and grumbles that “Chabon essentially thinks my role, that of e-book person, is essentially worthless”.

Let’s take again the idea that for those two earlier books that essentially cost a publisher “nothing” to produce and actually look at what’s involved. Because the books are older, and let’s assume they are a fair bit older, no digital files exist. That means a gross, labour-intensive few days of scanning the text into a file. Then there’s the time it takes to clean up that file, to strip out all the gunk that scanning creates and make sure the e-text is as accurate as it can be to the p-text, again, more time. And sure, there are companies all over the developing world that will do this terrible work for a low cost (and my thoughts on that are, well, far too long to include in this already too long post). In the end, you’ve got the work into a digital format and it’s ready to be converted to epub, more buttons are pushed, coders come in and clean everything up, and you’ve got an ebook that’s ready to go. It’s proofed and checked and proofed again. Metadata is built, ONIX is created, files are FTP’d to the vendors, Amazon’s mobis are created, various different formatting things are checked, and then the book is for sale — but, hey, apparently, this costs all of us nothing to produce, right? There’s no time or energy or effort or anything put into pushing a button and magically having an ebook show up around the world, naw, it’s nothing compared to boxes and gasoline and shipping and warehouses, right? And I’m even simplifying things here for the sake of making a point — not a week goes by where all of our books end up in the right place, where none of them have some sort of technical issue, where there’s not a problem with data that needs to be solved — it’s complex, time consuming, and, at times, really frustrating.

McFadden does admit she may not be putting Chabon’s words into the right context. And I think that’s right. She’s kind of comparing apples and oranges. Yes, e-books have fixed costs of production, of the sort she describes. So do paper books. And they share many of the same costs, and (as McFadden notes) since e-book publishing and print publishing are often treated as two separate things instead of one thing with two separate products, they often duplicate those costs.

But what Chabon is talking about when he says they “cost nothing to produce” is the marginalcost. It costs a certain amount of money to run off each paper book, to ship it, to store it, and possibly to ship it back and destroy it. But e-books have such a miniscule production cost per unit—a few watts of electricity, a few kilobytes of bandwidth—that they effectively cost nothing to run off each digital copy. So if we assume that fixed costs are equal, e-books will earn those costs out much faster while not adding any marginal ones.

That doesn’t mean that the work of someone preparing those e-books doesn’t have value. It just means that when you start selling a lot of them, there’s a lot more room to cut price and/or raise royalty payments on the electronic version. Or so the perception goes, at least. There’s still considerable argument over whether that is actually true.