First I need to say one thing: I am not an Amazon apologist. Yes, they’ve done great things. But there are too many indies blindly singing hosannas to the mighty Zon. Perhaps they’re scared their books will be pulled if they don’t or maybe they just love Amazon. I don’t know. But Amazon have made no secret of their desire to rule the world and they’ve stepped on little people to get to that goal. But, that being said, there are two reasons why I’m not sure this will devastate independent bookshops as much as some might think.
Ebooks don’t trump books
I got my first Kindle two years ago and I love it. It’s a fantastic little device and it’s worth it’s weight. Literally, because it saved my wrists from snapping under the weight of the Game of Thrones books. But I still buy tree-books. Quite a lot of them. And I’m not alone. I know only one Kindle owner who has entirely turned her back on tree-books and that’s only because she can’t physically lift them anymore.
Sure, an independent bookshop will want you to buy all your books in a physical format (despite the 10% commission Amazon will offer them on ebook sales). But a devoted reader is bound to pick up an ereader at some point. Why not have them do it at your own store? Which brings me to:
Service trumps price
There’s a comic shop in Norwich called Abstract Sprocket. It is, unsurprisingly, a little out of the way and it cannot compete with Amazon on price. Whilst I don’t buy comics anymore, I still buy graphic novels and collections. So where do I buy them?
At Abstract Sprocket. Because it’s a pleasure to shop there. The guys love their products, they recommend titles to me because they think I’ll like them, and they’re just fun to talk to. It costs more money to shop there, but it’s worth it. If an independent bookshop is a pleasure to visit, customers will keep coming back.
And I can guarantee they’d rather visit the bookshop that isn’t afraid to talk about and help them with ereaders and ebooks rather than the one that sneers at them and sprays them with holy water.
So am I saying independent bookshops should stock Kindles? I think I am. People want ereaders and ebooks. If the bookseller creates a welcoming environment and offers great recommendations, many customers will come back. And I’m pretty sure they’ll keep buying tree-books too.
Is the Kindle a Trojan horse or is it just another reading tool? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, this year is the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. So there’s been a bit of a celebration on the old BBC all culminating in the special episode The Day of the Doctor. And it was pretty darned good. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)
The last time I wrote about Doctor Who I was bemoaning the sorry mess that was the last series. There wasn’t any mess in this episode. The Day of the Doctor was pretty solid, with two plots running side by side. A missing version of the Doctor (named the War Doctor and played by John Hurt) is just about to destroy Gallifrey and wipe out his own race, the Time Lords, in order to prevent a war that will engulf the universe. And the Zygons are trying to take over the Earth. Doctors War, Ten (David Tennant) and Eleven (Matt Smith) all get tangled up in events and manage to save the day. All of them.
First, let’s get this out of the way. The ending. What an enormous cheat. The Time War has been a big part of the revamped Doctor since he was brought back to our screens in 2005. Having to commit genocide on his own people gave him a darkness and a weariness to him. He was haunted. He was a survivor. It motivated everything he did.
“Not any more!” says Moffat. “Look, we did some timey-wimey stuff and it just looked like he killed everyone. But they’re all safe really.”
I hate retcons. They’re a flipping cheat. And the Doctor’s been cheating far too much lately.
One other gripe was Billie Piper’s appearance; it seemed gratuitous to me. She had no real need to be there. It didn’t make an awful lot of sense and it seemed like she was being shoe-horned in so the BBC had something else to build hype about.
But Hurt, Tennant and Smith shine too brightly for these flaws to really be seen. Smith, of course, is on his usual fine form. Tennant was a pleasure to watch again. And the two of them played their differences very well. Sometimes they were similar to comic effect, others at polar opposites to dramatic effect. Excellent stuff.
Hurt, of course, was always going to steal the show. And he was definitely the highlight. The War Doctor was what everyone wanted to see and Hurt delivered an excellent performance. He could have been a one-note character, simply playing the tragedy of the genocide he’s about to commit. But he was many things: wise, grumpy, tired, even funny. Whilst Tennant and Smith romp about, he asks them, “Must you speak like children?” Despite playing the old, tired warrior, he was still recognisable as the Doctor. He had his clever ideas and he even romped a little himself at the end.
And, despite my problems with the ending, it did address my gripe with the last series: the story, although it contained a few odd tangents, was strong. A beginning, a middle and an end. Whilst not appropriate for a first-time or even casual viewer, it was a self-contained story. And it does open new doors for the next series. It will be interesting to see where the hunt for Gallifrey takes the Doctor.
In short, if you’re a fan, you’ll love it. If you’re a casual viewer, you’ll enjoy it but need to visit Wikipedia afterwards to figure it all out. If you’ve never watched Who before, do not start here! Go watch series five. It’s the best one.
What did you think of Day of the Doctor? Leave me a comment and let me know?
You Are Just A Guest was my first short story, about a newly married couple who move into a house that is more than they expect. It came from my own fear of ghosts, the spooky noises that houses make at night, and the idea that houses themselves might be more than we’ve given them credit for. It’s a story I’m very proud of and I’ve received some great feedback on it.
But I was never happy with the cover. So I went back to it, gave it a new cover that reflects the story better and, hopefully, gives a better feeling of the sort of story it is. I’m a lot happier with this cover and so, to celebrate, I want to give it away.
To that end I’ll be sending a code to all subscribers on 31st October, Halloween. The code will let you download You Are Just A Guest for absolutely free. Just click here or use the form in the sidebar. And, of course, all new subscribers get a code to download The Homeless Hero for free too!
I’ll be sending out the code on the 31st so sign up now to make sure you get it!
It would be easy to get angry at Kobo. When their UK partner WHSmith removed all self-published ebooks to stamp out the pornography that’s been hogging headlines, Kobo cosied up to them and followed suit. They cut off thousands of indie authors from any revenue they might have earnt via Kobo. They punished the many for the sins of the few. In short, they burnt downt the house to get rid of the ant nest, and they asked indie authors to pay for the matches. An indie author could be forgiven for wondering if they should trust Kobo. But here’s my point:
You shouldn’t trust any of them.
There are a lot of indie authors who don’t bother with Kobo, or Apple, Barnes & Noble etc. They cosy up to Amazon, sign up to their exclusive KDP Select scheme and sit back. They trust Amazon to sell their book for them and no-one else.
I have often said that’s not what authors should do. I’ll say it again too. Authors should ensure their books are available in as many formats from as many vendors as possible. KDP Select might offer you a few perks, but why are you alienating the Nook owner who can’t download your ebook? Why are you telling the Kobo owner she’s not good enough to buy your ebook? If readers can own different ereaders, authors should make their books available on all of them.
But Kobo have highlighted the other side of this argument. Spreading your ebooks over multiple stores diminishes your risk.
Imagine Amazon reacted the same as Kobo. Imagine Amazon just stopped selling your book. If your book is sold by Kobo, Apple, Nook, Smashwords et al then you’ve taken a blow but it’s not the end of the world. But if no-one sells your book but Amazon? Then you just stopped earning any money whatsoever.
WHSmith have shown us how easy it is for a retailer to stop selling our books; they did it in a heartbeat. Kobo took less than a day. Trusting any retailer to have your best interests at heart is foolish and, if you rely on those royalties to pay the bills, dangerous. So whilst Kobo may be denying us sales, perhaps we should be thanking them for the lesson.
I recently wrote a guest post at New Media Angels about the future of Facebook. It was sparked by a discussion as to whether Facebook was doomed and what it ought to do to avoid such a fate. I outlined a few steps that I thought would preserve Facebook’s future and one of them was allowing you to buy things via your Facebook account. Since then people have asked a few questions, but the number one question has been this: “why on Earth do you think I’d give Facebook my credit card?”
It’s a fair question, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to respond.
My thinking behind the Facecoin idea was simple. Right now Facebook has one revenue stream: ads. That’s not enough to ensure survival in my book. So they need to diversify. Get a few fingers in a few pies. And micropayments is an emerging pie. The only real contender is Bitcoin. Bitcoin, however, is not a well-known name. Facebook is. And if you’re faced with a name you know and a name you don’t, a lot of people will pick the former without even asking about the latter.
But, of course, Facebook isn’t a name you can trust. That’s why step one of my plan was to rebuild trust. I’m not convinced their reputation is irreparably damaged. And once they’ve changed their image, I think people wouldn’t balk at handing over their details. Especially younger users, who might not have been online when Facebook was so distrusted. After all, we trust PayPal with our credit card. Why not someone else?
Let me put it this way: imagine a new social network, Safebook is unveiled tomorrow. Safebook does everything Facebook does, down to the finest detail. But it makes no claims to your photos or data. It makes it easy to manage your privacy. In fact, it encourages privacy. Privacy might even be a default. And Safebook also lets you pay for things, just like PayPal. Why wouldn’t you dump Facebook?
Now imagine if Facebook turned into Safebook over the next year. Now tell me you wouldn’t hand over your card details.
So DC Comics are mired in controversy once again. This time they’ve posted an open call for new artists and given them a page to illustrate. Harmless enough, except that they’re asking their prospective artists to draw Harley Quinn, female villain, naked and about to commit suicide.
You can imagine how the Internet reacted to that one.
Me, I’m entirely unsurprised. This is the comics company that recently hired Orson Scott Card, a writer so homophobic he’s touted revolution as the answer to legalised gay marriage. This is the comics company that banned creators from ever showing Batwoman’s gay marriage on panel. Hell, this is the comics company that gave rise to the Women In Refrigerators trope.
Comics have a bad reputation when it comes to women and it’s not hard to see why. Walk into any comics store and you won’t see many superheroines with their own series. And what superheroines you will see won’t be dressed for a warm day. (But check out Michael Lee Lunsford’s superheroine costume redesigns; you’ll realise how daft the “real” costumes look after seeing his take on them!)
A lot of people will argue that this is all fine. That superheroes wear daft costumes too. That heroes of both genders are idealised to the extreme. That it’s just comic books. And hey, Harley Quinn is insane. She probably would get naked and try to kill herself.
This latter argument holds weight with me. Harley is one patient short of an asylum. Getting into the tub and dropping a hair dryer into it doesn’t strike me as too out of character for her.
But this panel can’t exist in a vacuum. While men can be anything but women must be sexy, while men get costumes that cover their what-nots but women go chilly, and while men aren’t being put into refrigerators naked into tubs with hair dryers, DC can’t be so unaware as to think that this image is okay.
I’ve been reading comics for years and there’s always been talking of comics as an art form, of trying to get the mainstream to take comics seriously. Some people say comics have made it because of the success of films like The Dark Knight and Avengers.
I say that film studios have figured out that superheroes make for good action movies. In the meantime, the mainstream can call comics juvenile and backwards as long as DC refuse to treat anyone other than straight, white men with the respect they deserve.
What do you think? Are women still getting the short end of the stick? Or am I making a whole lot of noise over nothing? Let me know in the comments.
Format Update Quandry strikes everyone when a new media format comes to town. When VHS yielded to DVD, when cassettes unspooled to CDs, media owners would have to fork out to buy their favourite films or albums if they wanted to enjoy them in the best quality.
Now Amazon is bring FUQ to book readers with their Matchbook service. Aside from the clever name, Matchbook means that, if you’ve purchased a print book from them, Matchbook will let you buy the ebook for a discounted price, anywhere between $2.99 and free.
But is it worth it?
I’m a big fan of ebooks. But let’s be honest: ebooks don’t provide a superior reading experience. There’s no upgrade to the sound quality and they don’t deliver HD picture to the imagination. So if you already own a serviceable print book, the scenarios in which you’d happily buy an e-copy are few and far between. Maybe if the print copy weighs a ton. Or…um…
Perhaps I’m just too enamoured with paper books. Perhaps I’m failing to move with the times. But I don’t see the point in owning a paper book and an ebook. To put it bluntly, Kindle Matchbook doesn’t give me a FUQ.
Will you use Matchbook? Let me know in the comments.
Writing my own superhero short story has got me thinking about comics again. Last time I was writing about gay superheroes. This time I’m writing about dead ones. Or, more specifically, dead-but-not-really ones.
It’s hard to think of a superhero that hasn’t died at some point. Superman, Batman, Wolverine, Captain America, the Hulk. Death comes for everyone. However if you put on spandex and rough up a thug or two, death isn’t the handicap it used to be. It doesn’t screw up your career like it used to. So it doesn’t take long for a hero to shake off death like a bad case of the flu.
Because so many heroes have died this is in no way a comprehensive list. Rather, this is a guide to the greatest deaths, both in terms of their impact and how good I thought they were.
Also: major spoiler alert!
Perhaps the best known superhero death, and certainly the first to die in such a sensationalised and well-marketed way. Faced with an unstoppable foe, Doomsday, Superman spends issues hitting it with things until they both kill each other with a simultaneous punch.
That’s right. Superman was punched to death. No kryptonite. No special scheme from Lex Luthor. Just a really good hit to the jaw.
Of course DC had no intention of leaving him dead. They did leave him in the ground for a few issues, though, which led to the far superior Funeral For A Friend storyline in which Supes’ fellow heroes and the world at large try to deal with the loss of such an icon. But Superman had to come back. In fact, the Death of Superman storyline only came about because the writers had, in fact, been planning to write the wedding between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. But Warner Bros. (which owns DC) asked them to put that on hold until their TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman reached its wedding episode too.
So because they couldn’t marry Superman, they killed him instead.
The Jason Todd iteration. Poor Jason was the unloved replacement for Dick Grayson. Comic readers never warmed to him, so he was offed by a combination of a crowbar-wielding-Joker and a public poll. Yes, bloodthirsty readers could vote on whether Jason would survive or not.
Jason stayed dead for many years and served as a motivating sense of guilt to Batman; he erected Jason’s costume in the Batcave as a reminder. When Jason reappeared out of the blue he did so as a villain, the Red Hood, resulting in a great detective story as Batman tries to learn if it really is Jason and to come to terms with the resurrection of the Robin he’d failed. Writer Judd Winick didn’t explain how Jason returned in that storyline and it was better for it.
Especially as it was later explained by Superboy punching the walls of reality.
Yeah. I know.
Before Superman woke up from his dirt nap, a number of impostors took his place including Hank Henshaw, a Cyborg Superman. This Cyborg Superman destroys Hal Jordan’s hometown of Coast City, sending him mad with grief. Jordan declares himself Parallax and kills many other Green Lanterns before sacrificing himself to save Earth.
What made Jordan’s death interesting is not that Parallax was retconned as a space parasite, but that Jordan was made into the new Spectre whilst dead. The Spectre is DC’s God-appointed spirit of vengeance, and forcing Jordan’s ghost into the role led to some great storylines about sin, vengeance, penance and redemption. It made the revolving door of death itself a story.
Perhaps the most interesting comic book death of late. Norman Osborne, Marvel villain Green Goblin, was made head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and wanted the knowledge of superhero secret identities that Iron Man held. So, to keep the knowledge from Osborne, Iron Man systematically deleted his own mind. Tony Stark ends up brain dead on life support in a hospital bed.
Except he made a back-up of his own brain.
It was a nice little spin on the I’m-dead-oh-wait-I’m-not story. It sat well within the world of Iron Man, sitting on the cusp of possible technology. And the back-up was restored to Tony’s chest unit, so he’s still technically brain dead. All of his thoughts are housed in a computer in his chest. It even controls his autonomous functions like blinking and breathing.
Perhaps the original and the ultimate. Jean Grey was/is a member of the X-Men, who was exposed to cosmic radiation that greatly amplified her powers and made her Dark Phoenix. Exhausted after a battle and a long journey, she drained the energy of a star to energise herself, killing billions on an orbiting planet. Stricken with grief and scared by her destructive impulses as Dark Phoenix, she committed suicide.
It was not originally intended that Jean Grey would die; she was meant to be depowered and placed into the X-Men’s custody. But editor Jim Shooter argued that a character who had killed billions couldn’t be let off so lightly. Although main characters were not killed as a rule, the creative team suggested Jean Grey sacrifice herself. Shooter agreed, but stated that she could not come back unless she could be absolved of her crimes somehow.
So Grey was originally a permanent death. Until Kurt Busiek suggested Dark Phoenix simply looked like Jean Grey; the real X-Man was in suspended animation under a lake.
So good they did it twice. Marvel killed off Peter Parker in the Ultimate universe, where he not only took a bullet for Captain America but then went on to defeat a monstrous Green Goblin. He has been replaced by Miles Morales, who has different powers but still goes by the name Spider-man. As “dead is dead” is supposedly the rule in the Ultimate universe, Peter hasn’t come back.
But, just months after killing him once, Marvel did it again. This time a dying Doctor Octopus does a mind swap and Peter dies in Doc Ock’s broken body. Old Doc has a change of heart, though, and suddenly decides to be a good guy after all. Peter stuck around in Doc’s subconscious for a while (don’t ask me how that works) and, though Peter’s now supposed to be gone for good, I’m pretty sure that Doc’s just keeping old Spidey’s seat warm.
It’s easy to critique the professionals, so I’ve written a superhero story of my own. It’s called The Homeless Hero and it will be out at the end of the month. If you sign up to my newsletter I’ll send you a code so you can get it for free!
Who do you think the greatest comic book death is? Leave a comment and let me know.
It’s safe to say the batteries are recharged after the Zeldathon so it’s time for the announcement I was putting off: it’s new short story time!
It’s called The Homeless Hero and it tells the story of a young journalist who becomes involved with the world’s only superhero, Pinnacle. Pinnacle wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and help others. But he gives too much and it’s killing him. She needs to encourage him to be a little selfish before it’s too late.
You’ve only got a few weeks to wait until it’s published (I’m just tidying up the ebook for you). You can sign up to be alerted once it’s online; if you do, you’ll also be sent an exclusive code so you can get it for free!
Last time I was writing about how houses can be scarier than any of the demons and ghosts we can conjure to put in them. This time I’m writing about what it means to be a hero. What does it mean to devote ourselves to helping others? Superman has a life, a job, a wife (depending on DC’s mood that morning). He eats and sleeps like the rest of us. But there’s seven billion people in the world and someone always needs help. How does a superhero draw a line in the sand and say “this is my time; you’re on your own”?
These are the things I think about when I see Clark Kent doing, well, anything.
Anyway, The Homeless Hero will be published at the end of this month and will cost only $0.99. Don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter so you can get it for free!
So we did it. 24 hours of playing Legend of Zelda and although we didn’t hit our target we raised money for a good cause. I’m feeling pretty chuffed with both myself and my brother, Chris. We did good!
The marathon began with a few technical problems which meant we could stream to YouTube. Instead we used Twitch.TV, and we’ll upload the video to YouTube for prosperity instead. Once that was agreed we dived straight into Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time! And the conversation got weird quickly.
Now we're talking about organic chicken kievs. This is not your average video gaming marathon!
We had originally hoped to finish both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. However when we found it had taken us four hours to finish three out of ten dungeons in Ocarina we began to realise that wasn’t going to happen. That was a shame – Chris has never completed Majora – but we soldiered on.
But we made it through and, after an even more frustrating battle with Ganondorf, Ocarina of Time was in the bag! It took us very close to 17 hours and that didn’t even include any side quests. But we powered in and plugged in Majora’s Mask.
Already on the first temple! Kicking ass as little Deku Link! Topic of discussion: David Hyde Pierce. As you do! #Zeldathon
4 AM is always the time when an all-nighter struggles most. We were frequently standing, walking around and drinking energy drinks. We certainly began to question why on Earth we were doing this and began to blame the other for the idea. And, being tired, we began to make mistakes.
We've knocked out too many sections of the column in Snowhead so we're having to redo it. So frustrating! Looking forward to sleep!
But we needed to rally and somehow making fun of Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi seems to turn it around for us. After falling down a lot we finally rectified our mistakes and Chris beat our final boss fight! It was left to me to take us home, so I fetched our horse, Epona, so we could get the Zora mask and spend our last half an hour exploring the waters. And experimenting with control options.
Spicing up the last 15 minutes with dual control; @Christopher_J_K handles one half of the controller, I the other. We're wacky guys #zelda
All in all it was a great experience and we’re both surprised to find we’re not sick of the sight of Zelda. We’d quite happily play some more!
Our biggest thanks to those that sponsored us, we really appreciate every penny you donated. If you missed our stream, Chris will be posting video to the PandaPad YouTube Channel and if you want to donate any money I would recommend nipping over to the Child’s Play Charity website. It’s a good cause and they’ll make sure every penny you donate goes to helping these kids stuck in hospitals.