Thursday, May 25, 2006

My favourite things

Firstly, if you're reading this Scott, I apologise but it is honest criticism.

One of my favourite things to do is go to the pub. One of my favourite websites is beerintheevening.com. A fabulously simple yet enormous database of all the pubs in the country. You can type in streets, postcodes, towns and pub names and come up with opening times, services, photos and maps of the pub you're looking for but best of all you get a rating out of 10 and a list of user comments which may not all be entirely kosher but you soon learn to weed out the ones posted by the landlord and concentrate on the genuine comments. These can be abuse, praise or just reminiscences. You also get all the pubs nearest to the one you are currently looking at so you can compare and contrast.

Now The Friday Project is a new publisher that takes material from the web and erm, publishes it. One of its new titles is Beer in the Evening, a guide book taken from the website and what an overwhelming disappointment it is. No maps, No photos, No cross referencing nearby pubs and not as many comments as on the website.

I can see that they are attempting a kind of Zagat or Hardens style crossover here for pubs but the greatest thing about BITE is its free. You get all the restaurant reviews at zagat.com but you have to subscribe. The second greatest thing about BITE and the reason the internet is a marvelous joy to behold is its fluidity. You can add comments, interact. It makes BITE a living database and the book by comparison feels quite lifeless and empty.

And it set me to thinking about all the talk in publishing at the moment to do with technology, e-books, blogs and the future of the book. And it seems to me there is space for all these things. As with film and television some things just belong on a big screen and some on your telly box in the corner. And with text some belongs on the web, some in a magazine and some in a book. It's all about context at the end of the day and you have to choose the right media to serve the context of your work. Macmillan publishers are making most of their money at the moment selling english language text books and work books to India and China. I can't think of a better use for the new e-books coming on the market than as school aids. They could be cheap, durable and interactive. But likewise a novel just feels wrong on an e-book. I can't stand reading large chunks of a coherent and finite text on a screen even if it is the new inky screen and I still like turning pages. Art and Photography work much better as lovingly printed books. But I'd much rather read a blog on screen than as a book, it just feels right on a screen it's something about the never-ending quality of blogs, their unfinishedness suits the world of the web.

I don't think this marks me down as one of the technophobic fogeys because I love technology. I just appreciate that different materials require different forms of delivery and that is why the book will never die.

ps I have just finished watching season 5 of Curb Your Enthusiasm (not broadcast here yet) and it contains some of the most unparalleled comedic genius ever committed to video. One episode manages to include unfeasibly large vaginas, Orthodox Jews, edible panties and a ski lift. It is possibly my favourite ever. I'll leave it to all you Larry aficionados to join the dots on that one.

7 comments:

  1. Way back (only a few months but already seems like years!) when we started I had an interesting conversation with a man I named Death Of The Book.

    He was going on about e-books and how they were going to kill off the book as we know it.

    I have to say I was nervous. Then I thought about it. A lot.

    I love my I-Pod. I love to put it on shuffle and see what pops out, what songs it will place together, the combinations I would never have thought of that work so well. I love the way it now sits on my stereo and there are no CDs (or tapes or records if we go back a bit) all over the place.

    I can see why the huge success of downloading and I-Tunes gets publishers and magazine writers all excited and the logic that says the book is next.

    But it won't happen.

    Why?

    Well the physical format on which music is recorded has only ever mattered to total geeks. It is not an intrinsic part of the music (unless you love the scratchy sounds records make or the way tapes used to go all wibbly after a thousand plays - yeah I know you're out there). What is important about music is the sound. You don't have to physically interact with the CD or record for it to work, you let a machine do that - hence the success of the I-Pod. It is a machine that lets you enjoy music in a new and exciting way.

    Books are different. The feel of a book in your hand is very important. There is a sensual element to turning pages. The print on the page is a vital part of the reading experience. People that love books understand this. They will never be satisfied with reading from a gadget. For a start the gadget always remains the same. Every book is different.

    How long did it take apple to find the design for their I-Pod? When will these e-book nerds realise that if the concept is to have a chance the gadget needs to look desirable? Not just an object to love, an object that replaces the infinite variety of books.

    Adam is right. E-books will be great for students. Or for people going on long travels. They will come to have their place. They might even kill off the "airport" thriller that you read and then leave in a hotel room.

    But the kind of books we sell at C & P will never die. They are lovely. They come in all sorts of seductive shapes and sizes. They feel and smell great. They get flies trapped in the pages. (Just happened to me) They are addictive. There is no substitute!

    The book trade has always been a bit weird. Books will continue to defy the bean counters and the techno-freaks. Some peolpe will never get it. Those that do will love Crockatt & Powell - a new old bookshop that sells...BOOKS

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  2. I think our friend at Short Term Memory Loss aka Snowbooks has already has the last word on this. I can't get the permalink to work for some reason, but go to www.shorttermmemoryloss/words and find the entry from April 24th regarding "readr"...

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  3. Crockatt and Powell are back. Fantastic post, all three of you. I'm very proud.

    Absolutely agree. xx

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  4. The Readr - LOVE it...

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  5. Beer In The Evening is very poor. Friday Books are a total disappointment. They're not different enough from the websites to be worth paying for, and like you say, most of them worked better online anyway.

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  7. Hello, I agree with the assessment of our Beer in the Evening book, but that title is well over a year old now (so not 'new' by any standards) and I think we have learned from our mistakes (see the 24 or so titles we have published since then). Please don't worry about Scott being offended - he didn't even work for us when we published BITE and knowing Scott, would be unlikely to be offended by anything anyway. Please don't damn us on the back of one book - just one look at our forward list shows the range and quality of books comin out through the year - and frankly Ollie/Sean - could it be that you're just bitter?

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