This is ridiculously awesome. Gollancz decided to bring a lot of classic SF/F back into print as ebooks. More of this stuff should be out of copyright by now, it’s all DRMed, and two-thirds of it can’t be bought in the United States, but despite all that I’m really happy. Cordwainer Smith, Pat Cadigan, Kuttner and Moore — lots of books that should be available, and now sort of are. It’s cultural history that matters to my tribe. There are books I’m keeping in physical form just because who knows when someone will digitize all the old Gardner Fox? But efforts like this one make me hopeful.
Two interesting ebook questions: when will publishers get around to releasing the backlist as ebooks, and who will be the quality gatekeepers in a world of self-publishing? You may think the second question is a moot point, and can be answered by some form of collective criticism, aka Metafilter, but I’m going to throw out some relevant news anyhow.
As I understand it, part of the problem with the first question is that publishers don’t own the ebook rights to their backlist. It wasn’t part of the standard contract back in the dark ages of the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s. This means authors can do it themselves, if they like. Please take a moment to read this post from John Scalzi before continuing.
This summer, literary agent Andrew Wylie realized that he had a bunch of clients who had great backlists which could be profitably released as ebooks without the added cost of involving a publisher. We’re talking people like John Updike, who do not need as much marketing for their backlist as others. So he tried that. Alas, it did not work out entirely well.
However, the (primarily) SF&F agency JABberwocky recently did the same thing. So that’s kind of interesting.
eBooks on the iPhone are pretty obvious; I’ve been keeping an eye out for a good reader. Here’s the first cut: Stanza (App Store link).
The key is being able to download your own books, which Stanza allows. Grab Stanza Desktop and load your books into there, then select Enable Sharing from the Tools menu and fire up the iPhone Stanza app. Shared Books -> Books on Macintosh displays the list of currently open books in Stanza Desktop. Select the ones you want, and there you go.
(Helpful hint: go back to the Mac to tell Stanza Desktop that it’s OK for the iPhone to connect. I couldn’t figure out why the iPhone app was hanging at first.)
Stanza Desktop supports a nice list of file types, including Open eBook, Kindle, Mobipocket, HTML, PDF, LIT, PalmDoc, RTF, and Word. It does not support Sony Reader or PDF files. Good enough for my purposes but not perfect.
The iPhone UI could use a little polish but it’s very functional. I’m happy for the nonce. The apps are currently free; the web site says the Desktop will cost something once it’s out of beta.