Doctor Who: The Lost Stories

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Doctor Who: The Lost StoriesLong, long ago (1985) the BBC put Doctor Who (then staring Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor) on “hiatus” while pre-production was underway for it’s 23rd season. When the show came back 18 months later an entirely different Season 23 was produced. A few of the stories from the “lost” season 23 have been novelized but most have not.

Now Big Finish Productions (who have been producing amazing audio drama for years) announced that they’re going to be recreating the entire season on audio, including one previously unknown story.

Links of Interest (February 5th 2009 Through February 24th 2009)

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
Plugin Authors, Are you making the best of Readme.txt?
A comprehensive guide to where the WordPress Plugin Directory pulls the data it displays. A must read for plugin developers. Especially important with the recent changes to the directory's search capabilities.
Cross-Browser Inline-Block
If you've ever tried to create a flexible gallery style layout of elements of varying heights, then this is for you.
HTML5 Canvas Cheat Sheet
A compact reference for HTML5 canvas element.
Dalek War Boxset
This Doctor Who Restoration Team article detais the process of restoring color to "Planet of the Daleks" episode 3. It was theorized some years ago that interference on the surviving 16mm B&W telerecording (made by essentially pointing a film camera at a TV) might contain some valid PAL color subcarrier information. Unable to get funding to investigate the idea (which sounds a bit more far fetched than Dalek's to me), the informal Colour Recovery Working Group was started up online. The group succeeded in recovering color information from the telerecording. Meanwhile the Restoration Team commissioned Legend Films to colorize the episode (a process that's come a long way since Turner, but can still look a bit flat in the end). The finished version blends these two sources together, then processes them via VidFIRE (the process of restoring the original 50 field per second interlaced image from a telecline, another process developed during restoration of Doctor Who episodes).
Bacon Stupidity
For the month of February, Michael J. Nelson (MST3k, Rifftrax) has pledged to eat nothing but bacon. Yup, bacon. All month. Just bacon.

Is the Audiobook Industry Broken?

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Evo Terra over at Podiobooks.com feels that the audiobook industry is broken. It’s not the first time I’ve seen him mention it, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

NOTE: Before going on I feel I should mention that I am an affiliate for Audible.com as well as a long time customer. That is in no way my motivation for posting this1 , but I figured I should mention it. The opinions are mine, as always.

Overdrive and the MP3 Audiobook Bait and Switch

Evo starts off pointing to points to Borders offering downloadable DRM2 free MP3 audiobooks. The problem is they aren’t offering downloadable MP3s at all. All Borders is doing is putting yet another new front on Overdrive3 . Overdrive is everywhere4 . If your library offers free audiobook downloads, chances are they’re Overdrive.

Overdrive very carefully words things to say their product works with most MP3 players. Until recently they didn’t technically work with any MP3 players. They were all DRM protected WMA, and if your device doesn’t play WMA 5 then you are out of luck.

What really left a bad taste in my mouth was the slimy marketing they used to defend this. They used to have literature all over their sites decrying Apple for only supporting DRM on proprietary formats, all the while using Microsoft’s DRM laden proprietary format, which cut non-Windows users out of the loop all together. This lead to my local library posting information that was practically correct, but technically bogus as to why you couldn’t use your iPod to hear the MP3 audiobooks they offered. In reality they didn’t offer MP3s at all.

More recently they’ve started offering files in MP3, or so they claim. They still package the files in some container format, and you need to use their software to get the “DRM free” MP3s out. The software only runs on Windows, so Mac users are out in the cold. I can not comprehend how an action that seems to have been taken primarily to support the Apple iPod doesn’t support users of Apple computers.

Evo’s Four Reasons

Evo offered four reasons for why he thinks the audibook industry is broken, and I’m going to respond point by point.

Availability

Publishers aren’t willing to make the additional investment required to turn every book into an audiobook.

This is generally true. Not every book receives an audiobook release. How I wish this weren’t so. Audible.com , at least in the realms of Science Fiction and Fantasy, is doing their best to rectify this6 .

[Podiobooks.com’s] goal is to leverage something the other audio houses haven’t thought of or are only experimenting with — letting the authors do much of the heavy lifting.

Author’s reading their own books was common practice for some time. I have many audiobooks on cassette read by the authors. These are more rare today, because audiobook consumers voted with their wallets and pro-narration won out.

I realize Evo is referring to authors recording and editing their own readings their own works for the publisher if the publisher would just take and release the files, but I’m almost certain it’s not that simple7 . I’m sure many authors would have no problems, but just as many wouldn’t bother because they wouldn’t know where to begin. Also some authors are openly hostile to the idea of audiobooks, and don’t think people who have listened to them have “read” their books8 .

Usability

The act of listening to an audiobook is, well, difficult.

No huge argument there from me. In fact Random House’s recent split with Audible.com is a great example. To listen to Scott Sigler’s Infected on my iPod I had to rip the CDs and merge them into an audiobook file. It’s not something I’m willing to do again. I don’t really care who is at fault in this one. The fact that the parties involved can’t suck it up and come to some agreement is childish. It’s costing them both money (Audible.com because they can’t sell me the books I want, and Random House because they don’t offer a viable alternative).

DRM is a huge part of the inconvenience, but not all of it. Audible.com uses DRM, and I wish they didn’t, but the way they deliver their books, and how the work on devices is damn close to my idea of audiobook nirvana. I only have one or two files to stick on my device, and it’s broken up into chapters for navigation, has cover art9 , bookmarks where I left off 10 , and just generally works for me. Basically the other conveniences, for me, outweigh the DRM issue (for now) 11 .

Most of the DRM free options are not so convenient a listening experience. I have to jump through hoops to make the books work for me. It’s a pain.

Low bit rates are the norm in the download space, and it’s really unnecessary in a world where bandwidth and storage space are anything but scarce

I couldn’t more strongly disagree on this one. You can ask anyone who knows me, I’m very picky about audio quality, but I cringe when I see audiobook files at high bitrates. Last time I checked my audible library was about 25GB for just under 11 weeks of audio, all of which sounds better than my cassette based audiobooks ever did12 .

Accessibility

It’s not uncommon for audiobooks to cost more than twice their hardcover counterparts and be an order of magnitude higher in price than the paperback version. […] Things are different for disc-distribution. It may cost more to stamp out 20 discs than it does to print 400 pages. But when looking at a digital download, the cost to distribute approaches zero.

I was used to audiobooks costing a lot, but you have to look at the length of the content. I have audiobooks that are 24+ hours and cost less than a DVD Season Box Set from HBO. I value books higher than I value TV, so I pay for it13 . My understanding is that CDs are cheap as dirt, so if you think you’re paying for the physical medium you’re being ripped off just the same.

Profitability14

It seems downloadable audiobook companies apparently don’t pay out great royalties. I assume this comes down to the fact that most non-casual purchasers buy books with membership credits, so while the cover price may be $80+, the customer only ended up paying around $1015 . I believe it was Orson Scott Card who mentioned that by recording some extra audio content for all his books he gets paid twice (book royalty and performance royalty). I don’t know how solvable this is for traditional publishing.

So Is it Broken?

All the numbers I’ve seen point to the audibook industry booming like it never has before. Sales were estimated at $923 million in 2006. While all the issues mentioned above are real, they don’t seem to be slowing things down enough that I expect any big changes any time soon. Maybe I’m missing something obvious, or I’m living in a bubble.

From where I’m sitting this is the Audiobook Golden Age. Most pro-audiobooks are unabridged, and there are more audibooks available than ever before. There are some really great places like Podiobooks.com and Librivox offering free content.

Do I wish things were different? Sure. I wish Audible would drop DRM, at least at the publisher’s request. I wish Overdrive would go jump in a lake and get out of my library, or change their tactics to be less slimy. I wish Podiobooks.com offered convenient audiobook-listener friendly formatted files16 . So, from where I sit it’s a bit broken, but it’s better than it’s ever been before.

  1. In the years I’ve been an affiliate I don’t think I’ve hit three digits yet, total, so honestly the money doesn’t enter into it here []
  2. What’s DRM? TIME magazine’s The Battle Over Music Piracy may help you understand. []
  3. aka SimplyAudiobooks. []
  4. Like Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, but without any hot beverages. []
  5. like that iPod thing []
  6. As are folks like Scott Brick who is independently producing Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant Books []
  7. Although Scott Sigler’s Infected shows that it is at least allowable. []
  8. more on this lunacy here []
  9. although it really needs a resolution face lift []
  10. some devices offer a way to drop in your own bookmarks as well, but the iPod does not []
  11. Audible’s management software has CD burning support so if you can get DRM free access to your purchases, it’s just a bit of a pain. []
  12. Audible.com does offer BBC Radio Dramas, which I will not buy because of the bitrate, and lack of stereo support []
  13. Truth is I end up paying ~$10 per audiobook currently, but I used to pay the cover price. []
  14. Couldn’t find a good pullquote, you should have read Evo’s article anyhow. []
  15. actual transaction []
  16. which I would be happy to pay for []

Links of Interest (January 31st 2008 Through February 19th 2008)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008
Crime podcast novel gets HUGE boost in advertising
Video of a digital billboard advertising for Seth Harwood’s “Jack Wakes Up”
The parseInt gotcha
I’m pretty sure once you’ve been hit by this parseInt() behavior in javascript you never forget it, but if you haven’t you should learn about it now before you do.
CSS Tools: Reset CSS
Eric Meyer’s Reset style-sheet (now in its permanent home, with versions numbers). Including this should reduce browser inconsistencies, and help you not to rely on undefined default behaviors.
CSS Tools: Diagnostic CSS
Eric Meyer’s diagnostic.css (now in its permanent home). Including this stylesheet will highlight elements that are incomplete and may be degrading the user experience.
Jason Bateman Confirms “Arrested Development” Movie Talks
I cannot begin to express how much I hope this comes to pass.
Amazon acquires Audible for $300 million
This caught be by surprise. Hopefully it will remain mostly unchanged, although adding stereo support to all the stereo BBC programs they carry would be nice.

The End of an Era

Sunday, June 26th, 2005
Product Image: Doctor Who: The Gallifrey Chronicles (by Lance Parkin)

After the last book I read, I needed to read something a bit… shorter. This just so happened to show up at my door at just the right time. I have (almost) all of the BBC Doctor Who novels, but I haven’t read most of them. I hope to some day, but it’s mainly a collection at this point.

This one I really wanted to read, for a number of reasons. This book is the end of the block of continuity that started back in August 2000 with The Burning, where the Doctor has lost all of his past memories; I’ve had a renewed interest in Doctor Who due to the show finally coming back to BBC TV (warning, link contains spoilers for the 2005 season of Doctor Who); the book was supposed to make sense to people who have never read any of the 100s of previews Doctor Who novels; most importantly, for me, it was written by Lance Parkin.

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