Thursday, October 27, 2011

Books as games (no, not like that)

Over at Kotaku Kirk Hamilton has written an article about a hypothetical world where books are distributed more like video games. The main conceit is that it’s easy to get a book; you just buy it at the store or through your device. In contrast the article states that buying a game is a months long affair akin to pregnancy as you read previews, about development and delays. It’s in some ways a fair cop, and in others it isn’t.

John Hodgman just released a trailer for his upcoming book. It’s not uncommon these days for books to have trailers, little teases to get readers excited about a new release from a favorite author or an up and coming writer. To be fair Hodgman’s trailer was released a little less than a week before the book launch, but that isn’t always the case as book trailers are often released months ahead of time. Trailers aren’t previews though, they’re more like the announcement videos used for games.

More like previews are advance copies. Earlier this year I was asked to review Ready Player One. In order to review the book in time for it’s August release date I was sent an advance copy that was content complete but lacked final editing; it was expected to have typos that wouldn’t be present in the release copy. I got lucky with this book; it was written by a relatively new author and the publicist was targeting a wider audience. I wasn’t so lucky with Neal Stephenson’s REAMDE, a book I was super excited about.

I knew people had advance copies of REAMDE; people at Boing Boing had advance copies, a friend of my brother had an advance copy. I was jealous and did the only thing I could; I pre-ordered it from Amazon for my Kindle. The choice of where to pre-order it from was more about platform than any sort of bonus, but the bonus is price. While games aren’t generally priced less than MSRP (with some retailer exceptions) at launch, books almost always are. The choice of where to buy is a combination platform and price.

The story doesn’t stop when REAMDE was wirelessly delivered. About ten days after I received the book and started reading I got an email from Amazon titled “Kindle Title Reamde: A Novel (ASIN:B004​XVN0WW) has an available update”. There was an update to my book. It turns out that there were some formatting errors and small bits of content were missing. Truthfully not enough to throw a fit about (although some did) but enough to warrant a patch. So hey, post-release patches exist even for books.

Books also get content updates. When authors become more popular and have more sway with their editors they sometimes release author’s preferred editions of their books. Sometimes titles get split into multiple volumes when released in paperback. Books often see new light in anniversary editions or updated reprints.

My point is that there are parallels between the book publishing industry and the games industry. Both industries want to sell something to you and then sell it to you again if they can. The same goes for any entertainment industry. The movie industry will try and move unrated director’s cuts and music studios will tout import only exclusive tracks. Book publishers and authors might not treat their content in exactly the same way as game publishers but when you look at the two industries they aren’t all that different.

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