Linked: The new rules for reviewing media

Jason Kottke on the new rules for reviewing media:

Compare this with traditional reviewers who focus almost exclusively on the content/plot, an approach that ignores much about how people make buying decisions about media today. Packaging is important. We judge books by their covers and even by how much they weigh (heavy books make poor subway/bus reading). Format matters. There’s an old adage in photography: the best camera is the one you have with you. Now that our media is available in so many formats, we can say that the best book is the one on your Kindle or the best movie is the one on your iPhone.

Kottke is right, of course. In time, online reviewers would begin to take into account which version – Kindle, iPad, or Nook (or whatnot) it is that provides a better reading experience. And perhaps that answer would be different for different kinds of books.

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  • Kyt Dotson

    Amazon reviews and others have become a sounding board for bad quality media. Just like the reviewer who refused to make commentary on a particular product until it became available for something they found appropriate, a great deal of readers may balk at a format which is crippled by DRM or unfit to move from device to device due to other proprietary mechanisms. The online fiction community presents an interesting take on this, mostly because many of us are writing for the web and often for a very wide audience, and we’d like everyone to enter our stories.

    The result for me is seeking out distributors who release many different formats from the most raw (text and HTML) to formats which fit the cutting-edge devices that traditional publishers are just pushing their way into.

    I have one reader in Russia who prefers PDFs and when I was writing Vexations often asked me when the PDF would arrive (I wrote a simple script to autoconvert them for him) and another in Sri Lanka who preferred to read the story on his PDA phone (now he has an iPhone) and with these two I learned the benefit of being able to transform a work into as many formats as possible.

  • Eli James

    @Kyt: Sorry for the late reply. Yes, I’ve a feeling that we’ll all have to encode our fiction in a base format in the future … and at the moment the best format seems to be XML. XML’s just awesome. I’m not sure if there are programs that would do it for you, but theoretically you can create just one XML file for your ebook and turn that – automatically – into pdf and HTML and any number of eBook formats (who are themselves written in some form of XML).

  • Kyt Dotson

    On the front of encoding in XML. Numerous old skool layout programs like LaTeX extend their formats cheerfully into XML and are common enough that it’s used by archive journal digitization. Also, I believe that the newest Microsoft Word formats are a quasi- or psudeoXML that might not be too difficult to run XSL transforms on to turn it into more industry “standard” XML.

    I speak from strange experience here — back to the scientific journal archives — and XML is an excellent format to store things in, especially because even in the presence of multiple standards, switching between them (in XML) is almost trivial. Good XML literally enforces openness of standard in it’s very structure, which gives rise to easy support across multiple applications/devices either by being able to translate it or via transformations.

    People may still DRM XML formats by encrypting the data within them, of course, but this is expected. So as readers and members of the web publishing community we may want to keep on our toes and avoid supporting formats that enforce or rely on currently broken DRM concepts.

    However, I almost envision a product-with-extras format that includes encrypted elements (but not the core product) like author notes, commentary, media, so forth designed to unlock itself on certain key events. Or maybe just unlockable via entry of codes from web pages and the like. Gimmicky, I know, but there may be some benefits from having embedded unlockable elements that can be gracefully broken “later” but are easier to circumvent soon after publishing by simply paying an extra cost or some other social transation. (A huge problem I have with DRM is products becoming broken/inaccessible after a long enough timeline; the reverse as a gimmick might work to draw in the want-it-now crowd while not leaving out future readers who wouldn’t pay the gimmick cost in the first place.)

  • Eli James

    Oh yes – I’d forgotten about LaTeX. If I remember correctly – the format’s primarily used in academic circles no?

    The interesting question to ask, I think, would be if there’s demand for software that just takes your writing and exports it to something else. A formatless format, if you will, that serves as the holding point for your content, easily converted on demand to a needed format at a latter date.

    An example of an online service that does something similar: pdfcrowd. Though then again text to pdf has been built into PHP from the start, so it’s not exactly the formatless format I’ve been talking about.