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June 2011

Discovered in Time, at Hay

Posted by Mari Gordon on 9 June 2011

Finally, only a year or so later, we launch fab new archaeology book Discovered in Time. We had a lovely event on the Hay Festival programme - pretty small in scale, but all the more enjoyable for it.

I knew the author, Mark Redknap, was a bit nervous and I felt suitably guilty. But I also knew he'd be great. He's articulate, knowledgeable, engaging and can throw in a soupcon of humour - ideal speaker material.

We'd pitched the event as a discussion on issues like who are we (museums) to decide what's 'treasure', or are we the natural authors of the national 'story', or de we hand over the 'voice' to communities (yes we do), and how do we relate to amateur archaeologists - all stuff I think is fascinating. Mark talked about those issues and illustrated them with some gems of stories related to various objects featured in the book. However the audience were also clearly drawn by the archaeology, and wanted some good old-fashioned archaeologists 'in the field' stories.

BBC journalist Sian Lloyd was our host for the event and she brought a fresh face and a sound journalistic approach, keeping the whole event expertly on track. The Q&A at the end included questions ranging from 'what was your Howard Carter moment?', which Mark gently explained can happen many times either with discovering a new find or with a new discovery about an old find, as we keep studying the collections and applying new technology, to the role of science in archaeology - see point about new technology. (And, is archaeology itself a science? Hmmm...).

I was really pleased that the audience comprised a healthy mixture of men and women, and all ages. What they had in common was that enduring fascination, which perhaps we all have, with the light objects that survive from antiquity can shed on our shared human past. And that, I hope, is just what our new book conveys.

Discovered in Time is available now. Available in Welsh, Darganfod y Gymru Gynnar. Both just £14.99. Order online.

March 2010

And as if by magic - it's still not here.

Posted by Mari Gordon on 10 March 2010

Well, the iPad now has a release date for the US - early April, not mid-March as first expected. It will probably arrive in the UK late April. In the meantime we seem to have exhausted ourselves trying to decide whether or not it's a good thing - let alone a necessary thing. But then not being needed didn't make the iPod or iPhone any less desirable.

Apple's marketing for the iPad has taken a turn for the interesting, as their key words are "revolutionary" - possibly true - and "magical" - what?! Of course it's slick, sexy, a thing of beauty; there might well be something revolutionary about it; but - magical? Now using that concept to describe a piece of digital equipment, that's revolutionary! It's a piece of kit that lets us use our email and the web, look at our pics and videos and play with all our digital toys (150,000 of them apparently). Eventually we'll be able to use it to read e-books.

Previously Apple were promoting the iPad's similarity with the iPhone in terms of functionality, so that we'd all feel at home right away. Now, however, the iPad is revolutionary, magical and value for money. It sounds as though somewhere in the flurry of attention since its announcement, Apple have abandoned the "third category" concept that so many people questionned, and instead are positioning the iPad as a gem of a product, something lovely and affordable and just so much fun. A must-have accessory, perhaps. In which case, where does that leave the e-reading function? It was never primarily an e-book reader, more for all-round media consumption, but publishers were desperately looking forward to the healthy, straightforward supply deal offered by Apple, and any further delay in launching iBook in the UK is surely going to be a major cause for concern.

February 2010

Publishers are happy to have a bite

Posted by Mari Gordon on 10 February 2010

Macmillan have now ended their stand-off with Amazon, and come to an agreement over the terms of sale of their ebooks. When Macmillan initially demanded new terms, all their books became unavailable on Amazon.

Now, even Rupert Murdoch says that Amazon's terms "devalues books", and he looks like renegotiating HarperCollins terms.

The problem is Amazon's selling model, in which they act as a straightforward reseller. They can sell the ebooks at any price they choose, even lossleading on some if they want to. Apple, on the other hand, have taken a completely different model with US publishers, who are welcoming it with open arms. Apple will be buying ebooks from publishers at a price set by the publishers, with Apple effectively taking a commission.

There's still no indication that Apple has started negotiating with UK publishers, so when the first iPads ship to the UK at the end of March ebooks might not be available through iBooks. If not, however, it won't be trhough lack of enthusiasm on the part of publishers. This is one American trend I don't think we'll mind following.

Apple not so shiny

Posted by Mari Gordon on 3 February 2010

How disappointing to find out that, in one aspect, Apple are no different from Amazon. At the moment, no books are available for iBook in the UK. It seems Apple are just as behind as Amazon in negotiating publishing rights for the UK territory.

Disappointing, but understandable I guess. They're both American companies, based in the USA so it makes sense that they sort their domestic market out first. Also, as I've commented before, the iBook isn't being promoted as the iPad's primary feature anyway. It's just that, for some of us, that was what we've been waiting for! There's no way ereading will move towards the mainstream until we have a decent colour multi-touchscreen, multifunctionality and an intuitive UI. At the moment the devices on the market work for fiction (no images, minimum functionality needed) and the academic market (especially with the specialist Kindle Tablet for students). I'm looking forward to being able to browse my reading material in the way we now 'browse' the web.

January 2010

It's i-read, not e-read

Posted by Mari Gordon on 28 January 2010

As predicted, Apple have launched their new product, what we were expecting to be their version of an ereader, with suggestions for names like 'Tablet' and 'iSlate'. In fact, the iPad isn't even marketed as an ereader but as a tool for engaging with media all-round. Jobs describes it as a "third category", and the promotional video highlights three aspects to the iPad experience:

  • a web browser
  • email
  • and lastly an ereader, featuring, inevitably, iBook.

Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and S&S have signed on provide content through iBook. Apple has offered a more attractive deal than Amazon by agreeing to link the ebook price to the print price. They'll split the sale 30/70. Initially publishers will still earn less from the iPad, but the agreement gives longer-term control and helps still fears that Amazon are driving prices even lower over time - and gives publishers some leverage.

Of course there are other features, and the larger touchscreen makes this a much better tool for enjoying your images in iPhoto and the most feasible device yet for downloading and watching films.

Perhaps one reason why Apple avoided positioning the iPad directly into the ereader market is the size. Although the 25cm multitouch colour screen is clearly easier to read from, ereaders have so far been promoted for their convenience, which includes being highly portable - more so than a pile of books. The iPad is nearer the size of a netbook, although at 1.25cm much slimmer (and prettier!). Another reason will be the price: although initial guesses at the cost were around 1,000$, at 499$ for the basic model the iPad is still a wee bit pricier than other ereaders, and the 3G 64GB model will be 849$.

Industry comments so far have questioned whether consumers actually want a "third category" device, especially at those prices. Publishers, however, seem to breathing a sigh of relief: at last, an attractive device and a publishing model that protects our profits. And as Jobs says, the 75m people who've bought iPods and iPhones already know how to use an iPad. The questions are, can they afford to, and do they want to?

To e or not to e?

Posted by Mari Gordon on 19 January 2010

A couple of years ago we were being told that everyone was talking about changes to the supply chain. Today the book industry "buzz" is undoubtedly ebooks. In fact, I'd bet that more words are being written about this issue than are being e-read – estimates on the size of the market are still 1%-2%, even in the USA. This first wave of users are the 'early adopters', people who habitually use new technology, whatever it's for.

First, there were the usual 'death of the book' noises, which have been emerging every now and then ever since the invention of newspapers (or probably since the invention of moveable type itself). Curiously, the fact that this premise has been discredited several times doesn't stop it re-emerging. In reality books align themsleves fairly quickly and eventually benefit from whatever was meant to sound the death-knell (remember how after VHS videos came out, cinema attendance rose?). The content crosses the platforms, whatever the medium or the technology. Newspapers publish books. Films and tv programmes have tie-ins. And publishers are exploring ways of spreading their content across online, broadcast and print. The online content adds value to the book experience, it's not yet replacing it.

Booksellers now have to find a way to maximize on these opportunities, as selling coffee and DVDs isn't the answer (just ask Borders UK – oh, you can't). Some publishers are already blurring the lines, or even eradicating the traditional route to market – booksellers – entirely. Amazon, playing cuckoo in the nest, is simply gobbling up other people's content and selling it packaged as an Amazon product. It buys rights to content and publishes ebooks that can only be read by the ebook reader Kindle – produced by Amazon. The same will be true of the forthcoming Kindle 2. And when you download your book you don't actually own it, you just sort of licence it – if it's deleted or withdrawn you lose access to the content. Imagine buying a new book from Blackwell's only for a bookshop assistant to turn up at your house some time later and take it back! (Actually that wouldn't happen if only because they don't get paid enough to make house calls. Booksellers are among the best qualified, best-informed and worst paid employees anywhere.)

The Kindle and other ebook readers are probably the reason ebook reading is still marginal to the market. The reading experience isn't great, as on the whole the screens are smallish and black and white. As pieces of kit they're expensive (average £250-£400) and limited in what they do (no video, for example). In fact most ebook users (53%) are using their laptop instead. Another common complaint is the lack of quality and range of books available. There are only 250,000 titles available for Kindle in the UK (350,000 in the USA, none in Canada); that might sound a lot but over 100,000 new titles are published every year in the UK.

For publishers, the pricing is the major issue. We can't for the life of us decide what ebooks should cost. Most existing and potential readers – over 80% - believe ebooks should be cheaper than print books. But, cheaper compared to what? Paperback? Hardback? Book club edition? And should it be available before or after the paperback release? Publishers have already seen supermarkets loss-leading on trade titles, should the value­ (not price) of their product, brand or author be even further undermined? And then there's the debate over author royalties, which the Society of Authors believe should be higher than the current 15%-20%, given the larger margins available to the publishers.

Soon, however (March, actually), a new ereader enters the market. We're going to get the long-awaited 'iPod moment'. Apple are making a press announcement on 27 January, which is expected to end much speculation and say that in March they launch their own ereader. An ereader is already available as one of the thousands of Apps for the iPhone, and it will probably be the kind of multifunctionality and style we expect from Apple that will change the ebook reader landscape, for the better, if more expensive – the Apple version is expected to retail at about admin:edit_field,000. By doing more and doing it better, Apple will bring the 'added value' to the experience that other ereaders haven't. Apple don't launch products until Steve Jobs believes they've got something special. Some years ago he said he wasn't interested in the ereader market – but, a long time ago, he said that about mobile phones… At least one very major publisher, HarperCollins, is already in talks about making ebooks available for the Apple hardware (iSlate?), possibly via iTunes.

Of course, there are still the whines of "you can't read an ebook in the bath" and so on; hey - only 6% of us say that the bath is our favourite place to read, so there goes that argument. Sustainability is a more valid concern: I wonder how much carbon we'll using as we charge up our ebook readers, what nasty materials they're made out of and what happens to them all when we thrown them away.

Once we get to know and, undoubtedly, love the iSlate, answers will emerge for some of these issues, and publishers can continue their experimenting with multiple, complimentary formats, while hopefully maintaining the true value of creative, high-quality content.

July 2009

St Teilo's Church - the book blog

Posted by Mari Gordon on 28 July 2009

At last, the first review for Saving St Teilo's has come in.

Reviews make me nervous but in a good, exciting way. I never really dread seeing them but it is a truth universally acknowledged (in publishing at least) that you can't keep all of the people happy all of the time. So, sooner or later we'll get a stinker. But not this time –

"Gerallt Nash’s book also conveys a spirit rarely found in museum publications – pride and joy, craftsmanship and passion, a genuine sense of adventure and achievement. It makes the reader not just want to see St Teilo’s, but also to wish that they had rolled up their sleeves and lent a hand in its rescue."

To read the rest of the review go to http://www.vidimus.org/booksWebsites.html

 

April 2009

St Teilo's Church - the blog

Posted by Mari Gordon on 27 April 2009
BBC journalist Garry Owen
BBC journalist Garry Owen launches the book 'Saving St Teilo's'

We had a fabulous event at St Fagans yesterday. The weather wasn't quite with us - damp and overcast - but luckily lots of people were, and very many of them bought copies of the book!

I didn't catch the whole service as I was flitting around with boxes of books, but what I saw was very moving, and it felt intimate and totally natural.

Then a whole load more people arrived for the actual launch. People crowded into the Church and the two main speakers, Garry Owen and Eurwyn Wiliam, both did excellent jobs. Eurwyn spoke about the project from its beginnings, and as he's been involved with the project since its beginning 25 years ago it was a great overview. But, as always, humorous too! Then Garry Owen brought a lovely personal note, as he's a local boy who remembers the Church when it was still by the river Loughour at Pontarddulais. He really emphasised just how iconic the Church was  - and still is - to the local community.

Finally everyone came over to Oakdale, the Workmen's Instititute, for refreshments and we were flooded with people queuing up to buy the book. It was like when you first arrive at a car boot sale! It was also great for me to finally meet some of the book's contributors, people I've only emailed up til now. I guess everybody was enjoying themselves as by 5.30pm some people didn't seem to want to leave!

The rest of the work for me is now to make sure all the relevant bookshops and retail outlets know about it. And making sure it's on the relevant websites. And sending out review copies... In a way, producing the book is only half the job: now we've got to sell it!

St Teilo's Church - the book

Posted by Mari Gordon on 20 April 2009

No blogs for a while now - but mostly because we've been working full tilt on the book (also because I've been off for a week...).

So, it's now at the printers, and there's nothing - well, hardly anything - more we can do now. If all is well the books will be in Cardiff this Friday, and we'll all be at St Fagans launching it on Sunday. If the weather is anywhere as good as it has been this last week or so then it'll be a truly lovely afternoon.

As exciting as it is to look forward to seeing the actual book (no matter how many proofs, dummies etc you've seen - the real thing always looks different!) this bit always makes me a bit nervous too. After it arrives, and I spot the inevitable typo that got away, or something I wish we'd changed when we had the chance, or... and after the launch event, I'll be able to reflect on what a pleasure it was to work on and how lovely everybody was to work with. It's a real privilege to have been able to learn so much about the whole project - one of the very best bits of my job is being able to get involved with such a variety of different projects that might otherwise have passed me by. But with this one in particular, I think, the depth of people's knowledge and skills, and their committment, is inspiring.

 

Anyway, look out for it, available in all good bookshops - soon!

 

January 2009

St Teilo's Church - the book

Posted by Mari Gordon on 14 January 2009

We're getting really stuck in now. We've had a complete set of pages, which is our chance to move or replace any images, or perhaps move pages around. Once we've done that the layout is set in stone and we start proofreading. While we proofread the English, the designer will work on the Welsh pages - that's why it's important that nothing moves around after we've agreed on the layout!

We had some new external shots of the church done, so that we'd have a wider choice to try out for the cover. I think we're pretty close to deciding on the image. And I think the title is decided too:

Saving St Teilo's: bringing a medieval church to life.

I hope it's a strong title, and I like the fact that we get the name 'St Teilo's' right in there at the beginning!

We're also moving ahead with the launch event. It will be in the spring, March or maybe April. It should be a lovely event, it will be lighter then - and warmer!