Friday, January 29, 2010

CBS Refuses to Run Gay Commercial, Claims Victim Status

CBS refuses a SuperBowl ad for gay dating site ManCrunch, an ad that simply shows two guys in football
CBSImage via Wikipedia
jerseys sitting on a couch suddenly making out after their hands touch in a snack bowl. This decision comes on top of the controversy surrounding their approval of an anti-abortion ad featuring SuperBowl athlete Tim Tebow.

The reason that CBS representative James Hibberd gave:
"After reviewing the ad - which is entirely commercial in nature - our Standards and Practices department decided not to accept this particular spot. As always, we are open to working with the client on alternative submissions." 
The real reason they rejected the ad: CBS is afraid of offending their massive SuperBowl viewer-ship in the south and mid-west, which include huge swatches of homophobic evangelical bible-belt dwellers.

Hibbard also went on to accuse ManCrunch of submitting an ad they knew wouldn't be accepted, with the express intention of gaining free publicity through the controversy. Because really, who would actually think that showing two men kissing on national prime-time television would be acceptable in our lifetime. Nice try, ManCrunch, but CBS is way smarter than that.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

MacMillan and Whine: The Futility of a Crusade Against Digital Book Piracy

At the Digital Book World publishers conference being held this week in New York City, Macmillan president Brian Napack took the stage as guest speaker to call for his fellow publishers to take up an aggressive fight against digital book piracy, encouraging them to coordinate in a series of lawsuits and anti-piracy legislation. His goal, clearly stated, is to stop the spread of sharing copyrighted intellectual materials over the internet.
Nuevo Kindle de AmazonImage by LA100RRA 3logs via Flickr

Where have we heard this battle cry before?

For those of you who answered the music industry, award yourselves ten points for paying attention over the last decade.

Since you were paying attention, we can assume that you also remember what a complete failure their Commerce Crusade turned out to be. Not only did they come nowhere near ending online file sharing, it is still managing to gain negative press by gleefully slapping million dollar fines on young girls and single mothers. All of their legal posturing and attacks have failed to make anything resembling a dent in online piracy, or file sharing, or watever you want to call it. Oh sure, they took down Napster, but just look at the difference that made.

Now, they have handed the torch over to the publishing industry, and some of the major players within seem
to be more than eager to follow suit and go after what they perceive to be a drain on their profit margins.

But is it really? It is a fact that book sales have been dropping drastically in recent years, and while it hasn't been as crippling as the drop seen in newspaper and magazine sales, it is still a healthy chunk. Considering the predominance of computer use, the growing market for eBooks, and recent studies that (very loosely) estimate losses in the millions from illegally downloaded books, it doesn't seem like a far-fetched premise.

Then again, it does avoid missing the bigger picture. The country is in what can easily be described as economic turmoil, and this is having an effect on commerce across the board. A major key to successfully selling any kind of luxury merchandise is offering an affordable product that people can afford. With unemployment rising and pay-scales dropping, many people can no longer afford to buy books casually. And with the list price of most hardcover books being more expensive (and eBook list prices are inexplicably as expensive) than the latest Blu-Ray release or a dinner for two at Applebees, many people are taking a pass.

There's also the question of how big the problem could actually be. Unlike the music industry, which releases all of its products in easily copyable formats, publishers don't normally count on technology for the bulk of their sales. Nook and Kindle sales might be on the rise (and modestly so) along with other eReading formats, but they still make up a vary small percentage of the commercial reading population. The majority of readers still prefer good old fashioned paper and ink. And even when considering that percentage of electronic reading, there is no iconic Napster to publicly slam for making the last Harry Potter available to the masses. And let's be honest; no matter how many copies of the Twilight series were downloaded illegally, the book still made lots of money for all involved.

Can you get books cheaper through online markets and major bookstore chains? Sure, but you can also get them for much cheaper at flea markets and used book stores. You can even get them free through legal channels, such as book trading sites like PaperBackSwap and BookMooch. And let's not forget public libraries; who knows how many sales publishers have lost from libraries simply giving them away for free. I'm not even counting the thousands of free copies that publishers themselves give out to promote their books.

So considering all of these equally tangible and logical reasons for the recent drop in book sales, why pick the impossible goal of battling digital piracy? Maybe because it is the only symptom that the publishing industry can even pretend to do anything about, and while spending millions on lawyers and court fees just to prove some kind of point might not make any real difference in the scheme of things, it probably feels more productive than just watching with a shrug and a sigh while your company spirals into the red.

Am I defending eBook piracy? Of course not. But it isn't the major cause for the declining sales the industry is facing, and if they make this their own multi-headed Hydra to battle instead of tackling the tougher issues at hand, they aren't going to end up as victorious as Heracles.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book Review: Dark Entries by Ian Rankin

There had been talk for awhile about Tartan Noir crime novelist Ian Rankin taking on the character of
Dark Entries (comics)Image via Wikipedia
Constantine for Vertigo, the prospect of which had a lot of Rankin and Constantine fans alike excited. Now that the waiting is over, the final product has turned out to be somewhat underwhelming. Rankin knows how to write, and his take on paranormal detective John Constantine is well within line with what regular fans would expect. But when it comes to the actual story, there is a lot in Dark Entries to leave the reader wanting.

Preaching the inherent evils behind the culture of reality television is nothing new, and has been almost as popular as the shows themselves since Survivor started taking over broadcast television back in 2000. Countless authors have used that type of setting as a springboard for mystery, thriller and horror novels /short stories since then. While this doesn’t mean there still isn’t fresh material to be found there, Rankin’s approach can’t help but feel a little stale. The fake shows mentioned throughout are meant to be exaggerated examples of the inanity of reality programming, but their similarity to actual shows takes the bite out of these quick swipes at social satire.

The disappointment is even greater when Rankin seems to completely ignore the existence of actual ghost-
hunting and supernatural based reality shows, and instead chooses to involve Constantine in a rather mild fear-based version of Big Brother. Things turn demonic and spiritual, of course, but in a far more contrived and roundabout way than if he had merely been tagging along on an episode of Ghost Hunters or during the filming of Paranormal Activity 2. This doesn’t seem like an unfortunate oversight as much as it does a tragically missed opportunity.

The midway twist regarding the true nature of the show would be impressive in another comic series, but unfortunately for Hellblazer fans, the reveal (not to give anything away) doesn’t take them or John Constantine anywhere they haven’t been dozens of times before. Again, it is admittedly hard to take a character from such a long-running series in a completely new direction, but when it comes to the Hellblazer franchise, the oft-visited destination of Dark Entries tends to feel more like a fallback than a plot twist.

Add to all of this Vertigo’s release of the comic in a minimalist black-and-white manga-style paperback, which feels more like a cost-savig gimmick more than an esthetic choice, and despite the talents of the author behind the book, Dark Entries ends up feeling like a rather unsatisfying light entry into the Hellblazer series.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Unwanted Books Review: Smart Guys

I've recently decided to start reading and review some of the less popular books on my online trade lists. Think of it as the Land of Misfit Books; titles that I don't seem to be able to give away, despite the instant access to millions of readers.

The first book I've chosen to showcase is the young adult romance novel Smart Guys. This book has been sitting on my trade list at since 2006 without a nibble, despite having had other books from the Crosswinds series requested. After awhile, that makes me curious enough to give it a read.

“Meet the Kids in Group Three.
Dave: He just wants to have a good time – and to get to know a certain girl better.
Taylor: Dave’s dream girl. She’d make Miss America look like a dog. The only trouble with Taylor is, she doesn’t know how to relax.
Benson: He could star in a nerd movie. Definitely the clumsy-genius sort.
Frieda: She’s cute but hyper, with a nonstop mouth. She’s also great at organizing – one guy in particular.
James: With his high-fashion clothes, he may look well-put-together, but he’s a real airhead until he gets in a lab.
Five special teens are spending the summer working on a top-secret project. Just how much trouble can they get into?”

Quite a bit, it turns out. Especially after they decide to look into the supposedly accidental death of their project’s original inventor, and suddenly find themselves knee-deep in a murder investigation and conspiracy reaching as high as their school’s administration, and quite possibly the US Military.

Smart Guys is a part of the shortly lived young adult Harlequin imprint Crosswinds, for which Carrie Lewis wrote a few novels, this being one of them. While it is admittedly a light and fun read with the romantic elements existing on a strictly After School Special level, there is no denying that it also bares a strong resemblance to the 1985 cult classic comedy Real Genius, which was loosely based on actual events at Caltech. Both feature recklessly fun-loving genius main characters that team up with a ragtag group of highly intelligent misfits to sabotage their institution’s insidious plans.

But the similarities don’t stop there. Some of the book’s plot twists and scenes are right out of the film, such as the after-hours pool party and the secret military project, and the characters of Dave and Frieda are almost identical to those played by Val Kilmer and Michelle Meyrink. Considering that the book was published in 1988, three years after Real Genius hit the screen, and it isn’t hard to guess where Lewis got her inspiration.

That isn’t to say the book isn’t good. Lewis has a very light and breezy style that makes the story breeze by, and the characters and dialog are much more inventive than the lame back-cover description. This is definitely the perfect Young Adult romance novel for someone looking for a Revenge of the Nerds without the adult humor. Just don’t be surprised if you experience déjà vu while reading it.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

reBlog from S. Michael Wilson

Today on my Author Site: A quick mention about my recent radio show appearance...

It was here that I was invited to appear as a guest on Father Scardo’s Altered Hours show, airing Thursdays from 1PM to 4PM. Father Scardo acted as host from behind his mixing board alter, bedecked in his trademark bloodstained smock, while his enigmatic sidekick DJ Cheezy assisted in the background, his identity consistently masked by a series of view-obstructing objects and a mysterious cloud of noxious, S. Michael Wilson, Jan 2010

Shoot over to for the full post.



Tuesday, January 12, 2010

reBlog from S. Michael Wilson

I made a blog post today on my author site about a recent speaking engagement:

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to act as the Guest Speaker at the January General Meeting of the Science Fiction Association of Bergen County (or the SFABC, if you’re into the whole brevity thing…). I was invited by the group’s president, Philip De Parto, after meeting him at last summer’s BookNJ event at the Paramus Public Library. Out of the over ninety authors at the BooksNJ gathering, I was one of only a handful of writers whose material was sci-fi related. Needless to say, we hit it off immediately, and eventually I ended up on the guest roster for his organization’s monthly, S. Michael Wilson, Dec 2009

You should read the whole article.

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