Thursday, May 9, 2013

So... Why Pulp? - I Bet There's an App For That!

These days, it seems like we’re doing everything on our mobile phones but making toast. Or maybe that’s possible and I’m just behind the times, because I only use my cell to make calls. Still, I do depend on it, and with all the applications that you can possibly add, I can see why people are increasingly spending time staring down at that little screen.

As New Pulp writers and independent publishers, this is a significant situation, because so much information is being shared via handheld devices that we’ve got to be on top of the trend to access a more broad-based market. Pulp in its heydays was highly visible on street corner newsstands, where the brightly colored, sensationally designed covers were sure to catch the eyes of people passing by. That was state-of-the-art advertising because newsstands and drug store magazine racks were where people went to buy inexpensive reading material. If you want to sell books, or at least let people know where they can find your work, you have to get their attention where it is primarily focused; and right now, there is a lot of interest in what mobile phones can do. Since even the simplest models have internet access, we need to take advantage of that capacity and put our ads and offerings where they can be seen. You can conceivably learn about what a publishing company sells, read an excerpt, see an interview with a favorite author, watch an advertising trailer, browse the catalog, click to buy something, and download a book—all within a very short period of time and without even getting off the couch. If you don’t mind squinting, you can even read the book right there on the phone. Eventually, we’ll even have audio versions streaming through your earbuds. It’s a brave new world!

As someone who straddles the line between the Industrial and InfoTech eras, I understand how daunting and downright confusing some of this electronic wizardry seems. I’m not very quick to embrace the latest and greatest gadget either, though I do understand the appeal, as well as what promise that holds for me as a writer. We stand on the verge of an age when all our major ‘necessity’ purchases—houses, motor vehicles, appliances, etc; will be designed with sophisticated integrated functions. In time I think even small appliances will hook into an IT grid, where you can warm the oven and chill the drinks from your cell phone or vehicle monitoring system as you leave the office. We’re slowly seeing changes in the medical and education fields, where computers and handheld devices are playing a far more significant role in teaching and diagnostics. Yeah, it’s a database world, and for us independent authors, that’s turning out to be a good thing. My books, and information about me as an author, are only a Google or Bing away. I’ve had people scan my covers on their cell phones and email the information to a far off relative or friend who might really enjoy one of my stories. Being an easily searchable entity online has helped me sell a lot more books than I otherwise would have. So while I may not have fully signed on to the age of ‘apps for everything’, I have embraced its potential. It’s a very savvy way of marketing to a far broader audience than I could ever reach without the internet and all those gizmos that give us access just about anywhere we roam.

I often hear from people who are fed up with this plugged in/tuned out world that they only like to read real books. 

Well, digital books are real books; it’s just that they are not made of dead tree fiber. However, I don’t believe printed paper between colorful covers is going away anytime soon. There’s a certain cachet to actually holding a book in your hand and manually turning the pages. A print book doesn’t have low batteries or a glaring little screen. It doesn’t interrupt you with a text message. It’s perfectly capable of being read in full sun on a beach, and as long as it doesn’t get rained on or dropped in the water, it’s fine. Book reading is a very quiet and peaceful hobby, and I think most of us that still love to hold a hardcover or paperback in our hands, also love owning them, because our shelves are bursting and there are stacks throughout the house. No, books aren’t a dying format just yet, and neither are authors. Oh sure, there will be writing apps eventually (if not already) where you can create a story from answering multiple choice questions and let the bot throw it together for you. But no machine can beat the human brain at creative thinking, so we’ll still be writing the old fashioned way—from mind, through fingers on the keyboard, to the page. That’s not going to change anytime soon either. There will continue to be actual printed versions of popular books, though I don’t believe they will have the prominence they once enjoyed.

What we’re supposed to be doing here is expanding the way writing is delivered to the customer, not just replacing one facet of publishing with another. That’s probably the reason the music industry has had so many hiccups over the last 35 years or so. As tapes started to supplant bulky LP albums, and then CDs all but wiped them out, only to be replaced by MP3 downloads that take no space at all, the equipment to run them also underwent a transformation and downsizing. Today’s music playing devices take up a lot less space, and they have become imminently more personal in nature, to the point where you can take them out jogging, to work, or to the library, and have a quality listening experience. You can plug your music device into your car for the commute, you can sample and shop while you listen, and download something as a ringtone to your cell phone. Like pulp and print books, LP albums never completely went away, though they are far from the norm anymore, and record stores have become a thing of the past. Finding a turntable to interface with today’s USB driven equipment is a bit of a hunt, especially for those who don’t have internet access or experience. Since not everything has been reissued in either CD or MP3 format, people do cling to that trusty old vinyl. Records are often a collector’s market.

The music industry has been slow to catch on to this downloadable age, but they’ve been coming around more lately. Let’s hope the rebound effect of that sudden awakening doesn’t abruptly shut out those who didn’t jump right into the new technological advances. While the holdbacks are also missing out on the incredible amount of free music and sampling you can do with electronic access, they deserve to be served in whatever format is preferred. There’s also been a lot of lost royalties through music sharing sites online and unregistered burnable copies sold for drastically reduced prices, and that’s something that will be a problem with digital books as well. We in the New Pulp world need to pay close attention to what happened in the music industry and plan accordingly. Authors and artists deserve to be paid for their hard work; publishers deserve compensation for their investment. There has to be serious thought given to regulating piracy.

One of the most interesting ideas I’ve seen is electronic book lending. Amazon does this with their Prime customers who have Kindles and I think that is a step in a positive direction for libraries in general. It certainly would be a great way to introduce books that would not normally get purchased for lending without tying up shelf space or adding the extra manpower and hours to properly display them. One of the hardest things I’ve found with getting my books into local libraries in the rural areas I live in is because of funding and hours of operation, no one has had time to review them. I’d be thrilled to make a few cents here and there on limited term downloads just to broaden my reader base. That is something which is going to take off over time, as even our beloved wireless doodads become overloaded with resident books. Checking out an electronic book is the least expensive way for a reader to become familiar with a new author or publisher. I’m sure the independents won’t make the same mistake as the big publishers—with their far more bloated overhead to compensate for—and price E-copies ½  to ¾ of  the cost of buying a physical copy. That’s preposterous!

One of the nicest things about books stored electronically is that they don’t take up any real physical space. I do some thrift store, yard sale, and flea market shopping with family and friends, and one of the things we’re after is used books that were donated in good readable condition because people were tired of having them around. Often we find beloved work that is no longer available in print. We’ve already seen a movement in the Pulp world to get old stories out of mothballs and present them to a new generation. Even in general fiction this is happening, with many classics in the public domain being offered as downloads at very low prices or even for free. I’ve snatched up entire collections that way. I’m also heartened with by the willingness of New Pulp publishers to revive enduring and cherished public domain characters with additional tales. Talk about a bridge across the generations! New Pulp has its fingers on the pulse of the future with its feet firmly planted in the storytelling traditions of yesteryear.

So yeah, go get those apps! We’re going to give you content to read, whether it’s fiction, book trailers, teaser snippets, author interviews, or online panel discussions. We’re New Pulp, and we’re doing things a brand new way, while still delivering the exciting action/adventure fiction you’ve always enjoyed. I doubt there’s an app that does that better than we can, but if there is, we’ve likely already got it.

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