Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Why I Have Yet to Switch to E-Books

With the release last week of Amazon's new Kindle Fire, I thought about the reasons why I haven't switched to e-books. People who know me would think I would've jumped on that bandwagon already. I love reading (see: my Goodreads page for all the books I've read and reviewed), I love technology, and I love gadgets. An e-reader would seem to be the perfect fit.

But alas, no. I might sound like one of those militant audiophiles who prefer vinyl to CDs or God forbid digital music, but having a book in hand gives me a great sort of satisfaction. There are several factors why I like books and brick-and-mortar bookstores:

1. The smell of a new book can't be beat. The fresh, crisp pages and the ink have a very specific smell to them and I love that when I read.
2. I like sticking a bookmark in the book and seeing how much I've read and how much I've got left. This is especially applicable to really thick books that are more than 500 pages long. There's a certain pleasure that I get when I see how much I've read that I don't think is the same with an e-book.
3. The amount of space that books take up on my shelf also makes me happy. Maybe I'm a snob in this regard, but I love being able to show off the books I've read. It doesn't make me feel more intelligent (I wouldn't necessarily call Harry Potter reading for intelligent people), but it's more of a feeling of accomplishment. I know some people don't give a rat's ass about how many books I've read in my life, but it's important to me.
4. Going to the bookstore and having a conversation with a salesperson is incomparable to getting an impersonal recommendation based on a few algorithms. Talking to someone about why they loved or hated a book and having a good discussion or debate about is far better than just pulling up a review. Yes, I'm on Goodreads, but for me, it's something that can start a discussion.
5. Going back to the smell of a book, the smell of a bookstore is also just heavenly. I prefer the smell of new books to old musty ones, but either way, it's something you don't get with an e-book.
6. Browsing in a bookstore is not the same as browsing books online. I know you can "look inside" books on certain websites, but not all pages are viewable. I also like to just browse the shelves and walk through the store without having anything specific in mind. It's a little harder for me to do that on Amazon or Barnes & Noble's website.
7. I can loan out physical books I have or borrow books my friends have read without any problem. I don't think you can share books with people on the Kindle.

Getting an e-reader would be excellent for traveling, of which I do a fair amount. I remember I read all three of the books I had with me within the first week I was in Jordan with Christian. It was a pain having to find an English language bookstore and when we did, I was lucky to find something I wanted. It would've been much more convenient to just say, oh, I'm done reading everything, let's buy something else. *click* And it would've been much nicer sticking an e-reader in my bag instead of having four books taking up space in my suitcase.

However, e-books can be just as expensive as a physical book and all you get is a PDF or some other file. Why should I have to pay as much as a physical book when there's less involved? There's no printing, shipping, or store costs. The middleman is cut out, so you would think it would be cheaper. If I knew that the author would get a good cut of the cost, then I'd pay it. But based on some author interviews that I've read, I doubt that the author gets a decent pay from each book he or she sells. I really don't think I want to pay $18.99 for Ken Follett's Fall of Giants for the Kindle when I can buy the paperback for $15.85 on Amazon. With the paperback, I can loan it to people and I don't have to worry about the file getting corrupted or whatever. Sure, you could argue that I could lose the paperback by leaving it in the train, but you can do that with the Kindle. And then your whole library would be lost. I realize that there are now clouds where you can backup your books or just get a hard drive and there are ways around losing files or your Kindle, just like a real physical book.

I will admit that I used to be adamant about not buying an e-reader. However, the new Kindle's price is very attractive. But I'm still hesitating because I just don't want to have to pay the same amount of money for an e-book when I could just buy the physical one. If Amazon or Barnes & Noble or some German store had a package deal combining the e-book and the physical book, I'd certainly be more willing to buy an e-reader. Even if the package cost more, say, $20 for Fall of Giants, but I got the e-book and the paperback, I'd definitely pay that. And then if I wanted to buy the hardcover version with the e-book, just charge a little more, like $30. Granted, I'm just throwing out rough prices here for a specific book, but I really would do that.

I think I'm just holding out to buy one because I really am a bibliophile. I swap books with other expats here in Germany and I end up reading stuff I never would have otherwise. If e-readers made it easier to loan books and/or changed the pricing, I think I would be more willing to have one just for traveling (especially with the new Kindle prices), though I don't think I'd ever give up physical books or going to the bookstore altogether.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Two new music videos: Björk & OK Go

There are two new music videos that were released this week: Björk's collaboration with Michel Gondry for her song "Crystalline" and OK Go's HTML5/Google Chrome extravaganza for "All is Not Lost."

Let's start with "Crystalline." I'll be honest: I am not a Björk fan and I do not like her music. Creatively, she has so many ideas and executes them well (I mean, everyone remembers her swan dress from the 2001 Oscars, right?). But the music itself just rubs me the wrong way. It doesn't excite me, it doesn't make me want to sing along or dance, it doesn't put me in a good mood. For me, that's what music is supposed to do. Björk's music makes me want to fall asleep or rip my hair out; it's similar to hearing fingernails on a blackboard.

But her music videos are always something to behold (see: collaboration with Chris Cunningham for "All is Full of Love" and her work with Spike Jonze for "It's Oh So Quiet"). And her latest music video with Michel Gondry is also admirable, though I have to disagree with Jezebel who said it would "blow your mind." I like the frame by frame shots and the squiggly lines of color. The little beams of light that hit the surface of the moon remind me of the fight scenes in Jason and the Argonauts from 1963. Don't get me wrong, I love the analog feel of it, but "blowing my mind" is not how I'd describe it. Gondry has more memorable videos than this one, as does Björk. It's a cute, interesting video, but nothing super memorable. Again, maybe this is because I don't like Björk's music, but this is not something I would immediately forward to someone and say, "Check this out."

If we want to talk about minds being blown, OK Go released a new interactive music video on Tuesday for their song "All is Not Lost." You can go to the interactive video at the website they created for it, though here is the standard, non-interactive video:

Similar to Arcade Fire's "The Wilderness Downtown," OK Go uses technology to make the music video come alive. I'm not even sure I would necessarily call these approaches "music videos" anymore, not in the sense of what used to play on MTV. I think Arcade Fire's video is also really amazing, but OK Go's is also visually a lot more complex. I can't imagine what it must've been like to have to choreograph a dance from below and then making the windows work in time with music.

The music video in this case doesn't just work on the visual and aural levels. It's not just music, text, and visuals anymore because the viewer is now also a user and controls the experience of the video. Every view is unique to the audience. Of course, the video can be viewed multiple times with the same message (or address in "The Wilderness Downtown"), but the overall concept is that the audience is helping to shape the experience.

What Björk's "Crystalline" video and OK Go's "All Is Not Lost" project show is that there are still different approaches to the music video. "Crystalline" is perhaps a little more traditional, though it leans more towards the artistic. In the footsteps of "The Wilderness Downtown" "All Is Not Lost" is pushing the video towards something different and what that is, we'll see if other bands follow.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

It's been far too long.

I realize I haven't written on my blog in forever. I think part of it is that I feel like I've gotten settled here in Germany and nothing is as surprising or as new as it once was. Looking back at my entries from 2005 make me laugh, especially if I wrote something in German. I've noticed my written German and grammar in general has improved. That's always a plus. Another part of not writing on the blog so often is that I feel with the growth of other short social media forms, especially Facebook, it's been a bit unnecessary to write longer entries. Lastly, I still write in my handwritten journal that I've been keeping since the first grade, so writing this seems perhaps a bit superfluous. (I mean, let's face it, does anyone actually read this?)

On the other hand, since I stopped writing I've gone back to studying and I'm almost done with my master's. I just need to write my thesis. It's refreshing right now to take a step back from it and just write about writing it (if that makes any sense whatsoever). I've been reading a lot, but I found it surprising that very little material is available on my topic specifically -- music videos and YouTube. It probably isn't a shock that that's the topic I've chosen to write about, especially considering that:
1. I am a child of the 80s.
2. I love watching music videos.
3. I'm always online and I love the fact that I can watch old music videos that I haven't seen in years.

My hypothesis is that with the rise in YouTube and technology like iPods, iPads, and smartphones, music videos are seeing a renaissance. Two artist have inspired me so much that I'm going to dedicate a whole section to their videos in my thesis: OK Go and Lady Gaga.

OK Go seemed like the obvious choice because I've been a fan of theirs since 2004. Seeing their videos go on viral on the internet was exciting and fascinating. How is it that this little known band came to be so popular purely through the use of the internet? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here's their video for their song "Here It Goes Again:"

OK Go - Here It Goes Again from OK Go on Vimeo.

Since then, their music videos aren't just music videos; they are works of art. (Check out their videos for "This Too Shall Pass", "End Love", and "Last Leaf")

For me, I wasn't ever a huge Lady Gaga fan and I certainly never considered myself a Little Monster. Then I saw her video for "Telephone":

I still don't consider myself a huge Gaga fan or a Little Monster, but I don't know what it is about this video. I can watch it over and over again without getting tired of it. There's just so much material in it: Jailhouse Rock homage or maybe Chicago, the weird ad placements (Virgin Mobile, Wonder Bread), references to Tarantino movies (most blatant with the Pussy Wagon) and Thelma & Louise, the fact that it's a continuation from her "Paparazzi" video. But "Telephone" isn't Lady Gaga's only interesting video; they're all really highly produced, well-polished spectacles and they're the complete opposite of OK Go, who tends to do more low-production stuff. Neither is better than the other, but that's why I want to look at both artists. How do they use YouTube/developing technology to their advantages? Are their music videos more relevant to developing their image because the videos are actually accessible and visible? It's questions like these that interest me in particular.

So with that in mind, I guess that's where I'll be picking up this blog again. It's not so much a blog about being an expat in Germany, though there will still be observations about that. Maybe then I'll actually keep up with it.