When Amazon Dies

Siva Vaidhyanathan, media studies professor at the University of Virginia, talking about the worst-case scenario in an all-digital world:

“Amazon has done so much to bully both readers and publishers. And yet if it were to collapse, it would cause chaos.”

At the root of that chaos would be the immense loss of media, and the wholesale disappearance of works—not just from personal collections, but altogether. “At the start of the 22nd century, we are going to find ourselves in a situation with huge gaps in knowledge and culture. Because none of these companies will be around.”

P.T., an online-only game and one of my favourite games of last year, was removed from the PlayStation store by its publisher. You can’t download it again. If you want to play it now, your only option is to buy a second-hand PlayStation 4 with the game already installed on it. And once the hard drives die in these machines? That’s it, no-one will ever be able to play PT again.

Aaron Draplin on Logo Design

Old one, but still fantastic. Always amazing to see the process of someone who is just great at their job.

The decline of ebooks

Craig Mod has some theories surrounding the apparent decline in ebook sales. TL;DR: he reckons it’s mostly to do with the physical experience of reading on ereaders (and let’s be clear, when we say ‘ereaders’, there’s really only one player in town, the Kindle). For me, he borders too much on the fetishisation of the physical form of the book. For example, here’s his description of the travel guide City Secrets

Bound in rust-coloured cloth, rough against the skin, with jet-black foil‑stamped lettering and a small key on the cover, City Secrets was skinny. The trim size was non‑standard, much taller than wide. It bent easily, fit handily into my jacket pocket, and was made with cover boards that had a reassuring springy resilience. The combination of the size and the cloth cover made it feel like a travel companion – a book that could take a beating, be dragged around the world, stored for years, and returned to, again and again.

It’s like Nigella-style food erotica for the lit crowd.

But I sort of agree with some of what he’s saying. As I mentioned before (and I’ll continue to mention at any available opportunity), I recently — finally! — finished Infinite Jest. Now, Infinite Jest is a goddamn doorstop. A thousand pages of some of the densest prose you’ll find. It should be the perfect candidate for Kindle-reading. But I read the entire thing on a physical book. I hauled that monster in and out of the city every day on my commute, even though it took up most of the space in my bag, simply because it was just a more pleasant experience than reading on the Kindle.

The worst part is that a lot of the things that keep the Kindle from being a genuinely great reading experience (as opposed to an entirely passable one) are fairly minor. They’re not insurmountable. They’re mostly niggly details like shitty font options and character spacing that could most charitably be described as ‘schizophrenic’. And these issues are getting addressed, albeit at a glacial pace. This June, almost eight years after the first Kindle was first released and seven generations into the Kindle product line, Amazon released firmware that finally fixed its shitty hyphenation and layout engine.

So the changes are slowly coming, but Amazon’s reluctance to release any information or suggestions of where they plan to take the Kindle is baffling to me. Especially when it’s their mealticket item. Apple called the Apple TV their “hobby” and said nothing about its roadmap (until they finally did). Amazon seem to be treating the Kindle in the same way. Is it any wonder people are returning to books? I’m sure they’ll be back to the Kindle when something dramatically enhance the experience on there, but who knows how long that will be?

Personally, there are two things I would love to see that would improve my relationship with the Kindle. First, release an updated Kindle DX. You know, the bigger Kindle. The “Kindle Pro”. My neighbour in Rome, an editor, used to have one and it was the cadillac of readers even then. The resolution of the Kindle Voyage is finally at a print-like level, but the size of the actual screen means it’s useless for anything but imitating cheap paperbacks. A slightly larger physical screen would open the device up to so much more.

Second, and this is a cheap, simple win - I’d love to see the Kindle display the cover of the book I’m currently reading instead of the Kindle’s shitty generic screensavers. When I read a physical book, I am greeted by its cover every time I look at it. I know the name of the author, I know the name of the book. On the Kindle, this stuff is hidden away from everyday view, so it’s possible to read a book and have no idea of its title or who wrote it. You’re cut off from a relationship with the book in favour of a relationship with its content. The cover, that singular piece of design that, let’s face it, we almost always base our initial judgement of a book on, is completely removed on the Kindle. Without it, a book is just a collection of photocopied pages held together with sticky-tape.

John Waters RISD Commencement Speech

Judge Rules Happy Birthday is an Orphan Work

For a great summary of the whole situation regarding the copyright of Happy Birthday, check out the most recent episode of the Reasonably Sound podcast. Because whoa, this is huge.

Recent Film Reviews

(I try to post reviews of all the films I watch over on letterboxd, where I’ve logged a poor 73 films so far this year. Here are some of my most recent reviews)

Man Up ★★★★

I have this weird, unexplainable love of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. It’s got an easy charm that just wins me over every time. One of the few things that put me off watching the film more is the fact that I am clearly, by like 15-20 years or so, not its target audience, and so it might make me seem creepy or something.

Thank God, then, for Man Up, which is, in almost every way, a Nick and Norah for grown-ups. It follows many of the same beats: the meet-cute, the falling out, the weird exes, the slow, growing affection. Except this time it’s about people in their thirties and forties, so instead of Nick and Norah’s indie contemporary soundtrack that played such a major part of that film, Man Up has the two leads dancing perfectly to Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” while talking about their feelings.

Basically, it hits all the same notes as Nick and Norah without any of the sour, creepy old man aftertaste. Perfect.

Nightcrawler ★★★★

Nightcrawler is a wonderful throwback to the great antihero films of the 1970s, which functioned as both a thrilling piece of entertainment and a biting satire on contemporary life. Leo Bloom himself is the perfect amalgamation of the anger and sociopathy of Travis Bickle and the psychotic self-delusion of Rupert Pupkin. Gyllenhaal is terrific - equal parts mesmerising and terrifying.

On a side-note, this is the second time (the other being Zodiac) that I’ve avoided a Jake Gyllenhaal film because I was expecting a boring, leaden film only to be surprised by how wrong I was. I think I need to start giving this guy more credit.

Pitch Perfect 2 ★½ I’m going to try to avoid comparing this to the first Pitch Perfect because even taken on its own, this film is a mess. It’s a comedy without the comedy. What few jokes actually emerge are weak and/or obvious. Prepare for lots of fat jokes and racist “in my country” jokes lifted straight out of That 70s Show. Sub-plots are introduced and given a half-hearted waggle in front of the camera before they’re ditched entirely - for a boyfriend Beca’s been with for three years, poor Skylar Astin’s Jesse is on screen for about twenty seconds total. And only one sequence in the entire film (the Green Bay Packers) made me giggle at all.

Ironic, though, is the fact that it’s a film about acapella groups finding their voice through originality, rather than through covers, and yet this film hasn’t got a single original bone in its body.


Short Term 12 ★★★★½ Who’d have thought a film about child abuse, attempted suicide and abortion could be so uplifting? Not me. A genuinely lovely surprise of a film.

**Black Coal, Thin Ice **

Oysterbooks Is Shutting Down

As we continue on, we couldn’t be more excited about the future of ebooks and mobile reading.

With that, we will be taking steps to sunset the existing Oyster service over the next several months.

This is a real shame. Their product (Netflix for ebooks) was pretty good, but their Oyster Review was one of the best-curated sources of book recommendations on the internet. For proof of this, check out their list of the 100 best books of the decade so far. Can anyone suggest a replacement?

Camera Restricta

Camera Restricta is a speculative design of a new kind of camera. It locates itself via GPS and searches online for photos that have been geotagged nearby. If the camera decides that too many photos have been taken at your location, it retracts the shutter and blocks the viewfinder. You can’t take any more pictures here.

When I go to a concert (lol, like that’s a thing I still do) and I see hundreds of cameraphones shooting up to take a photo of the lead singer, I wonder: what’s the point of that? There’s nothing tying you to that photo. Anyone could have taken it, so why not just go into Twitter or something and grab someone else’s photo? Maybe even someone shooting with better equipment than you?

I don’t think the Camera Restricta will catch on. People care too much about their fitness selfies. But I still love the idea of it.

An Introduction to Cult Movies

Some kind soul on Metafilter has collected together all of Alex Cox and Mark Cousins’ introductions to Moviedrome. You could do a lot worse with your day than to spend a few hours watching these. They’re like a complete film education in short, 10-minute burts. Warning: watching these will make you despair about the fact we don’t have a show like this today.

The Importance of Donuts

… I decided to be deliberate about marking achievements by eating one donut. Well, sometimes more than one, if it’s a really big deal. The act of donut-eating has actually helped me feel like I’m accomplishing my career goals.

This lady has the right idea.

subscribe via RSS