Archive for October, 2011

Yesterday, Amazon released information that with the introduction of the Kindle Fire tablet they will also switch to a new eBook format. Anyone who will check out the quick overview will certainly be pleased and also notice that with the upcoming KF8 eBook format, Amazon seems to have addressed virtually all the shortcomings I have raised in my blog post 10 Things Amazon should correct in the Kindle that I posted a while ago.

And yet, I am not happy. Why is that?

One would think with these issues out of the way, the Kindle should finally catapult itself to the top of the eBook capabilities, right? Well, yes and no. The problem lies in the details, the fineprint, so to speak. The big problem with the introduction of the KF8 format is that Amazon is doing a pretty hack job with this, I am very sorry to say, because, according to Amazon’s announcement and FAQ, none of the older Kindles will be able to support this format.

Why is this a problem? Well, as a professional eBook formatter, the question for me is, how am I supposed to deal with this? Instead of creating the foundation for one rock solid Kindle platform that has powerful capabilities, Amazon is now going down the road of platform fragmentation. Already we had issues that the Kindle 2 and Kindle 3 had capabilities the Kindle 1 did not possess. It was a big problem because things such as tables were unusable, despite the fact that the capabilities were built into the K2 and K3. Since authors have to make sure they cover the largest possible market share, however, using tables made no sense, as the Kindle 1 did not support them and rendered them in a useless, garbled fashion.

With KF8, things will get even uglier. We now have three different sets of capabilities. The Kindle 1 at the bottom end, the Kindle 2 and Kindle 3, and then the new Kindle 4 and Kindle Fire. This is not a smart move on Amazon’s behalf and reeks of either laziness or engineering ineptitude.

From a programming standpoint none of the features introduced in KF8 are in any way supercharged capabilities that require special hardware. Let’s face it. eBook reader software is, in effect, nothing more than a specialized web browser. It is not rocket science! Therefore, Amazon’s decision is hard to comprehend. Web browser implementations have been written a thousand times — I wrote one myself 10 years ago for use in a computer game. There are reference implementations out there that they could have used for free, all things that should have made it possible to retain a unified platform. So, why could’t the software engineers at Amazon make sure they introduce these capabilities in all devices through firmware upgrades?

It is a very short-sighted decision in my opinion, that not only shortchanges the end users, but causes a lot of problems on Amazon’s end as well.

They will now have to begin offering and delivering different versions of the same books – one formatted according to the old, outdated MOBI file specifications, and another one formatted according to the new KF8 guidelines for this to make any sense. How does that make sense?

So, not only will they now have to deal with publishers having to create and upload multiple versions of the same book. This comes at an additional expenses to authors and publishers, as they have maintain two versions of the book. But it also comes at the expense of Amazon, as they have to modify their existing pipeline to accommodate these multiple versions.

To make matters worse, they will have to educate people which format to use for which device, and they will have to prepare – and possibly ramp up support staff, to answer all the customer questions stemming from this sort of confusion.

As I said, I do not think this was a very smart move and it is not in Amazon’s best interest.

Writing and updating the firmware for all existing Kindle platforms would have been a clean way into the future, without all the hassle that comes with platform fragmentation. I know what I am talking about – I’ve been programming for 30 years and I’ve been working in the mobile field for many years, where device fragmentation has gone rampant and costs publishers and cell phone carriers hundreds of millions of dollars every month just to support the insanity.

I know, that for me, KF8 is a step backwards, no matter how attractive it looks at first glance. For the most part it is useless out of the gate because if it doesn’t work on all Kindle devices, it has no value to me and I suspect most of my clients.


Addendum:

An important point was raised in the comments to this post that deserves a few additional words, I think.

Amazon promises that KindleGen 2, the tool they provide to allow authoring KF8 files “will convert your content so that it works on all Kindle devices and apps.”

If you think, this means that all problems are solved with this, you can smoke that notion in a pipe. There is a big difference between could and should.

Just because KindleGen 2 promises to convert your books, doesn’t mean you should, because the output quality will be dubious at best. Of course, if you are part of the I-don’t-care-just-make-it-easy, Smashwords-adoring crowd, yes, that might work for you, but if you take pride in your ebook’s layout and formatting, this is not going to fly.

Let me illustrate this with a very simple example. Say, you have an image and you add the float property to it, to have it embedded in your text with the words flowing nicely around it.

When converting such a file, all KindleGen can really do is ignore the float property — which, coincidentally, all the devices do already. As result, on a Kindle 2 you will now have the image sitting on the left side of the screen with nothing surrounding it. Perhaps the first line of the text that was supposed to float around it will sit firmly at the bottom, creating a huge, ugly gap. Surely not what you had in mind.

If you had properly formatted a version for MOBI devices, instead, you would perhaps have centered the image in this case and spaced it out a little more. That is where KindleGen’s auto-conversion will fail you miserably, because it cannot make decisions like that for you. Things will, undoubtedly get even nastier when your formatting is more complex than this one very basic example, and I would not be surprised if certain elements would even disappear entirely.

Let’s face it, there are certain things the old devices simply can’t do if Amazon refuses to upgrade their firmware across the entire line of products. Just having some devices that support it and others that don’t is hackneyed at best.

As a publisher you will have to look at the lowest common denominator for your product, and that is the long-abandoned Kindle 1, that has seen little love from Amazon in recent years.

Sure, this is not a big problem if you have a novel without graphics or a special page layout. Fair enough, in that case you are really not affected by these changes at all. You will continue to build MOBI files exactly the way you did and ignore the new capabilities, because MOBI offers exactly the kind of functionality you need. Nothing wrong with that.

When books become a little more complex, that is when the problems begin and they will very quickly become exacerbated.

The bottom line — and the main point of my post — is that the way Amazon is approaching this is creating tiers of devices, each tier with different implementational limitations. And that, my friends, is a very real problem.

What’s in a face?

Before I dive into today’s post, I wanted to remind everyone of the great give-away I am running right now. What do you mean you don’t remember? You have not been afflicted by Astaroth’s demon curse of forgetfulness, have you?

Well, fret no more, simply click on this link and visit the promotion and give-away post where I outlined all the details. More incentive, you need? You are one tough customer, my friend, I tell you that. But if it is incentives you need, look no further. How does a 1-year subscription to Fangoria sound, or an ultra-rare, highly collectable “Book of the Dead” DVD version of the horror cult classics “Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead 2?” Or, perhaps, a $25 Amazon gift card would be more to your liking, or movies, or books, or t-shirts… I think we understand each other now, don’t we? All you have to do is spread some Jason Dark love for me!

Now, on to other things… One of the key ingredients of Halloween are costumes, of course, and I thought I’d make a little post about some of my past disguises. No, I’m not referring to Halloween costumes, but to some cameos I made on the covers of products. Yes, I know, it is hard to believe, but I am a model.

Most recently, my visage appeared on the book cover of Gord Rollo’s and Gene O’Neill’s anthology of urban horror stories, “Mean Streets.” Don’t believe me, well, let’s take a closer look.

Mean Streets cover

I know, I know, it’s all bit dark and shady, but if you look closely — and ignore the silvery eyes — this is really me. My wife, Lieu, designed the cover for the book and we had trouble locating a properly sinister urban gangster. Since we’re not real fans of stock photos either, she asked me to put on a hoodie and pose for her. And that’s what I did. Some light from underneath and a good deal of Photoshop massaging turned the photo into what you see on the final cover.

I had a cover stunt before, back in the year 1999 or so when we were finalizing a computer game called “Planescape: Torment” that I was producing for Interplay at the time. An ad agency had a cover design laid out and we had booked a male model for the cover shoot. About a day before the shoot, news came in that the model had a scheduling conflict and would not make it. While we were sitting around the office and wondered what to do, someone looked at me and said, “Maybe you should be the model.” I thought it was joke at first but everyone in the room looked at me and went, “Yeah, why don’t you?”

Planescape: Torment cover

Well, who am I to say no? So, the next day I went to the photo shoot. The really cool part about it is that we needed a monster-like look on the cover, as the character to be portrayed was undead. The agency had hired Hollywood special effects guru Tom Burman for the job, so I went to his workshop in Burbank. It was bit surreal, to walk into his studio and seeing all the work he had done on all sorts of movies, going way back to the original “Planet of the Apes” movies.

Guido Henkel

The next few hours were a completely new experience for me. Tom applied prosthetic make-up to my face – a process that took about two hours if memory serves me right. Applying layers and strip of latex to my face he slowly transformed me into a demonic-looking creature. Then, to top it off, he hand-painted the entire make-up to give it a realistic look that would hold up under the glaring light of a camera.

The photographer then took a series of shots of my face, trying to capture what we needed for the cover layout and about 45 minutes later it was time to take it all off again.

Guido Henkel

Just on a fun side note, my face was red as a beet and burned for the rest of the day, because of the solvent that was used to remove the appliances. Nonetheless, it was all well worth it, and as you can see in the pictures, it was a lot of fun. A once-in-a-liftetime experience, really, and an incredible honor to meet Tom Burman and actually have him work on me.

Where did all the horror go?

As many of you may know, I am a huge fan of movies, and in recent years I have become absolutely enamored with the Blu-Ray format — as everyone should, in my humble opinion.

As Halloween is once again racing towards us, I could not help but notice, however, the dearth of releases these days. Sure, DVD is flooded with cheap indie releases and re-releases of titles ad nauseam, but on Blu-Ray, the studios are still holding back their catalog quite severely. It appears as if barely any catalog titles are being transferred onto the high definition format and all we really get are the movies coming off their box office run or new straight-to-home video releases.

Like most people, around the Halloween time frame I love to watch a few good horror movies and as I look through the release schedules, the only horror I find is the shocking realization that nothing is coming…


I mean, seriously, if it weren’t for Blue Underground’s upcoming Blu-Ray version of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie a few days before Halloween and Lionsgate’s recent release of the Peter Jackson horror comedy Dead Alive, there is not a single horror movie in sight that is in any way intriguing or exciting.

Every year, Universal Home Entertainment refurbishes their entire horror line-up, and this year is no exception. The list of films the studio runs in promotions throughout October is almost endless – 69 titles, to be exact! Out of all these films, however, springs not a single new Blu-Ray release. Movies that are available already are re-promoted but none of the other films are making a Blu-Ray debut.

To me, as a fan of classic horror, this is painful to watch. Why don’t we get high definition versions of the monster classics like “Dracula,” Frankenstein,” “The Wolf Man,” “The Mummy” and their many sequels that are once again being offered up on DVD?

Why is Halloween not an occasion to bring to the world a high definition version of Wes Craven’s hauntingly staggering “Serpent and the Rainbow” or John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness,” “They Live” and “Village of the Damned,” all of which are part of a new “John Carpenter: Master of Fear” DVD collection that just hit stores?

But Universal is not the only studio sitting on their hands. MGM Home Entertainment, for example, has yet to release John Carpenter’s “The Fog” and not to mention that they have absolutely no plans to release Roger Corman’s classic Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price in high definition.

And why Anchor Bay is not giving us any of the Hammer movies, is anyone’s guess.

It is a trend that worries me. When DVD was first launched, the studios went into complete overkill, releasing even the most mundane niche films as Special Editions with tons of extras. Now, at a time when home video is really offering theater-quality presentations, they are short-shrifting fans, by holding back way too many films. I can understand that they don’t want to go into a feeding frenzy the way they did during the DVD heydays, but leaving the entire catalog to rot in their vaults?

It kind of reminds me of the early days of DVD when the world was clamoring for George Lucas to release “Star Wars” on DVD or for Steven Spielberg to finally come to his senses and embrace the digital age — remember that? Guess what? Those guys jumped into high definition with both feet, and now the studios as a collective are slacking off.

It’s a crazy, crazy world, I tell you, and it makes me sad to see that yet another Halloween rolls around without any exciting horror releases. Dear studios, I refuse to watch kiddie-style horror remakes created by people who obviously never understood the appeal of the original movies in the first place. Like many fans of horror, I would honestly appreciate any kind of effort you would make to bring some of the film we love to Blu-Ray.

Halloween is coming our way faster than Dr. Prometheus’ muttered curse, and as we all know, Halloween is the time of all things ghoulish. I love Halloween and for that reason I have decided it is time to celebrate a little. I have prepared some exciting cool announcements for you.

Let us start with the first one, and perhaps the most important one.

Starting today and lasting until October 31, the night of All Hallow’s Eve, I am reducing the price of all e-book versions of the Jason Dark supernatural mysteries. You can now own any of the adventures for a new, ghoulishly low

$1.99!

I thought you would like that, but wait, don’t run off just yet, to purchase these action packed adventures. There is more you should know…

The Blood Witch just came over last night and gave me another stupendous idea. How about preparing a cool give-away where fans can win awesome prices? Cars, houses, vacations, the whole shebang! Easy for her to say, I know. But the more I thought about it the more I thought there was seed of a good idea in there that I should give a shot.

Therefore I am doing a nightmarish give-away. You can win some gorific movies, books and merchandise. I have for example five DVD copies of the Hammer Horror movie “Let Me In” here, that I will be giving away. In addition, one lucky winner will not only get that movie, but also a rare out-of-print version of Anchor Bay’s “Book of the Dead” edition of “Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead II.” In case you are not familiar with this, this was a release that featured a molded DVD covering made from Latex, looking like the Necronomicon in the movies. This release was a limited edition to begin with and has been out of print for years. Subsequently it has since turned into a highly sought-after collectible. Why am I giving it away then? Simple. I love my fans!

But there is more. I am also giving away a number of heavy duty Jason Dark mousepads along with Jason Dark t-shirts. And since we’re all haunted bookworms here, I am also throwing in some books, such as the incredible – and I mean incredible – “Romancing the Vampire” by David J. Skal, “Mean Streets” by Gord Rollo and Gene O’Neill and some others. For a complete list of prices, please see below, but either way, I promise I will make it worth your while. :-)

So, are you game? I am sure that by now you are wondering how you could get your paws on these hot prices. Let me explain how this will work…

I want you to “Share” my books and tell the world about it. Simple as that. So, go to my books on Amazon and for every book in the list, click the “Like” button found on the product page. Next, a small pop-up box will appear and there, click on the “F” symbol to share your love with your Facebook friends so that they can see it, or click on the Twitter icon to share the love with your Tweeps. A share takes no more than two mouse-clicks — not a whole lot, considering what you could win in the bargain. Count how many of the books you shared this way.

Next, go to the list of my books on Barnes&Noble’s website. On the product page for each book, click on the “F” to share the love with your Facebook friends and also click on the “+1” symbol to share it with your Google+ circles. Again, two mouse-clicks are all that required. Once again, count how may of the books you shared this way.

The next step is simple. You simply send an email to contest@guidohenkel.com and put “Shared: xxx” in the subject line. “xxx” would, naturally, stand for the number of your total shares.

As you can see, this is really simple and no purchase is necessary. You can share my books even if you’ve never even read one. In fact, I would love for you to share information about the books anyway, because even if they are not your bag, maybe some of your friends like Victorian era supernatural mysteries.

At the end of the give-away, on October 22, I will then randomly draw winners from the shares and get their head-chopping prices to them. So, with any luck you might find some of these goodies in your mailbox before Halloween.

There is no limit how many times you can submit shares. You can send them in one at a time or wait until the end and send in the grand total, it is your choice. Your odds of winning will be the same. What is important, however, is that every time you share a book this way with your peeps, tweeps and friends, it will increase your odds of winning. The more, the merrier, as they say.

So, how’s that for a Halloween treat for you? Now, what are you waiting for? I want to see some Facebook shares show up on people’s walls and some shares filtering in my Twitter feed. Let’s make some noise. Let’s tell the world about Jason Dark and his awesome supernatural adventures in Victorian England!

Prices:

Grand Prize:

  • “Book of the Dead” Edition DVD of “Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead II”
  • “Let Me In” Hammer Horror DVD
  • “Escape From Vampire Island” Blu-Ray/DVD combo
  • “Mean Streets” paperback by Gord Rollo and Gene O’Neill
  • $25 Amazon gift card
  • Jason Dark mouse pad
  • Jason Dark t-shirt

2nd Prize

  • 1-year subscription to “Fangoria” magazine, America’s leading horror magazine, courtesy of Fangoria
  • “Let Me In” Hammer Horror DVD
  • “Scream 4” Blu-Ray/DVD combo
  • “Mean Streets” paperback by Gord Rollo and Gene O’Neill
  • Jason Dark mouse pad
  • Jason Dark t-shirt

3rd Prize

  • “Romancing the Vampire” hardcover by David J. Skal
  • “The Ruins” paperback by Scott Smith
  • “Mean Streets” paperback by Gord Rollo and Gene O’Neill
  • Jason Dark mouse pad
  • Jason Dark t-shirt

4th – 6th Prize

  • “Let Me In” Hammer Horror DVDs
  • Jason Dark mouse pad
  • Jason Dark t-shirt