Sign Of The Times? Oxford Dictionary Likely Not To Have Further Print Editions

If your school was anything like mine, it had a dusty old tome sitting someplace in the back almost like a sacred alter to the English language.  Particularly if you were under the age of 16, you and your friends sneaked over to that dusty old tome and giggled as you looked up all the dirty words in the English language.  Not only did you find them, you found their spellings, pronunciations, and histories, along with every conceivable meaning.  Yes, even the F bomb was represented.

That tome was the abridged (as if anything that thick can be called “abridged”) edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive dictionary of the English language.  First started in the 1850’s, the first volume of it did not come out until 1884, and the entire first edition was not completed until 1928, 70 years after it was started.  The current full version is 20 volumes and will set you back around $1700.  Or for less than $300, you can subscribe to the online version.

Oxford University announced that, when the next edition is complete sometime during or after 2020, it will no longer offer the print edition.

Does that mean novels and nonfiction books will follow?  Or, given that it takes decades to complete an edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, precede it?

I believe yes and no.  For reference material in the Age of Google, online reference only makes sense.  For instance, almost 20 years ago, I started trotting about Cincinnati in an attempt to sell Encyclopedia Britannica.  The main objection I could not overcome was “But encyclopedia’s are going to CD ROM.”  For 1991, that was groundbreaking and still-futuristic stuff.  I was told by the sales manager to refute that, saying the technology was still years in the future.  Meanwhile, even I, then one of the most computer-illiterate people around, knew there was this thing called “the Internet” that you could dial up and use to rummage through the libraries of universities all over America, probably the world.  Anyone remember Gopher, WAIS, and Archie?  Three years later, I owned a computer and had played with both Macs and Windows 3.1 machines.  My computer came with Grolier’s Encyclopedia on CD ROM.

These days, I just hit Wikipedia if I need some quick and dirty facts.   “But Jim, Wikipedia isn’t reliable.”  Um, well, yes it is.  It’s policed quite nicely, and one needs only a good bullshit detector to see where someone’s grinding an axe.  Plus, young padawan, did not your teachers tell you in high school not to cite encyclopedias anyway?

The point is, I go to Wiki and and have articles, a dictionary, and, should I be feeling pretentious and wordy, a thesaurus at my fingertips.

But people are paying the $295 annual fee to use The Oxford English Dictionary, just as they still pay for Lexis-Nexis searches when they want to bing something on Google and go “Yahoo!”  Because in terms of reference material, you truly are buying the content, and like newspapers (which really need to embrace e-readers more), that content has to be constantly updated.

And no one’s going to spend $1695 a year to update a 20-volume dictionary when the latest definition of the word “booger” can be uploaded within seconds of Oxford University’s linguists approving it.

I and other writers and readers will continue to debate whether printed books will disappear until printed books disappear.  As for reference work, especially important tomes like The Oxford English Dictionary, only one rule applies:

It’s the content, stupid.

MTM Cincinnati: BOOMSDAY!

Every Labor Day weekend, for Riverfest, half a million people crowd the banks of the Ohio River between the Big Mac Bridge (so-called because it looks like free advertising for McDonald’s with its yellow arches) and the Roebling Suspension Bridge.  Boats begin showing up a week ahead of time to get the choice spots.  You have to be at Sawyer Point in Ohio or Newport on the Levee in Kentucky by eight or nine that Sunday morning to get a good seat.  If you have an office on Fourth Street, over in River Center in Covington, or live in One Lytle Place, next to US Bank Arena, you supplant the city’s richest people for one day as the most elite people in Cincinnati.  Why?

Because every Sunday before Labor Day, local rock station WEBN blows up the Ohio River.

Riverfest_WaterfallStarting in 1977, WEBN and Rozzi’s Famous Fireworks, who also blow up the river in Louisville and do the fireworks for the Reds at Great American Ball Park, put on one of the largest fireworks shows in the world, all set to music.  The original show was to be a one-off event celebrating WEBN’s tenth anniversary.  The response was so huge that they’ve repeated it every single year.  Initially, the music sync did not work, so the fireworks were just that, fireworks, with a loud music played on the radio.

Now?  One year, I watched it on television (because anything between Kentucky’s Cut in the Hill and the Norwood Lateral in Ohio is going to be gridlocked for five hours after the show).  One section was set to the keyboard bridge from Ozzy Osbourne’s “No More Tears.”  Red blossoms exploded in perfect time to the piano while white flares went off for each guitar note.  Perfectly synched.  After 33 years, they have this down to a science.

Will I go down this year?  I have to work across the river on Sunday this year, and so will have to go home through Mt. Washington as downtown is shut down that afternoon.  Not even I-71/75 is open within a few hours of the show.

So I will watch it at home.  They now show it in HD on WLWT, Channel 5.

Someday, I will book a room at a downtown hotel, probably on The Banks when it opens, so Nita and I can watch from the comfort of our hotel room.

That will be a party.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

Road Rules Is Almost Here

It’s almost time.  Road Rules will soon be an ebook, readable on Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc.  You won’t be able to get it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  For the foreseeable future, it’s going to be free.

I did a dry run this weekend on formatting it, revamping the cover slightly.  There are still some formatting problems, but they’re not insurmountable.  After figuring out a fast way to clean up the code bloat Word generally pukes into html, I did a trial into epub, which most readers use.  Unfortunately, I cleaned up Words markups for quotation marks, which unfortunately epub needs.  Other than that, the formatting looked good.  The .mobi version?

We’ll need to do more testing.

However, once all that is fixed, Road Rules will be downloadable and available for free.  Also, I’ll be ditching that godawful WordPress template for a more straightforward html page.  I had planned to put it up by Labor Day, but apparently, I’m working on Labor Day.  So it will be…


Beyond that?  Putting the shorts up on Amazon, then collecting them as part of The Compleat Winter.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  I keep flip-flopping on that.   After that?

A surprise.

The new and improved cover of Road Rules…

The Print Vs. Electronic Conundrum

I think I’ve answered the single most important question about reading with the only truly relevant answer:  I read books in English.  (Add or substitute any language you know as needed.)  It matters not if its on a reader or paper.  Seriously, it’s truly irrelevant.  I pick one over the other for totally random reasons.  Availability, price, mostly whim.  I still buy more print books than ebooks because ebooks feed the impulse buy reflex a little too readily.  That’s fine for music, where songs sell for a dollar, and Apple, Amazon, et. al. have sufficiently spanked enough overpaid, overfed, overdrugged record company executives to keep that model in place.

But a lot of questions have come up that raise questions about the future of publishing.  Patti Abbott wonders what the impact of ereaders will be on book stores will be.  Do ereaders make reading more sterile?  What happens when people decide they can pull books out of the ether instead of driving to a bookstore?

I do have to concede that this is not going to be a good time for bookstores, particularly independent stores.  When I published a novel in the mid-2000’s, I enjoyed going to places like Black Orchid in Manhattan and Foul Play in Columbus.  I still try to meet authors I know at Joseph-Beth here in Cincinnati.  But here’s the unpopular and brutally hard fact no one seems to want to admit:  Readers are buyers, and they buy where it’s least difficult for them.  While I try to patronize indie shops when I can, let’s be honest.  Joseph-Beth is the only indie in Cincinnati, and the idea that I should drive up to Dayton or Columbus to buy books is, frankly, absurd.  I don’t believe bookstores will be extinct, but while we are in a recession, bookstores are in a depression.  So what’s the future?

Let me get back to that.

First, let’s look at what’s driving this.  JA Konrath has embraced the electronic model wholeheartedly to the point where he believes print is dead.  “But these protests and professions of love,” he writes of those saying print is not dead, “apparently aren’t being followed up with ACTUALLY BUYING PRINT BOOKS. All these folks are complaining and insisting that print will be around forever, yet I’ve read from several sources that ebooks are currently 8.5% of the total book market.”

I generally disagree with Joe on print’s impending demise, mainly because he sees ebooks as a replacement for physical books, where as I see them as just another format.  But he does make a salient point.  People are buying less and less print these days.  I don’t blame the Kindle.  I blame the publishers.  They still insist they can make people buy ebooks for more than $9.99, failing to grasp “wedowannapaythat.”  This is an industry that charges $35 for a hardcover and wonders why no one’s buying.  For that money, I can take my family to a matinee, buy them dinner, rent three or four movies on demand, or buy three or more ebooks.  You do the math.

Getting back to bookstores and print.  Are they dead?  No, because people are still buying.  We stubborn consumers just refuse to conform to the Big Six’s idiotic blockbuster mentality.  Even James Patterson, who very much fits and profits nicely from the blockbuster model, knows this.

In the end, it won’t be major publishers doing print.  Some will survive, but it’ll be an afterthought.  Print, like audio, foreign, and film rights, will become subsidiary rights to electronic.  In the meantime, places like Tyrus and Subterranean will come to rule print.  These are niche publishers.  They know their audiences and aren’t wrapped up in publicizing the next oversized advance.  And in the end, people like Tyrus’s Ben LeRoy really don’t care if they ever get huge.  They’re happy putting out books they can be proud of.  When this model of print publishing settles in for the long haul, bookstores will rebound.  There will be fewer of them, but they’ll still exist.

Bottom line, we’re living in a time of change.  Change, if you haven’t been paying attention over however long your life has been, happens whether you want it or not.  You can only adapt.

MTM Cincinnati: The Ohio River

There are five major rivers in North America, or at least north of the Rio Grande. The St. Lawrence joins America and Canada, serving as a border in some places. The Columbia drains the Rockies into the Pacific Ocean. The Mississippi is the longest, being the most important waterway in the United States.  It’s basin is formed by two major tributaries, the western one being the Missouri.

In the east, it’s the Ohio River, which is also what ultimately gave birth to Cincinnati.

The name comes from its Iroquois name “Oyo.”  It is formed by the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in downtown Pittsburgh.  981 miles later, it empties into the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois.  The river is dammed in several places to ease navigation.

Barges are the primary means of transportation on the river.  This hearkens back to the history of cities such as Cincinnati, Louisville, and Paducah, Kentucky, as riverboat towns.  Indeed, passenger riverboats still ply the river from Pittsburgh all the way down to New Orleans.

The river birthed Cincinnati.  Originally the home of Shawnee Indians and the Ft. Ancients before them, the section between the Little and Great Miami Rivers made an attractive settlement for Europeans.  As the town grew, steamboats became the city’s main industry.  Steamboats were built in Columbia-Tusculum, the riverfront neighborhood east of downtown along what is now Kellogg Avenue.  Many of the streets south of Lunken Airport still bear names such as “Anchorage,” hearkening back those early days.

The river also provided a means for Northern Kentucky (the three counties along the Ohio inside the 275 Loop) after its seedy gangster past.  In the early 1990’s, the cities of Covington and Newport began remaking the riverfront.  Covington now has a skyline.  Two new hotels have sprung in Newport, and Newport-on-the-Levee anchors

Cincinnati, after leaving its own riverfront lay fallow for over a decade, has started developing the space between Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium.  The Banks, which was a vacant lot surrounding the Underground Railroad Museum for many years, is now being developed.

The biggest event on the river in Cincinnati is the annual WEBN Fireworks.  Which we’ll discuss next week.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

The Devil By Ken Bruen

Pity Jack Taylor.  He’s landed in America, the land of promise, only to be turned back.  In the bar, waiting for his flight back to Ireland, he meets a strange gentleman with a French accent calling himself Kurt.  Kurt seems to know too much about Jack’s life for comfort.  Jack shrugs it off and lands back in Galway, resigned to his old life.

But Kurt, calling himself Mr. K now, is waiting for him.  And he’s insinuated himself into the life of Ridge, Jack’s frenemy in the Guards.  Ridge has married a rich man with a daughter to make herself respectable.  The thought depresses Jack since Ridge is a lesbian and hardly the marrying kind.  Mr. K has attached himself to Ridge and her husband with big plans.

Meanwhile, it seems a number of people Jack talks to about this mysterious Mr. K die under strange circumstances.  It seems he’s got a hankering for Jack Taylor’s immortal soul.  Even the Devil, as Jack suspects he is, thinks more highly of Jack than Jack does.  The only person who seems to be immune to Mr. K’s malevolence is Stewart, the former dope dealer turned Zen philosopher who helps Jack out.  The concept of the Devil doesn’t play into Stewart’s world.  Stewart describes him more as “bad karma,” which isn’t as powerful as a supernatural boogey man.

Bruen’s sparse poetic style is very much in force here.  And there’s a certain mourning over Jack’s failure to come to America that permeates the book.  It’s the object of desire Mr. K uses to tempt him.  Previous Taylor novels have been pure noir.  This one flirts with horror.  I say flirts because Mr. K, even when he comes out and says he’s very much whom Jack thinks he is, never does definitively prove it.  Is he really the Devil himself?  Or just a clever bad man who uses smoke and mirrors to homicidal effect?

It’s a stretch for Bruen, and I’ve missed Jack.  The past two Taylor novels had a certain finality about them, particularly Sanctuary, where Jack leaves Galway for America.  He does make a brief appearance in Once Were Cops, but in a story spotlighting Bruen’s more evil protags, Taylor’s giving the psychopath hell is not the same as, say, a thinly disguised version of Taylor giving Sergeant/Inspector Brant a few pointers.

Welcome back, Jack.  And don’t be a stranger.