Paulo Coelho and Book Piracy

This week the Guardian covered Coelho’s impassioned plea to his fans to pirate his books. He argues, and rather well, that people who might not have bought hard copies did so after reading pirated chapters. His sales are remarkably high; The Alchemist alone sold 12 million copies. The piracy leak sent his sales skyrocketing, so it is understandable that he would be an advocate of book piracy.

It is difficult to measure the effect of piracy on any medium. This blog post at Freakonomics suggests that the actual cost of piracy might be very low, since those who are pirating probably can’t afford the product anyway. Removing piracy won’t solve the problem of financial difficulty. We can’t really work out how book piracy affects sales, and since people have been sharing books for years the damage may be neglible. I do feel that putting digital rights management (DRM) on books will do for books what it did for music: cause a further rippling of piracy. After all, that’s one of my major gripes with the Kindle: those books would not be mine and can be revoked or deleted remotely. This has happened already with 1984.

I’m a passionate believer in the freedom of information, as I’ve shared before, but I would be unforgivably naive if I assumed piracy wasn’t having an impact somewhere. Everyone pirates, intentionally or not. But to counter Coelho’s argument, some people are happy to read thousands of lines on a screen rather than shell out for a book. Again, if they can’t afford the book then the publisher won’t be making money anyway. But I am willing to bet this blog and my signed copy of The Night Circus that there a great number of people who are quite happy to get digital versions of a book and never buy the hard copy. Geeks are particularly comfortable with just not paying for media. Most of the ones I know are in an income bracket where they can afford nice things, but would rather not buy them. This attitude has done some serious damage to the manga and anime  industry in the West. The closure of Tokyo Pop USA is a prime example. Here’s ten more companies that have closed down. Don’t forget about Bandai. Why buy an issue of Bleach or Naruto for R100 upwards when it can found freely on the net? Anime episodes proliferate as long as people are willing to translate and host them. But the problem lies here: the same market that reads/watches manga/anime is nearly entirely made up of people with access to torrents. Unlike TV series and movies, watched by a broader demographic who might not know how to download a folder, geekier things tend to be watched by the geeky. And the geeky often do not like to pay for things they can take.

It seems like a terrible thing to say, but consider who keeps the terabyte drives full of shows and documentaries and audio books. Its not the average parent, and its not the average yuppie. In a Venn diagram these groups might overlap but sadly the same generation howling for the freedom of information is doing some damage to the companies that need their support. I know I said earlier that we can’t always measure the effects of piracy, but we can at least see some evidence that a lack of buying interest is harmful.

Which brings me back to books. Sure, Sir Terry Pratchett has sold tens of millions of books and likely gets royalties from reproductions of his work. I am willing to bet that he is one of the most pirated authors on the planet because I am yet to meet a geek that isn’t a fan. But how many people have bought his books because they wanted to have it to hand? How many of them are content to load pirated pdfs onto their tablets and read that way? We don’t know. We can’t know.

The book industry is in the middle of either death throes or rebirth, depending on who one asks. Some say that self-epublishing is a ponzi scheme about to crash; some say that eBooks will rule the world. Some say that hard copies will always triumph and others will argue that bookstores will be defunct within five years. Already many of them are being treated as displays for online stores, and the closure of two decent book stores in SA so far in 2012 is not heartening. Kindle sales were up 175% from 2010, this past Christmas season. With the massive complexity of this industry, which is different in each country, we can’t really measure the effect of piracy. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be thinking about it, especially when there seems to be so much on the line.

Triple Whammy Movie Review

One of the reasons why I am glad to be back in Joburg is that I do not have to wait a month until after a movie comes out to see it. So, in deference to the new purpose of the blog (ie not an angry feminist bitch blog, as it previously has been seen), I would like to offer my thoughts on new movies, and one I watched recently that isn’t new.

Clash of the Titans 3D

Overall, it was not great art, but it was in the vein of 300. Lots of well-designed monsters and landscapes. The dialogue wasn’t too painful, other than the “Someday, someone has to say ‘enough'” kind of rhetoric. The main guy was a bit of an annoyance, because if I was given the power of the gods, I would use it. Who wouldn’t? Um, Io was strange. There was a little bit of cradle-snatching going on there, but at least no gratuitous sex scenes/romance scenes etc. It is very loosely based on Greek mythology and they thieved from the Koran a bit with the Djinn, but since no one looks to these movies for great accuracy, this is fine. (Although 300 was remarkably accurate.)

The scorpions are well worth a mention for their sheer nastiness and excellent design. Charon (which they prounced ‘Karon’ instead of ‘Gahron’ in the correct Greek style) looked like the cover of a metal album. Which is awesome. His boat was superb as well. Visually, the movie offered interesting interpretations.I particularly enjoyed the interpretation of the Kraken, even though it is a creature of Icelandic and Norwegian mythology and not Hades’ demon voodoo poodle. I just wish that Ancient Greeks didn’t sound so American or Scottish. I know that we cannot be certain of what they sounded like, but they could have modelled it on a Cypriot accent. Because of its relative isolation, Cyprus speaks the closest dialect to Ancient Greek. Mind you, it isn’t the sexiest accent in the world. Neither is American. In any case, it jarred that these hardcore Greek warriors sounded like they fell out of a Hollywood studio.

The 3D, for a change, was superb. Alice in Wonderland had shocking 3D, and I have it on authority that Avatar, apparently filmed for 3D, was poorly rendered. (James Cameron is such a blowhard.) And speaking of 3D, that brings me to…

How To Train Your Dragon 3D

I watched the trailer for this and thought, ‘meh, looks lame’. But from the opening til the ending, I really, really enjoyed it. The wit was superb, the dragons stunningly rendered and the characters well-rounded and likeable. Toothless was absolutely adorable, in his looks and mannerisms. Like a big, fire-breathing puppy! Its good to see a kids’ movie returning to the relationship between child and animal. I think Disney helped encourage a love of animals in me, and I would like to see more of that in movies. The visuals were phenomenally well-rendered, Dreamworks providing the best 3D experience thus far. Garfield and Friends in 3D is next best.

Sure, none of the ideas were particularly new. Father-son relationships, being the odd one out, befriending the enemy etc, but what Dreamworks does best is inject new life into old concepts. I loved Stoic the Vast, who just dominated the screen whenever he was around with his amazing beard and breast-hat. Toothless and Hiccup were just so amazing, and often I was just so moved by the simple joy of their relationship that I came close to crying, Movies these days often don’t inspire me with just visuals alone, but HTTYD managed friendship without cliche. The movie really should have been horribly cliched but it wasn’t, and I loved it. The little accident that happens to Hiccup at the end stopped it from being disgustingly cheesy, so good work.

So, good on Dreamworks. For the fantastic design of the dragons, the DnD references, the cast, the voice work. I loved it all, and now look forward to finally watching Up.

Hancock

I wanted to see this the moment I saw the trailer. To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of Will Smith. Maybe its because he only has three facial expressions. Sad/kicked puppy, action man and comedian.

But Hancock put a very interesting spin on an old,and now tiring, genre. As a superhero, he is not awesome with a tragic flaw. He is just an ass. It takes work to groom him into being a relatively well-behaved superhero. He is an alcoholic, destructive, rude and sadistic anti-hero and it takes a really, really good normal guy to help him in an excellent role reversal. Because hero movies have always been about the hero inspiring others, and its nice to see the real good guy being a normal guy. The movie looks at PR, prisons, personal rehabilitation and the life of superheroes. The twist comes out of nowhere, is deftly handled and makes the movie even funnier.

The action was superbly choreographed, especially the opening car chase/car flying scene. Will Smith plays an asshole really, really well, and reluctant good guy equally well. It was good to see someone do something new with the superhero genre, similiar to what Robert Downey Jnr is doing with Iron Man. Because his Iron Man is a rich, narcissistic ass, which is unusual for a Marvel character. Tony Stark, who has an extreme intelligence, should not play well with others. The intelligent and brilliant usually don’t. That he is a man with money and attractiveness and uses it to get all the things he wants does make him unapproachable by the common person.

Hancock and Tony Stark are not supposed to be like us. Superheroes are not famous and long-lasting because they pay bills and deal with the traffic like we do. We admire them because they do things we cannot, because they are our wish-fulfilment creatures. It is why we read and play fantasy games. Most of us want to be or do more. For some of us, being awesomely good at martial arts or parkour or science is the closest we’ll ever get to being heroes. Most people on this planet will sink into mediocrity.

Perhaps this is why Tyler Durden is so seductive as a character and idea. The point of fight clubs is to remind men of their personal power, something they may feel robbed of in this new age. After all, they are no longer needed by Western women for anything, really. Wanted, of course, but not needed. We earn our own money, can adopt or buy children and hire specialists as needed for various tasks and household needs. Fight Club, I think, addresses this feeling of being unneeded. What the clubs do, then, is provide both group therapy and self-empowerment. So, to sum up Tyler Durden:

“Getting fired […] is the best thing that could happen to any of us. That way, we’d quit treading water and do something with our lives.”

Tyler says this after he puts a note amongst the rich hostess’ perfume bottles saying “I have urinated into one of your fine bottles”. The hostess goes insane, cuts herself to pieces on the bottles filled with whale oil and pain, and Tyler is glad that this act will free him from his menial, shit job. Later:

“I am trash,” Tyler said. “I am trash and shit and crazy to you and this whole fucking world,”Tyler said to the union president. “You don’t care where I live or how I feel, or what I eat or how I feed my kids or how I pay the doctor if I get sick, and yes I am stupid and bored and weak, but I am still your responsibility.”

This is why we have superheroes. Because most of us are stuck in menial, shit jobs, or in situations we don’t know how to change, or feel we don’t have the power to change. Tyler splices porn into kids’ movies to entertain himself. Tony Stark builds machines and is an alcoholic (in the comics), and Hancock drinks enough whiskey to drown a whale. Sometimes the closest we come to being like our heroes is that we have the same flaws, except that they colossally fuck us up more.

I love Tony Stark. Because I wish I was insanely smart and rich. I wish I was Tyler Durden, because he has the guts to be the anarchist I can’t be. I love Hancock because he was left behind and wonders ‘what kind of bastard I must have been if there was no one to claim me when I woke up’. Perhaps we can relate to them, but mostly we can’t. Superman is flimsy because he is too perfect. Especially after he was turned from 30’s vigilante to Christian poster-boy during the Vietnam War.

I don’t know why a movie review ended up becoming a dissertation on the place of the superhero, but if you are interested in this kind of cheap psychology, then read Superman on the Couch. All I really have to say is that I love comics and animé and movies because, like everyone else, I have wishes I can’t fulfil and that I turn to others to do it for me.  Because most of the time, I feel like this:

“What Tyler says about the crap and the slaves of history, that’s how I felt. I wanted to destroy something beautiful I’d never have. Burn the Amazon rain forests. Pump chlorofluorocarbons straight up to gobble the ozone. Open the dump valves on supertankers and uncap offshore oil wells. I wanted to kill all the fish I couldn’t afford to eat, and smother the French beaches I’d never see. I wanted the whole world to hit bottom. Pounding that kid, I really wanted to put a bullet between the eyes of every endangered panda that wouldn’t screw to save its species and every whale or dolphin that gave up and ran itself aground.”