Sunday, October 31, 2010

e-books should be free

Last Christmas I got a blu-ray movie for Christmas, and it came with a free digital copy.  Very easy to do - inside the sealed package was a redemption code to download the movie from iTunes.  Absolutely brilliant (and perfectly targeted, as the film was Star Trek, the geek movie event of 2009).

The logic of this (Spock would be proud) is quite progressive if you think about it.  When you buy a movie, what you're paying for is the intellectual property, not the piece of plastic (which costs pennies when produced at this scale).  So why not sling in an alternative version of the same intellectual property.  It costs them nothing, it instills a huge level of audience satisfaction, and there's a strong chance it helps to prevent piracy (as the geek doesn't have to rip the movie to put it on his devices, and the copy he's downloading from iTunes is DRM protected).

So I'm really surprised I haven't seen this business model anywhere else since.  Admittedly, I've not bought too many blu-ray movies in the last year, but the one place I'd expect to start seeing it is in the book publishing industry.  Why aren't publishers packaging free/cheap e-books when you buy their hard copies?

Earlier this year I bought Tony Blair's autobiography, on release weekend, for half price at WHSmith.  It's a mighty heavy tome!  I do most of my reading (limited as that still is) on the tube, and there were days when the book was simply too heavy and bulky to fit in my bag.  But I do have an iPad... so I found a hooky PDF copy of the book via bit torrent, complete with appallingly ripped punctuation symbols, and have started to read that instead.  Morally, I don't feel bad since I have paid money for that intellectual property (and contributed to The Royal British Legion in the process), but of course I have technically committed an illegal act.

So come on Amazon, drag your Kindle-loving business model into the 21st century.  For every hard copy purchased, throw in a free or cheap copy of the e-book.  I bet you'll sell more hard copies, and you'll probably persuade people to buy more Kindles in the process.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Back to the Future

I went to see the digital re-release of Back To The Future tonight. It's one of my favourite films, and I fear this will be one of the last times I'll be able to say I'm watching a 25-year-old film on the big screen for the first time. I've seen this film maybe 20 times, on video and DVD, perhaps mostly recently only a year ago. I honestly didn't expect to say I appreciated it for anything more than the rip-roaring tale I know and love.

But something weird happened in the cinema - I and the other people around me found the film funny. I've never found the film funny before. I've found it thrilling, massively entertaining, tense, spectacular; but never laugh-out-loud funny. I was laughing at it like I'd never seen I before, and I think other people (plenty of 20- and 30-something blokes in the audience) were too. So why?

The main source of humour was the nuance of Doc Brown's facial expressions. I'd never noticed how clown-like and comical Christopher Lloyd's performance was. I'm sure part of noticing this was the sheer size of the image in front of me, and the digital clarity. That, combined with the film getting probably the closest attention I've ever given it (as there's nothing else to distract you in the cinema).

The collective viewing experience surely has a lot to answer for here as well. I may have imagined it, but as soon as one person laughed, it was like the cinema had given everyone else permission to laugh, and the giggles got more intense as the film went on.

I guess it's also easy to forget that this movie was a massive family blockbuster. It being a classic had somehow made me forget how really silly it is. Moments like "buffoon Biff" bringing in a box of books for "new George", and like the daft historical society lady collecting money for the clock tower, had the audience guffawing; I remember them being in the film, but never being that worth noting.

I'm left with a hunger for more classic movies that I never saw on the big screen. But there's not a lot left. Other people have mentioned Ferris Bueller, Goonies... but somehow I only managed to see these films once I was a student. I remember being aged 5 reading a Back To The Future comic that I got in a box of Shreddies, and not seeing the film until I was 10, and that was on VHS. To see it on the big screen tonight was a joy, and I don't think that's going to happen again.