What Role does Imagination play in Modern Lives?

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We have a new writer joining the blog, Meaghan Gray. This is her first article and she’s very young, so please be kind.

The Evolution of Technology and How Technology is Influencing Us

Over time, human understanding and development of technology have grown exponentially. From homo habilis and his stone tools to Steve Jobs and his iPad, technological advancements have been a key driving force behind human evolution. As a species, we are innately inclined to wonder at and attempt to improve everything around us. Our imaginations have brought us to a world where technologies previously dreamed of in Sci-Fi films are now available globally.

The radio, television, and, now, personal computers have brought information into our homes in such a way that institutions like libraries and bookstores are quickly losing patronage. A quick Google search will unveil thousands of articles from Wikipedia, news websites, and other sources in an instant. Television and film provide endless hours of easy entertainment with little to no participation from the audience.

If society is so rife with machines that think for us, why would we want to think for ourselves?

With the recent occupy Wall Street movement, some may believe that people today are making significant strides forward socially; however, only a few people are involved and they hardly have a common purpose beyond expressing their general disappointment. Most of us are not inclined to hold to our beliefs so strongly that we would protest to uphold them; perhaps that is the result of not educating ourselves enough about our own beliefs. Most people in the western world receive much of their beliefs and information from radio, television and movies, allowing little time for imagining much else.

The Growing Role of Imagination-Deficient Mediums

Visual stimulus has been an enormous factor affecting human imagination. In an online poll, 66% of voters rated sight as their most important sense,¹ clearly indicating that most people value their ability to see strange and beautiful and interesting things above everything else. The creators of big budget films and television shows truly understand our love for images, often painting rich tapestries of lighting and make-up and camera angles and famous faces and explosions. Critics and average viewers alike continuously agree that the majority of features that focus mainly on the visual wow-factor usually fall flat when it comes to character and plot.

The desire to read epic or romantic or hilarious tales is being siphoned into the film and television industries as well. The two industries’ combined revenue³ casts a large shadow over the book industry’s relatively paltry gross. Even stories already brought to life visually within comic books and graphic novels, such as The Green Lantern and Watchmen, are being shortened and modified for the screen. Despite the limitless budgets of our imaginations and the depth of stories within books, people are increasingly choosing movies and TV shows over novels.

Reading a book for the first time and imagining what the characters look like, how they act, where they are, what they are doing, is an experience unmatched. When movies and television shows cast one individual to a role, design one interpretation of the landscape, and shorten and modify key points within the plot – they permanently affect the way that the viewer will see every aspect of that story. Our imaginations are nullified by the films, thus we do not bother using them at all.

The persistent image of Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter keeps readers from properly imagining his wild hair and striking almond-shaped eyes. Adaptations take away our ability to imagine stories as we were meant to imagine them. Some may argue that some of the most profitable modern book franchises of today would not exist without their film counterparts. To them I say that no modern film franchise today could exist without books.

The high number of book re-interpretations by film and television creators shows that they are fast running out of fresh ideas. The audience has become so jaded and sick of the same-old plots that the industries have been forced to drastically change their formula and go back to books. Films and television shows now often pay overly aggressive homage to older versions of themselves or provide a constant stream of Family Guy-esque shows. The romantic and fantastic seem to have been lost.

Where is the Quality Control?

Our endless supply of solutions to problems (apps, sites, quick fixes) have perhaps taken much of the mystery from our lives. With Facebook telling you how your friends are, Google answering every query, and Twitter alerting you of the thoughts of everyone in the world – curiosity is usually cured instantly. Why imagine when you can mindlessly tweet and follow?

As a culture, we have virtually no boundaries. With no filter between thinking and posting, people across the world tweet their every thought. This behaviour has led to a society in which people generally do not think before they speak, nor do they listen to what others say. A great example of this behaviour can be found on any of The Real Housewives programs. The women on these shows screech and scream at each other about respect and class constantly. Every sentence each woman yells contradicts her last. Despite the absurdity of the content, these shows are hugely popular, with eleven versions internationally. While these “reality” TV shows may not be an accurate representation of the entire world’s population now, they are the shows that are shaping the minds of our youth. This behaviour allows no room for trying to understand what we do not understand and to imagine what we do not know.

The lack of filtered content in our society has affected our imaginations in other ways. While the number of patents and products created each year is massive, the quality is hugely lacking. The Internet and excessive lending allow people to have an idea and execute it simply without much forethought. Like the film and television industries, others are running out of ideas and creating absurd and unnecessary reimaginations of projects instead of focusing on new content.

Imagination is being kicked out, but will it turn out to be irreplaceable

We are replacing the uniquely human tool that is our imagination with another uniquely human tool, technology. We are constantly able to create new versions of things, but nothing seems to be genuinely new. Perhaps this is because outstanding things are truly rare, but we feel entitled to a new, exciting, and funny TV show, movie, or video game every day. The world is not populated by seven billion geniuses. It is rare to have a great film, just as it is rare to have a great book; there was not a classically brilliant novel released every month for the past several hundred years.

True beauty is something to be wondered at. It is something that we should spend our lives imagining and we should be bowled over the first time we see it. Instead, we have hundreds of books, films, songs, paintings, sculptures, and so on that are beyond fantastic. The best work of the past centuries is easily accessible. We have become accustomed to the wonderous; thus, we expect it. However, we gloss over the amount of time and effort required to create such masterpieces. We gloss over the imagination and effort needed to create masterpieces.

The want for instant gratification and the death of imagination at the hands of technology will eventually kill every entertainment industry because we cannot produce at the rate that we desire. We definitely can’t produce if we lose our imaginations. We must re-learn how to use our imaginations to see old stories in new ways, to draw inspiration from the past, and to create a brand new world that is the product of our imaginations and not of our tweets and status updates.

What do you think?

Is technology and a focus on instant gratification eroding away our imaginations?

[polldaddy poll=5685161]


1. P. Balaram, Current Science 8:1, “Smell, Science and the Press” 5.

2. The Numbers “http://www.the-numbers.com/market/”.

3. Rikard Bandebo, American Business “http://american-business.org/2758-television-broadcasting-industry.html”.

Is the Kindle's free 3G wireless advantage turning into its Achilles Heel?

The Kindle revolutionized book delivery with its 3G wireless powered free 60 second downloads.

There really isn’t any other way to put it. The wireless delivery turned your Kindle into a bookstore – one that was literally in the palm of your hand, open 24/7, and delivered your book purchases instantly.

There was a slight downside. The use of 3G meant there was a bandwidth charge. With a $9.99 book, which was usually 500 kb or less in size, the bandwidth cost wasn’t a big deal. It was just 7 to 8 cents – less than 1% of the cost of the book. Even if you assume 4 total downloads (2 downloads each on 2 separate Kindles sharing an account) it’s just 30 cents and is just 3% of the total cost.

Note: We’re assuming a bandwidth cost of 15 cents per MB of 3G data. It probably costs Amazon between 10 and 15 cents per MB.

Bandwidth Costs become a huge issue for everything other than books

Contrast the bandwidth costs of downloading different items –

  1. A 500 kb book at $10. Assuming 4 lifetime downloads we get bandwidth charges of 30 cents. Just 3%.
  2. A 500 kb indie book at $1. Assuming 4 lifetime downloads we get bandwidth charges of 30 cents. Now, it’s 30%. That’s probably why Amazon gives only 35% royalties for books priced below $3. Note: Another factor might be a desire to keep book prices above $3.
  3. A 2 MB comic at $10. Assuming 4 lifetime downloads we get bandwidth charges of $1.20. That’s 12%.
  4. A blog subscription that’s 3 MB of data per month. Assuming only 1 lifetime download we get a cost of 45 cents. That’s still 45% of the $1 monthly charge.
  5. A newspaper subscription that’s 10 MB of data per month and costs $15. Assuming 1 lifetime download we get a cost of $1.50. That’s around 10%. The cost probably goes up a lot if newspapers try to add lots of pictures.
  6. A 3 MB game. Assuming 2 lifetime downloads just the data costs are 60 cents. That instantly means that a game with lots of images like Warlock or Dusk World can never come in at $1 or $2. If it were priced at $2 just the bandwidth charges would be 30%.
  7. A 2 MB magazine with lots of images. Assuming 1 lifetime download we get a cost of 30 cents. If the magazine is $2, then 15% is instantly going to bandwidth costs.

3G wireless downloads were a magical, low-cost solution for a $10 book – because the book was just 500 kb in size.

3G wireless downloads turn into a bit of a nightmare when we consider content that’s large in size or low in price.

People everywhere are noticing this. Publishers Weekly talks about the struggle for comic book publishers (found via Teleread) –

… while there is a nascent market for comics on e-book readers like the Kindle and B&N’s color device, the Nook, Amazon’s recently introduced digital “delivery fee,” charging publishers 15 cents per megabyte to transfer a book’s file to the Kindle, has forced some comics publishers to rethink using the Kindle platform.
While novels are text-based and unlikely to run up a delivery charge much over $0.02, graphic novels have a much higher bandwidth, and could be forced into a lower payment/royalty rate and higher list price because of their file size, directly because of these Amazon fees. 

Publishers Weekly mentions there is a list available from Amazon that suggests minimum pricing for books based on file size

  1. A file over 3MB can’t be priced below $2.
  2. A file over 10 MB must be priced at $2.99 or higher.
  3. This is in addition to the requirement that you have to price a book between $2.99 and $9.99 to get a 70% cut.

This is all news to me. However, it does make sense. Amazon must pay for bandwidth used – it can’t really afford to sell 10 MB books for $2 if the bandwidth charges for a single download come to $1.50.

Things are exacerbated by the fact that customers have no concept of bandwidth charges

The real dagger is that all this is invisible to Kindle owners.

No one, that includes me, makes the mental jump that the content (book, newspaper, game) has to pay for the cost of bandwidth. We’re used to paying for the data separately. We compare Kindle content prices with content prices outside the Kindle Store – where we are paying for the data separately.

If you get a magazine subscription online you tend to contrast that with the Kindle price – without factoring in that you pay a separate fee for your Internet connection. If you get a $1 app in the iPhone App Store you don’t factor in that you pay AT&T for a data plan.

There’s no way Kindle content can be competitive – unless it’s really small in size.

Does Amazon even realize this is a problem?

That might seem like a strange question. However, it’s worth asking because Amazon’s current approach seems to be to fix a symptom and not the actual problem.

What’s the real underlying problem?

That there’s a 15 cents per MB data charge.

What is Amazon fixing – Not sure. It just seems that Amazon is passing on the bandwidth charges to content creators and asking them to factor that in when pricing their content. That’s not a solution.

Neither is it a solution to ‘educate’ Kindle owners about data charges. No matter how much you tell them about it, they won’t like it. You can’t really say – You pay $20 per month for the Internet. Just divide that across the 100 things a month you download and turns out that it costs you 20 cents per download.

With the Kindle the download charges show up in the content price and that makes content seem more expensive than it really is.

The real solution would be to eliminate the download charges.

Basically, content could be clubbed into two categories –

  1. All content where download charges are less than 5% of the price. This content would use the ‘free’ 3G. 
  2. All other content. This content would come with the option to be downloaded via your PC. In return you would get lower prices. You could still get this content via ‘free’ 3G, for a higher price that included download costs.

Of course, we haven’t looked at one very important option.

Does WiFi provide an easy solution?

I think it does.

In fact, we could look at every scenario where there is a high data charge, and figure out how to use a combination of WiFi and PC downloads to eliminate the download charge. Please note that when the download charge is less than 5% of the price we would just default to 3G.

  1. Kindle WiFi owners – Should never have to pay any download charges.
  2. International Kindle Owners – Should have the option to use WiFi or PC download software. Then they would no longer have to pay the international premium.
  3. Subscriptions – WiFi option, PC download option. Let users plug-in their Kindles to their PCs – the subscription would be downloaded via download software and would be transferred over to the Kindle.
  4. Large Size Books – WiFi option and PC download option.
  5. Apps and other content. WiFi only.

It’s a choice between two inconvenient options –

  1. Make everything 3G by default. It’s easier but everything costs more. In some cases, a lot more.
  2. Make everything that’s not small in size a WiFi download or a PC download. It’s not as convenient but it’s cheaper.

Let Kindle owners make the call. For every person who’s willing to pay $3 per month for automatic newspaper downloads via 3G, there will be a few people who’d rather choose WiFi or PC download and not pay AT&T that $3 per month.

Amazon has to figure this out quickly

The download charges are leading to a lot of problems – higher prices for content that has a larger file size, higher prices for anything that has images, content providers having to choose between raising prices and skimping on images, Kindle owners feeling prices aren’t as good as they could be.

It all points to one single underlying problem – AT&T’s ridiculously high download charges. 15 cents per MB is $153 per GB.

The high download charges are something only small-sized $10 books can afford. For everything else in the Kindle Store the download charges are an albatross. The only effective solution is to get rid of download charges or bypass them.

Why should users and content creators be paying 15 cents per MB to AT&T? If WiFi and PC downloads are available, why not take advantage of them?

Finding a Direct Path to Customers (eBook Store challenges)

The Kindle and the Nook come with built-in stores. This might seem a bit of a bother, if you want to sell ebooks to Kindle and Nook owners – However, it’s far more than that.

iPhone and iPad allow reading apps – But they don’t allow eBook Stores to be embedded in reading apps. This seems negligible – but it’s not.

Let’s explore why finding a direct path to customers is the biggest challenge eBook stores face.

Kindle locks out most other ebook stores

Amazon has the smartest strategy when it comes to rival eBook stores –

  1. It doesn’t allow ePub. 
  2. It doesn’t allow ANY DRM’ed format – other than its own.
  3. It doesn’t allow any generic eReader apps.

That leaves only the Kindle Store, and eBook stores that will sell DRM-free ebooks in one of the formats supported by the Kindle.

How do you tap into the Kindle owner market?

You go to the browser, or you go DRM-free.

The first is difficult because the Kindle’s browser isn’t the most straightforward. Imagine trying to run an eBook reading website inside of that. Google has the right idea – It just doesn’t have the required browser capability on the Kindle.

Going DRM-free is something most Publishers aren’t going to buy into. We only have a few smaller Publishers, like Baen and O’Reilly, trying it.

For the moment, the answer to ‘How do you tap into the Kindle owner market?’ is – You don’t.

Nook allows ePub stores – But You have to Fight the Power of the Default

B&N plays ‘open, but not really open’ very well –

  1. The default ebook store on the device is the Nook Store. It provides 60 second downloads (via 3G or WiFi on Nook, via WiFi on Nook Color). It’s ALWAYS the path of least resistance.
  2. In theory – every ebook store has a shot at Nook owners, provided it uses ePub. In reality – B&N just has to be as good as every other store, or not too much worse, and it will always win out, due to being the default option. 
  3. B&N has an upcoming Nook App store, and it isn’t going to let Kindle for Android, or any other ebook app/store, in.
  4. Any books you buy from the Nook Store, have special DRM on top of the Adobe DRM. Which means that you can’t read them on another eReader. So you’re locked into staying with a Nook. B&N does exactly what Kindle does – it locks you in via the books you buy. It just manages to do this in parallel with supporting ePub.
  5. B&N segregates books you buy from Nook Store, from all other documents. So, for books you buy from other stores, you can’t do things like placing them on your home page.

Add up all the ways in which B&N makes it inconvenient to use any other store, and the smart way it creates lock-in by adding its own DRM on top of Adobe DRM, and it becomes extremely tough to compete with the in-built Nook Store. B&N’s pretend-open system is close in effectiveness to Amazon’s totally closed system.

How do you tap into the Nook owner market?

There’s the tantalizing prospect of simply providing DRMed books in ePub format. However, you have to make your store more convenient than the Nook Store. Therein lies a big problem – Nook Store is on the device itself, and there’s no way your store can get on the device.

You could hope Nook owners root/hack their Nook, and get your eBook store’s Android app. You could price your books lower, and hope the lower prices get Nook owners to buy books from your store. However, those are both long shots.

All B&N has to do is ensure Nook Store is as good as your store, or close.

There’s no clear answer for how you could tap into the Nook owner market. Cutting prices, introducing a new paradigm like free books, trying browser-based books – These are all things worth trying, and they are all things that are quite likely to fail.

Kindles and Nooks might not be worth fighting for

If a user buys a Kindle or a Nook, and you run an ebook store, you might as well consider that reader a lost customer.

For Kindles, there’s no way in.

For Nooks, the easiest path leads to the Nook Store. You’ll have to expend so much effort to overcome that natural advantage, you might not be able to make any money.

Which leaves us with all the devices that do let in ebook apps and ebook stores.

Being an eBook Store on an iPhone, or Android Phone, or another semi-open device

It’s important to understand the context.

All these devices are not letting in your ebook store because they are open. They are letting in your ebook store because they want people to feel there are lots of options. Which will make more people buy their device.

So, they let you in, and then they set-up their own stores as the default option. You again have to fight the power of the default. In addition, you have to fight Kindle Reading Apps and Nook Reading Apps.

Does it sound like fun yet?

Since the App Store providers want to make sure that you stick to doing your role (providing choice so that people buy their device), and don’t steal too much of the profit, they put in restrictions such as no in-app purchases unless you give them 30%.

Which means – Not only are you competing against the default option, you also have to send your users to the browser to buy books. That’s two strikes.

Luckily, it’s possible to work around these two restrictions. Kindle for iPad, Nook for iPhone, and other apps like Stanza have shown that it’s possible to work around these restrictions and succeed.

The Tiny Window of Opportunity

It’s a tiny window of opportunity – but it’s there. If you can fight off the power of the default, and the inconvenience of in-browser purchases, you can sell your ebooks to all these casual readers buying phones and tablets.

the simple option – Build Your Own eReader

Strangely enough, the simplest way to find a direct path to customers is to create one yourself. Build your own eReader.

Take Kobo. It might not have the fanciest eReader – However, it’s managing to sell it to a decent number of people. All those people are then presented with the Kobo ebook store as their #1 option. It’s actually a very decent store, and it finally gets a fair (well, slightly more than fair) chance.

Compare that with the headache of trying to do one or more of the following –

  1. Getting browser-based books to work on the Kindle.
  2. Convincing Publishers to release DRM-free books.
  3. Competing with the default Nook Store on the Nook.
  4. Going with other devices, and a user experience where books are read in an app, but bought in a browser.
  5. Going with other devices, and fighting off the default store, the Kindle Reading App, and the Nook Reading App.

It’s so much simpler to sell readers your own eReader, and ensure your eBook Store gets a fair chance.