archive - issue 14

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  • /

    By Ruth Barker
    On the QWERTY layout of my computer keyboard, the symbol / appears beside the questioning symbol ?. They are represented together on the same key, and
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  • Apartment / Containers

    By Vincent Bezuidenhout
    These diptychs are the start of a series of images I have been working on regarding the visual landscape we choose to surround ourselves
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  • I returned home after my first year in college to discover my younger sister had turned gorgeous. This was a disappointment, but not an
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  • Butterfly

    By Adriana de Barros
    The pupa, a silk wrap of emotionsIsolated, within breathing, wanting to bethe intense pronoun of selfIt is silly to be one's own pronounShe giggles
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  • Collage

    By Claudio Parentela
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  • Drag and Snap

    By Leigh-Anne Niehaus
    This series is inspired by the childhood game of "snapdragon", which allows for simplistic and delightful decision-making through random selections of colour and number.
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  • Evidence of Life

    By Tamlyn Martin
    Below is an extract from a series of 11 poems created in parallel with visual artworks. 5. Memories laced with visceral realityFlooding herThe gentle
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  • Forward! Slash!

    By Travis Lyle
    You think you're a forward-thinking kinda person, do you? Lemme be the one to break it to you, sunshine – you're as lame as the
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  • Human/Nature

    By Lydia Anne McCarthy
    This series explores moments between nature and human beings that are at once idealistic and unsettling. Each picture is an independent narrative, but placed
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  • Immigrants

    By Stanley Onjezani Kenani
    you want to livenothing leaveto liveyou swimor like fresh sardinesyou are packedin boatsyou leaveto live.  you leavegold in the belly of Africaoil in
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  • In Between

    By Tania van Schalkwyk
    Raised in an Arabian land of heat, fire and temper,sometimes the calm of England clamps downlike damp in a bathroom with no windowand a
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  • Letter to the Editor

    By Elan Gamaker
    Dear Sir/Madam I should like strenuously to object to the subject matter ("/") of your current issue. It must first be mentioned, however, that it
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  • Or: a line drawing

    By Gabeba Baderoon
    Pencil and nothing. Her face turned almost entirely away. Forehead, cheekbone,jaw,the bun low in her neck,shoulderand down,the long linejust enoughthen left alone.
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  • p u n c t u a t i o n

    By Ula Einstein
    Einstein works with a diverse range of media, including drawings and installation with fire, thread, and blades. The series of drawings and installations with
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    By Sean Hampton-Cole
    Keys. John speaking. 'Lo?Good morning. May I speak to Bob Mitchell please?Bob in Bonds?I'm not really sure. I'm trying to...You want extension 125. This
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  • Pretty Babies

    By Peregrine Honig
    With the premise that "/ " presents what is IN and what is OUT, the "Pretty Babies" series explores the fashion industry's well-published and syndicated DOs
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  • River Bank

    By Mario Sughi
    The symbol / is intended initially as a symbol of division. A real or unreal line divides the girl from the water, the girl from
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  • Scissor

    By Charlotte Gait
    There was a time when you and I were connected by iron, acid, vitamin and blood. Where every mouthful I took was with the
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  • Seasaw

    By Sol Kjøk
    Here, the motif is conceived of as a seesaw (the typo in the title is intended, as this drawing is part of a series
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  • Series Seven Up

    By Noel Fignier
    Text by João Branco Kyron, HipnóticaThe collision is imminent and in the fraction of time left, the eyes shut and the vision is superbly
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  • A battle over samoosas between the snobbish Cinderella and a homeless electrician is mediated by Cinderella's boyfriend JJ. The samoosa battle is conflated with
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  • Wayne Porter, freelance journalist, donned his anthropologist's birthday suit and hit the bowling alley. Bar the bowlers hat tipped gently off centre, the man
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  • The Incised Wound

    By Joanne Hichens
    "Please, for me, Dave," I placed my hand on his, and really, no begging, just asked him nicely, "Lay off the booze tonight." Whether
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  • He had been driving for hours through that unstable, somnambulist night when he fell asleep at the wheel. He awoke with a start and
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  • The space between.

    By Mehita Iqani
    It's a handy little line, the one that we use to make our options known. Either/Or. Paper and ink or binary code? Its clichéd,
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  • Un Hombre Fuerte

    By Tamo Vonarim Written these words are, at times of a subconscious flow – whether they are mine, I don't know. All I know is that I
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  • Unbroken Awareness

    My life is now a floating shellI am a vessel on that river.The storm, the ship, the sea,Whose shores we lost in crossing.  I
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  • Untitled

    By Wilhelm Saayman
    This series of images, made using pen and ink, photographs and Photoshop, explore alternate/dream realities.
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  • Untitled

    By Aryan Kaganof
    /At R550 rand I thought I'd rather die/ My mother: can I trust this woman?/ I thought the Romans were coming, dinkum/ …and always
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Monday, 30 April 2012 02:00

Created equal?

By  Anna Malczyk
In about four years, e-books went from being a new curiosity to outselling their physical equivalents (music MP3s achieved this feat last year, after a decade's head start). The Kindle e-book reader is online retailer Amazon's biggest seller by a massive margin. Smartphones, tablets and dedicated e-reading devices have put e-books into the homes and pockets of people around the world, and thousands of new titles appear in online bookstores every month (rather than the few dozen that a physical bookstore may stock.

The blistering speed of e-book uptake has thrown the publishing world into complete disarray. Publishers (now usually distinguished as "traditional" publishers) have faced a difficult decision: either ignore this "whole e-book thing" and hope that it peters off, or embrace it and radically restructure their entire business model. The problem is that nobody has quite figured out why e-books have become so incredibly popular, or how to build a solid, non-disruptive new system of producing them.

Authors have also divided into digital and non-digital camps. Some - usually the more established and hidebound - feel that e-books are a menace and have devalued reading and culture forever. Jonathan Franzen recently and rather infamously propounded that the ephemeral and chimeric nature of e-books is destroying culture itself - though clearly his qualms do not extend to demanding that his publishers remove the e-book versions of his novels, which are selling apace. The vast majority, however, have embraced e-books, either as a new form of distribution for existing works or as a completely new avenue for publication.

The rise of e-books has seen a concomitant surge of self-published authors. Anyone anywhere can now sign up at Amazon and upload their manuscript as an e-book (quality notwithstanding) - and many have. It's a neat way to bypass traditional publishers, which are far more discerning and have a decidedly smaller output. Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath are often trotted out as examples of how this should be done; however, few budding authors manage more than a couple hundred sales.

Perhaps the most puzzling thing about the rise of e-books is that they seem, in their elemental nature, to be no different to physical books - they contain letters and symbols strung together into words, from which stories are built. What were all the e-book buyers reading before they started spending billions of dollars on this new industry? Is there something less concrete that makes e-books different?

Here are a few distinctions.

Digital is in

There's no doubting that digital content is quickly surpassing its hardcopy equivalents in the connected world - it's simply that much more convenient. Having access to a cloud-based service that allows instant content retrieval regardless of location or device is perfectly suited to today's well-off consumer, who probably owns at least two or three different devices (a home or work computer, a cellphone, a tablet, a PDA or a dedicated device like an e-book reader) and migrates between them constantly.

Length is no limit

An e-book, unlike its physical counterpart, is not limited by physical volume. A copy of Neal Stephenson's weighty Reamde is indistinguishable from a Chuck Wendig short story for a Kindle user - and it gives books tremendous scope to explore lengths and formats that have in the past been unpractical. This is equally true for very long works - where binding, wrist strain and sheer weight were constraints - as for very short ones, which were unprofitable due to economies of scale. E-books immediately make poetry collections viable again, and allow publishers to include lengthy appendices and extra content.

Price wars

In 2003, Apple launched iTunes and forever set the price of a single music MP3 at $0.99. Amazon did something similar with e-books when it started selling the Kindle - it put the notion in consumers' minds that no e-book should cost more than $9.99, and that many should be far cheaper. This has set of a long-running debate about what books really should be worth - with popular arguments being nothing (since writers create for love, not money), $0.99 (equal to the MP3), $2.99 (since consumers don't want to pay more) and far more than $10 (since writing is creative and valuable).

Another price-related argument asks whether e-books should be cheaper than, or priced the same as, hardcopy books. For many people is seems obvious that e-books must be cheaper to produce - after all, there are no printing, shipping or warehousing costs, and e-books can be copied infinitely from one file. In fact, the difference in production cost is far less than most anticipate - perhaps 20% to 30% less. After all, publishers are still paying writers, editors, designers, marketers and support staff, and the price of digital distribution has to account for server and data costs among other factors. Nevertheless, consumers expect e-books to be cheaper, and clamour when this is not the case.

This matter of price is nowhere close to being resolved, and evidence of success has cropped up in all cases. It seems, for the time being, that both consumers and sellers are experimenting with their payment limits.

The question of device

Reading a physical book requires no special circumstances, tools, processes or skills - you simply pick the thing up, turn to page one, and read. E-books are a whole other matter. There are two concerns - device, and file format.

Several large online retailers have brought out proprietary e-readers - Amazon's Kindle is the most famous, but Barnes and Noble's Nook and Borders' Kobo are gaining market share. There are also other devices that are not tied to a specific store, like the Iriver, popular in Europe, and the Hanlin reader, which is big in China. Then there is a whole slew of other device types that can display e-books - virtually every cellphone and tablet made in the last few years falls into this category, not to mention every computer.

A related matter is that of file formats. The devices listed above are all programmed to be able to read one or more e-book file types - but not all can read all files, and some specifically exclude certain formats or digital rights management (DRM) software. For example, the ubiquitous Kindle uses a proprietary AZW format and reads MOBI files, but does not work with EPUB - the industry standard for e-books - or Adobe Digital Editions - the industry standard for DRM. Of course, this leads to considerable confusion, and the difficult choice of which regime to lock one's e-book collection into. This also doesn't taking into account the added cost of the device, though by many estimates the devices pay for themselves due to the lower price of e-books compared to physical books.

The nostalgia factor

Finally, some long-time book readers have expressed that reading is an experience that extends far beyond the actual text - it is a sensory journey that includes the feel of the paper, the smell of ink, and the sound of crackling paper. They quip that a paper book won't stop working when dropped in the bath, and that nobody can come in the night and delete books off the bookshelf. The opposite argument is that digital books, stored in the cloud, will never perish in a fire and that they are infinitely more portable and accessible at a moment's notice.

This sort of debate presupposed a dichotomy - that readers must choose one or the other, but should not dare, presumptively, to read both digital and physical books as the mood takes them. In fact, if Amazon's sales data is anything to go by, people are now buying more paperback books even as e-book sales rocket upwards (though unwieldy and expensive formats like hardcovers are dwindling in popularity).

E-books are here to stay and it's time that publishers, authors and book professionals of all kinds took cognizance of their impact. The industry is fledgling, with immense scope for growth and new thinking - and readers are just waiting to snap it all up.
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