Posts tagged with audiobooks

iTunes 5, iPod Nano & audio-book pricing

Apple hosted a media event yesterday, here’s my usual opinionated commentary.

iTunes 5

iTunes 5 is now out – ditching the scrappy brushed-metal look in favour of the Apple Mail inspired ‘platinum’ look even on Windows. With luck we can expect the next major release of Mac OS X to take this theme across the board and finally kill off the aqua stripes and brushed metal. Let’s just hope they keep the older sane toolbars and not the Safari/Mail abominations.

Daring Fireball has an amusing commentary on the issue…

iPod nano

The rumors of Apple replacing it’s hard-disk based mini line with flash based models were indeed true. The new Nanos are MUCH slimmer with better battery life and color screens. You can have any color you like, as long as it’s black… or white.

Check out the Nanos insides

Audio-book pricing

iTunes now offer the Harry Potter audio-books. As you might expect they are still overpriced… here’s a quick summary of the pricing of each one, compared to the audio CD, book and DVD’s (at Amazon.co.uk)

  1. Philosopher’s Stone iTunes £17.95, CD £18.19, Book £4.79, DVD £9.97
  2. Chamber of Secrets iTunes £18.95, CD £18.19, Book £4.79, DVD £8.97
  3. Prisoner of Azkaban iTunes £21.95, CD £31.99, Book £4.79, DVD £8.97
  4. Goblet of Fire iTunes £40.95, CD £59.99, Book £5.59
  5. Order of the Phoenix iTunes £50.95, CD £52.50, Book £6.39
  6. Half-Blood Prince iTunes £44.95, CD £39.00, Book £8.99

Once again audio-book pricing is off the scale with the CD’s weighing in at £219.86. iTunes shaves 10% off this to get it just under £200 in exchange for all resale value, having a physical disk and the ability to rip/convert to any format you like. Doesn’t really seem worth the 10% saving to me.

By comparison the books will cost you just under £50, so audio-books cost 400% more! The cost of producing the CD’s seems to consist of a narrator, a recording studio and some editing – all one-off production costs. Selling more CD’s at a lower margin would seem to be the more sensible option.

[)amien

More iPod fillers and Mac apps

Audio-books

Check out podiobooks who have put up a number of free audio-books from various authors. Neil Gaiman has managed to get the first chapter of his new Anansi Boys book read by Lenny Henry up too.

Mac applications

Fluid is a screen saver that gives you, well fluid visual effects. It has a whole bunch of preset effects and a mixing desk to mix up your own. Works okay on my PowerBook but ideally needs something more powerful! Mac Mini owners need not apply.

CoverFlow gives you an alternative interface to your music by presenting you with a gorgeously rendered user interface of album art.

USB Overdrive lets you enable and assign all those extra buttons on your mouse without having to purchase Apple’s rather overpriced Mighty Mouse. You can get the superior laser-tracking Logitech MX-1000 for the same price if you shop around.

[)amien

Filling an iPod & what is podcasting anyway?

I recently upgraded my aging and rather temperamental iPod, a 20GB G3, to a spiffy new color 60GB. My 20GB wasn’t full and my 60GB was positively bare. What can I put on it?

More music

I’ve loaded every audio CD I own and spent over £100 at the iTMS and while there’s a few tracks I want they’re not in iTMS and I’m not buying an album full of junk for a single track. The few bands I enjoy whole albums of aren’t very prolific.

Audio books

I enjoyed Red Dwarf on tape and The Second Coming of Steve Jobs from Audible but I find it difficult to listen to a strong American accent for several hours. Perhaps this is because I’m not acclimatized to the twang after I ceased TV viewing at the start of 2001 (the year, not Kubrick’s space-out space-trip).

Then there is the cost – most titles costing much more than the books themselves. While there is a little extra cost in recording the audio track surely once that’s done the files must be cheaper than their dead-tree cousins. I can only assume Audible have their hands tied by scared book publishers.

Radio shows

I just love the Hitchhiker’s Guide radio show, all 13 CD’s worth. The problem here seems to be trying to get hold of the shows. The BBC releases very few on audio CD, perhaps they could register with Audible/iTMS and provide some via that. The BBC web site uses the rather iPod-unfriendly Real Audio although they are experimenting with MP3 and podcasting.

Podcasts

Perhaps podcasting could fill the unused sectors now iTunes makes finding and downloading them simplicity itself. Tens of podcasts and a couple of weeks later I was left rather disappointed. You can break down what’s available into two types:

Professional podcasts, “The future of radio”

I ran through several professional podcasts, normally edited chunks from radio or TV productions hosted by presenters who’ve proven themselves in the commercial world of being able to talk and at least jot down a page of points and topics before a show.

Sandi Toksvig – The Best Of

The only podcast I’ve listened to daily since I subscribed. Often funny with interesting stories, Sandi’s observations and guests including ex-Python travel-writer Michael Palin.

Best of Moyles

BBC Radio 1’s popular breakfast show presenter could have a shot here if it wasn’t for the fact the BBC are only putting up 20 minutes a week of “highlights” that aren’t capturing the best of the show at all.

Amateur podcasts, “Blogs gone wrong”

Blogging is similar to the early days of DTP where technology gave enabled anyone with a computer to produce a newsletter. While the bar to production was lowered people quickly discovered software can’t create interesting well-written material.

Even the best blogs vary in quality and topic but it’s painless to skip over uninteresting subjects and select individual categories and blogs for aggregation. Blogs you read often uncover other interesting blogs or a Google search might lead you to a new blogs you may also want to keep an eye on. Technical information, diagrams and supplemental material is easily linked and downloaded.

Amateur podcasting has sprung from blogging but looses almost all these redeeming features despite some attempt at addressing these some with chapters and show notes.

Podcasts are much longer than blog posts but the presenters seem to spend little time putting a basic plan together. Often they start by talking about podcasting, their shows rank in iTMS, why they weren’t here last Wednesday and other off-topic stuff that is of little interest to anyone but themselves.

Even good content can loose an audience after a few minutes if the speaker lacks audio communication skills. Anyone who’s been to a seminar, presentation or lecture can vouch for the importance of a speaker with an interesting tone of voice and being able to deliver a talk that just flows naturally.

Such a flow is usually the result of solid preparation and pod-casters have the luxury of a little post-show editing. Perhaps if they edited and relied less on group-chats to avoiding develop material at all something good might emerge. Instead we are often treated to a group of people chatting about a subject with little to say – like overhearing a conversation in a coffee shop. At least everybody in a coffee shop is there and not talking over a poor quality phone or IP telephony solution.

I couldn’t bring myself to review most of the podcasts I came across for the reasons already explained but here’s a few I wanted to like.

Daily Source Code

Both this and PodFinder are hosted by the self-proclaimed “Podfather” Adam Curry (no, not my friend from the Toaster Files with the same name).

I tried three different DSC shows before I gave up. Curry actually has a good radio voice and technical ability but his lack of material preparation leads to an uncountable number of errs, umms and uhhs interspersed between talking about his cat, podcasting, new headphones and whatever else he feels like.

PodFinder

A great idea – review new and interesting podcasts! Curry has spent a time preparing and editing so his delivery is much more professional. On the downside is the show takes wholesale chunks of other people’s podcasts with little commentary so it’s not much better than preview the podcasts in the iTunes directory itself.

Both Curry’s shows have seen serous iTMS rank slippage but I think there is still hope for this one.

MyMac.com

These two guys chat about various Mac and iPod things, none in much depth. They loose credibility when they claim IBM’s 2.0GHz to 2.7GHz G5 speed increase in a year was abysmal (it’s a much bigger increase than Intel in the same period). If they are going to discuss a subject without knowing it….

They talked about getting permission from their wives to travel an hour to a new Apple Store and told each other what buttons to press I decided that listening to uninformed Apple fanatics chatting to each other, virtual or otherwise, wasn’t for me.

There is hope for podcasts yet providing they can polish up before the hyped-up audiences give up for good. I’d recommend starting with Mastering Communication by Nicky Stanton.

Here is one guy who can blog, write, act, deliver a talk, make people laugh and podcast. I just wish he would do it more regularly.

[)amien

Hitchhiker’s Guide: Continues

I really like Hitchhikers Guide, a lot. I’ve read all five books and listened to the radio series on CD far too often. I then put them on my iPod and listen to them regularly. I’ve got the original TV series on DVD, it replaced my VHS copy…Recently things got moving again with a new radio series and the long-awaited movie…

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Tertiary Phase

The original radio series was published on CD imaginatively titled the Primary and Secondary phases. The radio series continues this tradition with installments packaged as the Tertiary, Quandary and Quintessential phases.

Making the new radio series was an arduous task for Above The Title who, despite the 25 year lapse since the original production, managed to get the original crew involved from their various diverse locations with the sad exceptions of creator Douglas Adams who passed away in 2001 and the narrator of both radio and TV series Peter Jones who passed away in 2000. Listeners can take some solace in knowing that Adams had put a large amount of work into the new series before his death including recording his own scenes as Agrajag as well as the excellent job by Bill Franklin as the new voice of the book.

It’s very enjoyable although the plot doesn’t move very far over the three CD’s, the story entirely being based on the people of Krikkit, their history, and the universes fate but it is a very fitting continuation to the series. Ford sounds a little odd but then if I sound the same in 25 years I’d be surprised…

Rating: 4/5

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Movie

Okay, where to start…

Casting

Mostly good with everybody managing to fit into the roles although I’m not sure Ford works, he was a research geek in the book and TV show but Mos Def just seems, well, too cool for the role. As much as I like Stephen Fry his voice just doesn’t work as a narrator, it’s not deep and rich enough after years of enjoying the radio series but I guess we can be thankful it’s still English. Bill Nightly’s performance seemed stilted like he had forgotten the words or perhaps was just doing a Christopher Walken impression.

Visuals

Fantastic sets and while I was a little apprehensive about shape changes to Marvin and the Heart of Gold they worked okay on screen and didn’t distract much. The new Hitch-Hiker logo with the planet rings and a thumb is just fantastic and the flash style guide animations are not only acceptable but actually funnier than those in the TV series.

Screenplay

Okay, you knew this couldn’t last. The script is bad, real bad. Why do Hollywood insist on picking up the rights to successful books if they are going to rewrite them into something else? It says Hitchhikers Guide on the movie poster and I’ve gone to see it because I love the story. This is not that story.

The story starts with the demolition of the Earth by Vogons quickly followed by our crew meeting up and looking for Magrathea who are building the Earth mark 2. That is about all the film has in common. It eschews clever jokes, wordplay and delicate character interaction for a slapstick, set pieces and a tacked-on heavy romance between Arthur and Trillian which comes across less as romance and more as stalked-across-the-galaxy-by-a-looser. The Arthur of old was a little like Victor Meldrew. Sure he was cranky but generally robust and likable, the script delivers us a less likable whiner who you feel wouldn’t last much longer in space.

For a brief moment I considered the lack of time you get to your story across in a movie but then reflected on how much time they’d wasted on the pretty dolphin intro sequence that ate up several minutes without adding to the story and the stupid face-smacking scene on the Vogon’s home world complete with the famous crabs.

I can’t help but hope that this was not the film the director, writer and cast set out to produce but rather a revised and edited version the film company put out when they didn’t understand what they had. Perhaps in a few years we’ll get a directors cut that will loose the romance and slapstick and put back in more plot and dialog.

Keep an eye open for the cameos including the original Marvin robot from the TV series in the queue to release prisoners and the original Arthur as the face from ancient Magrathea. Douglas Adam’s face flashes up in one sequence, you may notice it if you are still awake.

Rating: 3/5

[)amien