Sunday, June 07, 2015

Back Ups and Ownership

So I just wasted too much time trying to get my computer up and running again after my hard drive committed suicide, and it got me thinking.

I work on a HP Pavilion desktop PC running Windows 7. Many of my peers have switched to Macs, and while I understand the appeal I’ve also spent time in Apple stores at the genius bar lamenting iPhone issues. If you use electronics of any kind, there are eventually going to be issues. The key is to try to head off as many problems as possible, mitigate them as needed, and get things back to normal quickly.

Which brings us to back ups.

I'm a bit obsessive about back ups, dating to the time I used a Brother word processor with floppy disks and a power outage killed 3000 words.

Hopefully, you're part of some sort of cloud. My goto is Dropbox. I've got MS Word configured to automatically save a back up copy, and to save an AutoRecover every 5 minutes, directly into a Dropbox folder.

I also save different versions of the same manuscript. As I revise, I'll add 1.1, 1.2, etc, so even if I mess up in some gigantic way (like deleting the whole story and saving it) I've got earlier versions I can go back to.

But let me share how I screwed up. When my HDD began to fail and my files became corrupted, I restored my Dropbox files to my son's computer while I reinstalled Windows on a new drive. Besides writing, I have a lot of music and movies (about a terabyte's worth) and it took up all of my son's space. Since I'd only downloaded stuff to his system to make sure the restoration worked (I'd never done one before), when he asked me if he could delete the files, I told him sure.


Since it was my Dropbox account on his computer, when he deleted the files, he deleted them from my Dropbox account as well as from his computer.

Dropbox has a feature where deleted files can be restored. But since I was restoring my files on one system while they were being deleted on another, I created a gigantic mess that required the fine folks at Dropbox Customer Service to roll back my entire account to several days earlier.

Even with a decent Internet connection, restoring a terabyte takes a long damn time.

But that got my brain working. I was able to give up CDs in favor of mp3s, forsaking  a hard copy for a bunch of ones and zeroes. But why do I need to keep those ones and zeroes on a personal hard drive? Isn't data fine in the cloud without having to be on my computer too? Why restore at all?

Streaming is becoming the norm. Subscription services, online storage, and the growing ability to access anything anywhere has really borked the concept of ownership.

Google Docs is a great example. I've used Google Docs on many occasions while collaborating; it makes it much easier to share a file than emailing back and forth, or even Dropbox. But why should it only be for collabs? Microsoft Word Online is exactly that. and it's free (though you can buy GBs of online data through OneDrive). Apple is now allowing users to store their music files in the cloud via iTunes Match and the iCloud. Amazon gives you unlimited cloud storage for sixty bucks a year.

We've come a long way since Netflix began shipping DVDs via snail mail in a paper sleeve.

The good news is, as writers, we create data and there is a much smaller risk of losing that data.

The bad news is, as writers, we create data, and the way people consume data is so radically different than it was just ten years ago that our future may be uncertain.

Don't get me wrong. Paper still sells. Ebooks still sell. Some people want a hard copy. Some people like owning an ebook collection. At this moment in time, sales (not rentals or subscriptions) are how most of us earn the majority of our cash. And the sales market will likely continue for many years.

But, as I've said before, the rules of supply and demand don't apply to digital media that can be copied and delivered for practically free. The artificial scarcity of storage space is quickly becoming obsolete. Why pay extra for more GBs on your phone? Your tablet? Your PS4? Streaming eliminates the need for it, and for ownership.

To put it in simpler terms; there is no need to own a book if you have access to that book whenever you want.

Say what you want about Kindle Unlimited, Amazon is simply giving readers what they want. This is where the market seems to be heading. No one owns, everyone rents.

So what does that mean for writers?

Right now, through KU and Scribd and Oyster, writers are lessors. We have the ability to lease our work exclusively, or non-exclusively, for a limited time. Publishers--once essential middlemen who connected us with readers via paper--are being replaced by companies who connect us with readers via ones and zeroes. It's still about distribution.

My sketchy history of technology doesn't reveal many examples where proprietary formats win. At least, not for very long. Distribution channels, even newly created ones, inspire competitive innovation.

I believe the advance of technology follows similar rules to natural selection, but it isn't survival of the fittest. It's more akin to Lamarck's soft inheritance; namely, tech evolves because it wants to. It doesn't accidentally improve due to random mutations which make some innovations likelier to succeed. Rather, technology has a will to power because it is fueled by humans with that will. Better, faster, bigger, more--it will inevitably happen. And that can't be contained or controlled by a single company, or even a handful of companies.

Ebooks managed escape velocity from the printing press. There is no going back.

As the technology of distribution inevitably evolves, so to will our ability to reach readers. As long as people want to read, there will be avenues for writers to connect with readers, and there will be ways to monetize these avenues. Maybe with subscriptions. Or advertising. Or taxpayer dollars. Or profit sharing. Or subsidiary rights. Or something that hasn't been thought of yet.

If you're dwelling on how to sell books, you're playing catch up. It isn't about selling. That's so 2014.

It's about monetizing the writer/reader connection.


John Ellsworth said...

Monetizing the writer-reader connection. I like that. Thank you for what I think is your putting into words the state of indie publishing right now. My KU borrows bring in thousands monthly, which is enough to keep me thinking I'm doing the right thing staying narrow and not "going wide" in search of sales.

But what's of more interest to me is your notion of monetizing. How to make money off what we write where we're into the new reality of non-ownership. How let my readers access my work and read it, and how make a dollar or two from that trade?

On my own website I have been testing a widget called PubML. It may be seen here: This item allows me to put my own books on my own website in a format that competes and maybe even bests Amazon's own cloud reader. It's at least as good, as far as I can see.

So what's stopping me from being my own distribution center? How do we do that? How do i get the same eyes-on that Amazon gives me? I know there's been a surge of interest recently in Facebook advertising (see, e.g., Mark Dawson's terrific work) and maybe that holds part of the key. On FB i can go directly to my readers. However, you say, it costs money to do that. But so does Amazon cost money to do that--30% of my sales. So which best monetizes? Maybe that's where I need to be looking. And I have been. So far I've been able to achieve a 238% ROI using Mark's method. More will be revealed as more adherents post results on Mark's private page.

Just random thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Really Dude, only one online service for backup? That's almost asking for problems! With online storage so cheap why not at least 2 or maybe three? Personally, everything important is on both Google Drive and OneDrive with SUPER important things also in Evernote.

I think the future is moving toward buying different access not buying things.

Retailers can change different prices for different levels of access with different benefits. The best current example is games. Pay a small fortune for early access with "founder" benefits. Pay a little lest for early access with no special benefits, pay regular retail to wait until the game is releases, pay a very discounted price for games on sale, or get the game included with a rental subscription.

Sounds like the old Hardcover, Trade, Mass Market, Audiobook, book of the month club, library pattern from physical books. Doesn't it?

Or the Full price with whisper-sync audio, Full price without, sale price, and KU. We just don't have enough "grades" on the high end currently. Authors just need a way to do early access and "founder" benefits. :)

Mr. RCollins said...

For most of my writing I use Markdown or RestructuredText. No messy file formats, just pure text that can easily be converted to other file formats.

Second tool is to use a distirbuted version control system, such as git. You can then easily keep track of all your changes, with notes if you like, going back to the beginning of creation of the file. It also makes it easy to experiment and branch off, and collaborate with others on a document.

Both allow me to write and not worry. :-)

Michael Alan Peck said...

I know the backup story was just an intro to the real point of the post, so nobody wants this to devolve into a discussion about backup solutions. That said, Scrivener creates a versioned time-and-date-stamped backup of your current project every time you quit out of it, and you can make as many manual backups as you like while working. Also, Crashplan is a pretty good backup service.

And now, back to the real point of the post...

Unknown said...

Lots of cheap bandwidth will be required to deliver all the backup, "rented" books, streaming movies, interactive games, etc. Writers monetizing their products along with other entertainment will all have a delivery cost factored in.

The good news for writers is we provide the raw product...THE STORY. We must be able to respond to the delivery system as it evolves for readers choices.

David L. Shutter said...

"It's about monetizing the writer/reader connection."

I predict this will be the title of a Shatzkin post, or the main talking point during his consulting sessions.

In about five more years.

antares said...

@Jeff Ezell said...
Lots of cheap bandwidth will be required to deliver all the backup, "rented" books, streaming movies, interactive games, etc. Writers monetizing their products along with other entertainment will all have a delivery cost factored in.

An excellent point. And well made. I salute you.

Lee Mountford said...

Nice post Joe, lots to think about there with regards to the future of ones readership.

Quick question - last I heard you were collecting data no the KU service and how it was working for you, and if it caused a drop etc. Have you come to any conclusions with this?

Unknown said...

Thanks Antares.

At sometime in the future will our supply of readers dwindle because our American education system is turning out so many "graduates" with poor reading skills? Ask some teens/young adults randomly at a mixed cultural gathering if they have downloaded any books to read. Bet they could kick your butt on a video game though, right? Pretty useless on a job interview or resume. I digress.

It takes a reader 1-2+ days to read a story we've created in a book. Same story <2 hrs in movie format. Will writers be able to input a MS into a "holographic converter", with images of each character, and out pops a "holographic story-ebook" that will show/tell the writers stories visually? No reading skills required?

That will take indie publishers to a whole new level of tech challenges? You ready for that Joe? We all expect you to lead the way for us!

Jill James said...

Heavy duty thoughts for a Monday. :) I'm thinking I'll be reading this blog post and comments a few times more.

Anonymous said...

As per RCollins, I use git and Markdown. I'd recommend free git hosting at BitBucket which gives a professional-quality service (they are huge in developer circles).

If you are using a cloud, I'd also recommend CloudHQ. If you only have one account with any particular cloud provider (1xDropbox,1xOnedrive etc) then it's free too. It keeps your clouds in sync (one way if you prefer) and ensures if you lose access to one you have access to the same files via another. As a nice side effect, your Google Docs writing arrives transparently in your OneDrive or DropBox in MS Word format, giving bulk backups in a widely accepted format.

Unknown said...

Joe - thanks for the heads up on backup. Whatever our current BU methodology, there is probably room for improvement to protect our most important assets. I changed mine. Thanks for sharing.

Nat Russo said...

Back in August, I had a scare involving cloud computing. There's a workflow you can get into that completely hoses your backups, so I feel I should warn you.

I had been keeping my scrivener project files in a local Google Drive directory, so every time I'd save the project, it would automatically sync to the cloud. The mother board on my new laptop died and I had to send it back. When they returned it a week later, I thought it would be a simple process of syncing back from the cloud...and it should have been. Except for one problem: I was a dumbass.

When Google Drive began syncing back down to my laptop, it was going to take a lot of time (as you alluded to in your post). Several hours into it, I forgot the process was still going on, and I opened Scrivener.

My manuscript was blank. I panicked. Hilarity ensued.

I shut Scrivener down after realizing the project hadn't finished syncing yet. But guess what Scrivener does when you shut it down? It auto-saves the project.

In this case, it saved a blank project to my local Google Drive folder. Google Sync happily wrote the blank project up to the cloud, overwriting my manuscript. It was gone.

I had the presence of mind early that year to place an instance of Google Sync on my work laptop. My work laptop was shut down. So I turned off the wifi, fired up the work laptop, and my manuscript was fully intact in that machine's local Google Drive folder. So I was able to recover it.

Long-winded, I know. But it's a warning about what CAN go wrong with cloud computing if you go full dumbass at any point in time.

I've taken steps to greatly reduce the chance this can happen in the future. It involves a combination of version control software (Subversion. Specifically, Tortoise SVN), and a Carbonite subscription. You can skip on the version control if you're not moderately tech savvy (I'm a software engineer), but Carbonite costs about $60 a year and is fire-and-forget. Real easy to use.

Unknown said...

Woops! I never remember which login method to use. :) That last comment was me.

D. C. Chester said...

Joe, great forward thinking. Publish a book on monetizing the writer-reader connection. I'll pre-order right now.


Anonymous said...

"It's about monetizing the writer/reader connection."

I predict this will be the title of a Shatzkin post, or the main talking point during his consulting sessions.

In about five more years.

You think Shatzkin is speeding up?

Lots of cheap bandwidth will be required to deliver all the backup, "rented" books, streaming movies, interactive games, etc.

This is the killer to streaming replacing owning in some markets. I have quite a good download quota for an Australian mobile plan (12 Gb/month shared with my family, for $120 per month - it used to be ~2Gb each for $130 per month). I listen to music on my phone on my way to work and at work. A high quality spotify stream would exceed the quota for my entire family three weeks into the month, so I'd have to go down in quality just to keep listening to music.

Unknown said...

Just admiring your work and wondering how you managed this blog so well. It’s so remarkable that I can’t afford to not go through this valuable information whenever I surf the internet!
see us at: buy youtube subscribers

Coolkayaker1 said...

As Nate Russo's comment implies, the Clouds have their issues, whether they be user-related or Cloud-system related. And to leave one's work solely on a Cloud is no more safe than leaving one's income tax refund on the recently hacked IRS database -- the take-home message is that Clouds get hacked. Work can get stolen, or worse yet, just plain erased by a hacker on any Cloud. iCloud (Apple) and Google have both had headline-making cloud storage issues (yes, with loss of user-data) in the past couple years. It's a fact.

Sure, I still use the Apple Cloud and Dropbox, but only a person who would trust leaving their cattle in the neighbor's pasture "because he known how to corral cows better than me" would trust all their work to any cloud.

For what it's worth, there's a method of fairly foolproof backup that's a no-brainer for any writer making a career of it: two computers. Alternate their use: one day write on one, the next day write on the other by opening that day's writing from a Flash drive (FD) as another measure of security, while still storing each day's work on Cloud (again, I use iCloud and Dropbox, automatic saves, like Joe does).

How are two computers a good idea? Joe's HD failure would be a non-event as I have all work on the other computer's HD, plus on the FD. FD failure? I'll open it on computer #2 from one of the Clouds. Computer gets virus, hacked, rubbished? No problem...I have another computer right next to it with the same stuff on it (they will stay, essentially, "mirrored").

And, of course, with Apple, I use TimeMachine (innate to Apple) but I do not keep the Time Machine USB-hard drive (a separate one for each computer) hitched to the computer USB at all times. WHy not? If the computer gets hacked, so may the TimeMachine HD; better to simply hook it up once a week or so, backup with TM (TM starts automatically when the HD is plugged in) and then unplug the TimeMachine HD again and store it in a fire-proof lockbox.

The system sounds laborious, buy it's actually smooth as pie; since most of it is automatic (like the CLoud storage), the only thing I do is the daily end-of-day Flash drive save, the first-of-day Flash drive open (on computer #2, which is right there underneath my writing desk next to computer #1), and the once a week TM HD save. Easy-peasy. Foolproof.

For a professional writer, with their entire career stored in a million words or more, it's pretty mandatory to have two computers (many of us have two: an older one and a newer one). Of course, it's a tax-deductible career expense, and useful in other ways (I suggest, if possible, two computers that are nearly identical so that plug-and-play devices, the power cords, the cases (for laptops), etc. are interchangeable. Professional race car drivers have two cars; professional baseball players have two mitts; professional hit-men have two guns; and professional authors have two computers -- and use them effectively.

Good luck in storing those works of art, authors! Sven.

Jeffery Evans said...

Out here in the realm the truly paranoid, we use multi-layer backup strategies. Something like Carbonite or CrashPlan for cloud back up as well as Time Machine or CrashPlan for local backups. It's way more efficient to restore from a local backup than from a cloud service and with CrashPlan you can do both, plus put a copy of your encrypted data on a friend's computer for free. Crash plan also works on Windows, OS X, and Linux. Yes - I really have at least 2 backups of any given file, as well as what might be stored on DropBox or whatever.

And - I don't worry.

Nicole said...

Joe, why aren't you using Scrivener? I'm sure others mentioned it in the comments. Let me just add to the chorus: it's designed for you and it rocks. Get it! ;)