Is DRM helping or hurting ebooks?

There was a very interesting story on NPR yesterday about whether DRM — digitial rights management — is helping or hurting ebook sales. It's a well-done story that quotes experts on both sides.

Personally, I think DRM is a bad idea. I completely agree with the author who says it makes it too difficult and frustrating for readers, as well as with the book marketing expert who says that filesharing actually helps to build a fan base by getting the word out.

Also, as I've heard (read) Angela Hoy of WritersWeekly point out before: The people who pirate ebooks would probably not go out and buy the ebook if they couldn't steal it, so it's not actually resulting in lost sales.

I think you have to look at the cost in each scenario. You could put DRM on your ebooks, make sure no one can pirate them, but also create lots of problems for legitimate customers. Or you can not use DRM, risk a few pirated copies, but also gain fans through filesharing. While filesharing may cost you a sale occasionally in the short run, who is to say that 1) the new fan would have heard of you and bought the ebook themselves, had they not been sent the file, anyway, and 2) that they won't go out and buy your next book, now that they know who you are?

I am curious what other writers and authors think. Do you support DRM? Or do you think it's a bad idea?

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By Katharine Swan On Thursday, March 26, 2009 At 3:14 PM 2 comments

Frightful weather, part 2

Three and a half hours later, and this view of our street had turned into this:

Colorado blizzard

Yikes!

And yes, I spent my lunch hour-plus-change on the couch reading. I figure I've got the rest of the day to work, since I won't be going anywhere anytime soon!

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By Katharine Swan On At 1:07 PM 3 comments

The weather outside is frightful...

Colorado spring snowstorm

Now that I've got that song stuck in your head, I'll tell you why:

In Denver we're currently getting hit with the beginnings of a blizzard. We did have plenty of warning, as yesterday they were predicting we'd get 8 to 15 inches in the city, and 1 to 2 feet in the suburbs along the Front Range. Even the schools closed today in anticipation, even though the snow hadn't started yet.

It started about 8:30 this morning, thankfully after I had dropped Michael off at work (he's planning to take the train home so he doesn't have to mess with the roads) and checked on my horse. The picture above was taken about 20 or 30 minutes after it started, and as you can see, the flakes were huge. What you can't see is that it was falling very quickly. It got thicker and faster, too, and is already starting to stick to our street.

Having nowhere else to go today, I am tempted to just curl up on the couch with a book and a cup of tea. Unfortunately, I have work I need to do first.

I suppose that's one thing I miss about working in an office: not being able to use a snowstorm as an excuse to take a day off. But it's hard to take a snow day when your office is 10 feet from your bedroom!

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By Katharine Swan On At 10:13 AM 0 comments

Saving energy... and your social life

Obviously this article about companies leaving PCs on overnight was written with big businesses in mind, but it's a valid point for home offices, too. Turning off computers and other electronics at the end of your work day saves minute amounts of electricity, but it does add up.

Of course, turning off these things at the end of your work day also has another benefit: It ends your work day. With the computer running in the next room, it's awfully tempting to check email, respond to clients, or even (gah) continue working.

Yes, I'm guilty of all of this. Guilty, guilty, guilty! Of course, it's not as bad as it sounds, considering I do like my work. But still, I think my husband, horse, pets, and friends would probably appreciate it if I tried to save some energy — and my social life — by shutting off my computer in the evenings.

What about you? Do you shut off your computer at the end of your work day and refuse to look at it a moment longer? Or do you allow yourself to be drawn back in, even after you have supposedly stopped working for the day?

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, March 25, 2009 At 8:31 PM 2 comments

What? It's only lunchtime?

I tried to sleep in today. Really, I did. I declined to go for a walk with Michael, and tried to go back to sleep. But I couldn't! So I ended up getting up by about 8:20 anyway.

One of the biggest things I've noticed about getting up earlier is that my day is measured by my lunch hour — how long until I can justify eating lunch, or how long ago lunch was. Not having kept a normal schedule for very much of my freelancing career (the last time was nearly two years ago), this reminds me of when I worked as a full time technical writer. Lunchtime was so anticipated that if I didn't watch it, I would take it earlier and earlier each day.

As a freelancer it's a bit more positive, thankfully. I looked at the clock today and was surprised to see it was only 12:30 pm. (And yes, I'd already eaten lunch.) I'd accomplished a lot already by that point in time, so it felt like it should be later than it actually was.

It was a nice feeling. Yet another reason to keep up with this schedule!

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By Katharine Swan On At 4:13 PM 0 comments

Freelancing vs. telecommuting in a slow economy

There has been a lot of talk in the online freelance writing community about whether the economy is affecting their workload. My own experience is that it is not, at least not much: After a slow January and a slow first few weeks of February, I've found my workload has increased to nearly what it was before the holidays, and that with me slacking off on the marketing front.

I personally feel that as freelance writers we actually have greater job security than our "captive" counterparts. While an employee is dependent on one single company for their income, we have many clients and therefore many sources of income. This means that if we lose a client, we have others to help cushion the blow.

However, it appears that while working from home as a freelance writer has its benefits, working from home as a full-time employee does not. Yesterday I saw this article about telecommuters and others with flexible schedules who fear they'll be the first to go when companies start cutting back. As it happens, I know two telecommuters who were just laid off and had already heard their concerns, so I can definitely see this article's point of view.

But I'm eager to hear my readers' thoughts on the matter. What do you think? Is telecommuting riskier than self-employment, despite what conventional wisdom would say?

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By Katharine Swan On Tuesday, March 24, 2009 At 12:46 PM 3 comments

Making an earlier schedule work for me

A week later, I've still managed to keep the early schedule I've been on since returning from Europe. Mostly thanks to Michael, of course, who gets me out of bed every morning to go for a walk with him and the dogs.

I'm starting to miss my productive night hours a little bit less. Daytime is still less productive for me, because there are SO many interruptions — email, my favorite blogs posting updates, the dogs wanting fed or pottied or just paid attention to, etc. However, I'm managing these interruptions a bit better now.

The real advantage of the earlier schedule is being done with work in the evening. Even though I'm not getting as much done, I'm getting tired earlier and that keeps me from working much after dinner. It's nice to spend the evenings with Michael without worrying about what I still have left to do.

Of course, I'm not reading as much now — I like to read before bed, but now I'm much more likely to get sleepy while reading!

Despite the drawbacks, I'm planning on keeping this schedule for now. I'm hoping it will allow me to spend more time with my horse, too, as the days lengthen and I have more daylight post-work hours!

I know I've posted before asking what your schedule preferences are. But I'm curious now — how many of you have tried it both ways, and settled on one schedule you like better? And how many of you were unable to choose the schedule you would actually prefer?

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, March 23, 2009 At 2:26 PM 0 comments

Advantages and disadvantages of the handheld laptop

After traveling for a week and a half with my NEC Mobilepro instead of my regular laptop, I noticed several advantages of the machine, as well as several disadvantages — both from a writer's point of view, of course.

Advantages

1) Lightweight. Obviously the single biggest advantage is that it is an ultra lightweight and portable machine. Weighing just a little over a pound, I hardly noticed it most of the time, and I carried it around Haworth, Edinbrough, London, and Paris.

2) Comfortably sized keyboard. Obviously, since my main purpose is typing, I need a keyboard that is sized comfortably — and this one is. It's only slightly smaller than the keyboard on my Averatec, and just right for someone with small to medium-sized hands.

3) Correct software. The Mobilepro has Windows CE and "pocket" versions of Microsoft Office, which just means that the more advanced features aren't available. But it works for everything I need, so I'm happy!

4) Fast boot-up and shut-down. The entire computer runs off of flash memory, which means it turns on and off with the touch of a button — faster than your cell phone! I can also leave my current project on the screen, enabling me to get to work within seconds, and stop working at a moment's notice. Great for taking full advantage of brief opportunities to write, or even for jotting something down so that I don't forget it!

Disadvantages

1) No WiFi or DSL capabilities. The Mobilepro does have a regular phone line connection and an internal modem, but being about a decade old, it's rather behind on the current Internet technology! Fortunately, I didn't miss it most of the time, as the cross-country trains were some of the few places where I would have had a connection.

2) Small screen. The screen is what was (then) called a half-VGA, so it is pretty tiny — only about eight inches wide, and perhaps two and a half inches tall. For my purposes this was rarely a problem, but had I been online it would have bothered me.

3) Transferring files. This wasn't a problem on my trip, but if I were using the Mobilepro frequently, transferring files back and forth would be a hassle. The Mobilepro takes Compact Flash cards (no USB port), but my regular laptop requires a card reader, which is kind of a pain.

Now, this is a pretty outdated little machine, so I'm not by any means suggesting that all of my fellow writers would find it useful enough to run out and buy one. However, I did find it surprisingly useful on my travels, so I thought I would share my observations in case one of you thought you might, too.

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By Katharine Swan On Friday, March 20, 2009 At 10:43 AM 0 comments

Night owl, early bird

Why are both night people and morning people referred to as types of birds?

Anyway, many of my regular readers and long-time friends know that I'm quite the night owl. The wee hours of the morning tend to be my most productive, and as a result I often find myself in a schedule that involves staying up — and getting up — quite late.

Europe seems to have changed all that, at least for the time being. While in Europe, I frequently found myself waking up around 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, and being fully awake right away — very unlike my usual snooze-button-pushing (or sleeping-through-the-alarm) habits. I was also getting tired very early in the evening — a few nights I actually went to bed around 7:00 or 8:00!

I figured it was because of the time change and that I'd be back to my old schedule in no time once I got home. I still think it happened because of the time change, but I am decidedly not back to normal — though it remains to be seen whether that is a bad thing.

For one thing, I am still getting tired earlier than my norm — around 10:00 or so (which is quite early for my tastes). But the truly surprising thing is that I am getting up earlier, too. I even got up with Michael at 6:30 the past two mornings to walk the dogs!

The advantage is, of course, a longer, uninterrupted workday — which allowed me to procrastinate a little yesterday and still get some work done at the end of the day. The disadvantage is losing my "witching hour," when I get my best and most productive work done.

It remains to be seen whether I'll be able to keep up this schedule, or whether I will slide back into my old habits. I have to admit, the morning walks are nice, but I also rather miss my witching hour!

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By Katharine Swan On Thursday, March 19, 2009 At 10:18 AM 0 comments

My first day back at work full-time

As it happens, working in snatches during a vacation is very different than working full-time at home, particularly when you have more than a thousand emails to catch up on when you get home. As a result, today was my first day back to work full-time.

Monday and Tuesday were both half days — or should I say half-hearted days — where I worked part-time on going through emails, corresponding with clients, and updating my blogs. Easy but tedious. Plus, Michael took those days off for "recovery" purposes, and having him home with me always makes it difficult to work. Instead we walked the dogs, went out for brunch, and I visited my horse.

Today hasn't been all that much more productive, but I think it's helping me just to be at home in front of my computer all day — never mind that what I've actually been doing is a lot of blog-reading, email-reading and -writing, and administrative stuff. After all, after a good six hours of that I finally managed to do a couple hours' work, which is a vast improvement over my productivity yesterday and the day before.

What about you? Do you find that you have a difficult time settling back into your routine upon returning from a vacation — even if you worked here and there on said vacation? How do you cope or help yourself settle in faster?

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, March 18, 2009 At 8:07 PM 0 comments

My working vacation

I have a confession to make: Even though I worked my butt off to meet several deadlines before I left, and even though I did leave my regular laptop behind, I did actually work a little on my trip.

And I planned it that way, too.

I was afraid of losing my work — heck, my livelihood if something happened to my laptop overseas, so I decided early on that I was not going to take my laptop to Europe with me. Instead, I brought my old NEC Mobilepro 770, an outdated handheld laptop that I'd bought used in college to allow me to take notes in class via typing rather than hand-writing.

The Mobilepro is probably about a decade old now, so it doesn't have the same capabilities as modern laptops — it has a regular phone connection and a built-in modem, but no DSL jack, and definitely no wireless capabilities. Still, it has its uses: Running on Windows CE, it has "pocket" versions of Microsoft Office, including Word, and a Compact Flash drive that allows you to transfer files quickly and easily. Also, the screen is a half-VGA and the laptop runs completely on flash memory (meaning it has no moving parts), so it weighs just over a pound and fits easily in the messenger bag I was planning to carry as a purse overseas.

So one of the things I did before leaving for Europe was to get together a bunch of research for some content articles I was writing for a client, copying everything into Word so that I could pull it up on the Mobilepro. I also took with me the files for my website (so that I could work on the updates I have been meaning to finish), and kept a travel journal. In this manner I planned to have plenty to do on the plane and the trains: Although the batteries don't have the same 8-hour life they had when they were newer, they still last for around 4 hours each, and I have two of them.

Laying in bed working our first night in England, I started to think how terrible it was: Here I was in Haworth, for heaven's sake, and I was working! Then it occurred to me that maybe it wasn't really so terrible. After all, I was working because I wanted to, not because I had deadlines I had to meet. And I had known all along that I would — in fact, the main reason I brought the Mobilepro was because I was hoping that being in Haworth would inspire me, and I wanted to be prepared.

So maybe working on vacation isn't such a bad thing. After all, we are all writers because that is what we love, so it's different than someone with a job they hate having to work on vacation.

Do you work on vacation? And if so, do you feel guilty or regretful about doing so, or do you work on vacation because you choose to?

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By Katharine Swan On At 3:41 PM 0 comments

The longest day of my life

I mentioned in my last post that Michael and I just got back from a trip to Europe. However I had not blogged very much in the weeks leading up to the trip, either. This was due to my mad rush to finish several big assignments before the trip — we had only decided to take the trip about a month beforehand, so I already had quite a bit of work scheduled for March.

I did get everything done in time, but just barely, and it contributed to what was officially the longest day of my life. In order to finish my work on a large client project, I worked through the night Wednesday night, finishing the project a bare 25 minutes before we were supposed to leave. We were leaving early Thursday morning, so I figuered I could sleep on the plane (two separate flights), and then be on about the right schedule when we arrived in London Friday morning.

It didn't work out that way. Surprisingly (since I can normally sleep almost anywhere) I was not able to sleep much on the plane, so when we arrived in London I had had only about two and a half hours of sleep over the last 30 hours.

And unfortunately, we still had a lot of traveling left to do: Our destination was Haworth, home of my favorite classic authors, the Brontë sisters. This meant taking the Heathrow Express into London from the airport, the Tube to King's Cross, another train to Leeds, connecting to a train that would take us to Keighley (pronounced "Keithley"), and taking a taxi from Keighley to Haworth.

By the time we got into Haworth around lunchtime, I was dead on my feet. Still, I was momentarily revived by excitement, so we decided to eat lunch. Big mistake! I ate less than half of my delicious Yorkshire pudding, I was so tired. When I went to bed directly after lunch, I had been going almost nonstop for 48 hours.

Our trip was heaven for me, from a writer's standpoint as well as for the value of the international travel itself. While I'm adjusting to being back and catching up from being gone for 10 days, I'll be blogging a little more about my experiences overseas.

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By Katharine Swan On Tuesday, March 17, 2009 At 12:30 PM 2 comments

Hiatus

Sorry for the long break in posts. Michael and I just got back late Saturday night from a 10-day trip to Europe. Over the next few days, I'll be catching up on my "real" life again, so stay tuned for some posts about my trip and related topics!

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, March 16, 2009 At 11:57 AM 0 comments

Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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