10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by Sommer Leigh » August 17th, 2010, 2:27 pm

I like both. Can't we have both? I mean, isn't the world big enough for print and digital?

I never thought that the influx of e-books and e-readers were going to destroy bookstores forever and ever. Not everyone is going to own an e-reader, and no seller or distributor is going to want to miss out on the sales to people without e-readers. I think the truth is more that we're going to have both in our lives until the next thing comes around and changes it all again.

We definitely live in an either/or society in which the group on one side does not understand how the other side can keep doing/believing/buying it their way. We see it in almost everything. But I really think it is ok if both sides live together peacefully. If you like buying books from bookstores, then keep doing so. Support your indie book seller! If you like reading on an e-reader, that's cool too. It's all good.

E-readers have a lot of awesome functions that I am really in love with. I love dynamic, interactive digital media, from awesome websites to animated comic books to author websites with book soundtracks, whatever. I love gadgets. I also have a four floor to ceiling bookshelves at home stuffed with books and more on the way. I love great covers and I love the way books feel in my hand. I'm truly excited at the visual, interactive possibilities of e-books too. Not all books have the capability of incorporating that sort of media, but the ones that do? I can't wait. I like the idea of book trailers to similar books at the front of an e-book. (I love movie trailers!) I like the idea of optional soundtracks embedded in my book. Alice in Wonderland with animated, interactive moving bits? Yes please!

My husband teaches high school English. He loves his physical books, but how nice is it for him to be able to put all the books his sophomores and seniors are reading, with his lesson plans, on one device and tote it around instead of a backpack filled with books? My best friend is a costume designer who travels around the country and sometimes to Europe and has to lug historical and costuming reference books around that are so heavy and thick they could stop a bullet. Putting those resources on one device makes travel a lot better and more efficient.

For the regular reader who only reads one book at a time? Physical is probably better than digital. I don't think digital books are lurking in the alleys with their baseball bats and molotovs looking to set some bookstores on fire. I think we can have our cake and read on Kindles too*.


*Ok, bad joke. I'm not very good with the funny. Sorry about that.
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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by djf881 » August 17th, 2010, 3:28 pm

Nathan Bransford wrote:
I mean, saying that there are no benefits besides the ease of distribution is kind of like saying CDs or records are the same as mp3s because it's still the same music. The ease of distribution and storage are pretty much the entire benefit of mp3s, and it's why they've taken over the world. Purists will tell you that mp3s aren't even the same level of sound quality, but people don't care because of the ease of distribution.

Even if you're speaking strictly of what's on the page and are comparing a black and white book to a black and white e-book, that ease of distribution and storage is a massive advantage. It's the difference between a trip to a bookstore or a three day wait for a book and carrying around the weight of one or more books vs. having it all on a small compact device.

And that's before you get to the additional benefits of e-books, such as the instant dictionary function, the design and color that will be readily possible on iPad-like devices, etc. etc.
Music is a bad analogy because the killer app for downloadable music was piracy. Devices like the iPod launched into a world where potential buyers already had tons of MP3 audio that they'd ripped or downloaded, and they needed devices to play this music. And the end result, after a decade or so of MP3s is the erosion of the idea that you pay for music. Other media do NOT want to follow the music industry's arc.
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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by djf881 » August 18th, 2010, 12:00 pm

The fight over control of Barnes and Noble indicates that Len Riggio and Ron Burkle believe that the bookstore business is worth investing in. The Shatzkin kind of analysis is a better news hook ("Things to Stay The Same" is a poor headline), but it seems like the people who have skin in the game are doubling down on traditional retail channels.
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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by Down the well » August 18th, 2010, 2:05 pm

djf881 wrote:The fight over control of Barnes and Noble indicates that Len Riggio and Ron Burkle believe that the bookstore business is worth investing in. The Shatzkin kind of analysis is a better news hook ("Things to Stay The Same" is a poor headline), but it seems like the people who have skin in the game are doubling down on traditional retail channels.
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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 19th, 2010, 1:12 pm

djf881 wrote:
Nathan Bransford wrote:
I mean, saying that there are no benefits besides the ease of distribution is kind of like saying CDs or records are the same as mp3s because it's still the same music. The ease of distribution and storage are pretty much the entire benefit of mp3s, and it's why they've taken over the world. Purists will tell you that mp3s aren't even the same level of sound quality, but people don't care because of the ease of distribution.

Even if you're speaking strictly of what's on the page and are comparing a black and white book to a black and white e-book, that ease of distribution and storage is a massive advantage. It's the difference between a trip to a bookstore or a three day wait for a book and carrying around the weight of one or more books vs. having it all on a small compact device.

And that's before you get to the additional benefits of e-books, such as the instant dictionary function, the design and color that will be readily possible on iPad-like devices, etc. etc.
Music is a bad analogy because the killer app for downloadable music was piracy. Devices like the iPod launched into a world where potential buyers already had tons of MP3 audio that they'd ripped or downloaded, and they needed devices to play this music. And the end result, after a decade or so of MP3s is the erosion of the idea that you pay for music. Other media do NOT want to follow the music industry's arc.
I agree that piracy is/was a factor in the rise of digital music, as was the relative ease of converting CD collections to mp3s, but I think you're sidestepping my point. The reason people converted their collections and pirated was not because mp3s sounded better than CDs, but because of the ease and portability of the mp3 format. It's obviously not a perfect analogy as mp3s allow shuffling and all sorts of features that have no parallel with books, but people who are looking solely at the reading experience as the main point of comparison are missing the bigger picture.

E-books don't have to beat books on reading experience in order to gain mass appeal, no more than mp3s needed to beat CDs on sound quality. Convenience and portability is the entire point.

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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 19th, 2010, 2:17 pm

And by the way, I wouldn't even discount that the reading experience of e-books will soon surpass print books. Maybe not as much for fiction (black and white words are black and white words), but imagine say INTO THIN AIR interspersed with color photography of Everest, which isn't financially viable at a low price point in print.

Or a cookbook with demonstration videos or a book on the history of Hollywood interspersed with old film clips... there are going to be many e-book features that either aren't possible or aren't financially viable in print.

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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by polymath » August 19th, 2010, 3:07 pm

Nathan Bransford wrote:And by the way, I wouldn't even discount that the reading experience of e-books will soon surpass print books. Maybe not as much for fiction (black and white words are black and white words), but imagine say INTO THIN AIR interspersed with color photography of Everest, which isn't financially viable at a low price point in print.

Or a cookbook with demonstration videos or a book on the history of Hollywood interspersed with old film clips... there are going to be many e-book features that either aren't possible or aren't financially viable in print.
I do and can discount the reading experience of e-books from personal experience. The experience is as different as microwave cooking and infrared cooking. Microwave heats molecules individually and isolates tastes. It tastes bitter and sterile to me. Infrared infuses heat into the mass and melds tastes into a sweetly glorious synthesis.

Projected on thin air wouldn't do much different for me either. The technology still will require conscious, alienating interaction. I also read on filmstrip projector devices that all but project onto thin air already. The silver screen is as opaque as I would expect such a fantastical device would need to be to prevent alienating distractions. The latest headphones for audio devices allow distracting external sounds in, unlike the ear-encapsulating headphones of my youth. For that matter, projecting aurally onto thin air has its drawbacks over physical print too.

Yes, the sole benefits of of e-books are convenience and portability factors, instant gratifications which drive commercial interests. Placing too much emphasis on profit motives diminishes the art and culture of literature and loses sight of written word's unique strength from appealing intimately, privately, individually. When convenience and portablility are fluff and dander pursued for profit motives, narrative arts become fluff and dander. Out of sight, out of mind, out of existence like a Chinese takeout meal to Western meat and potatoes palates.

Literature's unspoken benefit to society is fostering thinking critically, consciously for one's own self. And that cannot be served by fleeting once-and-done profit or entertainment motives. It takes thoughtful engagement. How many readers learned anything consciously from Meyer's much maligned Twilight? The lessons are there to be learned subliminally if not consciously from e-book or print, in artistry and sophistry, which are easily overlooked or dismissed out of hand when seeking the next convenient and portable instant gratification. It's not about black and white or colorful or projected or reflected spaces and voids. It's about alienating distractions and engaging immersions. Digital technology doesn't have what it takes for me to engage as meaningfully as I prefer, nor do I expect it ever can.
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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by djf881 » August 19th, 2010, 5:43 pm

Nathan Bransford wrote:And by the way, I wouldn't even discount that the reading experience of e-books will soon surpass print books. Maybe not as much for fiction (black and white words are black and white words), but imagine say INTO THIN AIR interspersed with color photography of Everest, which isn't financially viable at a low price point in print.

Or a cookbook with demonstration videos or a book on the history of Hollywood interspersed with old film clips... there are going to be many e-book features that either aren't possible or aren't financially viable in print.
I agree. I don't think college students will be using textbooks ten years from now, but I think the software that replaces them will be web-apps that require an internet connection (to protect against piracy). This kind of distribution allows for the integration of embedded video and audio. It allows the text to be updated costlessly. It reduces the relatively higher cost of the glossy printing that many illustrated texts require. It eliminates the secondary textbook market that pays no royalties to authors. And it dramatically reduces the weight students have to carry.

Students today may carry a laptop and several heavy books around campus. In a few years, thirty pounds of stuff could be replaced by an iPad. That's an unquestionable lifestyle upgrade.

But for books that remain linear, textual narratives, like trade fiction and narrative nonfiction, the physical heft is not a big problem and multimedia integration adds little. Price will be the compelling reason driving e-book adoption, and if the price differential is not compelling, I don't think readers will continue switching and some people who are reading on E-readers will switch back.
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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by J. T. SHEA » August 19th, 2010, 7:16 pm

Nonsense, Nathan! Paper books are just as convenient and portable as E-books. Ok, other traffic can be a bit distracting when I'm driving with, say WAR AND PEACE open on the steering wheel, but that's the other drivers' fault. Can't they see I'm READING?

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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by mojo25 » August 20th, 2010, 10:15 pm

I agree that ebooks won't take over the world. The novelty has definitely worn off for me. I only use my e-reader occasionally now. Yes, for big heavy books, it's convenient, but for most paperbacks, I'd prefer to add a bit of weight to my bag and not have to worry it the damned device is charged up or if I drop it on the floor or whateve. And when you talk about price points, why not just go to the library. Here's your choice: $9.99 for an ebook, or FREE for a library book. Your library doesn't have the book, order via interlibrary load.

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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by Ishta » August 21st, 2010, 12:36 am

I think this discussion is boiling down to this:

There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who like having stuff around, who like the sight of books on the shelves and toys in the corner, who kept their favorite books from childhood to give to their children, whose attics are bursting with relics that they only look at occasionally but can't bear to get rid of. And there are those who prefer to purge.

I'm a collector. I'm a visual person. Having to turn on an electronic device and search through files that all look the same to find something I want is irksome to me. If I'm working on something, I need to have a place where I can leave it out so I can see where I am and pick up where I left off when I come back to it. You can ask me for a book, and I can go to whichever room it is in and have it in my hand in under a minute. I like my books; seeing them everywhere makes me happy. I like visual clutter. It makes my life interesting and textured, and it is a part of who I am. And seeing my belongings out there in my space on a daily basis is how I remember that they are there. If my books disappeared, I'd never read half of what I have, because I'd forget about it.

My husband is a purger. He likes having everything in invisible digital files, neatly tucked away where they don't clutter up his visual field, and he doesn't mind having to spend a minute or two warming up the laptop in order to find something. He likes visual simplicity. He uses lists to remember what he owns. He's an MP3/e-reader kind of guy.

There is room for both. But can we stay away from calling people who prefer print books "nostalgic", please? It's beginning to feel insulting. It isn't about nostalgia, it's about how my brain works. It's my preference.

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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by Roguecyber » August 23rd, 2010, 12:33 am

** note: This is my first post, so please be gentle. Also sorry for the epic wall of text I really didn’t mean to write this much.**

People are very passionate on both sides of this argument, that is obvious. What's also obvious is the general trend in all media is toward digital, downloadable formats. The next generation of readers, and by that I mean people not devices, will only buy "ebooks" (by “ebooks” I mean a novel or other fiction distributed in a digital form). They may occasionally purchase a physical copy of a book they particularly love as a collectors item, but that will be an expensive speciality item.

a
There are massive benefits to ebooks! As "The Book" moves from a static thing that sits on the self or in your purse to data that can be accessed by applications or speciality devices, there is an amazing potential for innovation from the minor enhancements to major changes. My current personal favorite is Whispersync. No matter where I am, no matter what device I have with me, I have access to every ebook I have purchased AND where I stopped reading!!!!! On a more serious note Kindle for the PC has supported alternative output devices, like a Braille display for some time now. Also several devices for the iPad have been announce as well. Now the blind have access to every book available on Kindle, not just the limited number of expensive titles printed in Braille. And that is just one example!!! Recommendation systems, audible formats, social networking, reading groups, shared annotations/discussions, mixed media, author involvement, greater expansion of small press or boutique publishing.

Now time for a personal story: At my work I know a large number of readers, most of which have moved to some sort of electronic device. There are several Kindle users, one Nook user and a facinating group of ladies I learned about. One of these ladies I see all the time when I head out to the designated smoking area. One day I asked her what game she was playing on her little cell phone (it was a standard little flip phone). She told me she wasn’t playing a game but rather was reading a romance novel. She an a number of her coworker all got little andriod based flip phones and read Kindle books (her words, she never actually said the word “ebook” only “Kindle book”) on them during lunch and breaks. They are all in their early twenties. This blew me away. She told me none of them have kindles or anything like that but they all ready a book every week or so. This is the future of publishing.

I really don't think the current question is whether ebooks will be the dominant form of written fiction (it will be), but rather how will "ebook dominance" effect both the business and creative sides of publishing. The business will change, how much depends on the margin by which the current publishers "get it wrong". Amazon is already doing a great job of disintermediating the readers from publishers and the publishers from writers and readers from paper books for that matter. There will, of course, still be agents as gatekeepers, helping writers sell their works. No one knows yet how that will work, and there will be a lot of experimentation along the way.

One of the fascinating areas that isn't discussed much is how this change will actually effect the creative work itself. Currently we have short story, novella, and the novel. All currently have fairly set word counts that are primarily determined by the publishing format. For example no publisher is going to print a million word novel, it's simply to big to print and ship economically in one tome, but if it's just bytes it's a possibility. Also no one is interested in extremely short fiction in the sub 1000 word range. If publishing follows the pattern set down by the music industry and the cell phone become the primary mass market device, how will that drive not only creative efforts but also reader behavior. Will short stories, or serializations become the dominant form killing off the venerable novel? Also we have seen the rise ebooks help publishers who specialize in novels of a subject matter that readers might be embarrassed to buy at this local mega-bookstore. I am talking about "naughty books" otherwise known as romance novels, erotica or gay fiction. Authors of these books and publishers of these books, have noticed a marked rise in the number of people buying their books and the number of books sold.

This will be a slow change. Paper books will still be around for a long time. However you can see that the move to digital is accelerating especially amongst heavy readers.

In closing... another personal story: All my life I have been a "heavy reader". I simply burn through books. As a kid I drove my parents crazy trying to keep me supplied with books while not breaking the bank. This was especially bad after I cleaned out the small local library, which didn't have much in the way of fiction. As an adult my readin place slowed, partially due to money concerns, also due to lack of storage space. I started reading ebooks from Amazon about 2 years ago. This was before I bought a kindle. I used the Kindle for PC software on my computer. In the 5 years prior to that I only purchased about 5 or 6 paper books. Since I started using the kindle I have purchased over 150 novels from Amazon. Every Kindle or Nook owner I have talked to about this has reported something similar, using a ebook reader leads them to buy more books. I think connivence is a huge factor. They can, from home, buy the next book in a series with “one click” and have it on their reader in about 10 seconds. Also I think the freedom from judgement and the ability to sample books at no cost help a lot. Now I have the kindle software on 3 or 4 computers, and an iPad, and an iPhone and I also have 2nd gen Kindle (I use the kindle the least).

Thanks for reading through this wall of text (if anyone actually does). :)

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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by Mira » August 23rd, 2010, 4:57 pm

Nice post, Roguecyber. :) I agree with the 'buying benefits'. I bought TWO books this weekend in less than 30 seconds. My book buying is increasing exponentially and is going to bankrupt me.

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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by applestrudel » August 23rd, 2010, 8:09 pm

I just registered so I could chime in here, because all of the hullabaloo about ebooks is starting to drive me a little bonkers! I'm in my early 20s, own an iPod, iPhone, and iMac (they hooked me...I know) so I'm definitely in the target audience for e-readers. I'm also a voracious reader: I average a book a week and I read fiction and non-fiction equally. However, I have zero interest in purchasing an iPad, Kindle, Nook, or any other e-reader. One of my best friends got a Kindle for Christmas last year, which brings the grand total of my friends who have an e-reader to: 1. Add in my extended-extended family and the number of people I know who own an e-reader rises to: 4. I've given all of them a whirl (a Kindle, a Sony, and a Nook, for reference) and simply couldn't get excited about any of them. In fact, the whole time I was testing them out I was thinking of how much I'd rather just be reading a regular book. I simply prefer feeling the weight of a book, the feel of pages, and yes, the smell of ink and mustiness and all of the good stuff that comes with traditional books. To those who deride those feelings: tough patooties. I like what I like. Period. It's a personal preference - one which many share - and I feel that it would be prudent for publishers to keep those preferences in account when selling books on down the road. There's still a market for print books, and those who like them should not be shunted aside as nostalgic, non-visionary sticks-in-the-mud.

I don't deny that ebooks are great for many (agents, business travelers, student's backs, etc.) and that they are poised to be the wave of the future, but to say that print books will die forever is a little premature and seems shortsighted. Ultimately, traditional print books and ebooks are simply two means of arriving at the same end: the dissemination of the printed word. There's no reason why one should be viewed as better than the other, and having one of them shoved down my throat will not make me any more inclined to try it out. In fact, it'd likely be the reverse. We're entering an exciting time where there are a variety of paths that one can take to getting a book, and anything that raises the popularity of reading is ok by me. Why can't there be enough space for both formats in the world?

As a side note, I use the library as my primary book source. Only when I find a book that I absolutely love will I purchase it. This ensures that my shelves are not overflowing, I'm not destitute, and my books will be ones that I will read and enjoy continually for years and years to come. I am obviously not publisher's dream, but if they put out a product that I like, I will invest in it.

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Re: 10 reasons e-books might not eat the world

Post by Roguecyber » August 25th, 2010, 4:29 am

It funny that two people who haven’t posted on these forums before found the desperate need to post on this subject. It’s great that we have such a personal relationship with our reading material and at the end of this post I have a question I hope someone can answer.

I would like to say something to applestrudle, and please don’t take this as a personal attack. I am sure you are a wonderful person, who supports our local libraries which are a wonderful resource. I don’t mean to call you out or say ANYTHING derogatory about you, but you make a great example. You sound like a perfectly wonderful person. Heck, you probably even help little ladies across the street, but on this subject, in the grand scheme of things, your opinion doesn’t matter. I don’t mean to say that I don’t care about your opinion, or that I don’t find it interesting. What I mean to say is that the publishers aren’t and won’t listen to you. You might ask “Why”. The answer is simple. You don’t buy a lot of books. It's the simple cold hard facts of the publishing business.

Barnes and Noble recently had a investor conference call. In this call the revealed that they think ebooks are the future of their business, at least if you read between the lines. Ebook buyers are the growing market. Ebook buyers spend 20% more then paper books buyers(which is interesting considering the price difference). They also said something very very interesting, that the genre mix for ebook buyers was more beneficial for their core business specifically pointing to the strength of the romance market in ebooks. Now a lot of this was to distract from the fact that they lost money and the only profitable sector of the company was ebook and Nook sales, but it is still very interesting.

Actually I find the B & N story rather sad. The big bargain stores drove the smaller book retailers out of business. Now they are loosing money and unless they make a transformative play they will be out of business as well. Leaving us the the mom and pop stores that are still alive and kicking, starbucks, mail order and our local libraries. So maybe applestrudle has the right idea after all.

In a final note here is the question: Which would you give up, your favorite author or your preferred reading format? Consider this example, your favorite author, the one your truly love, will only publish in the format you don’t prefer. For ebook lovers that would be paper books, for Paper book lovers that would be ebooks. Would you either buy the books in your non-favorite format or would you give up on the author and get something in your favorite format. Interesting question and I’d love to hear answers from both sides.

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