Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More on E-books

Thanks to everyone who chimed in for what has been a really fascinating discussion on yesterday's post. I wanted to follow up a bit on some of the issues your coming e-book overlords pose.

It's interesting, first, to compare yesterday's discussion to one we had just in November about the Kindle... seems like people are coming around to the idea that e-books are here to stay. For real this time. As pjd pointed out, resistance to the idea of e-books is somewhat similar to people in 1995 saying they would never switch to e-mail because it's so much more impersonal than a handwritten note.

There are still quite a few people who are swayed by the benefits of the paper book (portability, cost, permanence), which are not easily matched by e-readers, and which will slow whatever change is coming. Clearly we'll have a climate in the foreseeable future where there is both e-books and physical books. I still believe that if there's a tipping point it will be when people are able to read e-books easily on their smart phones or whatever device people already own, rather than having to buy a dedicated device.

So where does the author (and agent) fit into this?

We'll see. But don't write an obituary for anyone just yet.

In terms of how authors will make money in this new environment -- as some have pointed out, the margins of e-books have the potential to maintain a basic level of revenue for authors, whether they're used as promotional devices or as a primary source of income. But whatever the model, it does seem like there will be constant downward pressure on prices, and as Krugman points out, ancillary income is going to become increasingly important.

Now, I don't think authors are going to be selling t-shirts and charging admission to readings. But subrights are more important than ever, and having an agent who can sell film rights, foriegn rights, audio, serial, etc. etc. is going to become even more essential. There are more avenues than ever, and it takes a great deal of expertise to manage that process. And that's what a good agent is for.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

One thing I think is important: right now, I don't need any kind of device to read a book. I can to a library or a bookstore, get a book, read it anywhere. This is good.

In order to listen to music, though, I need a device. Whether it's a record player, a tape deck, a cd player, a Walkman, an Ipod, or an MP3 player, I have to have something that plays what I want to hear. I've proved I'm ready and able to shell out a couple of hundred bucks - or more - for device A. If you tell me device B is cheaper, better, faster - ok, maybe I'd rather switch than fight.

But how are you going to convince me to pay for a Kindle or a Sony Reader when so far I've been happily reading my whole life - without any help from you? How will you convince 300 million Americans? The world?

Nathan Bransford said...


That's why I said the tipping point will come when people are able to read e-books on the smart phones of the future, which you wll own.

Scott said...

re: the e-mail/letters comparison

This argument goes clear back to the invention of the printing press, when early printed manuscripts were made to simulate handwritten manuscripts, because printed manuscripts were considered less scholarly than handwritten manuscripts.

But I still don't have or want an e-reader. As anon said, I can read just fine without one. I just don't need one. I have yet to see the killer-advantages of e-books over printed books.

E-mail has obvious advantages over many written letters (almost instant communication, no postage, etc.).

The only real advantage I see for an e-reader is the storage thing. Keeping so many books in a small device is nice, and would have been nice when I wished I could take my whole library with me on my four-month-long business trip to Europe a few years ago. Taking only the essential books still added about 50 pounds to my luggage.

But even that's a limited advantage. On a long trip, it's great. At home, I love my shelves full of books and wouldn't trade them for a handheld device.

As for smart phones--eh. They'd have to improve an awful lot. I mean, my LG Voyager has a pretty big screen, but just reading text messages from the kids is hard on these old eyes. Phones would have to get a lot bigger, and that's not the trend. We'll see.

Amazing things have happened in technology. Readers could become amazing and I'll have to have one. They're not there yet.

Aaron said...

Again, I think it's all about speed and access, even more so than price. As was already pointed out, someone can always go to a library or bookstore, but to me that's like saying, "Why send mail over my internet service when I can just just write a letter, put it in an envelope, throw a stamp on it, and someone will transport it to the designated address in a day or two?" when obviously there's a quicker, easier way to send a message these days (without wasting paper, too...)

Obviously the US Postal Service isn't going anywhere, but that doesn't mean huge changes aren't still afoot.... I totally understand a hesistancy to forgo hard, paper copies of any sort of document, but this "switchover" is happening all around us in big and small ways. Only a year ago, I remember getting pestered by my bank to switch to online bank statements only -- for no reason other than it represented change, I procrastinated and resisted. Now that I've finally switched, though, I can't believe I used to get these bundles of paper through snail mail when I can just access my bank account anywhere online now....

Whether it's a letter, a billing statement, or a 1000 page novel, it's soon going to soon be a far less paper-dependant world -- something to be thankful for, I think.... certainly better than waiting until the world runs out of trees to start making these changes....

Robert Walker said...

Aghk! This isn't about the Kindle. Or the Sony reader. This is about where things are going. All these people are pointing to the Kindle as to why e-books aren't going to be the future. Such people are utterly missing the big(ger) picture. This is not about the Kindle, or any specific attempt at an "e-reader" in the near future. This is about digital content. Digital content is the wave of the future, not one or two specific devices.

Nathan - yes, that's what I said in my comment to the other post. That when all this truly gets going, it's not going to be an "e-reader," but a device that does many things. Along those lines, people should go look at the new iPhone. Integrated GPS, etc. That is the future. And being able to read books, magazines, newspapers, etc. on said device will be a part of it. Integration is also the wave of the future.

And I also think you're right about the role of agents in the new system. It's probably all going to be about the subrights. But as for an author writing a book and getting it out the public, I'm not sure what role an agent will play in that. Or if there will be a place for such vetters at all in that capacity, meaning as the ipso facto gatekeepers of the industry. I think the very nature of the literary agent might have to change along with the new industry models.

Do I see the end of the dreaded query letter in sight? ;)

AmyB said...

You have to wonder what e-books will do to libraries. Right now, you can read just about anything for free by checking it out from a library. Consider that, at some point, the library might not loan out physical books, but e-books--you go to the library and get the e-book zapped onto your device, perhaps as a temporary file that gets deleted after 2 weeks. But wait--why go to the library at all? Why not have the book "loaned" to you over an internet connection? And once you reach that point, you've reached a point where all books are instantly available free online. You have to wonder, how can the concept of a library work when there is no physical object to be loaned? I think this is someday going to become an issue.

Nick Travers said...

I don't believe E-readers will mean the death of books. They will, however, change the way agents and publishers select books for hard printing and the way books are marketed.

Authors may well have to prove they can market and create an audience for their work before a printer takes them on, and agents may have to get more involved with the marketing of their authors.

I believe the tipping point will come when e-readers work and feel like real books, i.e. double page touch screens. Then all us commuters will buy them for lightness and portability, and the cheepness of downloaded novels compared to printed versions.

As Nathan said yesterday, the main difficulty for readers will be finding quality amongst all the dross. Those books that are printed should have already proved themselves on some level of quality or popularity before they make it to hard copy so I think the printed word will still be popular.

Agents will have more options that ever, and negotiating those all important merchandising and film contracts will make them invaluable. What will happen to editors? Will they still work for publishers or will they become more freelance? Or even work for the agents?

I’m currently offering my YA book, Helium3, as a free download. Partly, I believe that if readers like it enough a proportion will purchase a POD hard copy, and partly I want to hone my e-marketing skills, and have a developed website, before I approach agents.

Do you think this would make a difference to my chances of getting printed in hardcopy, Nathan?

I’ve recently listed my novel on which offer downloads in every e-reader format. So far no sales, but if anyone wants to read it (free download) and leave a review I would be most grateful.


Conduit said...

The other vital role authors will still need agents for is overall editing and career guidance. As I'm currently discovering, there is much more to the agent's role than you giving them a book, and they in turn trying to sell it for you. Much, much more.

I didn't follow all of yesterday's comments, but I wonder are we missing an aspect of E-books here - if digital books find their long-term home on a do-it-all device (I already do some writing on a PDA phone) rather than a device designed to directly emulate a book, then it's logical that the nature of the content will change. People may want to use their devices to read, but they may not want to read the equivalent of a 400 page novel on one. Could technology prompt a comeback for novellas and short stories? Will style become a factor? Will writers whose prose is sharp and snappy fare better than those who deal in longer paragraphs and sentences?

Anonymous said...

What I find interesting about the music business model is that it's actually gone back to its roots as far as the way bands make their money now. How did bands make money before electricity? Through concerts. That revenue stream never dried up, even with the advent of record players, radios, cd players, etc. Now it's returned as one of their primary sources of income.

What's interesting to me about music is that younger people now, early twenties and teens, seem to be getting into collecting and listening to those old LPs with their scratches and pops that those of us who are a little older were happy to abandon. I've even noticed ads for new turn tables popping up in the paper.

Playing on that perspective, I don't believe paper copies of books will ever totally disappear. But I really do wonder what direction publishing will take. I mean, if you extrapolate well into the future, will there even be things like translation rights? Or will a program along the lines of Babel fish do that for free for foreign readers? And movie rights--even today only a relative handful of books are made into movies? Serialization? Are we as readers really going to go for instant downloads and then have to wait for the next installment of the story we're reading? That kind of kills the fun of staying up all night reading a great book. I think you'd find lots of readers simply waiting for the whole book to be out before reading, much the same way as many readers wait for the cheaper paperback to come out. If that's the case, there's potentially not much money in serialization, either.

JES said...

Yesterday's discussion was excellent. Thanks for kicking it off, Nathan.

I think Robert Walker gets to the hard nut of the whole thing. To wit, what we're really arguing over is the question, "What is a book?"

If, when you say "book," you mean a paper-paged content-delivery object with good durability, portability, versatility, and so on, then no amount of persuasion and convincing will ever sway you about a Kindle, Sony eReader, whiz-bang PDA or iPhone, or anything remotely similar. Why? Because your definition is tied to the "paper-paged" qualifier.

Note that I'm not saying this is wrong, or foolish. Lord knows I expect and hope to be buying conventional books -- the objects which would be recognizable to Samuel Johnson, say -- for the rest of my life. I l,o,v,e books.


If you scratch out the "paper-paged" qualifier, every single one of those other characteristics of the things we call "books" are temporary hurdles, imposed by limits in technology.

"Books" will go on forever... just like "photography" has, even if only quaint dodderers like me still cling to their preference for black-and-white images. I don't think "books" will be different.

Authors and agents: The medium will change. The content? Eh, not so much. Some people may opt to take maximum advantage of the medium, adopting their content accordingly. But I think these will be the outliers -- kind of like the hyper-fiction experiments of the mid- to late '90s.

The product will still have to be created. It will still have to be marketed to the distribution channels. It will still have to be distributed to the audience.

I've got no preparation, really, for life as an author in that onrushing world. But I can't wait to live in it for a little while, to publish in it for a little while, and to have the company of a fine agent with the same sense of (terrified) excitement.

Vicki said...

With regards to your comment about the tipping point being when people are able to read e-books easily on their smart phones or whatever device people already own, this is already the case. Most of my reading is done on my PDA, a Palm LifeDrive (old technology now). Likewise my husband reads everything on his smart phone, a HTC (new technology). Despite what some people may think, the format is very easy to read – much easier on the eye than text messages. Don’t take my word for it, try it. Download the free software and one of the free books. To date I have bought and read over a hundred e-book titles ( I would not purchase a dedicated device.

Heidi the Hick said...

I didn't get into the last discussion because I didn't want to go comparing the publishing and music businesses... but I can't help it!!!!

As you know the music biz is in a wacky state of change blah blah blah. Technology has changed things irreversibly.

A lot of musicians record and produce themselves. Some do it very well. Others... DON'T. There is still a need for a good recording engineer and producer (which is good because it means that my family can afford groceries. )

There will still be a need for a good agent too, I think. This is a business.

Will Entrekin said...

"Now, I don't think authors are going to be selling t-shirts and charging admission to readings."

Why not? Only in publishing is performance considered gratis rather than part of the job. U2 charges admission to concerts where they play songs off their CDs; why mightn't authors?

Someone up above mentioned the USPS, which I think is a good sidepoint; the introduction of e-mail didn't cause the sudden obsolescence of the post office. They serve different functions, and we use both every day. The same can be said of the telephone, in terms of communication technology; the post office was still around.

"I still believe that if there's a tipping point it will be when people are able to read e-books easily on their smart phones or whatever device people already own, rather than having to buy a dedicated device."

People already can, and as Vicki points out, do. Just because more publishers and authors aren't taking advantage of technological advances doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Just means that most of the publishing industry, just like the RIAA, is well behind the curve of technological change.

"A lot of musicians record and produce themselves. Some do it very well. Others... DON'T. There is still a need for a good recording engineer and producer (which is good because it means that my family can afford groceries. )"

Exactly: some do, and some don't. Beck, Danger Mouse, and Jack White all do. Britney Spears DON'T.

Who would you rather listen to?

Marilynn Byerly said...

Nine years ago, I walked into a conference room filled with the directors of all the public libraries in my state to talk about ebooks. It was a hostile audience who believed that ebooks would destroy their precious libraries.

Four hours later, I received a standing ovation and lots of friendly questions about how ebooks would help libraries.

Ebooks and libraries work great together. I imagine, if you checked into it, your local or state library has ebooks available already. Most have these days.

Most estimates I've seen say the library as a physical place may disappear within sixty years except for rare book collections, but librarians as knowledge and research experts will be here as long as humans are around.

As to the problems reading ebooks, most visual problems with reading have a software or hardware solution if you take the time to research the problem.

Most of us in the pioneer days of ebooks had a rabid group of visually impaired fans who finally had books they could read themselves. Digital text also allowed them to use text-to-voice software with minimal problems.

The Luddites need to chill out and stop acting as if ebooks will give them cooties. It's just another way to read a book.

CindaChima said...

Hi, Nathan. I'm always amused when people suggest that writers will spend a year or two writing a novel, give it away, and then make their money by developing some kind of show to take on the road. Not all talented writers are effective on the stage; those who are great showmen don't need to write a book. Most authors would have difficulty scheduling their tours around the day jobs they most certainly would have to have (with a few exceptions. Stephenie Meyer, perhaps?)
As a teen author, I am paid for school visits. I work hard to deliver value, and I love to meet readers, but I have to tell you, it would be a tough way to make a living.
If it comes to that, I will write for my own enjoyment and break out the old guitar.

Kylie said...

I am not an agent, and therefore would not know, but I assume, like film rights, an agent has to sell the e-book rights to whatever company makes them. Some might not bother selling to e-book publishers and just stay with the normal, paper editors.

E-books sounds like it could quickly become the new POD, which would not leave it favorable, or it could become popular. We'll just have to wait and see and adjust accordingly, I guess.

Adaora A. said...

I must confess to feeling more and more uneasy about the whole buisness. In general, many writers would love to have their books translated to film. In fact, many authors already know their 'dream actor/actress' to play the role. Didn't Pullman say he visualized Nicole Kidman to play the part she played?

I just find myself uncomfortable with not seing it in book format. I just don't know if it's the way I want it to be. I'd be stupid to be ignorant to the fact that it seems to be going that way. It doesn't mean I have to like it. I enjoy these discussions though as it gives me the opporunity to voice my concerns.

nancorbett said...

As for the reader for e-pubs, I agree with Nathan that it will take off when there is a integrated reader, phone, data tool. The iPhone is the closest thing on the market right now. I know that all the tech companies are scrambling to develop software for the blackberry and other devices that already offer data.

This discussion reminded me of this I found on utube:

Ah, I can see it now.

As for how writers, agents and everyone else will fit into the mix, the sky's the limit. We're a creative business. I can think of all kinds of directions to explore. The internet is so interactive, so rife with possibilities for building communities and followings. People tend to group on the internet more easily than they do in physical settings these days. The internet will be an extension of the reader, offering ways for writers and agents to cultivate followings, customer loyalty and all kinds of things that apply now but in different ways. People are always threatened by the shadows of change, but this could be the beginning of so many many big things. I'm excited to be alive right now and can't wait to see what happens next.

skeptic said...

I read all the posts yesterday and today and I learned quite a bit. Thanks, everyone. I'm still skeptical about the "ancillary income" opportunities for authors, but I'm happy for your secure future, Nathan.

And, at the risk of sounding like a dweeb, I get such a kick from recognizing authors who comment on your blog. Cinda Chima! I just read one of your books! And I hope you don't have to break out the guitar.

Jake Seliger said...

I'm not at all opposed to the idea of an e-book reader, but the two major implementations at the moment leave much to be desired in terms of economics and aesthetics, as I wrote about here. Over the long term, it's fairly obvious that we're going to shift to an electronic device, but it's not clear to me how long "long" means: in other words, does it mean two years or twenty?

My biggest issue, aside from the $400 cost, is the possibility of a large investment in a proprietary e-book format that becomes obsolete or is rescinded by Amazon. As Gizmodo observed and I wrote about here, the opinion of Sony and Amazon is that you're doing something more akin to renting books rather than owning them. This makes me very nervous: I'm confident that in 20 years I'll be able to read all the books I order from Amazon, but the tech market is rife with formats that have disappeared or been broken (see, for example, Microsoft's PlaysForSure, which now doesn't).

Until those concerns are allayed, I won't be getting a Kindle or Sony eBook. But I have to say that just seeing how well the eInk tech worked was impressive.

shariwrites said...

I have to wonder if there will come a time when, because ebooks are cheaper, publishers will choose to only publish what they know will make money in hard copy. But along with that, and the ease of ebooks, perhaps just maybe, they'll be willing to give more lesser known books and authors a shot. If they do well in ebook then maybe those publishers will be more willing to give them a try in hard copy also. We might just have to wait and see.

Julie Weathers said...

iPhone. Integrated GPS, etc. That is the future. And being able to read books, magazines, newspapers, etc. on said device will be a part of it. Integration is also the wave of the future.~

The thought of reading for pleasure on some tiny screen or even my nice, large flat screen makes me want to vomit.

I can understand professionals, who need a convenient way to transport large quantities of text. However, I read for pleasure or research and staring at a screen is not pleasurable for me.

To paraphrase a bit, they'll take away my books when they pry them from my cold, dead hands.

I have several books well over 100 years old. There is a charm and beauty about those old ladies that an electronic image will never have.

Will Entrekin said...

"I am not an agent, and therefore would not know, but I assume, like film rights, an agent has to sell the e-book rights to whatever company makes them. Some might not bother selling to e-book publishers and just stay with the normal, paper editors."

The thing about e-books is that authors can make them on their own. It's incredibly easy to make a .pdf from a Word document, and webhosting comes cheap nowadays. Plus, authors don't have to worry about getting them into bookstores, as there's nothing tangible to be had, which negates the whole returns thing, anyway.

Also, nobody (that I've seen; maybe I've missed it) has mentioned the environmental aspect of it. I know people love their books, but trees are pretty, too, and e-books save the latter while still maintaining the text of the former. I'd hate to have to tell future generations that there aren't any oaks left because publishers cut them all down and printed words on 'em.

pjd said...

Conduit beat me to it. The nature of stories may change as the media and distribution change. We are, in fact, seeing this already with blogs. Unlike another commenter, however, I do see benefit in serialization--while some people may wait for an entire season of (insert your favorite TV show here) to come out on DVD, most now Tivo the episodes. Part of the greatness of watching TV shows when they air is to talk about them at the water cooler or in the play group the next day. Same thing with book groups--people read the same thing so they can talk about it. This is a boost for serialization, with smaller installments delivered with rapidity, creating a buzz. IMHO, this is how the youth of today will enjoy their day-to-day content.

I would also argue with the first anonymous commenter, who said, "I don't need any kind of device to read a book." Um... yes, you do. It's called "the book." And it is multipurpose; when you're done reading, you can use it to hold open doors, or to raise up a small child on a chair, or as an emergency substitute for toilet paper.

I don't have a clue about the financial models for entertainment content. Functional content has many models that will be used, but entertainment content in written-only form... I consulted an expert, but the answer I got was "Reply hazy, ask again."

Anonymous said...

Now, I don't think authors are going to be selling t-shirts and charging admission to readings.

My copy of Stephenie Meyer's Eclipse came with iron-on tshirt logos, and a poster. I am dead serious.

Inner Child said...

Hello, Nathan.
Since you are discussing new book forms, would you please comment on audio books? I must say that the ones I've listened to have been a big disappointment. I expected an experieince like the radio shows of yesteryear and was very disappointed.
Thank you.

ilyakogan said...

I got Kindle for my birthday today and already finished reading the entire manual and played with every feature there is. The experience is mostly positive. Next/Prev page are too easy to press by mistake and wipe out (the device uses electronic paper screen) is slow and it's annoying to reverse the process. Even worse - I left it on the chair and something fell on top of it and it flipped through a hundred pages while I was chasing my almost-four-year-old...

But this post is not about the device. It's about what had happened after I finished reading the manual.

We are a family of two reading addicts, three small kids that love to read and being read to, and a writer wannabe (me). We have BOOKS! Lots and lots of them. We donate to the local library, we have boxes in the attic, we have shelves breaking down... You get the picture. :)

I've read Twilight (Stephenie Meyer in case you don't know) some time ago and deemed the sequel as "non essential to buy" (money, space, time.)

You guessed it! After reading the manual I bought the sequel - it's five bucks, it doesn't take any physical space, kids won't pull pages out of it before I finish it... You know all the horror stories your books go through.

The wireless connection was pretty good from my suburban home. I didn't have to connect the device to anything - the book downloaded in under a minute. Guess what? I bet when I'm done reading the sequel - probably on the train - I will buy the third volume right there on the spot without ever having to go to a book store.

Kathleen said...

I agree with Julie Weathers. There's a tactile and visual satisfaction about a book in the hand that a kindle can't match. At the same time, with digital art being the growth industry (and art) that it is, this looks to me like a golden age for cover art. I am wowed by more than a few covers lately, and that's part of the aesthetic experience. Sometimes, I even hug a book.

(Okay, that's probably more than I meant to say...:-)

Nancy D'Inzillo said...

While I agree with many of the premises already stated—including the fact that the trend seems to be that ebooks will take over as the dominant technology—I have a hard time envisioning a world where the "library" becomes a digital rather than a physical place. There's a lot of community events that go on at libraries beyond reader's browsing books (author readings just being one) that I doubt anyone would want to see disappear. The one major glitch I anticipate in the trend taking off is the fact that the U.S. economy is in a downward spiral and fewer people are able to afford the electronic devices that allow for the purchase of ebooks. Also, I'm not entirely sure the ebook is more environmentally friendly, because I'm guessing it requires charging, which (unless you come from a locale where you get your electricity from renewable power sources) isn't necessarily more environmentally friendly. But I'd have to do the research on how much deforestation goes into books and make a comparison. I imagine, as another commenter noted, that books will end up being a lot like LPs—there will be those of us who love the tactile quality of a book and would never want to bother spending all their time reading from a screen, and then there will be the tech lovers who can't wait for the latest device. I myself anticipate to fall somewhere in between and will be curious to see how quickly the trend takes hold.

Elissa M said...

Things will be different in the future, but there's no way to know how different or in what way. People love to speculate, and that's a good thing. Keep in mind though, the "e" in e-book stands for "electronic", which means it requires a power source. Too many people seem to take power availability for granted. Do you know where your electricity comes from? Even rechargeable batteries have to be plugged in.

The world is in for big changes, certainly, but maybe not the changes everyone expects, and maybe not everything will change. You can still buy a brand new buggy whip if you want one. I think you will always be able to buy ordinary, non-powered books as well.

kdm17 said...

Oh if books were to become completely electronic we would miss the musty smell of their bindings, the fragility of their pages, and exquisite artwork that we hold on our fingertips. I will never cease my collecting of these wonderful artifacts of human existence as long as I live. Hopefully, there are millions out there that feel the same.

JES said...

P.S. It just occurred to me... someone might make a bundle by renting out Kindles. And that might make a big difference in how quickly they're accepted. I was fascinated by ilyakogan's comments -- suddenly learning, like, Hmmm... y'know, there are a few things I can do with THIS I could never do with a book. And wouldn't be surprised if that happened to a lot of people.

ilyakogan said...

I want to try to answer the questions about the environmental impact of the Kindle.

I would estimate that the initial expenditure of energy is much higher (manufacture, shipping of parts to the assembly plant, shipping to Amazon warehouse, shipping to your home, etc.) Then little by little you start catching up.

If you turn off the wireless connection Kindle goes without recharging for seven days of active reading. The e-paper screen doesn't need any energy once it displays a page. It works like ink. In fact they say there are millions of little ink drops with one side black and another side white that could be oriented whichever way they face you.

Let's assume that one charge is one book read. That is a lot less than goes into one book. But then again all batteries wear out and devices wear out too. How much energy goes into making a battery divided by it's lifetime in days and then multiplied by seven days? What is the number for the rest of the device? I don't know.

Then there is an annotation, multiple bookmarks, and clipping features for those of us who have to gather quotations for their dissertations, scientific articles, etc. How much energy (and time) it saves?

For those of us in school - how much energy is saves (and chiropractic bills) by not hauling around the dead weight of school books?

The answer is not an easy one. I suspect that in the long run Kindle will win - in the short run - I dunno...

Aaron said...

I have to say, I'm always puzzled by people's romantic and notions about "tactile" qualities of paper documents -- I could understand people clinging to this more if it was some kind of nostalgia due to a severe shortage of printed words on paper, but obviously we're up to our ears in it, often in incredibly wasteful ways, so why are people so worried paper is suddenly going to disappear altogether?

Also, I can still remember when computers and word processors became common, many people in my parent's generation complained about losing all the "tactile" qualities they loved about their typewriters -- where was the smell of ink, the clacking keys, feeding in one sheet of paper at a time, etc?

Yet I imagine 99% of anyone today would find such notions about a typewriter silly, outdated, and inefficient. Nearly anyone who does any sort of professional writing does so on a supposedly-dreaded "glowing screen" -- so if the writing itself is created there, what's so terrible about reading that writing there, too?

Especially when e-ink screen DO NOT GLOW...... sorry, but this is a widespread misconception people have..)

Of course, typewriting and longhand still exist, just as books continue to exist as well. But just as the possibilities for writing/editing/composition have been made far more efficient and accessible for people who would never have approached a typewriter, maybe e-readers and their possibilities will do the same for a potentially wider, more accessible audience?

Maybe that's a bit utopian, but here's hoping...

Just_Me said...

As someone who hates having my phone do anything but call people- no.

I don't want to read my books on a phone.

Electronic communication is the wave of the future. Books on computers will happen, but there's always going to be a cost margin and there has to be a good reason for people to pick up an e-reader. Right now, there isn't. Eventually there will be. Maybe Anne Bishop or Jack Campbell will stop publishing in the printed format at to get my favorite books I'll have to shell out cash for an e-reader. But until the authors I like switch I won't pay the money.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I already read the news online, use online dictionaries, find the answers to my questions online, watch TV and movies online and listen to music online. What is so different about reading a book online.

People take their laptops when traveling... now they don't have to carry a book, they just open an e-book.

This e-book dialog has been going on for the last ten years.

Personally, I think the e-book will have its place right along with listening to music. Music on an Ipod is nowhere near as good as a great sound system, which most people still use to appreciate music and concerts are even better. I just cannot see an e-book totally replacing a physical book.

Chris said...

This should be not about if e-reading takes a dominance but when.

If e-readers don't do it, electronic paper will. Having a sheet of paper that holds a whole book is coming and there isn't anything to be done about that.
My concern is what it does to the model or the industry, rather,m as an author, how do I make a living?

It seems to me that production companies in Hollywood are already becoming more and more akin to advertising agencies. If you no longer have control over distribution and production becomes more affordable (in the case of books to ebooks this would be true) then what exactly are you left with?

Someone who originates content and someone who markets it.

That would mean a shift in publishing houses toward becoming specialized marketing groups. Getting a novel in with a publisher would mean more that they think they can market it and charge you a fee for doing so. Perhaps they will agree to a portion of the proceeds.

I'm not sure where the agent fits in except as an advocate for the originator of the content. Perhaps the agent role will remain largely the same if the "publisher/marketer" continues to want someone to screen potential clients.

The challenge comes in how an author can promote his or her piece of virtual lit within the new paradigm. It's hard enough as it is now, getting an agent and then getting a deal. New media always heralds a more even market for talent, but will that be the case?

An ebook that I can't get people to buy over the net is just as useless to me as a novel I cannot find representation for. The problem, as ever, lies not with talent and dedication but access to the larger streams of dissemination of the work's actual existence.

How do you all feel the impending paradigm shift might apply to doing that?

Kristi said...

I have a question: Are rights to e-books sold at the same time as rights to printed books? Are they priced the same (i.e. authors get the same % for e-books as paper ones)? Is that why writers and agents keep worrying about e-books coming down in price?

Why shouldn't the author simply make a slightly larger % on e-books? Or even a fixed $ amount ($1 a book? $2 a book?). Or, in general, have the e-book rights negotiated independently of the paper rights (like you would for US vs UK publication)?

Feel free to tell me I'm in left field here :)

Nathan Bransford said...


It all depends on the agreement, and while I can't really discuss specific terms, I certainly agree with you that e-book royalties should be higher given the cost difference to the publisher.

Lupina said...

Feeling weird here; I charge for appearances (and libraries, etc. do pay), and I'm preparing to sell t-shirts. I personally sell lots of books that I buy with my author discount, and by doing this I can double my advance and royalty income. The reality is that very few books receive Stephenie Meyer-level advances and those of us who write prolifically for the midlist range need to supplement somehow. While I'm almost umbilically attached to paper books, I can certainly see transitioning into e-books in the near future.

Tom Burchfield said...

No need to panic yet, I think. AS for now, Kindle only holds 120 books at most and, as a search of the Kindle list on Amazon shows, none of them are books I use in my work as an editor (i.e., "Chicago Manual of Style" or Webster's 11th). I would love to have my reference texts on a Kindle for easy access and I would certainly use it to check out an author I'm unacquainted with before buying a paper copy.

And then there's the question of portability. Maybe I can take a Kindle to the bar or coffeehouse, but do I want to take it on the road, where it'll get sand in it or get dropped overboard in the drink. At $400 a pop, I'm not sure that's such a great deal compared to the loss of my $6.95 paperback.

Until they expand both the capacity and the book list, I will with hold judgment for now.

Tom Burchfield said...

Oh, one more thing . . . "War and Peace" on an I-phone? No thanks.

Whirlochre said...

I like books because they're analogue — they smell, have texture and don't flicker.

I don't like reading too much on a computer screen, which presents me with a problem. What if there's a substantial document I need to read? Maybe in the bath?

Some sort of eReader would be very useful here, but I wouldn't want to read a book on one.

On long train journeys, however, an eReader would be preferable to a bag full of heavy books.

But would an eReader work in conjunction with other device features — like a camera, MP3 player and beard trimmer?

I'm not sure.

All of these devices are being miniaturised year on year, but there's a limit to the withstandable miniaturisation of an eBook. After all, it has to be big enough to read, doesn't it? Gray's Anatomy on a tiny screen? I think not. Any Universal Portable Personal Device Thing would have to be bigger than the current crop of mobile phones in order to accommodate a functional readability, and I can't see there being much of a market for Bigger. My guess is that eReaders will continue to be standalone devices.

Will eBooks replace books? Will Travel Chess Replace chess?

The real issue is the reproducability of material, both in terms of how author revenue could be maximised by the plundering of new avenues and minimised by the sundering of copyright.

Whatever happens, it won't be too long before We Get To Find Out.

Angelia Sparrow said...

I used to be a library paraprofessional. In some academic libraries, there are already e-book collections. You have the stacks and then the online bookshelf, where you check the book out.

Two-three years ago, the latter wasn't much used. I can't say where it is today, since I went to truck driving school about that time.

I have, however, been writing e-books for 4 years. I finally acquired so many that I bought a Sony, since most of my reading is done in waiting rooms. My whole family took to it, including my non-reading 8 year old. We have about 120 books on it and less than half of the memory is full.

Some publishers are having great luck with serialization. Torquere Press runs one such service by subscription called Turn of the Screw. You get about 5 new chapters of different books every week, and each book updates once a month.

Many e-book publishers have a set number of e-books you must sell before they consider invoking the print clause in the contract. Phaze, for example, used to require 150 copies sold.

Lastly, e-book royalties are much higher than print. The industry standard is 35-40% off e-books, 5-10% off print.

Then again, I write erotic romance, specifically GLBT romance, which is the fastest selling sort of e-book.

I can't speak for where the industry is going, but I know where it is. And i know it's growing.

I have shelves and boxes and piles of books as well. I love a paged book and always have. I find the Sony portable and lightweight.

Seeley deBorn said...

Before ebooks can really catch on someone needs to decide on a format. I buy pdf because it works on my laptop and my Palm, but if I want to read the book on Kindle I'm out of luck.

There are programs that can be used to turn pdt to rtf or txt and then turn that to lit for the ereader but really, how much of a PITA is that?

Industry standards. The next huge step. Once we take it, and anyone can load any book on any device, I'll buy the Sony ereader and sell my shelves.

sharper13 said...

I realize it seems very luditian to doubt the next big techno thing, but there may be an issue with the "demand" part of "supply and demand" from Econ 101.

There really is a big difference between audio devices and e-readers. Listening to an i-pod is a passive experience. You can do it very easily while you're really doing something else, like jogging or sky-diving. Reading requires focus. Even if the e-reader is embedded in your head and you had a book on an internal heads-up display, reading for comprehension is just not a multi-tasking process. You still need a chair, beach towel, a bed - even at it's most mobile you're still sitting still on a train or plane. There is a huge advantage to being able to store your entire music collection in your pocket and take it with you to run errands. But, since you will not be reading a book at the grocery store because you need your eyes to shop, and because there really is no need to bring your entire library with you even on a flight to Sydney, what's the big advantage? Why spend the money and why make room for yet another charger in your bag? I-pods and e-readers are as "apples and oranges" as eyes and ears.

That's not to say e-readers won't eventually take over once they become cheaper to manufacture than books are to print, but I don't think the change will be driven to happen super-fast because of high consumer demand in the market. Portable sound was in high demand from the get-go with transistor radios. The Sony Walkman tape player was a huge revolution because it really changed the way people spent their liesure time. The i-pod is just an avdance on an old device. Portable Video is happening, but definately slower because it's simply less useful. But portable reading? Even less useful. One day the industry may switch when it works for them, but it's just not a must have item for the consumer.

The paradigm shift will be in supply, not demand. We need that like we need more polyester pants.

pjd said...

sharper13, excellent points. People may be surprised that I am a "laggard" when it comes to much technology. Although I worked for one of the very first companies to make smart phones (I bet you don't know who really coined the term "Personal Digital Assistant"... even though wikipedia says it was John Sculley, that's not right), I had a difficult time believing people would buy them. The cost/benefit ratio didn't exist, and I had no need for or desire to own one.

The problem with your supply/demand argument is that you're looking at the wrong demand. The demand in disruptive technology innovation never comes from consumers. Consumers have no imagination. The demand comes from venture capital.

In essence, this supports your conclusion that change will be driven by the supply side. But unless you would prefer to return to the days when most food was home grown and 99% of the world's communication happened over the back fence or at the pub, then innovation driven by investors should not be considered a bad thing in technology. In fashion, yeah, I agree entirely. But in technology, it's the supply side that has driven most of the radical changes.

(Do you remember a huge outcry of demand for resealable plastic baggies? How about video tapes? Overnight shipping? All driven by supply.)

sharper13 said...

pjd - Thank you. And I think we are in agreement. I'm not suggesting it won't happen. Just that there is no pressing demand for it from the consumer, and it doesn't seem likely that there ever will be unless e-books simply become the default medium for books. But by that time, they'll probably be handing out the devices at 1/10 of what they cost now. Still not looking forward to it, though. The e-reader itself just isn't as cool and useful a gizmo as the ipod is.

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