Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, June 9, 2008

Paul Krugman on E-books and the Publishing Industry

In the wake of BEA there have been a series of articles on the coming (or rather ongoing) e-book wave. This morning's Publishers Lunch details the strong sales of Kindles and Sony Readers, the Times assesses e-books and bookseller unease, and synching all this together with some analysis is Paul Krugman, who wonders whether authors of the future will find that "the ancillary market is the market."

In other words, because of the ease of transmission of electronic media there is constant downward pressure on prices, which cuts into industry (and author) profits, and just as mp3s have forced bands to turn to merchandise and shows in order to make money, could it be that authors of the future will earn money from website ad revenue, appearances, and.... um, something?

We've discussed the implication of the proliferation of titles in the future, but what about downward pressure on prices and shrinking profits?

So after you take a look at Krugman's article, what do you think? Is this the future? And how do we all feel about it?


jeanoram said...

Well, I suppose this is part of where all the hoopla about writers becoming a 'brand' comes from. If you are going to compete with the big corporations, you have to become one yourself. It may very well create a divide between those who are money makers who stick to their formula and those who 'create' and...starve?

Edward said...

As I see it, 8 or so years ago I refused to believe I was going to have to get DVD's to replace my VHS's, or that an ipod would ever compete with my cd player. But it happened, and I can't remember the last time I bought a physical c.d. But I don't think the kindle (or e-books) will do the same for me. I want them to be the laser disc of our generation. I like to hold the book I'm reading. It doesn't have to be charged, and it has a smell that I'm quite fond of. I think that if the publishing industry was going to change, it would be just my luck now that I'm trying to get into it.

Adaora A. said...

I love my i Pod, I do. It's 8 GG, provides more space then I possibly could need (I've filled up 345 out of 2000 songs), and it's - as a blogger described some time ago - pocket sized 'sanity.' The thing is though, I like to cockoon myself with my i Pod, and I like to READ the words of the book I happen to be reading - in my hand. I don't want to read words off of a silky smooth and devilishly clear screen. I like reading my book - holding my book, and I like to listen to my i Pod at the same time. I don't want my book to be on my i Pod. I am as against e-books as I am for audio books. I just don't have any appreciation for it.

I know tech is moving quickly - and all that jazz - but it's the way I feel. Yes, I am a 21-year-old semi-old age woman. That's just the way I like it. I'll just have to grin and bare it I suppose.

nancorbett said...

Things are, indeed, going to change. I don't know if the kindle is going to be the tipping point, but all the tech companies are scrambling to come up with ways to add text readers to all kinds of devices. The person who could probably make the most informed forecast about the future of publishing would be Tim O'Reilly. But I don't know how he is regarding within the publishing industry as a whole.

From this end, it seems so daunting for everyone on the publishing food chain. But, when an industry is based on creativity, anything can happen.

One thing I'm thinking is that a lot of writers will find ways of serializing their work so that people will pay for the next episode. Just a thought. But, as I said...anything can happen.

Anonymous said...

For now it's still all just talk. Paper books are still the defacto standard.

And I disasgree that just because it'ss digital that the price has to be less than a paperback counterpart. e-books can be 7.99 too. You want this ebook? $7.99. Worried about 1 person buying the file and then just passing it around? Well, that happenss with physical books, too--especially papaerbacks. Yeah, they can't be copied as easily, but they sure are sold more than once these days (just look at all the used books on Amazon you can buy for 0.01 + shipping.

So I think the paper books are here to stay. Perhaps publishers will use e-books as a kind of test platform for new authors, only going to actuala print for the proven winners. But in some model or another, paper books are here to stay.

I wonder if publishers went through this kind of thing when paper was a new invention and most writing was done on stone tablets. "But this papyrus is so flimsy--if it gets wet, it'ss runied! Stone is forever!"

Merry Monteleone said...

I think for authors the idea that the intellectual property is no longer the product is, well, scary. The intellectual property is all we are selling, and it's a hardearned product at that. With music or movies there are the stars, whose presence is a market of its own. Most readers don't even know what their favorite authors look like, and won't remember the name of the authors for a great many books that they read and enjoyed.

I don't know what this kind of business model will do to the writer... the ever diminishing midlist may be extinct in short order... but I think there will always be a market for good storytelling... I just don't know how it will evolved in the future climate of technology.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, how will the role of agents change in order to greet this new technology? It may be that epublishing simply eliminates the middle!

Robert Walker said...

Yes, I think we have finally arrived at the tipping point. And what we have now is a lot of people in denial of the inevitable. There is little doubt that e-books will be the wave of the future. I honestly don't see the possibility of this not happening. And I'm not so sure that's such a bad thing. Sure, the Kindle and Sony readers aren't "there" yet to the point that those of us who love "real" books are ready to make the switch. But in a few years, the technology will get to the point where that will change. And the larger point is that it won't matter whether you're ready or not. Whether you're a writer, reader, agent, or publisher, you'll either have to get on board or be left behind. Look, the absolute best way to listen to music is on vinyl. Look what happened to the vinyl record once CDs came out. And now look at what's happening with CDs now that digital revolution has struck the music industry. This is going to happen. And yes, even with books. Sure, vinyl is "making a comeback," but that kind of nostalgic wave comes and goes, and will remain a niche kind of thing. Physical books will go the way of vinyl, for better or worse.

One day soon, "e-readers" will be as ubiquitous as mp3 players, but here's the thing. It won't just be an e-reader. It'll be a lot of gizmos in one device. Just look at what's happening with the iPhone.

As for an author being a "brand," that kind of gives me the willies, but as jeanoram pointed out, maybe the new model, whatever that ends up being, will filter out many of those who are doing it for the money and fame. In fact, given how many people are writing books now (and how many aren't very good, according to agents' reports), that's a filter I would welcome.

Nathan Bransford said...



Someone's going to have to negotiate the author's terms with whomever is distributing that new technology, whether it's publishers, Amazon or whatever company comes next. I think there will always be a premium on having that expertise and having the knowledge and agency strength to get better terms.

However, it seems to me that agents are going to have to follow the industry -- if there are fewer, bigger books agents are either going to be among the few who rep those big books or they're going to have to capitalize on a long tail model.

We'll see what happens in the future, and it's all shifting, but things seem to only be getting more complicated, and with complications comes a need for expertise.

Kathleen said...

I honestly don't see print books going completely out the way CD's seem to be going, for many reasons.

But regardless of that, even as the number of "published" books increase, there is still the creative value of someone who is gifted in being able to write a story that pleases others. That will always have value, as any skill does. And that value will always be worth money, to some degree or another.

If authors are forced to give away their stories for free, then many will be forced to stop writing them, so they can use their time to make money elsewhere. And I don't think the paraphernalia thing will work for authors. To my knowledge, author fans are fans of a different league than band fans. I don't know anyone who's ever bought author paraphernalia, or who would if they could. Another difference... bands can produce an album with 11 quality songs in a year and go on tour, while many authors can only manage one quality book in a year. They're simply not comparable.

To sum it all up... I think that the publishers have a lot more to worry about than authors. Authors might have to learn to work within a new business model, but that new business model will primarily be the publishing industry's do-or-die.

I think it'll be ebooks or POD with that machine that Maya Reynolds talks about every once in a while. And possibly selling chapters in serial format.

I'll quit rambling now...

Cam said...

"Bit by bit," writes Krugman, "everything that can be digitized will be digitized, making intellectual property ever easier to copy and ever harder to sell for more than a nominal price. And we’ll have to find business and economic models that take this reality into account...
It won’t all happen immediately. But in the long run, we are all the Grateful Dead."

What a long strange trip it's been (and is going to be). Maybe eventually this won't be a bad thing. But right now it sure sounds like a sort of "dumbing-down" of The Arts.

(who's listening to "Touch of Gray" on the iPod now)

Sam Hranac said...

Perhaps agents will take a more active hand in "branding" their in-house writers?

shariwrites said...

I just have one comment -- please, please, please, don't ever get rid of printed books. I hate reading on my computer and I would hate to read something I can't get cozy with.

Just_Me said...

I think e-books are going to be a big market. But I don't think you'll ever be able to convince everyone to switch over. I dislike reading on screens of any kind. I'll read blogs and the comics, but if I were to sit down and read a book for several hours I don't want a computer screen of any kind for that.

There are certain things technology can't replace. A book can go places an e-reader can't. A book can go in the bathtub. A book can go in high security buildings. A book can be used regardeless of weather, air traffic regulations, or your parents. A book does not need to be charged when you are overseas or camping. A book is something you are comfortable taking (and possibly leaving) at the beach or pool.

For people who read for pleasure the joy of a paperback is that it's cheap, easy to carry, and you don't care about the sand and water between the pages.

Kindle, IPods, e-readers... they aren't cheap. Maybe the download is only 8 dollars but the reader itself is a destructible piece of technology. It's something expensive that will be prohibitive to many people (at least at first) and it isn't going to get the mileage that a paperback gets.

It really is a cost thing. MP3s are a popular format because you can download exactly what you want for usually a $1. It's better than paying $20 for 15 songs, only 3 of which you actually want to listen to.

A paperback book costs eight dollars plus change. An e-reader costs significantly more. If you priced the downloadable books for $8 there wouldn't be any savings.

I'm certain there's a market for e-readers but I think it's going to be a situation where you publish in e and paperback or e and hardcover. Or the hardcover comes out and a year later you can donwload the e-file or buy the paperback.

I don't think the e-format is going to replace the real book entirely any time soon.

The Dan Ward said...

I'm pretty sure artistic expression is in no danger of dying due to lack of funding or advances in technology - not ever, ever, ever. Art is actually quite resilient.

My crystal ball tells me that regardless of technology, artists of all skill levels will continue to create, writers will continue to write, etc... whether they are being paid for their efforts or not. The starving artist model will continue to thrive, and bestow works like Moby Dick upon the world. It has ever been thus.

And, speaking of "it has ever been thus," I boldly predict that the artists and writers who will make the most reliable money are not "The Art" types (sorry, Cam), who won't get dumbed down by anything (and never really made the big money in the first place - see Moby Dick again). No, the reliable money will continue to be made by the so-called hacks, the pulp writers, the mid-listers and serial authors, the ordinary people who create things that connect to other ordinary folks.

The market is shifting, the midlist is shifting... and things like Kindles and POD and the Long Tail are all here, probably to stay. If the past is any indication, e-readers will get cheaper (and water & sand resistant). Downloads will not cost the same as a paperback (and shouldn't!).

John Perry Barlow has a great essay explaining this whole phenomenon, titled "Selling Wine Without Bottles." You can find it online (for free!) or download it (also for free!) as part of a book titled "Exposure: From Friction To Freedom" (find it here: ... or you can pay $7.95 for the paperback version.

What are you going to do?

pjd said...

robert walker hit it on the head with this: Yes, I think we have finally arrived at the tipping point. And what we have now is a lot of people in denial of the inevitable.

There are lots of technologies and markets to consider when looking at The Future. For example, there are proof-of-concept electronics that run on insanely low voltage; electronics that can be powered by the body's movement, for example. We've got a few billion people in the world for whom paper books (at volume) are simply impractical for many reasons--cost of production, distribution, and maintenance, for example. Accessibility in terms of translation, disability access, illiteracy. Then there are the environmental concerns in the production and destruction of paper.

When you stop thinking about a PDA replacing a printed paperback and start thinking about the creation, movement, and consumpion of information, then you see that print will in the (not very distant) future become a small niche in a very big market. When information is digitized, it can be transmitted and translated and presented in myriad ways with almost zero effort.

Although I like these people very much, I get annoyed when I hear them say, "Books will never go away because I like reading books." That's sort of like someone in 1975 saying, "Punch cards are here to stay. How can you work with a floppy disk, where you can't even see the code?" (Well, OK, not anything at all like that, but it was fun to say.) Maybe more like someone in 1995 saying, "I'll never switch to email. It's so much more impersonal than a good, handwritten letter."

My opinion: this change is neither good nor bad. It simply is, and some people will succeed because of it and others will fail, as with all disruptive technology changes throughout history.

The Dan Ward said...

PJD - Yes! I think you nailed it. Even the people who say they're going to resist a new technology typically end up going along with it anyway, because it does make certain aspects of their life better...

Other Lisa said...

I don't know. I think books are an awfully efficient storage medium.

E-books have their place as well, and I can see that place getting bigger. But completely replacing books? I just don't see that.

I run a research department and in spite of the internet (which we use a great deal), I have not noticed a diminished need for books. Particularly when you are dealing with art or photography books, it's going to be a while before an E-book will take their place, if ever.

I have books that are several hundred years old, with the pages in beautiful condition. We have yet to come up with a digital storage method that is as sturdy and durable as good quality paper.

Re: Krugman. I heart Krugman. But I have a hard time picturing what sorts of ancillary activities authors can use to generate income. It's not like a band being able to perform for its fans.

T-shirts, maybe?

JES said...

I liked Krugman's analysis, forecast, or whatever it is. Not because it makes the future for writers at all rosy, but because it seems just to describe the way things are.

A month or so ago, I read a blog post or comment -- here or elsewhere -- which made a lot of sense to me. It said that every time a new technology comes along, it succeeds DESPITE its shortcomings relative to what came before. To take one really primitive example, when written language began to break out of the exclusive domain it had been confined to, many people complained: reading a story simply wasn't as satisfying as hearing it read, performed, or whatever.

The thing is, the advantages of written language OVER spoken language were just great enough; everyone just put up with the inconveniences of reading, because otherwise they couldn't reap the benefits of its convenience.

Same kind of thing happened when CDs came along. A lot of listeners and musicians resisted the change on technical audio grounds. It's simply not possible for a digital technology to capture all the nuances captured by the analog counterpart. But market forces pushed things in the other direction: digital CDs were simply "good enough" for most listeners. And the listeners drove the market.

Same thing is gonna happen with books, I think. As a writer, I love that so much of the writer-to-reader transaction keeps the latter in thrall to the way things have been run for a century or more. But as a reader? Tough call. Shouldn't I, as reader, be calling the shots?

And whether or not I, as reader, prefer a conventional book to the e-version, it's not going to be MY decision. If e-books do enough stuff superbly, the market as a whole isn't going to care a single bit that e-readers don't smell like high-quality paper and can't be dropped in a bathtub.

Jenna said...

Here's my 2 cents...which may be all it is really worth :). I think the various forms of art (photography, painting, books, music, etc.) vary in terms of how they are accepted in different forms and how lovers of the medium are willing to accept the form they recieve it in.

I listen to music, whether I buy that music via CD or iTunes doesn't matter to me, my brain recieves it the same way.

A painting on the other hand is visual and sensual--a poster version of a great painting doesn't do the same for me as the painting itself. Because of the visual and sensual nature of a great piece of art work, I will find a way some day to have some original paintings in my home.

I think books are somewhere in between a painting and music. There will be a place for digital lovers in market and a place for hardcopies. Book lovers that love the look and feel of the real thing will always buy the real thing and techie people will find a way to download to their Kindle.

I don't think there is a black or white in books like there could be with music. Or we hope right :).

AstonWest said...

We've discussed the implication of the proliferation of titles in the future, but what about downward pressure on prices and shrinking profits?

Downward prices may in fact have a positive impact on demand, and increase revenue through volume...but one never knows with book readers, who are often a fickle bunch (many of them being writers, after all).

Marilynn Byerly said...

Snakes are dumb with brains so small you can chop off their head, and it takes some time before they realize they are dead and stop moving.

Traditional publishing is a headless snake. It lost the digital war years ago, and it's too dumb to realize it.

Paper, ink, and bookstores are still here and will be here for some time, but they can't survive long term because digital books are simply too dang efficient in every sense.

The bookstores will go first because people are more stressed for time than for money, and online is easier. Before the bookstores go, they will effectively kill what is left of midlist fiction in their ongoing effort to stock bestsellers and list leaders to the exclusion of midlist.

Meanwhile, the used book industry will suck away even more of the profit from paper until it collapses in a sea of red ink.

Books will move into digital format, but new books and new writers will continue to be buried under a sea of backlist moving into digital format.

Platforms will continue to be the means of success for most authors, and other authors will be relegated to niche markets and scrambling for readers.

Pricing isn't the problem. If books are cheaper, it's because paper and transportation are taken out of the cost. The cost of editing and infostucture will remain. So will the automatic markup necessary so that places like Fictionwise and Amazon give the reader an illusion they are getting a bargain.

The ebook industry standard for royalties has been considerably higher than paper publishing, but the conglomerates are trying to shove those royalties down due to "higher costs." That's sheer b.s. I hope agents figure that bit of b.s. out and fight for higher percentages.

Essentially, most publishing professionals are worried about the wrong things and not paying attention to the real dangers as the publishing world changes.

It's not about too many titles, it's not about the change from paper to ebook, it's not about what bookstores are doing.

It's about the fight for the conduits of digital media to the consumer, and the publishers have already lost that as well.

If you want to see who took the head off the publishing snake, take a good hard look at Amazon among others.

They are doing everything right. They are bleeding publishing through used books and pricing control while doing everything better than brick and mortar stores, and now they are making a dramatic move to take over a major chunk of the digital arena with the Kindle.

Big publishing, meanwhile, is looking the other way as small publishers are fighting Amazon about POD and even greater price controls because the big guys don't think Amazon will go after them next. Yeah, right.

I'm starting a series on the current state of publishing on my blog on Tuesday if anyone is interested in continuing this discussion.

Richard Mabry said...

In the words of my hero, Adrian Monk, "I don't mind change. I just don't like to be around when it happens."

Erika Robuck said...

In my entire network of family and friends, acquaintances and writers--literally hundreds of people--I know of only one who has ever bought a book electronically.

I'm with the scores of people who want the book from the shelf, to hold in the hand, to get dog-eared and coffee stained, to have sand fall out of it from the beach, to get cozy with in an armchair... You just can't do that with digital media.

A variety of factors contribute to low book sales: the economy, television--even I wouldn't pick up a book over the Tudors or the Bachelorette :), the internet, etc...

All that being said, I never would have thought I'd be buying music song for song off itunes, but here I go.

Ulysses said...

I often read in the bathtub. This is a bad place for a Kindle or an e-reader. It is also the last place I'd use a laptop because of the whole water-electricity thing.

I think electronic distribution is going to catch on, but I'm always going to prefer a book. The batteries never die, you don't have to power them on to pass through airport security, and only the truly gifted among us could electrocute themselves with one.

Skeptic said...

Paul Krugman says that right now publishers make as much from a kindle download as they do from the traditional sale of a physical book. Kindle download - $9.95, NY Times bestsellers list for $20s. So who lost the $10? Amazon? I'm no MBA, but is this really a good business model? I guess it's working for Apple.

I don't see this as inevitable. Am I going to pay $400 for a Kindle when I can just carry a paperback to the doctor's office? No. It's not like music - you can't carry your stereo around with you when you exercise. When iPods came out it wasn't long before you saw them everywhere. I haven't seen a single kindle (can you tell I'm not in the book biz?).

The Kindle will have its niche, but it's no iPod.

Krugman also mentions books as promotional material for an author's other activities? I'm sorry, but I just don't see this happening. I don't see a huge market for "live readings." I mean, c'mon. I've seen NY Times bestsellers attract an audience of less than 40 in a busy shopping plaza crowded with shoppers. The heart breaks.

I would love to have an e-reader, because I love gadgets and it looks like fun. And it saves trees. I could see myself using one in the future, but I think it will be a long while before books disappear.

Kimber An said...

Well, I don't know about all that stuff. I just know I'm getting more and more into eBooks because of the variety of stories. I ain't kiddin - one day I visited a Romance mega-site and went to the Historical Romance new release page. Every Historical Romance (paperbacks) was either about a Scottish rogue in a kilt or a cowboy. There were about six to choose from. I go to ePublishers and find Historical Romances from just about any period. And that's just one subgenre. I see it with other kinds of stories too. Why is that?

Nathan Bransford said...


You make some good points. On the first part regarding the terms, I'll just say the devil is in the details. But we agents are looking extremely closely at those royalties and fighting when necessary.

And on the ancillaries and what's out there besides selling books -- subrights, people! Movies! Audio! Translation! Etc.!

Simon Haynes said...

I'd like to recycle a comment I posted yesterday, on another blog:

Buying a physical book is a pleasure - the anticipation of a new release, the visit to the bookstore, the shiny un-creased cover and that lovely new book smell. With the price of new books (plus GST, no less) people are forced to pick and choose more carefully than ever.

If book piracy were such a huge problem, then it would follow that nobody would have queued up for Harry Potter books 4, 5, 6 or 7, given they were all fairly easy to find on the net as unauthorised ebooks immediately after release day.

So why did so many people buy a copy when they could have stolen it?

First, because the vast majority of people are honest. Second, because $30 (the avg price of a new Harry Potter release) is fantastic value for the amount of entertainment between the covers. Some kids spent a week or more engrossed in each book, and a similar amount of entertainment from movies, computer games or organised outdoor activities would cost ten to twenty times as much. Not only that, the book can be read by other family members, lent out, re-read.

Back to my original point - ebooks are just the words, not the book. It's like getting a free sniff of hot coffee or warm chocolate without the pleasure of stirring in the suger, unwrapping the bar, and consuming the delight properly.

It doesn't matter what they do with electronic gadgets ... I don't believe the printed book experience can be properly duplicated. Not for the price, convenience and market acceptance.

Aaron said...

I absolutely believe that hoping this whole E-Book thing will just blow over is woefully naive -- especially after digital media has already turned the music and film industries upside down. Digital storage just has too many long-term advantages: no more raw material waste, publishing companies will no longer have to risk over/underproducing copies of titles during printings, books will no longer have to be out of print, you can easily have personal backup copies stored online or elsewhere, etc.

Still, at the same time, I think something like the Kindle can't possibly have the same kind of rapid wildfire success as the iPod. The obvious reason is that WAY more people are willing to listen to music than read books, but I think the transition to digital books will also be much slower because you essentially have to "start over" with a Kindle.

I remember getting an iPod for Christmas, not really understanding its ramifications until it was explained to me that I could put every single one of my thousands of CDs on it -- "Whoa. You meet I can now carry ALL of the songs on all these bulky plastic discs in the palm of my hand? SWEET!"

That, to me, was the tipping point for digital music. No more selecting CDs, carting them around, filling up shelf space -- it's all there in one place, and securely backed up elsewhere. Obviously, though, it's impossible totransfer the the hundreds of books I currently have on my shelves to a Kindle-- though if I COULD do that, I'd buy a Kindle in a heartbeat at twice the going price.

Then there's also the fact that with an iPod, I can just shuffle and jump around my 12,000 songs casually, never really listening to ALL of it, but FEELING like I am because it's on in the car, while I'm fixing dinner, on walks, etc. Having a few hundred books on an E-Reader would be a kick, but seriously: how often am I going to be revisiting a lot of these titles again and again the way I would a song?

Still, the idea of having so many book titles so readily available --especially while travelling -- has an undeniable appeal. I could very easily see starting to shift my purchases from paper to digital once the e-readers are more affordable and remaining kinks are worked out...

Lastly, I think something like the Kindle could have HUGE ramifications in terms school textbooks -- no more overstuffed backpacks, no more need to replace battered paper copies, textbooks could become way more affordable, etc. -- but I suspect that as with the music industry, tech-savvy college kids will be ahead of the curve on this one, leaving textbook publishers wondering what happened to all those nice kids who used to so willingly be ripped off by their ridiculously overpriced merchandise.

Polenth said...

Ebooks don't last as long as books. We're in the rosy early days, where people haven't had to watch their current reader and ebooks become obsolete. It will happen one day. On that day, people with ebooks will have to replace their libraries.

The people with paper books won't.

This could help to balance the difference. The original book might be cheaper digitally, but if you keep having to buy new versions as new formats come out, that's several sales of the same book to the same customer.

This has already happened with music and movies. As each new format has taken over, customers have been forced to replace their collection with the new version.

Anonymous said...

LOL! Sorry, the comments about not being able to use an e-reader in the tub amuse me. Ever hear of a ziplock baggie? Seal the e-reader inside one. You can read through the plastic easily, easily work the buttons, and if you happen to drop it or get water splashed on it, it doesn't get hurt.

I don't think ebooks will replace print books. I think they'll be another market for books, but I also remember that the computer was supposed to make this a paperless society. Uh-huh. There's always a need for the paper.

Aaron said...

I think Polenth raises a good point about physical books not being in any danger of extinction, but it's still about models of "ownership" that digital media is already trumping. With digital files for music, movies, and books, ultimately you won't have to "own" any title because every title is going to be so readily and quickly available with the push of a few buttons.

For example, this is what Netflix is aiming for: eventually, no physical DVDs will be dropped in mailboxes; you'll just have it instantly "delivered" to your TV as part of a subscription model that lets you watch anything anytime, as many times as you please, as if it's your own personal little invisible library. And once this is the norm, why bother purchasing a bunch of shiny discs and plastic cases with flashy artwork just to take up space and clutter your shelves?

It's already happened with music, it's happening with movies, and I could easily see it happening in the next decade with books as well. Speaking as someone with way too many overstuffed bookshelves, DVD racks, boxed-up CDs, etc., I am certain there will always be "collectors" who cherish the physical proof of ownership, but again, I think notions of ownership are changing when everything is becoming so readily available.

A few decades ago, I can remember so often with books, movies, and music, worrying that certain titles might disappear forever, or I might never see them again -- in the last decade, though, whether it's the vast selection of titles on Amazon, the incredibly obscure music I can find in minutes in MP3 format, or bizarre vintage TV stuff on YouTube, I've realized we live in an age where NOTHING disappears anymore -- it's all only becoming easier and easier to find and access.

JDuncan said...

Sucn an interesting discussion, and I of course am no prognosticator of anything, least of all publishing, but we can hardly refute the fact that ebooks in whatever various formats they will come in, are here to stay. They will change things no doubt as all new technologies do. The readers will have their place, but as one person commented, it's one thing to carry around a vast library of music, but quite another when it comes to books. There is just no need for the general ready to have a hundred books ready at their fingertips to read. I for one, reread very few books. There are songs I will listen to dozens of times. I could see having an e-reader for special occasions like vacations or going somewhere for several days where I might ready several books and not want to take the physical bulk of them on the trip with me. I would have loved one back in my college days.

I can see e-readers eventually moving into a more varied reading experience, where you get trailers, author interviews, interactive maps with fantasy novels, and the like. A book would become more of a package deal. With a vastly larger supply of writers that ebooks allows, sticking out from the crowd will become more and more difficult, and I can potentially see the dreadful thought of the midlist sort of author not being able to make a living off their writing any longer. But then, you might eventually run into the dilemma of publishers losing a huge chunk of quality writers because they just can't afford to live that way any longer.

I wouldn't pay 8 to 10 bucks a pop to put a book on an e-reader. Like many here, I to enjoy the physical qualities of the real thing. Would I pay 10 bucks if it came with interviews, alternative endings, artwork, etc.? For something that would be an experience beyond just the read, yeah I probably would.


Joseph L. Selby said...

The shrinking profits of e-versions is a myth, in my opinion (and I'm a media producer for a publishing company). If publishers are aggressively negotiating with their compositors, requiring xml-first design workflows, and templatizing their authoring/submission standards to fit into this workflow, cost of product development plummets compared to a traditional printed and bound book. e-only books selling for $10 a pop are almost pure profit and don't let anyone tell you different. The difference is so large, in fact, that authors should ask for higher royalty rates. But given that all these costs and revenue generation are kept internally, no one realizes the precedent that's being set.

(How publishers get away with it right now is that e-only isn't very successful and e+print still has PP&B costs associated to it so the cost savings aren't apparent even if the print run is low. Once e-only gets genuine market share, its profitability will become apparent.)

Joseph L. Selby said...

The biggest concern I always get from authors is whether people can pirate their material. Never mind whether people would WANT to pirate their stuff (yes, ego is always a factor), but that truly dedicated pirates will find their way past any DRM you create. What you should be concerned about is simply inhibiting the piracy of opportunity. People that won't expend the effort if it's difficult, but will if it's easy.

The reason the "printed books are resold too" argument fails is because an xml file containing a novel that can be placed on a reader, can be uploaded to a website in seconds and distributed to 1000 readers in a day. That's not something a printed text can accomplish. It's a tightrope finding the balance between product protection and customer satisfaction.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why iPods aren't dead yet. I mean--my phone is also an mp3 player with earbuds....who wants to carry around two devices when you can have 1 that does both?

Gotta stop listening to the ipHOne when you hear the ohone vibrate, take out headhphones, answer phone, then swtich back--how stupidly clumsy!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Books may end up serving mainly as promotional material for authors’ other activities, such as live readings with paid admission.

First of all, this made me laugh because most writers are just so gregarious and talkative. There really is nothing a writer likes more than getting up and reading in front of a bunch of strangers.
But I guess this gets down to author branding.

I did notice on PM deals that a book recounting a family's world travels was going to be linked up somehow with Google Earth. Now that's a use of technology accompanying literature I can sink my teeth into--especially for the kids and YA markets. I love the idea of books that make my kids want to go to the computer to check something on a map or to look up something, kind of like reading that backwards bit of Davinci Code in the mirror. I know I like books and films that send me running to Google. It means they made me think and wonder.

I would love if CDs or music, sort of a soundtrack, accompanied some books. And while most folks dream of hitting the big time with that film deal, to me there's a huge untapped market in video games. I know a lot of these computer geeks. They're my friends and my husbands coworkers. And they READ.

So I like the idea of linking different kinds of media. I like that bands have to play more shows to make money. (Don't love ticket prices, but I'm a sucker for live music.) I love checking them out on UTube. I love the idea of media collaboration, and seeing works of art take new forms, be it digital or something we've not thought of yet.

As a writer, though, I don't like the idea that the book isn't the primary focus of the branding and product, though.

Suzanne Nam said...

krugman loves to lazily, glibly simplify things that are complicated, and loves to weigh in on everything from free trade to the grateful dead. sometimes he hits it and sometimes he's totally off.

will the publishing industry be affected by digitalizing book content? duh, of course. will it be the same as the music industry? no.

gimme something that actually adds to the discussion. krugman is good for nothing more than cocktail-party level conversation. which is why i'm glad his op-eds are free digital content.

pjd said...

It doesn't matter what they do with electronic gadgets ... I don't believe the printed book experience can be properly duplicated. Not for the price, convenience and market acceptance.

This seems to be the primary argument against a fundamental change to electronic formats.

What this presupposes is that Gen Y and the generations that come after care about the "printed book experience." Like Aaron and others have said, some collectors and niche markets will always care, but Publishing (with a big 'P') is going to go the way of the fine horse-drawn carriage industry, eventually. And wouldn't you know that Detroit still can't deliver the fine horse-drawn carriage experience for the same price, convenience, and market acceptance as a fine horse-drawn carriage can.

Two years ago I attended a presentation by a director of MTV marketing. He said their research showed that today's 13- to 24-year-olds are getting 25 hours of activity into every 24 hour period. They've got TV, radio, cell phone, IM, texting, and web sites up all while they're doing homework. Think these kids are going to give a second thought for the "printed book experience?"

In the famous words of Herr Zeller: "Perhaps those who would warn you that the Anschluss is coming - and it is coming, Captain - perhaps they would get further with you by setting their words to music." (Or, in this case, putting them down on paper instead of on a blog.)

Other Lisa said...

ACK!!! A "Sound of Music" reference!

"Do you mean to tell me that my children have been running about Salzburg dressed up in nothing but some old DRAPES?!"

I don't think that has any resonance to Ebooks but I had to say it.

tys said...

Well, Blogger just ate my previous comment, and I'm sure it was more intelligent than the recap.

Basically I'd just like to say that whilst I believe ebooks will become the dominant platform, that we as readers will learn to adjust, the technology will address its current limitations and the industry will agree on a standard (until that happens, the kindle & sony reader are just toys)... books will never be totally replaceable.

Not because we're resistant to them, not because we want to curl up with them, or like the smell... but because they are a 3d physical object and humans are a spacially dextrous.

I can pick up my favourite reference book off the shelf without knowing the name or author of the book, simply because I know it's the slim white one with the blue writing and the red decal on the spine. I can open it up to within 10 pages of what I'm looking for (based on the thickness), then scan to find the right page and section, or open to a bookmark or stickynote.

I use my computer 6-12 hours a day, and I'm a techo, so I'm pretty computer savvy, but I cannot randomly access information in the same way on my computer without a lot of soul searching as to which folder I put it into, the name and author, something about the future of books, what was the exact phrase, was it page 27? or 47?... etc.

I cannot place 10 computer documents end to and have them all accessible at a glance.

It's the spacial relationship I have to books that I can't get with ebooks, and so my most important books will always be hardcopy (even if I have to print the darn things out myself). I'm happy for the thriller I read on the tarin to be a ebook, but not the works I use to improve my craft, or for my studies.

Anonymous said...

I think it's slowly but surely clear---fiction in hardcover is becoming extinct.

Most hardcover non-fiction is a dying breed as well (when was the last time you read a memior more than once?)

Paperbacks---beautifully done trade and perky mass-market---won't die. There really is no frigate like a book, and expensive electronics never do well on a beach or thrown into a backpack.

When a reader becomes a *superior* reading experience to a hardcover book---then it will be the latests twenty-year overnight success.

The reader needs to be ipod slim with a hinged left-handed cover that opens like a book.

Good screen, easy to rifle through the pages, *and* you need to be able to make notes in the margins...sort of electronic post-it notes, yeah?

Of course, it needs great graphics to support cover art as well.

Cover art will never die. Cover art is the jumping off point into a book....

As for the money? It will work itself out. The western world turns on money rather than happiness, worst luck...


Scott Jones said...

Three quick points about the digital world of books (or the pale digital ghost).

You have an industry you can watch that will predate all the change that books should see - the newspaper business. We subscribe online to one paper and take another in hardcopy --- and we find that most newspaper readers value the experience of handling newsprint as much as the content. Therefore I would predict slow change with a spreading market. WATCH THE NEWSPAPERS.

You should have asked if there would be a way to instantly gratify owning a printed book from a digital source --- your own press in your own home.

As for technology driving this, you should talk more about market and economics than technology. Technology comes to bear in two ways - to make a current market efficient (e.g., technology in the energy business held the price of gasoline down for years and made it possible to develop gas in 3000 feet of water). The second way that technology works is to create new markets. In my humble opinion, iPod created and exploited a new emerging market. Kindle is only a twist on an old market.

Scott Jones

wickerman said...

I think we are headed for a change in the industry, but I agree that it is unlikely to be as profound as what the i-pod did to music.

A cd player vs an i-pod is a pretty similar experience with the ipod having the advantage of better portability, more bells and whistles and MUCH more capacity. A book vs some sort of e-reader is not quite the same. I don;t know about you, but reading anything of length off of a LCD drives me insane.

Now obviously, there are folks who don;t mind this at all and certainly they are no tiny minority. However, I think there is some truth to the idea that a large percentage of readers will not want to give up the fancy cover art that just won't be the same on a screen, the smell and feel of a new book, or the ability to sit on a chair on the beach and read the latest Clancy/King/Steele/Whoever novel. Can you do so with a e-gadget? Sure. Will you look like a fool? Probably.

Another thought that hits me is the reason for all of this. Yes, more books are getting published now. There is more out there than ever before. But is the quality the same? It reminds me of music. The Rolling Stones go on tour and rake in millions but complain that no one would buy an album of new material from them. People just download what they want illegally and all of the money they spend in the studio goes to waste. All that promotion money the record company spends is thrown away. Some of that is true. People want mp3s, not physical cds these days. However, many people actually will pay for those MP3s. Artists would like to bury their heads in the sand and pretend EVERYONE steals the music they want. I think a lot of the problem is denial. The Stones (or whoever) don't want to admit that they are not what they once were. Guess what guys, the days of Satisfaction and Brown Sugar and Start Me Up are over. You're pushing 200 and the nostalgia circuit is all you have left. I love you, but you're through as recording artists.

Are books any different. IF author X sells 500,000 copies of a book and the next sells 100,000 and the next 50k and so on, will the new cry be 'it is being pirated on the 'net'? Maybe - just maybe - your bestseller was more the publishing version of one hit wonder luck reminiscent Milli Vanilli rather than the musical genius of U2.

As many authors bog themselves down in sequelitis and quick profit releases intended to capitalize on previous success they stand back after the wave of excitement rolls on and ask 'what happened?' The answer is obvious, the author and the publisher churned out the same old same old as quickly as possible to soak up all the cash they could before the wave ran out of momentum. When the tide receded, there was nothing left. It happened to music (how many Backstreet Boys clones came along? How many Pearl Jam wannabes?) is the publishing industry truly any different?

Now all of that said, I am not blaming authors, publishers and agents for all of this or pretending that all of the above is what is ushering in the digital age of publishing. I think it is inevitable that SOME people will choose to read via gadget regardless. $10 vs $30 is no small factor to be sure. I think Nathan hit the nail on the head when he said agents have to keep up with t he changes and ensure that they are in a position to be the go-to people when authors need someone to guide them through the new landscape of publishing. Authors too will need to educate themselves and be ready for the new market.

After all, 50k people will go to a Stones show. 50 people might show up to hear you read your book. You'll be luck if your mom shows up if you charge $125 a ticket to hear it.

Wow, I think this post is longer than the last chapter of my book... :)

Simon Haynes said...

Think these kids are going to give a second thought for the "printed book experience?"

My own kids are squarely in the age group you mention, they both have mobiles, MP3 players and PCs. They also have around a thousand paper books & comics between them. When they want to read, they turn to the latter.

You have an industry you can watch that will predate all the change that books should see - the newspaper business.

Not for fiction. Reading a novel over many hours - or for some people, days on end - is nothing like browsing interesting news stories on the PC.

And why is it that every time I'm out and about and decide to kill some time by reading an ebook on my Treo, the battery is almost flat?

The Dan Ward said...

I'm one of those POD authors (Unclean! Unclean!), and have several books for sale at I offer print and digital versions of them all, and am surprised at how popular the eBooks are. I wonder if anyone else in this discussion has any actual experience with ebooks (from a writer's perspective).

I offer some of the eBooks for free, as a way to "build the brand" and generate speaking opportunities. Other books cost a few bucks, but in each case, people go for them. I'm not sure why, but the fact that they're cheaper probably has something to do with it.

And yes, I make more money on the digital books than on the printed ones (for those that aren't free, that is). Zero production & distribution cost = lower sale price + higher profit.

Anyone else seen this happen?

Carly said...

1. I am under 25 and so are nearly all of my friends. I don't know a single one who has ever read an e-book or who has demonstrated the slimmest of interest in purchasing (or even trying out) a Kindle.

2. "just_me" and "ulysses" mentioned reading a book in the bathtub in their posts. I think they were talking about adults. But has anyone thought about children? Toddlers? Babies take books into the bathtub all the time. Children up to the age of 8 (and even beyond) read many picture books. They get honey and mud and all kinds of things on the books. They turn them upside-down and point to the pictures over and over. Seeing that large spread--about a foot by a foot and a half--is essential so that they can get that huge amount of visual and textual information at once. You just can't do that with the relatively small screen of an electronic device.

3. For families with children, how are the children and parents going to read at the same time if all books go all digital? Most families cannot afford to buy such a reading device for even one person in the family, let alone every member... and that is not even taking into account the fact that children (and many adults!) lose things often.

pjd said...

People seem to think that The Future is a binary choice between paper novels and ebooks on Kindle.

It was 15 years ago that Apple introduced the Newton and Sharp introduced their Z-PDA. Two years later, Nokia introduced the Nokia 9000. It was about the same time that Palm Computing was born. At the time, all those gadgets were considered expensive novelties, and people pooh-poohed the idea that anyone would ever use them for substantial work. Everyone was saying how it was a far too expensive and fragile replacement for their DayRunners.

Fast forward 15 years. Half the people on my train are ticking away at Blackberries. People actually watch movies on two inch iPod screens.

Ten years ago, Google was founded. Today, you can find, in seconds, an insane amount of information. You can even find it in another language and have it automatically translated (not well, but look at some of the things being produced for this year's Olympics by the Chinese in English). It took me about 15 seconds to get that exact Sound of Music quote.

This is all in the last 15 years. With gas at $4.45 a gallon in my neighborhood yesterday, I see trends going more toward digital, ubiquitous connectivity every year.

My point is that 15 years ago, only the very imaginative visionaries could see the world we live in today. Fast forward another fifteen years and think of the growing economic impact of Asia, the continuing effects of the "post 9/11 era," new innovations in mobile technology. The publishing industry may look very different in 15 years.

emeraldcite said...

I think as we achieve more all-in-one portable devices (like the iPhone), e-books will become more common. Still, books have been around for so long and are so ingrained in our culture, that it will be tough to get rid of them.

The price of the technology needs to drop significantly before e-readers become more than a passing fancy. Also, e-books will need to come down in price. The biggest problem with e-books, from my point of view, is their permanency. One hardware glitch and hundreds or thousands of dollars of books go poof. The only comparison for meat-books would be a catastrophic home fire.

As for authors and making money, I think an increasing number of writers will have to become a business. A strong web presence is already encouraged, and I think a reliance on merchandising, touring/speaking events, book trailers, among other self-promotional tools will be needed to supplement potential lost income.

The writers who do not make the best seller lists might have to rely on a strong fan base built through blogging and newsletters to help continue the support. Maybe the other genres will have to take the same path mid-list SF and horror writers have gone in producing limited edition works for collectors. These small run special editions can bring in a nice little income. Perhaps we'll see more of this.

In the end, I don't see the doom on the horizon. I think that the college and younger crowd are more tech savvy (and tech hungry) than older readers, so it might be a generation before there's a significant shift from one format to the other.

I'm a pretty tech-savvy person myself, but I don't really like e-books all that much, other than to read a few chapters to see what to buy. It's not so much that I'm particularly nostalgic for the printed page, but I just can't comfortably take my laptop in the bathroom for me or risk dropping my expensive kindle into the toilet.

If a few pages get wet after I wash my hands, c'est la vie. The book will survive, just as it'll survive this tech revolution.

freddie said...

Hmm. I don't see e-books 'taking over' the industry in the same way mp3s have taken over the music industry. I think one of the biggest reasons for the music industry's downfall was because it failed to protect itself in time from pirates—not because of the technology itself. Only after Napster really took off did executives lift their heads off their desks and cry 'foul.' I think the music industry had an opportunity to use the technology to its advantage and largely failed.

While I do think that e-books offer authors a shot at a supplemental income (at least for the next few years), pjd has a point. I'm sure I'm generalizing here, but people of Gen Y may not care about printed books in the same way us elderly do. What worries me is that they may simply stop reading wherever they can't take their e-books. And that would truly be the death of the printed word.

Speak Coffee said...

My response to the article is already posted on my blog:

I guess the same article caught our eye!

Sharon said...

The industry is going to do what it's going to do regardless of what I or anyone else prefers. I'm one of the holdbacks. I couldn't read an entire novel on a computer screen. My eyes would never forgive me! I can't even tolerate listening to books on tape. The most I can deal with is "Chapter a Day" on NPR. To me, a book or a novel is pages of printed words, with or without pictures, bound together with covers. As far as children's books, those are something you keep and reuse. I've got my first daughter's books from 25 years ago. Her 4 year old brother is reading them and when he outgrows them I'll pass them down to her daughter, when she's ready. You can't do that with e-books. That's how a children's author develops a following. For example, I bought Mercer Meyer books for my kids, my daughter has already started buying some for hers. I can't read my local newspaper online, I buy the print version. I imagine it will be easier for the younger generations; my 12 year old & 4 year old will probably see it as commonplace. But for me as an author, I'd prefer to be in print, whatever the pay. I don't get paid now so what's the difference?

Marilynn Byerly said...

A few comments.

Someone asked if there was anyone here who worked in ebooks.

I do. I'm an ebook pioneer, one of the authors of ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE, and an expert on ebooks and libraries. I was in epublishing several years before Stephen King "invented" ebooks, and I've been a controversial (on both sides of the issue) pundit on epublishing for many years.

I am always open to questions on the subject, and I am brutally honest about the good and bad aspects of this form of publishing. Contact me via my blog or my website.

As to production costs, ebooks aren't free to produce. You have all the standard costs of producing a book -- editing, covers, formatting, etc., then you have infrastructure costs of computers, servers, etc., then add to that staff, offices, insurance, etc.

Once the book is ready to sell, you can then add the appalling cost of DRM, the fees to add a book to most bookseller venues, and the markup required so that places like Fictionwise and Amazon can "discount" the book.

It's amazing that ebooks are as cheap as they are.

As to people who read ebooks, those of you who are wannabe writers need to start hanging out in online reader groups of the genre of your choice. Many readers, particularly those in romance, are as happy reading an ebook as they are reading paper.

They are the readers who turned erotica into a multimillion dollar business, and they are the force that turned erotica, paranormal romance, and urban fantasy into the current bestsellers in conglomerate paper publishing.

Oh, interactive books with music, etc., already exist. Most are called video games.

And, yes, my first blog on the current state of publishing will be up some time today. Feel free to stop by and disagree.

Angela K. Nickerson said...

I agree with so many of you, and I think the technology will sort itself out in time. To compare ebooks to iPods is comparing apples to oranges. Music and books are two different creatures. Listening to an iPod (for all but the most discerning listener) is not that much different than listening to a record player. Yet it is much more convenient, portable, and cheaper.

The same may someday be said about ebooks -- to a degree. I see them as a tremendous tool for solutions like textbooks. A typical science textbook right now for a college class costs nearly $200. But those authors aren't buying yachts and retiring on their royalties. The costs to produce those books are enormous -- as are the printing costs. If a Kindle can deliver the same information with some advantages (like search functions), then let's go to electronic text books!

But the sensory pleasure of curling up with a book... there will always be a place for that, too. While iPods are popular, they haven't replaced going to concerts or purchasing great stereo systems. The experiences are totally different.

As a writer of travel books, I am intrigued by the idea of digital books, but I am also a bit skeptical. I like to make notes in my guidebooks and write in the margins... an ebook would take up less space in my bag, but would it be as useful? I am not sure.

Will Entrekin said...

I wonder about the general sway of many of the comments here, which seems to be rather binary; that there's a possibility the resolution is going to be one or the other but not both. But the thing about books is that, though they are a medium, they are a different medium from music or movies in the way they are consumed. Both music and movies require something beyond themselves to be consumed. I.e., you buy a DVD, you also have to buy a DVD player. You can buy a CD, but you also have to buy something to play it. You buy an iPod, you have to download songs to play on it.

Books don't require that, and I think the major issue with e-books and print publishing is portability. Sure, a book is portable, but multiple books are not. There are lots of books I'll never, ever get rid of, that I'll pass down or on or whatever, but there are also lots of books I really only need the texts of; for those, a reader would suffice.

As for the 'cocoon' iPod argument, it's entirely possible to read a book on an iPhone while simultaneously listening to music. I know; my collection was the first ebook to appear on the iPhone.

Which brings me to my major point; I'm an author who used both, and I've found a good amount of success with it. Some people download the e-book because they like to read solely from their screens (yes, it's true); many more besides buy the paperback after sampling the download.

As for agents' role in the future, I wonder if they won't take on more of a publicist role, as well. Fewer clients, more attention. I also wonder if perhaps authors might begin to charge for readings. Musicians not only sell tickets to their gigs but sell merchandise and CDs at them as well; why not authors?

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Kindles are only in their infancy.

I don't think we can judge the future of e-books based on today's technology - or the idea that an e-book is "just" the transfer of a static text with a finite set of words to a portable electronic device.

It's like when a new musical instrument is invented - it takes musicians themselves to figure out what new music is possible, using that new instrument (which makes new sounds).

It's going to take a while for writers to figure out what new kinds of literature become possible with e-readers - or new kinds of collaborations between artists and graphic designers, etc. (I mean beyond video games...aren't those a bit "text light" or "text-free"?? Don't play video games myself.)

And then there will be a new generation of writers that comes along, who will say with no irony, "I am an e-writer." And they don't mean: Blogger, or that they write content for websites, etc - they mean they write novels specifically FOR e-readers. Because e-readers allow you to X, Y and Z that you can't do with a paper text.

Re: Branding - you're not necessarily branding the author (JK Rowling), rather imaginary items in the work itself (Bertie Botts All Flavor Beans). Not all texts lend themselves to this, but some do - if this is the direction fiction is heading, I would imagine writers would more consciously "product place" their OWN imagined products into the text, rather than Coke, Pepsi, etc.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Okay, fine, this is a bit off topic -

BUT, to all you frustrated queriers out there - I sent an equery, got rejected - so immediately, boom!, revised my query letter (took out 2 paragraphs) and sent the dang thing back out to another agent. And boom! instant positive response - not for the thing I was querying on (picture book), but something I mentioned "in passing" - my novel!

Which will probably get rejected anyway in the future, but hey! Moral of story: It does pay to keep revising the query letter.

**Back to e-books and publishing, sorry**

AmyB said...

Interesting discussion. I think the transition to e-books is inevitable, but it will be slow. There are still a lot of benefits to print. I can easily envision myself reading a novel on a high-quality electronic device. But it's harder for me to imagine reading "Goodnight Moon" to my preschooler on such a device.

One thing I will miss, if/when the market goes electronic, is what happens on airplanes when the announcement is made that everyone needs to shut off their electronic devices for takeoff. All the passengers put away their laptops, iPods, and Nintendos... and pull out magazines, novels and newspapers! For a little while, I'm surrounded by fellow readers.

LitWitch said...

It could be as simple as the shift from goods to services, from products to experiences to identification in a community. (Hence, cons, fanzines and fanfic, etc.)

Or, as, Mel Brooks says, "Muy-chendizing!"

Guy Stewart said...

A Cautionary Tale

The Time: 2067
The Place: The World

After writing her treatise on the mathematics of relationships and publishing it instantaneously, globally and digitally, anyone who read it understood the concept and peace reigned on Earth for the first time in over 3.7 billion years.

Suddenly, an electromagnetic pulse of unprecedented magnitude from a star that had exploded 58 years earlier passed over Earth and completely wiped all non-hardened electronic memory in every device on the planet.

Because reading it caused an instant understanding of the mathematics of the treatise, no one had ever printed it out or bothered to save it to hardened memory, the mathematical concept was lost and war broke out everywhere. Most life on Earth was exterminated after Armageddon was promulgated by primitive tribes living in the poverty-ridden cores of seventeen former American megalopolises. None of these tribes had ever been able to afford to buy an ebook once the economic center of the planet moved to Ulan Bator, Mongolia...

Anonymous said...

While not everyone (in fact perhaps most people) don't want to read books on the phones, I suggest that the CHOICE of where they read books will be more for the ease and profits of producers and sellers than for users.

As last, at least in the UK, the supermarkets package food according to their preference, not the consumers and you either buy it that way or don't eat (3-4 major nation-wide chains have about 90% o the market, squeezing out local retailers who might be interested and able to tailor products to local taste).

As I see it, THIS is the way the world is moving. No longer is the customer 'right' - indeed his/her wishes and preferences aren't even considered (albeit expensive marketing firms are paid lots of money to convince you - the customer - otherwise).

Vanessa said...

Oddly, there was an article on Reuters yesterday about children preferring to read books as we know it, rather than on-line or in a digital form.

As a bibliophile myself, I like seeing my books on their shelves, happily in conversation. I love the smell of the books and the feel of the paper under my fingers as I read. And, despite being a bit of a geek, I think paper books will always be my preference.

Mary said...

Cory Doctorow’s new YA novel, Little Brother, was released just a couple of months ago. It’s on the NYT best-seller list, and now available as a free download via his website.

Those who want to buy the physical book will buy it. Those who perhaps can’t afford that book (or prefer free stuff) can download the novel for free. These are two different customers, so the free download has little negative impact on sales.

What Doctorow gains is advertising. Brand awareness is increased, improving overall sales of all he’s selling. More traffic for his websites, more physical book sales, more commissioned articles, more appearances, and if he sold merchandise, he’d shift more T-shirts, too.

Personally, I don’t think it is a black and white, one format or the other, fight; physical books and e-books (free or not) can co-exist as part of a newly evolved whole.

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