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?
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 says
My response to the article is already posted on my blog: https://speakcoffeetome.blogspot.com
I guess the same article caught our eye!
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 says
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 says
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 says
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 says
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 says
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**
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.
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 says
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…
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).
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.
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.