Reading: It’s Never Been EZer

As some of you are aware, I’m a writer and I’m searching for an agent right now. With the possible exception of the fourteenth century’s Black Death outbreak, I’ve picked the worst time in history to be an unknown author with a book to sell. As a writer, I’m following publishing news daily and trying to stay current on an industry that is both changing rapidly and struggling to keep from changing too much. While being a writer is more difficult than ever, it’s a fantastic time to be a reader, which all of us here at GWC are.

I’d like to give you a layperson’s glimpse of some of the bigger book trends, how they’re affecting both writers and readers, and who I believe comes out ahead with each new innovation.

I can’t begin this discussion without stating that books are alive and well. Yes, sales are down and readers’ attention spans are shrinking in a crowded marketplace, but books aren’t going anywhere. Audio books are also doing fine. In fact, audio just gets more exciting — Parker Posey was just announced to read The Feminine Mystique. Everyone seems to agree that hard copy books will be around for many more years (exactly how many is uncertain, given that we’re raising a generation on e-reading).

The biggest news item in the book world is the e-Reader (Sony’s PRS 700 and the Kindle [as a device or App for your iPhone] from Amazon are the big players). Both offer pleasurable and convenient reading experiences and pricing. There’s nothing here for readers to be disappointed about. The devices are easy to use and get better and cheaper as time passes. Amazon has bullied publishers into their pricing structure, which has caused much debate in literary circles. The biggest of these is the issue of simultaneously launching the e-book and hard cover. Some argue that sales will be lost on hard cover books (which cost more) in favor of the lesser-priced ($9.99-$14.99) e-book. The other side of that debate is that new readers who have adapted to e-formats will now make purchases they never considered before. What do you think? What factors go into your own book purchases? Price? Format? Desirability? For me, I’m still purchasing 95% hard copy and saving my e-purchases for titles that I don’t care to have in my bookcase. All industry eyes are focused on the September launch of Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown’s upcoming book, The Lost Symbol. I’d be pretty surprised if an e-book doesn’t launch simultaneously.

Winners in this category? Readers for sure. You get current books in the format you want, when you want it. I also think writers fare well because as long as people are paying for a legal copy of your work, you’ll get paid. Publishers are losing a bit of the control (and revenue) they’ve enjoyed for years to Amazon.

In the comic world, things are moving much slower. An e-comic is a different beast from plain text and pages. Like their book counterparts, who often post first chapters online for free, comic publishers are experimenting with “freeconomics” and giving away single issues as downloads to a laptop or iPhone. The most exciting e-comics are the motion comics. These new formats are giving small publishers (and new writers) visibility they’ve never had, and readers great new content to discover. I think the comic book folks are waiting (wisely) to see where the dust will finally settle with the book-publishing model.

Getting a bit closer to that settling point is Sony, who last week made the bold move to begin using an ePub format so their book offerings could be downloaded to multiple devices, similar to the way we use MP3 players with music. This has Amazon in a tight spot, but it benefits both readers and writers alike. I doubted that readers would allow a monopoly on devices for very long.

However, ePub formats (Digital Rights Management) aren’t without risks. Piracy remains the number one concern for publishers and writers, who both need and want payment. The market for illegally scanned books free of charge is already problematic.

I also see the potential for more scams with e-publishing taking off. With costs down, e-publishers can prey on the hopes and dreams of aspiring writers and lure readers with cheap pricing but less-than-friendly reading applications. It might surprise you to know that the Romance genre (not Sci-Fi) is leading the way in e-publishing. They’ve been releasing e-only titles for a while. If sales go well, the books can earn a print release too. It’s less of a financial risk for the publisher and a way in the door for a newbie like myself. (But a hardcover release from an imprint of the Big Six is still the Gold Standard.) At this point, I’m assuming any book deal in my future (fingers crossed) will include an e-book version.

So GWC, how are you adapting to the new readers? Own a Kindle? I have the Kindle App on my iPhone and read on it sporadically, though I still prefer a hard copy. For travel, I’m thrilled to have better portability. Have you tried the new e-comics and motion comics?

As a writer, I know that with change new opportunities abound, as long as you’re willing to embrace them. I honestly believe that anything that encourages reading is positive, for readers and writers alike.

List of e-Book Readers [Wikipedia] Dark Horse eComics [Website] Marvel’s First Motion Comic Stars Spider-Woman [LA Times]

12 Responses to "Reading: It’s Never Been EZer"
  1. SirCastor says:

    I’m a huge eBook fan. My wife made me promise that I would not buy a reader for myself because she needed something to get me for Christmas. For the moment, I’m resigned to read ebooks on my iPhone. I am using the Stanza app, in preparation for utilizing ePub when I do have a reader – My preference being one of Sony’s devices. I find that I enjoy reading on my phone. It’s quick and there’s a significant amount of material available.

    Speaking of, Sony just recently announced new devices. They’re selling a reader for $199, which is a surprisingly low entry point for someone who’s interested in giving this a shot.

    My biggest gripe with digital sales are that publishers are still thinking of digital books like they do of printed books. Prices are laid out like you would if you were managing not only the cost of finding, editing, and marketing the product, but also as though you were printing it and distributing it. The cost of the latter two are next to nil in digital terms, but publishers still look at eBooks as similar to pBooks. As several forward thinking individuals have noted, even *giving away* an eBook can be a tremendous advantage to actually selling more books. Chief among these people are Cory Doctorow, who releases all of his books in digital form for free under the creative commons license, and Eric Flint, and Author who publishes under Baen. Flint convinced Jim Baen (of said, Baen Books) to provide a place for his Authors to distribute some of their works for free (yeah… as in no-cost-to-you), and you know what? It actually ends up leading to greater awareness and more sales. The loss is almost universally made up for by the gain.

    To me, Publishers ought to be selling the eBook for $2-$3, and I guarantee you they’d still be making a sizable profit. If releasing simultaneously with a pBook, you end up with almost 100% pure profit on the side of the eBook. The editing has already been done, distribution and marketing is already taken care of as well. If you get people to go after the eBook, your profit percentage is greater than those that buy the printed book (which still has shipping, floorspace, and printing costs)

    One trick at the moment that Authors have to deal with is formats to choose. ePub is open, standardized, simple, and accessible. However, the Kindle, with it’s .azw format leads the market with an estimated 45%. Unfortunately, you can’t do both. Publishing for Kindle is an exclusive deal according to Amazon’s contract.

    Intriguingly, there’s a small niche of people who don’t like eBooks at all. Audrey Niffenegger, Author of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” expressed recently that she will not publish her books in an electronic format. Her reasoning included that she has dedicated her life to books as a form – typography, layout, etc, and that she loves bookstores. I can see her point. The eBook unceremoniously throws out both of those for convenience. I love my local bookstore (Powells.com)

    The books I’m reading currently are digital. Given the choice, I think I’ll skip paper any time I can.

  2. SirCastor says:

    BTW, there’s an excellent treatise on eBook distribution by Eric Flynn, and the result was the Baen Free Library: http://www.baen.com/library/

  3. DawnAZ says:

    Thanks for the great comments and additional info! Yes, e-books cost less, but if the market will bear $9.99 price points, I don’t see new release prices coming down anytime soon, and honestly, as writer, I don’t think they should. I’m very anxious to watch as we start to get e-book sales info taken more into the mix. It’s been pokey, kinda like the way they’re finally able to assess the DVR numbers into ratings.

    Admittedly, I was reluctant to embrace e-books. I remember being at conference 15 years ago and the prediction was that e-books would replace all paper books in a decade. I’m glad that didn’t happen and I don’t think we need to look at it as either or.

  4. mymatedave says:

    While I completely support relatively new publishing methods like e-books, there is of course the problem with DRM, like Cory Doctorow says, “If you don’t own the keys to an book you’ve brought, you don’t own the book, you’re renting it.”

    Such examples as publishers ironically going onto customers kindles and deleting not only the book Big Brother, but any reference to you owning it in the place because of a dispute over publishing rights. The fact that these customers had paid money for the book apparently wasn’t a consideration.

  5. DawnAZ says:

    myatedave- the Orwell issue with Amazon involved an illegal version of the book (which shows you what a huge problem piracy is). Amazon did refund all the costumers money and has vowed never to sneak into everyone’s Kindle in the middle of the night again.

    To your other point, I don’t really view the e-books I’ve downloaded as books I own. I do view them as a disposable purchase. The irony is that I download about 97% of my music and certainly consider those purchases as mine.

  6. Casilda says:

    Great piece, Dawn!

    re: mymatedave’s issue with the Kindle Orwell deletion. I understand why Amazon had to delete the book, but to do it without letting people know they were going to do it beforehand was wrong. I’ve also read that people’s notes on the book were also deleted, which is just wrong, right? That was the Kindle owner’s own work, intellectual property so to speak, apart from Orwell’s actual text.

    That’s part of why I wouldn’t use an e-Reader. When I physically have a book, the bookstore owner or publisher can’t just barge into my apartment and take books off my shelves. I’m also curious as to the revenue distribution for e-Books as they become more popular. Will there be the same issues and conflicts as we’ve seen with digital distribution of other media? There are still a lot of questions about the production of these digital texts that haven’t been resolved to my satisfaction.

    As it is currently configured, I have no intention of buying or using an e-Reader. Part of that is technological (not a fan of the Kindle interface) and part of it is practical. A quick search of Amazon shows me that most of the books I am currently reading (and that are up near the top of the to read pile) aren’t available for e-Readers. Until the market expands more, it wouldn’t be worthwhile for me to get one. That, and I have a strong emotional attachment to the physical artifact of the book.

    That said – it’s great that e-Books are available for people who choose to use them. Like Dawn says in her comment, it doesn’t have to be either/or. People who love their e-Readers can use their e-Readers, and I can have my paper bundles. As long as we’re all reading! 🙂

  7. bkitty says:

    As a professional driver, I am a huge fan of audiobooks! I love-love-love books in print, though. I have drooled over the Sony reader, but as Casilda says, there isn’t enough out there to make it worth having… YET.

    I have room in my world for all forms of reading. In my opinion, some books are just meant to be read, some are meant to be heard, and all are meant to travel with you.

    I hope the upheaval in the industry settles down soon with something we can all live with and afford. I’m for peace and a butt-load of material to consume!

    Heeere booky-booky-booky! Mama needs some readin’!!!

  8. LordCorbin says:

    When Sony announced their E-Reader years ago, I was excited. A chance to carry around multiple books at once in a compact format and read them without the eye strain associated with reading from a traditional monitor made it sound fantastic. Unfortunately, the e-reader was released at a price point that was around the 400$ mark, and the e-books were just as expensive as hardcovers.

    Technological improvements and market competition have driven costs down, but so long as I can get almost any book (used) for less than 5$, and dont have to worry about storage failure or battery life, I dont see the point in this technology. But, I am not everyone, and increasing the availability of books, regardless of format, is a great idea. I am eager to see what increased competition does to the market.

  9. Thallca says:

    I have a number of reader apps on my ipod touch. eReader Pro is my default app, but I also have Stanza and the Kindle app installed.
    I dabbled in the ebook arena as far back as 2002-2003 when I had a palm pilot. Those were really the early days of the ebook movement. It was so darn cool to whip out that palm pilot at any time, any where and read. It did have it’s drawbacks with it’s very small screen and little memory.
    I had purchased a number of books from eReader.com back in 2003 and enjoyed them very much however, when I got my ipod touch, late last year, I thought I was going to have to re-purchase those books again. It never crossed my mind that the all the books that I purchased back in 2003 would still be in my “library” on eReader.com.
    I really never gave the convenience of ebooks much thought until recently when I listened the Chuck and the gangs recent GWC podcast on “Eve” and the “Honorverse.” I listened to Sean talk about the “Honor Harrington” books, and being a fan of military science fiction, I was intrested. So, off I went looking for said Honor Harrington books on eReader.com. I read the first one and loved it and I am currently on number 8 in the seires.
    I find it easier to read a book off of my ipod than the paper versions. Maybe its because I can read with one hand, in any lighting and buy books at any time over the air.
    Going digital didn’t destroy photography, it transformed it. I should know, I do it for a living. And I doubt going digital is going kill book sales, in fact I think it will do the opposite.
    The only thing that is changing is the final media that we buy, paper or digitial, good writers and stories will never disapear.
    I don’t know about you, but I’m loving every minute of it

  10. DawnAZ says:

    Here’s the link to one of the best publishing blogs out there from Agent Nathan Bransford.- http://blog.nathanbransford.com/. Every Friday Nathan does a This Week in Publishing post and two items are topical to our topic here. Check out his link on the sustainability of e-readers vs. print books and Sony’s announcement of another e-reader device that will have 3G.

  11. Armando says:

    Nice piece, Dawn. I don’t read the blog as often as I used to or should, but I’m glad to find your article on e-readers and new trends in publishing. My biggest concern with these trends regard storage and the longevity of media. As computers evolve operating systems are replaced and stored data can become harder to access. Throughout history, and this trend appears to continue, printed books have been the only guarantee (and that itself dependent on the numbers of books printed) of longevity for a printed work.

    In music the issue has been rising for years with the veritable collapse of the recording industry and the collapse of music publishing. This has been a double edged sword of sorts, but, ultimately, the results have largely been positive. I wonder whether the same will hold true in literary publishing over the coming years…

  12. DawnAZ says:

    I think you’ve brought up good points Armando. Do we really own the digital media we’ve purchased from somewhere else, or it is glorified renting? I believe that these changes are positive too. Mainly because more people have access to the material. That’s a good thing.

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