Friday, October 16, 2009

I Should Finally Say Something on E-Books

Since I got a Sony e-Reader for my birthday, my parents have been utterly dedicated to cutting out clippings from newspapers about e-books and either mailing them to me or leaving them on my desk when I come home for some family event. When I came home last night I was met with about 7 clippings, and there was a front page article in today's New York Times that was already highlighted for me before I came down for breakfast. They all pretty much say the same thing, which is that e-books are new and awesome and libraries are using them to reach digital readers and Sony and Amazon are lowering their prices to battle for the market in e-readers (finally). A lot of the articles have noted that people can't get library books or Google books on the Kindle, which is exclusive to Amazon and the reason I got a Sony. Very few articles have much to say about the publishing industry other than this must be good somehow, because all things internet are good until they're bad and destroy industries (music and, slowly but surely, movies).

I would have reported on my e-Reader early but honestly, I don't use it that much. I own a lot of books. Way too many books. I have too much to read in book format at the moment, and I haven't been on any vacations where carrying 503 books around in one slender case in my backpack would have been helpful. That's how many books I have on my e-Reader, by the way - 503. How much did I pay for them? $0. I read a lot of public domain books - classics, translations of classics where the translation is in public domain, and non-fiction books that were written earlier than 1932. Google Books could literally provide me with millions of these if I could afford that many memory cards. Oh, and that's just if I stay legal, and don't take advantage of the fact that people have been massively digitizing their private collections (mostly sci-fi) for years and posting them as torrents. So far I've had no reason not to stay legal, but to be honest, sooner or later some book is going to come along and it's going to be overly expensive and a used copy isn't going to be available, the library copies are not going to be available, and because I hate the author or something I'm going to download it to read it.

There are some kinks to the e-Reader. The version I have seems to drain its battery if you don't use it for awhile, so when you turn it on after a couple weeks it barely has enough life left start up. Sony's having some software problems with the book version of iTunes, and the books won't sync properly to my computer and I have a lot of doubles on my memory card. Books scanned by Google instead of being designed for the reader can be hard to read, as in the text will be small and up in the corner of the screen if it's a .pdf or if it's an .epub, not all of the text will translate. The software that translates it will pick up some old fonts as different letters and some dirt on the ancient pages of a library book as marks so the text you're reading is only 95% there and your mind has to make some jumps. And frankly, I'm not as impressed with the e-Ink technology as I first was. It looks a lot like text, but the screen is still glass/plastic and therefore there's a glare from bright lights or sunlight. It's obviously not a book. Still, 503 free books on a single device? I'm going for it.

This device will not destroy publishing, but it will reshape the industry as we know it.

The biggest issue I see here is the market for classics. Publishers make huge amounts of money on public domain books, and once the e-Reader becomes advanced enough to feel more like a book (like they finally decide to put in a second G-ddamn screen so you can open it like a book) and becomes cheap enough, the market for classics and other public domain works will fall out. Not entirely, but it will take a large hit. Some imprints dedicated to these books will fold. Also once publishers digitize more of their own books, more will be leaked (I've never heard of drm technology stopping anyone) and you'll be able to download thousands of current books with torrents or whatever the next generation of downloading software is. Current publishing (new books) will take a hit. Textbook publishers, who have been screwing over students for years by publishing a new edition of everything every year to make sure nobody just hands over their old copy to a new student, will insist that schools only have licensed copies of their e-versions, and charge a lot for the licenses. Like, thousands of dollars, like Adobe does for photoshop. After many years of enjoying the program, I actually went to buy photoshop in gratitude, only to discover it was a thousand dollars. How the hell was I supposed to buy that? How was anyone who does photoshopping for fun?

In the end, the book market will survive because its essential medium is not something that cannot be digitized, unlike music, tv, and movies. It's paper. In your hand. But man, will it take a hit. And from the looks of all of these articles, nobody's ready for it.

(PS I'm out a lot this weekend so on top of Shabbos, most comments won't be approved until Sunday because I won't be around to approve them. But by all means, leave them for approval)


_*rachel*_ said...

Thanks to one of your posts, I hunted down some public domain books on Google books, like Pride and Prejudice. I still haven't read any of them on the computer, but I got a real copy of P&P at B&N last week. You can tempt me into something cheaper, but you can't replace real books.

Jm Diaz said...

I am not one to take to he ereaders.
As long as I have a choice, I will choose paper. I have an iphone, I have digitized my music library, and my wife's music library (quite a feat), movies I stream from my home networked server, but books is where I draw the line. I wrote a piece about this not long ago. Feel free to check it out.

I know more people that feel like me, than those who are willing to go for the eReaders.

Unknown said...

The problem with these things is that unlike mp3 players, you can't just rip your books with your PC and upload them into the reader.

Preston said...

I've had a Sony 505 since the beginning of the year (birthday) and for the most part I really like it. The new 3.0 version of the Sony software keeps crashing on me when I try to sync. Fortunately there's Calibre, which can even sync the purchases I made from the Sony store. I'm still unhappy about book pricing ($9.99 for a book I can get in paperback for $7.99 and sell to a used bookstore when I'm done? REALLY, guys?), but I figure eventually the market will take care of that. Either piracy will run rampant or prices will come down. I don't regret not getting a Kindle, but I do sometimes wistfully wish that it supported WiFi.

Hepius said...

I have the Kindle app on my iPhone and I love it. My reading has quadrupled in the past four months. I love having a novel in my pocket everywhere I go. I read while waiting for appointments, I read while my daughter is taking gymnastics, if fact, I read everywhere now. I've paid for all the books, usually around $7. I am very happy with my ereader experience.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you completely. Another blog I read regularly discussed e-book piracy a week or two ago and from the comments, it's fairly obvious most aspiring writers are clueless as to how big a hit to the industry file sharing is going to be. The music industry was a warning to the rest of the creative world - they were the first and easiest to hit.

We need to shift the mindset of the masses from 'if you don't make people pay for it, it's okay' to 'if the creator doesn't get paid, it's theft.'


Is That a Vook You're Screading or Are You Just Kindling?

by Richard Curtis, literary agent, NYC

While neuroscientists and child development specialists have been
delving into the psychology of reading e-books and vooks (see The
Medium Is The Screen, But The Message is Distraction), a blogger named
Danny Bloom has occupied himself with the nomenclature.

Plain old "reading" simply doesn't seem to cover the various acts
necessary to experience a multimedia vook that we have to click,
scroll, screen, watch, listen to, and - yes - read. So Bloom, who has
been aggregating on his blog a great deal of cogent information and
articles about e-books, has proposed the word "Screading", combining
screening and reading.

We buy it completely, and from now on, "Screading" it will be.

Bloom also brought to my attention that "Kindle" is now a verb. It may
be a while before "Nook" achieves verb status, however.

The Sesquipedalian said...

Personally, the jury is still out on e-books for me. I haven't tried an e-reader, but I suspect I cling to the old paper books for some time. But I was talking to my husband about this very subject and he made a good point. As he put it, it doesn't really matter whether he or I or our friends prefer paper or digital books. What will decide the future of books is whether our children prefer digital over paper...

Maria said...

Try It's free and just as useful as photoshop. I use it and it's great.

The other group that seems to be benefiting hugely from ebooks is authors that already have a good reputation/following--that are putting their out-of-print backlist on Kindle and places like

I've read a couple of author articles that mentioned sales and seems to me that it's working out great for them!!!!


P.S. I read a lot more ebooks than I used to--and all I did was download a free reader for my laptop. It makes the text nice and dark and I can change the font. Works pretty darn well, at least for the two or three books I've read so far. (I downloaded 4 readers and so far mobipocket reader is the winner for me.)

Maria said...

As for the "hit to the industry" I think that cheaper ebooks helps solve the problem. If book is 2 or 3 dollars, is it really worth going and hunting it for free. Yes, there will still be thieves. But really. I don't want to start the same old argument, but I don't get publishers trying to charge hardback prices for an ebook. (I've heard the 'logic' behind it, but it doesn't seem to fly as far as I'm concerned. Just me. I'm only one buyer.)

Unknown said...

I prefer having just one screen. The Sony Reader is easier to hold in one hand than a book is. I never drop it and lose my place.

Henri said...

I have a Photoshop Elements II program that I paid 25 dollars for new, long after the software had gone out of style. It is fantastic and even has layers, filters, PDF conversion and all the auto corrections for images.

Joe Iriarte said...

What about Photoshop Elements? That's what I use, and it's a whole lot cheaper than the whole shebang. (I bought my copy forever ago, though, so I don't know if that's no longer a good option.)

Cam Snow said...

I think the fact that iTunes has became so popular will help publishers to not lose much in the way of sales. I know that there is still a lot of music piracy, but many people, especially in the US, are so scared of getting clobbered by a huge lawsuit that they have abandoned illegal downloading and have just decided to pay for stuff.
Unfortunately the country I live in isn't supported by the Kindle's 3G network (it's not in their list of 113 countries that it works in), which is why I haven't bought one yet.
Economically it doesn't really make sense though b/c eBooks are just as, if not more expensive than actual paperbacks, so it would only be for convenience.

Kym Lardner said...

I love people who can see into the future. Let me have a try by first looking into the past. We used to use string now we use sticky tape, we used to beat our clothes with rocks down by the river now we all have washing machines. The path of least resistance is the way of the future. LAZINESS is the direction pointer. If eBooks are EASIER they will take over just as it's easier to buy from iTunes than it is to go down to the record store with money and riffle through the bins of discs only to find they don't sell your music any more and you cannot have it for love or money. Go home and listen to what you already have or use an easier way. That is the way humans evolve.

Joe Iriarte said...

Except insofar as iTunes downloads come in Apples crappy lossy format. :p I'd sooner order a physical CD from Amazon than buy a whole CD from iTunes.