April 14, 2011

To e-, or not to e-… That is the Question

Filed under: Book Discussion,Publishing Industry — Tags: , , — Brian Triber @ 10:01 pm

Image by Christoph Michels
via Wikimedia Commons.
Are e-books really here to stay? Not yet…

There have been many articles coming out of the publishing industry, both for and against the inevitability of e-books replacing print books. Most have focused on the industry impact e-book sales are making to publishers’ bottom lines, which e-book formats are selling best, and what the pricing on e-books should be. What the e-book industry is neglecting, however, is the end user’s experience. They’ve forgotten that, as in the case of the Daewoo Matiz, that customer satisfaction drives sales, not the other way around (that and decent engineering).

I’ve been quietly enjoying my Sony large-format e-reader for over a year now, and the hardware itself seems to be stable. The software interface, or “library” that is maintained on my Mac, not so much. Whenever my e-reader’s memory has been zapped, It it needs to synchronize the whole library all over again, choking up every time. But this is a time inconvenience — I can leave it to synch overnight if need be. At least I haven’t lost any of my books. Or so I thought.

Enter the Borders.com e-book store. A while ago I purchased a few e-books online from Borders.com, and loaded them into my library without a problem. Then my computer crashed in January. Aside from the nightmare of rebuilding my system disk and reinstalling my software, I suddenly realized that some of my e-books were no longer available for reading. What did the missing books all have in common? They were all .pdf files purchased from Borders.com. So, I logged into my account there to download those files again. The deal was that Borders.com was supposed to remember what I had purchased and make sure that those licenses were available to my home computer. But, surprise, the files are now registered to another user — i.e., not my rebuilt system.

I’ve emailed Borders asking for a way to fix this but have received no response. This in itself should be no surprise since the IT department was gutted in the last reorg before they declared Chapter 11 (my source is Publishers Weekly’s Borders Watch column.)

Purchasing e-books from other sources can be fraught with frustration as well. Amazon requires either owning their Kindle or downloading a free kindle-reader app. Similiarly, Barnes and Noble does the same thing with their Nook.

The obvious problem that all these companies are overlooking is that no one wants to pay $100-$300 for three different devices so that they can read the books they want to read. That’s why the open-source .epub format exists — it’s a free format that allows people to read e-books on Sonys, Libres, and all the other third-party e-readers. The problem is you can’t buy an .epub book on Amazon or B&N, and if you purchase on Borders its linked to one machine and can’t be shared or loaned out.

So, ignoring the other reasons for not purchasing e-books (like the lack of tactile materials, dimensionality for pop-up books, and ability to have a favorite author autograph your copy), until a single usable universal format exists, I’m going to have to keep killing trees, or risk losing my library in an EMF event.

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December 8, 2010

The Value of Physical Books

Filed under: Publishing Industry — Tags: , , — Brian Triber @ 11:15 am

The Publishing in the 21st Century blog has recently posted an article about Oprah Winfrey’s current Oprah Book of the Month, a twin Edition of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations, available as e-books for a price on Amazon, sold at bookstores, and available for free (for the kindle only) at the publisher’s website.

There has been a lot of back and forth about why books are priced as they are. Penguin, the publisher of this edition, claims the e-book is enhanced from the free versions offered directly from them. This seems to be a reasonable assertion considering how much effort goes into designing and editing the additional contents of an e-book, and editing the source material for the new format to begin with.

For physical editions, the cover price has to pay for, in addition to the editing costs of the new supplementary materials, printing, binding, shipping, and the labor of the folks at the bookstore in displaying and handling the books. In this case, the bookseller also has to deal with getting additional signage up and promoting the new edition in newsletters and advertisements.

But why a physical edition of this book? From my own personal perspective, e-readers have now matured sufficiently to allow markups, i.e., taking notes, directly in the text and those notes are effortlessly synchronized to the computer, so papers can be researched entirely electronically without paper and pencil. The only other reason for owning a physical copy, in my mind, is to get the author’s autograph.

But with this edition of Cities/Expectations there is one other factor. Oprah will be leaving the airwaves shortly, which means that her impact on the industry by selecting a pick of the month will also disappear (although she may continue this in her magazine). For the sake of continuity, or perhaps for the sake of collecting, many readers will purchase a physical copy for the sake of completing their Oprah Book Club Library.

Assuming you owned a current e-reader model, is there a reason you would want the physical book instead of the e-book?

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December 7, 2010

Google Editions: Coming to an Author Near You

Filed under: Publishing Industry — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Brian Triber @ 6:16 pm

There’s an interesting article on the E_Reads blog about Google eBooks becoming Google Editions, and how this will impact the publishing industry. For writers specifically, it mentions that there will be an Affiliate program that allows authors to sell their own ebooks from their web sites through Google Editions.

Independent writers currently have several options to circumvent the traditional publishing industry, including POD, vanity presses, and now, for ebooks, Google Editions. Currently, the biggest advantages traditional publishing has over these others is access to brick and mortar stores, and to critics. Budgets for publicity, which used to be a big plus with traditional publishers, are drying up, leaving the author in all cases picking up the bill for much of his/her own publicity tour.

Many authors, especially those with non-fiction or self-help works, use POD publishing in tandem with other sources, such as speaking at conferences, where they sell physical editions of their work, and on-air marketing through providing content, such as late-night talk shows. A parallel to this in the traditional publishing industry would be a college professor requiring their students to purchase their own text book from a textbook publisher.

For the independent author with POD, however, Google Editions seems to offer an additional outlet for sales. POD editions are physically delivered to the reader. But with ebooks slated to be the primary source of reading in the near future (some sources estimate that 80% of book sales will be ebooks within 5 years, which sounds overly-optimistic to me in this economy) Google Editions seems to offer a way to fill the sales gap. Details about the new program are incomplete, but it appears that it should handshake cleanly with Google’s online stores and the Google Checkout program, a purchasing interface for websites that charge the seller per transaction.

I’m in no way affiliated with Google at this time, and am probably only slightly less confused than most writers about the best method for marketing and sales. The real difficulty is that with the traditional publishing industry being so difficult to break into, POD, Google Editions, and vanity presses offer a tasty bit of bait on a hook. The hook is, of course, that because anyone can publish anything they like with these sources, quality is varied, and traditional publishing is unlikely to consider even looking at a previously self-published work.

Your thoughts?

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