E publishing

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I own a kindle, initially for the ease of reading long-out-of-print Balzac, and I’ll admit that I don’t leave home without it. Years ago, someone gave me an electronic reader and I hated the thing. Loathed it with a passion, and so I was surprised by how quickly I became inseparable from my kindle–and bear in mind that I am NOT a gadget person at all.

I get a lot of comments about the kindle. Positive, of course from other kindle owners, as we recognise a fellow user like some lost tribe member: “so how do you like your kindle?” “Love it,” but most of the comments still tend to be derisive, negative and snotty: “I prefer books.”  (emphasis on “I”) and “I refuse to have one in my home.”  I’ve given up explaining that I haven’t stopped buying books, or that it’s not an either/or situation. Instead I chalk the reader debate up to a matter of taste. But of course, that’s not the only issue at stake here.

I came across a post called Talking Shop written by Lee Goldberg on his blog in which he discusses e-publishing, and how the publishing world is changing. In particular, he discusses how the “ebook revolution” is empowering authors–especially “mid-list authors” (and this was a point made by John Barlow when he decided to take Hope Road directly to kindle). Another very important point that Lee Goldberg raises is that it’s not easy to get the rights of out-of-print books back from the publisher.

While there’s a consensus that the publishing world is changing, it’s difficult to predict just where it’s going to go. With newspapers folding and downsizing, professional book reviewers are dwindling even as we see the rise of the non-professional (like me)–someone who’s just an obsessive reader and gets some sort of cheap thrill from passing on posts about the books I’ve read. The literary world has been managed by gatekeepers–publishers who select what is going to be published and then managed by literary journals which tell us which of those books are worth buying and reading. While this structure isn’t exactly collapsing, it is undergoing a metamorphosis. Scary if your livelihood depends on it, and exciting f0r someone like me whose major pastime is reading.

An interesting fact is that crime readers are early adopters of the kindle, and along with that goes the idea that the world of crime reading isn’t subject to the same gatekeeping (the gatekeepers of culture and taste–such as literary journals). You’re not going to see the TLS or NYRB stuffed with reviews of crime novels–although there are sites such as The Rap Sheet, edited by J Kingston Pierce, a self-described “labour of love,”  which survey the world of crime and inform readers of new and upcoming books. So I speculate that it’s perhaps no accident that crime readers were early adopters of the kindle–there were underlying factors at work–including the fact that we don’t rely on gatekeepers of culture and tend to be more fan-based.

And from that last point I’m moving on to the issue of what it’s like to be a reader who wants to read out of print books or just books that are no longer hot-off-the-presses. Amazon shipping is 3.99, and it’s possible, as we all know, to get a book for a mere penny. Many crime authors seem acutely aware of this pricing, and so they price their work accordingly.   Lee Goldberg’s  4 novel Jury Series is a mere $5.99. Allan Guthrie has several titles for $1.99 and $2.99 –including his oop Two-Way Split which is available used in traditional print form for .02 (plus 3.99 shipping) and $2.99 on the kindle. He gets a big fat zero if you buy a used copy, but he gets a percentage if you buy a kindle version.

And this brings me to my another observation, and one I don’t see often. If the publishing world went 100% electronic reader, and I don’t advocate that, by the way, and neither do I think that is the future, but let’s just say that happens, eventually the used book market would dry up. Let’s argue that this happens in the year 2030 and from that point on, only e-books are released (nook, kindle). The used book market after 2030 would be non-existent, so publishers who get zero for used books would still get a chunk of the action via the e-book version if and only if they were involved in the contractual process.

Finally, the oldest surviving cheque was written in 1659, and in Britain there’s a phase-out date of 2018 for check-writing. Ten years ago, most consumer transactions were cheques but now it’s debit cards or credit cards–a system which apparently works great for the credit card industry since they’ve managed to get themselves in between the merchant and the consumer for almost every transaction. There was a time when not having a checkbook would have been unimaginable, and now cheques seem to be the fading into the past. Something to think about….

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30 Comments

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30 responses to “E publishing

  1. prisr

    The Fed Government has sued Apple and other publishers for collusion in setting prices of e-books. When I first started reading the kindle, the highest price e-books were $9.99. Hopefully the prices will return to a better rate for the consumers. I, too, love my kindle, but still purchase ‘real’ books. I am a fan of Amazon and they do seem to be on the side of the consumer, while making their own millions.

    • Thanks for the comment Pris. I was hoping someone would bring up the suit. I think publishers are shooting themselves in the foot in many ways when they price e-books so close to print versions.

  2. Like you I have come to appreciate my kindle and will do a post on it very soon as well. I still prefer books bit there are so many advantages or let’s say other possibilities that I like. Yesterday I downlaoded the whole of Thomas Hardy for 2Euro including pieces by critics, all the poems, novels illustratins. Now I’ve started a few and try to make up my mind which one I want to read and if I really like it I can always buy it.
    I don’t like reading non-fiction on the kindle because of the annotations. I’m a fan of handwriting.
    What I don’t understand is why I cannot order from all the sites.
    Reading Violet’s and Tony’s exchange on twitter amazon e-book prices must be ludicrous in Australia. Up to 30$. And the ycannot order form another place. Some countries cannot order a kindle at all…

    • When it comes to the classics, I don’t think you can beat the kindle. I haven’t found a genre I prefer or dislike yet when reading on the kindle. When a book’s good, then I forget how I’m reading it, to be honest.

      I hope there are good well stocked libraries in Australia…. or at least a lot of used book shops.

      • It seems to depend on where you live.

      • miniwrite

        I’ve never even held a Kindle and this is partly because of my bias against reading digitally. However, lately I have been more open to trying new gadgets and since you think classics are great on the kindle, perhaps it is worth taking a look.

        • I hadn’t held a kindle or even seen one when I bought mine, so it was a leap for me to spring for one not knowing if I’d take to it or not. I know several people who’ve been given kindles as gifts and they never leave the boxes they arrived in.

  3. You know I have a kindle too and now Amazon wants me to move my account from the US site to the French, which I don’t want to do since I bought a kindle precisely to read in English.
    I buy all the books in French in paper editions for a simple reason : I can lend them easily to anyone. And I have a few family and friends who read and have similar tastes. (I don’t think my sister ever buys a book, I’m her library)

    Your comments on OOP books are very interesting. It was a hot topic in France a few weeks back. The parliement voted a law allowing to numerise all the OOP books from the 20thC. The objective is for these books to find new readers. If I understood correctly, the writers would get their rights through a sort of collective fundation.

    “La numérisation de livres indisponibles du XXe siècle autorisée par le Parlement.
    Le Parlement a définitivement adopté, par un vote unanime de l’Assemblée nationale le 22 février 2012, la proposition de loi « sur la numérisation des livres indisponibles du XXe siècle ».
    On rappellera qu’elle vise à rendre accessible sous forme numérique l’ensemble de la production littéraire du siècle dernier, dès lors que les oeuvres ne sont plus exploitées commercialement, mais ne sont pas pour autant tombées dans le domaine public, 70 ans après la mort de l’auteur.
    Elle prévoit que la Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) recense dans une banque de données publique l’ensemble de ces oeuvres dont l’exploitation serait gérée par une Société de perception et de répartition des droits (SRPD) qui assurerait, de façon paritaire, une rémunération aux éditeurs et aux auteurs ”

    Don’t I live in a reader-friendly country? :-)

    • With a kindle, you can lend books to other kindle users. Did you buy your kindle in the US and have it shipped or did you open a US account? I know there are some things available for the kindle in the Uk that are not available for N. America

      • Nobody has an ebook around me.
        When I bought my kindle, French buyers had to buy an American kindle via the American site. (It has an American plug for electricity too).
        Now you have a French version you can buy in France.

        • It would be interesting to know the country break down for kindle users. Since you bought the American kindle, I can’t see how they can force you to move your account.

  4. PS : We’re talking about 500 000 to 700 000 books…just for France.

  5. I love my Kindle but still buy a lot of paper books. I get frustrated though when I see a lot of backlist SF/F titles where the e-book costs more than a mass market paperback… when I see that that’s the case, I just wait till I find it at the used bookstore.

    • Grace: I read a lot of OOP crime books and some of the titles are pricey, but I haven’t experienced the situation you describe where the e-books are more than the mass market paperback.

  6. Tony

    Kindle = free classics, in various languages.
    Or (increasingly) review copies of books.
    Not sure I’d ever pay for a file…

    • There are bargains to be had for the kindle–finding them can be tough unless you are looking for a specific author. One thing I’ve noticed is that the kindle price of a book sometimes drops drastically when another book by that author is about to be published. Example: William Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise comes out next week and one of his backlist titles dropped down to 99c briefly.

  7. Great post as usual Guy. I love my Kindle too but am not reading it as much as I expected to. This is because I receive review copies in paper (I try to limit these but they still seem to occupy more of my my time than I expect), I receive some books as gifts and have quite a backlog of them), and some of the contemporary books I have tried to buy on Kindle have ended up being priced way too close to the paper version to make me feel it’s worth it. However, I am reading classics on the Kindle … my last three for my JA group have all been the kindle version ever though I have at least one and often 2 our 3 paper versions. The kindle is so light and easy to carry and I love it as something to hold. I has a few books on my iPad — but I hardly touch them. The screen isn’t friendly and the iPad is not nice to hold as a reading device. It’s great for other things though.

    I do like the idea that the Kindle and e-readers in general are opening up a market for writers.

    Oh, how I’ve rambled!

    • Most of my review copies are e-versions and I like it that way.

      I’m with you–a couple of times I’ve downloaded a free classic even though I have the paperback on my shelf. Several reasons for that (sometimes the paperback is falling apart and sometimes it’s the notetaking or search feature that pushes the decision).

      How much do kindle versions run in Australia?

      I agree, for authors the kindle opens up possibilities, and I think that’s great.

      • I tried to buy some of the Man Asian books and they were running at around $20. I did buy Janette Turner Hospital’s latest the other day and as I recollect it was around $12. That’s my first real book purchased besides the very cheap classics which I’ve sometimes bought in preference to the free ones due to quality.

  8. Nick

    I love my Sony ereader. I read only classics on it, and news (condensed by Calibre), and it’s fantastic.
    I use it as a dictionary even when I don’t read on it, that’s how convenient it is.

    A major advantage over the kindle is that you can read all formats (epub…) and do not have to pass through amazon (or sony) to buy books but can buy from anywhere.
    This law in France is great! Thanks Emma! I had missed the info.

    I still prefer to read a material book but I was really surprised how nice it is to read on a ereader.

    I think ebooks are globally good for the reading/writing, the advant of literature, if not maybe for the industry.

  9. Your comments about book reviewers are apt — I put “sweet shop owner graham swift book review” into Google and your blog was at the top of the list. And very interesting it is too.

    • Thanks for the comment, Andrew. It’s going to be interesting to see how book reviews spin out over the next decade. Will they become centralised and managed or will non-professionals prevail?

  10. Very difficult to foresee how all this will shake out. I like to use the kindle for public domain stuff, although it sometimes looks awful, especially verse. I can’t imagine buying books for it because if I am going to buy a book, I want to look at it and scribble in it. I know you can make notes in a kindle, but it’s not the same…yet.

    As for lending, I did not know that you can lend books from kindle.

    Well, the media are changing, and they will continue to do so. I take a wait and see attitude and engage only when there is a clear reason to do so. I have realized that I represent an absurdly small portion of the ‘market’ so nobody is or should be concerned with what I want. That is, I don’t watch TV, read magazines, listen to the radio, spend time with earphones plugged in pumping music into my head – hurts my ears, and I prefer the noise of my own thoughts – and I tend to read old stuff. As such, the frenzy over digital media fascinates me, but leaves me slightly discombobulated. How can there be such tremendous excitement and money-making in a realm that has virtually nothing to do with me? I feel as if I’m on another planet.

    There is a lot of rot published about how this or that is going to degrade the level of popular culture, drive out original thinkers and artists, etc. as if that hasn’t been happening already for a long time. Maybe it will be accelerated, but that’s all. On the other hand, it provides opportunities.

    When you get down to it, we live in mass-society, and most people prefer it that way. They have a point after all. Feudalism wasn’t so great.

    • yes if you bought a book for the kindle (or it was bought for you), you can lend it to someone. A great feature.

      When authors start being excited about the possibilities of e-publishing, well you have to start wondering, don’t you?

      I loathe ear plugs for music too.

  11. I think the price fixing has hurt ebook sales in a very artificial way. It was noticeable how a little while back prices suddenly leapt up, often to more than the print copy. I don’t think that’s a good idea – long run all that will do is encourage piracy.

    Other than that, I do find it annoying when people say as you mention “I prefer real books” with the emphasis on the I, as if I’m some book-burning savage because I have some books in eformat (though the name kindle was not coined by someone with a love of reading I admit).

    Then again, when Penguin introduced its paperback Penguin Classics range all those years ago I suspect there were those who saw that as a retrograde step. It wasn’t though, and now we have a wider range of formats for classic fiction from high quality hardbound editions to cheap paperbacks to efiles than ever before.

    Interesting post as ever.

    • yes when the e-book price is a few dollars less than the hardback, I’ll wait a few months and buy a used copy.

      Funny to see snobbery sneaking into the e-publishing debate and to see yourself labelled as a philistine

  12. Then again, when Penguin introduced its paperback Penguin Classics range all those years ago I suspect there were those who saw that as a retrograde step.

    I suspect that’s true! I have anthologies of essays on popular culture, written by the likes of Dwight McDonald & Co., that often speak darkly of the tide of new paperbacks. True, much of it was pulp (but, hey! we like pulp!) but they seem to have felt that the simple fact of mass-marketing of literary classics was somehow ‘dangerous’. Not to mention the salacious covers that were often given to quality literary works – 1984 comes to mind. But again, don’t judge a book by its cover you man-the-barricades, the-barbarians-are-at-the-gates critics!

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