Here is an argument for why e-books should not be cheap. Is this argument too simplistic, too reaching? Is publishing just refusing to innovate and is mired in its old, inefficient ways of working? Read: The true price of publishing on guardian.co.uk.
Laura Miller has a great article called Spamazon at Salon.com, which explains how e-book spam is clogging the Kindle. I was toying with the idea of getting an e-book reader, maybe for Christmas, but this new development is enough to put me right off of it.
It seems that these e-book spam operators are repurchasing cheap content, or are stealing the content outright, and posting them on the Kindle store as 99-cent e-books. Even worse, the same content may be repackaged into several different e-books with slightly different titles or publisher names. Often, this content is the product of content farms like eHow.com, and therefore not even worth almost a buck to buy, but the low price may lead to impulse purchases.
All this spam should make it hard for readers to find legitimate books worthy of spending their money on, which makes self-publishing e-books a dicey proposition. It will probably disillusion many readers, like me, from even considering purchasing e-books. And of course, writers are getting ripped off again, as they find plagiarized versions of their content bobbing in the spam soup.
I have to wonder why people are so quick to fill everything up with garbage. Amazon doesn’t seem willing to clean up its own store. Until it does, though, I won’t be investing in a Kindle.
I see that yet another pundit is predicting the death of the physical book. His argument seems to be that books will go the same way as music and movies and become completely digitized. Well, I say that person does not understand that people interact with books in very different ways than they do with music and movies.
Book lovers enjoy doing two things with their books after they have finished reading them: displaying them and sharing them. Until e-books easily support these behaviors, the physical book will remain alive and kicking.
When I am finished reading a book, I may choose to do any of the following:
- Put it on my bookshelf to be rediscovered by me or someone else years later.
- Give it to a friend or family member to read.
- Swap it in a book exchange.
- Donate it to my library.
- Sell it to a used bookstore.
- Leave it somewhere for someone to pick up.
As far as I know, I can do none of these things with e-books.
Books have an aesthetic quality to them that goes beyond just the cover design. When I arrange my books on a shelf, I am making a statement about myself. I am showing what impacted me and what has value for me through the books I choose to display. It gives me pleasure to look at them and show them to others. Conversations are started. Sharing ensues.
And that’s the other thing about books: They contain information and ideas that want to get out there. That’s why their authors wrote them in the first place. Books are almost living things that need to move through the world. Confining them to an electronic device, and licensing them to only one reader, defeats their entire purpose.
People who claim that physical books are dead don’t love books in this way. They must not feel compelled to share them or display them. But there are plenty of people who do love books, and as long as they are buying them, I don’t think the book in its perfect, printed, 560-year-old form will vanish anytime soon.
Here is the original statement by Nicolas Negroponte: The physical book is dead in five years. Here is another rebuttal, sent to me by Brian O’Leary via Twitter. And here are some ideas for what to do with your books, if you do declare them dead (via The New York Times Sunday Magazine.)
- Will print books really be dead within 5 years? [Futurism] (io9.com)
- It’s Futurists Versus Consumers As The Death Of The Book Is Prophesied (crunchgear.com)
I have been following all of the conversations about the future of publishing, particularly with regard to e-books, going on over the past few months with interest. I thought I’d share some of the more interesting conversations I’ve found, as well as some of my still-nascent thoughts on the whole kerfuffle.
I have a bit of an inside view of publishing — 10 years out of date, but it’s not an industry that changes very quickly — and it’s not a positive one. I love books and writers, but publishing, as it exists today, seems like a necessary evil. It is too big, too cumbersome, too costly and too reluctant to change. Their business practices, which didn’t make any sense years ago, seem woefully out of date, wasteful and expensive today. The industry is ready for upstarts with new ideas to come in and turn things upside down.
When the world is changing around you, you either adapt or die. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know someone will come up with it. And that’s likely who we’ll be buying books from in the future.
Please to read more on this:
- Why do consumers think book prices are too high? (Stormwolf.com)
- Common misconceptions about publishing (Charlie’s Diary)
- Beyond Borders: Big waste in the book industry (Earth & Industry)
- Lulu Blog: Adventures in Self-Publishing (Lulu.com)
- 15 Twitter Users Shaping the Future of Publishing (Mashable)
- Richard Nash: Book Publishing 10 Years into the Future (Galleycat)
I see all over the news today that Amazon has announced a new version of its e-book reader, the Kindle 2. The Kindle has not tempted me yet, mainly because of its hefty price tag. But this announcement got me thinking of what I, as an avid reader and a natural target for e-books, would really like to see in an e-book reader. Amazon or Sony or Apple or Google — whoever — feel free to take my suggestions and run with them, no charge. And you’re welcome.
- Indexing via tags – Let’s say I’m researching. I’d love to use tags to mark up the book as I’m reading, so I can quickly locate all the related, relevant sections later.
- Dog-earing — Similiarly, I’d like to “dog-ear” a great quote or other section to return to later.
- Annotations and highlighting — One advantage e-books should have over paper books is the ability to write notes in the margins without guilt.
- Bookmarking — Obviously, I’d want the reader to keep my place in multiple books without me having to think too hard about it.
- Massive storage — If I had an e-book reader, I’d want to reduce my physical library, so I’d want the ability to store a large number of books, much more than the 200 or so books the Kindle holds. The ideal solution would be Internet access to unlimited storage and the ability to download a large number of those books for offline reading.
- Long battery life – I want a battery that lasts at least a cross-country plane ride, plus airport waiting time. And I don’t want a degrading battery to doom my device (a la the iPod).
- Extras — Obviously, I’d want to access newspapers and magazines, play videos and audio, and connect to the web. I would love to be able to link from phrases in the e-book to dictionary definitions, Wikipedia entries, translations or company websites.
- Lower price — I’m not going to buy an e-book reader if I can get an iPhone or NetBook for cheaper. Just ain’t gonna happen.
So there you have it: a specs list for an e-book reader I would actually buy. What is your wishlist for an e-book device?
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- Kindle 2.0: Thinner, More Storage…But Is It Enough? (mashable.com)
- Amazon Kindle 2 announced: $359 on February 24 (engadget.com)
- More Thoughts on Kindle 2 (technologizer.com)
Image by eclecticlibrarian via Flickr
I will admit that I love technology. I’m one of those people who can’t imagine life without the Internet. Technology is my livelihood and my passion.
But I am a luddite when it comes to books.
I can see some applications for e-books. Reference books, books that you use mainly to look things up rather than read in a linear fashion, would be good candidates. But for reading I want real books. Books that take up room on my shelves. Books that accumulate in piles in my bedroom, waiting to be read. Books that I can hoard and dole out like treasure. Books that smell like musty paper. Books that get stained and dog-eared from use. Books that I can look at and remember the emotions I felt when I was reading them. I do not want to lie in bed at night curled up around a Kindle. I even prefer to cook out of real books, despite the millions of free recipes online.
I know this isn’t very green of me (I am a green person). And I am resigned to the fact that e-books are coming, and that I might actually embrace them for my throwaway reading. But I still want my books, dammit.
After saying all that, here are some links to some interesting e-book sites: