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Ebooks overtake print books in Amazon sales
May 19, 2011 7:12 PM   Subscribe

Like the death of Mark Twain, the demise of the printed book is greatly exaggerated, although the latest news from Amazon – which announced that it is selling more ebooks in America than print books for the first time – might suggest the nails are being readied for the coffin.

A Salon photo gallery of the world's most inspiring bookstores
posted by Trurl (137 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm not sure what to make of Amazon's announcement since they don't make clear how they calculate "sales." There are many free or nearly free Kindle books on Amazon, and no doubt people who first get the Kindle are downloading tons of them to build up a library.
posted by stbalbach at 7:19 PM on May 19, 2011


In all honesty I don't see this as a problem. People will, for a long long time, still want to buy tangible books for various reasons.

And I wouldn't mind seeing less paper and ink wasted on crappy trade paperbacks when they could just as easily be downloaded to a Kindle.
posted by padraigin at 7:21 PM on May 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Which, explains, in part, the everyday headlines here in Ann Arbor about the demise of Borders. (I still miss the original downtown Ann Arbor store, damn that was a neat place!)
posted by tomswift at 7:21 PM on May 19, 2011


they don't make clear how they calculate "sales." There are many free or nearly free Kindle books on Amazon, and no doubt people who first get the Kindle are downloading tons of them to build up a library

Sorry, the Guardian article omitted that...

Since April 1, for every 100 print books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 105 Kindle books. This includes sales of hardcover and paperback books by Amazon where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.
posted by Trurl at 7:25 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is actually a big deal.

The biggest medium for distributing printed work hasn't changed as much since the invention of the printing press.

This isn't like mp3s eclipsing CDs, a technology that was only decades old.

This is a change in medium of a technology that is over 500 years old.
posted by sien at 7:32 PM on May 19, 2011 [17 favorites]


This will be just like the paper edition of metafilter. No one even remembers that anymore. This was before user numbers even.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:33 PM on May 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


"This will be just like the paper edition of metafilter."

you know, I can't remember if I used that to wrap fish or in the birdcage.
posted by tomswift at 7:35 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Should we be surprised that users of Amazon are heavily using Amazon's content delivery system? Surely many Amazon users are such because they have a Kindle...
posted by anarch at 7:36 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wonder how the numbers stack up against all the used books Amazon sells.
posted by mediareport at 7:38 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


you know, I can't remember if I used that to wrap fish or in the birdcage.

I've been doing it wrong, wrapping the birdcage in fish.

From the article: However commentators warned the figures represent "volume not value".

lol.
posted by device55 at 7:38 PM on May 19, 2011


The biggest medium for distributing printed work hasn't changed as much since the invention of the printing press.


I remember learning that people freaked the fuck out when the printing press was invented because it meant the possibility that ordinary people would have access to knowledge.

People will freak the fuck out over this for many different reasons and I'm open to that but I am, so far, not bothered by the rise of electronic books, even with the hiccups so far (books being pulled and then deleted from e-readers, etc).
posted by padraigin at 7:39 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Should we be surprised that users of Amazon are heavily using Amazon's content delivery system? Surely many Amazon users are such because they have a Kindle...?

Why did you single out the Kindle as if it were Amazon's only content delivery system? They have another important content delivery system, paper and ink. The comparative sales in each delivery system over time seems to be of interest to people. And, yes, surprising.
posted by found missing at 7:45 PM on May 19, 2011


I wonder if this just means more people are reading overall. That wouldn't be so bad. I do think bookstores, though, will be like trains or trolley cars. Technology will make them obsolete, and then in a few generations, people will say -- damn, those were nice. Why did they get rid of those things?
posted by Buffaload at 7:46 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nooo!, I want real books!...something I can throw my
arms around and hang on to. Something I can stack up in the corner,
even if I don't read them again...they make the room feel warm, they smell
good. and they sound proof the neighbor's bedroom wall.
...Get off my lawn!
Actually, I think Kindles and their cousins.. would be great for news, and magazine
articles, tutorials, how-to-books, manuals etc.
posted by quazichimp at 7:47 PM on May 19, 2011


Why did you single out the Kindle as if it were Amazon's only content delivery system?

Important to note that Amazon ships Kindle software for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
posted by device55 at 7:47 PM on May 19, 2011


Bed bugs can live in paper books.
posted by fuq at 7:50 PM on May 19, 2011


About ten years back I moved out of the house I had lived in for about 30 years. In the process, I had to clean out the attic. The result was about 50 boxes of books that were a bit worse for wear that were given away, donated, or disposed of. The cost of moving, the downsizing in house size meant that they weren't coming with me.

Now, they could have all been stored on a flash drive, and I would still have them.

This isn't a bad thing folks.... and, as you get older, the tangible aspects of books will hold less meaning than the words and memories.
posted by tomswift at 7:52 PM on May 19, 2011 [12 favorites]


I'm about as much a bibliophile as anyone, with somewhere more than 5000 books in my personal library, and than doesn't count hundreds or thousands more I've weeded out over various moves. I've had a Kindle since the fall, and I am completely sold on e-books now. I love being able to read on my phone if I have a few minutes while I'm out. I love being able to bookmark, underline, and take notes without marring the text. I love being able to have hundreds of books with me all the time. And I can only imagine how easy my moves would have been if I didn't have so much damn heavy paper to lug around. I so much prefer ebooks now that I really find it hard to buy anything on paper unless there just isn't another option. For me, it is a far superior experience. I'm not surprised it's overtaking paper so quickly.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:54 PM on May 19, 2011 [15 favorites]


I do think bookstores, though, will be like trains or trolley cars.

Um.... I catch the train like every day. I love it! Book I suspect may go the way of vinyl - popular niche items with a certain crowd - but there are way more books in the world than vinyls, so it's gonna take a while.

Also I can't help but think the general shitness of most bookstores has probably contributed to this more than any inherent advantage of e-readers (not dissing on e-readers' many advantages, but rather bookstores total shitness).
posted by smoke at 7:55 PM on May 19, 2011


I don't think Amazon is an objective player in this, and as such any statement regarding ebooks should be seen as suspect or self-serving. Period.

Ebooks give Amazon massive over publishers and give them a profit margin that is huge.


Keep in mind they exaggerated and overhyped the popularity of the Kindle from the get go, never making public actual sale numbers. This is simply more of that.

As such, I'd like to tell Amazon and it's Kindle to get bent.
posted by Skygazer at 8:07 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


First, I suspect the only people still anti-Kindle pro printed books are people that have never used a Kindle for an extended period.

Second, I would say the biggest problem they face in continuing to grow the e-book business is the inconsistencies between paperback and e-book editions. I fully admit that when confronted with an electronic copy more pricy than it's printed brethren I'll source from the great library in the sky, aka the torrents.

This situation must be rationalized, I'm not comfortable being a pirate, I want to pay for ideas, I just don't want to pay more than hard copy versions.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:07 PM on May 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


There are many free or nearly free Kindle books on Amazon, and no doubt people who first get the Kindle are downloading tons of them to build up a library.

I don't see why this would be a problem. Free books! What an amazing thing.
posted by empath at 8:09 PM on May 19, 2011


This will be just like the paper edition of metafilter. No one even remembers that anymore.

It was so long ago, hardly anyone even knows that it was originally called mimeofilter. It's where the blue comes from, you know.
posted by dhartung at 8:13 PM on May 19, 2011 [26 favorites]


I don't see the point of getting a Kindle until I can't buy the same book from an Amazon seller, with Prime shipping, for much cheaper or at Half Priced Books

it makes no sense to me that an ebook can cost 10$
posted by Cloud King at 8:14 PM on May 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Is it easy to seamlessly convert a kindle book into a safer format (ie one that can't have DRM problems when you want to read it on whatever device you want to read it on?)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:21 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a bibliophile who's excited by the various ebook readers and tablets, particularly for periodicals. But at the same time I'm the kind of user who doesn't want to buy something that is going to be eclipsed next week. I feel like formats and devices are changing so fast that I'm inclined to sit it out until things shake out. Can somebody let me know when that happens? Thanks.

On preview; yes, let me read my books however I want. Maybe we need an ebook industry standard format?
posted by postel's law at 8:26 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good. Out with the old, in with the new. This will save a ton of space on bookshelves.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:30 PM on May 19, 2011


I'm sure the Kindle is great for a lot of people, but I'm the kind of SOB who likes to write in the margins of his books, and that simply isn't possible with e-books.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:32 PM on May 19, 2011


This will save a ton of space on bookshelves.

Which will subsequently be filled with...? Emily the Strange paraphernalia and photos of our idiot relatives?
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:33 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it easy to seamlessly convert a kindle book into a safer format

That would be overstating it. But there are probably few MeFites who couldn't manage it if motivated.
posted by Trurl at 8:33 PM on May 19, 2011


Is it easy to seamlessly convert a kindle book into a safer format...

Print it out?
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:36 PM on May 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Maybe we need an ebook industry standard format?

No, any industry standard format will be industry driven and thus DRM'ed up the wazoo. We just need the ability (and preferably also the right) to run our ebooks through a automated conversion to something that cannot be restricted.

epub seems like a good clear open format to me, but I don't have enough experience to know if it handles the more advanced features, like notes in the margins.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:37 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


E-book users: use Calibre to back up and manage your books, download RSS to readers, convert formats, and for many other wonderous purposes!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:51 PM on May 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Mark Twain died a hundred years ago. Maybe that wasn't the best metaphor to use.
posted by demiurge at 8:53 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


@pastabagel:

I'm sure the Kindle is great for a lot of people, but I'm the kind of SOB who likes to write in the margins of his books, and that simply isn't possible with e-books.

You can write notes on ebooks. Kindles have keyboards. You can even see what your classmates, coworkers or friends have written too, should you choose to do so.
posted by sien at 8:53 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Call me old fashioned, but if I can't take it in the tub, I'm not getting a Kindle.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:54 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Before the Kindle, things went like this: 1. I buy the book. 2. I read the book. 3. I sell the book.

Price difference between #1 and #3? Usually around 10 bucks, which is what a typical Kindle book costs. Now, I just pay the $10, and read it on the Kindle.
posted by smcdow at 8:54 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


epub seems like a good clear open format to me, but I don't have enough experience to know if it handles the more advanced features, like notes in the margins.

The EPUB 3 draft seems more slanted towards multimedia than annotations.
posted by Trurl at 8:55 PM on May 19, 2011


You can pry my books out of my cold, dead hands. And probably will since it is not unlikely I will have on in hand when I die.
posted by Justinian at 9:01 PM on May 19, 2011


I am not surprised by this. I've bought a ton more books since I got my Kindle and I've obtained even more via other means.

I think I crossed the line last month were I have more books on the Kindle that I will ever have time to read. I have over 600 books (that includes pleasure reading, dissertation research, and various project research). A lot of them are books I own in print and just want to have an electronic copy of in case I want to read them whereever. I can go on vacation and take more than enough books to entertain me well past the point of sanity.

I can take notes on my kindle, download the notes into a spreadsheet and then have that info ready at hand for writing.

I really, really don't miss my print books any more. I'll still buy a few (like the annual Terry Pratchett purchase) but I'm almost exclusively ebook now.

And for the bathtub issue? A one quart ziploc bag is the perfect fit. Plus I don't have to keep both hands dry to turn pages anymore,
posted by teleri025 at 9:01 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


ePub is fundamentally just a bunch xhtml files (one per chapter) bundled together with an xml table of contents and gzipped.

annotations, highlights, etc are metadata one could easily add to the bundle in any number of ways.

Apple's iBook app uses the standard ePub format wrapped up in their DRM - but it supports open ePub just fine and provides highlights and annotations.

Presumably this is some sort of metadata stored by the application and associated to the eBook via some kind of xpath or other html parsing mechanism.
posted by device55 at 9:02 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, any industry standard format will be industry driven and thus DRM'ed up the wazoo.

The major players (Amazon, Apple, B&N, Sony) are actually using fairly standard formats wrapped in extra layers of DRM. Amazon's AZW is a wrapped version of MobiPocket. The others are using EPUB with DRM added. Both are essentialy collections of XHTML files, so they would be pretty easy to convert between or edit if you could find the correct tools to DeDRM them.
posted by aneel at 9:03 PM on May 19, 2011


I never understand the gnashing of teeth here- People are reading. Isn't that what we wanted?
posted by GilloD at 9:03 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, they're doing it wrong!
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:14 PM on May 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Call me old fashioned, but if I can't take it in the tub, I'm not getting a Kindle.

Ziploc freezer bags. I'm serious.
posted by bonehead at 9:18 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Regarding notes in the margins: my Sony eReader not only lets me do that, but even more awesomely, whenever I highlight something, it all goes into one central file of all my annotations ever. This leads to weird moments where I discover that my mind map mostly comprises quotes from Chesterton, Le Carré, and Žižek. This would explain why my conversational style is mostly jagged yawps, strung together with references to distributism, spycraft, and scatology.

I love physical books, too, but I find it hard to read books with print smaller than 12 point. Wah wah wah whine whine whine mew mew mew. That's another great thing about eReaders - I can inflate text to 14 point or whatever else I want, so now everyone on the subway can see when I'm reading a book with racial slurs in it. Awesome.

I'm also shallow enough to sorta miss having the spine of my book out. I think it's groovy when I see people reading books I either like or want to read. Maybe other people think the same. The more people who use eReaders - especially the more Serious Readers who do so - the more we're being denied the experience of seeing what everyone else is reading.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:23 PM on May 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


I wanted people to read and for books to exist.

My dad has a Kindle, and loves it. I don't think he's ever going to buy a printed book for himself again. But nothing he or anybody else has said about the Kindle has made it seem that attractive to me. I feel like the last remaining holdout at the dinner table, eating my gnocchi while everyone else is in the living room raving about how new DinnerPills give you all the nutrients you need plus a pleasant hallucination of eating, and how great it is to not have to cook and eat any more. Or like the last person on a planet not to divorce their spouse and shack up with a SexBot instead.
posted by No-sword at 9:24 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ziploc freezer bags. I'm serious.

Awesome.
posted by device55 at 9:25 PM on May 19, 2011


People ought to be falling over themselves to praise Amazon (and Google and other e-book vendors) for making vast quantities of public domain works easily accessible for $0. Considering how much publishers want for a printed copy of the The Federalist Papers or anything from ancient times, I'm thrilled to see e-books disrupting their business model even though I don't own an e-book reader yet. No, a new introduction by someone who's still alive does not significantly enhance my reading experience and is not worth paying for. If their modern analysis of some historical work is that good, then put it out as a book in its own right and maybe I'll buy it.

I can't wait for the agonized screams of the textbook publishers as their tidy little oligopoly collapses. Textbook publishers and the academics who get kickbacks from them have done more to damage education in the last few decades than all the creationists and revisionists put together. Schools and colleges should not be textbook suppliers, it's a recipe for corruption.

Yes, Project Gutenberg has been doing that for a long time...and would be getting more credit from the public if it had worked towards format-independence from the beginning instead of laying down arbitrary, stupid guidelines about text file format and pagination that made it virtually impossible to typeset anything. I said easily accessible.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:28 PM on May 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


I can't wait for the agonized screams of the textbook publishers as their tidy little oligopoly collapses

Um, I'm not sure I see how ebooks are going to take down the textbook publishing industry. The publishers still own the right to the content, and I don't think the vast majority of college textbooks use public domain materials. In general, I think ebooks usually work to screw students even more, because instead of having a physical book to sell back at the end of the semester, they have nothing, since many of the electronic textbooks I've seen from publishers expire after a set period of time. Thank you DRM.

Also, kickbacks? I guess if you count the occasional free book, sure, but it's not like I can pay my rent with those.

posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:47 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


grrr, didn't preview, didn't close my tag. Grr.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:48 PM on May 19, 2011


it makes no sense to me that an ebook can cost 10$

So what should an ebook cost? Nothing?

Seems like a reasonable price point to me.
posted by blucevalo at 9:51 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


($10 does, that is)
posted by blucevalo at 9:51 PM on May 19, 2011


I really like the iBooks on the iPad, and have stocked up pretty well on public domain stuff. I'm pretty pissed at google books right now, though. I just paid them ten bucks for a "deluxe" edition of Black Elk Speaks which turned out to be crappy scans and their iPad app won't even let me zoom, much less copy/paste or search. Truly awful.

I was overjoyed to find the complete Shakespeare app, though. It's very nicely done, and I would never in a million years have owned that on paper.

I am still buying and reading paper books at about the usual rate and my ebook purchases are all above and beyond. I would like to see two trend lines to see if ebooks are truly cannibalizing paper sales, or if there's an overall upsurge, or at least an uptick, in combined numbers.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:51 PM on May 19, 2011


On the Project Gutenberg topic: I gotta say, having so much public domain material available for free has skewed my reading to older books. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, although now my inner monologue reads like a 19th century letter to the editor.

I don't think eReaders are quite at the point where they do textbooks well. I like - need, actually - the ability to flip back and forth quickly. That said, although I appreciate the monstrous lats I've developed in law school, screw having to lug around 490lbs. of books a day. Screw that lugging in its heavy, heavy face.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:59 PM on May 19, 2011


I like the idea of the Kindle, but two things stop me from joining the party:
1. Many old sci-fi books are $10 on Kindle, but $2 at my local used book store.
2. I'm uneasy about being locked into Amazon's DRM.
posted by Triplanetary at 10:06 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, Project Gutenberg has been doing that for a long time...and would be getting more credit from the public if it had worked towards format-independence from the beginning instead of laying down arbitrary, stupid guidelines about text file format and pagination that made it virtually impossible to typeset anything. I said easily accessible.

And let's not forget the thirty pages of boilerplate front matter that read like Dr. Bronner had a baby with an intellectual property lawyer but give no useful information about tedious minutiae like which fucking edition they're taking their text from.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:07 PM on May 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


like which fucking edition they're taking their text from.

That's actually the biggest failing of PG, unreliability of the text. I think Michael Hart had to make a choice early on, and he went with the path of least resistance, reliability to a certain edition can be very complicated. He rationalized it by saying editions didn't matter since they were only interested in getting good books for people to read, it's not an academic venture. I suppose someone could fork PG with verified editions, but that would be a lot of drudge work better left to academics who get paid :) As for file formats, they pretty much have many these days, generated automatically, HTML, Epub, etext, ..
posted by stbalbach at 10:18 PM on May 19, 2011


The more people who use eReaders - especially the more Serious Readers who do so - the more we're being denied the experience of seeing what everyone else is reading.

I think you mean seeing what strangers are reading on the subway or in the coffee shop or something like that, but with facebook and eReaders, I'm guessing that pretty soon everyone you know will know exactly what you're reading at all times. It's like, before the walkman, when everyone had boomboxes, at least you knew what everyone was listening to. To me this is not a persuasive argument against the merits of the walkman.
posted by snofoam at 10:24 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hold with the original peanut press premise: ebooks will really take
off on multiple use devices, like phones/pdas and tablets.

also, just to add my 2¥ (phone doesnt have cents sign) - Stanza has a nicer interface than iBooks. And Kobo epubs can be ripped to plain epubs.
posted by jb at 10:24 PM on May 19, 2011


1. In the UK at least, e-books are more expensive because they are subject to VAT (sales tax) while print books are not. Even with that difference, most e-books of releases more than a few months old seem quite close to the Amazon paperback price - which is well under what you'd pay for a new trade paperback book ina brick and mortar bookstore.

2. The demise of the cheap paperpack is a good thing. More room on bookshelves, fewer trees felled. Books aren't disappearing - I'm still buying art books, cookbooks (don't want to splash sauce on the kindle) and beautifully printed and produced graphic novels.

2. To me, the problem seems to be that Amazon has cornered what is becoming a HUGE e-book market. For most people I know, Kindle means e-reader just like iPod means music player. Of the ten or so people I know with e-readers, only one has a non-Kindle and that's because he's a rabid anti-copyright guy who probably only reads programming documentation or something. And for Amazon to own the distribution system and the format and for the decision about what gets e-published to be made so centrally by one company - that's scary to me. Having said that, I have a Kindle, and I love it.
posted by Wroksie at 10:31 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I happen to be in possession of an iPad with literally hundreds of books on it that I have not yet read, many of which I have expressed interest in reading. I am going on a long bus ride this weekend so today... I went to the store and bought a book for the ride.

The only time I really prefer the electronic version of books is when I'm in dim light. Otherwise, give me the visceral experience of a book -- the way it smells, the way the spine cracks in the exciting parts, the turning of each page and the clumsy jamming of bookmarks and scraps of paper in between the pages.

I think the price of ebooks is daunting, as well. Not that the price isn't fair, but it's a lot more than most apps or MP3s or even movies which makes it stand out. I am kind of skittish about paying $10 and not owning anything visceral, although that's just me.
posted by jess at 10:37 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's like, before the walkman, when everyone had boomboxes, at least you knew what everyone was listening to. To me this is not a persuasive argument against the merits of the walkman.

The boombox comparison doesn't work because seeing a book spine isn't like having the book itself shouted in my face, Ann Coulter's Treason notwithstanding.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:39 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Kindle, sort of the like the University of Chicago Library, but really really small.
posted by stbalbach at 10:41 PM on May 19, 2011


Hmmph. You kids get off my sweet, sweet paper lawn.
posted by Justinian at 10:42 PM on May 19, 2011


Triplanetary: "I like the idea of the Kindle, but two things stop me from joining the party:
1. Many old sci-fi books are $10 on Kindle, but $2 at my local used book store.


So, buy the old sci-fi books at the used book store, and buy other stuff for the Kindle. It's not zero-sum.

2. I'm uneasy about being locked into Amazon's DRM."

People have already found ways to crack it; I'm sure if Amazon tightens it up, people will find ways to crack it again.
posted by tzikeh at 10:48 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Um, I'm not sure I see how ebooks are going to take down the textbook publishing industry. The publishers still own the right to the content, and I don't think the vast majority of college textbooks use public domain materials.

True, but it's easier to compete in the electronic space, and the cost of production ceases to be a significant price input for the established publishers.

In general, I think ebooks usually work to screw students even more, because instead of having a physical book to sell back at the end of the semester, they have nothing, since many of the electronic textbooks I've seen from publishers expire after a set period of time.

Ah, but it's hard to sell old textbooks now because there's a 'new' edition required for each incoming set of students. The reason I see ebooks bringing this to ugly end is that in electronic form it becomes very very easy to do side-by-side comparisons and show that the additional/updated/corrected material is insufficiently different to justify releasing a complete new edition at full price.

BTW I should have said 'academic institutions' rather than 'academics'. I don't know for sure that any of the money is flowing back from publishers to the educational establishment, but my understanding is that college bookstore receipts are a significant source of cash flow.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:38 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love my eReader. In fact, I just spent all day formatting my first ebook (a short story I'm giving away for free with my business card at BEA--I don't believe in self-pub for profit yet, but for marketing? Sure, why not!) and it was surprisingly easy. I even made fancy little scene break graphics. Took maybe a night of dicking around on the computer. And I've found plenty of $2 and $3 ebooks. Seriously, my shopping usually consists of just searching for "books under five dollars."

I'm starting to realize that paper books are best for rereads, but now I'm finding that I wished I didn't have so many shitty-looking, embarrassing paperbacks that I bought at used book stores and never read. Because if we're going to talk the aesthetics of a book, why not go for a beautiful hardback trilogy of a series you love, or something like that? The nook is good for hiding away all those books I may or may not read someday. Clears up shelf space for the repeat offenders.

Incidentally, I'm very, very excited for the new nook next week. Here's to hoping it'll be an eInk touchscreen.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:50 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you mean seeing what strangers are reading on the subway or in the coffee shop or something like that, but with facebook and eReaders, I'm guessing that pretty soon everyone you know will know exactly what you're reading at all times. It's like, before the walkman, when everyone had boomboxes, at least you knew what everyone was listening to. To me this is not a persuasive argument against the merits of the walkman.

Oh, and if you're really concerned with this, get on goodreads. The conversation's better on there than on the subway, anyway.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:52 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Imagine, some years hence, your grandson walks into your attic and find two boxes. One is full of old paper-based books. The other contains 6-7 broken eReaders with dead screens, cracked screens, and components that failed. Just a thought.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:25 AM on May 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I got a Kindle, it broke, I got another, it broke. Then i got the Kindle for PC, on which I can read Amazon, Baen Webscriptions, and Gutenburg books.

I'm in a terrible place. For years, I haunted used book stores, buying up book after book, some to read now, some I figured I'd get to later. I loved the serendipity of it -- you'd always find something, and if it wasn't the exact book you wanted, it was cheap and it opened new windows on the world.

Now I'm in a town with literally half a dozen used book stores, and I won't even browse them, because I just don't want more physical books. I'm spending about $1400 annually on storage, mostly for books -- which I can't read because they're in storage. I have probably thirty books in my car that I've been shlepping back and forth for too long. I have hundreds of pounds of books.

I want to read, but I don't want more books made of paper. My laptop weighs three pounds, and it can fit more books than I'll ever have time to read.

My one misgiving about ebooks is that the publishers, not Amazon, are now raising the prices. Even for back-catalog re-releases, which are far cheaper at the used book store. Buit what's not cheap is having to shlep.

So my personal line in the sand is, I won't pay more for an ebook than the cost of the paperback bought new. For books not yet released in paperback, I'll pay a little more if I don't want to wait.
posted by orthogonality at 1:01 AM on May 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


ebooks are good and I'm happy to pay a decent price for something that (a) gives me hours of enjoyment and (b) took ages to make.

Also, someone once said that bookshelves are like graves for books you'll never read again. I used to love a good bookshelf, but as a phrase that's so pithily accurate and so damning I'm having trouble justifying having any books on show in the house.
posted by seanyboy at 1:09 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Call me old fashioned, but if I can't take it in the tub, I'm not getting a Kindle.

How hard can it be to make a waterproof "Beach & Bath" ebook reader? What would it need, maybe one rubberized port plug and some waterproof buttons? You should be able to read these things while scuba diving.

I'm waiting for kids to no longer have to carry heavy text books. You should be able to get all the way through school, K-12, with one large-format but light ebook reader for pictures and sound and maybe a smaller secondary box (mass market sized) for lying around reading simple text. The first day of school, you download the required texts from a school server.
posted by pracowity at 2:06 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Call me old fashioned, but if I can't take it in the tub, I'm not getting a Kindle.

I just read mine in the bath, without mucking about with plastic bags. I haven't dropped a book in the bath in the last thirty years, so I don't see it as a huge risk with the Kindle.

Nobody has mentioned Sigil yet - that, combined with a bit of Python programming and Calibre, means I can convert Project Gutenberg texts into something readable (I'm not that bothered about knowing exactly what edition of Father and Son was used to generate the e-text, but I do like to have italics as italics, quotations properly indented, and so on). Amazon may be preparing to allow Kindles to read EPUB directly, which would be good news (MOBI seems to be more inflexible when it comes to formatting anything other than plain text paragraphs).
posted by nja at 2:52 AM on May 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I remember a few Star Trek novels that had Captain Kirk owning print books as if it was an expensive ostentation.
Most of my friends have record collections.
I haven't switched over to eBooks, but my books do take up too much space. I like them taking up space, actually.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:47 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading an e-book makes me feel like I am reading a fanfic. It takes away from the experience. I love the covers, to touch them. The smell off the book, the sound of turning pages. Bookmarks, seeing that good book on my nightstand, taunting me, waiting for me to pick it up again. I want to read e-books, but I just don't enjoy them as much. It takes away from the experience.
posted by Malice at 5:26 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Imagine, some years hence, your grandson walks into your attic and find two boxes. One is full of old paper-based books. The other contains 6-7 broken eReaders with dead screens, cracked screens, and components that failed. Just a thought.

He throws both away.
posted by smackfu at 5:56 AM on May 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I still wonder how the death of the physical volume will affect people in the developing world.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:08 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


BTW I should have said 'academic institutions' rather than 'academics'. I don't know for sure that any of the money is flowing back from publishers to the educational establishment

Publishers sometimes send us unsolicited exam copies as junk mail, and those can be sold on the secondary market. I mean, they ask you not to, but it's physically possible to do so. So, we benefit to the tune of around $50-100/year.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:35 AM on May 20, 2011




Wonder how the numbers stack up against all the used books Amazon sells.


I know that Amazon is disgustingly, damagingly huge, but they're not the entire industry yet. These figures may be significant in the context of Amazon, but without more data they're not useful for commenting on book sales.
posted by Stagger Lee at 6:39 AM on May 20, 2011




I still wonder how the death of the physical volume will affect people in the developing world.



Since it's all digitized, we'll give them access to free material, knowing that most people would never be able to afford it. It'll be great for their education system! Right? Right? ..right?
posted by Stagger Lee at 6:41 AM on May 20, 2011


I just read mine in the bath, without mucking about with plastic bags. I haven't dropped a book in the bath in the last thirty years, so I don't see it as a huge risk with the Kindle.

Nobody has mentioned Sigil yet - that, combined with a bit of Python programming and Calibre, means I can convert Project Gutenberg texts into something readable (I'm not that bothered about knowing exactly what edition of Father and Son was used to generate the e-text, but I do like to have italics as italics, quotations properly indented, and so on). Amazon may be preparing to allow Kindles to read EPUB directly, which would be good news (MOBI seems to be more inflexible when it comes to formatting anything other than plain text paragraphs).


This. All of this. I read mine in the bath. And Sigil is completely awesome, easy, and intuitive to use. It can be as simple as copying and pasting text for the most part.

For those who are worried about DRM, I'd seriously encourage you to look into non-Kindle eReaders, particularly the nook. While you CAN buy books through their store, you in no way have to. It's that flexibility that got me to go for it, and not the kindle, and I couldn't be happier. There are a gazillion eReaders out there, and there's no reason to be tied to amazon.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:47 AM on May 20, 2011


I still wonder how the death of the physical volume will affect people in the developing world.

They'll have higher quality pirated copies?
posted by smackfu at 6:51 AM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I still wonder how the death of the physical volume will affect people in the developing world.

It should be fine for the poor. A simple e-reader should cost just a few bucks in volume. After you've got the reader, you should be able to share free texts wirelessly. Maybe giving children simple e-readers, not supposed 100 dollar PCs, should be the goal.

And electronic publishing, when every poor person in the country has (or has access to) an e-reader with wireless sharing capabilities, should be fast, simple, cheap, and impossible to censor, so it should be a great democratizer.

Should should should. But who knows?
posted by pracowity at 6:54 AM on May 20, 2011


My husband loves to buy books. I love a house free from clutter. The Kindle I bought him for his birthday was probably the best investment I ever made.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:55 AM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


After a lifetime of keeping books in cardboard boxes, I built 90 feet of bookshelves, and that was not enough. It is very difficult to look at my books, to reread my favorites when they are buried in boxes and that is why I love my Kindle. I took advantage of all the free ebooks offers to make more room on my shelves for the new physical books I want to own and the buried old ones.

But what I love a lot about my Kindle is the portability, the ability to read in bed without disturbing my husband, the easy access to literature in my native language and in other languages I read. I'll fight for my Kindle.
posted by francesca too at 7:07 AM on May 20, 2011


I *love* my Kindle. I have been reading SO much more since getting it... Not that I wasn't reading lots before, but the fact that I have this tiny little easy to read device in my hands is brilliant. No more waiting till the paperback version of my favourite artist's new book comes out (because hardcovers are too cumbersome to read whilst laying in bed), and now I'll actually tackle those huge huge books, because they don't seem so daunting anymore. I thought it would drive me crazy, not seeing page numbers, but it turns out that knowing what percentage of a book I have completed is a far more useful piece of data. :)
posted by antifuse at 7:08 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading an e-book makes me feel like I am reading a fanfic. It takes away from the experience. I love the covers, to touch them. The smell off the book, the sound of turning pages. Bookmarks, seeing that good book on my nightstand, taunting me, waiting for me to pick it up again. I want to read e-books, but I just don't enjoy them as much. It takes away from the experience.

You know, I read things like this and can't help but wonder how familiar people are with eBook reading and, more, how much they must really love reading. Because while there's a certain visceral pleasure that comes from reading a nice hard back, I'd agree, reading on an eReader is several magnitudes more pleasant than reading, say, a thick trade paperback with a cover that inevitably gets curled and creased and pages that just want to flop closed. My eReader is lighter, with adjustable, easy-on-the-eyes eInk text. I bought a nice cover for it so it feels, in my hand, roughly like a hardback book--but one that I can read with one hand, one that doesn't make my arms go all tired when I'm reading in bed, one where it's almost impossible to lose your page. If you care about ease of reading, about the form not getting in the way of the words, then there's no reason not to like an eReader. Beats most books, anyway.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:09 AM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm a voracious reader with extremely limited shelf space. I get probably 90% of my reading material from the library and keep a list of things I want to read that my library doesn't have. I just checked, and from that list of twenty or so books, only three of them are available in Kindle editions.

I like the idea of e-book readers but I don't have a compelling need for one.
posted by workerant at 7:10 AM on May 20, 2011


Also:

Many old sci-fi books are $10 on Kindle, but $2 at my local used book store.

Of course, not saying where to get them, but there are collections of pretty much EVERY SCI-FI/FANTASY BOOK EVER WRITTEN floating around the interwebs, for free. Of course, that means you're no longer supporting your local used book store, which may be an important thing for you (I don't have a local used book store :( ) - but if you're only buying used books and you don't care about your local used book store, it's not too much of an ethical leap going to pirated e-books. It's not like the author was getting any of your money any way. :)

The only thing I will miss about physical books is the ability to pass them down to my son. Ok, I've still got my collection of hundreds of science fiction books on the bookshelves, but there won't be anything new to add to that collection. So will I be passing down an external hard drive with all my digital books on it in the future? Or just giving him a password to my location in the cloud? It's an interesting thing to think about.
posted by antifuse at 7:16 AM on May 20, 2011


I really like the iBooks on the iPad, and have stocked up pretty well on public domain stuff. I'm pretty pissed at google books right now, though. I just paid them ten bucks for a "deluxe" edition of Black Elk Speaks which turned out to be crappy scans and their iPad app won't even let me zoom, much less copy/paste or search. Truly awful.

Yes, between this sort of thing and incredibly sloppy and unproofed OCRs, a huge chunk of google books has a long way to go before it's useful on e-readers.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:17 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, someone once said that bookshelves are like graves for books you'll never read again

This is so not true in my experience. My bookshelves (and we have floor-to-ceiling bookcases in every room in the house) are an inspiration to me. I might spot something I haven't read in years and decide to re-read or I might spot an author that I have enjoyed reading but have forgotten to check out their other titles. Plus when I got married I married another collector and I haven't read all of his books yet, nor he mine.

Although together we read a few hundred books a year, we haven't yet bought an e-reader. We have certainly discussed it at great length, but the time has not yet arrived to commit to another goddam electronic gadget that requires electricity to work. At the moment our new book wishlist is completely fulfilled by our library and our old book wish list is completely fulfilled by Amazon used books. Until one of these things changes, we will go on as we are. It will probably be a change to our public library-- either they will no longer offer new books in paper or Republican budget cuts end the library system as we know it.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:25 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


yet...yet...yet. Oh man. I guess I am hedging my bets.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:26 AM on May 20, 2011


unproofed OCRs

That's essentially what Project Gutenberg does, they proofread scanned books (from Internet Archive and Google Books mostly). Actually technically it is the Distributed Proofreaders and Gutenberg is sort of the umbrella front end distribution part. Those books end up on Amazon as free Kindle books etc. DP is the engine creating all these books, most people have never heard of them.
posted by stbalbach at 7:28 AM on May 20, 2011


BTW I should have said 'academic institutions' rather than 'academics'. I don't know for sure that any of the money is flowing back from publishers to the educational establishment, but my understanding is that college bookstore receipts are a significant source of cash flow.

Speaking as someone who works for a textbook publisher, I think you misunderstand some things. Most importantly, we would give our right leg (and are) to get rid of that middle man the college bookstore. They are villainous. If we could get rid of them and sell digitally directly to a student (which we are doing more and more) you're looking at 30 dollar textbooks with a 10 dollar renewal every year until you decide to get rid of it along with a record of all your grades, homework assignments, extra reading from the prof, etc etc etc. All stored in one place, with print capability. 30 dollars vs. 150.
posted by spicynuts at 7:32 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The reason I see ebooks bringing this to ugly end is that in electronic form it becomes very very easy to do side-by-side comparisons and show that the additional/updated/corrected material is insufficiently different to justify releasing a complete new edition at full price.

But who is going to do that comparison? One reason that textbook publishers can make so much money by requiring new editions is because they declare the previous editon out of print, so bookstores can't easily order it. But students can still find (hard) copies of older editions on the secondary market. But with ebooks a publisher can simply zap the older edition out of existence--how are you going to compare the differences then?

Also, as regards college bookstores, almost every school I've ever worked at or attended has had a 3rd party vendor who manages the bookstore (usually Follett). I'm sure the schools get some kind of licensing fee or something, but I would bet the majority of the profits go to the managing company. The schools probably make a lot more money from selling apparel and other logo'd paraphenalia than they do textbooks.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:39 AM on May 20, 2011


And electronic publishing, when every poor person in the country has (or has access to) an e-reader with wireless sharing capabilities, should be fast, simple, cheap, and impossible to censor, so it should be a great democratizer

This of course implies that every poor person in the country will have access to electricity. Which isn't necessarily the case. (That said, I've been doing some research on Kenya recently, and they've basically leapfrogged landline-based phone and internet and have half the population using mobiles, and about 20% using internet; and have mobile banking and all sorts of things, so maybe providing e-books to their phones would be a solution).

More generally: I'm not sure I see print books going away completely, there are too many people who prefer them. I see advantages to both - it's great being able to read books on my phone on the train to work, but I'd rather be able to read a print book at home. Too, until the cost of readers does come down, there's going to be a significant number of people who don't read enough books to make purchasing a reader worthwhile. If all you want is something to read on the beach once a year, a reader isn't necessary. I suspect there's a significant number of people who only read 1-5 books/year, and they'll stick with print.
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:01 AM on May 20, 2011


But with ebooks a publisher can simply zap the older edition out of existence--how are you going to compare the differences then?

Good luck with actually sapping them out of existence. People will crack them and keep them, not let them vanish.

And open source electronic text books probably won't be zapped out of existence because people (and schools) will be allowed to keep copies of older editions.
posted by pracowity at 8:03 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not going near the Kindle until it does something about the DRM and I'm not going near another eReader because I wonder how long they can last against Amazon. For the record, I never bought a song from the iTunes store until they ditched the DRM either.

Also, if the Kindle is selling so well, why isn't Amazon bragging with actual figures? If Kindle books really are outselling real books, I think it may mean less people overall are reading and the people that are reading are heavy readers and early adopters. Of course, it's hard to say without real numbers.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:05 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not going near another eReader because I wonder how long they can last against Amazon. For the record, I never bought a song from the iTunes store until they ditched the DRM either.

If you buy an eReader that can open .epubs (which is all of them that I know of except amazon), you can buy books from pretty much anywhere and load them. No need to worry about any single store going under.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:06 AM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, if the Kindle is selling so well, why isn't Amazon bragging with actual figures?

Because they got the headlines they wanted without it? Why give away your sales figures to your competition if you don't need to.
posted by smackfu at 8:17 AM on May 20, 2011


This of course implies that every poor person in the country will have access to electricity. Which isn't necessarily the case.

Yeah, as you point out in the case of telephones, people will always find ways to run small electronic devices. Electronic paper uses very little electricity. A few decent solar panels or a windmill at a school could probably keep everyone's books charged up.

More generally: I'm not sure I see print books going away completely, there are too many people who prefer them.

Costs will shift, availability will change, and people will move away from paper books regardless of whether they prefer them to ebooks. Paper books will become sufficiently more expensive than electronic books in the long run that, even if you only buy one or two books a year, you will suddenly be better off buying one cheap reader and using it to download a handful of ebooks a year.

Anyway, kids will trade up for better school text e-readers and leave their outdated e-readers in the junk drawer for mom and dad to use on the beach or train. Publishers will give away simple e-readers to subscribers that you can also use to read other things. If you can afford a calculator, you will be able to afford an ereader.

Meanwhile, paper books will continue to cost money to make, warehouse, print, ship, and sell. Book stores will become rarer. Fewer books will be printed on paper (unless you are willing to pay the extra cost of printing your ebook at a print-on-demand place).

Printed books might never go away, but they will be like horses: certain people with enough money will indulge in them as a hobby, but most folk will no longer have anything to do with them.
posted by pracowity at 8:27 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"e-books account for only about 14 percent of all general consumer fiction and nonfiction books sold, according to Forrester Research. " (source)

14% is a far off from the 51% Amazon is claiming.
posted by stbalbach at 8:28 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


stbalbach: Amazon is only talking about their sales, Forrester Research is talking about all book sales.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:34 AM on May 20, 2011


Printed books might never go away, but they will be like horses: certain people with enough money will indulge in them as a hobby, but most folk will no longer have anything to do with them.

It's possible that a better analogue to ebooks is recorded music: its ubiquity hasn't done a ton to diminish the existence of live music.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:35 AM on May 20, 2011


unproofed OCRs

That's essentially what Project Gutenberg does, they proofread scanned books (from Internet Archive and Google Books mostly). Actually technically it is the Distributed Proofreaders and Gutenberg is sort of the umbrella front end distribution part. Those books end up on Amazon as free Kindle books etc. DP is the engine creating all these books, most people have never heard of them.
posted by stbalbach at 10:28 AM on May 20 [+] [!]


Yep, I know and love Project Gutenberg and DP. I mainly wish google was making some kind of similar effort in house, but I guess that's unrealistic. At least they're providing the raw material. I was just so excited to see all these great books available (that weren't on PG), only to find that they were plagued by things like "!"s for "i"s and other bizarre OCR substitutions that often made words or whole paragraphs unintelligible. Still, free service, get what you pay for, etc.

The worst though was when I bought an e-book on Amazon that had those kind of errors. I got a refund of course, but I always check samples first now, even if it's a book that I'm already familiar with.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:44 AM on May 20, 2011


stbalbach: Amazon is only talking about their sales, Forrester Research is talking about all book sales.

In that case, Amazon doesn't appear to be much of a player in the book selling business. I had always heard otherwise, that Amazon sold a significant percentage of all books.
posted by stbalbach at 8:49 AM on May 20, 2011


The estimates I've seen are that it's something like 20% B&N, 15% Borders, 20% Amazon currently, with the rest being either Walmart or Target etc., or independent places. Surprising to me but I guess people still like to browse books in person.
posted by smackfu at 8:58 AM on May 20, 2011


And open source electronic text books probably won't be zapped out of existence because people (and schools) will be allowed to keep copies of older editions.

Where are these open source electronic textbooks of which you speak? What motivation would a textbook publisher have to make their works open source?
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:04 AM on May 20, 2011


I'd be careful about assuming upward trends will continue forever anyway. It might, but sometimes curves drop off too. I suppose we'll see in the next few years.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:05 AM on May 20, 2011


In that case, Amazon doesn't appear to be much of a player in the book selling business. I had always heard otherwise, that Amazon sold a significant percentage of all books.

It could simply be that Amazon have an such overwhelming proportion of the ebook market that it overshadows their percentage of the book market, despite that percentage bing also relatively large.
posted by Jehan at 9:07 AM on May 20, 2011


If you buy an eReader that can open .epubs (which is all of them that I know of except amazon), you can buy books from pretty much anywhere and load them. No need to worry about any single store going under.

And Calibre (mentioned above) can also convert non-DRM'd ePubs into non-DRM'd .mobi files, which can be read by the Kindle. I've read probably 20-30 books on my Kindle since I got it in February, only 3 of which were .azw books which I purchased from the Kindle store.
posted by antifuse at 9:08 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that for every person in this thread tacitly accusing Amazon of engaging in a deliberate misinformation campaign, there are three or four saying "E-reading has radically changed my book buying habits".

I didn't intend this post as an exercise in triumphalism. I deliberately included the "most inspiring bookstores" link as a reminder of the real and many pleasures of the printed book.

Tellingly, perhaps, no one mentioned it.
posted by Trurl at 9:34 AM on May 20, 2011


I've not converted to an e-reader yet for I guess just two reasons:

1) I'm a very late adopter for anything that isn't related to my profession. I'm jealous with my time and I prefer to wait until the kinks are worked out and there are canonical best practices. It doesn't seem like we're quite there yet with e-readers.
2) I'm already wary of the amount of waking hours that I spend staring at screens. Computers and televisions at work all day, that smartphone I have now, an hour or so of tv at night. My eyestrain has been getting worse over the last few years and it's unclear how much of that is increased screen usage and how much is turning 30 soon and welcoming myself to the great downhill slide.

I continue to watch these threads with interest.
posted by Kwine at 9:38 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Costs will shift, availability will change, and people will move away from paper books regardless of whether they prefer them to ebooks. Paper books will become sufficiently more expensive than electronic books in the long run that, even if you only buy one or two books a year, you will suddenly be better off buying one cheap reader and using it to download a handful of ebooks a year.

I genuinely hope you're right, but I fear that you might not be. Firstly, there's the issue of how much you can save from the cost of a book by moving from print to electronic (sure, you save on printing and distribution costs, but there's still author, editor, illustrator (maybe) fees, marketing costs, publisher's overheads. I'm not sure I see how e-books can sell for a couple of dollars - though I'd obviously love to be proved wrong).

Secondly there's the issue of whether publishers will actually pass on those cost savings to buyers: compare CDs - cheaper to make than vinyl records, but they cost a lot more than vinyl; note that electronic publishers have been consistently increasing prices by huge amounts. (In 2009, several database publishers were trying to increase costs to my firm by around 10% - at a time that it was well-known that my firm's industry was taking massive losses due to the recession). If we enter a world of few print books, what's to stop publishers charging what they want for e-books?

(Incidentally: Bowker reports a 5% increase in the number of print books published last year, following a 4% increase the year before. So maybe we'll see co-existance of print and electronic for a while, at least.)
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:40 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tellingly, perhaps, no one mentioned it.

To be honest, the best of them consist of putting a bookstore in someplace that would be a beautiful setting for anything.
posted by smackfu at 9:40 AM on May 20, 2011


I'm already wary of the amount of waking hours that I spend staring at screens. Computers and televisions at work all day, that smartphone I have now, an hour or so of tv at night. My eyestrain has been getting worse over the last few years and it's unclear how much of that is increased screen usage and how much is turning 30 soon and welcoming myself to the great downhill slide.

Note that e-ink readers share very few characteristics with those screens you stare at all day. I spend hours reading my Kindle every day, with no more eye strain than if I was reading a regular paperback. It's phenomenal.
posted by antifuse at 9:49 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I will glady get rid of my (non-art & photography) books when I can find copies that are affordable, DRM free, and not platform specific.
Until then...
posted by Theta States at 9:54 AM on May 20, 2011


The demise of the cheap paperpack is a good thing.

I really, really disagree.
posted by blucevalo at 10:34 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


A lot of the developing world makes heavy use of mobile technology - so bringing eBooks there would be a boon.

Yay eBooks, yay Kindle! Boo eBooks costing *more* than the paper version - especially since I'll have to factor in shipping. Also boo books I like not always being on Kindle or some other ebook format, though I'm not sure if the process for doing that is easy or difficult or what.
posted by divabat at 11:39 AM on May 20, 2011


Where are these open source electronic textbooks of which you speak?

Here, here, and all of the other projects listed here. The space is fairly fragmented, but there is a lot of content out there.
posted by whatnotever at 12:13 PM on May 20, 2011


for every person in this thread tacitly accusing Amazon of engaging in a deliberate misinformation campaign

I guess you mean me. The thing is, Amazon doesn't release numbers, and there is a history of Amazon numbers being suspect and/or not quite what they appear. That may or may not be the case here, I don't know, but being skeptical and examining the numbers more closely is not the same as "tacitly accusing".

I didn't intend this post as an exercise in triumphalism.

Don't take it personally, I'm interested in getting to the bottom of the Amazon's numbers and what they really signify beyond the media's knee-jerk "books are dead, get out the coffin" kind of stuff.
posted by stbalbach at 12:16 PM on May 20, 2011


We know the following:

1. Amazon says 50% of books sold are ebooks
4. B&N Nook (Epub) are selling well, let's assume 25% of its sales are ebook (half of Amazon)
2. Ebooks account for 14% of the total book market.
3. Amazon and B&N combined are about 50% of the total book market (25% ea), a rough estimate.

The math goes something like "(.25*.25)+(.5*.25)" = .1874, which is pretty close to the .14 percent - the back of napkin test passes.
posted by stbalbach at 12:32 PM on May 20, 2011


Where are these open source electronic textbooks of which you speak?

For instance:
California schools have cracked the spine on open source, free digital textbooks in an attempt to save money and to make educational resources easier to access and update.

The cash-strapped state launched the nation's first open source digital textbook initiative last May, asking content providers to submit high school-level math and science texts for free. The state reviewed 16 digital textbooks, available as PDF files (downloadable at the California Learning Resource Network), scored by how well they align with state standards. Teachers began accessing the texts online last fall.
posted by pracowity at 12:32 PM on May 20, 2011


It's possible that a better analogue to ebooks is recorded music: its ubiquity hasn't done a ton to diminish the existence of live music.

More like digital and vinyl -- two technologies for listening to the same recording. One technology is superior and has taken over the world and made almost everybody happy, but the other holds on to a tiny segment of the market for various nonmusical reasons involving conservativism, hip contrarianism, fetishism, snobbery, etc.
posted by pracowity at 12:52 PM on May 20, 2011


The other issue with stats is that you are combining year-old data with yesterday's data in a fast-growing market.
posted by smackfu at 12:52 PM on May 20, 2011


More like digital and vinyl -- two technologies for listening to the same recording.

What I'm getting at is that I suspect that a physical book may be more experiential than simply labeling it as one of a variety of information technologies suggests. I don't think that it's perfectly comparable to the difference between digital and vinyl, and I have a hard time imaging that the only people who prefer books over ebooks would be those who do so for the reasons you suggest. Certainly, various technologies are replaced by emerging technologies, and I don't mean to downplay that, but-- as I suggested with my comment about live music-- some technologies become more supplemental rather than replacing.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:03 PM on May 20, 2011


if you're only buying used books and you don't care about your local used book store, it's not too much of an ethical leap going to pirated e-books. It's not like the author was getting any of your money any way. :)

This is off-base. It's true that authors don't get a cut when you buy secondhand. But when you buy secondhand, you take one of the copies out of circulation (for a while, at least), and so when someone else wants to buy a copy, they can't find it at the secondhand store. If enough people do this, then eventually some people who want a copy will just have to buy it new.

If you pirate the e-book, then the cheap copy is still at the used book store. You're reducing the pressure on the secondhand market. The point at which someone has to buy a new copy will take longer to reach. You're also making it harder for the secondhand bookstore itself to survive. (And of course if you contribute to e-book piracy becoming normal and acceptable, you're also making it a more accessible option to everyone, including people who don't ever go to secondhand bookstores and would have bought it new.)

The cat is out of the bag on pirating electronic copies of art, of course, but don't fool yourself that it's "not much of an ethical leap" from secondhand to piracy. It's a very big ethical leap.
posted by No-sword at 1:13 PM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


What I'm getting at is that I suspect that a physical book may be more experiential than simply labeling it as one of a variety of information technologies suggests.

Well, on the experiential aspect of books, one of the options one has when having bought a book and made the commitment to reading it and then finding the writer has deeply misrepresented their abilities and written some schlock and/or more likely you've inadvertently given in to some marketing BS, you get to haughtily and angrily toss that tome at the nearest wall or floor or window or body of water (if you should have that option) and basically, can you to that with a Pindle Kringle fucking Cocksuck Kindle, Snook crook bookity e-book wee wee pad epad kneepad whateverthefuck??

No. You can't. You'd be throwing out an piece of expensive superfluous electronica marketing platformia (oh...you wait. Amazon's gonna cream your eyeballs with smelliferious market driven crapola. They own your eyeballs and there's no way they won't leverage that goldmine of trapped eyeballs. I will bet big money on that.)

So, really, I just think unless your a grad student, law student, handicapped or infirmed and bedridden or of the senior set and need an lighter to hold reading thing that allows 28 point font, you're basically a pussy.

There I've said it. And Jeff Bezos is a evil person. And I hope he gets a beating from an author I respect, very soon. Actually even an author I don't respect would do in this matter.

Kindle. Bezos. Amarazon.

Boo. Hiss. Bent. Get.
posted by Skygazer at 1:40 PM on May 20, 2011


After reading all of these comments, and having no particular bias against ebooks, just a strong affinity for "old fashioned" books, I've decided to take the plunge and buy the next book in a series I'm reading for my Android Kindle, on my Htc Evo.

The main factor in this is I read laying on my back, frequently. Old fashioned books are clunky and will slip from my fingers and smack me in the face if I'm not paying attention to how I'm holding it. Also, having a digital library keeps the clutter away.

The last reason is that I absorb books, they go through me like water. I order most of my books from Amazon because the ones I read aren't readily available near me, so this saves me the one-to-two weeks or longer wait to actually get a book I'm going to finish in a handful of days, if that.

Having instant access to the next book is a huge, huge plus for me.
posted by Malice at 1:59 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Incidentally: Bowker reports a 5% increase in the number of print books published last year, following a 4% increase the year before. So maybe we'll see co-existance of print and electronic for a while, at least.)

That link is really interesting, Infinite Jest; thanks. I had no idea print-on-demand physical books had taken off so strongly:

Bowker study shows print is NOT dead

...Bowker is projecting that despite the popularity of e-books, traditional U.S. print title output in 2010 increased 5%. Output of new titles and editions increased from 302,410 in 2009 to a projected 316,480 in 2010. The 5% increase comes on the heels of a 4% increase the previous year based on the final 2008-2009 figures.

The non-traditional sector continues its explosive growth, increasing 169% from 1,033,065 in 2009 to an amazing 2,776,260 in 2010. These books, marketed almost exclusively on the web, are largely on-demand titles produced by reprint houses specializing in public domain works and by presses catering to self-publishers and ”micro-niche” publications.

“These publication figures from both traditional and non-traditional publishers confirm that print production is alive and well, and can still be supported in this highly dynamic marketplace,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publishing services for Bowker.


Interesting, too, that the biggest growth in traditional physical-book publishing is in science and technology, with declines in fiction, history, etc:

Major increases were seen in Computers (51% over 2009, with an average five-year growth rate of 8%), Science (37% over 2009, with an average five-year growth rate of 12%) and Technology (35% over 2009, with an average five-year growth rate of 11%). Categories subject to discretionary spending were the top losers, perhaps still feeling the effects of a sluggish economy. Literature (-29%), Poetry (-15%), History (-12), and Biography (-12%) all recorded double digit declines. Fiction, which is still the largest category (nearly 15% of the total) dropped 3% from 2009, continuing a decline from peak output in 2007. Religion (-4%) fell to 4th place behind Science among the largest categories.

Yeah, it seems pretty clear there's gonna be a relatively long period of overlap between physical and electronic books.
posted by mediareport at 3:43 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Call me old fashioned, but if I can't take it in the tub, I'm not getting a Kindle.

Unlubricated condom, tied off.
posted by orthogonality at 6:33 PM on May 20, 2011


Yeah, it seems pretty clear there's gonna be a relatively long period of overlap between physical and electronic books.

I think the long period is likely to be permanent barring some crazy future environmental dystopia where we're living in sealed habitats because we've destroyed the planet and, thus, paper is unavailable. The market share may shift greatly to electronic media but paper will still be around and, I think, with greater market share than (say) Apple at its nadir.
posted by Justinian at 7:18 PM on May 20, 2011


After having purchased my first ebook for my kindle app on the EVO, I like it. I thought I wouldn't, I thought I wouldn't be able to get into it.. but I did, and I like it.

So I've put a kindle on my birthday wishlist for Mr. Malice to get for me.
posted by Malice at 12:24 PM on May 21, 2011


I bought my first ebook this week. In my experience reading it on the iPad it is every bit as engrossing and pleasurable as the print form. The sales figures from Amazon are interesting because we are in the midst of a transition, but it need not be a total one. Print versions will continue and likely many forms of publication will find an audience that were cost prohibitive to print.

This could be immensely useful to address the crisis in academic publishing, whereby University presses are obligated to publish <200 copies of books, of which 90% are bought by other University libraries. (The remaining 10% often by the author and his/her close colleagues and relatives) The need to publish as an academic is a huge financial obligation and electronic distribution can be part of the solution.

I'm excited on the whole about this even though I don't know where it is going.
posted by dgran at 11:23 AM on May 31, 2011


Thanks so much for the suggestion to use Calibre. Definitely make the ebook experience a useful one.

Anyone recommend an ebook reader for the Playbook? I want to use that for my graphic novel CBRs...
posted by Theta States at 12:57 PM on May 31, 2011


Shmindle Thought of the Day:

Has anyone ever had a book on a shelf that one's eye fell on somewhat naturally in the course of sitting, and it causing one to think a bit more about what one had read therein and ponder the story and the characters a bit more, or perhaps the ideas therein and then suddenly applied them to the natural course of thought dealing with one's immediate situation and had an epiphany of sorts shedding greater light, not only on what is in the book and had been read, but also shed light on that very moment and their very life at that moment and the mechanism therein. Maybe provided illumination or maybe provided an idea to apply to said life or how to live said life or make it more true and more perhaps happier or better in some way or perhaps more poetic or more aesthetically appealing??

Books on shelves keep powerful and good ideas and thoughts and dreams and hopes and visions in the mind don't they? Even crap books usually can provide something to real life inadvertently and maybe some serendipitous value.
posted by Skygazer at 5:41 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


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