Sunday, August 29, 2010

E-Books in the news -- again

This week has been an interesting one on the e-book front. Amazon released its latest version of the Kindle. The Kindle boards have been alive with anticipation -- and frustration -- as all those who ordered the first day waited on the UPS truck to come down the road. As I read some of the posts, all I could think of was that scene from The Music Man where a very young Ron Howard lisped his way through "Wells Fargo Wagon" as he and the rest of the town waited for the delivery of the band instruments. Of course, there were the subsequent posts about how wonderful the new Kindles are, about the ones that didn't live up to expectations and the wails of despair because their Kindle had yet to be delivered.

But the new Kindle wasn't the only bit of news surrounding e-books this week. There has been a lot of speculation the last few years about whether e-books are really here to stay or if they were just the latest flash in the pan. People have predicted the tipping point for e-books has been everything from just around the corner to years down the road. Well, my friends, I have a feeling it is closer than we think. Laura Lippman's new book, I'd Know You Anywhere, went on sale the 17th of this month. The sales figures for the first week show that the electronic version of the book outsold the hard copy version. And it wasn't by just a few copies. For that first week, 4,739 e-books were sold of the title as compared to 4,000 hard covers.

“This is the first book of ours of any consequence that has sold more e-books than hardcovers in the first week,” said Frank Albanese, a senior vice president at HarperCollins. “What we’re seeing now is that if a book gets a good review, it gets a faster lift on the digital side than it does on the physical side because people who have e-readers can buy and read it immediately.” The same article notes that e-books sales have risen to approximately 8% total revenue this year for the leading publishers as opposed to 3 - 5% for the same period last year. More importantly, by the end of 2012, these same publishers forecast that e-book sales will comprise 20 - 25% of their total revenue. Yeah, I think e-books are here to stay.

What struck me as truly interesting in the comment by Albanese above is the phrase "first book of ours of any consequence". Call me paranoid, but it sounds to me like this isn't a new development for HC. It's just the first time it's happened with one of their best sellers. And, because it has, they can no longer deny the existence of e-books. What will be interesting is to see how HC and the other major publishers react as this trend becomes more and more the norm.

WSJ had another article about e-books and e-readers, this time looking at reading habits. I'm sure you remember the uproar a few years ago when a couple of studies came out decrying the decline in reading in the U.S. Well, according to preliminary research, "[p]eople who buy e-readers tend to spend more time than ever with their nose in a book." The reason, with so many gadgets able to display e-books -- everything from dedicated e-book readers to smart phones to net books and so on -- people read in places they didn't before: check out lines at the market, etc.

Now, before you point out the study that came out earlier this year about people reading slower on e-book devices, I'll say I agree with the WSJ article that part of the reason may be the technology of turning an e-page. But there is another reason, at least for me. It is a lot easier with a physical book to skim pages, skipping over those massive infodumps to get to the juicy action, than it is with an e-book. You simply thumb through the pages, scanning for the return to action. It is a familiar action for almost all of us. It is something we have to learn how to do with an e-book -- at least in my case. And, to be honest, I hope it's one I don't learn because I'm enjoying reading every word an author wrote -- usually.

So, what do you think? Are we reaching the tipping point with e-books? Did you find the "books of consequence" language by Frank Albanese as interesting as I did? And what about your reading habits/purchasing habits? Have they changed over the years and, if you are the owner of an e-book reader or a device that lets you read e-books, has that changed your habits? Inquiring minds want to know.

16 comments:

Allen Edwards said...

I bought a Sony Reader when they first came out ... and couldn't find enough to read, or an easy way to get 'free' stuff on it. I bought a 1st-gen Kindle several years, and it just sat there for a year ... Amazon had a HUGE listing of books available, but not much that was new.

All this changed, for me, early this year. First I found several sources of free/cheap back-list books. Second, I found some fan-fiction sites with some decent stuff ("90+% of EVERYTHING is crap!").

Then I bought an iPad AND installed the Kindle Reader for iPad ... and my ebook purchases have exploded. I've been getting into 'urban fantasy' in a big way. Amazon continues to provide the best on-line purchase environment.

I've just ordered the newest Kindle. I tend to take both Kindle AND iPad with me, in a small backpack. The iPad is gorgeous, but big and heavy, best when sitting with a table handle. The Kindle is best for just standing somewhere, or where there's nothing to rest it on.

I'm still buying paper ... I'm 65 and a product of my time, I guess ... but I can see ebooks becoming my primary reading platform (hate that word) in the future.

Ed Bear said...

I've been in eBooks since early 2000, when I discovered Baen's webscriptions (www.webscription.net). The books were open format (no-DRM), and it was easy to set them up for the way I liked to read them. It also got me back into reading books after a five-year hiatus, and the ability to stuff the equivalent of twenty pounds of books into a five-ounce gadget has been a godsend.

The ease and convenience of downloading and stuffing eBooks has gotten my library to grow to over three thousand titles and several gigabytes, and, as long as I'm religious about backups, I'll never lose them.

Best eBook buying environments are webscriptions and fictionwise. Amazon comes in a poor tenth because of the intrusive kindle DRM.

As for "book of consequence", that unutterably stupid statement was made by the publisher of Lois Bujold's "Chalion" books. THOSE were *real* "books of consequence," and "Paladin of Souls" alone was worth its weight in platinum.

Da Curly Wolf said...

Hell, I'm a barfly. you know how I feel about ebooks. especially Baens.

C Kelsey said...

eBooks, until recently, were simply marketing things that would let me know whether I wanted to buy the dead tree or not. Now, with my new phone, they a cheaper, more convenient reading option.

Dave Freer said...

"“This is the first book of ours of any consequence that has sold more e-books than hardcovers in the first week,” said Frank Albanese, a senior vice president at HarperCollins"

Hmm. I'll tell you something... If I was one of those authors that had written a book for HarperC which dear Frank just told me was of no consequence... I'd be looking at doing my books direct to kindle and letting dear Frank lose his inconsequential 57-odd percent of the take.

I'd also be curious as to how they calculate 20-25% of their revenue. If by revenue they mean gross income... or mean net. Because if reality bites and other publishers take a chunk of their writers by offering more realistic royalty deals, their share of net is going to drop. This partly why I take their figures with a pinch of salt.

Amanda Green said...

Allen, you sound a lot like me. I'll never stop reading dead tree books -- and don't ever try to make me get rid of my copies of books by my favorite authors -- but I read more and more off of my kindle. Part of the reason is convenience. I can load any number of books on it and then go, confident I have enough books to carry me through whatever trip I might be on. And, if I do run out of reading material, all I have to do is turn on whispernet and download something else. It certainly helps with the baggage limit when flying.

The other reason is that the print on books seems to get smaller the older I get. With the kindle, I can increase the font and not strain.

Amanda Green said...

Ed, I have to agree with you about webscriptions and the ease of using e-books. As someone who hates DRM, I resent the fact it keeps me from buying ebooks from anywhere I want and then reading them on my kindle. That said, it is important to remember that Amazon doesn't require DRM. If you publish through their DTP program, you can opt out of applying DRM. For those publishers who have individual contracts with Amazon, it is my understanding that they apply DRM on their own, not at Amazon's insistence. (I could be wrong, but it would surprise me since Amazon doesn't require it for DTP pubs).

The "books of consequence" language made me cringe as I thought of how he just dissed all the other authors HC publishes. It also made me wonder how many other books have sold more electronically than in hard copy but we haven't heard about it because, gee, they weren't "of consequence".

Amanda Green said...

Wolfie, havent' got a clue. Why don't you tell us [VBEG]

Amanda Green said...

Chris, you have fallen to the dark side. Bwahahahahaha!

Honestly, I think you are indicative of a lot of consumers now. You've discovered the convenience of instant purchase and download as well as being able to preview a book to see if you really want to invest in it.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, I agree with you on both points. That's why I sat here scratching my head and checking the quote several times from several different sources before posting it. I kept thinking, "surely, he didn't just say that". But, to the best of my research skills, he did. I don't know whether it shows a contempt for all non-best sellers or just a bad grasp of PR. Either way, it was NOT something smart to say.

As for how they are figuring the 20 - 25%, can you say creative bookkeeping. I saw an article this week that I almost included in the post about royalty breakdowns by type of book -- hard cover, trade paperback, mmpb, e-book. It also broke down the "cost" of each. The funny thing was, they included the cost of converting into digital format and adding DRM, as well as digital storage, but they didn't include the attendant costs of transporting, storing, etc., hard copy books.

Let's just say, I'm not a trusting soul and I don't trust most of the figures the "suits" toss out.

Da Curly Wolf said...

You really want me to go there? Okay..Unless it's baen..uhhh..no ain't gonna happen. I love ebooks the bulk of mine are Baen..though I've gotten others through fellow flies. I personally think that if the big publishers don't get off the pot and on the anti DRM bandwagon they are gonna get run the hell over and left broken and bleeding in the middle of the road. You know I used to be in the book industry. The bigger publishers have managed to piss me off in a major way. Therefore I will NOT buy any of the shit they print. There are a very few and notable exceptions to that rule. Sarah's stuff from Berkley, vince Flynn[though he's getting big time repetative. My father owns but I haven't bother to read the last 2 books. boorrrrrinnnnnnng.] To be honest I'm in a major scifi/fanatsy mode and have been for a while, so even if I read more of the other big boys stuff..I still wouldn't be buying right now. Baen treats its readers as family and friends; not criminals to be watched, persecuted and prosecuted. Which is why the house of Baen has earned my undying loyalty. The authors who write for baen write what I want to read, they're fun, entertaining and in some cases actually force you to engage your brain and think on a subject. [something Col Kratman does quite well I might add.] The writers are friendly, approachable and not so caught up in their own fame that they don't treat you with respect. Frankly I think the books Baen publishes should be at the top of the NYT bestseller lists, as opposed to the other repetitive formulaic shit that ends up there. But I digress....
Until the big publishing houses stop with the DRM crap,and start charging prices for ebooks on par with Baen..they're screwed as far as I'm concerned, because even those who buy the crap the big houses peddle will get tired of having to pay hardcover prices or better for a book that's not even in treeware in your hands.

Which brings up a side question, anyone heard that Barnes and Noble is for sale and that if they can't find a buyer they're gonna have to close the doors or some such? Anyone besides me think the HUGE superstores like borders and B&N are gonna go the way of the dodo as a result of ebooks? I think they're survivable but they have to change the format if they're gonna keep the uberstores. go about half and half. A half new and half used format. I seem to remember Basset telling me once that there was a store like that in New Mexico. OTOH I seem to remember him telling me they recently closed the used half of the store. Personally I think the bookstore industry was hosed when the big stores came into play. They need to go back to small store[waldenbooks and b dalton ring a bell?] formats and not as much inventory.

Mike said...

Page One (and what used to be Page Two, I think) across the street. But what I heard was that while they closed Page Two, they moved the stock into the other store -- and shelved it all together. So it's still a new&used combination store.

Amanda Green said...

Sean, you know I agree with you when it comes to DRM. What has me scratching my head is how so many authors actually buy into the pabulum the publishers give them about how it is necessary to put DRM onto their ebooks to prevent piracy. Sorry, but DRM encourages it, imo. It throws a challenge out to people, all but saying, "you can't read me on your device. neener neener". And that simply means these folks figure out how to crack the DRM and then the scripts are posted online for all to find

You are also right about Baen and the majority of its authors. That sense of family connects it with the readers and brings about a brand loyalty that really is second to none. It's something Jim began and Toni has continued -- and it works. Again, the other publishers ought to be looking at Baen and trying to figure out to duplicate it.

As for B&N, the fact that they took a loss this past quarter due to legals fees concerning the potential sale -- which is basically to itself -- says a lot. I think Borders will wind up shuttering -- or at least doing major downsizing -- before B&N will. But I could be wrong. What any of these big box dealers are going to have to do to survive is revisit their business plan and see what works and what doesn't. I think the days of the huge stores are numbered, at least for the near future. There is always going to be a market for books, no matter what the format. The challenge is to figure out how to sell them

Amanda Green said...

Mike, I think we are going to see more of that. In my area, there are more than 50 Borders and B&Ns in a 50 mile radius. Every mall has one. Every large shopping center that isn't a mall has one. Add in all the Half-Price Books and similar stores and you start to see part of the problem. I have a feeling we're going to start seeing the big box bookstores shuttering some of their stores and combining merchandise.

There is a glut of sorts in the market here and the chains can't or won't simply cut their losses on some shops and shutter them. It's a lesson they need to learn, and one Legacy Books has learned the hard way. Legacy opened less than 2 years ago as the largest independent bookseller in the part of the country, iirc. They've had to close their doors. However, they aren't gone for good. They are going to relocate, change their name and open next year with a smaller store and, fortunately, a revised business plan. Again, an illustration of the little guy learning from his mistakes and adapting -- something the big boys have yet to do.

Da Curly Wolf said...

Amanda, yeah I agree with you there.
As far as who gets there first between B&N and Borders..it's a horse race.

What's gonna REALLY suck is that when it starts to happen and both of them start shuttering stores left and righ....I'm gonna have to go to putting cash on gift cards and buying off freakin amazon. Which annoys the hell out of me since I like to actually browse the shelves. Hold the books in my hot little hands..

Amanda Green said...

Sean, I know. I love to browse and flip through the pages, etc. My problem with the big box stores is they usually don't stock the books I want to look at, possibly even buy. They are too busy stocking all the Twilight clones and gee gaws that have nothing to do with reading. And try to find someone to help you...well, I'm too old to wait around until they actually find someone who knows something about books, much less the book I might be interested in. (No disrespect to the couple of folks at the local B&N who do know and who are very supportive to the writing community here).