Mark Terry

Friday, October 08, 2010

E-Books Are A Fad

October 8, 2010
Are they? No idea. I think the media is sort of driving it, but I'm not sure the general public is as interested as the media is. And I'm all too aware that my online buds are made up primarily of writers and voracious readers, yet my real-world buds are typically non-writers (God bless 'em) and more casual readers.

I wondered after I read a short piece yesterday on Shelf Report where someone noted the number of people he knew who had bought an e-reader, tried it, then stuck it in a drawer with all the rest of the electronic junk they never use.

I thought it was an interesting (and wistful and probably incorrect) observation. However, I have noted that on Facebook and on other blogs and social media that there are a number of people who have made pretty much the same comment.

I also had a conversation with a friend of mine this week where we compared how much we'd spent on Kindles as we watched the prices drop through the floor--I got mine for $189, but it's since dropped to $139, and if it hits $99 like many people think it will around Christmas, one or both of my kids might get one (maybe. youngest son claims he'll read more if he has a Kindle, but I suspect we'll still have to nag him, yet we'll be out $99 and still have to buy him books). I believe my friend bought hers for $259 or so, but someone else she knows bought at the original price, which was something like $359. Ouch! The $189 price convinced me it was viable, but I wouldn't shell out over $200 (personally) for a dedicated e-reader. But that's just me.

Of course, after yet another self-congratulatory blog post about how much money he's making by self-publishing e-books, how he's right and everybody who disagrees with him is wrong, and in particular how he knows more about how publishing works than the CEOs of the companies who actually, you know, have access to financial data to base their comments on....

Oh, never mind. I'm not giving him any more bandwidth...

I saw a video where they asked Stephen King about it and he made the quite insightful comment, I thought, that it would all come down to the talent and the stories, and the format and delivery system was completely secondary.

(And as an aside, the furor and media coverage and author proclamations sound completely identical to what occurred about 10 years ago or so when iUniverse and print-on-demand publishing came about; and rather similar to the "blogs-will-destroy-journalism" hysterics of, well, just a couple years ago).

And one of the things that makes me doubtful that e-books will completely destroy paper books is that, as a delivery system, the paper book, although somewhat inefficient from a manufacturing/warehousing point of view, is wonderfully efficient, effective, and trouble-free from the consumer/user point of view. I think you can argue that CDs, DVDs, digital downloads, cell phones, smartphones, iPods, etc., have made the actual ACT of listening to music, watching TV or movies, a better experience because of the quality of the sound, the portability, the quality of the images, etc., I really don't think e-books do that.

E-books make storage easier, they make font adjustment easier, they certainly making buying books easier and more convenient, but aside from that, there are downsides like ugly formatting issues (at least on the Kindle), it requires electricity, and it's breakable (and in terms of long-term storage issues I'm skeptical, because device manufacturers just love to screw around with format and compatibility of their products--doesn't it bother anyone yet that the devices, for the most part, are geared to a specific retailer?). As King commented at the end of his CNN piece, if you drop your book in the toilet, you can always use a blower dryer to dry it off and still read it. If you drop your Kindle in the toilet...

Do I like my Kindle? Yes. Do I read books on it? Yes. Do I buy books for it? Hell yes. Do I still read paper books? Yes. Do I still buy paper books? Definitely, especially favorite authors or reference-type materials I want on the shelf. Do I intend to continue doing both? Yes. Can I envision stopping buying paper books and only buying e-books? Mmmmmm, maybe, maybe not. If paper book prices increase dramatically and e-book prices remain somewhat lower (and e-reader owners are astonishingly and somewhat selfishly--in my opinion--almost violently outspoken on this issue, giving horrid online reviews and one-star ratings because they're pissed about the price of a book), who's to say? Paper books could get priced out of the market.



Blogger Jon VanZile said...

Maybe ... Maybe there will be a balancing point at which ebooks and print will balance out and we'll hit a kind of equilibrium. No one really knows. But from a purely financial perspective right now, ebooks are exploding in growth. I read a PW report from the Frankfurt Book Fair where a bunch of CEOs from Big Six publishers said that ebooks are basically their only profitable business at the moment. So ... if you extrapolate out the trend lines a year, or two years, or five years, if nothing else changes, ebooks will very shortly displace most print books, especially fiction.

I think it would actually take a change in the current climate to prevent that from happening. Print looks like it needs an October Surprise.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Stacie said...

From a consumer standpoint, if I read a book I absolutely love, I will buy it to have my own hardcopy. I may borrow books from friends or the library, and some are just time fillers, but when something really strikes me as brilliant, I want to keep it.
Similarly, when considering music, I have records and cassette tapes whose content have become inaccessable or inconvenient to listen to, due to changing technology. That leaves me paying for content repeatedly as technology changes. Unless, God forbid, I go blind, I will always be able to pull a book of the shelf and enjoy!

8:48 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

I think ebooks are here to stay (i.e. not a fad), but I don't think they'll ever replace print. There are too many people who read one book a year or whatever, for which an electronic reading device would be completely impractical.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

And to extend that--and I've thought about this for a while--is that if paper books become a smaller part of a publisher's overall revenue base, or even becomes a drag on that revenue base, they will most likely first respond by phasing out a particular format. My guess is the eventual death of the mass market paperback, which will be largely replaced by e-books. Then, there's a potential for hardcovers to become a problem because of pricing. That is to say, what I will call phase two:

Once you've phased out your weakest format, revenue-wise, then your second action to make it profitable is to raise prices (or cut production costs somehow, like offering writers a lower royalty, which could kill publishing as well, but a different post for a different day). And that's where I really think we could see paper books dying out completely.

Mass market paperbacks--gone, not enough profit margin and they're competing with e-books for price point.

Hardcover. In order to keep them profitable, particularly if some of their revenue is being nibbled at by e-book sales, you either don't always publish them except for certain authors, or you raise the prices. What's an acceptable price point for hardcovers? Do you remember a $15.95 hardcover? (Me, not so much). A $19.95 hardcover? Sure. $23.95? Sure. $24.95? Sure. $25.95? Pretty much where we're at. Would I pay $29.95 for a hardcover if the e-book price is $9.99? In most cases, no. Would I pay $34.95 for a hardcover?

Today? 99.99% of the time, absolutely not.

And that's how I see paper books dying out. It's possible the relatively inexpensive, but competitively priced trade paperback format could replace hardcovers, but we'll see. Same issues apply.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Jon VanZile said...

My thinking isn't far off from yours ... there's one more factor too: the distribution problem. As soon as print books drop below a certain level, large, mass-market bookstores like B&N will have a hard time staying open. They'll start to look like Blockbuster. That leaves distribution in the big box retailers with a book section, rather than a dedicated bookstore, as well as online. While these are obviously important revenue centers, my guess is the massive loss of physical bookstores will dramatically hasten the decline of printed books.

At the same time, I expect that used booksellers will continue to kick butt.

One other complicating factor: POD technology. I think POD guarantees that people who want cheap mass-market paperbacks will always be able to get them, even if it means they have to order them online or from an instant book kiosk somewhere.

So basically, if I was writing this market research report (which thank God, I'm not), I'd predict a mix of e-books as the market majority, POD paperbacks, and much smaller runs of hardcovers with limited distribution through non-dedicated retailers and a much, much smaller base of dedicated bookstores.

To me, none of this is bad for writers necessarily. It's just insider ball ... but people will still be reading stories one way or another.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I know. And libraries are being squeezed. Authors, however, seem to be given more options. Part of what made me write this was an editorial in yesterday's USA Today by the CEO of one of the big publishers giving 5 reasons why publishers won't die. But I actually have a lot of issues with #2--of course writers tell editors and publishers how valuable they are, their job depends on it, but that doesn't mean writers of all stripes think it's worth the 90% of the book's retail price that goes to someone besides the creator of the intellectual property, and I'm seriously skeptical about his "at least 10 editors have overseen the manuscript" statement. Very skeptical.

I thought it was an interesting editorial, but I came away thinking, "This guy doesn't understand authors very well."

7:10 PM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Dang, wrote a long post and blogger ate it.

Two things:

Screen tech has just had a huge influx of money. We'll see improvement in refreshment rates to clarity in the coming year.

Easy formatting for Kindle: a company (impossible rates, but it exists) will format your mss for Kindle. That'll become a plug-in program, cheap probably, and then we'll see even more self-pubbed books I bet. I'll post on the kindle formatting company in a few days. My husband just met them at a tech event in Denver Thursday so I haven't had time.

12:28 PM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I love both books and my kindle app, and I've had a lot of fun reading on it. Just finished YOUR book this morning, in fact. Fun read! I'll try and get over there and post a quickie review on Amazon for ya.

12:29 PM  

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