Sunday, August 23, 2009

THE E-BOOK WARS


Used to be we never spent too much time worrying about e-books and e-rights. Once maybe eight years ago at a meeting of 80 or 90 independent publishers, we talked long and hard about how to manage e-rights and e-royalties for our books and writers. My gosh, it was boring. After about an hour, I asked if anyone had ever read an e-book. Nobody raised their hand. Great. We gladly dropped the subject and went to the publisher party where the wine was delicious, the finger food was plentiful and the conversation loud and boisterous. Oh, those were the days. Since then, e-books have been a steady rumbling in the background for publishers, like white noise. Indeed, Cinco Puntos has several good e-clients who license our books, chief among them being Tumblebooks which specializes in children's books (complete with full-color illustrations, something which Kindle and most other e-platforms can't do) which they in turn license to libraries. But now, in the last couple of years things have changed, and our e-book conversations with other publishers have become dead serious. That's because Amazon Jeff Bezos e-bombed the bookish universe with news of his Kindle and its successor the Kindle 2. Amazon, if you didn't know it, rakes in approximately 13% of all book sales in the U.S. (I'm extrapolating that figure from the CBSD sales figures.) That's a big book store, that's a lot of money. And every time a buyer opens up the amazon homepage they see an ad for the Kindle. That's a lot of very free advertising. And the Kindle uses proprietary software, so if you buy the Kindle, then you need to buy the e-books through amazon. And amazon is going out of their way to make sure they are selling books at the cheapest going rate. $10 bucks. Thus, the Kindle edition is selling for a lot less than for a new hardback edition and cheaper than most paperbacks. And Kindle is of course not the only platform. Luis Urrea showed up at my house with a Sony Reader that uses Adobe pdf technology. He claimed it was good for his eyes and he'd head off to the guest bedroom to cuddle up with his e-book. Egads!

There are a bunch of platforms and technologies out there. Lots of questions for readers and publishers and writers to ask. Below are four articles that have been helpful to us as we wander out into the e-water. If you know of more, please send them along.

The funnest piece to read is Nicholson Baker's "A New Page: Can the Kindle really improve on the book?" in the New Yorker. It full of mockery, good writing, solid researched information and personal experience. The Kindle doesn't come out too good--it doesn't look like a book, it doesn't feel like a book, it aint a book. Take, for instance, the general premise: "Amazon is very good at selling things, but, to date, it hasn’t been as good at making things." Oh well, Jeff Bezos can handle it.

New York Times article for publishers--When do you schedule an e-book release? At release of hardback, release of paperback or whenever? And does e-book sales cannibalize sales of the traditional book?

Jack Shafer's article on Slate--"Does the Book Industry Want To Get Napstered? If the publishers force Amazon to raise prices on e-books, that's what will happen." The title says it all, but it does have a nice paragraph dissing the readability of ebooks.

At the recent BEA Sherman Alexie trashed Kindle as elitist technology that will further separate the rich from the poor. He refuses to allow his novels to be e-booked. There's a great interview with Sherman here on Edward Champion's blog.

--Bobby Byrd

2 comments:

Cirrelda said...

At a recent Forum for Wildlife Corridor information sharing in Albuquerque, attended by over 150 from public and private institutions that connect with wildlife somehow, a man stood up to remind the audience clamoring for a website. Timothy Smith, the Biology Technician from Sandia Pueblo, reminded the audience, "There are still many people who do not use the internet, for whom a website [linking agencies and organizations and spelling out the meaning of what a wildlife corridor is] would not be something they could use."

So rang another voice reminding us that we can't assume computers will reach who we publishers WANT to reach.

Thanks be that a hand held book, well-written, well-made, well-illustrated, beats the screen in the minds of many.

J.L. Powers said...

I'll take a handheld book any day, too. But still, I've been wondering whether I should begin to release Catalyst Book Press's books as e-books. Guess I'll have to take a look at all those links.