Friday, February 12, 2010

You Can Pry My Ebooks From My Cold, Dead Fingers

Recently, I've been blogging about the inevitable dominance of ebooks over dead tree books.

My own experiments show I can make more money selling ebooks than print.

I talked about how Amazon was losing money on Kindle ebooks sold, and envisioned a new publishing system involving estributors.

I refuted some of the common arguments against ebooks.

I predicted what the future of ebooks might be like. And how format is largely the reason we haven't fully embraced ebooks yet.

I considered the new agency model in selling ebooks, and came to the conclusion that publishers seem to care more about selling paper than connecting writers with readers.

I talked about the perception of ownership and the perception of value with print and ebooks.

Barry Eisler put forth a terrific argument about the inevitability of digital dominance.

And finally, I considered the difference between destination value and journey value, and concluded that the sentimental connection people have with print books will likely change, as it is no more compelling than an attachment to any other outdated method of media.

The overwhelming conclusion I've come to is that ebooks will one day be the preferred method of reading. This day is inevitable, and is coming quickly. Print publishers don't seem ready for it, and their methods to delay this eventuality will only lead to annoying their customers, piracy, and alienating their authors.

When I first talked about ebook piracy, I made an argument that cheap sells, free sells even more, and the only way to fight file sharing is with cost and convenience.

The music and movie industries tried to fight piracy, and failed. As a result, companies not previously associated with music and movies have become rich by doing three things.

1. Understanding consumer need.
2. Giving the consumers what they want at a price consumers are willing to pay.
3. Making it as convenient as possible for consumers.

As a result of this, the biggest music player maker and music seller is a computer company, and companies such as Tivo and Netflix, along with services like Direct TV and On Demand, are changing the way people watch movies.

Apple, and the companies that rent TV shows and movies through subscriptions, have discovered something interesting about the media habits of humans.

It used to be thought that we really valued the physical object the media was presented on. As consumers, it was important for us to own VHS and cassette tapes, DVDs and LPs, CDs and BluRay.

And yet, consumers have shown, in greater and greater numbers, that they don't care about the delivery system, and they don't care about ownership of a tangible product. They just want a cheap and easy way to watch the damn movie and listen to the damn song.

Where did this trend begin? When did we start to realize that ownership of an experience didn't require a physical object?

Oddly enough, I think piracy plays a large part in the acceptance and adaptation of new technology.

Let's look at three types of media. Music, movies, and video games.

I've already yakked at length about the many different formats music has had over the years, so I won't recap it here. But when we did fully embrace CDs, it seemed to coincide with the invention of the CD recorder. Being able to share media, ironically, led to the sales of more media.

The RIAA says that the widespread adoption of mp3s lead to more piracy than ever before. But perhaps piracy is what lead to the widespread adoption of mp3s. While music companies tried to block it, Apple created a player for it, and a store to sell the media. Apple looked at what consumers were doing, and responded accordingly.

In the latest video game console wars, is it a coincidence that the only system that has remained hack proof, the PS3, has also sold far fewer units than the hackable Xbox 360 and the Wii? The PSP and Nintendo DS are also hackable, as is the iPhone. All are flourishing.

People like being able to do what they want with their media, and with their media readers. They like to share, and copy, and customize. And as a result, more units, and more media, winds up selling on systems where piracy thrives.

There's a lot of movie and TV show piracy online. But it's a very odd phenomenon. On one hand, there are those who sneak camcorders into films still in the theaters, and upload their copies. There are also those that make 1:1 copies of DVDs and BluRay disks, complete with cover art, so you have a perfect copy of something you'd otherwise pay for.

But, believe it or not, the majority of movie and TV piracy isn't with first run flicks and full DVD copies.

It's with rips and with recent TV shows.

A "rip" is taking a movie and stripping out most of the extra stuff so it's still good quality, but under 700mb (a DVD is normally 4.7 to 8.5 gigabytes.) 700mb fits on a CD, but more often than not, pirates will watch these directly on their computers.

Right after any TV show airs, the torrent sites and file lockers are flooded with people sharing the latest episode of Lost or House or The Biggest Loser.

The conclusion I draw from this isn't that pirates are interested in stealing media. They're more interested in file sharing as a cheap and easy distribution method. You search for what you want. You download it quickly. You experience it.

So along come Tivo, On Demand, Direct TV, and Netflix. What do they do? They allow consumers to experience media cheaply, easily, and quickly. And consumers have embraced these distribution methods to the point where Blockbuster Video--the same dominant force that squeezed out all the mom and pop video stores across the country--is now themselves closing stores left and right.

Consumers have shown us what they want. Ownership of a tangible product is becoming less and less important. Downloading a song, or a movie, or a TV show--either permanently or temporarily through a subscription model--is how many people are deciding to experience media.

I've said before that piracy is human nature. The internet was created to store and share information. It's directly tied to how we communicate. That's why we lend each other blooks and movies, and send emails linking to YouTube videos, and link to each other's blogs and then Tweet the link on Twitter.

How do books play into this? A hardcover book is a luxury item in today's market. It's eight hours of entertainment for $30. That's a month's worth of movies on Netflix, or thirty songs on iTunes. And a paper book is far from an instant delivery system.

If books are going digital, as most seem to predict, the ability to share media, and get it instantly, will help advance the adoption of ebooks by the masses. And as companies like Apple and Netflix and Gamefly (for videogames) have learned, the masses dictate what they're willing to pay for this service.

Not the film producers. Not the music producers. And not the videogame producers.

It's a third party that stepped in, saw the need, and exploited it.

So along comes Amazon. They already have a huge advantage over any other third party. They're the largest online book retailer. It didn't take a huge leap in faith for Jeff Bezos to realize he could also become the biggest online ebook retailer, if they only had an ereader device.

Now the Kindle is the market leader. The technology is only going to become more widespread, more advanced, and cheaper, as time goes on.

Where are the print publishers? Why aren't they making ereaders? Why aren't they allowing for cheap ebook downloads on their websites? Why don't they have customer forums and subscription models? Why are the clinging to an outdated model so tightly that they're now demanding to set both wholesale and retail price of their products?

The videogame industry got it. The PS3, Xbox, PSP, and Wii all allow for downloadable games and online subscription-based play. And guess what? The PS3 finally got hacked. I predict sales will rise as a result.

People want inexpensive media at the press of a button. Books will follow the same model as movies, music, video games, and TV.

It will be an ebook future. A cheap, instant, ebook future.

And we'll embrace it. We always do.

38 comments:

Joe Konrath said...

And yes, I know people still love paper books. But if nostalgia were a growth market, Wal-Mart would sell antiques.

The 4 billion dollar a year used book industry will morph into the backlist ebook industry. Everything out of print and hard to find will one day be available at the press of a button.

EchelonPress said...

Some publishers ABSOLUTELY care more about getting stories to the readers than selling printed books. This is one of the reasons Echelon has put our print acquisitions on hold for now. The economy is in such a mess that everyone is feeling it. I don't think readers need to pay the price. We will continue to publish eBooks--happily--and we will continue to keep the prices as low as we can.

Karen Syed
http://www.echelonpress.com

Alessia Brio said...

I have decided that you are a brilliant man, mainly because your opinions align with mine. ;)

I blogged about the tangible product versus ebooks a while back.

peace & passion,

~ Alessia

Joe Konrath said...

@Karen - Try to get it to $2.99. That will be the new price point for books come June when Amazon switches to the 70% model.

@Alessia - Nice blog post. I couldn't have said it better myself. :)

Stevie said...

Excellent blog Joe. I agree wholeheartedly.

Theresa Milstein said...

The piracy argument to resist technology on behalf of publishers is ridiculous. Before the digital age, music could be recorded from the radio, books could be borrowed from the library and passed from friend to friend. There were dual VCRs. From the dawn of time, people have tried to figure out to take something for nothing.

Joe Konrath said...

From the dawn of time, people have tried to figure out to take something for nothing.

I agree. But is that the reason for piracy? To take something for nothing? Or is it because we place a different perception of ownership and value on media because it can be copied?

Chris said...

I agree. But is that the reason for piracy? To take something for nothing? Or is it because we place a different perception of ownership and value on media because it can be copied?

Depends on the person. I've seen people who have more than enough money that will never buy anything because they can "get it for free". It has nothing to do with the way they view ownership -- these people are just cheap, and wouldn't buy something they could download for free even if it cost a penny.

However, most people I know fall into the "normal" model. If I can buy something cheaper in ones and zeroes than physically, and have a good way to use it (something that really hasn't existed for ebooks until recently), why would I go through the trouble of searching torrent sites?

Joe Konrath said...

It has nothing to do with the way they view ownership -- these people are just cheap, and wouldn't buy something they could download for free even if it cost a penny.

But is it about being cheap? Or about value perception?

I'll sometimes pay for a movie at the nearby cineplex, then sneak in to another movie afterward. I can certainly afford to buy tickets for both. And I don't consider myself cheap--I tip well, I give expensive gifts, I'm more concerned about quality than cost, etc.

Yet, for some weird reason, something in me is just wired to sneak an extra movie in without paying for it.

It's wrong. It's stealing. I rationalize it by buying an extra popcorn (which is how the theater makes money) and then buying the movie new on DVD when it comes out. But I still do sneak in. And I know I'm not the only one who does.

I'm also not the only one who copies music for family and friends.

But would I go into a store and swipe a candy bar? Nope. Wouldn't even consider it.

There is a difference in perception, and I don't think it's because some people are cheapskates or thieves. I really think there's something about us as a species that treats intellectual property and physical property differently.

Incidentally, I once snuck into a theater where I was the only one watching the movie. The movie still ran, without a single person paying for it. Isn't that interesting? What does that say about the value of that experience?

Theresa Milstein said...

I wasn't saying it was right. My argument is that record companies and publishers have dragged their feet to embrace new technologies with accusations of piracy. I'm just saying that sharing for free has always been a part of how people operate, illegality aside. If publishers put out a good, inexpensive ebook, enough people will still pay for it.

You know who spends the most $ downloading music? People who illegally download some of their music.

gryffonx@gmail.com said...

Part of me agrees, while part of me does not. Media has seen tremendous change over the last decade or so, and while I am not a technophobe, the idea of having yet another form of media "wired in" to a gadget I don't really need bothers me.

I LIKE my books, big, small, heavy, & light. I like that I will never need to plug them in to read them. I like that they can survive a fall of a couple of feet. I like the fact that, by reading them, I disconnect myself from the world of circuits and data, a world that has already invaded too much of my life.

Let me ask you this: In a world full of Barnes & Nobles, Borders Bookstores, & Amazon.com, is there really a need for MORE "convenience" when it comes to obtaining a book? Does the prospect of leaving the house, or waiting a day or two really impact you that much?

I understand that ebooks are convenient, but the notion that they should entirely replace printed books is questionable.

Dana King said...

"The conclusion I draw from this isn't that pirates are interested in stealing media. They're more interested in file sharing as a cheap and easy distribution method. You search for what you want. You download it quickly. You experience it"

These discussions often dwell on the recipient of the pirated material more than on the pirate. "It's wrong to download something for free." "It's wrong to take something and not pay the creator."

I'm a little late to this party, and I think Joe is on the right track with the coming prevalence of e-books, but I'm confused. Ripping a CD as described is a lot of work; torrent sites have TV shows available the morning after it airs. What's in it for the pirates, the people who make ti available?

Not arguing; obviously they do it. But what's their motive?

Mark Terry said...

I'm not sure I agree with your piracy argument. I'm a moralist enough to question it and have done enough research and writing about IP issues in other areas to have great faith in the importance of copyright, trademark and patent law.

That said, I've been inclined to think the hardcover book is going to become a real rarity, that mass market and/or trade paperbacks will continue to exist, but I'm increasingly swinging to your POV that ebooks are just going to dominate and only a few individual publishers will continue to deal with paper. There might be exceptions, and certainly there aren't enough ereaders out there yet, and the prices are still too high--give me a cheap and easy ereader in the $100 range and I'll be on it like a pike on a minnow. I may very well buy an iPad because it has other uses than just as an ereader, but I'm still grimacing over the cost of a device that's basically a low-end laptop (or high-end iPhone, either way). Time will tell, but in 20 years I expect paper books to be a lot like LPs--you can find them, but really only collectors bother.

Theresa Milstein said...

Dana, TV is a good argument. They offer their shows on the computer the next day, yet companies still pay money to air commercials and DVDs for seasons of shows are highly profitable.

But as I wrote in an earlier installment of "You Can Pry", I like my actual books over my virtual ones. I've just got to keep them out of the attic.

Chris said...

Incidentally, I once snuck into a theater where I was the only one watching the movie. The movie still ran, without a single person paying for it. Isn't that interesting? What does that say about the value of that experience?

I did the same thing with a friend of mine one time. The lady came in and said "sir, do you have your ticket stub?" I made up some lame excuse about dropping it in the bathroom, and she said "Funny, because we didn't sell any tickets to this movie."

As for the value perception, the question is actually "Would you steal that candybar from Walmart if there was no chance of you getting caught?" And I'm talking about ZERO chance. I think the answers of a lot of people would be "yes".

I think it has less to do with "value perception" than "harm potential". I don't think people value the book/song/movie any less. I think it's more about "what's the harm?"

It's the same reason people would steal a candybar from Walmart or Safeway, but not steal one from a Mom and Pop store. With digital, we believe that nobody is really hurt (the bits can be copied, after all), and the risk is negligible. Physical items are finite.

Chris said...

Not arguing; obviously they do it. But what's their motive?

Ego.

Honestly, it's the same reason you see those idiotic "first" posts on a lot of blogs. Someone gets their jollies from loading the show to the server "first".

I've known a lot of pirates in my day (back when pirating was actual work and not "point and click hacking" or claiming you're "l33t" because you can do a search in google to find torrents). Every time I asked this question, it was pretty much about "screwing over the corporation" (of course, I always liked the more honest answer of "I just feel like it").

Joe Konrath said...

As for the value perception, the question is actually "Would you steal that candybar from Walmart if there was no chance of you getting caught?" And I'm talking about ZERO chance. I think the answers of a lot of people would be "yes".

I disagree. Not about the getting away with it part, but about it being value perception. A candy bar is a tangible object. A download is not. The theft of a candy bar involves the loss of a sale. A download does not equal a lost sale.

Sneaking into a movie that still runs even if it didn't sell any tickets is all about value perception.

Joe Konrath said...

What's in it for the pirates, the people who make it available?

Have you ever lent a book to a friend?
Same thing.

In the case of scene releases (like the iPhone Dev Team, or GBA Temp) it's more about hacking and bragging rights.

Joe Konrath said...

You know who spends the most $ downloading music? People who illegally download some of their music.

I've seen that statistic, and I believe it. I've read when Napster was dismantled, CD sales dropped. I'd love to see the actual statistic that shows this.

Eugene said...

Back when I worked for Microsoft OS support (great job while it lasted), it seemed that the chief hobby of many of the techs was to build the fastest gaming computer possible and then download everything in sight. They had more stuff on their hard drives than they could possibly watch or listen to in a lifetime. Or would ever watch or listen to otherwise.

Why? Well, what else do you do with TB RAID array?

When the division was getting shut down and moved to India, our call center was often taken off-line while a center in India was brought on-line. Rather than sit around and do nothing all day (which we were being paid to do), one of the techs would bring in his computer and we'd watch pirated movies on the big screen in the conference room.

Ah, good times.

But the moral argument aside, for me, Amazon and Netflix are just easier. I suspect the vast majority of users are the same, unless given a strong motivation. What damaged the music industry the most was the feeling that, having sold the LP, cassette, CD and MP3 of the same album while the costs of every other aspect of digital technology plummeted, they were ripping us off.

Basically, publishers can charge whatever the market will bear up to the point that readers feel they're getting ripped off. Once they lose their moral authority, they're toast.

Anonymous said...

You know who spends the most $ downloading music? People who illegally download some of their music.

I've seen that statistic, and I believe it. I've read when Napster was dismantled, CD sales dropped. I'd love to see the actual statistic that shows this.
__________________

wow, this argument is new to me. hadn't realized the crossover between "honest" purchasers and "dishonest" pirates. i think ip is confusing, as joe detailed in his post. i'm a lawyer who teaches business ethics, including this issue, but the intricacies of copying from a library vs. off tivo/off air are confusing to me. ultimately, ip rests on perception. if those greedy bastards are charging 50% too much, they don't deserve the money. i don't feel that way (yet) about ebook publishers, but i sure do about large nyc based banks. (can anybody rob those dishonest, price-gouging bank creeps, who're steeling our tax dollar money for their own private gain, please?)

i for one, would engage in jury nullification-- part of what got the american revolution going.

Mary Jude Schmitz said...

Can an author sign your ebook?

Anonymous said...

It's a weak rationalization to say a candy bar involves the loss of a sale and a download does not. Not all candy bars end up being sold, by the way, and a pirated download sometimes does result in the loss of a sale. (There will be a major report coming out later this year with data that addresses, really for the first time, how often pirated downloads are lost sales.)

John Dishon said...

The reason the PS3 fell behind the others was for a few reasons, I believe.

1) The Wii offered a gimmick (motion control) that appealed to a different audience, a crowd who normally don't play games.

2) The Xbox 360 had a one year head start on the PS3, time to build up a consumer base. Even though their online component cost $50 while the PS3's is free, the 360 had a bigger base and better server quality. Most of your friends had a 360, so when you were in the market for a new system, you bought a 360 so you could play with your friends.

3) The PS3 was really expensive.

4) The PS3 experienced release delays in the US, as 40% of the projected number of units weren't ready on launch date.

I don't think it had anything to do with the fact that the PS3 is harder to hack.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous:

There is one difference, at least. The theft of a candy bar is a lost "potential" sale as now that unit is not available for purchase. A digital file doesn't have that problem. It can be downloaded over and over again and still be there.

It is true that a download can mean a lost sale, but the opposite is also true. And it's also true that someone who steals a candy bar would never have paid for it if stealing were not an option.

Chris said...

The theft of a candy bar involves the loss of a sale. A download does not equal a lost sale.

How do you figure?

Would the person who stole the candy bar have bought it anyway? The only way the candy bar represented a loss of sale is if: A) It was the last candybar in the store and someone else wanted it or B) The thief so desperately wanted the candy bar that they would have bought it if they couldn't have stolen it, or C) The candy bar WOULD have been bought, and wouldn't have just gone stale.

That's a lot of if's, and I'm sure Walmart loses a pretty penny each year to stale perishables.

The only one that really applies to e-stuff is A. However, does that mean it isn't a loss of sale?

Two guys I know are big video game players. They make good money (really good money -- into six figures), without any responsibilities -- no wife or kids. They could easily buy every game they want, but choose to download them.

Am I supposed to believe that they wouldn't have bought many of the games they've downloaded if piracy didn't exist? Of course they would have, because they bought tons of games before it became so easy to take them.

So, yeah, it's probable that they wouldn't have bought ALL of the games they've downloaded, but saying that the game industry didn't lose some money because of them is ludicrous.

They also give those pirated games to other people we know. So, who's to say that THAT person wouldn't have bought the game (and now won't because -- why bother?)

So, am I saying that piracy is costing the game/movie/book industry money. Yeah, it is.

As much as they say it is? No way in heck.

In fact, due to people who normally wouldn't have bought something buying it (or its sequels), I would say we're pretty much at a wash.

Joe Konrath said...

Not all candy bars end up being sold, by the way, and a pirated download sometimes does result in the loss of a sale.

Supply and demand exists with candy bars, and in the case of perishable items, the retailer quickly figures out demand or overbuys and loses money. Ebooks don't function on supply and demand because there is an unlimited supply and shelf life.

Pirated downloads may sometimes result in lost sales. But I know lots of pirates (me included) who have gone on to buy the thing they stole, and more by the same artist.

There will be a major report coming out later this year with data that addresses, really for the first time, how often pirated downloads are lost sales.

I highly doubt it. Even if they polled 10,000 pirates and asked, "Would you have bought this if you didn't steal it?" there's no way to prove it unless we had a time machine that could travel to divergent multiverses where decisions fractal. Or, in layman's terms, the only proof of a sale is the actual sale.

Can an author sign your ebook?

I've signed ebook covers. Why not have specially made cardboard flaps that fit inside a plastic skin over an ereader?

The only way the candy bar represented a loss of sale

Actually, stolen property represents lost goods. Whether the goods would have sold or not isn't important--the owner still lost money. There's no evidence that illegal downloading involves loss of property.

Joe Konrath said...

So, yeah, it's probable that they wouldn't have bought ALL of the games they've downloaded, but saying that the game industry didn't lose some money because of them is ludicrous.

They could have bought all the games used. Then the game industry still didn't make a dime off them.

But I don't really care if piracy is right or wrong, good or bad. People are prone to piracy. That's what matters.

All I can do is look at my own stats. My ebooks are pirated all the time. Plus, I give them away for free on my website. Yet my Kindle ebook sales keep going up.

Could all of the theft and freebies be hurting my Kindle sales? Sure, but they might also be helping those sales. Either way is impossible to prove.

I don't think it had anything to do with the fact that the PS3 is harder to hack.

I think it does play a part. Neither of us can prove it. But looking back at the history of media, the formats that succeeded are the ones that allow for hacking and copying. Coincidence? I don't believe so.

The iPhone, the 360, the Wii, the PSP, and the NDS all have teams dedicated to hacking and creating new features for those systems. Free features that have nothing to do with stealing media. You can be in a scene and never steal a single game, because a hack opens up the potential of your device, allowing for homebrew.

I don't know the stats, but I know open source software tends to outpace closed source, and the freebie model used by Avast is smoking previous competitors Norton and McAfee.

I really think people prefer free, and they want to be able to customize and copy with their media and media readers. And that the PS3 will be embraced by a wider audience once its fully hacked.

More and more people are buying BluRay, but the biggest movie section in Best Buy is still DVD.

There are already BluRay burners and blank media, but these are still too expensive. As these become affordable (like the BluRay players have become affordable) watch how they kick DVDs ass.

So, am I saying that piracy is costing the game/movie/book industry money. Yeah, it is.

As much as they say it is? No way in heck.


From what I've recently heard, there is more music being sold today than ever before. It's just more artists each selling fewer songs.

The moral implications of piracy don't interest me much. But I am working under the assumption that piracy is about more than getting something free. It's about being easy.

If you make it easy for a consumer, and charge a small amount, there will still be pirates. But I think I've proven you will sell more downloads than those who charge more.

Anonymous said...

That supply and demand bit re: the candy bar versus the pirated book is sheer obfuscation, nothing to do with the original point.

And to demand certainty of an analytical study of a social phenomenon, Joe, is to demand the impossible.

Joe Konrath said...

the candy bar versus the pirated book is sheer obfuscation, nothing to do with the original point.

Not at all. Pirates justify their actions by stating it isn't an actual loss of property. Steal a candy bar, you can prove a loss.

And to demand certainty of an analytical study of a social phenomenon, Joe, is to demand the impossible.

I'm not demanding certainties. I'm following logic and past trends and human nature and attempting to predict the future of ebooks.

But I'm pretty certain I'm right. :)

Eugene said...

The ethical implications of "free" are especially complex when it comes to publishing.

You can't "borrow" a candy bar and "return" it when you're done eating it. Nor is it okay to eat food off the shelves as long as it's consumed in the store. But bookstores like B&N encourage shoppers to "consume" books in the store.

And then there are libraries. To be sure, public libraries are supported by tax dollars, so you may have to pay a fee if you're not a resident in the municipality. But you can still camp out at any library and read anything you want for "free."

I've never been in a library that didn't have a copy machine on the premises.

I'm all for shutting down illegal download sites and even blocking bandwidth-hogging file sharing ports. But publishers should keep in mind that expectations of "free" are deeply embedded in our literary culture.

John McFetridge said...

Joe, I think everything you say about books is true. Connecting the writer and reader is the key and e-books have the potential to do it better than any other technology.

As many people point out, it's not an either-or situation. I'll still get printed versions of my favourite books I want to keep, but $2.99 e-book will allow me to try out an awful lot of new authors.

TV and the moves have different challenges because it isn't about the "writer-reader" relationship. It's more complicated path from creator to viewer that atthe moment is still very capital-intense.

I just spent a year working as a writer on a TV show for CBS that it now looks like they won't even air. They spent a lot of money on that show (in truth because it was a co-production they spent about the same for the 13 episodes as they would have for a pilot they'd produced themselves) and they do this fairly often. It's just a cost of doing business but it affects the way they see everything.

Publishing doesn't have to be like that. As long as publishers insist on trying to copy TV producers and keep the prices high and keep barriers between the writers and readers they'll fail, I think.

Publishing has some challenges now, but it's really a Homer Simpson cristitoonity. Whatever happens to publishing, the things that are unique about books are what will keep them going in whatever form.

Peter L. Winkler said...

All retail stores lose merchandise and money annually from shoplifting. A certain percentage of available digital content will be stolen as well. Since there is no salesperson or security guard to apprehend the thief, it's easier and undoubtedly more prevalent.

Still, iTunes, Netflix streaming and Amazon video on demand demonstrate that people would rather pay a couple of bucks for a DVD-quality experience than scour bittorrent sites and wait for a download of questionable, possibly virus-infected video.

Brad R. Torgersen said...

Prognostications about e-book dominance and the death of print always remind me that just because many people think a thing makes sense, doesn't automatically mean that thing will come to pass.

The current battle over Healthcare Reform is a good example.

I have no doubt that e-books and e-readers will continue to make inroads into the print market, especially when e-readers are sexy to the technophiles among us. And there are a LOT of technophiles.

However, I think technophiles -- and lets be honest, the majority of the argument for e-book dominance is coming from the technophile contingent -- aren't factoring in that human beings aren't logical. Especially when it comes to entertainment. When it comes to entertainment people can be peculiar and emotional.

Replacing a tangible object with a flat little piece of plastic and microchips just isn't going to sit well with a lot of buyers.

What I see possibly happening is that eventually e-books do become the norm -- as browsing material. People browse an e-book on-line or possibly at a store, then half of them download it to their e-reader device while the OTHER HALF clicks PURCHASE AND PRINT and their physical copy -- complete with cover art and whatever other bells and whistles go with it -- churns out and is either mailed, or is available for pickup at the counter.

Literally, hot off the press.

But no print at all, or print as an "antique" industry that occupies little market share... I think this unlikely.

Scott Nicholson said...

Joe, you have influenced a lot of my thinking, to the point where I started a digital publishing company (hauntedcomputerbooks.blogspot.com) and I'm breaking out a couple of writers I've been trying to help get published for a few years.

I make the case that, right now, Amazon is not only the best publisher on the planet, it is the most author-friendly. What other publisher is going to let you walk away at any time? What other publisher is about to give you 70 percent of net proceeds? What other publisher immediately puts you in the marketplace with your entire marketing vision for the book right at your fingertips?

Based on only six weeks of evidence, I have determined, based on the offer I would likely get from a NY publisher, even if someone wanted a book, I would make at least as much as they would offer just in the year or so it would take for them to "publish" the book. I am so convinced of this I am releasing The Skull Ring as an original suspense novel on March 1. I actually pulled this from submission at a publisher that is on the "professional" approved list of every major writing organization. Because I think, right now, I am more professional than they are.

Now, I am basically at the bottom of the rung in the publishing industry. No six-figure book deals here. Just simple math. I've found I can't convince other authors they need to be concerned about giving away (possibly forever) ebook rights at 15 percent royalty because we are still so snowed to be grateful if we get "accepted." Hell, even right now, I'd probably go gaga if someone wanted a book, and immediately forget everything I think I've learned.

But by the time July rolls around and the 70 percent royalty kicks in, I think I will know if I was right or not. For me.

I still believe publishers are important gatekeepers. I have no idea why they haven't been avidly building their own ebook stores over the last fifteen years, or why they haven't developed a Netflix-type subscription model or some sort of library system. Paper books may even do better because of dwindling competition in stores, and thus better profit margins, albeit with fewer titles.

All my career we've heard the only respectable writer is one who gets published by a major publisher. It is hard to shake that, no matter what the numbers show. Publishers are content controllers and distributors, not content creators. Control. Interesting word.

Joe Konrath said...

When it comes to entertainment people can be peculiar and emotional.

I agree. But look how the iPod and iPhone have changed the music industry.

The right ereader can do the same thing.

kennylenguas said...

Books are experienced by reading them. And yep, its true, books can be read on e-readers just as easily as the physical book. It may even be true that if you make books available free (via piracy or other means) more will be read.

Books must be read and digested, you can't just play them (ever listened to an audio book) or "experience" them like music (or video games). What about video gamers - to master a game they buy it and play it and play it and play it. You must own the code to continue playing. Maybe its a subscription and you'll tire of it then let it go.

A Textbook in e-form times out. Books on shelves, stored correctly, last a lifetime or centuries. You can go back to them for the knowledge they contain and quote them.

Already publishers and purveyors of books are "abridging" them and selling them "the way people want them" since the attention span in our wired society has become so short.

Yep, the book is changing, probably for the good considering all the books sitting in libraries that are out-of-print which will perhaps become accessible again, but the information in books requires attention and thought, something virtually every blogger that writes about e-books does far too little of themselves. Just putting a book into an electronic format won't make it easier to read, understand, or experience

Chris said...

So, here's an interesting (read idiotic) version of DRM being used by Ubisoft (a game publisher):

http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=235290&site=pcg

How they suppose that this will help them prevent piracy is anyone's guess (the gist is that, if your Internet connection to their server breaks FOR ANY REASON, your game immediately exits, without saving your state or anything).

Without even looking at the code, I can think of several different ways to crack it. And there are people who are MUCH better than me at cracking code that will undoubtedly have this thing broken the day of release.

Ubisoft made a huge bonehead maneuver with this one.

A Textbook in e-form times out. Books on shelves, stored correctly, last a lifetime or centuries. You can go back to them for the knowledge they contain and quote them.

You lost me on this comment.

Though physical books may (or may not) live on in perpetuity, they have an obvious number of flaws (and I love my physical books, don't get me wrong):

- To read the book, you need to HAVE the book. So, all of this information is limited to the chosen few who have a physical copy. EBooks don't have that problem.
- Even the best books have errors. With physical books, you're stuck with those errors until the next edition comes out. With Ebooks, errors can be corrected and facts updated as soon as they're found.
- The issue with "when the player goes to a higher version, I've lost all of my books if they aren't compatible" is an erroneous one. I guarantee the second people hear about changes, if the company doesn't come out with a format converter, then people themselves will. If I can run Windows 95 as a virtual machine on my hard drive and play HD video in my web browser, I'm sure I'll be able to convert the books I have with little effort.