Books: To E- or not to E-?

16019808532_3c6a940a6c_oI love books, and am getting used to the idea that a book isn’t necessarily a physical object. These days, I buy more books made of electrons than books made of dead trees.

The photo shows the first three books in Lemony Snicket’s current series, All the Wrong Questions. Each is in different form.

  1. Who Could That Be at This Hour? I have in hardback. I’d been meaning to try out the series for a while. I bought this particular edition because it was only $4 at a book fair at my kids’s school. Reading it made me want more books in the series, preferably in dead tree form. Although this is not a long book, this is a pleasingly chunky volume, with apt illustrations by Seth.
  2. When Did You See Her Last? I have in paperback. I bought it from Amazon, where the paperback edition was $7, and the Kindle edition only 35c cheaper. Still I wanted more.
  3. Shouldn’t You Be in School? I have as an ebook: on Kindle, to be specific. That edition was only $2 when I bought it (it now, a couple of weeks later, $4). I did have some concerns that the illustrations wouldn’t work as well on a tablet’s screen, but the cover and other illustrations show pretty well, I think.

As you can see, price sways me toward ebooks, but a lower ebook price doesn’t always defeat dead trees. But sometimes time defeats dead trees: a download takes seconds, rather than the hours or days involved in dead tree pickup or delivery. Sometimes ebooks win because they don’t take up shelf space, or gather dust.

How do you make the decisions between the ebooks and dead tree books?

eBooks: Pottermore and More

While there seem to be some big splashes in online music services (see the previous post, about Spotify and Facebook), much of it is caused by treading water. Meanwhile, there’s significant movement in eBooks.

The current big story is Pottermore.com. JK Rowling’s new site will offer many things, including, at last, Harry Potter ebooks. Such is the e-book-business impact that the Wall Street Journal has been very Pottermore-y of late (example).

Sam Jordinson in the Guardian hailed Rowling’s marketing genius.

Pottermore.com has allowed Rowling to neatly sidestep the middle man (Amazon), maintain complete control over pricing, scoop up nearly all the profits from royalties, and keep all the sales information and the further marketing opportunities that offers to herself. She will also more than likely do all of that at a price and quality that will leave her customers almost as delighted as her publishers (who remain on board) and her accountants.

There has been some mockery of JKR’s conversion to ebooks, after years of refusing to allow (legal) Potter ebooks; now she can capture the retailer’s, as well as the author’s, share of the proceeds. I’m not inclined to join the mockery

Part of the reason is that I’ve only recently embarked on ebooks myself, having had thoughts and doubts about ebooks for some time. What’s changed is that I now have an ebook-friendly device: an iPad.

The first full-length ebook I bought was Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House. I bought it at Amazon, when it was on sale for a couple of bucks. So I am using the Kindle application on the iPad, and it’s going pretty well so far.

I can’t bring myself to pay as much for an ebook as for the corresponding physical book. That may well change with time, and would be different if the ebook had worthwhile extras.

I don’t expect to be among the many who buy ebooks at Pottermore, although I’m sure I expect I’ll give the site a try.

Freemium, Ad-Supported Books?

The time for ads in books has come, according to an editorial in yesterday’s WSJ. Why now?

In short, physical books can’t compete with other print media for advertisers. Digital books can. With an integrated system, an advertiser or publisher can place ads across multiple titles to generate a sufficient volume. Timeliness is also possible, since digital readers require users to log in to a central system periodically.

For consumers, the free samples of digital books now available would surely include ads… Seeing ads in the sample may also convince a reader to pay for a premium, non-ad version of the full-length book. The old market segmentation of paperbacks and hardcovers will be replaced by ad-supported or ad-free books.

So books will be ad-supported and freemium. By the way, those two things go together. Why Ben Parr at Mashable thinks that ad-supported and freemium should be pitted against each other is beyond me, unless he was on a really tight deadline for a “web faceoff” post.

I don’t like the idea of ads in my books. But I am used to paying in order to make them my books, so I’d probably pay to get books without ads. And, come to think of it, if I can put up with DRM in books, I can put up with a lot.

The argument that advertisers like ebooks more than pbooks (or whatever we call physical/paper books) is a strong one. But as usual, if you want to see the future, you can go back in time: see Galleycat’s brief history shows that ads in books aren’t new.

What the Nook? Second Thoughts on eReading

My e-reader quest started a few posts ago, leaning toward the Nook.Then there was the “reality in the form of DRM” post: so what if Nook uses an open format, if it also uses a DRM wrapper?

Slow learner I sometimes am, I installed Nook for Android. It struck out.

  1. The Nook app wouldn’t let me just read an EPUB already on the Android. It wanted me to sign on to Nook/Barnes & Noble first. Why? I just wanted to read an EPUB I already have.
  2. When I tried to sign on using the Barnes & Noble name/password I’d set up, and checked multiple times in Chrome, it rejected the login.
  3. When I reported this to support, I was sent a standard “Thank you for inquiring about Barnes & Noble’s policy regarding disclosure of customer information” email. Of course, that was irrelevant to my question.

I’m inclined to nix the Nook notion. I’m even relighting my Kindle consideration.

eBooks, Open and Closed

Wizard of EarthseaHere’s a book I bought decades ago, and thousands of miles away from Washington DC. I’ve read it more than once, my mother read it, and I’m currently reading it to my daughter.

If I buy an ebook today, will I be able to read it at a similar remove of time and distance: in 2040 in Sydney, for example? I doubt it. You may have gathered that I an among those who prefer paper books to eBooks. ReadWriteRichard provides 5 reasons to prefer paper, and comments on his post provide more.

This post is about ebooks. So isn’t just a rehash of the advantages of paper. That said, those decades with paper anchor my expectations about books,and those expectations carry over into the upstart format.

Make that upstart ebook formats, since there are many of them. In my previous post on ebooks, I decided that EPUB was the way to go, since almost everyone except Amazon uses it. The trouble is, almost everyone also uses DRM. So EPUB is an open standard that can be, and usually is, wrapped up in DRM, as Gizmodo explained earlier this year.

This means that I can’t buy an book in EPUB format and read it on my hardware or software EPUB reader of choice. Or rather, I can do so only under limited circumstances. For example, I can read a Sony B&N ebook on a Nook, but I can’t read a B&N ebook on a Sony reader. Or, when I Google anything to do with EPUB and DRM, I get a lot of links that seem to lead to instructions for stripping DRM.

This “Tower of eBabel” problem makes me think that my eBook era doesn’t need to start any time soon, unless I suddenly have to go on a long and bookstoreless trip. The prices of the books themselves aren’t particularly attractive, unless you have a free eReader. The selection has some surprising gaps, as well. For example, there seems to be no e-dition of A Wizard of Earthsea.

Even I Am an eReader Now

I love books, always have, and always will. So what about ebooks? I haven’t used them. I don’t like reading large amounts of text on a computer screen, and eReaders are too expensive for my taste: I like gadgets, but not enough to pay early adopter prices.

Now that eReader prices are moving down towards $99, I’m starting to consider which one to get, or at least to request for a present come December. Here are my main criteria.

  • EPUB format support.
  • Price.
  • Easy enough on the eyes to actually read a book. I’m going to rely on reviews for this, since a quick in-store test-read won’t prove much about prolonged use.

The first criterion rules out a Kindle, tempting though the new Kindle Wi-Fi is at $139 on the price criterion. I don’t want my eShelf to rest on a proprietary format.

Almost everything else on the market does support EPUB, according to Wikipedia’s comparison of e-book formats. So it’s time to do some research on Nook and the like, or at least keep my eyes and feed reader open over the next few months.

I’m hoping for “a sub-$100 device with no connectivity other than a USB port”. The quote is from Joe Wickert, even though he has a Kindle in mind.

Since I’m going EPUB, I’ve installed a software eReader on my Android. I went with Aldiko, after reading Matthew Miller’s comparison of apps. That’ll get its own post soon.

In the meantime, any comments on EPUB readers and content stores are most welcome.

Kindle the Second

Amazon’s Kindle 2 will be released on Feb 24. I’d like a Kindle, but not at $350+. That’s similar to my reaction to the first Kindle, but it’s moved up from “It’s clunky, but I’d kind of like one” to “I’d really like one.”

The Boston Globe emphasized the Stephen King connection: he’s written a novella for, and featuring, the Kindle. It also covered the reservations expressed by Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. The Wall Street Journal reported other objections from the same source.

Meanwhile, on the west coast, Niniane posted a valentine to the Kindle 2. And at GigaOm, Kevin surmised that Amazon’s ebook business will be dating hardware other than the Kindle, based on the announcement that the new “Whispersync” technology will sync with “a range of mobile devices in the future.”

Back here, I’m wondering how what sort of price a gently used Kindle 1 will go for as Kindle fans upgrade. I’m also wondering when the Kindle 3 will arrive, what features it will have, and what the price of gently used Kindle 2s will be at that time.

Doing the Kindle Shuffle

The Amazon Kindle has been one of the big stories of the week. In one of the more positive accounts, Business Week‘s Aaron Pressman writes of a compelling investment opportunity to buy Amazon shares now… Kindle will be the iPod of books.

I don’t think that the Kindle will do for Amazon what the iPod did for Apple – although the Kindle sold out right away. I do think that there will be many more models of Kindle, just as there have been many more iPods.

Hey, what about the Kindle Shuffle? The two novels I’m reading at the moment, Absurdistan and Farthing, might work rather well shuffled together.

Going back to the BW article, some of the comments at the online version are interesting. So is the author’s reaction. “Getting lots of comments about the supposed closedness of the Kindle. It’s open just like the iPod.” No comment from me on that…