Thursday, March 10, 2011

Six things about e-books

E-books are really really hot in the news (again), in significant part because of through-the-roof sales of Amanda Hocking's self-published novels ... which I am not going to write about because Kristin Nelson, Nathan Bransford, Lauren Abramo, and the author herself have already thoroughly deconstructed the hype.

Nope. I'm going to list five other things about e-books that have been news in the last several weeks, and that I think are worth a second thought. Here we go...

HarperCollins policy punishes libraries

As Publisher's Weekly explained last week, "HarperCollins -- citing the explosive growth of e-book sales --announced a new e-book lending policy beginning March 7 that will limit the length of its library licenses to a maximum of 26 loans per e-title." Librarians are furious, and Pimp My Novel blogger Eric explains how and why the publisher's policy is "completely nuts" in his post Panic! at the Library. (In a parenthetically related note, a former director of four public libraries who posts as "inHI" shared Thoughts on Public Library Funding this past Sunday on Daily Kos.)

Jon Carroll on what's dysfunctional about e-readers

Jon Carroll is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. On 2 March 2011 Carroll wrote about his experience using a Kindle. I like his columns in general, and this particular perspective was a good example of why that's so. In Mr. Carroll's own words:

"I've been using my Kindle for two months now. [...] I quite like it - it's light, it's readable, and the tabs and buttons are intuitive and easy to use. Still, it's really, in my view anyway, only good for fiction. I like the random facts and discursive paragraphs in nonfiction, in part because I can use them for my column. I did not realize until I started using the Kindle that the advantage of a real book is that I can find specific sentences and paragraphs quickly using only my brain. I remember where in the book the page is, and where on the page the quote is. This is not a matter of turning down pages or inserting ripped-up bits of paper; it's just remembering. Using that technique on a Kindle is essentially impossible. There are no page numbers, and no good way to mark passages. There's a certain sameness to the typography, a digital-versus-analog thing, that is wearying after a while. I do like how portable it is, how good it is for lines and waiting rooms, but it ain't a book. So, you know, now what?"

Are e-book sales going up? You betcha.

Here's a summary from the AAP (Association of American Publishers) report on ebook sales, from Publisher's Weekly on Feb 21: "The Association of American Publishers' domestic sales report for 2010 showed e-book sales jumping significantly from last year, rising 164.4%, with e-books bringing in $441 million at the 14 companies that reported sales, compared to $166.9 million in 2009. While all print categories were down slightly in 2010, children's/YA hardcover dropped the most, at 9.5%. The good news for reporting companies is that the significant growth in e-book sales was able to make up for the drops in print revenue, resulting in a 0.2% increase in combined print and e-book sales in 2010. E-book sales represented 8.3% of combined trade sales in 2010, up from 3.2% in 2009. E-book sales have jumped 623% since 2008, when sales from reporting companies were $61.3 million, a figure that represented about 1% of trade sales."

Random House comes around to the "agency model" for e-books

This one's a bit arcane for those who don't follow the minutae of how publishing works. The "agency model" means that a bookseller (like Barnes & Noble or receives a commission on books sold at the price a publisher sets; this differs from the usual model for printed books, in which a vendor buys some quantity from a publisher and sets the price itself. Why is this important to e-book authors and buyers? Because it is a direct challenge to Amazon's lock on the market (including price-setting) for e-books, and aligns well with Apple's iBookstore business model. With his usual clarity, and the advantage of his insider perspective, Eric's The Agency Six provides a more complete explanation on his blog, Pimp My Novel. [UPDATE: About 20 min. after this post hit the intertubes, Nathan Bransford posted Why Some E-Books Cost More Than The Hardcover, which goes a long way toward explaining why bookselling looks so bloody confusing to book buyers in these perilous times.]

The iPad 2

The iPad 2 is more, thinner, lighter, faster, and -- we're told -- better that tatty old original iPad; it is an Apple device; and it may well push the boundaries of what people do with e-books. I don't plan to buy one, but Steve Jobs doesn't care because millions of others will -- starting tomorrow. Along with changes to the way books are sold (cf. the "agency model" note, above), the iPad 2 may prove a key element of Apple's strategy to challenge Amazon's dominance of e-book readers (i.e., the Kindle) and e-book sales.

Is the e-book revolution really revolutionary???

When curious about reality in all things bookish, it's generally a good bet to check on what Nathan Bransford has to say. Here's Nathan's 22 February take on reality in Do Record Stores Point the Way of the Future for Bookstores: "When you consider that the digital revolution happened in music a little over a decade ago, it's interesting to see what has happened to record stores since the rise of the mp3. Basically: carnage on a massive scale. A huge number of stores closed, especially national chains. [...] And an interesting fact to bear in mind is that digital revenue still has not surpassed physical."

Nathan cited a NY Times article of 20 Jan 2011, Digital Music Sales are Starting to Slow, Report Says: "Sales of digital music now account for 29 percent of record companies’ global revenue [...]"

He also cited a Dayton Daily News (Ohio) article of 20 Jan that asserted "Vinyl was the fastest-growing music format in an otherwise distressed year, according to data from Nielsen SoundScan. The throwback format increased 14 percent, selling more copies in 2010 than any other year since SoundScan started tracking sales in 1991." The more things change...

Looking for a bottom line here? You probably can't find a straight one, but I'll propose this:

The book's not dead. Long live the book!

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Speed dating for the bookish
Losing libraries (guest post)
Book clubs in a box from the public library

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