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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The e-book Revolution: Publishing Wars, Kindle, and Readers

Until recently, publishers didn't take e-books seriously because they only accounted for less than 1% of books sold. But now, according to Jonathan Kirsch, host of The Politics of Culture radio show, everyone in the publishing industry is paying attention to what he calls the "e-book revolution." He says it started with Amazon's kindle e-book reader--a product that did for e-books what iPod did for music. And last Christmas, e-book sales outnumbered print sales for the first time in history!

In Jonathan Kirsch's radio show yesterday, he interviewed New York Times digital media columnist Motoko Rich, Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital blogger Peter Kafka, and e-book reader/fan and author herself, Dora Levy Mossanen about kindle, e-books, and ibooks.

Early adopters or mainstream?
Where e-book readers used to be for early adopters, it appears they have migrated to the general public. And surprisingly, these adopters are not the young and tech savvy, a lot of them are in their fifties and sixties and simply love books. With over three million sales in e-book reading devices (e-book readers) it's surprising to me that I don't see people using them in the general public. You'd think I'd catch people reading in restaurants on their lunch break, in the doctor's office, or at a bus stop. But although e-book sales represent the fastest growing proportion of the publishing market, they still only represent about 5% of total book sales, according to Motoko Rich. Rich also says that even though e-book sales occupy a lot of mind space and are the leading cause of anxiety among publishers, it isn't the way the majority of the world reads. In fact, three million e-book readers is small potatoes compared to the forty plus million print sales.

So what's the attraction to e-book readers anyway?
Author Dora Levy Mossanen talked about how she loved the ease and speed of the kindle--being able to carry twenty books with her at all times to fill the small pockets of her day by reading, being able to download a book within 30 seconds from any location, and having her newspapers delivered to her each morning. On the downside, she missed having a book cover and an author photo, which she often sought out in her local bookstore.

Will kindle stay on top?
While kindle is the industry leader, Peter Kafka argues that a multi-purpose devise (such as Apple's forthcoming iPad)--with its ability for web browsing and video in addition to book reading--will eventually displace a single-purpose device (such as the kindle). But for readers, committing to one e-reading product is pretty much the only option we have right now. There are many e-book readers--Barnes & Noble's Nook, Sony's Reader, Amazon's kindle, Apple's iPad--but as far as I know, they have format issues and aren't truly compatible with one another.

As far as reading quality, the kindle seems to be far superior except for the fact that it doesn't have a backlight option, like some others, which would be ideal for reading at night, say, in bed, where you'd still need additional lighting without waking up your hubby.

Publishers, Pricing Wars, and Consumers
For the book-buying audience, purchasing a new book at $9.99 as opposed to a hardcover print book at $24.95 is an attractive option. According to Motoko Rich, Amazon was actually losing money because they currently pay publishers a wholesale price that is about half the list price of a hardcover book, which typically ranges from $25-$35. So, Amazon was losing about $2.50-$4 every time they sold one of those $9.99 books. That freaked publishers out because they thought the $9.99 price was an eroding of value of what a new book was worth. NY publishing houses were concerned that they couldn't sustain the current business model that requires editing, copyediting, marketing, overhead, author advances, etc., so they wanted to take control of pricing. But they came to an agreement with Apple so that when the new iPad comes out in March '10, publishers will be able to set the consumer price according to hardcover book pricing. What that means to the book-buying public is that books bought on the iPad will most likely be a little more expensive than the kindle--approximately $12.99-$14.99. It's still less expensive than buying a new print book, but it will be interesting to see how current e-book buyers react to the increase.

From an author and writer's standpoint, Dora Levy Mossanen says, with price points and publishing wars, she feels the pain for her writer friends who have a hard time finding a publisher in an industry that's turned upside down, but at the same time she recognizes the value of e-books and knows that the trend cannot be stopped. She feels that the new digital trends and formats allow authors to tap into an audience they might not otherwise reach.

Another good point for authors and publishers is that with e-books they have very low overhead and no worry of book damage or returns, so that may make up for the reduction in price in the end.

My take?
The e-book revolution is here and in full swing! I'm happy to be on the verge of a change in publishing and can't wait to see the advances in technology. Like anything, there will be a standard model set in place soon and e-book reading devices will become synchronized in formats in the future and, hopefully, will continue to offer low prices and eco-friendly options to hungry book lovers.

Now, I want to know: do you read e-books? Do you have a kindle or another e-book reader? What's your preferred reading device?


  1. I do not yet own one of these readers, but I am sure will get one not too long from now.

    I like having a book in my hand, but that's because I'm used to it. It's just a matter of time and a matter of getting adjusted to something new.

    It's clearly the wave of the future and there is no use fighting it.

  2. I got a Kindle DX for my birthday last year and absolutely LOVE it!! Being a reader who has at least 5 or 6 books going at any given time, it's been more than convenient to take it with me everywhere.

    Publishers need to go back to the drawing board and change their business models. They really can make much more money from people like me, who also frequents the library. I used to renew books until I worked my way through the pile of books I check out. Now, if I like a book into the first few chapters, I buy it in a matter of seconds for a much lower price. I can see where this will kill the used bookstores though.

    Sure there are a few things about the device I'd like to see, like the background lighting and a better filing system, but the perks of reading on the device have more than made up for it, and I can wait for the industry to improve ereaders.

  3. I just got myself the Barnes and nobel nook and I had the first kindle. I actually love having an ereader because it's like a bookstore in my hands.I like the fact that I can download a book in seconds which means I will read and buy more.I also love seeing the cover art and I think the nook addresses this.
    I agree it's the wave of the future and the same thing music companies are facing. They all need to re adjust to a digital age.
    The readers as with all new technology have bugs to work out but I think the future looks great.

  4. I have a Sony Reader - it's blue. I love the idea of carrying hundreds of books around in the palm of my hand. I wish I'd had the e-book reader a few years ago when I lived/studied abroad in England. When I came home I threw away a lot of clothes and shoes so I could dedicate an entire suitcase to all of the books I'd accumulated!

    But, as much as I like the idea of the Reader, I rarely ever use it. I downloaded 100+ free classics when I first got it and then donated my print versions of the classics to the library sale.

    I love books for more than just their literary value and stories inside. I love the covers, I love the way they feel and smell. Books decorate my apartment.

    I'm a pretty tech savvy girl, but I don't think I could 100% convert to an e-book reader. At least not in this decade.

  5. I owe my recent success to the Kindle. Pricing my books at 99 cents for the Kindle allowed readers who wouldn't have given me the time of day otherwise to take a chance. Fortunately, they liked what they read, posted reviews, and word-of-mouth spread from there. Faking It peaked at #6 on the Kindle Store Bestseller list two weeks ago, and is holding steady in the Top 20. Ordinary World is #10 in Contemporary Romance and in the Top 100 overall.

    I've written about the quandry of this -- I love tactile books and independent bookstores (especially since they've been so supportive of me). I've been told that I'm contributing to the price wars and the devaluing of books by pricing my own books so low. But it got me what I really wanted: a readership.

    The industry is in the midst of a paradigm shift, and I hope they can pull through it because e-readers will be as common in iPods by the end of the year, I predict. I see no reason why print books and e-books can't happily co-exist!

  6. I got one of the first Kindles made. I like being able to increase font size. I can read faster, and thus, more books this way and it is easier on my eyes. If a book I want is not available on Kindle, I request it and wait until it becomes available. I love my Kindle.


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