Tour’s Books Blog

March 1, 2012

The New e-reader War

Filed under: Editorial,Musing on life,opinion — toursbooks @ 2:43 pm
Tags: ,

3-8-12 Here’s an update.  Don’t know how long the link will work DOJ Takes on Apple & Publishers in Price Fixing


With days getting longer and temperatures getting warmer, my nose running and eyes watering, it sure does feel like spring is coming.  The other sure sign, no football.  SIGH!  It’s the only sport I actually watch, so when the season ends, it’s withdrawal time and weekends are not fun.

I was reading an article on the web about the revolt that’s slowly happening among ebook reader owners.  I often whine about the lack of value for the money with ebooks, especially those from small press publishers.  $5.50-$5.99 for a novella is just plain silly.  The vast majority of books I’m reading these days are purchased thru Amazon on the 4-for-3 plan.  I do buy some just released hardcovers by favorite authors, and I also buy used hardcovers and trade paperbacks.  With the 4-for-3 promotion, I’m paying $5.99 for a full novel – and many are 300+ pages and 120,000+ words!  Why I should pay  $5.50-$5.99 for 35,000 words of a badly done novella?  Is convenience worth that kind of money?  Makes no sense to me.  But the big problem with e-reader owners seems to lay with the price of of the ebook version of newly released hardcovers.  Not having a dedicated e-reader, and still reading most of my books in print, that hasn’t been a personal issue, but I do feel they have a point.

Americans love gadgets.  Especially electronic gadgets!  Smartphones are the hottest of the hot – until the cell providers start charging by usage, or throttling speeds on those who suck up too much capacity.  By 2013, air time will be really rationed as demand outstrips capacity, despite the FCC making more frequencies available.   But how cool is it to watch a movie on a smartphone?  Apparently, very cool.  Well, e-readers, Apple’s I-pads, and now Amazon’s Fire and B&N new Nook don’t call friends, but they are doing battle in the ebook and entertainment wars. Welcome to the brave new world – you can pay silly prices for little gadgets and watch movies on business card sized screens, or lose the phone and watch them on slightly bigger screens (Kindle Fire and Nooks), or join Apple I-pad and get the biggest screen.  Bottom line – what do you want, what will you pay upfront, and how much are willing to go on paying over the useful life of the product?  (Life expectancy being only slightly longer than that of the average fruit fly.)

In the beginning, the purpose of e-books was to eliminate printing, physical storage and distribution, bricks and mortar stores, and all the associated costs for the infrastructure and personnel.  OK, makes sense.  A HUGE chunk of the book cost just went away. (Yes, yes, I know there’s all the formatting crap for various software packages, but I do that all the time in my work.  It’s a pain, not brain surgery, so publishers spare us the drama queen act.)   The big plus for owners of e-readers remains the convenience of being able to carry hundreds of hardcover and paperbacks in a device that weighs less than a small paperback.  (The durability of such devices is a whole different issue I’m simply avoiding here.)  A win-win, right?  NO!  Seems basic human greed has entered into the equation.  It usually does.

Ebook readers were sold on the basic premise that ebooks would cost less than print and Amazon promised bestsellers for $9.99.  Makes sense. Early e-readers certainly had a hefty price tag, but cheap ones are out there these days.  It might just be a break even on cost, but the convenience is worth it, especially for those who travel a lot.  When Amazon introduced the Kindle, I ran the numbers on book pricing and figured it would take me 5 years to save enough to pay for the nearly $400 device – or 3 years longer than the device would last.  Well, now they sell (a MUCH smaller version) for as little as $79.  At that price, yes, you can get it back in savings if you read a lot of hardcovers, reap the convenience of an e-reader, but lose the ability to ‘send it on down the line’.  Now it’s just a question of personal preference.  Many people will pay for the convenience factor – and publishers are loving them!

From the beginning, my reason for not getting a e-reader had less to do with price than with value derived from sharing books.  Passing on the pleasure of a book to another.  Amazon tried to address that by allowing owners of ebooks to ‘loan’ their ebook for a limited amount of time.   Of course that other person would need a Kindle AND have to be in range of a cell signal.  (Hummmmm – that leaves my brother out!)  Well, I don’t want to be a librarian – despite the fact that I worked several happy summers in libraries in my youth.  I want to give my books away.  I want, “Bye Bye!  Have a good life where ever you go!”  Not, “So long.  See you in a few weeks!”

No question, in the convenience race, ebooks win hands down.  My house if littered with piles of books – and piles of corrugate from Amazon that needs recycling. My hundreds of ebooks sit unnoticed in computer hard drive.  But I can send the print books to my brother, and if his wife wants to read them she can.  Then they go to their friends or to PBS for swapping!  Or they head to a book sale as a fund raiser.  I give books to a neighbor who lets other neighbors select what they wants and takes the rest to the Friends of Library sale.  That works for me.  But all of that is work.  I spends hours each week wrapping and shipping books, packing books to be given away, and re-stacking the ever growing mountain of to-be-read books.  All that clutter would disappear with ebooks.  But then, so would all the third, fourth and fifth readers the books have, readers I’ve never even met.  Readers who can’t afford used books, much less e-readers and ebooks.

All my own warm, gooey sentiment for print books aside,  it’s the owners of e-readers that resent the current pricing structure – one that publishers control, not Amazon or B&N.  Understandable.  That Amazon 4-for-3 promotion that has me buying books like crazy does NOT extend to ebooks!  And take a look at the price of ebooks for current hardcovers.  It’s not the $9.99 that everyone thought they would be.  Publishers see ebooks as a premium service where their profits are larger. “You can afford an e-reader, well be prepared to pay!”  And Amazon is now selling more ebooks than hardcovers.  As long as that happens, it’s unlikely prices will come down any time soon. Publishers want their cash cow alive, well, and all theirs!   Some authors are getting clever and doing end runs.  The Detachment by Barry Eisler was released 6 months early in ebook prior to the print copy – from a indie publisher.  Welcome to publishing’s new frontier, well known authors going indie.  Can you blame them?  The only ones raking in more money on ebook price gouging are the publishers, not the authors.  And it’s readers who get their pockets picked.

I can sit back and watch the whole war play out.  I don’t have a dog in this fight, so let ’em rip.  Amazon and the DOJ vs Apple and old line publishers.  The poor readers are forgotten.  Steaming about cost, and poor quality, they find themselves paying more than they ever thought for the privilege of convenience.  I read the Amazon reviews for a book and I am amazed at how many have blistering negatives not about the book content, but the ebook and pricing/quality issues!  That has got steam the authors.  The other side effect of this ‘luxury pricing’ attitude is the fact escalating ebook costs have cut deeply into my willingness to read novellas and short novels from small press pubs and new authors.  I’m a small scale user of ebooks, so I doubt I’m much missed, but I do try new authors all the time and I’m happy to promote the good ones here, on PBS and elsewhere.  Now, I’m reluctant to send the price of a discounted new print book for a novella or short novel in electronic format that I can’t pass on to friends.  I have to believe there are others out there like me.  Books are my one big vice, but even I have have my limits.  Plus ebooks are up against Amazon’s 4-for-3, PBS swaps, and used books, so they aren’t essential for my entertainment.   I’m good.  I don’t know for how long, but right now, I’m OK.  Let the ebook wars rage.  And may the consumer FINALLY win one!  Then I’ll buy an e-reader!  Maybe.

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