Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

After looking at the results of yesterday's poll and some of the comments you all had re: the evil that is e-ink, I (as usual) have formed some opinions and generated a few thoughts in response. (I have lots of thoughts and opinions, most which have to do with books and/or cookies.)

First, the problem of eye strain. As mentioned in the comments and in Nathan's Jedi mind-reading mirror poll, most e-reader screens are made with e-ink, meaning they reflect light like a book page does, rather than generating light like a computer screen. Though I'm still warming up to my Sony reader, I have to say that eye strain isn't an issue for me, and I'm curious as to whether the problem of eye strain is generally related to personal experience or is merely assumed to be true based on a perceived analogy between backlit computer screens and e-reader screens.

Second, the price. True, e-readers these days will cost you a bundle, but much like the VCR (remember those?), DVD player, and pretty much any other media device, the price is going to drop precipitously once multiple generations of the machine are available and market penetration reaches a certain point. I voted in Nathan's poll, indicating I'd spend $100 on an e-reader, though to be fair I might drop $150 if I really, really liked it. At $100 for a reader and $10 (roughly) per book, it would only take 15 "hardcovers" to pull a full copy ahead of the p-book game. Observe:

$18 per print hardcover x 14 hardcovers = $252.
$100 e-reader + $10 per book x 15 "hardcovers" = $250.

And I'd recoup my initial investment on the 13th copy ($18 x 13 = $234; $100 + $10 x 13 = $230). True, readers aren't retailing for $100—yet. But eventually they'll get there. Will you buy one then? (I'm starting to feel a little like Sam-I-Am here.)

Third, there's the problem of having your entire library in one place. Admittedly, yes, if you drop your reader in the toilet, you'll lose all your books. Unless, of course, the future is graced by a magical yet strangely ominous entity that ties your virtual library to an on-line account, not an individual reader, so if you order a new reader from them and access your account on it... all your books will be back.

This does not happen if your house burns down with all your print books in it (heaven forbid).

Fourth, resale and lending. Barnes & Noble's newfangled nook (no capitalization allowed, apparently) has a rudimentary lending feature, and there's no reason to think better lending applications won't be integerated into future models. True, resale will probably be forever beyond the ability of the e-book (or, more accurately, retailers will prevent this capability in order to maintain profits... unless they decide to take a cut of whatever profits you make on the resale), but why would you need to resell an e-book? Is it taking up too much space on your e-shelf or in your e-garage? Personally, I don't find this a serious problem.

Agreed, you can't get an e-book autographed—yet. But the first completely wireless, slim, full-color, touch-screen-with-stylus (for my personal annotations and Michael Chabon's signature) reader that comes out for under $200 will have my hard-earned cash faster than you can say "nook." Yes. That fast.


  1. I also voted that i would spend $100 on an e-reader and am looking forward to the time when i can do that.
    But i still plan on reading real books too. I don't see them as being mutually exclusive

  2. Okay, you know what? I'm starting to think you have a financial interest in actively advertising e-readers. As in maybe you and Nathan have been paid or SOMETHING, but all these posts positively obsessed with e-readers, people's opinions on e-readers, why e-readers are actually really awesome and practical, what implications e-readers blah blah blah holy hell. Stop. Move onto another topic. Geez, this is the sort of shameless pimping I'd expect to find in an amsterdam red light district, not in a freaking industry blog.

  3. You didn't address the issue of the sloooow page turns. With a paper book, I can flip the page so fast that I'm already reading the new one before it flattens to the other side. I'm not going pause, even for two seconds, for the new page to load.

    I hear this problem doesn't exist on the iPhone or iTouch. Yet another reason to go that way.

  4. Yeah, but you're still ignoring the major problem: there's absolutely no _need_ for e-readers. This isn't a question of horse carriages vs. cars, or radio vs. television. This is a question of a new full-color photo printer vs. my laser printer--and I only print b&w manuscripts composed entirely of text.

    All these questions and polls are basically asking, 'Why aren't you using a pen with a built-in audio recorder instead of that stupid old ballpoint?

    Because I don't need a built-in audio recorder.

  5. I agree with anonymous 10:46. I'm not saying e-readers are evil. I'll probably get one at some point. But to push them to the exclusion of printed books is misguided, to say the least. What are you going to sell to when bookstores are gone? Or don't you care?

  6. Still definitely against e-readers. I don't like to read e-books even if they are offered to me for free. For me, they just ruin the reading experience. I like to have a book in my hands, enjoy different sizes, binds, fonts of different books, and associate each book with its cover and texture. And I like to see the tangibility of my hundreds of books around me, which I hope one day will be thousands. They may be more expensive, but that's one industry, I shall continue to support, and hope that the damned e-readers don't take over.

  7. Okay, I said I'd pay $50, but you've convinced me to pay $100 for a hypothetical e-reader. It would take me longer to earn back my money since I usually wait for the paperback, but then again I might start getting books earlier if I'd already invested in the reader, in which case I'm getting additional value...

  8. I'm also holding out for the full color e-ink and annotation. If I can read both novels and color pdfs (scientific papers), then I'm totally in.

  9. I definitely think that those who prefer mass market paperbacks are going to be the hold outs-- myself being one of them-- because the e-reader not only is an upfront excessive cost, but the books themselves are still 2 bucks more expensive than the paper back that sits on my shelf. IF I regularly purchased hardcovers, then maybe that'd be a different story.

    And like I said on Nathan's blog, Give me an e-reader that the comic book companies are going to put their stuff on and I won't lose the art in translation, and maybe I could be won over.

  10. Dear Anonymous @ 10:46 AM:

    I don't know about Nathan, but I can assure you I've been paid absolutely nothing to talk about e-readers here on PMN—in fact, I've never been paid anything for doing anything with this blog, ever.

    And of course it's shameless pimping. THIS BLOG IS CALLED "PIMP MY NOVEL." Jesus.

  11. Eric, please don't lie. You and Nathan have been conspiring for years for evil technologies.

    You destroyed the BetaMax by pushing VHS, and then destroyed VHS by pushing DVDs. You destroyed vinyl by pushing cassettes, cassettes by pushing CDs...

    I think you were also behind the printing press (which destroyed reading), the hardcover (which destroyed scrolls), and the mass market (which imploded the industry as a whole).

    You also caused WalMart, because they are evil. It seems like Dan Brown should write about you for his next novel. Tell me, are you an albino monk or covered in tattoos?

    (See you all for round ups tomorrow!)

  12. @Anon 10:46: There's not as much pimping in the Red Light District as you might think (unless you go downstairs). Most women stand in their doors sans pimp.

    @Anon 10:56: ereaders' page turning speed is not that slow. First gen kindle had some issues and I hear that PDFs can still be a problem rendering in a timely fashion, but I already use B&N's ereader software and pages turn faster than I could turn a page in a book.

    @bingol: I have a need for an ereader. I don't enjoy reading on my Blackberry, I won't buy an iTunes until it's compatible with Flash and available on networks other than AT&T, my commute negates using a computer, and my bag is full enough that an ereader is and always be preferable to carrying a hardback book.

  13. And by buying iTunes I meant buying an iPhone.

  14. I'm no expert on pimping, but I'm fairly sure that following the news and commenting on the latest innovations has been done before. Um, a lot.

    I also voted for $100, but because at that price point I can consider giving it as a gift.

    Savviest comment I've seen so far is when . . .

    nook price = iPod price

    . . .then the mainstream will snap it up.

  15. Imagine the corporate music industry asking similiar questions about mp3 players ten years ago. Now, the mp3 has wrecked the music industry. If books are digitized, the codes will be cracked and the content pirated and many people who now happily buy new books (hard cover and paperback) will never do so again if they're available on blogs for free (like pretty much every album ever). Thus: the publishing industry should stick to what it does best. Publish the best possible books and spread the word. Collaborate with one another and undermine Borders and B&N -- work with independents or even open small stores that feature their books. Work to make reading relevant and desirable. Do something bold with their time-tested perfect product instead suiciding themselves with technology.

  16. Joseph:

    Does an e-reader really weight that much less than a trade paperback? If paperbacks were published simultaneous with hardback, as I believe is done in the UK, would that meet your need as well as an e-reader?

    (And yes, I get a cut of every paper book, which is why I enjoy talking about how little I need e-readers.)

  17. an e-reader is cheaper than enough decent, attractive shelving to hold 1500 books. actually, my horrible ikea shelf units were about $650. *they* hold fewer than 1500 books, are pretty ugly (luckily they're full of books so they don't show that much) and i have a heck of a time finding the title i'm looking for.

    e-ink causes exactly *zero* of the physiological challenges of a backlit screen -- the most significant of which may be inappropriate wakefulness from staring at it at night. (t.v. supposedly presents the same challenges.) also, e-ink is perfectly legible in bright sunlight, and i find my kindle to be easier on the eyes in direct sun than some (though not all) of my print books.

    an e-reader may not weigh less than a trade paperback; but it weighs less than 1/3 of the trade paperback i hauled with me for much of the summer of 07 -- infinite jest weighs 3 lbs in paper. (yeah. you only *think* you're not choosing reading material by size.) and the kindle weighs far less than a trade paperback plus the new oxford american dictionary -- which is integrated on the device. and any e-ink reader certainly weighs less than *several* paperbacks; which i am glad to have when i finish a book halfway through my commute.

    an e-ink reader will also hold professional and course readings -- articles and such -- transparently alongside longer-form texts. no more wrinkled printouts knocking around in my bag.

    timing's not an issue for me personally because i perpetually have a crazy-long reading list. but just as paperbacks are less expensive than books bound in boards, e-books should be more economical than paperbacks. why? no warehousing; no inventory to track; far lower insurance costs; no remainders; no guesswork as to how large to make the print-run.

    i'm starting to think that the real reason people are so attached to the mass-produced physical book, may be that they are more interested in *looking like* they read, than they are in actually reading.

  18. Laura: LOL! I knew it! It was Eric all along!

  19. One major problem with e-readers that I can't imagine they'd ever fix--losing the sheer pleasure of just browsing a bookshelf in a store. Or gobbling up the one and two dollar sales at a used bookstore, before meandering toward the higher priced shelves and finding books you probably never would have otherwise. Or browsing in a library. I don't want to lose that.


  20. I do think e-readers have a place. I think it's fantastic that we will be able to use fewer trees in the production of books, and being and avid reader, I'm tired of hauling 50lbs of books around on holidays. BUT ,here's the thing. I have a huge box of VHS tapes out in my garage that I will never look at again. There may even be a few Beta tapes out there too. Thankfully we finally got rid of our boxes of vinyl, but it hurt to see those go, and we never did replace them all with CDs. The point I'm making is this: books are the ultimate technology. They have survived for hundreds of years because they are perfect. I can take my book camping and I don't have to worry about finding a place to plug it in. I don't need to worry about upgrades or obsolescence. A book just "is."

  21. Wow, I know that there's a lot of controversy over e-readers and all, but some of us are in need of a serious nap today...or perhaps a drink...or two...and then a nap!

    I don't personally know Eric, Nathan, or anyone else who contributes to this blog, but the suggestion that they're being compensated for discussing e-readers (a hot topic of debate and discussion on, oh, say...EVERY blog in the industry) is lame. Sorry. It just is.

    Wow. Maybe I need a nap.

    That said, I am a book *nut*. Love everything about the pages, the feel, the smell of the ink, the whole nine yards. I'm always going to have them. Guess what else I'm always going to have?

    An e-reader.

    Look, I'm married to a network engineer whose favorite thing to do is point out that you can't hide from progress. It's going to find you. Resistance is futile, and all. You might not like it, but e-readers are going to happen. Will this change the industry? Yup. Will we adapt to these changes? Yup. Protest all you want, and loudly, I say! You can't hide from progress.

    Can't remember who posted about the e-reader falling into the toilet, but I know someone who had this happen to her iPod. She had a backup of her music on her computer, thankfully. Anyone want to suggest that to the all powerful makers of the e-reader?

    Also, anon 2:11, even though I am all about the idea of an e-reader, I'm right there with you at those sales. As it turns out, you *can* have your cake and eat it, too :)

  22. I can't tell you how excited I am that e-readers have *finally* made it to the general public. What I would have given to go to college *without* trudging around textbooks that are 3 inches thick!

    It's not just about what the e-readers provide right now -- it's about what they will provide in the future: They will eventually be integrated with PC systems, with interactive, 3-D, holographic-style imagery. Once again, as a student, I would have loved to be able to click on an illustration and have it actually *show* me what it's doing.

    We could go on and on about where this is leading us, and we can argue about whether the changes are good or bad, but they are changes that will happen. And then the next big controversial issue will be people proclaiming how they'll *never* plug a book into their head, because they enjoy the physical experience of holding an e-reader far too much to ever change.

    Eric -- my understanding with the Kindle is that the books purchased are connected to your account, not your specific reader, and Amazon keeps track of all your purchases. So if you get a new one or break your current one, you'll get all your purchases back.

  23. The world is changing. I hope I can keep up. Thanks for the post!

  24. Sadly, a lot of people do not get their reading material by buying new hardcovers. OMG, how could voracious readers afford books and food. So the e-readers need to allow access in other ways.
    The ipod can accept audio books from many sources. If only iTunes purchases counted, it wouldn't be the market success it is.
    Ebook readers need to figure out how to work that way.
    Ebooks are here to stay. I called a sick friend (a woman in her late 70s) and asked if she needed groceries or books. She said all was fine, she had her Kindle. So I just suggested a few titles she could order.

  25. Closet Chick Lit ReaderNovember 12, 2009 at 5:36 PM

    Okay yesterday I was one of the don't need it, don't want it peeps. But today...well, I had to take a book to my daughter's tennis lesson and I am in the middle of two books--Oscar Wao and (hanging head in shame) Sammy's Hill by Kristan Gore. You know, the "Bridget Jones of Capital Hill." (the book, not the author)

    So you know, one literary masterpiece, one chick lit piece of...nevermind. Since we live in one of those suburbs full of super educated women who've quit their jobs to hyper parent... well, I took the Junot Diaz.

    But if I'd had a kindle or nook you know I would have been reading Sammy's Hill.

  26. I hardly think Eric is pimping anything but novels, and I thank him for it.

    On a lighter note, check out The Onion on the latest Sony Gizmo.

  27. I played around with several different e-readers this summer (dating myself in case there's been some monumental change in the past few months - entirely possible!) and they do bug my eyes. But I'm near-sighted and have an astigmatism, so I'm probably more sensitive than most folks.

  28. Not too sure about the cost breakdown given in the post. My first thought was, "Hardcovers? People still buy hardcovers?"

    That's another Pimp My Novel post, but I do know that some publishers go straight to trades. So the equations showing how quickly ereaders earn back makes no sense. When I look at ebook costs, I'm comparing them to trades and pocket books, *not* hardcovers that I wouldn't buy anyways if I can help it. I don't like them. I feel like I'm reading a textbook. While I'm complaining (sorry), I hate having to cross my fingers that enough people like hardcovers that a paperback edition of a book I want to read will come out. And no, I don't see ebooks as a substitute for paperbacks, simply because paperbacks don't have DRM. It feels like the industry is trying to force more people to pay more money for something they'll own less (ie: not at all) and feel happy about it. That's not "progress", that's dishonest.

    Speaking of textbooks: education is the one place where I can see ereaders really taking off (no teenager should know what a backache feels like just because they keep up with their homework). Yet I'm not hearing a lot about ebooks in education. Anything happening on that front?

  29. There was an intersting post on this same topic on another publishing blog I follow: Interesting take on the future acceptance of e-readers.

    I would be interested to know the ages of some of the commenters on this post. I teach middle school and see every day that we have to find new ways to reach out to the techie generation. Let's face it - my 12 & 13 year old students carry Blackberrys and iPhones and maybe they would be more inclined to read their assignment if they could pull it up on their phone in their pocket instead of looking like a "nerd" carrying around a book. We have to reach them any way we can.

  30. (number1prof: I'm nineteen.)

    i'm starting to think that the real reason people are so attached to the mass-produced physical book, may be that they are more interested in *looking like* they read, than they are in actually reading.

    You know what I'm sick of? People telling me that they know what I want better than I do. That, more than anything else, is turning me off e-readers. I'm so sick of hearing how e-readers are soooo much better than physical books, how no one could possibly prefer the latter to the former, how soon physical books won't be produced anymore because no one really prefers them deep down, anyway.

    Those people are most of the reason I haven't bought an e-reader yet, and the reason I don't plan on doing so in the near future.

    Thye bother me so much because I love books. I love the package books come in, I love their smell, their weight, and seeing all of mine lined up on a bookshelf. And I love reading. I read hundreds of books every year, often more than one a day. This doesn't mean that I don't read e-books. I've been reading them on my computer for about a year now, and I like how convenient they are.

    But, when given the choice, I still prefer a physical book to an e-book. Why? It's not about which is more convenient, it's about which I prefer. And it's certainly not because I want to look like I'm reading. I've yet to meet single person who does that.

    I've played with e-readers in store and I think having one would come in handy. If I didn't buy any new physical books for a couple of months, I could afford one. As bingol said, however, I don't need one. But the convenience and the oooh, shiny new toy! factor would probably have convinced me to buy one by now. Too bad the e-jerks have turned me off them completely.

  31. Just FYI, the Barnes and Noble nook is linked to an online account. So if you did drop your nook down a toilet and got a new one, your e-library would still be in tact.

    Also, about the comparison to the music industry and the codes to the books being hacked. I'm a computer engineer by trade. The codes being broken for iphones, movies and music are done by hackers. Hackers are usually technical guys who are into video games, programming etc. Not very many of them are really big readers. I'd say if graphic novels or comics ever go into e-reader form those would be the first to be broken because hackers don't get a prophet out of what they hack. They're not selling the codes, they're making it free for everyone, so unless they themselves have an interest in getting a particular book, e-books aren't going to be cracked the same way music and movies have been.

    Also, DRM (digital rights management) is something that the music and movie industry made the mistake of using in the beginning of the switch to digital. Hopefully the publishing industry will learn from their mistakes and go DRM free because that is whay itunes and amazon are doing now. If they go DRM free than the hackers have even less of a reason to be tempted to break anything.

  32. Stopping in late to make it clear that I, too, have no financial interest in e-books or e-readers whatsoever, and in fact I'd bet that both Eric's job and my job would probably be a heck of a lot easier if they didn't exist.

    But they do, I happen to really like them irrespective of my job, and I don't think anyone in this industry can afford to be behind the curve on the digital revolution.