Thursday, June 12, 2008

E-Publishing and Amazon's Kindle

When the Amazon Kindle was first launched the publishing world was buzzing. It’s pretty, it’s convenient and it’s the best e-reader yet to be released. But what is this really going to mean? Should authors start thinking about selling older books?

It’s funny that whenever a new venue for publishing emerges (a new house or a new technology) the immediate reaction of authors is to try to sell all of their older books. Why? As the head of any company or corporation knows, you are only as good as your last product. In other words, as a writer building your brand and your career you're only as good as your latest release, so why would you make that latest release an old book that maybe isn’t as good as what you’re currently writing or not even in the same voice? Just because there’s a new venue for your books doesn’t mean everything you’ve ever written should be plopped into it.

The Amazon Kindle and other similar technologies will only work if readers want to read and buy the books made available to them. If your books weren’t viable in the market before, it’s unlikely they are now, unless of course something major has happened to your career to change that, but we’re not going to go into the exceptions at this point.

What I foresee in e-publishing as well as traditional publishing is a greater need for ebooks. I think more people will buy books electronically and read them that way. Do I see an end to paper? Not anytime soon, but I do see a change. I think more nonfiction will go electronic before fiction. It will be so much easier to update nonfiction titles continuously when they are published electronically. How great would it be if your new purchase, a book on breast cancer treatments, can be updated by only purchasing one chapter?

Kim just recently got a Kindle and I’m sure she’ll comment. I haven’t been swayed yet. I love it for its weight and size. Certainly it seems more convenient for travel, and I really love the thought of downloading my submissions to a Kindle and reading them that way. To me, though, there are still some chinks in the armor that need to be worked out before I’m swayed completely. I’m sure I’ll be an ebook reader before too long, but I can’t imagine that it will be the only way I read books. But what about you? How do you feel about this new way of reading and why do you feel that way?

Jessica

46 comments:

December/Stacia said...

As someone multipublished in ebook format, I'm all for ebooks and any technology which makes them more accessible/easier to read.

But I still love paper books, and don't think I'll ever stop.

I just wish the industry would start taking ebook piracy seriously and work on a way to protect those files. Given the higher royalty rates on ebooks, that's a lot of money lost (again, speaking as someone who watched the equivalent of my electric bill payment disappear in free downloads before I discovered the theft.)

Shaun Carney said...

I haven't even considered a Kindle. I have a long commute each day, so audio books are the way to go for me. I "read" more of those than paper books. When I'm TDY, I take one book with me and that's all I need. If I were a faster reader, ebooks would be great, but not right now. Besides, I don't want to replace the smell of books with ozone and electronics.

Shaun

spyscribbler said...

Having a Kindle means I can carry EIGHTY books in my purse. EIGHTY! Ohmigosh, as soon as I save up the money, I am all for that!

And the e-ink rocks. I love the smell of paper books, but ... I'd rather have a Kindle. Less clutter.

david-ripley said...

I don't want to turn the conversation to piracy, but I will say (though I empathize with Stacia) this conversation has gone on for decades in the computer games industry, and while the products aren't completely analagous, digital piracy isn't unreservedly a Bad Thing.

Even a mass-market paperback "pocketbook" is sometimes tough to carry around. With an ebook reader (or in my case, a Palm), you have x number of books in one customizable package. The on/off ease of it is better even than a book with bookmark when stuck in a line.

beverley said...

The price to me is WAY prohibitive. It's not that I couldn't afford it if I wanted it, it's just that I keep thinking to myself, 'do you know how many books I could have bought with this money.'

Karen Duvall said...

ditto, Beverley. I don't use an ereader, Kindle or otherwise, just because of the cost. Once they fall below $100, I'll be all over it.

Kim Lionetti said...

Since Jessica "outed" me, I guess I'd better chime in here.

I love my Kindle. It's been great for reading submissions and client material. I could never read proposals on my computer screen and by downloading them to my Kindle I save paper and the time of printing it out or sending it to a printing company. The screen is highly readable. A much different experience that trying to read my computer monitor.

That said, I've had my new toy for about two months now and have only purchased one Kindle book from Amazon and honestly I just did that as a test run. I haven't been able to finish the book either. I don't know if I'm just not connecting to the story, or if the digital format is getting in the way of the experience. In the meantime, I've polished off a few books from my old fashioned library.

Maybe it'll just take some getting used to, but I suspect the technology will never take the place of my love of holding the actual book in my hand. For my work, however, it's a terrific asset.

Speak Coffee said...

True, I haven't even seen a Kindle, but I am someone who has downloaded about a dozen novels to read on my computer screen over the past year. But as a recent college grad I keep thinking about all those novels I read for class, about how I underlined and took cramped notes in the margins of pages and occasionally feathered the thing with sticky notes while writing papers ... I just don't think I'd be able to do the same thing with a Kindle.

Melinda Leigh said...

I love books. I love the way they feel, the way they smell. I'm just as addicted to the dog-eared copies of my favorites as the crack of a brand new hardcover. To me, books are as comforting as mashed potatoes and mac 'n cheese. For reading purposes, I'm not ready to make the switch.

That said, I'd sell my books to an epub is a second. I see the market as a huge part of the publishing future. The next generation doesn't seem to have the same nostalgic connection to print.

Amelia said...

I wrote about this on my blog yesterday.

http://whatislit.wordpress.com

I think in the long term, it'll save the publishing industry from the digital revolution.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I'm liking ebooks so far and have seen great success for friends who publish electronically and have a sales record.

But the Kindle? No way. I saw it at RT and thought it looked cheap and brittle. I object to paying for the privilege of reading content I get for free. I object to paying 10c to put something from my desktop onto my reader. And it's Amazon-related. I am an avid Amazon non-supporter.

Michele Dunaway said...

My daughter is an iPod genius. That said, she can't stand to read a book on a small screen, even with the print being big.

Part of the appeal of a book is tactile. An electronic device doesn't give the feel of paper. For those who need that...

I also teach yearbook. For years everyone said video/DVD yearbooks would take over the industry.

Suddenly, years later, everyone realized that DVDs scratched. And once destroyed or damaged, couldn't be replaced. As for all those old VCR tapes I had...I sold a lot for 50 cents at a garage sale.

The bottom line is that a book is the only technology guaranteed to open 20 years from now. So I don't think you will ever see them completely disappear.

And I certainly couldn't see reading on a Kindle in the bathtub or on a raft in a pool, where if I lose $5.99 mass market I really don't care that much.

Scientists are also starting to link poor sleep to electronic devices used a half hour to an hour before bed. Something with the electronic signal processing interfering with brainwaves and destroying sleep (sorry, working off poor memory of the news report--maybe someone remembers more). However, dood old fashioned reading was fine. I have noticed better sleep (and getting to sleep faster) in my younger daughter now that she's reading books before bed and not playing her DS system.

Parker Haynes said...

I have to agree with Beverly and Karen--the price is prohibitive!

Having never even seen a Kindle, I am relieved to hear Kim say that it is much easier than reading on a computer monitor.

And I have my misgivings:

As ebooks and electronic readers grow in popularity, are we going to see proprietary formats and readers? Or will everything become as ubiquitous as CDs, DVDs, and their players?

And will so-called "improvements," whether technological or profit/control oriented, drive the helpless consumers into an incessant spiral of continuing costs (and headaches) for upgrades?

Our best hope is for generic readers, reasonably priced (under $100), and universal formats.

As to the question of piracy, it's gonna happen. Just like with paper and ink books, I buy a book and it gets loaned out and read several people. That's happens, and has, I'm confident, as long as we've had books. The author gets added exposure--that's good. The author loses potential royalties--that's bad. Somehow it all balances out.

So as we speculate about the future of the publishing industry, we continue to write!

PS: Please, just gimme a real book to read, not some electronic gadget! And no, I'm not a total Ludite. I'm one my faithful computer, continuing a long term love/hate relationship.

Michele Dunaway said...

Okay, that was supposed to be good (not dood) in the previous post.

Ugh.

PS--my first book that was also released in electronic format (as well as paper) netted me not even $15 in e-pub royalties on my royalty statement. Now that only did represent the first month, but thank goodness it was also out in paper.

I can see a real use for ebooks in the schools since books aren't cheap and are a huge part of the budget; however, working with kids as I do, they don't take care of electronic devices very well and most have lost cell phones, iPods, damaged them, etc. We had a Palm Pilot trial at our school and by the end of the year, out of 35, only 5 were still in any type of good shape and working.

Robena Grant said...

A good book is like an old friend. I read and re-read my favorites. I love the covers, the feel of the paper in my hands, being able to curl up at the pool, in my garden, in bed, on the couch. I don't think I'd get the same comfort from a mechanical device, but then I'm old. Grin.

I love spending an afternoon in a big bookstore. When I go to London I always spend time looking in the rare and collector bookstores.

I've never read an e-book although friends have published them. Can anyone tell me if the Kindle allows you to read outside in sunlight? Just wondering because sometimes I have to move back inside when I'm on the laptop and the sun gets too high.

writeidea said...

I think ebooks will be a niche market similar to audio books. Nothing compares to the weight of a book in my hands as I read it. Plus, I miss nuances (and typo's) on a computer screen that jump out at me on paper.

John Kernell said...

I can certainly see the usefulness of electronic books for some, but nothing compares with the pleasure of sitting in one's favorite easy chair surrounded by one's favorite books; NPR on the radio (I realize that I would really prefer my own string quartet, but there are limitations. My 40-year-old son gives me a gift certificate for $50 worth of books. I give him a gift certificate worth $50 at Home Depot. everybody's got to be somewhere.

Cam said...

I'd like to rent a Kindle for my next vacation to get a feel for it, and weigh in properly!

I suspect that the ebooks vs. paper books choice boils down to a generation gap.

Newspapers are struggling because their readership is getting older and not being replaced by younger "hard copy" readers; instead younger readers get their news online. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone under 30 who reads a physical newspaper more than once a week (if that).

If books are take the same path as newspapers-to-internet news, then, yes, we're looking at a disappearance of the paper book, insomuch as eventually all the traditional book readers will age out of the medium, so to speak!

Those of us who have loved curling up with a paper book for decades will have a tough time breaking the habit, and books will still be around for us.

But the delivery mechanism for the art that writers produce is changing. In a big way.

But my question for Jessica is: If the delivery mechanism for our art is changing, then do we (writers) need to approach our production process differently?

Just musing...

Cameron Sullivan

Anonymous said...

This sure makes me feel good, since I was just contracted with an e-publisher. : )

Robert Walker said...

I have no doubt at all that digital content is the wave of the future. In the near future, e-books will no longer be a niche market. No, physical books will be the niche market, just like vinyl became/is in the music world. Everything people are saying about what they love about books and why they'll never go away (the way they feel, the artwork, this and that)--all of it was said about vinyl. And yes, it's the same situation. If you don't think so, you're in denial of the inevitable.

Is the Kindle the wave of the future? No. But digital content is, whether you like it or not. Once truly viable, affordable, options for reading digital content come into the marketplace, the shift will begin in earnest. How long will that be? Who knows! 5 years? Won't be more than 10.

Anonymous said...

I love my paper books. I love, love, love my Sony Reader.

As was mentioned above, I can carry a bunch of books around. Doesn't mean I won't buy the book in paper format as well. It's just different.

Kim Lionetti said...

Robena-

The Kindle's electronic ink technology is low glare so that it is readable in sunlight.

kitty said...

I just can't picture snuggling up with a Kindle on a cold, wintry night to enjopy a good book. I prefer books.

...

Kristin Laughtin said...

Definitely seconding Melinda Leigh. As of this point, I prefer paper for the physical sensation. However, ebooks will become a better market--whether they overtake print completely is yet to be seen--and I would look into publishing that way if viable. (Of course, my preferred method would be to publish both in print and electronically.)

Elissa M said...

Electronic books require a power source. I'm not sure why this doesn't seem to bother most others posting here. They write about the feel and smell of a real book. Batteries require charging. Perhaps most here don't experience frequent power shortages/outages. Perhaps some have never experienced such. I will never be comfortable with a format that requires power and a special machine. And I prefer my music live, too.

Wordsmith said...

I thought I'd never go to e-books, but love my Kindle and I urge ALL authors to make ALL their books -- backlist and new -- available in this format.

I frequently try to find author's backlisted books and wound up hitting the 'out of print' wall. Which means, I have to buy a used copy from someone who already has it and the author gets zero revenue.

If it was available as an e-book, which costs nothing to store, I could buy it for my Kindle and the author would make some money.

There is no reason every book in the world shouldn't also be available as an e-book!

Anonymous said...

Elissa M brings up a really good point. Taken further, can anyone weigh in on how global warming/the energy crisis will affect these non-traditional book formats?

Thanks.

Robena Grant said...

Thanks Kim.

I'm not sure about global warming but I know there have been medical studies, neurological studies done on the affects to human health from EMT's, which are the electomagnetic fields. Everything from microwaves, to portable phones, hand held electronic games, computers, cell phones and now we can add reading devices. And that's not taking into account the regular electrical devices in our homes and apartments that we take for granted. There are tons of microwave towers in this country and many more expected to be built in the next few years.

All of the above have a risk factor and I think the more technology we acquire and use on a daily basis the higher that risk goes, especially for brain cancer.

Think about the average day of a person on the go. Nuke the breakfast, jump in the car and talk on the cell phone, use the computer and cell phone or maybe a portable in the office, get back in the car use the cell on the way home, nuke dinner, watch TV talk on the cell, write on the laptop, go to bed and read using the Kindle. It doesn't sound healthy to me.

You'd have to eat a lot of fresh fruits and veges to get all of the free radicals to counteract the effects. I limit a lot of my use of these problematic items, rarely use a cell or portable or a microwave, but I spend a heck of a lot of time on computer. It's something to think about. But I'm good about eating my fruits and veges and fantastic about crossing my fingers behind my back. Heck, tomorrow I could walk out the door and get hit by a bus. Grin.

Anonymous said...

Don't fret none about the smell thing. I got it covered. I invented Ebooks Stink. Now, what ya do is tap a little button on your Ebook and a spritz of "new book smell" comes at ya!
It's electronic scratch and sniff. For pic books and Middle Grade I got every farm, house, outdoor, indoor and animal smell there is... got some rude smells too. When you use up all your stink, contact me and, for a price, I'll send ya a replacement vial of your choosin.'
Thank ya for payin' attention!

http://www.jacketflap.com/profile.asp?member=PYXX

Haste yee back ;-)

Julie Weathers said...

Grrrrrr.

I love books. If I had money, I would collect beautiful old books and read them, sighing over the pages as I gently turn them. Well, I already do collect old books when I can find them, I would just have more. My favorite is a bible from the 1800's with little notes everywhere in it about the sermons.

I stare at a computer all day long at work. When I come home to relax, it won't be staring at another computer for entertainment.

I can't even edit my own work on the computer. I have to print it out to digest it.

Michelle,

"However, dood old fashioned reading was fine."

I just thought you left out a comma, dood.

Sorry, yes, I know the polite thing to do is pretend I didn't see it. Now you know why I'm not allowed in public.

Chumplet said...

I love paper books, too. My first two books, however, are e-books later released as trade paperbacks. I guess I have the best of both worlds.

E-books are far less expensive than paper books. The author makes more money with each sale.

I don't know where you can find a $6.99 paperback in Canada unless it's used.

Readers with a voracious appetite can benefit from e-book technology.

Kim, you can get my book from Amazon on your Kindle. It's short so it'll all be over before you get bored. I just hope it doesn't ruin my chances when I submit a query!

Anonymous said...

Jessica, can you share what you regard as the chinks in the armour of the Kindle please?

Aimless Writer said...

A kindle is just one more thing to break, run out of batteries/charge or lose. I have enough problems remembering where my ipod is.
I still love paperbacks. I can leave them in my car and the heat doesn't get them. (and it won't get stolen) If I drop them they don't break. If I leave them on the train, they are cheap to replace. They stuff in a purse or pocket and are always there when I need them. I don't think I'll get too into ebooks but I love a good audio book. I listen in my car or at the gym all the time. I even download them on my ipod.

Marilynn Byerly said...

Readers talking about pieces of ground up tree pulp as if it's Belgian chocolate or a hunk from a romance novel really cracks me up every time.

I read books from my computer screen, from my ancient RocketBook, and from paper books, and after the first few pages, I'm no longer aware of the media I'm reading from. I'm inside the story, and if the writer is good, that's where I stay. Period.

I've talked to very few readers who haven't said the same thing once they get past the newness of reading different media.

The real question about ebooks is, "If the books you love disappeared off the shelves, would you read ebooks instead?"

From the success of various subgenre of romance and erotica as ebooks, I'd say that a fair percentage of readers would.

We are in the middle of a major shift in book distribution, and the news isn't good for midlist and various types of books with smaller numbers. For conglomerate publishers, ebooks may be the way to go for books that aren't by names and can't find space in bookstores and box stores.

I'm doing a series of blogs on this question and others if anyone is interested. It's at
http://mbyerly.blogspot.com/

JDuncan said...

E-format is here to stay, I believe. It will gradually grow as the technology becomes cheaper. Honestly though, I don't read ebooks. I spend enough time on the puter as it is, that I have no inclination whatsoever to read a book on it too. If/when it gets to a point that you can buy hardcovers of authors you want for less than what you can get them discounted for through Amazon or your local supermarket, and the readers are under 100 bucks, I might find myself looking to get one. I also like paper books. They have a quality to them that ebooks will never replicate. I like the look of them on my overstuffed bookshelf. I will need to see more than words on a page to really be interested in the ebook format. If I got alternate covers, alternate endings, deleted scenes, author interviews, trailers, etc. with my download, I might be more inclined. I think down the road you'll see more and more of these add-ons as ways to promote/intice readership in the ebook market. Functioning via this medium, the younger generation is going to want more, more visuals, more audio, just more period with their money. We'll probably see more serialization from certain genres, and this has been going on with some for a few years already. There are a lot of options open to writers via the internet that go beyond the simple, published book. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next decade or so.

JDuncan

Kimber An said...

"The Amazon Kindle and other similar technologies will only work if readers want to read and buy the books made available to them. If your books weren’t viable in the market before, it’s unlikely they are now, unless of course something major has happened to your career to change that, but we’re not going to go into the exceptions at this point."

I disagree. I think, like me, a lot of readers are realizing there's greater variety in ePublishing. When there's nothing but cowboys and Scottish kilts on the Historical Romance shelf in the store, all I have to do is visit any number of ePublishers.

Chumplet said...

Not all out of print books are inferior. Many successful authors re-release earlier books that may have flown under the radar on their first trip.

BookEnds, LLC said...

I can only talk about the Amazon Kindle, because it's the only ereader I've seen in addition I think it's one of the few that's Mac compatible which is of course an issue for me as a certified machead.

I didn't like the placement of the page turn buttons. There didn't seem to be a way to hold it easily without accidentally turning pages while reading.

I wish when you downloaded your own documents it retained the same page numbers so if you needed to use the note feature and take notes it would refer to the same page numbers everyone else was seeing. Of course that's an editing issue which very few people will use it for.

Ultimately though it seems great to me and it's likely I will own one before the year is out. I wonder though how long it will take for me to use it for books though rather than just manuscripts. Especially, since editors usually give me books, not ebooks.

Monica said...

Much as I'd love to hate the Kindle, I don't. It's wonderfully portable, easy to read, and you can download books in a flash. And yes, I have read several novels on the Kindle, and though there are some things about it I dislike (like the page turning buttons and the stupid pagination), overall it's not a bad gadget. I don't like reading books on the computer screen (ouch, ouch, poor eyes), but e-ink is different and much kinder to your eyes.

Of course I vastly prefer paper books when I have time to curl up and read for a few hours at a stretch, but that's not really possible now that I have a toddler in the house. It's easier for me to follow my son around with a Kindle than with a clunky book.

I didn't realize writers get more royalties with e-books. Interesting. (And another good reason to embrace e-ink)

Ithaca said...

I wrote a book a while back about two characters obsessed with Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. The British Film Institute, sharing my admiration for the genius of this director, had a Kurosawa season shortly after the launch of the UK paperback, plastering the London Underground with posters, sending mailings to its membership throughout the UK and so on. Sadly the BFI had not done its homework; it had inconsiderately failed to approach my publishers and organise publicity for the book to coincide with its festival. So Kurosawa fans had no way of knowing of the book's existence, since its publishers had made a point of playing down the importance of K to the story.

The book is now out of print in the UK (and probably some other territories too). Since K was a director of genius, film fanatics continue to discover his work, and no doubt some of them continue to organise film festivals in his honour. If the book were available on Kindle, it could be sold to them in a format more beneficial to its author than secondhand sales.

In an ideal world, it would be possible to reformat the Japanese for the digital version to improve on the rather amateurish job done by the typesetters. It would be possible to include images that were not in the text because of the expense of printing (colour, especially, is expensive to print but comes at no cost on a screen). So the digital version would in some ways be better than the print version; some readers might like it for that reason.

Bill M said...

One of the biggest complaints I've read here has been about price. Well, I paid $359 for my Kindle a couple of weeks ago. I've downloaded 30 free ebooks from sites like feedbooks.com and manybooks.net and bought just one eBook from Amazon. I've read about a dozen books on it so far, and have gotten quite used to reading on the Kindle. - Those 30 free ebooks that I have downloaded so far, would have cost me at least $150 to $200 in paperback. Once I have downloaded another 30 or so, I will have paid for the Kindle. After that I will be saving money by not buying paper books. - There are tens of thousands of free eBooks for the Kindle from many eBook sites, ranging from gutenberg.org to feedbooks.com in every genre

persistentdreamer said...

I was struck by the statement "you are only as good as your last product". I've read that a previously published author whose sales (and product) were less than desirable will never again be considered for publication. Is this really true, even if you've spent years improving your writing, have developed a very different voice, and, though still writing in the same genre, have created a new set of characters? Any advice, anyone?

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Wayne Theme said...

A great motive from Amazon Kindle. It only aims to provide best reading experience.

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Heather said...

[...]agent Jessica Faust of Bookends, LLC made a forecast: “What I foresee in e-publishing as well as traditional publishing is a greater need for ebooks. I think more people will buy books electronically and read them that way.” Smart lady![...]

daniel john said...

I also think more nonfiction will go electronic before fiction. It will be so much easier to update nonfiction titles continuously when they are published electronically.

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