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The Future of Electronic Books
Mike Perkins
Posted: Friday, May 6, 2011 5:37 AM
Joined: 4/29/2011
Posts: 8

I have been monitoring e-books now for years since Microsoft came out with their first e-book reader which was actually pretty good. That was about ten years ago I guess.  They were a bit ahead of their time though, and electronic version of books  have only now started to find some purchase.

I teach at the college level and monitor how students and the textbook publishers handle e-books.  Publishers seem eager, since profits should theoretically be higher without printing costs, but cautious.  Once something is digitized it will find itself in the wild.  The music industry is an example of that. Students are curious but they are not buying e-books in any great number and there are some reasons for that.  I just had an interesting e-book discussion by email this evening.

A student wrote and asked if I thought he should try the Kindle version of the text book I am using for an upcoming research class.  I told him that he needed to check and make sure that there was pagination that matched the printed text (we create and follow discussions according to page numbers), and if the illustrations were all there.  There have been reports in the past that electronic  books would have few, if any,  illustrations or pictures.  I asked him to investigate those two concerns.  Sure enough, he writes back in about an hour with the results of his investigation.  He downloaded a sample of the book, and the pagination and illustrations were all missing.  He decided to buy the paper version even though the electronic version was about twenty dollars cheaper.

My wife asked me if I wanted a Kindle, or something like it, for Hanukkah.  I gave it a lot of thought but ended up telling her no.  Frankly, I am a little tired of so much face time with display screens, and I decided I did not want to deal with it.  By the way, I hate the digital books you can "check out" from the local library.  I love the look and feel of real books. Then again I am 54 years old. I purchased the house we live in because the downstairs family room was essentially a library with lots of built in book cases ling the walls.  There are indications though the e-books are catching on in some markets.   One example is romance novels.

The NYT had a fascinating article about  e-books and the romance genre.  It is worth taking a look at:


I could go on with tons of stories and examples, but I am wondering what the implications are going to be.  Not just for writers, but for the reading public, and libraries of all kinds.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Friday, May 6, 2011 10:02 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

The ereaders with the Eink displays are WONDERFUL, they are not like another digital screen. I have a sony ereader (thank you google) and it feels like reading a real book.

Mike Perkins
Posted: Saturday, May 7, 2011 4:46 AM
Joined: 4/29/2011
Posts: 8

So you recommend the Sony?

The one thing I can see being advantage is traveling. I read about six or more books at a time and when I travel I take books with me. Also, I can see the advantage for my two younger daughters who must carry heavy books back and forth from school in their back backs.

Posted: Saturday, May 7, 2011 12:49 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 157

I'd say ebooks aren't "catching on' in the romance market, they've caught on. If you want to give a student something interesting to study, have them look into the history of erotic romance and ebooks. Which will also mean looking into the changing face of romance. The supposed "bored housewives" who read romance have had careers for decades now, and have been buying ebooks for about decade. Harlequin recently hired Angela James, who'd worked with the top erotic romance ebook publishers, to run their Carina Press digital first line. Going digital is letting them explore publishing a wider genre range and more varied lengths.

There's no reason ebooks can't have illustrations. I'm currently reading "Autobiography of a Yogi' as an ebook and there are plenty of pictures and illustrations. The paging aspects of ebooks mean publishers need someone experience in layout for electronic media to put the book together. Since most publishers are still on half admitting ebooks exist, they haven't been giving them the same care and attention as the print books. But the "if we make them worse, more people will by print" attitude is only going to work for so long.

I turn 50 next month. I have an MA in English Lit. I have taught but currently make my living writing. I prefer ebooks over print. Print books can be heavy, they can be hard to hold comfortably, the paper dries out the hands, and the damn print is too small. In the last five years, the only print books I've bought have been at thrift stores for "bathtub reading." When someone makes a waterproof ebook reader, I will achieve nirvana.
CY Reid
Posted: Monday, May 9, 2011 9:59 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 52

I think there are a few glaring omissions in your summation of electronic literature, and I think if you go a bit further than the research of your students, you might just find that ebooks are an infinitely more efficient way of looking at both academic and leisure-time texts.

Page numbers were recently added to the Kindle - this was a development followed by myself and others I know, as we're all English graduates or in the process of finishing a degree on the subject. They work perfectly, and it also means that the Harvard and Oxford referencing system now ties in better with ebook research, as we're now quoting accurate numbers, rather than locations largely dependent on your font-size and screen real estate.

E-Ink, like Alexander has said already, is also nothing whatsoever like a screen. Like you, I deal with screens all day, and especially reading through a lot of different written works in a variety of formats (I'm an SEO copywriter). The Kindle's screen is like a bit of paper, and if I could, I'd have an E-Ink monitor, too.

It's easy to dislike ebooks because they're not the format we're used to. I love the physical copies I own, and I would never get rid of them. But I'm also confident enough in my Kindle to say that I just don't have the desire to purchase physical books when I can carry around The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings without actually carrying them around. Twilight Saga? No space taken up in my bag. In fact, I now tend to resent the space physical books -do- take up.

As for the implications of ebooks and their success in the market (now outselling hardbacks on Amazon by miles, sales up 200% in February and print sales down by around 10% of that amount, etc), I think it's because the society we live in have realised that digital purchases do actually hold the same amount of value, to some degree. Sure, we don't own the content on our Kindles in the same way we do with physical copies (if you Google the Orwell 1984 ebook debacle you'll soon find out that's definitely the case, almost humorous given the book in question), but we're able to try things out, share our reviews and opinions, and bit.ly and Twitter mean word-of-mouth recommendations take seconds.

Joe Konrath and other writers are also sound proof that the next wave of big-hitter, six-figure publishers are here. Print author advances have dropped significantly, and unless you're the next Meyer, Brown or Child, chances are you're not going to be seeing huge numbers on your royalty payments. But ebooks have empowered the everyday novelist to self-publish, and the internet allows them to self-market. We're building a new industry, you and I, simply by discussing this issue on an online writers forum - something that just couldn't happen a few decades back. Publishers are now offering the huge six and seven-figure deals to those who already have huge self-published and self-marketed presences online, and we've all got a bright future to look ahead to.

I say borrow a student's Kindle (one of them is bound to own one) and read a book sample over lunch. If you're not sold on being able to customise your reading experience and share your thoughts (even if it's the Kindle's automated tweet option for when you've just finished another book), then stick with print, but I think by ignoring it entirely there's a huge opportunity to be missed.
Mike Perkins
Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 10:28 PM
Joined: 4/29/2011
Posts: 8

Oh, there are many omissions in my opening, and the purpose of a discussion like this is to flesh them out. My interest so far has been as a professor who is following technology trends among students - so there are lots of gaps in what I follow as well as what I know.

My contacts in academic publishing tell me the issue with illustrations is sometimes copyright issues - they do not own copyrights that translate freely to the digital version of the books. But, here is what I suspect. I suspect that in many cases the text book publishers are just pushing stuff out there as quickly and cheaply as they can and that is why the illustrations were not in that one book I talked about. It was a research book, and it was missing tables and illustrations which would have been produced by the authors, and not images from stock houses.

Recently Deutsche Welle had a great report on digital publishing and you can read it here at: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5518440,00.html
One interesting thing to note is that Germany has developed its own reader which has become very popular.

So, this has been a great discussion so far and it is interesting to see that there is much support for the digital platform. Am I correct to conclude that the Kindle is winning so far?

Posted: Saturday, May 14, 2011 12:42 AM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 157

Kindle has been doing very well, but I think B&N is trying to push the Nook to a competitive edge. But I suspect multi-purpose tablets and even phones may be the tough competition for Kindle. But Amazon my counter with a tablet-like Kindle. I run Kindle for PC on my Netbook because I really don't need another device to carry just for reading. But competition has been pushing prices down.

You touched on another matter -- author rights and royalties. I work with small press who do lots of ebooks and get 35-45% royalties on ebooks. But big publishers seem to be paying less that 20%. Sometimes well under that. The result is that authors in older contracts that didn't include electronic rights are holding out on signing away those rights. But ebooks also level out the distribution platform. Big press still holds the key when it comes to getting books in physical stores. But when an author is looking at release digital rights to a back listed book to be placed on Amazon, that big publisher offer 12% royalties doesn't have a distribution edge over a small press that does re-releases and offers 40% or even higher rates potential going self-published. Where the publishing market will go is still up in the air.

Oh, I don't expect physical books to vanish. I expect we'll see higher quality but higher prices, for both hard cover and paperback as publisher move to "collector quality" paperbacks. On the plus side, this may mean print size someone can actually read after age 40.
Mike Perkins
Posted: Monday, May 16, 2011 5:27 AM
Joined: 4/29/2011
Posts: 8

I love netbooks. I have found the ideal combination is a mother ship desk top (I have one with three screens and it is wonderful for editing), and then a netbook. I then sync everything with dropbox which gives me 2 gig of free storage. So my work exists on the cloud, on my desktop, and the netbook. No more lost files. Remember the story about Hemingway and the lost valise of short stories! I run Linux on my netbook with OpenOffice and the only reason I do not run Linux on the desktop is that I cannot get the multiple screens to work right.

Back to my point though - wouldn't it be neat if a netbook came out with the means to utilize the e-ink.

I absolutely agree with having too many digital devices to babysit. It is like another pet or another kid (of which I have enough already in both instances).

Posted: Saturday, May 28, 2011 3:37 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241

I'm a teacher too, and I think that e-textbooks are really the thing to watch for in the near future. I would not use Kindle, because of the tie to Amazon, but my partner got me an ipad for Mother's Day last year and I have a Kindle reader ap and a Nook reader ap in addition to the ipad reader which I much prefer.

The ipad reader allows you to make notes on the text, index it according to your own criteria, etc. etc. in many wonderful ways. That was one of my initial problems with ereaders--as an academic, I read with a pencil. Ipad lets me do that. Also, as a scholar of 19th century literature, almost everything I want to study is in the public domain and therefore a free download.

But another thing my partner has been looking at is putting together electronic readers for students based on faculty scholarship and assigning that instead of textbooks. Can save students loads of money. Also, on an ipad, a "reader" for a class could include all kinds of media--film, visual art (of very high quality and resolution), interactive applications, etc. etc. (She's coming from a Women's Studies and Media Studies background, so she's beyond little-old English professor me who is like, "oh goodie! Free Henry James!")

Anyway, there are oodles of ways ereaders, etexts and multimedia "text"books are going to change higher education. Some of them are terrific, and most of them--after the device is purchased--are much cheaper for students than books.

Mind you, my books aren't going anywhere. Both/And.
Mike Perkins
Posted: Friday, October 21, 2011 5:06 AM
Joined: 4/29/2011
Posts: 8

I bought a nook color this summer but wish I had purchased the black and white version - I think the "electronic ink" and battery life are better. It does have a browser though and will play youtube/flash movies. My kids love it, and we use it a lot.

What do you think about the epublishing route? Is it working for you?

Sven Nomadsson
Posted: Monday, October 24, 2011 1:45 PM
Joined: 10/24/2011
Posts: 2

I have the first generation B&N Nook and love what it can do - as I'm a voracious reader and rarely need to take notes. However I always find myself worried about it more so than my phone or other items because of how delicate it feels in comparison as I travel.

I've been to some pretty harsh places and the Nook has been great for the shear volume it can carry, as any e-reader can but at the same time the whole textual sensation derived from the experience of reading a real book is lot. Plus I can never use my Nook as a pillow - something that has come in handy when having to sleep on the floor while traveling.

The problem with the Nook, and it's one that only a few of us face, is that it doesn't have the international support that the Kindle does. I can only download books to it in the states (haven't tried to see if a proxy program like Tor will work) and my time back there is limited. The Nook was a gift from family in the US, plus I was there at the time - hence it's selection over the Kindle.

But what I'm most excited about with e-books is the changes in publishing. The only concern is the loss of quality controls that agents, editors and publishers provided. So how do we go about ensuring that so we don't spend our money on books that we don't like?

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