e-Books? More like Pee-Books! Am I Right?

I wanna go ahead and further crystallize some of my lingering discomfort over e-books.

Peruse. Review. Discuss. Give me high-fives, or fling aspersions (aspersions = rotten cabbage) at my head.

Behold: The MP3

The MP3 is the granddaddy and reigning pimp of the “digital song file” world. Other, perhaps better (and some certainly worse), formats exist, but really, MP3 is still the way we think of our songs.

An MP3 is a file type. “I downloaded an MP3″ can translate to, “I downloaded a song,” but it might be a spoken word, or a podcast, or a sound effect album filled with cars honking, poop noises, and animal howls.

The MP3 is fairly versatile. Good for the consumer, bad for the company. I can take an MP3 and I can: play it on my computer, play it on my MP3 player or iPod, play it on my stereo downstairs, upload it to my FTP and offer it to readers of my blog (as Gareth does over at Friday Music), burn it to a CD and listen to it anywhere that a CD can be listened to, and so on and so forth.

I can also open a folder and see the MP3 file. I can delete it. I can move it. I can copy it. I can back it up.

Even if I were to go to a more proprietary format like, say, the iTunes protected AAC file, I can still do a lot of this. I can burn it to a CD, which means I can make MP3s out of those AACs in one hot minute. That’s an important fact: I can take a physical object and turn it into a digital thing. From CD in my hand to MP3s on my computer. Perfectly legal. No problems.

The MP3 is a filetype. It never pretends to be a physical object.

Now: The e-Book

If I download an e-book, what happens?

If it’s iBooks, I download the book and I sync it, and I get the ePub file. I can, in theory, read this book on any device or application that will examine that format. The iBooks app is bound only to my i-Devices, but the filetype will fly free and play well with others.

If it’s the Nook, it’s — and correct me if I’m wrong, I haven’t done this yet — a DRM version of ePub, readable only on the Nook software. Possible that the DRM is from the publisher, not from Barnes & Noble.

If it’s the Kindle, well, you can get the Kindle software on anything (I downloaded the Kindle app to a squirrel outside and can now use him as a reading device), and the Kindle will play well with PDF but not ePUB. If I download the book directly from Amazon, I think it generally comes as the AZW (proprietary DRM blah blah blah) format. I do not know how to extract such a file or what I could do with it if I did.

Other such readers exist: Stanza. Bookshelf. Kobo.

Onto the “e-Comic”

If I buy a digital comic (does anybody call them e-comics?), it goes into my comics-specific app and… I think pretty much stays there. Again, if any of my details are off, let me know. But I downloaded some comics onto one of the many ComiXology-based apps last night and, first, they stay married to the app, at least initially. For example, I downloaded some comics. Let’s take “Chew #1″ as an example. I downloaded it into the Image app.

I’m told that with a ComiXology subscription, I can always redownload my comics. Which sounds good. And I’m told this across a number of the apps — Image, Marvel, DC, ComiXology. Apparently I can even access them on my computer. Of course, when I try to do that, Adobe tells me I need to redownload Flash player, which crashes on me any time I try, so that’s fun. Further, my comics are still married to the app in which I procured them: I open ComiXology, DC, or Marvel, and I do not have access to Chew #1 despite the fact that I am logged in across the board.

(Okay, I went ahead and opened — egads — IE 8 and used the ComiXology page there. I go to My Comics and I see… mmm. Nothing. No Chew #1, and in fact none of the comics I’ve downloaded.)

This is, of course, frustrating.

I feel like I’m told, “Here, you can drink this coffee, as long as you drink it in the kitchen.”

“But I want to drink it upstairs.”

“Okay, but you have to wear these special shoes to drink it upstairs.”

“Fine. I’ll wear your special shoes. I don’t know what shoes have to do with coffee, but I’ll do it. Except now, even wearing your special shoes, the coffee won’t leave the kitchen.”

“That’s because you haven’t installed this suppository yet. Here. Stick this in your ass.”

“Oh, fuck you.”

Regarding Versatility And Physical Copies

I can burn MP3s to a CD and take that CD anywhere.

I cannot burn an e-Book or a digital comic to a real bound physical object. I just can’t. I suppose if I had one of those awesome espresso book machines I could, but I forgot to buy that option when I purchased my desktop computer.

Yes, I can take the book with me in physical format via my iPad or iPhone, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Obviously the e-books must be physically carried around — until we develop psychic digital crossovers with our minds, I cannot pluck e-books from the ether and jack them into my brainspace. MP3s obviously work on an MP3 players, but I mean to suggest that the MP3 can be then turned into physical media: CD, DVD, USB key.

Price Point Is The Sticky Wicket

Because of the very clear limitations of digital comics and e-books, I then get caught up on the cost. An MP3 is generally one dollar, and that’s the sweet spot. Won’t ever pay more than that. And albums often reduce this cost if you buy them together. We’ve been trained that this is the Way Things Are — the MP3s cost less than we’d pay for physical media, which is almost ironic given the fact that the MP3 is in many ways more versatile from the get-go. I can basically do whatever I want with this little music file. It’s why I no longer buy CDs. I couldn’t tell you the last time I bought a CD.

The price point of eBooks and digital comics is stickier (for me, maybe not for you). A book tends to follow a certain path, price-wise. Hardback is the highest price, then maybe a trade paperback for a lower price, and maybe a mass market paperback for an even lower price, and then, eventually, bargain bin for its bare bottom cost. The e-book is outside this sequence. You look at a book like Little Bee, and the trade paperback version is almost half the price of the Kindle version. The Kindle version has no physical presence and cannot be made into a physical object. It can be read on an e-reader (subject to battery life), yes, but it is not more versatile than the book (again, to me). Especially over the long-term. If I buy the book, I am only bound to my ability to keep that book safe. I can treat it like a king, put the book in a velvet slipcase, and it’ll probably last a hundred years. What happens if Amazon goes away? Or the publisher decides I shouldn’t “have” that book? Nobody controls the books on my shelves. Nobody controls the MP3s in my collection. It’s not about pure physicality; it’s about how completely I can control the Thing That I Bought. The only proprietor of these media should be me. Not Amazon. Not the publisher. Not Apple. Not my iPad or my apps or any of that.

So, to me, if I’m getting something that is less elegant and less functional than the real thing, it should always — always — be cheaper.

Same goes with digital comics, which are even less versatile than e-books, as we’ve learned. And yet, most comics are $1.99 or even $2.99. For a comic I can’t share with a friend. For a comic I can’t roll up and stuff in my back pocket. For a comic I can’t cut apart and paste on a corkboard to show off the awesome art. For a comic that is once again reliant on battery power, on my ability to purchase an expensive device, on my ability to store the comics on said device, and so on and so forth.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: at $1.99, I will buy no more comics. If they were $0.99, I’d buy a shitload of them. I can probably save money by waiting till the comics I want are collected in trade paperback or graphic novel format anyway — it’s often cheaper than if I were to buy the digital versions.

If e-books were around five bucks, I’d buy metric fucktons. I don’t think $9.99 is actually that bad a price point, mind you, and I’m fairly comfortable with it — but, a lot of new releases are $11.99.

It’s why price point is a problem for me. If I’m taking a worse format — worse in the sense that is is less versatile and, importantly, offers me less control over how I use it — then I think the prices remain too high.

(And yes, I’m an author saying this. Yes, I should be angling for higher prices so I can afford that yacht. But I’m speaking as a consumer — and, as a writer, someone like JD Konrath gets it. You look at his ebooks and how much is he charging? Three bucks or thereabouts.)

For The Record, I’m Over The Experiential Problem

I used to be wary of e-books because I didn’t like the lack of physical context, but I said that as a person who didn’t have a good e-reader. I like reading books on the iPad. Not as much as a physical book, no, but it’s a nice experience. And reading comics is a fucking dream. It’s like the iPad is itself a big hard comic book machine. It’s why I lament the cost being (for me, for me, always for me) too high — though I guess I should be happy. If the comics were $0.99, I’d probably spend $100. At $1.99, I spent about four bucks.

Also In Case You Missed It, YMMV

Your mileage may vary on all this. I’m not speaking as an authority, and I’m very likely behind the curve on all this. But I do think we’re in danger of supporting formats (Kindle, for example) that offer us very minimal control in not just how we consume the products, but how we manage those products.

I can go to a directory and say, “Here are my songs.”

I can put a CD in my car stereo and say, “I’m going to play my songs in whatever order I want to play them.”

I can point to my backup drive and say, “That thing is chock full of music, videos, photos, software.” (Ahem, legally purchased, Corporate Dobermans. Legally purchased or procured.)

But my e-books? What do I do with them? My digital comics? It’s apropos that Amazon’s service is called Whispernet, because that’s how substantial it feels — as easy to grasp as an uttered whisper.

I know, I know, I’m probably an old man yelling at the tides on this one.

I’ll buy e-books (and probably not digital comics) when the price is right. I think they do offer a number of advantages. I just want to see the consumer have control over the medium, is all.

31 comments

  • I don’t buy ebooks because they’re too expensive. I own a grand total of 1 ePub file because it came free with the PDF version (Pinebox Tales). I consider myself an early adoptee of technology, but as you said, the price point does not match the product.

  • Beyond the quality issue, one of the major reasons I still buy physical CDs is because they will survive the Unthinkable Data Loss Disaster. The one that includes multiple back ups and guard dogs. MP3s are convenient, but at that point I have a physical back up and a digital back up, which is nice. Plus, I won’t have to worry about what Hot New Format might come out in five years, rendering my digital collection obsolete, when I could just re-convert them.

    • @Morgan:

      MP3s don’t worry me so much in that regard. First, I back up my MP3s anyway — all onto external HD and many on CD to listen to in my car.

      Second, CDs are really going to go obsolete before the MP3 does (IMHO).

      – c.

  • And you just articulated all the reasons why I’m reluctant to embrace e-books and the associated technology. Though I’m more concerned about lack of control and rights to my media than I am about price. Maybe it’s the ex-pirate in me, but I like having full control over what I do with my purchases.

  • Actually, all of the major ebook retailers, including iBooks, wrap their files in a proprietary DRM that limits you to reading them on their platforms/apps. Of course, hackers have successfully broken almost all of them (except, maybe Kindle; I can’t recall). Kobo is the one major retailer that allows publishers to opt-out of DRM and sell straight ePUB files, though I’ve heard Amazon does quietly offer that exception via DTP. Some publishers (eg: O’Reilly and Book View Cafe) also see DRM-free ebooks directly.

    Ultimately, though, I agree that price is the major obstacle for ebooks licensing (you’re not actually buying the DRMd ebooks) going mainstream. While $9.99 – $14.99 may be competitive for expensive (and disposable) hardcovers, for a TPB and mass-market reader like me who happily hits a used bookstore in search of a serendipitous discovery, the tipping point remains far on the horizon.

  • Adapt or die.

    Most of the print media companies are taking the public for suckers. Shit, the music and movie industries even more so. Those at the helm don’t have a vision for the future. They’re just desperately clinging to a model that’s obsolete because they can’t glean lessons from history. Did home taping kill music? No. Horrible music did. And then music rose from the grave and all was well again.

    What I find so irksome is that so many content distributors are stifling technological innovation. It’s a shame.

  • I think you’re still a little backwards on the Nook and the Kindle.

    Kindle (Amazon’s model) is highly locked down, and has a ton of proprietary junk. Nook, on the other hand, will read a lot of different formats (ePub, PDF, text, etc.), and you can shove your own books to it using the included USB cable.

    Got a file from Project Gutenberg? Drag it into the “Books” folder on the Nook and you’re ready to rock. You can also download their free app for your mobile devices and computer so you can read and sync whenever you don’t have your Nook around. Plus, it’s based on Android, so they keep releasing free shit for it all the time. “Oh, we have a web browser now. Here you go.” “Want to play Mario Brothers on your Nook? Here you go.” “Reading in the bathroom again? Mind if I wipe your ass? Here you go!”

    This might seem like a Nook ad now that I’m reading it, but I did a ton of homework into this market and Nook is still the eInk gadget winner.

    • @Tome:

      Backwards on Nook maybe — but I did realize that the Kindle is locked down. It’s just — the Kindle is more than just a device. You can Whispernet books into a jar of mayonnaise if you want. It’s like Netflix. My TV has Netflix. My DVD player has Netflix. So too my iPhone, iPad, and PC. Soon I’ll have Netflix on my coffee mug.

      Amazon is basically building all the roads in terms of e-book intrusion into the consumer space. Eventually you’re going to find that all paths lead to the Kindle marketplace.

      The Nook — if I buy a Nook book straight from BN, it’s still DRM-ePub, is it not? I ask, not having used Nook or its app. But I was made to understand that books bought exclusively through/for the Nook are still DRM’ed.

      For the record, I’m not knocking Nook as a piece of tech. Nor the Kindle, nor my iPad. Love ‘em all, and the e-reading experience is far better than I thought. But the price point, the file management, and the controlling rights over purchased products is still weirding me out.

      – c.

  • October 3, 2010 at 10:54 AM // Reply

    One of the things about the MP3 is that it evolved, at least in comparison to ebooks, pretty much organically. It was kind of like Battle Royale with music formats for a while. MP3 was, if not versatile, the most well supported.

    They’re like GIF files. Yes, there’s better, but there isn’t as easy and user friendly, so it kicked everybody else’s asses. I mean who here’s heard of OGG?

    If it hadn’t been for Winamp, which was free, light and simple to use, I don’t know if it would have been nearly as successful. And this was before we had the MP3 players. And I think that lack of players was part of it’s success.

    Music already had different formats and players. Stereos, Walkmen, 8-track tapes, vinyl, CDs, the drugged opera singer you keep half naked and starving in your basement. So another format was no big deal. And more importantly it was music on your computer, which was kind of a big deal. The best we could get was MIDI approximations in Monkey Island that always sounded like cats fucking.

    So MP3s grew up on computers and then moved to portable players, which did okay, but not great. Remember the Diamond Rio? Anybody?

    Now everybody’s looking at the ipod and the music industry seeing dollar signs and dreaming of strippers and blow. But then nobody in the music industry recognized what was going to happen until some Warner exec ran into Napster. Then he shit his pants.

    With books it’s different. Reading on the computer isn’t all that interesting, there’s only one format (text) and there’s already a damn fine, cheap means of reading them (paper) that you can take anywhere.

    There isn’t actually as much of an opening for books to be digital as there is music.

    But everybody’s looking at music with the idea of what ebooks could become (see strippers and blow above) and they’re trying to force it. The publishers are freaking the fuck out and so they can’t decide on a file format and so Amazon with it’s monster distribution chain is making the decisions.

    Because there is an open book file format. Epub. It’s open and pretty good and you can use it pretty much wherever the fuck you want. But Amazon isn’t selling it. The reason why is that they’re not selling a file format, they’re selling a reader.. Sure the Kindle can read it, but they make reading their books easier. Which sells more Kindles, which sells more of their ebooks, which sells more Kindles…

    They’re trying to be the iPod of books and beating Apple at it’s own game.

    Kind of like what happened to VHS and Beta where MGM got behind VHS and they had the biggest film library and so VHS won, they’ve got the biggest library right now, so more people are buying Kindle than Nook.

    And it’s why there’s a Kindle and a Nook in the first place and not a generic reader that reads any book. We’re still in the middle of the transition where nobody knows what the fuck they’re doing and they’re all vying for a chunk of the pie and hoping they can convince the book buyers that they’re more bitchin’ than paper books.

    This shit’s gonna go on another 20 years before we have a generic book format that can be read across platforms. Maybe. And that’s only if Amazon either makes readers for every device out there or licenses it’s tech to other platforms. Since they’ve announced Kindle for the web, it’s possible that second might be the direction they’re headed.

    Same thing with comics. There’s a perfectly good digital comics format out there that nobody uses except pirates. Instead you have all these different readers and formats and you don’t actually get to keep your comics. God forbid the company behind Comixology goes under. You’ll lose everything and they’ll shrug and say sorry. Like Microsoft did with its music locker business.

    All that to say, yeah, I think you’re right with all your points. Ebooks have a lot of problems. Nobody knows what they’re doing and the people who will ultimately get screwed will be the readers who are doing the legal thing and playing by the rules.

    At the same time, like it or not, it’s a freight train. The publishers are seeing how they can make more money, the reader companies are seeing how they can make more money, and enough readers are looking at their houses and saying, fuck, I don’t have any space for bookshelves.

    Isn’t the future fun? Sure, we may not have flying cars but we do have corporate pissing contests that we’re in the middle of to determine the fate of ALL HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. We’re not going to be wiped out by nuclear bombs, we’re going to be taken down by server crashes.

    That said, I think this is a pretty exciting time. Books are great. Love paper. But they’re constrained. I’m more interested in stories and digital, as I know you’re aware (by the way, fantastic work on Collapsus), give us so many more ways to tell them.

    So,yeah, ebooks aren’t great, but I think they’re just one thin slice of the digital story telling pie. Or whatever metaphor works for you.

    • @Stephen:

      Thanks, re: Collapsus! I cannot explain how much fun that was to write and now, to see “out there.” First thing I’ve written that was filmed-slash-animated. (And the second thing films this week! Very excited about that. More later.)

      But back to books.

      The MP3, yes, it was an organic thing, you’re right. And — perhaps also as importantly — it was created by nerds and tech-heads. Not corporations (well, teams of engineers across several corporations, right? — meaning, not by a single monolithic entity). We weren’t thinking about proprietary anything or a digital revolution of owned and licensed content. People just wanted a good audio file to go with good video files.

      Here, the problem is that the driver isn’t so much, “What makes a good document file,” and more about, “How do we license content and make money doing it?”

      If it’s 20 years before we see a generic book format (and I don’t think you’re wrong), that’s bad for technology, bad for consumers.

      I don’t know that Amazon is 100% driven toward the Kindle. I think they’re driven toward the Kindle marketplace. You don’t want to buy a Kindle, hey, fine, Amazon is still going to be there, cooing in your ear, stroking your balls, Whispernetting their books into your orifices e-readers.

      It’s a weird world, this so-called “future of publishing.”

      I hope that the Print-on-Demand angle becomes JUST as critical as the “e-book revolution.”

      – c.

  • That silly price-point is one reason I’m going with self-publishing. My book will be a great e-read: it’s fast-moving, fun, and a dedicated reader could get through it in a few days on their commute or a couple long baths. One thing it’s not, is $10 worth of ephemeral entertainment. So I’ll follow Konrath’s example, set it at $3, and (aside from talking it up widely yet tastefully) let people find their way to it. I’m only making the hard copy available because I’m hoping some will like it enough to want a hard copy. And I’m pricing that at just a few cents over what it costs to make the book. If they’re buying the book, they’re solid fans, and I want to make it easy for them to loan it out.

  • On my end, as a reader, I have to say: it does not matter that much. It matters to the industry. It matters to writers. It does not matter to me, really.

    Because I rarely buy books. I have a wallet full of library cards. For most cities in which I have lived: Krakow, Warsaw, Koszalin, Przasnysz, Limerick, London. And I think that for most of Poland it works like that: we either rent the books from libraries or, as my mother does it, buy them second hand.

    When it comes to the price point, both the real thing and the ebook have already lost. And I’m afraid that’s the reality for most consumers down here in Poland. I don’t mean college students or the intelligentsia, no, those are the guys who actually buy the books. I’m talking about lower to middle class office workers and skilled labourers, housewives, stay at home dads, everybody who likes to read and is fiercely money aware.

    The consumer just wants to read. When the format wars are over, you will find that our number has neither shrunk nor grown. We’re a built-in, loyal market whose real needs (better editorial control, better additional material, smaller wordcounts, elimination of the divisions between genre and mainstream, awards that actually MEAN something) are constantly ignored.

  • Another factor to consider:
    Ye-ol’ Public Library.

    For the price of one round trip bus fare you can go to the library and get as many books as you want with roughly the same limitations on their usability as any of the e-book formats. The flip side to this is immediacy. Getting the latest bestseller at the library is most-likely not going to happen the day of release, whereas with a book app you can be cozily reading the latest Twilight sequel 30 seconds after release without stepping out of your pajamas or letting the coffee get cold.

    Ultimately I agree with you though. I would probably pay $10-$15 MORE for total freedom of medium in a book I buy. That would mean I order a full package on Amazon and get the dead-tree version, an e-book, and an audio-book all in a single transaction. The RPG industry is figuring out that people want both PDF’s and dead tree versions in many cases, but I think it’s obvious to everyone present that the RPG industry is a bit ahead of the game in this – as opposed to the rest of the publishing world who just seems to be jumping onto the gadget craze bandwagon without considering sustainability.

    • @Helmsman –

      True that. I am a library supporter (though I don’t really use the library as its intended book rental service, believe it or not). Problem: libraries generally don’t comics.

      – c.

  • Over my left shoulder is a pile of comic book boxes. My wife and I stopped reading comics because it cost too much and we don’t have room for more boxes.

    When the iPad came out, I instantly thought, “Now that’s gonna be cool for comic books…”

    And it is…if you download tons of comic books illegally and have the equivalent of boxes of comics on a hard drive for your iPad. I don’t have an iPad, but I’ve admired the setup a friend has. While we have friends who work for a couple comic e-readers, most of my friends reading electronic comics are getting them over a bit torrent because yeah–paying $1.99 – $2.99 for a comic they can’t share and will eventually be obsolete is too much.

    I know Marvel has their subscription service, and that seems a step in the right direction. With exceptions, I don’t need to have the physical comic books I own, so I’m the kind of person who–if I had an iPad–would be willing to pay a subscription fee for access to tons of comic books whenever I want.

    The only problem: my tastes vary with comic books, and by the time I paid a subscription to Marvel, DC, and other large companies, I’d be paying too much to justify it. And…I’d still be missing out on all the independent books I love discovering.

    I really miss sitting around with my wife and reading comic books. I hope the price for electronic comic books comes down enough that there’s a day I can justify buying comic books regularly again, whether they’re electronic or printed.

    I’ve really warmed up to e-books. I’ve bought and read more e-books on my iPhone this past year than I’ve bought physical books. There are e-books I’ve loved that will get me eventually buying a physical copy to put up on a shelf or pass around, but I love not having shelves and boxes and piles of books everywhere.

    • @Christopher:

      The iPad is elegant as all get-out in terms of comics reading. If the Kindle is a true e-reader, the iPad is a true comic reader — feels in some ways *better* than reading a regular comic. Comixology is a nice app, actually, in terms of the actual “viewing” part. It’s all the other administrative stuff that gets in its way. And, again, the price point of the given issues.

      I, too, am warming up considerably to the e-book experience. I just think as a medium it has to grow.

      Like @Guy said, you’re really just licensing content. In effect, renting it in the long-term. So, I should be paying rental prices, not purchase prices.

      – c.

  • I will admit something here: I illegally download comics.

    To clarify: I do not (and will not) download anything which is currently for sale in either single issues or trade collections. I want money to go to the publishers and to the creators.

    I do, however, download scans of comics from my childhood and adolescence (the 70s and 80s). These issues are only available, at vastly inflated nostalgia-collector prices, via a secondary market, where the money goes to some other collector, not to the publisher or the creators. I don’t want to pay $30+ per issue to read issues of MASTER OF KUNG FU from 1977, especially when none of that money would go to Marvel or Moench & Gulacy.

    So, I use ComicZeal — the only comics app that reads .cbr and .cbz files. And I read a ton.

    My comics purchases have been limited to collections for some time now (the single issue price is getting a bit high, but more importantly, collections are easier to shelve and keep, rather than boxes of singles). I would be far more likely to purchase digital comics, if one major thing changes — not the pricing, but the release dates. Currently, not a lot of titles are released day&date digitally. If they start releasing digital editions on the same day as the print editions, I’ll be purchasing.

  • I didn’t address the comics side of this, but When the Kindle first came out, I would have totally bought a Marvel Essentials Bundle, and as eInk has improved, would still consider that despite comiXology’s superior reading experience.

    I agree that with the right pricing (eg: $.99/issue; $4.99/collection), the iPad is killer for digital comics, though. My comics buying has faded to almost nothing over the past couple of years, but I love comiXology and have spent a decent bit of money with them so far. Most publishers have been really smart about free samplers and/or first issues, too, something that’s usually limited to the annual FCBD.

    Recommendation: If you haven’t already, check out Joshua Cotter’s Skyscrapers of the Midwest from AdHouse. It’s the only comics I own in every format: individual issues, hardcover collection, and digital. Love it!

    • @Monica:

      I definitely like getting RPGs off of DriveThru. Haven’t tried comics yet (shows my limited scope, but I’m admittedly looking for stuff from the major publishers, which I don’t -think- are on DriveThru? Correct me if I’m wrong). A good tip, though, thanks!

      – c.

  • It’s getting to the point where I need an ereader and, in fact, plan to pick up one of the small Kindle or Kobo (leaning towards the Kobo for the 100 free classics). I’m trying to prepare myself for the possibility of returning to uni to finish my English degree, and my reading list is INSANE. Canadian literature, British literature, American literature, Victorian literature, Shakespeare, half a million poets and philosophers, etc etc etc. Selecting these books from the public library — which are time sensitive — or purchasing them all myself in physical form — easily hundreds of dollars — is simply not feasible.

    Besides, I’d have nowhere to put them all. And my kids would destroy them.

    So I have the Mobipocket app for my Blackberry. Half the books on my Required Reading list are available in the public domain — more or less being published prior to 1920. I currently have several hundred ebooks, publically available, covering a very broad range of topics. All it took was a couple of hours, a compatible device, and some patience with archival site search engines.

    For more recent, commercial releases? You’re right. The price does need to come down. An electronic copy should not cost the same as a paperback, because there’s no physical product. I don’t think the industry has realized that jacking up prices will serve two purposes: 1) kill the medium before it can blossom (since folks can buy something physical for roughly the same price) and 2) encourage piracy, since those who really -do- want ebooks will likely turn to gray-area ways to obtain them.

    Honestly, for me, the necessity of spending money on e-novels and e-texts is still a bit off. What’s freely available in the public domain is more than enough for me right now, and will occupy my time for awhile to come.

    But YMMV.

  • What’s sad is that I had a Rio Diamond and, after I broke it, a Rio Nomad which I only just disposed of*, What is perhaps more sad is that I had (and still have in a box) a Rocket E-book reader. This means I’ve been dealing with ebooks since…god, the late 90s? Seriously, I got to watch the whole market briefly surge then die a horrible death as a result of some amazingly bad hardware decisions. This broke my heart.

    And it’s with that in mind that I I have two different kinds of Kindle love. Amazon’s policies suck in many ways, and DRM is spawned of the Devil’s asshole, but by god they’re the ones who brought this segment back to life. Sony sure as hell wasn’t going to do it (their reader was fine, but the support was crap) and the Irex Iliad pretty much cost a kidney. I love ebooks in the abstract, and the market exists because Amazon rolled the dice on it. They get default goodwill for that.

    The other love is, well, yep, I love using it. Yes, there’s annoying DRM for the purchased books, but the convenience almost makes up for it. Price point on the books is a little high (especially for older books) but I see no way around that in the short term. In the long term? I buy books from Baen and other places where prices are more reasonable and while I don’t pirate books, I am well aware how easy it would be. If I worry about the files, I plug my kindle into my computer and back them up. Easy peasy. Same way I upload PDFs and other files into it. I have no real fear of losing the files I own (no matter whether Amazon tells me I’ve “licensed” them or not – that’s a whoel other argument though).

    The Kindle excels at playing within Amazon’s walled garden, but it’s not limited to just doing that (though some people certainly seem to think that’s the case – the fact that it’s got a USB port invokes disbelief from some).

    But here’s the funny thing. I don’t stress about ownership of these things much these days (at least so long as the company I’m dealing with stays in business). More often than not I am happier to use a subscription service that lets me get access to a deeper library than my own. Yes, I have a ton of MP3s that I’ve accrued over time, but if I didn’t then I could easily pay about the cost of a CD a month for an all-I-can-eat music service. I do the same for movies and TV. I’d _kill_ for a comparable service for comics. The reality of electronic media is that now that I’ve had several years of being _able_ to own a copy of everything in the world, I find I no longer have much desire to do so.

    But that’s me. One of the key things about this digital sea change is that it’s all about usage profiles. Ebooks won’t be for everyone yet. Ditto comics. Ditto MP3s. No harm in that. My profile is someone who used to hurt his back without he sheer number of books he carried around.

    For me, it’s a good future.

    -Rob D.

    * Thankfully, I never bought into Ogg, though I had friends who eventually had to bite the bullet and convert their collections, which was kind of painful.

    • @Rob –

      Again, this is a YMMV thing, but for me the problem isn’t only price point, or only the ownership/licensee issue. It’s the combination. I’m willing to pay a good bit if I own it, and a good bit less if I don’t. For me, the prices are still somewhere in a really mushy middle —

      Y’know, it feels almost like the housing crisis (bear with me). A lot of sellers are keeping their houses priced outside the sweet spot because of various reasons (some emotional, some concrete and financial). Feels similar in comics and e-books: a lot of products are being kept outside the sweet spot. I’m perfectly okay with not owning anything in much the same way I’m content with, say, not owning anything I watch over Netflix. Because the price point works for me.

      Frankly, both different and the same is the movie theater experience — I no longer get enough value to justify the cost.

      – c.

  • Totally fair, and I can point to a perfect, specific example.

    I own too many books, by a substantial margin. I’ve purged and boxed and trimmed but even so, I have a LOT of books, enough so that they are a recurring storage problem. As a result, “not taking up space” is part of the value of the ebook. For younger me, who was proudly filling those bookshelves and pleased at how stuffed they got, “not taking up space” wasn’t rally worth much money at all.

    I figure there’s lots of stuff like that in anyone’s equation. It’s never going to be perfect (in a personal or market sense) because it’s not like there’s real price competition for these things, but it’s possible to find where your spot is.

    $10 is ok by me for newer books. I interpret anything over that as price gouging, but if I want the book badly enough I will occasionally suck it up. But if I see a book where I can get a physical copy for less than the cost of the ebook? To hell with them, I just won’t buy it. There are plenty of other books in my to-read queue.

    Now, I also hope that prices get driven down over time, and I think they’ll have to be because it’s getting easier to pirate a book. Publishers have counted on the fact that it’s harder to scan a book than rip a CD, but that’s a straw house defense. But I also anticipate that pricing, like DRM, is goign to take years before sanity prevails.

    -Rob D.

  • Couple thoughts… First, formats are formats and can change. They should also be specific to what you’re trying to do. I’ve been reading ebooks for 9 or 10 years now. Most common file format I use? Text and the palm-specific files my reader on there uses (I store as text and just convert when I want to read it). Why? Raw text is fairly compact and can easily be compressed to a fraction of it’s regular size. Second most common? PDF. It’s what I use to read the Exalted, Shadowrun and other legally downloaded RPGs. Why not text? Because a gaming book needs to be indexed and is full of pretty pictures and important sidebars like how to make a ninja-schoolgirl-stripper that looks like Chuck* in a World of Darkness game.

    Ebooks are just starting to get into the spotlight, and they don’t have the traction that music does. So it’s probably going to be 15 years before formats are settled down.

    Personally I’d like to see a separation in publishing from the physical product and the product… meaning the physical book and the book itself, the latter consisting of all the effort that goes into writing, marketing, editing, detoxing the author and meetings with doughnuts.

    The latter needs the bulk of the monies gained from selling the book, but right now everyone puts the idea of value on the former. And yes part of that is having people think they are getting value for what they buy digitally.

    *-please note the reason this is important is so that you never *ever* do it.

  • @Rob– I’m 100% with you on the storage issue being a big selling point for me. My wife and I have a massive library, including multiple copies (where we both owned the same titles before marrying). We’ve got bookshelves everywhere, stacked to capacity, and yet still have boxes that haven’t been opened in 2 or 3 moves. Of course, we still buy more books.

    My wife has a saying: “Owning leads to Dusting.” The move towards digital media that we can store and have on demand has been a blessing. We made the switch with music, we’re currently in the process of making that transition with video, and just starting out with books.

  • For someone like myself who drags her boxes and boxes of books across the country, I want to love an e-reader. The problems I keep encountering in no particular order or sensibility:

    I have to buy the books I love again to replace them.
    Given that I rarely buy a book I haven’t read before (I love libraries) as it is because of price considerations (feed family or buy _Feed_ for the family?), I don’t see this happening.

    And that’s presuming there are electronic versions. I have a ton of collected childrens books (as the kids grow older, I re-release them into the wild because new childrens books are uber-expensive) that I’m not seeing work in the media. (_The Rainbow Goblins_ anyone?)

    Here’s a great mp3 example – when my dad died, I inherited a ton of obsolete musical media… that I am converting to mp3. Albums that I listened to as a kid that will never be released in a digital format by bands that dried up three weeks after they released the vinyl… and now I have a chance to share them with the family. Equivalent to trying to scan in the only known copy of the grandfather’s vanity press novel maybe?

    I can’t just pass them to my younger sister who is just getting into my favorite genre. I can’t have my husband read them. I can’t bring them into the toilet and bath and leave them on the shotgun seat of the car to browse in line at the drive-through, and pick them up at family gatherings that I’m attending because I have to, or read them while I run at the park. I know the e-Readers are getting there, but not yet. And I’ve got kids and that mentally makes me hold off on buying electronic equipment that won’t handle being dropkicked. (My poor, poor forays into Palm…)

    On the other hand, ninety-nine cents for a book? Sure. Hold me back. (I had to get a spending limit on mp3s for yes, the same reason.) I see the threshold argument and give it a +1 blessing.

  • Boy, that comment would have made a lot more sense if I hadn’t been shepherding said drop-kickers of electronics into deciding which Mythbusters episode to watch at the same time. They don’t actually set out into playing football with all shiny new technology (“We call their team… `The Luddites!’”) but the small whirlwinds of chaos do influence my toy buys. (We’re not quite at the “Fully Rugged” stage anymore.)

  • I would like to second Monica’s recommendation of DriveThruComics.com. At DriveThruComics, the publisher sets the restrictions, not the format. I sell my LORE comics through them, and the only restriction I place on the PDF files is a tiny watermark in the corner of the comic. The reader is free to copy/paste and print out pages from my digital comics if he wants.
    .
    I also priced both of my 40-page digital comics at $0.99, while I sell the print editions at $3.99. I also sell a 192-page trade paperback for $4.99.
    .
    That said, I’m also looking into self-publishing on the Kindle in order to reach a wider audience.

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