Tag Archives: ebooks

Useful Always Wins

Obviously there are tons of markets where books are seen as tools to be employed toward certain purposes (how-tos, cookbooks, etc), but it’s more than a little strange to read editorials that seem to believe that that’s all they are.

My daughter’s generation will probably have ebook textbooks. They will never experience dog-eared, vandalised, outdated school books, shared one-between-two. They will enjoy books that are enhanced with video, interactive graphics and picture galleries. And they will see these things are the norm. Printed books will be strange relics from their parents’ generation. They might appreciate their form but they will approach them as fundamentally less useful. And useful always wins in the end.

Useful obviously doesn’t always win, otherwise we wouldn’t have art, not to mention technology columns that repeat conventional wisdom.

The other problem with arguments like this is that, even with all the advantages ebooks offer, I’m sure people will find ways to screw them up. To take just one example, 10 – 15 years ago people couldn’t have predicted all of the variously malicious and annoying ways people have found to spoil something as truly great and common as email. Yes, email still works very well, but it doesn’t work quite as well as people thought it would have, and it’s created a host of problems all its own. Which is to say, as useful as ebooks will be for certain purposes, I’m sure they haven’t solved the “outdated, crappy” textbook problem for all time.

Cheap eBooks: Good or Bad?

As I idly requested last week, Chad has more fully explained his thoughts on pricing Open Letter’s new ebooks at $4.99 for a limited time. Essentially, his argument is two-fold:

1. that too-cheap ebooks (i.e., full-on novels for less than $5.00) promote an idea of books as disposable entertainments; but,
2. that cheap ebooks can provide a kind of “advertising” for a small publisher like Open Letter, helping move people up the ladder to the $13.00 paperbacks

I do think there’s something to the idea of ereaders promoting an idea of books as disposable, though I don’t think it’s overly related to price. My own take is that our culture is sufficiently awash in remainders, garage sales, huge library booksales, used mass market paperbacks, etc, that we’re already rather comfortable with getting a real book for $1.00 or $2.00. Sure, 99 cent ebooks with further promulgate this idea, but I think it was already pretty fixed in the mind of your average book lover pre-ebook.

But then there’s the actual ebook product, something I’ve discussed on this site before. As much as I’ve gotten used to reading books electronically, I just can’t get my brain to consider it an ebook a real book. If I really like an ebook that I’ve read, I’ll want to go out and buy a “real” copy. It’s interesting to note that I don’t have this same kind of dichotomy with bound galleys and finished books (even though, theoretically, the galley isn’t actually a “real” book since there will be subtle differences between it and the finalized, printed book). Clearly, to me, this is something to do with having a printed thing to read versus having a bunch of computer code that will be displayed as a book in the presence of a certain device.

But anyway, I think Chad’s idea of using ebooks as loss leaders sounds about right, and I like how it essentially gives primacy to the printed book as the final repository of value, both for a reader and for a publisher. Maybe in the end low prices will be what saves us from a world without printed books.

Open Letter Jumps In on Ebooks

Over at the Three Percent blog, Chad has just announced that you can now get 9 different Open Letter titles for $4.99 each. (The books are for sale forever, bu the price is only till June 30.)

I’ll be interested to hear Chad’s promised thoughts on “publishing business models and pricing and whatnot.” For now, here are the books:

The Ambassador by Bragi Ólafsson
Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda
Gasoline by Quim Monzó
The Golden Calf by Ilf & Petrov
Guadalajara by Quim Monzó
The Mighty Angel by Jerzy Pilch
The Pets by Bragi Ólafsson
The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda by Mercè Rodoreda
A Thousand Peaceful Cities by Jerzy Pilch

Ebooks vs Print Sales

Like with Michael Orthofer’s site, the large majority of books being purchased through links on this site continue to be print, although electronic format has steadily risen. This despite Amazon’s new claim that it now sells more electronic books than print.

Like Michael, I can’t explain why my site stats don’t reflect this, though I think it has something to do with the few megabestsellers (like The Millennium Trilogy) that have taken off in electronic format. I’m guessing that those are driving the majority of Amazon’s ebook sales, as well as Amazon Singles and perhaps Amazon construing subscriptions to blogs and such as “books.” (I don’t know that they do this, but wouldn’t put it past them.)

Other than that, I would guess that people who really, rally like books still prefer print books to ebooks. I certainly read my share of electronic books these days, but they’ve never felt “real” to me in the sense that print books do. My go-to example is that if I read an ebook and really like it, I will immediately go out and buy a print version of it to have in my library. Probably people who see books as more of commodities and time-killers won’t have that same perception and will tend to be happy with the electronic version, particularly since the gratification is truly instant now and the price tends to be lower.

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Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

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