Still Not Betting On An eBook Revolution

from the any-day-now dept

eBooks have been touted as the next big thing for quite some time now, but invariably, each new generation of the new technology fails to win over consumers. Of course, that's not going to stop the publishing industry from pursuing them in their belief that they'll be the savior of the industry. The latest iteration comes from Amazon.com, and for $500 it offers the ability to connect wirelessly to an eBook store, meaning you won't have to plug the device into a computer in order to make a purchase. For eBook aficionados, this might be a nice convenience, but it's pretty hard to imagine this feature proving pivotal to winning over the broader population. Of all the problems people have with eBooks, the fact that you have to connect them to a computer probably isn't a significant one. The above article also mentions Google's planned foray into digital publishing, as it intends to sell digital versions of books from select publishers. But it's not clear why Google thinks that customers will be particularly interested in this service. After Google's previous foray into selling digital content, with its now-defunct video store, you'd think the company would stay away from this kind of business.


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  1.  
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    Matt Bennett, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 11:42am

    I've seen that E Ink technology that they talk about, a friend of mine has one, it's pretty cool. It really does act a lot like electronically writable paper. Little spheres that flip over,one side is black, the other white. So if you turn the thing off, it still shows the most recent page. And it's perfectly viewable in sunlight. In fact, you need a reading light. No unusual eye-strain. It's not enough to make me jump out and and start buying books, but it's enought to make me thin about it.

    I also have a problem with old novel storage. Very reluctant to throw them away, but I run out of shelf space.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 11:54am

    My problem with e-books is that i pay the same price for an electronic copy as I would a paper copy, especially since I need to buy a reader for a few hundred dollars.

     

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    Jason, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 12:07pm

    E-Ink

    What would really get people on board, if the price wasn't ridiculous, is a book full of e-ink pages, so that essentially you have a normal book that plugs into your computer and becomes the novel of your choice... but where you hold it in your hand and turn the pages as per normal, and don't get the eyestrain of looking at a video screen.

    You could even have separate paperback and hardcover sizes... but the reality is that people are not going to use any sort of e-book until the cost comes down a LOT. If you could get one for $40 or $50, and then get new books for it for a few dollars (there is no cost to distribution, after all), a lot of people would jump on board... maybe even if the device cost ~$100.

     

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    Jon Moot, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 12:13pm

    Re:

    Two features I enjoy most from ebooks are 1)easy definition lookup by tapping the word and 2)short passage highlighting so I could export the text as memorable quotes. At least these features are available via eReader on my PDA.

    I read books in both ebook and print format as each has its attractions. I don't think one should ever replace the other; it's simply nice to have alternatives.

     

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    Doug, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 12:14pm

    So for $500 I get access to your store where I can buy more things? Where is the upside to the customer?

     

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    Michael Long, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 12:19pm

    Apple

    Apple has a pair of potentially sweet ebook readers in the iPhone and iPod Touch. And since you can actually use them for other things (music, video), there's no need to buy an expensive, dedicated device like Sony's.

    Apple just needs to get off their rear ends and do for the ebook market what they did for music distribution and pricing. Last time I checked, books were categorized as media too...

     

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    Matt Bennett, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 12:25pm

    Can iPhone display .pdfs? That could make me get one.

     

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    Eric, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 12:27pm

    DRM and Price

    I think one of the biggest hurdles is DRM. Book people are big time traders. People bring bags of book to the work place and there are whole businesses that are built on used books. Possibly if they somehow allowed you to MOVE your digital book to someone else's ebook reader, instead of giving them a copy, everyone would be happy.

    The other big problem has already been mentioned. Why do I pay the same price for a ebook as I do for a real book? and I have to pay for the product to read it on also.. not to mention if they decide to get into a format war.

     

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    boomhauer (profile), Sep 6th, 2007 @ 12:35pm

    if i had time to read...

    i would likely do the e-ink thing and get a decent reader for it. anyone who has tried reading on a pda or (i)phone knows that it wears your eyes out, but not as fast as the battery. running that backlight for that long of time, aint gonna happen. and the screen is borderline too small, so you have to scroll too much or click too often. a nice e-ink pad that is a bit larger (book size?) would suit me fine.
    oh and make it cheap ;)

     

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    TheDock22, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 12:41pm

    More like real books

    The have a few reasons for waiting for eBook readers to enhance more than they have. I want my eBook reader to act more like a real book. I read a lot of tech manuals and like to skip to the index, find my page number, and go to it. As far as I know, eBook readers don't have this functionality or the ability to search the text for a specific phrase (which would be more useful than index) nor the ability to skip to a certain page. I mean Sony's eBook reader, I haven't read anything about the Apple iPhone or the iPod Touch and eBook reading.

    Until I can load my tech manuals in them and use as reference an eBook reader has no appeal to me. I do like my fiction books, but it's not enough for me.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 12:41pm

    I will be first aboard the ebook train just as soon as I can find a reader that doesnt suck on both the hardware and software side.

     

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    Glaurung_quena, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 1:02pm

    In order for people to get interested in buying ebooks, two things must happen, and both of them are things the publishers, as a group, must do.

    First, they have to take responsibility for marketing the readers into their own hands. If the reader is for sale at the local geek toy store, then the people who love to read aren't going to see it and think of it as an alternative. But if the readers are for sale at the local bookstore right next to a kiosk where you can buy the novel of your choice (that means any novel, in or out of print, from any publisher) on a usb stick, then the idea of reading ebooks will start to percolate out from the propeller-head crowd into the minds of normal non-techy bookworms.

    Also, if the readers cost hundreds of bucks, they won't sell no matter where they're marketed. So the publishers have to subsidize the cost of the readers, either directly by selling them at a loss (less than $99, I'd say), or indirectly by offering a coupon with each reader good for ten or twenty free ebooks. Or both.

    Second, ebooks have to sell for less than the cost of mass market paperbacks. Right now, ebook editions cost as much or more than paperbacks. Considering that you don't get an actual physical book for your money, that's far, far too much. Instead, charge half the cost of the cheap paperback edition -- say $5. That way it's a clear savings to buy the book in electronic format. And since there's no printing or distribution cost, and no shelf space taken up in the store, the bookstore, publisher and author can still take home as much or more profit per ebook than they make per dead tree copy.

     

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    wifezilla, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 1:05pm

    The problem isn't the ebook format...

    The problem isn't the ebook format...but the price and usability of the readers. I hate having to be tied to my computer to read...I like to do it outdoors or in the bath tub!

    "My problem with e-books is that i pay the same price for an electronic copy as I would a paper copy, especially since I need to buy a reader for a few hundred dollars."

    Exactly. I have been in the printing industry for almost 30 years. It takes 100th of the time and money to create an ebook than it does a dead tree book. Pricing the electronic books the same as the dead tree is just theft.

     

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    DB, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 1:07pm

    Not until DRM resolved

    After getting burned by DRM problems with ebooks I legitimately purchased for use on my PC, it will be a long long time before I consider buying an ebook reader.

     

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    Haywood, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 1:09pm

    It wouldn't be hard to get a working system

    Pdf would be a great E-book format. Locking it down so copies don't get passed around is the hard part, and the reason all of the schemes fail to take off. Logically, if I buy a new hardcover and my friend wants to read it, I let him. The trying to keep that from happening electronically, DRM if you will, is keeping what could be a reading revolution from taking off.

     

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    TheDock22, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 1:15pm

    Re: It wouldn't be hard to get a working system

    Logically, if I buy a new hardcover and my friend wants to read it, I let him.

    So true, besides books can be "free" anyway. Just head on over to the nearest library.

    The trying to keep that from happening electronically, DRM if you will, is keeping what could be a reading revolution from taking off.

    Exactly. If they made some sort of check-out system, so let's say you have a library and own 1 copy of the book. Then you could read it, but if your friend wants it, let them check it out and they can read it, but you can't. That way it is more like "trading" a book rather than duplicating it.

     

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  17.  
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    Avatar28, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 1:18pm

    price is the killer

    I have one of those nifty PDA phones and so I have been known to occasionally load up an ebook into it and read it. I like it because it makes it easy for me to keep several books on me at all times. The small screen is a bit of a bummer, but I can tolerate that. The big thing that stops me from buying ebooks, though, is the price. There is no reason that an ebook with next to no publishing and distribution costs should cost the same as a paper book with paper, printing, distribution, and storage costs. What really kills me are the new releases. If a book comes out and the hard back is $26.95, the ebook is ALSO $26.95. I'm sorry, but if I'm paying that much for a book I'm DAMNED well going to be getting something more than a bunch of bits on my hard drive.

    There is only one publisher who really has embraced electronic publishing, and that's Baen books. They have a free library of ebooks that anyone can access. They are mostly older titles, usually in ongoing series. In other words, they're giving some of their content away to act as a promotion for their newer stuff. It's a page straight out of Techdirt's playbook. They also give the opportunity to buy a lot of their books in ebook format as advanced copies. A few months before publishing you get the first part, a month later, the second part and so on until you have the whole thing. These cost more, but you're paying to get access to it ahead of time and a lot of people are perfectly willing to do that. When the books are released as ebooks, they are typically $4-6, even when the hardbacks are out at $25 or whatever.

     

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  18.  
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    Mr. Pirate, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 1:29pm

    I cant wait

    I can not wait when they do become popular then someone cracks the DRM and they put the books on P2P file sharing sites. AAARRRGGGHHHH!

     

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  19.  
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    Mr. Pirate, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 1:33pm

    Re: I cant wait

    I forgot to mention then the publishers and who ever else has a hand in making books can complain that ebooks are killing their industry.

     

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  20.  
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    Eric, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 1:38pm

    It's the price

    I looked into getting a couple of ebooks through Amazon once upon a time, only to discover that for all the ones I wanted, a DRMed PDF was actually more expensive than getting a dead tree delivered to my door.

    I think there's a market for them... textbooks, technical books, and even some kinds of non-fiction are all things I'd rather have on the computer - where they're easily searchable, clip-able, and cite-able. But the price should be a fraction of what a physical copy would cost, not more.

    (Even better, they should look into releasing advertising supported versions of books as web pages. eBooks in general do have a whiff of the NYT's failed TimesSelect program)

     

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  21.  
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    wasabifan, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 2:05pm

    Re: Apple

    I had been thinking about this. The other thought that I have had that might converge nicely, was if Audible created a new digital format that included both the e-text and audio version in one purchase. Plus, the bookmarks would let you keep your place in both formats.

    While driving you could listen to your book, and while waiting in line, you could read at a faster pace.

     

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  22.  
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    Hua Fang, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 2:15pm

    Again, Codonology!

    Now, we are talking Codonology again. Here's the line of reasoning we, the human being, have been doing in the past thousands of years:
    Traditionally: Useful knowledge >> stored >> re-use (in paper form taking longer time back to another brain)
    Digitally: Useful knowledge >> stored >> re-use (but taking much less time back to another brain)
    The difference is that a "new concept forming time" (NCFT) is significantly reduced. However, at same time, much more new concept must be absorbed by a thinker before a true new concept(s) or theory can be formulated. Now, the basic unit of conceptual content is a Codon, one "(LCP)", LawConceptPhenomenon. Therefore, to complete setting up human knowledge library, the first thing is to digitize all the books, documents, etc like what Google is doing. However, the most significant will be the things afterwards, which are that conceptualization of all the contents from the digital contents, or called "Codonization". Once it's done, such condonized system will provide spontaneous reasoning mechanism like combined brain powers from all the experts in the world. It will serve every individual in the global society at minimum cost. Although it sounds fantastic, it won't be just a dream. Let's act and see (www.Codonology.com).

    Codonologist, Hua Fang

     

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  23.  
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    Jon Robinson, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 2:33pm

    Re: E-Ink

    That's a brilliant idea, especially since people like real books because they are easier to curl up on the couch with.

     

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  24.  
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    Jon Robinson, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 2:35pm

    Re: Apple

    I was preparing a post on just this topic after realizing that I had been using the iPhone for just that purpose...iTunes already distributes pdfs too, so it is really close actually.

     

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  25.  
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    Jon Robinson, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 2:37pm

    Re:

    Yes, it does. Beautifully. There are a few catches. In Safari, it does landscape and portrait mode, but you can't "save for local viewing". You have to reopen the webpage and reload each time. You can view pdfs as attachments, and they are always there, but there is no landscape mode in Mail on the iPhone yet.

     

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  26.  
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    Ed C., Sep 6th, 2007 @ 3:43pm

    Re: Re: It wouldn't be hard to get a working syste

    The metro library in my town as already started experimenting with digital text and audio books, but I believe that they still require a PC and use DRM to delete the books after the length of the lending period is up. The only problem is that they need to get good ebook readers with a decent screen and battery life, I've heard that digital ink makes huge strides on both fronts. They could even rent out the readers, or let you bring your own. The libraries could pave the way to the digital future of print.

    BTW, the idea of the reader deleting a library book is no big deal because: 1) It was free to begin with. 2) You can just check it out again and as may times as you want. Unlike regular books, your borrowed copy doesn't prevent anyone else from having it. 3) Lending is not an issue. All of your friends can get the books you recommend for free from the library as well. 4) Most books that people buy are only read once while spending the rest of its life on a self collecting dust (references, manuals, etc are obvious exceptions of course).

    For most purposes, this is a better system then cutting down thousands of trees for books that will scarcely be used. However, it would turn the library lending system in to a tax feed subsidy for book publishers (yes taxes support public libraries too), but since they would only have to cover royalties and administration cost, that won't too be much to ask.

     

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  27.  
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    Stephen, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 3:52pm

    At the root of the problem for me is the fact that reading a book, holding it in your hand, smelling the print, turning the pages is a tactile experience. When I was an MFA student in poetry, I tried to study the difference between the page and the spoken (or sung) word, the differences being obvious and profound. There was a time when all poetry was sung, and later spoken. The differences between a book and an ebook are also compelling. Yet another step removed from the sensual. Just me. God I sound old.

     

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  28.  
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    dave, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 5:27pm

    Re: It's the price

    "advertising supported versions of books"

    Don't give publishers ideas about this, and it WON'T be a way to reduce the price of a book, but rather be viewed as a new revenue stream.

    So, that textbook for your class will still cost $90, but there will be a banner ad on each page.

     

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  29.  
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    FobBlackhawk, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 1:44am

    ebooks

    No time to read books here in Iraq. Audio books via iTunes is the way to go. Just need a greater selection.

     

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  30.  
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    Jaylen Smith, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 3:08am

    I think for me to purchase a stand-alone ereader it would have to be able to read pdf's. When they can read pdf's then I will consider paying for one.

    When I can upload info to it then will would be more useful to me then just ebooks from the store.

     

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  31.  
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    Duke, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 4:47am

    Books on iPhone

    iPhone is perfect ebook reader. Try http://booksoniphone.com

     

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  32.  
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    zcabrage, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 9:33am

    Re: price is the killer

    I see a lot of comments about the price of ebooks in this discussion. I while I agree that charging hardcover prices for ebooks is wrong I see no reason why they need to be cheaper than paperbacks. There are many advantages to ebooks that I would be willing to pay more for. I can have multiple/all my ebooks always with me, I don't have to set aside space to store ebooks in the house, ebooks won't fade, fall apart and cannot be physically damaged(of course this means backing up your files), I can quickly search for a word or phrase in an ebook and the list goes on.

    As a result of pretty much now only read ebooks. I have not purchased a paper book in years and have no plans to. I certainly hope that one day the whole ereader mess will be figured out and all books will become available as ebooks. BTW, I love Baen's model and I hope more publishers follow the path they are creating.

     

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  33.  
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    bob, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 11:40am

    cost is too much

    For an eBook reader to succeed it MUST have a few things.
    1. Cost $100 or less for the reader.
    2. NO DRM
    3. The DRM free eBook files need a cost that is equal to or less than a standard paperback.

    baen books is good if you like Sci-Fi. It's too bad there's nobody else selling eBooks at reasonable prices. I've spent a few hundred bucks over the years on reasonably priced files. If they were priced higher I'd probably not have even started reading eBooks.

     

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  34.  
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    Avatar28, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 12:13pm

    Baen

    Baen is the only publisher that has really grasped the concept of free content as a promotional material and ebooks as more than just another form of paper book (and offering new opportunities such as their Advanced Reader Copies. To a large degree, I think that one author in particular is to credit for it, Eric Flint.

    If anyone is interested, he has a very interesting discussion on the subjects of copyright, drm, and the value of promotional material on his website. The guy could practically write for techdirt with some of his views. http://www.ericflint.net/index.php/2007/04/27/eric-flint-on-drm-and-copyright/

     

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