Rethinking Magazines on the iPad 2 and Kindle 3

Since I’m a gadget freak I wanted to love reading magazines on the iPad and Kindle.  It wasn’t love at first sight though.  Reading a digital magazine takes different skills than reading a paper magazine, and at 60 it’s not always easy to teach an old dog new tricks.  However, I’m an old dog that’s become very near sighted, and having a tablet is like having a handicap device that helps me with my physical failings.

Because I can make the font larger, and the photos larger and brighter, the experience of reading on a tablet wins out over paper, but I’m not saying it’s magical.  Zite, a reading app for the iPad, is magical.  Think Pandora for articles instead of playing songs, because I can’t show you what Zite looks like.  Zite isn’t on the web, it’s only for iOS, Android and webOS mobile devices.  But even Zite is just a start.

We need a new paradigm for magazine reading.

Right now publishers are working hard to make magazines look identical to their printed versions on the tablet screen, but that’s ignoring the power of the computer built into the tablet.  And I’ve got to wonder why I have to page through ads when I pay more for the iPad version of magazine than I do for a printed subscription.  For example I could get Rolling Stone for $20 on paper, but I’m paying $36 for the digital.  WTF? 

If I’m going to pay more, why not make reading easier and forget the printed layout and ads?  But I doubt that will happen.  Zite usually jettisons the ads, and its free.  So, how does that business model work?  It won’t for long.  What’s needed is a paid Zite subscription.

I get The New Yorker on my Kindle 3 and it does leave out the printed formatting and ads.  It’s pure text reading.  The Kindle 3 is much lighter and easier to hold than the iPad, so reading The New Yorker is a pleasure, but not visually exciting.  A step backward, although it’s much easier on the eyes.

When I’m reading just words, whether for a book or magazine, I much prefer reading them on the Kindle e-ink screen, or the retinal display of my iPod touch.  The damn iPad is a pain to hold.  But if I want to see photos I need the iPad.  This is probably why the Kindle Fire is a 7” tablet.  But none of these devices are perfect.  In fact, reading nirvana is nowhere to be seen.

It’s like that new ad on TV for the Microsoft phone that claims up till now all smart phones have been beta devices.  Well, we’re still in beta when it come to tablets and magazine reading.

In fact, I’m ready to give up magazines altogether, either print or digital.  Zite has taught me that, as well as the Best American series of anthologies that come out each year collecting the best magazine magazine writing into ebooks to read on the Kindle.

Magazines have a lot of content I just don’t want to read or look at.  When I could flip through a paper copy it was easy to ignore the crap, but with a digital edition the easiest way to read a magazine is to start at the beginning and flip pages till the end.  That just reminds me of how much content I don’t want to see.

How often have you paid several dollars to read one article in a magazine?  How often have you paid several dollars for a magazine and read none of the articles, just flip through the pages, reading snatches here and there and looked at some pictures?  Magazines are like cable TV, 200 channels when you really only want 8.

What we need is magazine article singles, like buying songs at iTunes.  Articles should be 99 cents for long meaty ones, and less for shorter ones.

Like I said, this transition from paper to digital is making me rethink magazines.  Either digital magazines need to become a whole lot better at providing just what I want for a fair price, or I’m going to either give up on reading magazines altogether, or just go back to paper editions that I only buy with very cheapo subscription deals.

I’m not sure the iPad is the wonder gadget that I thought it was.  Except for Words with Friends and Zite, most of my dozens of app icons go untapped.  I’ve bought some of those fancy multimedia books and never read them.  They are neat for a few minutes, but not for hours.  Most of the digital magazines I’ve bought haven’t been read.  In fact, my New Yorker issues pile up in my Kindle 3 just like how the paper copies used to pile up unread.

JWH – 5/2/12   

The Strange Pricing of Digital Goods

I buy a lot of digital goods and services but I’ve noticed that there is no consistency in pricing.  For example I subscribe to Rdio.com and pay $4.99 a month for access to millions of songs and albums.  Yet, The New York Times wants $15-$35 a month for access to just one newspaper.  $60 a year for 15,000,000 songs versus $180 for 365 issues of one newspaper – can you spot the obvious bargain?

Yet for $7.99 a month, or $96 a year I get access to 75,000 movies and TV shows at Netflix.  $7.99 a month is also the price Hulu Plus charges for thousands of shows too.  So why does one newspaper cost $15 a month, especially since it was free for years.  I love reading The New York Times, but I can’t make myself pay $15 a month for it when I get so much music for $4.99 a month, and so many movies and TV shows for $7.99 a month.  If I was getting access to several great papers for $7.99 a month I’d consider it a fair deal.  But for one title, I think it should be much less.

This makes The New York Times appear to be very expensive.  However, The Wall Street Journal is $3.99 a week, or $207.48 a year. Strangely, The Economist, a weekly is $126.99 a year for print and digital, or $126.99 for just digital. Go figure.

I also get digital audio books from Audible.com.  I pay $229.50 for a 24 pack, which is $9.56 per book, but they often have sales for $7.95 and $4.95 a book.  I can get two books from Audible for what I’d pay for 30 daily papers, but I actually spend way more time listening to books than I’d spend reading the paper online. 

I subscribe to several digital magazines through the Kindle store.  Right now I’m getting a month of The New Yorker for $2.99, but that’s suppose to go up to $5.99 soon.  (What is it about stuff from New York being more expensive?)  Most of the magazines I get from Amazon are $1.99 a month, way under the cost for a printed copy at the newsstand.  The Rolling Stone is $2.99 and I usually get two issues in a month.  So for $15 a month, the price of The New York Times, I get 11 magazines (4 New Yorkers, 2 Rolling Stones, Discover, Maximum PC, National Geographic, Home Theater and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction).  That’s a lot of reading for $15 a month, and a lot of variety.

However, I also subscribe to Zite, an app on my iPad where I do the most of my news reading, and that’s free.  I get free articles from those magazines above and who knows how many more, all for free.  In fact, I spend so much time reading Zite, because it’s customized to my interests, that I’m thinking of cancelling my magazine subscriptions.  But that’s another issue.  Like when I subscribed to paper copies of magazines I mostly let them go unread.

Even if I paid $15 a month for The New York Times I’m not sure how many articles I would read above the 10 articles a month they offer now for free.  I don’t expect everything to be free on the internet, but sadly, paid content has to compete with free.  Zite, which is free, is actually worth $15 a month, because I get access to zillions of magazine articles, newspaper stories, and web blogs.

I’m also a subscriber to Safari Books Online, a subscription library to technical books.  I pay $9.99 a month and get to have 5 books a month “checked out” to read.  I can keep them longer, but I have to keep them at least one month.  So for $120 a year I get to read as many as 60 books, which means the price could be as low as $2 a book.  That’s a bargain when most computer books are $40-50.

And I’m a member of Amazon Prime.  For $79 a year I get unlimited 2-day shipping, access to 12 ebooks (1 a month from their library of 100,000 titles) and unlimited access to thousands of movies and TV shows.  This is another tremendous bargain.  I also buy ebooks for my Kindle and iPad from Amazon.  Costs run from free to $9.99.  On very rare occasions I’ll pay more, but it hurts.  Digital books just seem less valuable than physical books.  I don’t feel like I collect digital books like I do with hardcovers.  I don’t even feel I own ebooks.

Next Issue Media is now offering a library of digital magazines Netflix style for $9.99-$14.99 a month, but only one of the magazines I currently subscribe to, The New Yorker, is part of the deal.  If all of my regular magazines and The New York Times were part of the deal, then I’d go for it.  However, Zite with it’s intelligent reading system would still dominate my reading.  Flipping through magazines is just too time consuming.  What I want is a Zite Plus, a service that provides access to all the free and paid content I like to read.

Can you spot the trend in all of this?

I think most people on the net are willing to pay for digital goods if they get a bargain, especially if it’s part of a library of goods like Netflix, Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify, Hulu Plus, Safari Online, Amazon Prime, etc.

And there is another issue about buying digital goods.  Some companies charge extra if you use their content on a smartphone.  Rdio and Spotify are $4.99 a month for listening on your computer but $9.99 a month to also listen on your smartphone.  The New York Times is $15/month for reading online and smartphone, $20 for online and tablet, and $35 for online, smartphone and tablet.  Why the heck is that?  It’s the same damn words.  Why would they care where you read their paper.

Netflix charges $7.99 a month and you can watch it on a whole array of possible devices.

JWH – 4/24/12

What is the Kindle Doing to the Science Fiction Genre?

Here is the Kindle Best Sellers in Science Fiction showing two lists, Top 100 Paid and Top 100 Free.

The #1 book on the paid list is A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin.  Okay, that’s natural, it tops other bestseller lists too.

#2 is five John Carter novels bundled together for 99 cents.  I can see that, the movie is getting people to read the old ERB books.

#3 is Ender’s Game – another natural, but it’s old.  I guess people with a new reading gadget are rereading their old favorites.  Cool.

#4 is Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey.  WTF?  Who is Hugh Howey?  And he’s got 277 customer reviews!  In fact, Hugh Howey has several Kindle books in the Top 100 paid.  How did this unknown writer get in the Top 100 Kindle SF books?

Going down this Kindle Top 100 list for Science Fiction I realize that unknown authors are grabbing many positions on both the paid and free Top 100 lists.  There’s a smattering of old time favorite SF writers, Heinlein has two titles, Asimov, one, and a few modern SF writers of note like Dan Simmons and Orson Scott Card have a few more, but for the most part the these best sellers are books I haven’t heard of before, by authors unknown to me.

Is the Kindle changing the reading habits of science fiction readers?  And other genres as well?

My favorite science fiction writer is Robert A. Heinlein, but then I’m 60 and my reading tastes are as old as I am.  When I started reading science fiction in the 1960s Heinlein-Clarke-Asimov were the big three of the genre.  Most of the SF authors I’ve discovered in the last 50 years don’t have books on this list.   Why?  Are they out of fashion, or has Kindle reading habits changed things dramatically?

How are low cost and free Kindle books going to affect professional writers?  Also, notice the name of the publishers of these books – they are unknown to me, so I have to wonder if they aren’t self-published.

Supposedly, Kindle books are outselling all other forms of books, so is this what people are really reading in the SF genre today?

Many of Heinlein’s books are available for the Kindle, but only two are in the Top 100, and one of those is there because Amazon put it on sale last month.  There are many Kurt Vonnegut books in the Top 100 Paid listing, but again, they are on sale this month.  Amazon uses the technique of lowering the price of a book for a few days to get attention and then upping the price.  New, unknown writers, are using the same technique with their self-published books, and evidently its working very well.  Better than book reviews, better than word of mouth reviews.  Establish writers are now using that trick too.  That trick only works with Kindle ebooks.  It would be interesting to see if it worked with printed books.

If you look at Locus Bestsellers for March 2012, many of their books aren’t on the Kindle bestseller list.  If you look at Amazon’s Best Sellers in Science Fiction general list that includes printed books and Kindle books, the makeup of this list is different, but the Kindle books are having a huge impact.  Here is the Science Fiction Book Club Top 100 Bestsellers.  Notice how it’s dominated by series, media tie-ins and non-science fiction titles.   The SFBC has little science fiction.  Not so for the Kindle list.  Evidently would-be writers are very anxious to write science fiction and readers are finding it on Amazon to consume in mass quantities on their Kindles.

There’s more new science fiction, and dare I say, more exciting sounding science fiction by the unknown authors at the Kindle store.  Big publishers push blockbusters and name authors, and media related books, so the unknown writer doesn’t have much of a chance, but that’s not true in the wild west gold rush of self-published ebooks.  Something is happening here, and we don’t know what it is.

The press has been full of stories for the last two years about how ebooks are impacting traditional publishing, but I don’t think they imagined the paradigm change that self-publishing is making on bookselling.  Self-published ebooks are becoming the  universal slush pile for all readers to work through to find that gem they want to make a success.  Discovering a new author and promoting her can become a new form of social networking.

Think about that.  In the old days assistant editors would cull the slush pile for worthy books to show editors.  Getting a book published was a long slow process that winnowed out the bad.  Now Amazon has made free ebooks the slush pile anybody can read.  If it gets a lot of downloads they put a price on it, if it sells, they promote it.  If it keeps selling, they publish paper copies.  If it keeps selling, a big name publisher will grab up the author.

But do we really want to be slush pile readers?  I’m old, and have little time, so I usually go with the definitive classic now, but young people with lots of time seem to have no problem trying an unknown writer.  Those people are pushing Hugh Howey forward.

I’ve thought science fiction has lost most of its vitality in recent years.  Writers have become obsessed with series, trying to build their book sales by pushing a popular character.  That’s comfortable for some readers, but I liked when science fiction writers were always trying to top each other with far out ideas.  I don’t know if the self-publishing revolution will bring back those days, but maybe.

Finally, does it mean if you don’t own a Kindle you’ll be out of touch with the popular reading reality?  Yes!

SF Signal is a good site to keep up with free SF.  They feature almost a daily roundup of free science fiction.  Today Chasing Vegas by Tad Vezner caught my attention.  The customer reviews at Amazon are very encouraging and it has a great cover.  The old saying is you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I don’t know if that’s completely true.  It seems to me, the best of the self-published books have nice covers.  I don’t know if that’s a real indicator or not.  But in this new paradigm of reading from the slush pile I’m not willing to try just any book.  I look for customer reviews and a good cover.  I hope self publishing authors will do two things.  Hire an editor and buy a cover.

JWH – 3/24/12

Dear Amazon, Please Create These Features for My Kindles

Now that I’m slowly becoming Kindlelized I realize I might be reading on a Kindle for the rest of my life, at least if Amazon keeps marketing their ereaders by that name.  Evolutionary steps in the Kindle technology have made reading much easier than book reading, especially now that I’m older with bad eyesight.  However, the Kindle is far from perfect, and I’d like to make a few suggestions Mr. Bezos for future features I’d like to use.

If I’m switching to ebooks then I want a library for my ebooks.  So far Kindles are more like a box for books, not even a bookshelf, and what I need for a lifetime of ebook collecting is a personal electronic library system.

Kindle Cloud Library and Librarian

Once I got a couple dozen books and magazines on my Kindle the interface became annoying and clumsy.  I now read my Kindle books on my Kindle 3, iPad 2, iPod touch, PC and Mac.  My wife owns a Kindle Touch and I’m going to buy one too, and I plan to get a Fire when version 2 comes out.  I also have Calibre on my PC, and Send to Kindle extension for Chrome on all my computers.  And even though the Kindle environment keeps up where I left off in any book despite what device I read on, not all content is available on every device or reader program.

My first request is for a Kindle Library in the Amazon Cloud.  I want one location to keep all books, magazines and documents that will be permanent.  By permanent, I mean the rest of my life.  I want to leave my library in my will.

I want one location to keep clean and organized.  I want one location where I can file and organize my library.  I want to be able to list by author, title, subject and collection.  I’d also like to list by year published, date acquired, books read, books unread, books I want to read, etc.

Once I start getting thousands of documents this will become very important.

I want all my devices to check out books from a single Kindle Cloud Library.  Then when I’m finish reading, I want to clear the book from the device, or even from all devices automatically.  I want to manage one library in the cloud rather than libraries on every device and reader program.

I want to upload my personal documents to the Kindle Cloud Library in addition to sending them to my Kindle email address.

I want a cataloging system too, something simple like the Dewey Decimal system.  Library of Congress is too complicated.

I also want tools for managing my library like a database.  It would be a huge plus if it integrated with LibraryThing or GoodReads, and I could export data to a spreadsheet or database for making printed reports.

It would also be great Mr. Bezos if my Kindle Cloud Library integrated with Evernote.

Kindle Special Collections File Folders

I don’t care how Amazon stores my ebooks and audiobooks, but I want a section of my cloud library for documents I create that works like Dropbox.  I want to be able to organize my documents into folders and subfolders.  It would also be useful to have a tool that converts documents that I want to keep permanently in my library to Kindle’s ebook format, but I want to store Word and Acrobat files too, as well as jpeg photos.  And hey, get rid of DRM and work out a world-wide universal ebook format that will last forever.

Kindle Library Card

I hate the fact that my wife can’t read my Kindle books.  I suppose we could swap Kindles, but that’s messy.  I suppose we could share one account, but that’s messy too.  I want my own library, and I want her to have her own library, but I want to be able to borrow each other’s books.

We need to have a library checkout system for family members.  Spouses and children should have unlimited access to family libraries.  We should also have limited check-out privileges for friends and extended family.

Kindle Interlibrary Loan and Bookstore

When I search for a book in my library I want to know if I own it first.  Then, I want to know if there are public domain editions I can add to my library.  Then I want to know if there are library copies available, either from my public library or from Amazon Prime.  Finally, I want to be told what copies are available for sale.

Kindle Multimedia Library

Because Amazon also owns Audible.com where I buy my audio books, and I have my music stored in the Amazon Cloud, I’d like to be able to integrate these media into my Kindle Library Cloud.  The Fire is moving towards this now, but I want all my Kindle devices and readers to read all the various kinds of content in my library.  I want my librarian management software to work with all media.

I’d also like to be able to add audiobooks I’ve ripped from CDs to my Kindle Cloud Library.  Ditto for tape audiobooks I’ve converted to MP3s.

Remove from Collection

I also want a way to remove content from my collection.  Whether this is a permanent deletion or shelving in hidden stacks I don’t care.

Kindle Book Match

Now I don’t know if this last request is even possible, but I’m going to ask.  I know some people will never cotton to ebooks, and many people will always want to collect physical books.  I’d like some kind of system like iTunes Music Match where I turn in my physical books and get ebooks added to my library.  I just don’t want to buy books twice like I did with albums when I bought many CDs that I already owned on LPs.  Since Amazon is in the used book business maybe it would take physical books in trade for ebook editions.

JWH – 2/14/12

Rethinking Ebooks

The other day I bought The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson because of a review I read by Eva at A Striped Armchair that was so compelling that I had to buy the book.  I went to Amazon and found the trade edition for $12.21 while the Kindle edition was $9.87, and I thought for $2.34  I’d spring for the beautiful New York Review Books Classic paper edition.  Now that I have that book in my hands, which is a very nice trade paper copy, I’m wishing I had gotten the Kindle edition.  Or waited until just when I was ready to sit down to read it before buying it.  I’m finding several ways the Kindle is making me rethink my book buying and reading habits, and I’m not sure publishers and writers will like these changes.

the-long-ships

The addiction to own beautiful books is one thing, but to read them is another problem, and I’m discovering that it’s much easier to read books on my Kindle.  Mainly I’ve been using my Kindle to get free and cheap books, because I’ve always liked to collect books, and owning the Kindle edition doesn’t feel like I own the book.  This is an emotional conflict.  I like holding the real book until it’s time to sit down and read, and then I wished it was on my Kindle so it would be easier to hold and easier to read because I can magnify the font.  But I hate the thought of spending $9.99 for electrons.

Ebooks look better on my iPad, but it’s actually harder to hold than a hardback.  Ebooks are easiest to read on the Kindle.

I took some extra days off here at Christmas and I’m cleaning  up my bookshelves today to make room for all the books I’ve bought in the last few months that are just sitting in piles around the house.  Which brings me to problem #2.  I buy far more books than I read.  I figured I’ve got 40-50 years worth of books waiting for me to read.  I really should stop buying books altogether.  Especially since of the 50-60 books a year I do read, most are listened to as audio books. 

Okay, I’m crazy.  Yes, my name is Jim, I’m an addict.  I’m addicted to book buying.

If I was wise, I’d stop buying books in 2012.  Or not buy any book until I’m in my chair ready to read at which time I can order it from Amazon.  The Kindle really does facilitate a chain reading habit.  Finish one book, order another and start it in 30 seconds.

Collecting ebooks is just plain no fun.  If Amazon kept all my books online in some kind of virtual library where I could admire their number, see their colorful dust jackets, and flip through their pages and feel like Midas with his pile of gold, then maybe it would be fun. But as it stands now, my growing number of books on my Kindle is only annoying because it makes finding a particular book more difficult.  Note to Kindle developers – invent some kind of interface for organizing books into various collections and topics.  Just archiving isn’t good enough.

If I become a total Kindle reader then I’m not going to buy books way ahead of time.  I’m going to assume that anything I want to read that’s in print as an ebook will stay in print as an ebook and I can get it when I actually feel like reading it.  I doubt the Amazon planned for this when it started pushing ebooks.  They probably thought we’d buy books just like we’ve always had but just electronically.

Instead of buying ebooks ahead of time, I might just download the sample chapter.  That will leave a place holder that reminds me that I want to read that book someday.

I bought two more books today, and all my Christmas presents I’ve asked for from my wife are books.  But the two I bought today are picture books, books about western films.  That’s not something I’d want to read on the Kindle.  But I would like them on the iPad if they were fully multimedia.  Whoops – Amazon doesn’t sell iPad app books.  I bought a special iPad edition of The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True by Richard Dawkins.  I’m not sure it would even look good on a 7” tablet like the Kindle Fire.  Now I have to worry about two virtual libraries – one at Amazon, the other at Apple.  And the book by Dawkins is an app, so it won’t even be in the iBooks library.  What a pain for the future.  I’m also thinking about buying the multimedia edition of On The Road by Jack Kerouac, but now I wonder.  How do I save such books for the rest of my life?

I have a wall of books that sits across from my La-Z-Boy where I read.  It’s quite wonderful to gaze at, and to think about all the wonderful books I have sitting there.  Old friends that go back to when I was a kid, and all the unread books that will be uncharted territory to explore.  What will it be like if my library was in the cloud?  Can computer programmers ever develop a virtual library that’s fun to gaze at, or offer just as much fun to pull titles down from a virtual shelf and flip through their pages?  I don’t know, but I suppose some brilliant young programmer will think of something.

mybooks

[click photo to enlarge]

First, ebooks have changed the way I read.  Now they are changing the way I buy books.  Next they will change the way I store and collect books in my lifetime library.  What will an ebook reader look like five years from now, or ten?  What are the possibilities of a virtual library?  And where will my virtual library reside?  At a bookseller’s server farm?  Or will I pay to keep them elsewhere?  Can we trust our lifetime of book collecting to Amazon, B&N, Google or Apple?  And would I want to have multiple libraries?  That’s already the case now that I have books at Amazon and Apple.  And will I continue to own books?  I stopped buying music because I rent it from music libraries like Rhapsody and Rdio.  Could that happen to books too?

Has anyone really thought what the ultimate results of ebooks mean?  If I stick with Amazon will it be around in 30 years, or 50?

I wish it was possible to rip books like it is for music.  Digital music is so much nicer to manage.  Whenever I move my collection of books and CDs they’re a pain in the ass to box, ship, unbox and re-shelve.  I wouldn’t mind the simplicity of going completely digital, but what will that mean?  If I was a child getting my very first digital book, what’s the chance of me keeping it my whole life?

One way publishers could solve this problem is to give away an ebook edition with the purchase of a hardback edition.

JWH – 12/19/11

The eBook Price War!

When the Kindle first came out a lot of people bought one thinking the price of books would go down.  Amazon advertised that most ebooks would be $9.99 or less.  When the average price of a hardback was inching closer to the $25-30 range, and mass market paperbacks disappearing in favor of $12.95-14.95 trade paperbacks this seemed like a wonderful gadget for bookworms.

Then Apple entered the ebook business with the iPad and iBooks, and the prices of ebooks shot up.  Now at Amazon I can sometimes get physical books cheaper than the ethereal ebook, and often get physical books within a couple dollars of the ebook price.  Following that, publishers started making plans to reprint their backlist titles, books you used to buy as cheap paperbacks, for $9.99.  It started looking like the book industry was going to put the squeeze on all us folks buying ebook readers figuring it was a fad that was going to lead to a new gold rush in publishing.

Now all of this is cool – I want the book publishing business to thrive.  But for hardcore bookworms, who consume books, rising prices have always been a problem.  We tend to get books from the library or used bookstores to help us keep the cost of our word habit within reason.

But another trend developed concurrently with ebooks – new authors are seeing ebooks as a way to break into publishing by side-stepping the traditional route of finding an agent and selling their book to traditional publishers.  To grab the attention of readers they started selling their ebooks cheaper and cheaper, with prices like $2.99, $1,99, 99 cents and even free.  Then established writers started jumping ship from their regular publishers to go the ebook route thinking that getting 70% of a smaller list price with more sales was better than getting 12% of $25.95 and smaller sales.  Even big name authors started using free ebooks as promotions.  All of this is pushing the average price of an ebook down again.

To further complicate the issue of calculating the average price of an ebook is the fact that there are thousands, if not millions of free ebooks.  It used to be just old classics, but look at this 1966 Doubleday edition of John W. Campbell’s Collected Editorials from Analog.  It’s elegantly reproduced for reading on the web, or available for download in a variety of formats.  Not only does the Internet offer more and more free books, becoming the Library of the World, but old fashion local libraries are offering free ebooks through OverDrive and NetLibrary, and Amazon, being the pesky disruptive influence that it is, is offering to lend ebooks to its Amazon Prime members.

Bookworms are taking notice.  Look at this discussion thread over at Amazon called “What are you willing to pay for an eBook?”  The consensus seems to be people are willing to pay a fair amount $9.99-$14.99 for a new ebook if they are really anxious to read it, but for the average backlist title they want it to be as cheap as possible, and $2.99-4.99 seems to be a commonly mentioned price range. 

Many people leaving comments state they can’t afford to buy many books so they go after the cheap ebooks, or free ones, but a common response is 99 cents is too expensive for a crappy book.  So they want good books priced low.  They expect old books like Agatha Christie and Rex Stout reprints to be cheap – but understands why the latest John Grisham is $12.99.

I discovered this thread while reading Amazon’s 100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less ad.  Nothing struck me as something I had to buy, but the prices were very tempting.  But my Kindle is already jammed with more unread books than I can read in years – some I paid top prices for and others I got for low prices or free.  Writer’s Digest gave away 7 books about writing novels during NaNoWriMo – a very kindly gesture I thought.  Over at SFSignal I often find free SF/F novels to add to my collection because authors are using them as promotions.  Getting the new Greg Egan was impressive.  I’ve bought several of his books in hardback.  What I’d like is some of his out-of-print titles reprinted as reasonably priced ebooks.  I assume his publisher is trying to get more SF fans to become Greg Egan fans, and I hope they succeed.

If you look at Amazon’s Best Sellers in the Kindle Store you’ll see a dual column of the two top 100 book lists, on the left, the most popular Kindle ebooks people buy versus on the free ones on right.  You can see 99 cent bestsellers competing with the full price books, such as Stephen King’s new 11/22/63 for $14.99.

Over at Ebook Friendly I found “Kindle Ebooks by Price: More than 100,000 Cost $0.99” which shows a pie chart that says 30.9% of Kindle ebooks sell for $0-0.99.

On my daily reading of Zite on my iPad I constantly read essays and blogs that mention free ebooks.  There are even blogs now that track ebook deals.  If you have a book-a-day reading habit, it’s gotten a whole lot cheaper to be a book addict.

This does not mean I’ve stopped buying paper editions of books.  Eva over at A Striped Armchair reviewed The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson so positively that I had go out and buy it.  My choice was $9.87 for the Kindle edition or $12.20 for the trade paper, so I picked the paper edition.  I figured the deluxe New York Review Books Classics trade edition was worth $2.43 more.  If the Kindle edition had been $4.99 – $5.99, I would have picked it.

What this means, and I have no idea if I’m typical, is when I spend more than $9.99 I’m more likely to buy the hardback or trade edition.  And to be honest, I’d rather buy a $4-8 used hardback than pay $7.99-8.99 for an ebook.  Some people on the forum also mentioned that.  Like I said, I don’t know if I’m typical, but that means I’m most likely to buy an ebook is it’s $0.00 – $4.99.  So in the war for ebook pricing, I tend to think the average price will be coming down.

The question is, how many people aren’t like me?  How many bookworms would rather buy a slightly cheaper ebook than the hardback?  If there are lots of those people, it will push the average price of an ebook up.  And how many people will pay $9.99 for a reprint of an old book as an ebook edition, books that people used to get as a mass market paperback?

I don’t think ebooks will kill off the book, at least not the hardback, and probably not the trade paper, but I bet it kills off the mass market paperback, which is averaging about $7.99 now.  I don’t like saving paperbacks, and the convenience of an ebook outweighs the value of a mass market paperback.

So in the ebook price war, I would guess ebooks are the new mass market paperback and have to be cheap.  For a certain percentage of readers they will pay $9.99-$14.99 for an ebook edition if it’s a hot new bestseller.  I predict lots of free ebooks, especially older out of copyright books naturally, but also new books being given away for promotional reasons, and older midlist books that help promote authors newer books, like those found at the Baen free library, or books that have little chance of making sales, but would be valuable to rare readers, like the John W. Campbell book I mention above.

There’s no reason why any book should be out of print anymore.  As books lose their popularity they can be priced lower and lower, even priced free.  What will be really fascinating is forgotten classics that start regaining popularity and maybe even reigniting sales.

Guides to Free Kindle Books

JWH – 12/11/12

Should We Feel Guilty for Not Buying Books in Bookstores?

I’m a guy who hates to shop, but for my whole life I’ve loved shopping in bookstores and record stores.  I gave up on record stores years ago, but I still shop at bookstores, but not as much as I used to.  Yesterday I visited my local indie bookstore and bought a hardback The Man Who Invented the Computer  by Jane Smiley just to support them.  I could have bought it at Amazon and saved $12 in discounts and taxes, but I thought I’d help my store and state.

Well, no good deed goes unpunished as my mother-in-law used to say.  I get home and read the reviews on Amazon and they aren’t good at all, including many claims of poor research, inaccuracies and even fraud and scandal.  Of 24 customer reviews 12 gave it 1 star, 5 people gave it 3 stars.  If I had been shopping at Amazon those reviews would have stopped me from buying the book.  Now this isn’t the fault of my bookstore, but it does point out a major advantage of shopping online.

The main reason to shop at a bookstore is to see books before you buy and allow yourself the pleasure of discovering something new and exciting.  But shopping at a store literally means judging a book by its cover.

I’m in three online book clubs and a hot topic in all of them are ebooks.  Some folks are pro, and others are definitely con.  But we all lament the disappearance of bookstores, and feel guilty that we buy books online or via those new fangled contraptions like Kindles, iPads and Nooks.  But I’m wondering if we really should feel guilty?

Quite a few club members, especially those living in small towns, say going to a bookstore is expensive and time consuming.  Others are housebound and feel online shopping and ebooks are a godsend.  Me, I like to study reviews before I buy.  And despite what everyone says about personal customer service, I’ve never met a sales clerk as knowledgeable as good reviewers.

Another thing to consider, among my bookworm friends who love shopping for books locally, many of them actually treasure the used bookstores and looking for good deals.

But I hate the idea of just letting bookstores disappear like record stores.  I’ve read that Germany protects bookstores from online sales and ebooks by outlawing discounting.  This makes books more expensive, but protects bookstores, publishers and authors.  I’ve also read that other countries have various ways of mandating price controls.  This is great for saving jobs and keeping businesses afloat, but it’s not very free market.  Should we reevaluate our ideas about free markets?  I don’t know.

What if online sellers had to sell books for the same price as local bookstores and charge the same sales tax, so books were equally priced no matter where you bought them.  I’d still say Amazon was a better place to shop because it’s so much more informative.

I’d also prefer buying used books online.  I bought three used books this week, The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker, The Last Starship From Earth by John Boyd and I, robot – the illustrated screenplay by Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov.  I would have to shop for years before I would have even seen copies of any of those books in local used bookstores, but they were a few keystrokes away with ABE Books.  I also bought an ebook, Aegean Dreams by Dario Ciriello because it was only $5.99 on the Kindle, versus $14.44 for the trade paper at Amazon.

At the Classic Science Fiction Online Book Club, we’re voting on the books we’re going to read for the next six months, and one of the major considerations is availability and price.  Members are scattered all over the world, and few want to buy new copies.  Most of the books we’re nominating can be found at ABE Books for $4-5 used, including shipping, and some can be had as ebooks for $5-10, or new for $8-20.  Some of the members with ebook readers say they will buy the ebook edition if it’s priced closed to the used edition.  Others with good used bookstore nearby are finding copies for less than a dollar.  But see the trend?  New hardbacks and trade paper editions have to compete with online discounted books and used books, so it’s not just ebooks hurting new book sales.

One member found this list of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Bookstores that include online and local bookstores.  There’s a huge variety of options for shopping online.  Some stores on the list do have a physical buildings to visit, but they also do business online.  How does an old fashion bookstore compete?

And maybe that’s the clue.  Maybe online is just a new kind of bookstore.

The times are changing and more and more people are seeing the wind is blowing in a new direction.  There’s a new documentary, Press Pause Play about how technology is impacting artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers and other creative folk.  It’s scary to them because they don’t know how they can earn a living when the traditional methods of marketing their work are disappearing.

We are living in evolutionary times.  I’m turning 60 this year, and many of the people that I know lamenting the loss of bookstores are my age or older.  Have the young already forgotten bookstores?  Our nephew while giving directions to his apartment today said to turn past that building where you mail stuff.  Will concepts like the post office, book store, record store, phone booth, and video rental store even be known to the young in a few years?

It’s weird to be an anachronism in your own time.

JWH – 10/2/11

Classic Science Fiction Anthologies Wanted for My Kindle and iPod

Ebook publishing offers a new lease on life for reprinting old novels but what about short stories and classic anthologies?  Successful novels tend to stay in print, but not anthologies.  I suppose editors buy rights for a limited time and when the anthology goes out of print they no longer have the rights to use the stories any more. But I’d sure love to have a lot of classic science fiction anthologies on my Kindle.

I like my Kindle best for reading short stories.  I’ve been getting the annual Dozois and Hartwell/Cramer collections for my Kindle for a couple years now and it really works out well.  The Dozois book is HUGE with small print, so its much easier to plow through the volume reading on an ebook.

I wished Dozois and the Hartwell/Cramer collections were available on audio, but alas they are not.  But I do get  The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction series, edited by Allan Kastor, now in it’s third year.

So I’m well covered on current stories, but what about classic science fiction short stories?

What if it was possible to reprint classic anthologies, which ones would I want?

Adventures in Time and Space edited by Healy and McComas

Adventures_in_time_and_space

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929-1964

sf-hall-1

Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 2

sf-hall-2a

sf-hall-2b

Asimov’s Great SF Stories (series 1-25, 1939-1963)

Asimov_Great_SF_stories17_Daw_1988

The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954

Best_science_fiction_stories_1949

Judith Merril Year’s Greatest (1956-59) and Year’s Best S-F (1960-66)

SF-The Year's Greatest

World’s Best Science Fiction (1965-1971) edited by Wollheim and Carr

Worlds_Best_Science_Fiction_1969_cover

The 1972-1990 Annual World’s Best SF edited by Donald A. Wollheim

the_1980_annual_worlds_best_sf

Best Science Fiction of the Year edited by Terry Carr (1-16)

Best_Science_Fiction_of_the_Year_13_cover

The Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois 1984-present

Year'sbestDozois

 

This hardly scratches the surface of great science fiction anthologies, but by using the annual bests it systematically covers all the years from 1939 to the present.  And we can capture the 1930s with these two collections.

Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov

Before-the-Golden-Age

Science Fiction of the Thirties edited by Damon Knight

science-fiction-of-the-thirties

I could go back even further with the Sam Moskowitz collections like Under the Moons of Mars and Science Fiction by Gaslight.

If only all these fantastic collections could be reprinted as ebooks, or better yet, as audio books.  I suppose some enterprising publisher and editor could look at the stories in all these collections and seek to get reprint rights and create a new series of anthologies.  They could call it Classic Science Fiction for the Digital Age and publish it in a series of volumes for ebooks and audio.

Would there be much of an audience for this old science fiction?  I don’t know.  Project Guttenberg is reprinting a lot of early science fiction in multiple ebook formats that often include the original art.  Take a look at this September 1930 issue of Astounding Magazine.  It’s beautifully laid out for html, but also offers many ebook formats here.

astound-1930-09

Copyrights will keep modern science fiction, like what’s in most of the best of the best-of anthologies above out of these public domain offerings, which is rather sad.  It means most of those stories will probably be never read again.  Of course, I don’t know if there are readers for these public domain reprints.  I do wish someone would make an easy to use app to add the Project Guttenberg issues of Astounding to my iPad.  I’ll have to experiment with this and write about it in a future blog.

JWH – 9/3/11

 

Is The Kindle a Swindle?

I love my Kindle.  I’ve reached the large print reading years and the Kindle is a wonderful aid to my eyes, but the prices of ebook editions have risen so much that I feel cheated by buying the Kindle edition.  The price of the Kindle edition is often very close to the hardback or trade paperback edition.  There is no reward for buying the ebook and saving the publisher the cost of printing, binding, boxing, shipping and distributing the the physical book.

For example, our book club is reading Destiny Disrupted by Tamin Ansary.  It’s $10.85 for the trade paper or $9.76 for the Kindle.  I’m looking at the new hardcover of The Genesis of Science by James Hannam – it’s $19.77 for the hardback (from Amazon of course) and $14.38.  Another book I was thinking about buying is The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick.  It’s $16.08 hardcover and $14.99 Kindle.  Or On the Grid by Scott Huler – buying the ebook version saves me 88 cents ($10.87 trade, $9.99 Kindle).  Next month’s book club selection, Empire of the Summer Moon S. C. Gwynne, it’s 39 cents cheaper to buy the trade edition instead of the Kindle Edition ($9.60 trade, $9.99 Kindle).

Of course, there is an illusion here.  I’m giving the Amazon price.  If I gave the publisher’s list price, things would appear better.  For example, The Information by James Gleick is $29.95 for the hardback list, $17.21 Amazon priced, but $14.99 for the Kindle.  But I’ve gotten used to Amazon’s prices, so the real buying decision is $17.21 v. $14.99.

Here’s how I feel about books versus ebooks.  When I buy the hardback I feel like I’m adding to my library.  It’s something I can save, or lend, or sell.  When I buy an ebook, it’s something I consume, like renting a DVD.  Now if my ebooks were added to a virtual library, and they were multimedia interactive, and I could enjoy collecting them,  virtually flipping through my collection from time to time, then it might be different.  In fact, books with maps, graphics, and photos just don’t work well on the Kindle.  Now that might change if I had a 10” tablet, but for now, the normal Kindle is all about text.

The psychology of all this is I seldom buy new books from brick and mortar bookstores anymore because of Amazon.  The discounts on hardbacks are just too great.  On the other hand, I hardly ever buy new books for my Kindle because the ebook prices seem too high.  So for now, the heavily discounted hardback wins out.

If all the books I mentioned above were $7.99 each for the Kindle, I would have gobbled them up without a thought.  $9.99 is as high as I’ll go, and since I’ve bought several ebooks at that price and ended up not reading them, I’ve become very careful about buying ebooks.  Buying a hardback and leaving it on the shelf for years doesn’t bother me, but buying an ebook and not reading it right away feels like I just threw my money away.

I know ebooks are all the rage right now, but will ebook sales always be shooting upwards?  I’m swinging away from ebooks, and I’m wondering if other people are feeling that way too?  Ebook prices have been growing and I’m sorry, that just feels like a swindle to me, because I don’t feel like I’m owning anything after giving Amazon my money.  The Kindle just feels like I’m renting books.

[By the way, I don't feel the Kindle device is an actual swindle.  And when I say Kindle I mean all ebook readers, like the Nook and Sony readers.  I just think, and I've heard this from many other ebook owners, that since we don't actual get a printed book when we buy an ebook, the price should be significantly cheaper.  I thought when I first bought my Kindle I'd be buying a lot of ebooks at lower prices and that just hasn't turned out to be so.  Now, I'm wondering if I'm not the only one feeling different about ebook readers?]

JWH – 7/14/11

What Does it Cost to Read a Book? How Ebooks will Change Book Buying Habits.

With hardback and paperback sales sliding down the charts while ebook sales rising, it appears the new paperback book is the ebook.  Unlike the past, where readers had to wait months or years for the paperback edition to come out, the ebook and hardback are now published simultaneously.  This is great news for readers until you realize what has happened is the price of a paperback has been increased.  You get to read it sooner, but it costs more – but the whole point of mass market paperbacks was to read books for less.

It used to be a book would come out in hardback, say for $25.99, and then months later, a $14.99 trade edition would come out, and finally after sales for the trade edition tanked, the $7.99 mass market edition would appear.  The cost of reading a book depended on how soon you wanted to read it after first publication.  Now we’re seeing $9.99-$12.99 or more for the ebook, but we get to buy it right away.  On one hand this seems like a very fair price, because it’s such a savings off the hardback cost, but on the other hand, you get nothing but electrons for your money. 

When you buy a hardback you have something physical that will last, that’s collectable, or nice to look at on a shelf, and makes a great gift, or is wonderful to lend to your friends, or even sell.  Even if you didn’t read the book, you had something when you bought a book.

Most people only read a book once, and if you’re buying ebooks, all you’re really getting is to read it.  An ebook will last, but if you only read a book once, it’s more like renting the book.

By the way, from now on when I mention pricing, I’m going to use Amazon’s for sale pricing and not list.

You’d think pricing would be based on what you get for your money.  The ebook would be the cheapest, then mass market paperback, then trade paperback and then hardback, because of the production costs and materials that go into creating the book.  And sometimes this happens.  For example The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is $6.35 ebook, and $7.99 mass market paperback.  But Isaac Newton by James Gleick is $11.99 ebook and $10.20 trade paperback – WTF?  Does that mean a mass market paperback only costs $1.64 to produce and the ebook costs $1.79 more than a trade paperback to create?  I don’t think so.

James Gleick’s newest book, The Information is $17.21 for the hardback and $12.99 for the ebook.   What Amazon is asking the reader, are you willing to pay $4.22 more to have a hardback copy, or would you just prefer to read it on your Kindle for $12.99. 

The list price of The Information is $29.95, which is probably what you’d pay at a brick and mortar store.  So the publisher probably thinks $12.99 is a great bargain for the reader, with $16.96 savings.  The author is probably thinking, at what price and royalty rate do I earn the most money.  The pricing of a book is a really hard math problem, isn’t it?

Me, I’m thinking something different.  I’m thinking:  What does it cost to read a book?   Once we enter into the world of ebooks, I’m essentially paying to read the book.  I don’t own anything.  I can’t sell my copy when I’m done with it.  I can’t lend it to a friend (even though they are working on that, but it’s not like owning a real book which I could lend over and over again).  I can’t put it on the shelf for others to admire my large library of great books.  I read the book, and more than likely, I’ll move it to archive on the Kindle, or even delete it so I have less cluttered interface to deal with.

You’d also think ebooks would be priced by the word, to take into account the cost of writing and editing the book, so that a 100,000 word book would cost twice as much as a 50,000 word book.  That doesn’t happen either.  Basically publishers are charging whatever they can get, and each has their own system for pricing.  With ebooks I think they are guessing what the demand will be, and if they think it’s high, they will raise the price accordingly – so a new ebook off the press might be priced $12.99.  But if they think they can sell more copies at the $9.99 price they sell it for that.  When demand goes way down, they will think about lowering the price.  That’s all understandable.

But ebooks is changing the habits of bookworms.  I’ve always bought lots of hardbacks, and never read many of them because I sit them on my shelf thinking one day I’ll find time to read them when I retire.  I’m just not going to do that with ebooks.  I’m going to buy just before I start reading.  I’m not even sure I could save an ebook for twenty years before I got around to reading it, but there’s just no pleasure in owning a bunch of books I can’t see.

And since I don’t feel “buying” an ebook is like “owning” a book, when I see the price at Amazon for the Kindle edition, I’m going to check the library first to see if there is a copy I can “borrow” because reading a book on the Kindle feels a whole lot like borrowing a library book – I’ll only see it as I read it.

Recently Amazon announced that they were selling more ebooks than hardback and paperback books combined.  I’m not sure the world is really ready for the implications of this.  Essentially bookstores, both news and used, are the side effect of bookworms, and not book collectors.  Real, hardcore book collectors are rare compared to the ordinary everyday bookworm that consumes books.  If we bookworms can get our reading electronically, what happens to the bookstore?  And once bookworms realize they are only paying to read a book, and get past the illusion of owning books, how they judge what a fair price is for a book will change.  I’m not sure if publishers are ready for this.

Finally, the move to ebooks is changing me in other ways.  When I shop for books now I realize I was fooling myself.  I’m not going to read all those books I bought.  I don’t really need my shelves of books because I’ve learned I’m a consumer of words, and not a collector of books.  Several times lately I went to buy a book and stopped myself, because I knew if I didn’t read the book right away there is little chance I’d read it at all.  I can’t plan for future reading because I read by what I’m hungry for at the moment.  This is also why I don’t buy ebooks when I see one I want to read.  That impulse is different from the impulse for picking a book to read right now.  With a Kindle, you can finish a book and download another and start reading immediately, and since finding books electronically is so easy, why not wait until it’s time to read the next book.

The future price of a book won’t be based on what the publisher thinks the book is worth, but on the price readers are willing to pay to read it next.

JWH – 5/24/11

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,129 other followers