Monday, December 28, 2009

Free e Books--good thing or bad?

Ed here: I try to keep up on the ever evolving e-books story but I bring so little understanding to it I'm afraid to offer an opinion. So let me pose my misgivings here as a question. If Kindle keeps offering free books, and if Kindle customers keep insisting that $9.99 is too high a price for an e book, how will book publishers ever make serious money on line?

From Galleycat:

4 of the 100 Top Kindle Store Bestsellers Are Free
By Jason Boog on Dec 28, 2009 09:23 AM

By GalleyCat's count yesterday afternoon, 64 of the 100 eBooks currently topping the Kindle bestseller list were priced at $0.00.

The number one bestseller was "Midnight in Madrid" by Noel Hynd, another free Kindle book. The list changes every hour, but these are fascinating and anxiety-producing statistics for publishers. With more than 60 percent of the one hundred most popular books in the eBook store priced at 0.00, how can publishers interact with this new readership and still earn money?

We took an informal count after reading a Washington Post article that explained: "Amazon's customers have made it clear that $9.99 is still too high for their taste. Most titles in the company's list of top 100 Kindle bestsellers are priced below $9.99, and the most popular price point is $0.00. But publishers can't hear this, because they're a little distracted right now."


Mathew Paust said...

I'm trying to convince myself that some sort of "loss-leader" marketing strategy may be at play here, altho I haven't a clue as to how it would or should work.

Maybe writers and publishers have another tool to explore. As a former Music Guild member (so long ago I'd probly need hypnosis to come up with truly accurate info) I recall that when we played free concerts we were eligible for small fees paid from a fund created by the recording industry from a percentage of jukebox profits. I may be waaaay off base here in my recollective efforts, which Max Allan Collins, as a practicing professional songster, might be able to clarify.

Does this make any sense, or should I grind another cup of coffee and rethink my entire position...or take a nap?

Dave Zeltserman said...

I think this has the potential of being disastrous for publishers and writers, although in the short term a boon for Amazon in selling Kindles. In the past publishers (and authors) made money selling an author's backlist in bookstores. What I see happening is more and more authors giving away their backlist on Kindle for free (Charlie Huston has just done this, others also) in a desperate attempt to gain Kindle readers and hope they actually spend money on their next books. The reality is, we'll end up with 10s of thousands of free backlist as well as new books as author more and more desperate authors follow suit, and Kindle owners will be conditioned not to spend money on books (and why should they when they'll have 10s of thousands of free books to choose legally--forget about all the pirate sites that will pop up).

So this all makes perfect sense for amazon to sell Kindles and put bookstores and publishers out of business, but is a disaster in the making.

Anonymous said...

Hey there,

These are legit concerns for the publishing industry, and for career authors during the interim, between the market as it is now --struggling to be what it has been-- while we all slouch toward some new beast to be born out of its ashes.

If the music industry is any indication, the old guard players are likely to become bastions of best-seller-dom mediocrity, while the interesting stuff happens at the indie level, where content give-aways or low-price options are simply the way it goes.

Print will always play a role as long as there is a human being who values the feel of a book in her or his hands.

Ebooks become the option that earn money because of the lesser overhead. And, yes, their price is less than the physical book, but it should be.

Where the giants go hungry, the little guys thrive.

As ebook readers give way to tablets and other devices that are more prevalent and better priced, paying reasonable prices for content won't be such a problem.

I'll offer up GUD and M-Brane SF and --in abject humility-- both Things We Are Not and the forthcoming Aether Age anthologies as examples of the fine and interesting things that can be done in multiple format magazines and books.

MP said...

Kindle readers are spoiled brats. They think that just because they've shelled out for this expensive device that the world owes them free books. I've seen lots of reviews on Amazon where what's being reviewed is not the book itself but the Kindle price. I'm not a writer, but writers deserve to be paid for their work. I'm sure there are lots of reasonable Kindle readers, but these "you owe me" readers can just kiss my ass.

dot said...

As a bookstore employee, it threw me for a loop when I clicked onto Amazon's book department and discovered that 3 of the top 5 bestselling books were from authors I had never heard of. The last time I remember that happening so drastically was when Ching Hai had a book released and all her followers flocked to Amazon to buy it.

My first thought was that Noel Hynd had just landed some weird J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyeresque book deal and the blogosphere was blowing up about it.

It seems unfair to include free Kindle downloads as top sellers, but you know it's got to be great for the author. How many people go to Amazon, see the listings, and think Hey! This dude's outselling Dan Brown! I better buy that paperback, quick!

Peter L. Winkler said...

Every writer who couldn't get a contract with a trade pubisher is unloading their manuscript(s) onto Amazon and other ebook venues, either for free or $.99 or less, hoping to attract readers.People who've paid a couple hundred for a reading gadget are hungry for content and will try anything free or very cheap, at least until they try to read some of these self-published stinkers.

Anonymous said...

I'm hoping BN's Nook wins this war. BN limits Nook books to legit trade publishers, no vanity books in the list, and the Nook software turns any notebook computer into a reader.

Amazon's free books and 99 cent books can be deleted without a second thought which is what I suspect that people will do with perceived junk. $9.99 is a reasonable price for an ephemeral e-book, and the 25 percent royalty helps make up for the lower price.

Richard Wheeler

Dave Zeltserman said...

e-books could be analogous to short stories on web-zines. There's no shortage of authors giving away there short fiction free, and in a lot of cases the quality is every bit as high as what you'll find in print. Overtime I see the same thing happening with e-books, authors giving away both their backlist and new books in the desperate hope of attracting readers.

Matt said...

To quote DZ, this is "in the short term a boon for Amazon in selling Kindles."

Yep. That's exactly what's happening. The original article (not Ed's post) is missing the point. The topic really isn't about free books. It's about moving Kindles into the public.

Amazon doesn't care about publishers, writers, retailers, delivery truck drivers, designers, printers, binders, etc., etc.

Amazon doesn't care about the American economy or the future of publishing. If they did, they'd work with the aforementioned American jobs.

Nope. Amazon cares about selling every last Kindle.

And f*ck all the rest.

(Then once those bookstores, printers, binders, delivery trucks, etc, etc are out of business? And Amazon is the only game in town? Prices will rise...)

And in the meantime, Kindle owners download crap simply because it's free.

I'll leave those whiny spoiled Kindle bitches to their gadgets. And maybe I'll pick up a nice first edition somewheres...

Peter L. Winkler said...

I really don't understand why some skeptics of the Kindle have to thrown in a gratuitous insult aimed at Kindle owners.

It's a product, for Pete's sake, just like the computer you used to write your condescending comment.

If you think that only people abstemious enough to live like a Trappist Monk in a yurt deserve your respect, make yourself a role model.

Mathew Paust said...

Yeah! Yeah! Take this! And a little of this! And some of that! Biff! Bam! POW!!!

C'mon, guys. I haven't had my first cup yet this ayem, so I'm apt to stomp all over m'self again, but how's about we ratchet this screaming match now a tad? (altho it does help get the vital fluids astir this time o' day), but it does my heart glad tohave Anon confirm my vague suspicion of yestermorn that the free downloads were a loss-leader gimmick, sort of like the free heroin to the future addict.

But I agree with Mr. Winkler that, altho I understand Anon's outrage that this gimmick will screw some folks in the publishing biz, it border's on hysteria to blame those who take advantage of the freebies accompanying their new toy. Why, so would I if I didn't fear that reading on a cathode screen would make me blind or cause hair to grow on the palms of my hands - or worse.

Maybe this is all a massive conspiracy by the lasik surgery industry counting on recouping its initial losses when the endless lines of blind Kindle starers form at their door in another year or two.

I'm also hearing a name...oh, what could it be? I dunno...could it beeeeeeee...Gates!!! Isn't this sorta the way Microsoft got its foot in the door before eventually tearing the door off its hinges and installing its own entry portal?

Competition a possibility here, too? Barnes-n-Ignoble furiously whipping up its own version, secretly funded, of course, by the same nefarious agents of Big Lasik?

As a refuge from a dying industry m'self who nonetheless believes that noosepapers will ever be marketable as something to hold in the morning and do crossword puzzles in and clip coupons from and just smell the fresh vital ink of, I don't for a moment believe that real books will ever be outmoded. The publishing industry will change - is changing - just as the noosepaper industry is going through its own agonies along with the agonies of the folks who aimed their career arrows at saving the world by taking up "journalism," but everybody seems to be landing on his or her feet again, albeit wearing different shoes perhaps, yet still standing and tapping their fingers on keyboards of a sort.

I'm sure as hell no Pollyanna, but I refuse to accept any notion that good writing won't ultimately find good readers. I may starve in the meantime, but it's writing that keeps me alive while I'm alive, and nuttin' else really matters...except sex and food and hand-ground coffee.

Anonymous said...

I'm the Anon Mr. Kent is enraged at, but I'm at a loss to know what he's talking about. Certainly not my views. I have no other access to comment other than the Anon format because I'm not a Google blogger but I always sign any contribution.

Richard Wheeler

Mathew Paust said...

I'm enraged? At you?

Are you confusing me with Mr. Winkler, perhaps? If not, then please read my post again. And if my little attempt at satire still doesn't make any sense to you, then maybe Mr. Winkler was onto something.

Or maybe I should drink the coffee before aspiring to communicate.

Actually, I just enjoy using the HTML tag for italics. I'd do the boldface, but I try not to be so shrill. Haven't tried the a yet. Oh.

Mathew Paust said... deepest apologies, Mr. Wheeler! I scrolled back up and found that it was "Matt" to whom Mr. Winkler was directing his sarcasm. Your initial post, about the Barnes-Noble product, was quite informative and well-reasoned. Had I remembered it when I was addressing Mr. Winkler's "outrage" at "Matt," I'd have avoided yanking your beard with my "Barnes-n-Ignoble" crack (which was quite undeserved).

Whew! These morning trysts can be trying.

This to Mr. Wheeler: If you wish to avoid the "Anonymous" label on your posts, whilst yet eluding the Google trap, you might consider checking the name/URL box and then using whatever name you like. You can even add a link to the website of your choice with this option.

Dave Zeltserman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mathew Paust said...

's OK, Dave (I read your comment before you pulled it.) I was gonna retort - and I guess I still can: So this is why they call you "Mr. Noir!"

As I noted above, I'm no Pollyanna, but I don't see the future thru glasses quite as bleak as yours - yet.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Didn't mean to delete my comment, which was about Matt's reasonable anger towards where the kindle will be taking us--death of bookstores, death of publishers, and eventually the death books, at least those written by professional authors (since there will be no way to make with novels). But in my attempt to fix a couple of typos, I lost the comment.

Clark, to me all this is obvious. But then again I've been thinking about this for a while, and I spend time talking to people in the industry, and believe me, my opinions on this are not unique--many others involved in publishing feel the same way.

I think the reason they call me Mr. Noir is that they read my books. There's a reason why the Washington Post has said nobody else is writing noir better.

Gotta ask--is Clark Kent your real name or pseudonym?

Mathew Paust said...

I don't mean to imply that known authors aren't going thru some seriously trying times. Maybe I'm just trying not to cry, as I'm looking at this situation from the even bleaker seats of the great unknown.

I have no audience beyond those folks who visit my blogs, mostly out of idle curiosity, without costing them a single farthing and providing me little more than the slimmest of hopes that something I put down might actually catch someone's fancy, that they might pass me along to someone else and on and on until at some point...oh, boo hoo hoo...doesn't pay to go there...waste of energy, just as it's enervating to envy you who already have an audience and thus a potential market no matter what convolutions the marketing methods are going thru at the moment and may go thru in the near future.

What I'm trying to say is I'm not as discouraged as you seem to be because if I allowed myself that much pessimism it would paralyze me. Especially as I don't write noir.

Dare I say this dilemma might even be grist for your mill?

Nah, my folks had no taste for irony. I started using "Clark Kent" while still working for noosepapers and trying to conceal my extracurriculars from my curriculars.

My best to you and your career. I've added Killer to my growing list of must reads.

Charlieopera said...

If you think that only people abstemious enough to live like a Trappist Monk in a yurt deserve your respect, make yourself a role model.

Why I try to read Ed's blog daily ... I learned two new words today (abstemious & yurt).

Thanks, Peter.

Thanks, Ed.

Ed's novel (Ticket to Ride) is reviewed over at my place today.

What's a kindle?

Just joking. My wife has them all over the house and will no doubt burn the joint down some day.

Mathew Paust said...

Judge Haller: Did you say, "yurts?"

Vinnie: Yeah, "yurts."

Judge Haller (wagging finger): Young man, don't be abstemious in my courtroom!

Dave Zeltserman said...

my prediction of where all this eventually goes... once Amazon has succeeded in putting all brick & mortar bookstores out of business and knocking all publishers out of the game, they will then:

1) dump all free and low-priced books from their site, and set a minimum price

2) require all books that sell on their store to pass an amazon board for approval

In effect, they'll be the only publisher, bookseller of consequence, as well as have a monopoly on e-reader sales since they'll keep the Kindle proprietary.

Mathew Paust said...

Man, that job offer writing jingles for Hallmark's looking better and better...

Peter L. Winkler said...

I'm amazed at the apocalyptic alarmism about the imminent death of bookstores, publishing and writers caused by the inroduction of the Kindle and other reading gadgets.

If the Kindle et al are selling as well as their proponents are claiming, it means that there are a surprisingly large number of people so enthusiastic about reading that they are willing to invest $200+ just to read books.

Where there are enthusiastic readers there is a robust market for books. Where there is a market for books, in any format, there are commercial opportunities to exploit textual content.

If walk-in bookstores are slowly supplanted by electronic only books, so what? Books will still be read, only in different ways.

Although Kindle owners might like all books to be free, it won't happen. Wrting is a time intensive occupation that most people can't pursue if they aren't able to generate at least a subsistence income. There will be a lot of cheap or even free ebooks from the same frustrated writers who utilized POD and vanity presses in th past. Most readers will ignore those books, as they do now.

With the flood of available content, there will remain a need for some system readers can rely upon to sift the dross from the gold. Right now, agents, publishers and the admittedly declining venues for reviews serve that function. The need for qualitative ranking will remain. Some system will arise to satisy it.

I'm not scared about Amazon's prospects for world domination. It remains to be seen whether the Kindle, with its proprietary software, will conquer the ereader category. There are already alternatives to Amazon, like Sribld, where writers can make texts available in a variety of formats and set their own price. But, assuming that Amazon eventually becomes the sole publisher of books, they can only make a profit charging for them, and the talented writer will still be able to sell their writing.

Mathew Paust said...

Thanks, Mr. Winkler! You've pulled me back from the brink of accepting that Hallmark offer. Nonetheless, I can see the noir plot already percolating in Dave's plot lab - Doug Hadenuf, the brilliant but-tuff-as-nails writer, his dream of selling his masterpiece to Putnan dashed by the crushing of Putnan by Amazoo, sets out to bring to justice (destroy) Cyrus T. Grabitall, the genius behind Amazoo's imperialism whose unchained evil can't seem to be stopped by anybody - except, of course, Doug, who gains entry to the impregnable Grabitall mansion by having a red-herring manuscript hand-delivered by the unimaginably seductive Slyvia Syrene, who Doug's been seeing lately...I'll hafta leave it there, as mom's calling that din din is on the table.

Thanx, again Mr. Winkler! How does that song go, "I will survive..."

I know I will stay alive
I've got all my life to live
I've got all my love to give
and I'll survive
I will survive
. yeah yeah yeah

Matt said...

Dear Peter: You, as a Kindle owner, are worse than Hitler. Thank you.

(All right, now that we got that out of the way... :)

Actually, I’m honestly sorry if I hurt your feelings or offended you. I apologize to you and anyone else who may have felt I called them personally a "whiny spoiled Kindle bitch." I was absolutely directing my insult to those who legitimately fall in that category. But you see, Peter, I don’t actually know you. I’ve never met you. I’ve never even heard of you. So it would be impossible for you to take my comment personally. Unless you are, in fact, a self-defined “whiny spoiled Kindle bitch.” Then, yes, you should take it.

Now let’s look at your comments.

Anyone one else care to equate not supporting the Kindle with giving up *all* technology to live as a Trappist monk huddled in a yurt? (...though, you do know that Trappists love to read - yet don’t live in yurts, yes? :)

Or if someone should deign to point out that books are heading the same way we saw with music? Then that person must clearly be engaging in “apocalyptic alarmism?” Uh huh.

You’ve been trained well by our media, old son. :)

So let’s revisit our topic.

We're talking about the economic impact of predatory marketing practices by Amazon. And those who support their Kindle are obviously part of it.

So once we see bookstores and authors and binders and printers and so on go the way we just saw with music's downfall? As above, so below?

Then, yes, those who helped by buying Kindles shall own part of this blame.

(But you already know this, don't you? We've already seen it happen with music. Perhaps, like most Americans, you’re living in a state of The Perpetual Present – always indulging but never learning from our history or planning for the future.)

And Clark Kent? The truth is there is no conspiracy. It’s open and transparent. Most corporate powers are upfront about eliminating their local affiliates - no matter if we're talking about local retailers, local TV stations, local printers, etc.

And why should they do this? Because in the short run, the corporate chiefs don't want to share wealth. They only want to consolidate profits. They want to put their product (CD/Book/Movie/TV Show) directly from their hands into yours. And they can't wait to cut out the pesky local middlemen.

(Not to mention that, with a Kindle, Amazon can remove or edit “your” books on their Kindle at any time. But I, for one, welcome our alien overlords...)

You see, our kindly and benevolent corporate powers like Amazon are trying to con the ewes into believing that we the consumer will be much happier with their plan, Orwell be damned. (Zeltserman, stop laughing. Seriously...c’mon man...) Why? Because we'll get a CD/Book/Movie for a few ducats less. Then everybody’s happy, right? Huzzah! Boners for all! Our economy isn't a single market item existing in a vacuum. Destroy your local book retailers and drivers and printers and binders, etc? Then you’ll find those folks won't have jobs and thus be unable to buy whatever you do or sell. Which means you buy less stuff. And thus it goes, 'round and 'round.

We're already seeing this negative impact after selling off our manufacturing overseas. (Psst...and at the same time? China’s seeing the fastest economic growth in centuries. Coincidence? Sure.)

So at long last.

Peter or Clark Kent or anyone? Can you show us where we're wrong with specifics? I’m sure folks would love for you to outline how our concerns can be allayed.

Anything? Nothing? (Uh... yurts? ;)


A whiney, spoiled, Trappist beer drinker

P.S. Please don't feel bad when someone disagrees with you. Or insults your choice of purchase. Pretty, pretty please. With sugar on it. It’s a product. Not a lifestyle.

...and I'm not saying a noir fan should be made of tougher stuff.

But I bet the ones who still read hardbacks are...

Anonymous said...

I've been following the conversation through the day on my Pre... another one of these crazy little devices where I may read novels and such if I wish (it's too small for the task in my estimation)...

Consider open standards for content formats to be the software equivalent to the printing press/ book binding process. Imagine a world where creating books were a copyrighted thing. One outlet controlled all book production. Now extrapolate how that would have affected the last five hundred years or so of history.

A device is just a device. Some will be more successful than others. Ultimately, the thing to be concerned about is the file format. Go with a Microsoft-style closed format and you are owned by the producer of that format, tied to their device or their approved devices, and otherwise you have given over control of the culture to the owner of that file format.

Kindle, Nook, even Apple and Microsoft's tablets are intermediate technologies. None of them replace the book, however successful their devices may be (and some of them could do very well).

Open file standards are what matters. I should be able to buy an ebook and read it on ANY device, regardless of manufacturer or operating system, retailers that sells the ebook, etc. Everything else is just snark.

Of course in the wake of the music industry this is the great battle to be dealt with. Instead of insulting buyers of the Kindles and such, better to act as advocates for those consumers to ensure that if they buy your book on the Kindle, and decide to move to the iSlate or Nook, that they can do so and keep their purchases. This one change fixes so much of what seems wrong about the whole ebook thing that the rest seems trivial.

Matt said...

"Open file standards are what matters...Everything else is just snark."

No, man. It's not snark. You're leapfrogging the economic impact on local economies. Perhaps because, like most Americans, you don't understand this point. Or maybe you just don't care.

But you're talking about a completely separate topic of open source ownership of e-book files. (And in theory? I totally agree with you. Because with the Kimble? You don't own sh!t.)

But are you going to tell your local bookseller who lost his job and now goes on welfare (...paid for by your tax dollars) to chalk it all up to "snark?" Ech.

Do a little research before you accuse anyone of "insulating" your consumer behavior. Then decide.

And if you still can't support the aforementioned blue collar and middle-class American jobs? Or even your local economy and thus your own self interest? Well... I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.

Then go support the corporate consolidation of wealth and publishing that is using music as its model.

Mathew Paust said...

If the music industry is our model, why haven't I seen more talented artists busking in subways and former record producers asking me if I want fries with my burger?

Were I forced to choose between Matt's call to the barricades and Nithska's well-reasoned support of "open-file standards," I'd hafta say the punk in me would love a good slugfest, but the geezer I've become says that a little smart protection (open-file standards)is more realistic.

Matt said...

Sorry, Clark. It's not either/or. These are two subjects that can exist simultaneously.

You can support open file ownership while stil recognizing the negative local fiscal impact of this model.

And speaking of, nor is Music is "our model." It's the model Amazon is following. Same with US manufacturing. And we've seen how well they're working out...

But you don't really ride the subway, do you? Or have friends who used to work A&R? Your question belays a lack of familiarity with the topic at hand. Many of these folks have indeed been let go. And the subway? It's now called Myspace and is overfilled of musicians, both good and bad.

Mathew Paust said...

My mistake, Matt. I got the impression that for you it is either/or.

Matt said...

No worries, Clark.

I figured when I said this to Nithska, it made it clear these are two diff topics:

"'re talking about a completely separate topic of open source ownership of e-book files. (And in theory? I totally agree with you...."

Charlieopera said...

Sounds like Matt is a good candidate for the Curmudgeon ticket. I joke not. We’re socialists with zero tolerance for either major party (especially after the financial crisis/bailouts and the $38 billion tax break this administration just gave CitiGroup because otherwise they won’t be able to pay back their TARP loan—I’m wondering if the Gov’t will excuse my taxes because I can’t pay my mortgage should I lose another job and last year we had to fork over an extra 36K in taxes for my working 7 days a week--talk about an incentive killer). Anyway, Matt, we’re calling for revolution but nobody is hearing us (we can be boring about it, I’m told). As to books/kindle, etc., I fear any technology that puts people out of work and it is one of the considerations followers of Rand ignore; as the population increases and technology removes jobs from the economic cycle, the “looter” factor looms way larger than their free market ever considered. Then again, many believe in social Darwinism and having “looters” starve to death is one way to handle it.

Putting people out of work is NEVER a good thing.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Peter Winkler said: "I'm amazed at the apocalyptic alarmism about the imminent death of bookstores, publishing and writers caused by the inroduction of the Kindle and other reading gadgets."

It defines how we define imminent. Personally I think it will take several years, and probably also for the Kindle and other e-readers to drop in price, probably to the $50 range, but I have no doubt that will happen. As John Grisham (and others) have aptly said, you don't need a majority of readers moving to these devices to kill the printed book. All you need is enough readers to move to these devices to tip the scale for bookstores that are already currently struggling. And once bookstores go, so do the publishers that rely on them. And as Amazon has already shown with Covey--they'll go directly after the bestsellers to publish their books on Kindle and cut out the publisher.

Look, it's pretty clear what amazon's predatory strategy is--to become the only bookstore, publisher, and e-reader producer, and damn the societal and cultural costs. Hell, if Goldman Saks can ruin the lives of millions of retirees to increase their bottom line, I guess who can blame them. Let's look at amazon's top 25 current Kindle bestsellers (and how can free books be bestsellers?? kind of an oxymoron here) to have some idea of what the future holds: the top 9 are free books, followed by a James Patterson thriller, followed by another free book, then Dan Brown's Lost Symbol, followed 2 more free books, then The Help By Kathryn Stockett, then 4 more free books, then Sue Grafton's latest, one more free book, the Under the Dome by Stephen King, then the rest free books. Get the picture--5 books actually selling for money by bestselling authors, the rest free. Get the picture yet for the future ebook world??--if you're not already a bestselling author, you'll be giving your book away free in the desperate hope to attract readers.

Anonymous said...


What you see as leapfrogging from another point of view is the attempt to anticipate where this is going, staying a step ahead.

Part of this conversation seems to assume that we have a choice about ebooks in the ecology. We don't, not on the mass level. They are a fact, and will continue to become more important. That doesn't speak to individual choices: of course I could decide ebooks are evil and have nothing to do with them. But while my head is in the sand guess who's deciding how this whole ebook thang is going to go? Yeah, people like Bezos with dreams of REPLACING the book altogether with a closed device and format.

As to the local economic impact, in the last 12 months I've been both downsized and outsourced. Have done the unemployment gig for the first time in my working life. And you bet, I have opinions as to the macro causes and conditions that led to this. I could expound at length about the evils at play that are commoditizing the IT workforce.

And on a very real level, while I'd be right, it just doesn't matter. The rules have changed, we either learn to play smarter than before or we can be sure it will happen again.

ebooks represent an opportunity for the mom and pop shops out there. They do threaten the big box book stores, unless they adapt. The Nook, though yet to see if it is successful, is an interesting attempt to preserve the brick and mortar while plunging ahead with ebooks.

And last, books as a format will continue on for at least our lifetime. Probably will become a more interesting space, with their equivalent to the album with the picture pressed into it, the book as object, becoming a more common thing. Because, ebooks are good at delivering the content of a book (and that is what matters, to be sure), but they still can't deliver that intangible that comes with holding an amazing book in one's hand.

Mathew Paust said...

So. What to do? Is it hopeless, leaving us nothing but wailing and teeth gnashing?

Are writers ego-controlled enuf to organize effectively enuf to win a concession or two (legislated open-file standards; a "royalty fund" from device profits)?

Is the novel dead? Do we switch to screenplays? Tarantino says his screenplays are essentially novels, anyway.

This discussion is a good place to start. Will the Teamsters help us?

Charlieopera said...

Speaking of the teamsters ... what does the MWA say about all this? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

Electronic Frontier Foundation and Creative Commons are a good start.

Also, I definitely don't want to come across as flippant toward anyone's livelihood. So anything that can be done to help the guy or gal working in or running the local bookshop right now, I'm all for. What I advocate is thinking ahead to what kind of world we want to live in when ebooks are more dominant.

It's an easy capitalist assumption to say 'this is company XYZ's device, they should be able to make it as closed as they wish and control it to whatever extent they want'.

But then, the company suggests, as Bezos has, that their device is designed to REPLACE the book... the open format question becomes The Question. Because without it we hand over our culture.

Though Apple is one of the worst companies in terms of trying to create a walled garden, their approach to ebooks may be the most reasonable, where their device is able to surf to your mom & pops bookstore's website, purchase that regional ebook anthology they've put togather and check their stock of Jack Vance paperbacks for a trip for steamers and new reading material over the weekend.

Mathew Paust said...

If hardbound book readers are aging out, as are cursive writers, then the future for real books might be trade paperbacks - either advance published or on demand. People in my family and in my generation still love to give and receive hardbound editions on special occasions.

No one I know has a Kindle nor has talked about wanting one, altho a lot of folks I know (even adults) have ipods. I worry that our younger people are being conditioned more and more to passive entertainment, and that reading, in whatever format, is something they hafta do in school but sure as hell don't want to strain over on their own time.

I imagine publishers will adapt to the narrowing hardbound market through the on-demand process or by coming out with advance editions for special occasions.

My daughter hates when I say this, but there really are more than one way to skin a cat.

Matt said...

You know, it's funny. I feel like I'm one of the positive ones. (Acht. Hold on.)

I feel like the curmudgeons are more like Peter, "'re a doom & gloomer...maaah..." (Sorry in advance... :) Or the good sir Mr. Kent saying those who address the economic impact of this predatory marketing are somehow "putting up barriers.". Huh?

Or even the obviously intelligent Nithska seems "curmudgeony" with his excellent point about open source ownership - which *I agree with.* (slaps table, stamps floor...why does no one listen?). Because Nithska's (dare I say it?) "doom & gloom" sentence is that the end of books on a mass level is already a foregone conclusion. And thus only the most foolish haven't accepted this *obvious fact*. (so sayeth the corporate media...) And even talking about local economics is putting your head in the sand so we should only put our energies into open source.

Wheras lil' ole me? Poor, poor pitiful me? (sticks pinky in mouth) All I'm sayin' is...wait for it...this is crazy, this us crazy...

We can all do both.

Yes, I'm hopeful (but not like Obama - or the GOP) that the more people are aware of all the impacts to their lives, the more likely they'll make choices to maintain their local economies. (And support open files...) And thus? We support each other and our own self interests. At least for us little people.

Nithska, thank you very much for sharing both intelligent points and your own experience as an IT professional. The sad thing? At some point, someone decided they could save a few ducats by outsourcing IT jobs to consolidated services overseas. They followed the same decision tree and business model as with e-books.

And re: EFF & CC? Yes! I supper them both! I'm actively behind you.

But... On the other tip, what have you done for your local economy lately? (Maybe lots...I don't actually know you... :)

Lastly, no one has mentioned the intrinsic value of hard copy books. I find this curious because this point is always absent from media stories, too...

When you "buy" (cough) an e-book? You're getting a copy of a copy of a copy of 0s and 1s in PDF. There's one master, and it gets replicated by the thousands or millions. So. What's the value to you once you spent your $9.99?

Zip. Nuthin'. Sucker...

But when you buy a book for $12 - $16, what do you have? That's right. A used book. Now you can lend it, give it away, regift it, etc, etc. No one needs a device like with open source (*which I support*). Because your book? It's worth real money.

Not sucker?

You want a real world example? Done. I only buy CDs. Zeppelin, Blitzen Trapper, Hank Williams, whatever. I listen to them at home or load them on my iPod. (hold on...) Then I either keep them or resell them. So I get both the MP3 file *plus* the hard copy.

CDs cost me locally between $9 - $14. My average rate of resale is $2 - $4. So the actual cost of a CD to me? $5 - $12. And everything stays in my local economy so those dope smokers in the music store can buy the stuff I do. Everybody makes a decent living.

This is the same sh!t you (or whoever) paid $9.99 for. (er, $11.99...prices are going up for the bigger names...sucker.) But now you have nothing but an e-file. Thanks for the quick tenner, boyo.

So. In closing.

Peter? You're Hitler. (sorry... :)

Clark Kent? Don't be so malleable.

Nithska? *I agree with you about open source.* Now let's spend a little time on our local economies, too.

Zeltserman? I love all your books, but I was on to this scam before you ever brought it up.

Charlie? I love your politics *and* Cheapskates is totally awesome. I'll insult you later.

Matt? You're a self-righteous prick.

Oh wait...

Mathew Paust said...

Hey, Matt: I'll be as malleable as I wanna be. Thanks.

Matt said...

Yes! That's the stuff!

Anonymous said...


I'll admit that at first I suspected you for a stealth troll, but maybe we see things more in kind than not.

The one objection I'd make is that my 'doom and gloom' statement was not --and I could have misspoke by all means-- that the demise of The Book is inevitable, but rather that the entry of the ebook and of hardware dedicated --to varying degrees-- to reading it is a thing that must be accepted as fact.

As for contributing to the local economy: I'm an IT contractor. It is what it is: it pays my bills and affords me the luxury of participating in the genre community in my own little way.

And regarding that community, I am putting my heart and soul into Aether Age, , which is going to allow a local voice actor to create and sell audio versions of stories (T C Parmelee), and a local band to sell the soundtrack to the project, ala Vandermeer & Murder by Death... our musical accompaniment will be done by The Chameleon Chamber Group. Definitely check them out.

Beyond that, we are doing something culturally significant, I hope, in releasing what may be the first open source shared world anthology. ESR, who suggests, probably correctly, that we should call it open culture, not open source, is to pen the introduction. We've gotten some 'send it my way and I'll see how I feel' from some pretty nice names re ARC reviews once we have it...

And, of course, none of that matters if the stories aren't, ya know, kick butt. We have the Outer Alliance, M-Brane, OWW, and several other communities with members contributing stories, so we are dedicated to making that a reality.

So... I hope I'm doing my part to make the world a better place, economically and otherwise. I contribute time and a smidgen of expertise to a local nonprofit, SOS at Zac's Ridge, But I don't talk about that too much because it is easy to come across as self-congratulatory or such.

Anyway, if I have one basic point to offer here it is: change is inevitable, AND we can prepare for it so that we don't just make it, but find success. Ancillary to that: books are here to stay. The changes in how people buy them (and ebooks) is navigable by anyone at at level of the foodchain, not just the Amazons of the world.

Matt said...

Troll?! You can't use that word. That's *our* word!

(Just like with "fag" or the n-word, we're taking it back.)


Please allow me to say I did not mean in any way for Nithska to document all the amazing things he dors in his local community. But I'm glad you did! Dude, you are rocking. A fantastic example for all of us.

In my neck of Portland where folks make a concerted effort to buy/live local, we've found that the economic power we wield as individuals and as a collective is vastly greater than any Amazon marketing plan or widget like the Kindle. Where we spend? They follow.

We do indeed have to work with change and not live in The Perpetual Present. But that only means learning from history to better prepare for the future. So we do need to look to the recent derth of music stores as we consider a book "ipod." Right? Ultimately as the majority, we will shape what's coming next by how we live and create. We don't have to take orders from short legions of corporate consultants armed with PowerPoint "decks."

Okay, moving to specifics.

Nithska, I really dig what you're doing creatively.

That's a very cool idea. And one neat thing seems how unsigned bands and writers and actors can create their own stories and mythology anywhere. Creating community, yo. Add open source hardware (now I understand your passion for this a lil' better... :) and everyone can buy and sell and trade their creations.

Now, I still dig on hard copy due to its obvious intrinsic value. So perhaps you'll do CDs or LPs? Or perhaps your audio portion is something I get "free" when I purchase a copy of your book? Then you spread your profits around to all the performers? And people get both a bitchin' hard copy that has value plus the file? Sounds like a lot, but with recording costs so affordable these days...

Anyway... You know what you're doing. I'm just thinkin' out loud. Thanks to you and everybody for the excellent, vigorous discussion. We are all Nature's greatest miracle and blah, blah, blah.. (yes, even you, Heir Peter. :)

Boners all around.

Peter L. Winkler said...


I don't own a Kindle, nor an iPod or iPhone or any such like device.

You want to buy overpriced CDs to have a welfare program to support your stoner pals at the local CD store cum head shop? Be my guest.

I suppose that the computer supplanting the typewriter put people out of work, too. You're using a computer, aren't you?

The iPod hasn't destroyed the music industry. Last time I checked BMG, Sony and plenty of other companies are still standing. What's gone are the largely automated manufacturing plants spitting out CDs and the minimum wage retail clerk jobs at the now defunct Tower Records stores. Probably not that many jobs, and not very good ones at that.

Your Hitler jibe doesn't bother me, it's toothless juvenile snark. Your initial comment about Kindle owners didn't affect me personally. I merely object to uncalled for swipes at other people.

Mathew Paust said...

And a boner to you, as well. It's surely a joy to have someone so hip answer these knotty questions with such grace.

So, then, if we are to emulate the Portland experiment so eloquently laid out for us by Matt, perhaps we should get cracking.

Mathew Paust said...

Good post, Peter. I wasn't addressing you.

Peter L. Winkler said...

It's discouraging how often people who never met you and know nothing about yu or your belefs impute all sorts of characteristics simpy because it fits heir preconceptions and makes one an easy mark for their sniping.

Just because I'm politically liberal doesn't mean that I think we should give lifetime welfare to someone because technology changes and made their job redundant.

Matt said...

Thank you, Clark! Great convo all around.

And Peter, I knew you wouldn't be bummed about the Hitler comment. But thanks for letting me know. (Tho' you may wish to revisit the math on the real value of buying hard copy music versus a copy of 0s and 1s...)

I'd already seen your paean to holy mother Walmart at your site which was telling indeed. So I invoked Mr. Godwin's Law early. Which, these days, is just our newspeak way of saying, "Well, sir. I suppose we'll just have to agree to disagree."

(Plus at this point it's a great litmus test for a sense of humor or those who take themselves seriously. I'm happy to report you passed in the very best way.)

All right. So who's sick of me posting? Hands up. One, two, three...

...why is my hand up?


Peter L. Winkler said...


"I'd already seen your paean to holy mother Walmart at your site which was telling indeed."

I've never been to a Walmart, never praised it. I wrote a short review of their online music store for the online edition of Smart TV & Sound. Their editor didn't assign me to do an investigation of Walmart's labor practices. Based on my cursory inspection, their site seemed good enough for consumers of MP3s.

How you turn that into a "paean of praise for Walmart" and falsely suggest I approve of their overall business practices is beyond me.

BTW, are you Matt Cale from You sure sound like him.

Matt said...

No, sir. Not me.

Had to google Mr. Cale to find out he does movie write-ups for Ruthless Reviews. I do like the moving pictures, tho' - to include Gas-s-s-s which I noticed you linked on your site. I rented a copy here in town a few months back. Awesome.

And I apologize if I misunderstood your positive recommendation of Walmart's online music store for "users looking for an easy-to-use source for an abundance of inexpensive music to download."

Sure, we could talk more about the negative fiscal impact of trade deficits - both on the national and local scales - but I think the bartender is givin' us her best stink eye.

And I reckon she'd appreciate it if we'd finish up our last call whiskeys and get the hell out.

So we'll just have to agree to disagree...for now...Hitler! ;) Or maybe I'm Hitler? Hell, we're all Hitler!

Thank you very much for taking the time to chat here. I honestly appreciate your gentlemanly discussion style and fine points of order.

And I'm sure I'll see you around this site. Happy New Year, Peter.

Let me pick up the tip.

Peter L. Winkler said...


That was a very generous message. Thanks.

Best wishes to you and everyone here for the coming year.