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E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far from Dead (nytimes.com)
123 points by sinak on Sept 23, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 187 comments

I hope this isn't the trend going forward. I don't get the traditionalist love of paperback books most of the time. Like the sort of people who go on and on about exploring book stores or the smell of new paper. I love my Kindle and I really hope to be able to use it as my primary reading source, its just so convenient, light, portable and unobtrusive (especially with that newer back-light option).

But the price of new ebooks turns me off for sure, I wouldn't buy a new novel for $20+, in ebook, hardcover, paperback or ever really. $10 is the sweet spot for novels and I think Amazon was driving that well for awhile. I'll stick to older novels that are < $10.

Let me also state that paper really does have its merits, at least for now until some smart tablet engineers can solve some problems with the format. I love a comic book as paperback, but that is because I don't think tablets or even color e-ink has quite gotten there yet. I also think technical reference books (like programming guides) are best served in paper. Again, I don't think its easy to flip through pages on a tablet or kindle, but maybe that will be solved some day too.

I hold fairly different opinions, though I agree that digital reading sources can make sense for completely new books read for pleasure.

As a longtime physical product, paper has a lot of benefits. My dad can give me a book he read in college, just grab it off the shelf. I can go buy books extremely cheaply secondhand, sometimes free. I can't imagine paying $10 for an ebook when I can go to a used bookstore and pay $3, and then I own it forever. Additionally, once I own it I can share it, give it away, write in the margins, dog-ear pages, leave post-it notes, etc. I also can't imagine a world where 20 years later I can trivially give my old Kindle eBooks to my children.

On the other hand, I much prefer having searchable digital technical reference books. I find the flipping and index/table-of-contents referencing to be very "immersion-breaking" when I'm programming. For example, it's much quicker and easier to Ctrl+F for "XCHG" than it is to dig through the intimidating multi-thousand page Intel x86 Instruction Reference. When I was taking an OS course, I had to do this all the time, and I much preferred the pdf reference over the physical one.

Additionally, human beings depend strongly upon spatial orientation. Printed materials dovetail with this. Many recount being able to recall information in part based upon its location within a printed text. IIRC, there was... I think it was a lengthy New Yorker piece, a number of years ago, that went into this. Including the "messy" professor's/researcher's office, until one has a conversation there with them and observes them quickly referencing all sorts of material based upon where they place it -- throughout the office and within specific piles.

I wonder whether VR technology will enable us to better engage this in the digital landscape.

That sounds like poor man's tagging solution where location=tag. A better solution would be a global index: say "standard c99" and you'll get the document you want. It's better than physical location, because additional tags can narrow down the results to specific pages.

For many words, I actually remember the location on the page, and the page's location in the book, and the book, where I first learned it! [I usually don't remember the exact page number, but some sort of general sense of the position in the book.]

With a kindle book, I've found this effect to be much weaker, and for unpaged ebooks (e.g. many free books in html form), it's almost non-existant.

It's important to me, at least, because this effect is one way I manage to recall the meaning of words I only half-remember. Maybe it sounds weird, but I think of the general concept I'm trying to remember, then the image of the page floats into view, and ... ok maybe it is weird. ><

I do the exact same thing. Glad I'm not the only one with a strongly visual memory that works that way.

Incidentally, this may be one advantage of PDFs over other formats. Responsiveness be damned, deterministic paging is also an important book property.

> My dad can give me a book he read in college, just grab it off the shelf. I can go buy books extremely cheaply secondhand, sometimes free. I can't imagine paying $10 for an ebook when I can go to a used bookstore and pay $3, and then I own it forever. Additionally, once I own it I can share it, give it away, write in the margins, dog-ear pages, leave post-it notes, etc. I also can't imagine a world where 20 years later I can trivially give my old Kindle eBooks to my children.

That's a problem with the current incarnation of ebooks as a set of cloud stores. Imagine e-books held—along with all the annotations made to them on your device—in something like a blockchain. Someone pushes you three bucks, and you push them a (license to a) book. Now the license, and the annotations, are in their account, accessible to all their devices.

Why do people keep bringing up blockchains whenever they want to talk about generic digital ownership transfers where they don't really provide any benefit...

It's the new "cloud", I swear.

It's not on a whim; I've actually thought for a while now that "non-partisan IP license store" is the perfect use-case for a blockchain—one much more fitting a blockchain's particular system of incentives than the exchange of monetary tokens.

An account for holding IP licenses is, at minimum, just a bag of arbitrary tokens (UUIDs, say) signed by IP owners. To make them useful, the tokens might be, say, SHAs of files they are considered licenses to.

The files themselves don't have to be attached to the system anywhere; in fact, the files don't even have to be available from the IP owners. Holding such a token effectively says "I, the IP owner, promise not to sue you for having a copy of this file on your hard drive."

All the files themselves could be available on BitTorrent or whatever else—the tokens might-as-well-be scrips to participate in decriminalized piracy, much as doctor's notes allow one to participate in decriminalized marijuana consumption. But you can imagine an ecosystem of clients (or maybe OS-level features) that can collate licenses to IP-holder CDNs to get those files, maybe transmitting a zero-knowledge proof of the possession of the license to the CDN server in exchange for the file; and will remove shell-level access to the file when the license is removed from the store. (The file could be retained in an OS-protected cache and such in case the user regains a license to it; it just has to be made inaccessible to the user.)

Now, consider the current products and services that a complete implementation of this sort of system would displace: any App Store (Apple's) or Game Store (e.g. Steam), any Music or Video store, potentially most streaming services, etc. A proper implementation would make "having content available to access" just an OS-built-in transparent side-effect of having the proper licenses. Tons and tons of middle-men would be put out.

So, imagine building this thing in any way that's even slightly centralized. Imagine, just as a slight step away from a blockchain, that this was a Ripple/Stellar type thing: a set of ledgers extended such that each ledger account can hold a bag of bitstrings, rather than a bag of {currency_code, amount} pairs.

Wouldn't it be in this service's interest to gain adoption by partnering with these IP middle-men? They'd say "let's get Valve to make it so that people's Steam games are listed in here, and then people can just move the licenses around using our wallet app! Win-win!"

The potential partners, afraid of being displaced and commoditized, would go along, but at the same time, try to take control of the system. They would want the technology provider to allow them to impose business restrictions on how and when users could transfer things, or even charge a cost payable to the partner for doing so.

The result wouldn't be a distributed zero-trust ledger of IP licenses at all; it'd just be a meta-store interface, with each store able to enforce its own policies on its licenses.

Now, you could posit that there's some perfect organization (maybe the FSF? GNU Taler is a thing) that wouldn't fall for these tricks, even as its network absolutely fails to gain traction because nobody wants to be displaced by it.

But it's much easier to just solve the problem by not having an organization running the network at all, so that there's "nobody there" to decide to partner with the IP owners or the current middle-men. Take the decision away; turn off the incentive structure. Just make it a blockchain.

(The other convenient thing about such a structure being a blockchain, though, is the scaling story. A company like Stellar builds out a network and then has to pay to run its network until people start to join and peer with it and overwhelm the seed nodes; if Stellar were to run out of runway at any point, it would almost certainly be at the start, the costs of maintaining the seed network draining them dry before adoption picks up. A completely distributed ledger is initially run by idealist hobbyists, who will continue to run it without charging it rent each month until such a time as the system gains popularity enough to comprise commercially-run nodes as well. It's like parents taking care of their kids for free; it lets the network grow up until it's ready to support itself.)


...now, all that being said, yes, you can eliminate the "blockchain" part of this if you flip the problem on its head. If instead of the representation of ownership being the computed ledger account holder of a given token, the tokens themselves are self-describing documents that are signed and re-signed by each party as the token changes hands—then you can store these tokens anywhere: put them in a DHT, stick them in your OS's keychain store, wherever. People can just carry one to another computer via Sneakernet if they like.

This quickly gets into problems with verifying that a license hasn't since been moved or revoked, though, which starts to look like an "ask the IP holder if it still wants you to be holding its license" sort of problem—like CA revocation is today. In fact, the whole system in that case would look like the current infrastructure for code-signing—and that's a problem, because that sort of system privileges IP owners (who can run CRL servers) at the expense of consumers (who can't or won't), making the whole thing just turn back into trusting the IP owner to say who currently owns a thing, and getting the IP owner to perform license transfers on your behalf, and all the rent-extracting problems that those two things generate.

With a blockchain, everybody is up-to-date on who currently owns that thing. You don't have to think about key revocations or expiries; you don't have to worry about stale grants; each machine just computes current ownership after every new block, and if something is now gone from your account, all your devices know it (or know that they're offline and can't trust their database of ownership assertions.)

But, if you have a system for broadcasting those self-describing documents—something that where everybody will be able to synchronize with it and then receive timely updates from it (Usenet, maybe?)—then yes, you get the same properties as a blockchain. But you've also just effectively recreated a blockchain. (And while you're recreating a blockchain, you might want that "proof-of-work" thing in there, too, so that people can't flood your newsgroup-ledger with pointless messages.)

Actually the biggest problem in building marketplaces of any form - is getting enough users and service providers. The fact that a providers(publisher) cannot enforce their policies would make this problem much worse.

Yes, but that's rather the point. Any system where IP owners can enforce their policies is very likely to not obey the first-sale doctrine or any other IP case-law. It won't be a digital tool for leveraging the IP rights we have; it'll be someone's store. (Probably either Amazon's or Apple's, realistically.)

The only version of this tool that actually does what it's for is the one that's really hard to get off the ground and that would be reviled by every provider that touches it. But, unlike Bitcoin vs. fiat currency, this sort of a system would actually be flowing with the grain of the law—to the point that, in the end, if it survived, it would likely because governments mandated its use (or built their own versions of it, either-or) in order to more easily prove corporate IP asset ownership, calculate net worth for tax purposes, streamline the patent and trademark offices, etc.

The ebooks I buy are immediately stripped of drm and dumped into calibre. It's not the prettiest software in the world, but it works and the ebooks are mine forever no matter what happens to amazon, google, apple, or kobo, and they're trivially transferable. I will not buy ebooks from a store that uses DRM that's not immediately removable.

We are developing a platform that can be used as a Calibre alternative to organize, read, make highlights, bookmarks and notes and have them synced across all devices.

Check us out at https://bookfusion.com/ . We will be releasing an updated Android app and our IOS app soon. Feel free to send us some feedback at dc@bookfusion.com

Does it read all the formats that Calibre supports and convert between them? That's the use case for Calibre - and where most alternatives fall down.

We read all formats that Calibre support. We support natively EPUB and PDF. All other formats are converted to EPUB.

How can I reach you to discuss further ?

My Calibre library is 2 gigs. Do you really want me to upload 2 gigs?

Is there an offline mode? How do I access my books if there isn't?

Yes we want you to upload the 2 gig. We are a Dropbox for books with the added benefit of a single application to read multiple formats.

Our apps work both offline and online. You have the option to sync all books or only the top X most recently read.

Are you IOS or Android ?

I just wish I could put my e-books on a shelf to show how smart and well read I am. And how seriously people should take my opinion. Maybe I could just get a digital e-bookshelf for hacker news actually.

Anyway, this is basically the blessing and curse of digital products. It started out as "Whoah! Copying is free. Distribution is cheap. Storage is practically infinite."

Then we started to see the downsides. It's so easy to make copies and distribute them that publishers won't let us. There's no incentive to move inventory to free up space so there's limited depreciation. Digital interactions are still frustrating straightjackets that artificially trap our creativity in a box invented by a designer who never really got us in the first place and thinks designing for the lowest common denominator is the essence of simplicity.

So we start to miss writing in the margins and flipping through discount record bins and handing down our movie collection to our children. I guess that last one was never likely. . . remember boxes of VHS tapes?

Anyway, it's not really the product's fault. It's really the market that's changed.

Well, it might partly be that designer's fault. I bet that guy was all into skeuomorphism til someone told him it was stupid. Jerk.

I used to worry about the dad thing (well handing books to my son, to be more precise). However - I don't read that many books from my own dad, so maybe my son won't be bothered that much. Also, many books will be in the public domain by the time he might want to read them. Or there will be subscription models where he can just read them for free. Or, I would just have to buy it for him a second time, again, realistically speaking it won't be that many books anyway.

How many books do you own, and how often have you moved? Both numbers tend to increase with age, and usually don't increase the love for paper books.

Nah, I understand -- though I'm still fairly young, I collected a lot of records in high school and college. I recently moved into a Manhattan apartment. Guess what? Most of my records are now in my parents' basement. Book-wise, most are also at my parents' house, though I have a couple of fairly large art/photography books lined up precariously on the floor of my apartment.

I mostly brought up the dad thing because it actually happened a few months ago. I was visiting my parents and my dad, out of the blue, asks if I've read any Hemingway. I tell him I haven't, and he replies in a very out-of-character way that "Do you wanna be a Real Man? Real Men read Hemingway. Hold on..." He goes to the large bookshelf in another room, grabs a book of short stories, and plops it on the table. Out-of-character because the standard arrangement is me lending him sci-fi books for him to slowly read as he dozes off over the course of a few months. I've been slowly reading through the Hemingway stories on the train and I sometimes notice inscrutable/unreadable notes and underlines on some of the stories.

I'm definitely sympathetic to the DRM and dad thing. And, in many ways, it applies more broadly to digital assets (whether DRMd or not) vs. physical ones. OTOH, I've spent way too much effort throughout my life lugging stuff around and I'm currently trying to, however slowly, systematically digitizing things I care about that are amenable to it.

What I would like, in terms of the dad thing, is a nice UI to my library so that my kids have a chance to browse and discover good books in my collection.

I don't think there is a solution for that yet. Maybe it would also be the future of book shops (same problem of serendipity).

> My dad can give me a book he read in college

My dad is in his 60s and lends me books Kindle-to-Kindle.

Easy long-distance sharing, and talking about those books while he's alive, is more meaningful than looking at the dusty old one-of-identical-millions copy of Dune I jacked from his bookshelf.

The marketplace is getting worse for e-books, not better.

Amazon has been pushing the "Kindle Unlimited" subscription model and changed how authors get paid for those consumers, which favors shorter stories. Authors have taken to breaking out a book's chapters and releasing them individually [1] to capitalize on this model.

Conversely, this gives them more shelf space in Amazon's recommendations, and because they are the same book, it lowers the signal to noise ratio in the marketplace for finding something relevant to read.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B013RJDCPU/ref=series_rw_dp...

> Authors have taken to breaking out a book's chapters and releasing them individually [1] to capitalize on this model.

This is exactly how many classic novels and other long works of literature were originally published in the Victorian and Edwardian periods [1]. For genres like SF and Fantasy, this remained a common model well into the twentieth century. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with a modern return to serialization of longer works; it's actually kind of neat -- greater optionality for the reader.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_%28literature%29

Yep, and there is nothing wrong with serialization today. If you're interested, I would even recommend reading the Worm web serial.

The point I was making was that the ebook marketplace on Amazon is getting worse because they are incentivizing serialization without updating their search or recommendation engine to account for it.

And serialization lead to many 'classic' 19th century novels being the dreary slow repetitive reads that they are. When an author releases a whole book they can read the whole thing back to themselves first and streamline it so that it flows as a whole. It's like the difference between a TV soap and films.

Science Fiction came into its own once we moved past serialization; there's simply more value in a complete, cohesive, edited book.

Serialization was simple an industry constraint, not an actual desirable state of being.

One could argue, if one was so inclined, that releasing smaller cheaper books is better for the consumer.

Right now, you'll spend $4-11 on a book. A lot of people know within two or three chapters if they like the book, and will make a decision on finishing it. If you're buying books in parts, that allows the reader to try the book at a smaller financial risk. For example you can find out if you'll like the book or not for $1 rather than $6.

Even the example you linked, it would have cost me $5 previously to try the author/book out, but now only costs me $1. That's a win for me (PS - and I might try out that book as it sounds pretty interesting as a SciFi topic).

> Conversely, this gives them more shelf space in Amazon's recommendations, and because they are the same book, it lowers the signal to noise ratio in the marketplace for finding something relevant to read.

But is this an inherent problem with the books/authors themselves, or Amazon's site? If Amazon grouped all of the chapters or parts into a single "volume" then it both wouldn't negatively impact recommendations or flood the genre list with duplicates.

True, and it would be an argument if you couldn't preview the first few chapters of a kindle book already.

The problem lay with Amazon, not the authors. The authors are rational actors reacting to the changes that Amazon made to their marketplace. By trying to push their subscription model, Amazon is inadvertently reducing the quality of their ebook marketplace.

And man, if you're a SciFi fan, you should read Hugh Howley's Wool book too.

That is misleading at best.

First, as of July, Amazon started paying by pages read, not by "books of which at least 10% was read". Authors/publishers now no longer even get statements saying how many borrows your book got; rather, they list page reads. Payout right now is about half a cent per page, for fairly small pages, with some potential bonuses on top of that.

Second, that's where the money is now for independent authors, much more than in sales.

Based on figures I've seen, in a mix of public and confidential, I'd guess that independent authors are getting paid, just for borrows, about as much as conventionally published authors do for $1 billion of annual book sales, give or take a factor of 2.

Kindle Unlimited no longer works this way. Amazon now distributes payments among authors in proportion to the number of pages that are read: http://mashable.com/2015/06/22/amazon-kindle-unlimited-autho...

Indeed; one author I'm following has stopped selling one or more of his titles outside of the Amazon ecosystem because this feature's new pricing is earning him more money than regular, entire book sales.

>Amazon has been pushing the "Kindle Unlimited" subscription model and changed how authors get paid for those consumers, which favors shorter stories.

A couple of points.

People seem to be shifting in general, George R. R. Martin novels notwithstanding, to favoring shorter content. My specific experience is more in the marketing literature and research reports space but there we've seen a clear shift toward shorter and more visual content being preferred. And even in the technical book space, there seem to be a lot more short books out there.

I remember reading the observation quite a few years ago now that the publishing industry was effectively built around a model where you could have a magazine article or a 300+ page book but you couldn't really do something in between. I suspect that even when e-books made a 100-page book economically viable, a lot of people including consumers still thought in terms of print. This seems to be starting to change.

>> My specific experience is more in the marketing literature ... there we've seen a clear shift toward shorter and more visual content being preferred.

Could you please give some example of such books?

By "literature" I was referring to marketing materials that I'm involved in creating or having created. I don't have specific public metrics that I can point to, but I work with a lot of people both inside and outside my company who track downloads, pageviews, etc. of a lot of different asset types. (As well as just talking to customers and others who use the materials.)

What we see, for example, is survey results that get delivered essentially as a presentation rather than as a report with a lot of text. There also seems to be a general preference for shorter written pieces with more sidebars, graphics, etc.

In terms of technical books, as I mentioned separately, just look at O'Reilly's catalog. There are still some big tomes but also a lot of much shorter books.

After a long day of working in the garden, on my car or on a home improvement project, I like to relax in a hot bath with a good book. I'm not comfortable doing that with my Kindle.

I may not be the average book consumer but I buy a lot of books.

Throw it in a zip-lock bag. They're like $1/each and even the touch interface works through them.

Its curious why you would feel any more comfortable with a book that would be ruined by water than with a tablet that would also be ruined by water. I actually get why, there's less at stake for your $10 book than for your $60 kindle, but its still curious. I've read my kindle in the bath numerous times :)

To me, the book wouldn't be ruined if it got wet. It would get wrinkled and a little harder to read, but still useable. I believe the Kindle would actually stop working if dropped in the water. To be fair, I've never tried it to know for sure...

I have Java book that was exposed to a leaking bottle of Apple juice. Most of the pages were soaked and as soon as they dried, it was still a perfectly readable book. I do not believe that my Kindle would have fared so well.

That's a problem with the device more than anything. The ultimate e-book reader form-factor (that all the device manufacturers are gunning to eventually get to, with research into flexible e-ink et al) will look like nothing more than a laminated sheet of paper, and would be pretty much just as safe to get wet.

FYI, Kobo already sells a waterproof e-reader today for ~$160.

I actually find your hypothetical device very unappealing.

I've tried several kindle models somewhat extensively, and eventually opted for a thicker model (2015 Paperwhite) because the thinner one (Kindle Voyage) was much less comfortable to hold. I think that the ergonomics of a piece of paper would be even less pleasant for long periods of reading. I think we're just wired to handle stuff in our hands, whatever that stuff happens to be.

The Paperwhite is really nice. After I got an iPad, my 2nd gen Kindle (that I spent way too much money on) ended up on the shelf collecting dust. A year or so back, I decided to get a Paperwhite on a whim and quickly decided that it's much nicer for reading text than the iPad. The weight, screen, and battery life just make it a better experience.

It may well be a limitation of today's technology but it's still a real limitation. It's why reading ebooks on my laptop while I'm in the tub hasn't become my method.

Paperwhite makes reading better than it was on paper. The screen looks just as good (pixel density makes a HUGE difference), it's a comfortable rigid rectangle that's a lot easier to hold than most paperbacks, and most importantly the backlight means I can stop wrestling with cheaply made yet expensive AAA-hogging clip-on lights.

Except... it has no pages.

Turning physical pages for me is at best neutral. I like to use a stand that holds the book upright-ish on my desk, which makes page-turning inconvenient.

I do wish they had kept the physical page-turning buttons though, not a fan of the touchscreen.

The Kindle Voyage brought the buttons back.

There needs to be a new document format for technical docs. Mobi, epub and pdf just aren't working. I would love to be able to go all digital and read technical docs on my kindle, but right now it's frustrating. Even on a tablet, it's not great.

What's wrong with epub for technical docs? I don't really have a reader that is suitable for technical books (I'm not sure anyone has, passive, high-contrast, 300+dpi and a screen size at minimum the size of an A4 page) -- but if I did, I'm not sure I'd have any problems with docs being in epub. Or just html (not a big difference there, really).

I'm not saying you're wrong, but I'm not sure I understand what you think needs improvement wrt epub? (Now, how those epubs are made, that might be a different matter all together, like a lot of html renderings technical manuals leaves a lot to be desired -- old-school javadoc comes to mind).

Looks like in order to read a "DocBook" book, one has to convert it to another format. Unless I am missing something.

I think you will miss book stores when they are gone?

Personally, I really like going to new/used book stores.

"I love a comic book as paperback, but that is because I don't think tablets or even color e-ink has quite gotten there yet."

I love comic/rare books too. I like the dust covers. I like the authors signature on the title page, if I'm lucky enough to get the signature. I like finding a first edition. I like seeing the original price. I hunt for these books. I have a feeling you appreciate physical copies more than you think?

As to technical material, I'm with you, I just want to know/digest the information.

I probably shouldn't suggest this is like some black and white view of the world, since I do also love a good book store. I don't really care for a Walden's, but I love a good Mom & Pop book store with the book shelves labeled by sharpies.

But I also don't conflate reading with my trips to the book store. They are separate experiences for me. I find it a little much when people talk about how much better paper books are over ebook simply because they can browse around a Powell's for hours until they smell just the right type of leather bindings. I mean that's fine and all, I enjoy that stuff too, but my Kindle allows me to actually read more things, while being so much more convenient to tote around. I don't really need to visit a book store to get a sense of the next Brandon Sanderson novel. I already know I'm going to buy that, so a Kindle makes much more sense to me there. I enjoy a trip to the book store on a lazy Sunday, where I'd like to find a new trade paperback comic or even a photography collection. Book stores don't make paper better or worse though, they are just a great experience on their own. /rant

I'm price concious, so a cheaper paperback will put me off from buying the ebook. I don't care if books are expensive apart from that.

Children's books currently are better in print than in ebook form. The Kate Greenaway award lists some really nice books that don't work in ebook form. http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/greenaway/

(I'm sure this is something my child will think is odd when xe reads to their child - "My Dad used to read to me from real paper books!".)

There is also the Wink newsletter for books that work better in paper: http://winkbooks.net

I'm all for ebooks in theory (so convenient!), but find that in practice reading on a computer/ipad/kindle/phone is almost always an unsatisfying, and in some cases almost stressful, experience.

I think the hardware just has a long way to go... The kindle's the best, both for the screen, the light weight (compared to an ipad), and because I'm not stressed out about battery usage, but going back to a paper book feels like I'm emerging from a humid fog into fresh spring air...

The new iPad Pro should be really really good for comic book reading, as the traditional 10" iPad is a bit too small, leading you to have to scroll around as you read.

> I also think technical reference books (like programming guides) are best served in paper.

The iBooks extended format (the one with hierarchical pages and pop-out asides and embedded media and so forth) is amazing for reference books. I wish Apple had any desire to open it up and get other device manufacturers displaying it; it'd be the perfect replacement for the PDF manuals that ship with most things, while actually enhancing accessibility.

It's predicted by the market for vinyl and cassette, not by magical thinking about books - a decline, then a rebound. The actual information content is correctly priced to approach zero. The leftover value goes to people who want something premium in their collection, people buying from a local store based on their recommendations, etc. The creators no longer solely derive monetary benefit from product sales, instead using a mix of crowdfunding, performance, and derivative license deals, as well as premium product.

The new world of media isn't ideal, but it offers a lot more flexibility than the old one. You'll be able to get free information, while traditionalists will retain their outlet.

> I don't get the traditionalist love of paperback books most of the time.

For me, speed and size. I read faster than e-readers update.

Just curious. What are the missing features in technical/programming ebooks in your opinion?

My experience with technical books in ebook form has been pretty lack-luster so far. I personally like to have my screen dedicated to the IDE and to have the book over on some other screen. This is so I don't lose context in what I'm working on and so I can easily work through examples without putting the text away.

Most of the time I only have the one laptop screen however, so if I'm reading an ebook on the same computer, I need to switch from IDE to some other program to read and then back. This also drives me to copy/paste examples, which for me doesn't help me learn well.

Reading a technical ebook on my kindle has its own set of problems. Examples are usually written for the paperback book (which are usually very wide), so the kindle will squish examples and put them across multiple kindle pages. I haven't tried using an ebook with a large tablet yet, so maybe that is the sweet spot.

But my last issue is something I haven't seen a good solution for yet. Often I just want to flip to a section of the book for reference and I simply don't have a good feel for how to do this with an ebook right now. Flipping on an ebook usually requires going to a chapter you know holds the content and then paging one-by-one until you find what you are looking for. Ctrl+F may or may not be useful (I usually find its not). Paper books are simply quicker for flipping through the pages while scanning the content.

> Reading a technical ebook on my kindle has its own set of problems. Examples are usually written for the paperback book (which are usually very wide), so the kindle will squish examples and put them across multiple kindle pages. I haven't tried using an ebook with a large tablet yet, so maybe that is the sweet spot.

Wanting for one of its uses to be as an reader for documents (technical and otherwise) formatted for non-compact print formats is what drove me to choose a Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 over smaller tablet options -- I find its quite good for that role.

> But my last issue is something I haven't seen a good solution for yet. Often I just want to flip to a section of the book for reference and I simply don't have a good feel for how to do this with an ebook right now. Flipping on an ebook usually requires going to a chapter you know holds the content and then paging one-by-one until you find what you are looking for.

Google Play Books on mobile (I assume on web, too, but I rarely use it that way) has a pretty good UI for this for flipping through pages; I find that its the one option I've found that's comparable with paper for flipping through pages (not equivalent, its a different experience, but it ends up being, to me, about as easy, quick, and useful.)

I'll have to check out a technical ebook on my ipad mini at some point, that is the largest tablet I own at the moment. I'd be interested in getting a cheaper, large android tablet just for that purpose.

I will check out google's book app, at least to see how they're solving this.

Android 10 inch eink reader works great. Ive got my own apps to work with, one of them has all the good stuff (comprehensive oneclick dictionary, progress bar you can use to quickly "flip" to different parts of the document, just like with a book you open "around 1/3rd") I've been using it to work with huge coursebook pdfs (A4)

It's got Kindle DX screen in it, not that great, but ability to not use mentally challenged and lackluster UI (apps of my choosing) make it worthwhile IMO.

Sadly, it is very chinese and it broke after few months. Currently having a tug-of-war with a scumbag seller that refuses to honor warranty. Ordered another one, because it is only e-reader that makes sense for my use cases. (Seriously, how hard can it be to make a good 10 inch reader? Especially, for the 500euro price point...)

The biggest one for me is that it is hard to read them on the typical < 6" e-reader or phone. Most of them are type-set for big, larger-than letter paperback formats. That means you need to have a second monitor to read them and look at code at the same time.

I thought about getting a Kindle DX when they were making them. Although even then, my copy of Code Complete is as big as a 19" monitor, when it is open and laid flat.

I agree. I also thought of getting a Kindle DX but then settled for iPad (though I don't use it much now, I have to admit). The iPad feels heavier when you are trying to read for longer periods (and I can't really hold it with 1 hand all the time). Kindle is smaller/lighter so it works out great for fiction books but not for technical books.

Paper books are also heavy and you can't carry them everywhere so I mostly read the technical eBooks on my computer.

I think Douglas had a point here.

“Douglas said…Books are sharks,” Gaiman told a packed audience at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

“I must have looked baffled because he he looked very pleased with himself. And he carried on with his metaphor. Books are sharks … because sharks have been around for a very long time. There were sharks before there were dinosaurs, and the reason sharks are still in the ocean is that nothing is better at being a shark than a shark.”

Adams told Gaiman: “‘Look at a book. A book is the right size to be a book. They’re solar-powered. If you drop them, they keep on being a book. You can find your place in microseconds. Books are really good at being books and no matter what happens books will survive.’ And he was right,” said Gaiman.


Though funnily enough, the one thing that has got me wanting to buy an e-ink display is for technical reference.

Small publisher here. I believe Ebook sales have been generally flat or declining for many titles for the following reasons:

* Pricing issues

* Huge influx of new/republished titles entering ebook distribution channels are outpacing demand, including many free or low-cost self-published titles

* Kindle Fire sales negatively impacting ebook reading habits encourages people to do other things besides read (video, apps, games, etc.)

* Decline of marketplaces/platforms that are unable to compete, e.g. Nook, Sony.

* Subscription plans (especially Kindle Unlimited) eating away at paid digital downloads.

* Some people prefer print

Many established publishers are still focused on print because that’s where the sales are and that’s where they still wield considerable power. For the short technology guides I publish, print accounts for 70-80% of sales. Certain ebook marketplaces that could be doing well (Apple iBookstore, Google Play) have really stagnated, unfortunately.

As an ebook consumer, the single biggest reason I don't buy more ebooks is because I have to spend time and energy figuring out if the ebook has DRM or if I can remove the DRM afterwards.

Also, I spend time thinking about the fact that if I ever move to Kindle, any epubs I have won't work regardless of DRM.

I can't speak for other readers, but this is why I don't buy or read books as much as I used to. And I used to read a lot of books.

> if I ever move to Kindle, any epubs I have won't work regardless of DRM.

I've frequently used Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com) to convert epub to mobi. There are also plugins available for it that strip DRM, though I can't vouch for them.

Amazon also supplies KindleGen(http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000765211) to convert epub to mobi

Neat, but weird that they don't offer it as a service through their site... or do they?

You can email documents to a specific email address tied to your kindle account and they will be converted.

Amazon publishes a command-line tool called Kindlegen[1] that converts epub => mobi pretty seamlessly.

[1]: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000765211

The biggest issue I have with ebooks (and I read a LOT on my Kindle) is in digging through all the self-published crap to find actual novels published by reputable publishing companies.

This is a huge turn-off, so much so that despite liking the Kindle hardware and OS, I'm ready to switch to something else (and possibly back to paper books).

The Kindle Unlimited subscription service is actually a huge frustration to me -- it devalues authors' work, and so unsurprisingly, only crappy books are available. On top of that, it's undermining the marketplace in such a way that it's even harder for authors/publishers to make a dime, and we wind up with even fewer good books.

Amazon has (and only very recently) acquired a spot on my shitlist for crimes against literature.

There are sites that help with finding titles in the noise of self-pub books and general schlack, like Goodreads, LibraryThing, even Amazon will suggest titles similar to ones you've bought.

I think the pricing issue is the big one. Publishers are extremely entrenched, and not willing to have parity between ebook and print pricing. I'm not sure why; you'd think the margins would be higher and used sales wouldn't be an issue.

But at the same time, I kind of understand the higher price if you look at what ebooks are worth compared to print books. You can't lose them, and they have way more features. I've almost given up on print books because I can't highlight words to look them up, sync notes to the cloud, etc etc. Lately I've found myself going to used bookstores, buying interesting titles because I like supporting them and having the books lying around, and then buying digital editions separately because the experience is so much better. People may complain about DRM, but I've never had an issue stripping it with Calibre and I don't really have a problem sharing an ebook when I'm done. Maybe that's wrong, but I'm treating it like a normal book and I don't feel bad, especially considering how much I pay.

Seriously, it's just too much. Paperbacks usually run me $4-5 from a used bookstore, but ebooks? I feel like I'm being punished for liking them. Throw me a bone, publishers - you don't get a cut when I pick the cheaper option! When I have to pay $15 for a text file I am reallllly tempted to just say 'fuck it' and pirate it.

Also, libraries - I get a good number of audiobooks and ebooks through OverDrive and my public library now. That's not a sale, and it's easy to do right from my phone.

There's also an issue of Ebook lock-ins. Some people are tired to have their collection of purchased books in various incompatible formats available to read through different subsets of devices / apps.

I agree that it is frustrating. I sell a lot of PDFs through Gumroad, and I think many of the buyers want that cross-platform compatibility (and the ability to print out specific pages). However, when I make ebook bundles available with .mobi, epub and PDF versions of a particular titles, relatively few people buy them.

Do you charge more for the bundle?

If so, sincere question: why, if it's the same content?

Here's some data to support the shift to self-publishing as a major part here:


Buried paragraph at the end of the article that discounts the entire piece (as a piece about readers rather than as a piece about publishers):

"It is also possible that a growing number of people are still buying and reading e-books, just not from traditional publishers. The declining e-book sales reported by publishers do not account for the millions of readers who have migrated to cheap and plentiful self-published e-books, which often cost less than a dollar."

Indeed; in other recent (last month or so) reports that others have mentioned in blog postings, indie e-book sales are skyrocketing. Anecdotally, a number of indie authors are reporting healthy and increasing sales.

And of course after the big five (and I suppose others) renegotiated their contracts with Amazon to agency pricing, to raise e-book prices above $10, often more than paperbacks and sometimes more than hardbacks (see other comments in this topic to that effect), their e-book sales, unit and revenue, took a substantial hit.

Good point. It's a piece about traditional publishers (especially the big 5) not book sales in general. Also buried in the article is head of Kindle ops saying, Amazon's ebook sales are continuing to increase. It's not only possible that ebook sales are going up, there's very strong evidence of this. Check out the authorearnings.com site if you want to see just how fast the ebook market is moving away from traditional publishers to self-publishing and alternative approaches.

Yes. Their sales figures basically ignore any indie book without an ISBN (which is, like, 95% of them, and which are now the majority of sales on Amazon).

Ebook sales from major publishers have slipped recently because they've jacked up the price to avoid cannibalizing their print sales.

Unfortunately for them, the major publishers don't control the market any more. They (and the NYT) are whistling past the graveyard.

I've been really disappointed with the pricing of eBooks.

A new book is available for pre-order, and here is the Amazon pricing:

Kindle – $26.35 Hardcover – $19.23 Audible – $27.61 Audio CD – $30.00

All logic suggests the electronic version should be cheaper. Prices like this will likely drive me, and others, to piracy.

Yes, the value of the book is what I am willing to pay for it, but I feel insulted by the pricing structure offered time and again.

Turns out Amazon knew what they were doing when they were selling ebooks for cheaper. The publishers come in with agency pricing and boom, sales plummet.

This is what is really frustrating about the article. It spends the entire first half boosting print books like there is something magical about them that prevents them from being disrupted like movies and TV were.

>E-books’ declining popularity may signal that publishing, while not immune to technological upheaval, will weather the tidal wave of digital technology better than other forms of media, like music and television.

And only until near the end of the article does it reveal the actual reason why print is far from dead.

>Higher e-book prices may also be driving readers back to paper.

The publishers put print books on life support by artificially inflating the prices of e-books. They are just delaying the inevitable in my opinion.

There is in fact something magical about printed books :-) Well, not magic, but books are not just the medium of data transfer, they are also integral part of the reading experience. This is unlike music, where it doesn't matter if you're playing the content from a CD or transferring it over the network. The feeling of reading a book will always be different from using a reading device, it doesn't matter how to great the device is. Once the novelty of e-readers wears off, you will start to see a steady-state of sales on paper and other media for books. It seems that it is already happening. I, for example, read books in printed as well as electronic forms. I use e-readers for the convenience, but there are some types of books that don't work in electronic format in my personal opinion - and I think there are lots of people like me.

Not surprising that print journalists in the publishing hub of the US are rooting for print.

That really depends on what you mean by that. With the initial release of the kindle, Amazon was selling major publisher new release ebooks for less than $10 by simply eating the difference between their wholesale cost and the markdown. Agency means Amazon gets a reliable 30% margin on them. All evidence supports that publishers are generally speaking selling exactly as many ebooks as they want to be selling, since they have granular control over pricing - it doesn't help digital readers, but it does keep a moat around their physical business, which ultimately serves print readers.

I buy most of my books on Kindle (like probably 90-95%). This includes a ton of indie books that are only available (or predominantly available) in electronic form. The only books I buy in print are books by major publishers, which are now more expensive on Kindle than they are in print (this is a new development in the past couple of years). Still, I find electronic more convenient (especially in the case of large books with lots of pages).

In my opinion, this isn't going to hold up long-term. Amazon makes a good point when they say that publishers will make more money (in the form of more copies sold) at a lower price, and I think that major publishers will eventually come around (either that or they will perish). To some degree, digital distribution obviates the need for traditional publishers, and as more popular authors start ditching publishers entirely, I predict that eBook prices will gradually drop, and print books will resume their decline.

> Prices like this will likely drive me, and others, to piracy.

Especially since ebooks are small enough that you can download them in seconds.

I love getting juiced for out-of-print books, especially ones that are in that gray area where the author and his direct descendants are dead and buried, but copyright lives on.

It's not just very old out-of-print books. There is a whole class of, for example, 10-20 year old fiction for which print copies are often readily available from Amazon sellers for the cost of shipping/handling ($3.99) or just a little more while the Kindle copy is still $9.99 or more. The thing is that I would much rather have the digital copy because I end up reading most of my books on planes or otherwise while traveling but it really bugs me to pay a big premium to do so.

If you're opposed to downloading these ebooks for free, you might consider getting an inexpensive used copy digitized.[0]

[1] http://1dollarscan.com/

>If you're opposed to downloading these ebooks for free

I sort of am although I realize the only net difference between buying a very cheap used book and downloading a free copy is to make a bookseller some place and the USPS a few pennies each.

I can't imagine going to the trouble of ordering a used copy and getting it digitized though.

Whats happening is that people are publishing large bundles of e-books in a single torrent. Or like music, every book from a particular author.

I think fiction published need to look at what is happening in Free to Play games and Kickstarter if they want the industry to survive.

Oh oh.. thats my Startup idea. Nobody steal it. Kickstarter for fiction. You go and read the first chapter and pay to get the rest of the book written. A good author should be able to raise 50-100k which should be enough to get a good story pumped out.

Leanpub also does this.

I keep looking at GitBook as well, although I don't see much on there I'm interested in reading.

Sorry, but that looks like Patreon...

Well, with an Audible subscription, that book is 1 credit, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of $10.

Speaking of which, I'm disappointed that audiobooks weren't broken out in the story - anecdotally, I know more people that listen to Audible/audiobooks regularly than use a Kindle (somewhat naturally, since most people carry a phone everywhere). So I sort of question the implication that people are returning to paper when a rising category has been excluded.

"I've been really disappointed with the pricing of eBooks."

E-book pricing is a bit of a mess in the EU. Many countries have a reduced rate of VAT on print books, For example, in the UK it's 0%, in France it's 5.5%.

However, the EU deems e-books an electronic service and has ruled that they should be charged at the full rate of VAT, not the reduced rate applied to print books. It's pretty ridiculous really.

In fact, France and Luxembourg have been applying reduced VAT rates to e-books for some time leading to the EU Court of Justice to rule that they are in breach of EU rules and must apply the full rate of VAT to e-books. A very consumer-unfriendly policy.

>All logic suggests the electronic version should be cheaper.

You get the same book either way. Why should it be cheaper. You could even argue that instant download to your kindle is a convenience worth paying for.

But it's silly that Amazon is selling them for more. Often times much more.

Indeed, it's a lesson many of us find very difficult to learn, that the price someone is willing to buy something at has little relationship to what it costs. This book is the best I've read on the subject: http://www.amazon.com/Walking-High-Tech-High-Wire-Entreprene...

But it's silly that Amazon is selling them for more. Often times much more.

Not by choice. Amazon tried to set some reasonable price points, and the big five refused to play ball (remember their conspiracy with Apple?), ultimately renegotiating their contracts to agency pricing. Which is why so many of their books cost so much now.

"You get the same book either way. Why should it be cheaper."

Because it's not being printed in China on slices of dead tree, shipped across the Pacific Ocean, shipped to a wholesaler, shipped to a retailer, sitting on expensive retail shelf space for months, and then (if it doesn't sell) being shipped back the other way for full credit?

Why should it not be cheaper?

If customers don't get their ebooks cheaper from the major publishing houses, they'll get them cheaper from someone else.

Logic actually suggests that publishers will optimize prices to benefit themselves - that they are still in business & increasingly profitable many years after their imminent demise was announced seems to suggest that they are not making a total mess of it.

What logic? The cost of the physical paper/ink is not what you are paying for. Some Kindle books have more features than the print versions as well. What about the ongoing server costs for Kindle book distribution and syncing?

When I can find recent books at thrift store prices, I'll be ready to convert.

To me, this is the best news I've heard all day.

See, used books made me - my local library as a kid was heavy on Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, and decades-old travel guides, not so much on other subjects. I very distinctly remember wanting to find Catch-22 and not only was it not available from my local, it wasn't available at any library in the county.

But used book stores didn't have that problem. I found my copy of Catch-22 in the back of a Goodwill store. Tolkien came out of a Salvation Army. Scores more came from library sales and yard sales, each a quarter or a dollar at a time.

Much of these books you can borrow for free on your kindle from a library though.

Unfortunately you still have to physically go to the library to get them sent to your kindle. It's almost worth $5-10 to me to not have to do that.

Edit: I think I need to have a chat with my library.

No you don't, at least not universally. I get mine sent to me, I think most libraries use the same system (Overdrive).

My library systems lets you check them out and download them completely online. Never need to leave the house.

One word: price. E-book prices have soared! Almost everything on Amazon is over $10 these days.

They're often going for more than the paperback price, and certainly more than the prices you'd find at a discount bookseller.

I imagine the ebook is the one both providing greater value, and having a harder time competing for production resources -- while paper may be overcapacity now.

Clearly the ebook is not providing greater value if demand is slack compared to paper books..

More bad information about the publishing business from the NY Times. Ebook sales aren't declining generally; it's big publisher ebook sales that are declining. Ebook sales for self-pubbed authors and indie publishers are growing rapidly. If you have any doubts about this, check out the authorearnings.com website, which tracks sales of ebooks on Amazon and other platforms.

Buried in the article is information from Amazon that ebook sales are continuing to rise. But this article isn't about ebook sales -- it's about big publisher ebook sales.

The article also says that dedicated ebook reader sales have declined. This is true but not because of a shift away from ebooks. It's that ebook reading is shifting to tablets and phones, a trend that is widely recognized in the industry, but not in this article.

The reason that big publishers (and some smaller publishers following the traditional model) are losing ebook sales is that, in the big Hachette - Amazon dustup last year, the big publishers won the ability to keep ebook prices ridiculously high and to prevent discounting by Amazon. So big publishers routinely price ebooks about the same or higher than paperbacks. Of course their ebook sales are suffering! But self-pubbed and indie publisher books are priced much lower than print books, and are of course gaining market share very quickly.

The NY Times reports on publishing are all biased toward big traditional publishers - after all, that's essentially what the Times is. (To the Times' credit, they have a public editor who critiques their stories, and the public editor has said that the last two major stories in the Times about Amazon failed to meet journalistic standards.) They ignore information like what's on authorearnings.com because they're trying to get people to believe there's a trend away from ebooks. There certainly are some people who decide what kind of book to buy according to what they think the latest trend is. But if you're looking for accurate information about the book business, don't expect it from the Times.

This is a misconception - it's like saying Hollywood is worried about Youtube celebs.

There was an episode on "What's the point" (a 538 podcast) where book publishers talked about how they use data in their industry. Publishers are primarily interested in cultivating "star" authors and use social media + a number of other signals to find them.

They were asked about it and basically said that the hostility between publishers and self-published authors is only perceived, and in reality the self-publishing makes it easier to find the star authors and pick them up.

Is this surprising when you are charged similarly for print and digital copies despite the production costs being nowhere near the same? Ebooks were supposed to be the cost effective, cut out the middlemen, pay the author directly format.

What wasn't accounted for was that the book indexers have no incentive to pass on their savings to the consumer.

edit: Let's not forget the artificial restrictions imposed by DRM, either. How difficult is it to share a digital book vs physical?

The production costs are probably not as different as you think. The variable cost of a hardcover book is in the neighborhood of a few dollars though the exact figure depends on the size of the print run and some of the costs are buried in the cut a distributor usually takes. (As a benchmark, an author-ordered PoD copy of my ~250 page trade paperback from Createspace costs $3.75 before shipping.)

So e-books should be cheaper than physical books, all other things being equal, but the cost difference isn't as much as many assume.

Publishers aren't that forthcoming on costs, but for large-print-run, mass-market paperbacks, numbers I've heard thrown about are a cost of less than $0.50/book. So I wouldn't expect much savings from going digital. Similar situation to software: the move from boxed software to digitally delivered software didn't make it any cheaper, because the cost of the box and CD-ROM was not really a significant part of the price.

It's not just that they have no incentive to pass on the savings, they actively do not want ebooks to become popular -- they've stated this outright at various points in their battles with Amazon, that their goal with ebook pricing/policies is to preserve their print business as much as possible, as they believe that's totally key to their future success.

Yes, pretty much like Kodak, which invented the digital camera, trying to kill it off/keep it expensive so it didn't cut into film sales.

How did that work out for them?

There was an interesting comment here about Kodak several months ago:


Yeap. DRM is the reason I don't buy e-books. When I am done with a book I want to be able to give it away or loan it out.

I have also discovered that the ebook is not fully stored on my tablet, so I can't read it offline. (Google books)

So forget e-books. If I buy a real book, I know I have the entire book!

Well, it's not surprising, but I'm not sure I agree with they psychology that ebooks should be cheaper. Pricing for books is not just a markup over marginal cost. I have this discussion every day in our office - our price is not based on our cost, our price is based on what our customer is willing to pay.

If the price of ebooks has gone up, the publishers are trying to find a balance of maximizing revenues and profit across the every distribution channel, while also taking into account any lost sales due to piracy.

Why should publishers give up rents to readers just because costs have gone down?

Presumably because if you don't, other publishers might, and they will get your customers.

For some weird reason, no publisher decided to do that. Except pirates, but they always do that.

Publishers may be okay at the moment, but I still think they're doomed. There's literally no barrier to entry in the publishing business, which is eventually going to break their pricing cartel.

As a reader without unlimited time the publishing industry acts as a barrier to entry which filters out the worst books... We need a robust reviewing system which filters out shill reviews.

You don't need a publishing industry for that; you just need book reviews.

Goodreads? And some critical reading skills to pick out the shills?

Why should I waste time on this? I know that books in the SciFi section of my local bookshop will have a certain minimum standard without needing to wade through some reviews.

You have a better local bookstore than I do. Mine is all Star Wars expanded universe dreck (last decade or so, in prequel land or tying into a children's cartoon), Star Trek fan-fiction, Halo novelizations, etc. With some classic Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Bova, and a very few other authors thrown in to class up the joint, although usually just the more well-known titles I've already read.

I'm lucky.

Sometime I wonder what the markering sales tag lines would be if the book was released after the e-book.

Zero battery usage. Spill friendly throw it away. Environmentally friendly fully recycable without ewaste. High contrast

If the price is similar, why go ebook unless you need it delivered right now? Ebook has an advantage of of library in your pocket, zero delivery time.

That's outweighed by the fact that I don't own the ebook in the same way I own the book. The book is mine to keep, loan, rent, throw away, donate, etc, in a way that's not governed by esoteric license agreements.

I can wait 2 days for that. If you can't wait, consider that if you buy a print book from Amazon that has an ebook available, Amazon will let you read the beginning of the book on your kindle app/device, until the paper book ships in.

Physical books still trump e-books for me, though I use both.

There is something nicer about a physical book which my e-reader is not able to replicate or replace.

I only buy ebooks these days. I love having access to the same material on any device without needing more bookshelves in my small apartment. However, I wish I didn't have to pay a premium for that convenience. I certainly cringe whenever I see a paperback price that's $2-3 cheaper than the ebook. I try not to even look at the used price.

Indie authors usually charge less.

I only buy physical books in "collector grade" hardcover form anymore, and those are very few and far between and mainly for display.

It's infinitely more convenient to do 99% of normal reading on an e-reader. The recent surge in ebook pricing from amazon/etc does nothing but drive me to other (cheaper) forms of entertainment/leisure. I'm not spending $25 on an ebook, I don't care if it's by a NY Times Bestselling Author.

$9.99 is comfortably within the "impulse purchase" range and still provides an enormous margin over cost of production/distribution. $20+ is well outside the "impulse purchase" range for an intangible product like an ebook.

Not to mention that a "free" copy is literally 20 seconds and a few clicks away.

E-ink readers are small and suited mostly to black-and-white paperback-sized novels or non-fiction. That still leaves an enormous number of books (perhaps the majority) that don't fit the paperback size such as illustrated children's book, or oversized books or...anything with a non-standard layout or larger than paperback-size. Plus, the lack of colour in e-ink readers remains a severe limitation.

E-books have taken their place alongside print but I don't think many people expected them to displace print books. Certainly not with the current crop of e-readers.

While lots of people are pointing to pricing as the reason for this decline, and that's obviously a big factor, I think you also have to look at the decline of the tablet here.

Phones just don't produce a really great reading experience. Actual computers are obviously never going to be a big market. Dedicated e-readers probably don't make sense to people who aren't voracious readers. And tablets are increasingly being squeezed out of the market.

>> Phones just don't produce a really great reading experience.

If i'm not mistaken, the kindle is 6".Many phone are 5.5" or 5" which isn't that different - especially with the fact you can control the zoom.

If I'm reading a book, I don't want to be zooming in and out. It's a pain to hold a phone one handed in a way that also promotes easy page turning without accidental page turning. Reading in bed while my partner sleeps is also a lot less intrusive on my Kindle than my phone (which annoys me too, as unless overridden, the brightness will be far too much in a dark room).

I love my iPhone/iPad. But they don't compare to the Kindle for reading experience, at least for me. I just wish color eInk would get here already.

Maybe. OTOH, at least part of the tablet decline can be attributed to market saturation and the lack of an impetus to upgrade. So there are still a lot of tablets out there.

You're probably right about the market for dedicated e-book readers although, they've also gotten very good for very little money.

One problem this article doesn't talk about is that people who get rejected from every publishing house (or who don't bother sending to traditional publishers) can now just throw their book on Amazon.

Ploughing through the slush pile was never seen as a fun job, so it's weird that the stuff in that pile is now being sold. http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2007/may/23/thesh...

There's no sensible way for me to find decent new content, so I stick to authors I already know (until they put out a duff book, where I drop them) or I read things like One Story which has let me discover some amazing writers. (eg Caitlin Horrocks http://www.amazon.co.uk/This-Is-Not-Your-City/dp/1932511911 )


Although any moron can self-publish a book, the serious ones stand apart with professional book covers and blurbs, marketing, and multiple novels.

The ones who "trend" well often get picked up by traditional publishers or movie studios (as was the case with Andy Weir's "The Martian.")

The traditional publishing industry consists of trend-chasers, not trend-setters.

So yes, the self-publishing world is full of raw sewage, but there are some diamonds and gems in that sewage--and they usually look shiny, with endorsements and professional covers.

I don't know my own reasoning, but I am part of this trend. I have owned every Kindle model from the very first up until the paperwhite. There were about 3 or 4 years where I did not read paper books. But recently I have gone to paper-only, and my Kindle sits uncharged. I can think of a few things I like about paper books (although I still love the Kindle):

  * Bookstores are awesome and getting a recommendation from an employee is much better than browsing Amazon.
  * Used books are cheap!  A used paperback is often cheaper than an eBook.
  * With paper I have sense of progress as I feel the right half of the book shrink as I read.
  * I can easily lend a friend a paper book, I have shared many books with people recently but with the Kindle they had to buy their own.
However I still think the Kindle paperwhite is one of the best single-purpose electronic devices ever (rivaling the iPod Classics). Amazing screen, lightweight, fairly cheap, etc. It's just made to read with, unlike an iPad or a laptop.

I've got a Kindle Paperwhite which I've used every so often but I still prefer 'wads of dead tree' books. I bought it thinking 'hey this is the future!' and expecting myself to get a lot of use out of it but I just haven't really. Last five books I've read have been physical copies. The only use I really get out of it now is if I want something on short notice and am not willing to wait for a physical delivery, which isn't often.

People cite the storage space of e-books as a plus for using them over paper books, so you can have lots of books when you're on the move. I've never understood this though. When I'm commuting to work, or travelling on a plane or something, how likely is it I'm going to read two or more books in one sitting?

I can see it if you need lots of technical texts at hand for reference or something, but most people use e-books to read novels and I don't understand why you need your entire library of novels at your fingertips while you take the train 40 minutes to another town. You're not going to read two or more books in that travel time.

If I'm sitting at home I will always prefer a hard copy of whatever I'm reading. In spite of how awesome people claim e-ink to be now I still find it much easier and more relaxing to read from paper, especially if it's a technical manual. Perhaps it's because I'm staring at computer screens all day at work, and when I program at home or play games. The last thing I want when reading for pleasure and to relax is to stare down at another screen.

Plus there is something meditative in the act of reading from a physical copy that I just don't get from an electronic device.

Then there is the issue of DRM which I am against in forms, and the dumb prices that are charged for e-books.

One thing I've noticed since using an e-reader that I've not heard anyone else mention, is that I've become far less happy with the quality of print and the quality of the paper in the physical books I'm buying. I once read a book [1] that had unusually high quality paper which made it noticeably denser and the pages had more flex in them, which made one handed reading a doddle. It wasn't flawless, as the print would smudge if I rubbed my slightly moist fingers against it.

Still, every time I go to a book now I'm usually thinking "the type is too large" or "that font is awful" or "the paper is too thick".

I think it's time the industry had another look at how paperbacks in particular should look and feel, given the influence of the e-reader.

1: http://www.amazon.com/Unreliable-Sources-20th-Century-Report...

Multiple reasons why as a keen reader (a whale to the print publishing industry) I don't use ebooks.

- DRM: When I pay for a book I want it on any of my devices my whole life and I don't want to have to strip some crappy DRM first.

- price: I can't justify how much more ebooks cost.

- battery life: I get bored having to keep my existing devices charged I don't need another one to keep charged.

- First sale: one has the right to lend physical books to friends and family, to me this social aspect is part of the reading experience.

- Tracking: I like that I can buy a book for cash and no one counts how many pages I read and when I read it. Books are partly about intellectual freedom and tracking is the enemy of intellectual freedom.

- Difficult to keep my place: For technical books I can look stuff up in books I know based upon rough location very quickly. E-reader devicies (in my opinion) need more skeumorphism.

The NYTimes misinterpreted the AAP data it reported: http://the-digital-reader.com/2015/09/23/nytimes-mistakes-le...

A more complete look at the ebook market paints a very different picture: http://fortune.com/2015/09/24/ebook-sales/ https://stratechery.com/2015/are-ebooks-declining-or-just-th...

What's the current law regarding resale of ebooks? Do I "own" them or am I merely licensing them?

You do not own them.

It's definitely the price of ebooks. I started purchasing tangible books again in the last six months. They end up being almost always the same price as the ebook on Amazon, so I just donate the book to the public library when I am done with it.

Could it just be the increased prices publishers forced on Amazon/ebooks? If a hardcover books costs the same as the ebook, I am also tempted to buy the hardcover.

The thinking is that I can sell it once i have read it, but I tend to forget about the hassles associated with physical stuff. The ebook would still be the better choice for me, but human psyche is too easily fooled.

Anyway, I expect that to be just a temporary "victory" for hardcover books.

I also seem to remember William Gibson tweet that the losses in ebook sales are mainly in young readers who can't afford the pricier versions, but I have no source for that.

So maybe both ebook and hardcover will simply lose out to YouTube.

One of the reasons that I don't buy more e-books is because my Kindle's battery charge is often depleted. Somewhere along the line, Amazon changed airplane mode such that ads are still displayed all the time.

I haven't been an avid reader for the last year or two, and when I do get the urge, I pick up my Kindle only to find the battery is dead. While it's charging, I find something else to do. By the time I get the urge to read again, the battery is depleted again.

When you're an avid reader who remembers to charge his device regularly, the Kindle is great. When you're an intermittent reader, it just another electronic brick.

I actually prefer to read scanned paperbacks on my ereader rather than the ebook versions. With my Samsung tablet they are the same size as a paperback, and the display looks like a paperback page. I like the typography, layout, and general imperfections of a scanned page. The letters are all slightly different, and are imperfectly placed. Ebooks are a bit too perfect and sterile.

I'd like to take it a step further and have the background be a scanned blank page, again so it looks a bit imperfect like paper does.

I buy the paperbacks, scan them (takes 5-10 minutes), then throw the book into the recycle bin.

How can you scan a paperback book in 10 minutes?

Curious about the kind of hardware-software set up that allows to do that in 10 minutes

Cut off the binding and use a sheet feeding scanner. Turning the pages sideways runs them through twice as fast.

> I buy the paperbacks, scan them (takes 5-10 minutes), then throw the book into the recycle bin.

Poe's law is pinging.

I just assumed he had a multi sheet scanner and cut off the binding.

This for me is good news. I love reading printed books. If it's a novel, then I enjoy being able to relax, away from an electronic screen, and go into another world for a time. I also love the feel and smell of books, and the cover art work. And browsing a book store to find my next read is, for me, much more of a pleasure than browsing Amazon. Also, there's something nice about a well filled bookshelf, and nosing through someone else's gives you a great sense of who that person is.

I am not surprised. I wanted to buy a book and found the physical book price was $39 but I could get it used for about $8. The ebook was $28. Even without the used price option I would have rather had the physical book for the price difference between $39 and $28.

Ebooks would be more worthwhile to me at the current prices IF you could get updated versions of the book (errata not new content).

For me a lot of the slow down has to do with how transparent it has made the publisher price model. I can buy a new book today for $15.00, wait a year and get it for $10, or wait longer and maybe get it for $5, if I haven't gotten it out of the library by then. Publishers want to tax me for my impatience, and I'm not going to fall for it.

The same thing is trashing the indie video game market on PC. Why buy a full-price game (unless you absolutely must have it now), when you can keep your ears open and snag it for pennies on a Humble Bundle deal, or at 10-25% on a Steam sale?

When I'm 85 I'll still be able to open a book I bought in 2012 and read it.

Text on paper ain't never changing file format.

You make an excellent point. With the prevalence of DRM and ownership, someday you might not be able to read your book, either due to old unsupported device or a format, or even the company going bankrupt. Even if neither of this happens, at some point the standards will change. If you don't use the "cloud" and risk the lockout, you will probably need to backup you information. The hardware changes, physical books don't. This is a worry for some.

   You wont be able to read it without using a magnifying glass or maybe even hold it up with your hands because of its weight if its a big heavy book. 

EPUB is HTML, and that's not going anywhere, either.

Op is talking about time-spans longer than we've had the internet. Don't flatter yourself by thinking you can predict the future.

( Ironically, neither Firefox nor Opera opened a .epub file out-of-the-box. So much for compatibility. )

HTML still isn't going anywhere. Not with trillions of pages, it isn't.

We can still read cuneiform writing, and that's been around considerably longer.

"Ironically, neither Firefox nor Opera opened a .epub file out-of-the-box. So much for compatibility. "

An EPUB is a collection of ZIPed HTML files. Change the extension to .ZIP, unzip, open.

ZIP isn't going anywhere, either.

You are taking a strawman position. Take a look at the bigger picture, my other comment, and reevaluate.

True but html has the advantage of being a text based markup. The chances are that a text editor in 2050 will open an epub are fairly high. I don't know what the odds of being able to view a 2015 .mobi file at all in 2050 is.

I'm wondering if the downvoters really think that plain text will be unreadable in 35 years? Seems strange. I can open asci files from the 1970's just fine today...

  Big 5 publishers eBook sales have declined becuase of agency pricing. Overall eBook sales have not declined.

A recent WSJ article suggests that the recent price increases in ebooks have caused both the drop in sales of ebooks and a drop in overall revenue for the publishers.


If they priced the e-books a bit more reasonably then they'd sell more.

I'd be willing to pay 10 bucks for a thousand page views of any books from Google Books (not all from a single book). I like to dig around. A page view should count as a page where I spent more than 5 seconds. What counts for me most is the full text search with highlight capability, and of course, the sheer number of books they have in there.

A single book should be much cheaper. I see ebooks priced at 100 bucks in the Google Books store.

To be honest the paying per page view somehow rubs me the wrong way. It'll make me think about cost whilst enjoying the book which I don't want.

I just want a reasonable price. e.g. I bought a book today. 10 GBP for paper. 5 for ebook. Thats pretty reasonable. Still good money but acknowledges that the real life costs are much lower. If its like 3% cheaper then thats just devoid of any link to real costs.

This article just feels irrelevant and completely out of touch. As many people have pointed out here, e-books are insanely popular, just not necessarily through the traditional distributors.

Personally, I also believe that there's only one reason why the paper book isn't far less popular than it is, and it's entirely temporary.

Get out of the tech-minded echo chamber and ask a person why they would still buy a paper book when they could buy an e-book, and they'll pretty much only respond with "paper books just feel right to me".

The problem is completely unrelated to pricing. Since the beginning of time, people have comfortably navigated the sliding price structure of books. Some people want to buy the next Hunger Games on day 1, and they pay $39.99 to buy the hardcover and find out what happens to Katniss. Some people wait until the hype dies down. Some people borrow from a friend, and yes, some people still go to the library. And those exact same rules apply to e-books.

The entire conversation just reeks of idiocy and a bunch of industry coalitions blindly grasping around for places to point fingers because they apparently are overlooking the simple thing that everybody constantly says. I've already said it, but I'll say it again:

"Paper books just feel right to me."

Steve Jobs had a beautiful intuition about peoples' relationships with technology. It was a skill that's so painfully rare that he's still known as basically the only guy capable of figuring out what would make an advanced piece of technology attractive to an average person. Sadly, he was completely wrong about the iPad being an acceptable replacement for a book, and I feel like many people are continuing to follow him down the wrong path.

This has nothing to do with distribution and pricing. It has nothing to do with the cost of manufacturing an e-book being far less than a paper book. People still pay tons of money for games on Steam.

The single problem is that e-readers aren't good. They're garbage. That's it. Amazon is the clear leader, but it's not good enough. For anyone who wants to dominate the e-reader industry, here's your free advice:

1. Make an e-reader with a beautiful e-paper screen capable of displaying full color.

2. Make the screen refresh very quickly

3. Give it sensible touch gestures that you never accidentally trigger, and give it very useful physical buttons.

4. Make sure it can do everything a book can do. Can you quickly thumb through a 500 page novel on a kindle? Nope. Can you easily write something in the margin? Nope. Can you bookmark your current reading position, and also earmark a few other favorite spots in the book? Nope.

5. Give it a non-tech appearance. Make the damn thing out of wood.

6. Sell it in 3 sizes from day 1: The current standard paperback-ish size, as well as a smaller smartphone-sized one, and finally a large one, like ~15 inches.

Aside from the challenges of building a better color e-paper screen with great refresh, the others are just so obvious and so stupidly ignored. I'm actually frustrated just writing this. Make the e-reader personal, make it a lovable object. People will not stop throwing their money at this.

>1. Make an e-reader with a beautiful e-paper screen capable of displaying full color.

Color drains battery life. Let this be a 2nd/3rd gen thing. Few books will take advantage of full illustrations. This, however, can be huge for children's books.

>2. Make the screen refresh very quickly

From my hardly-ever-use of a few e-readers. Is this really a problem?

>3. Give it sensible touch gestures that you never accidentally trigger, and give it very useful physical buttons.

Physical buttons are a dying out thing and a signal of you being part of an older generation. ;) The people I speak to hate physical buttons. While I also love actual, physical buttons, it's a dying fashion over touch.

>4. Make sure it can do everything a book can do. Can you quickly thumb through a 500 page novel on a kindle? Nope. Can you easily write something in the margin? Nope. Can you bookmark your current reading position, and also earmark a few other favorite spots in the book? Nope.

This needs entirely specialized/new software. DRM also limits the usefulness of such features. Adding a highlighting/favorites feature akin to Slack that you can easily browse on a per-book level would be a huge jump forward.

>5. Give it a non-tech appearance. Make the damn thing out of wood.

People want flashy. Make it shiny, not wood-like. Even books aren't wood-like tomes. Additional cases/skins/stickers are for personalization, not the form-factor itself.

>6. Sell it in 3 sizes from day 1: The current standard paperback-ish size, as well as a smaller smartphone-sized one, and finally a large one, like ~15 inches.

Two words: production costs. E-books and e-readers need to be popular before this can be a thing. Or huge, risk-taking investments need to occur. Which is unlikely.

"Color drains battery life. Let this be a 2nd/3rd gen thing. Few books will take advantage of full illustrations. This, however, can be huge for children's books."

1 - aren't we past generation 1 of eBook readers? Color might drain battery life more, but my Voyage gets well over 100 hours with Wifi off, even using the adaptive backlight. How much more is needed?

The thing about physical buttons is that they make more sense on an e-reader than a tablet. It's not an input-heavy device, it doesn't need such a versatile input mechanism. It's primarily an output device, and the design should reflect that. Use buttons, which aren't as versatile as a touch screen, and keep the actual screen clean.

There are three huge problems that e-books haven't solved, which has been holding them back.

First, consumer surplus. (Read this if you haven't: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/CamelsandRubberDuckie...) Printed books use different editions and market availability to segment the market and bring in a significant amount of consumer surplus revenue. e-books have very weak mechanisms to capture consumer surplus, and that represents a huge potential loss of revenue. In theory it might be possible to make that up on the other end with higher volume (see, for example, steam sales and humble bundles) but so far e-book sales models have been too constrained to enable that to happen very often.

Second, commodity pricing. This is a big problem across the board in a lot of media (games, movies, music, etc.) but e-books have just doubled down on the same model. Books are not like dried beans, you don't just go to a store and buy books by the pound, but that's the model the industry has increasingly been rushing towards. With only popularity as the sole determinant of total revenue. This is a massively flawed model that hurts many talented writers and perverts the market in unhealthy ways.

Third, ownership. People with physical books can gift them to others, or sell them, or loan them. They can let their friends, their children, their other relatives, or their family's friends borrow them and read them. They are a profound asset of learning and shared culture. An e-book, however, is still by default a jealously guarded personal possession that cannot be easily loaned, sold, gifted, or inherited. Given the importance of books, this is a profound disadvantage of e-books.

Fourth, vendor lock-in. The average user experience with e-books represents a substantial dependency on a particular corporation (such as Amazon). If, say, Amazon went out of business it could be especially difficult to gain access to ones Amazon purchased e-books. Imagine, for example, some sort of world-wide disaster, and now there are no more new kindles, no more Amazon, etc. What happens when your one device storing all your books finally dies? This is similar to the ownership problem. Buying an e-book today is partly making a bet that the company that sold you that e-book will be around for as long as that book is relevant. Given the history of both corporations and of books, that's actually not a very smart bet.

e-books have a lot of short-term advantages but they have a lot of long-term disadvantages, at least as they exist today. That's not an intractable problem but it's one that so far the big powers in the e-book world have been deaf to hearing.

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