Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

I don't buy ebooks, and this is just one reason. This is the complete list:

1. For some reason they cost a similar amount to print books

Sometimes a bit less, sometimes the same, sometimes more. Distributing a physical book means you have to print, handle, store, transport, store again, handle again and transport again (using a simplified model of the journey a book takes to the end user). That costs money, and it costs effectively $0 to get an ebook to a user. I don't see that saving being passed on to me, the consumer.

Not only that, you're generally paying for less than you get with a physical book in terms of rights and (IMO convenience)

2. You can't (or maybe you can) lend them freely.

Last I checked there were limits on lending with the kindle/amazon. Maybe that's changed, but I don't want to have to think about that, I just want to lend the book to someone.

3. You can't give them to someone.

Maybe this has changed since I last looked, but passing on the book to someone else and it now being "theirs" isn't possible. Again perhaps that's changed these days.

3. Cognitive overhead

Can I do this stuff? Can't I? How do I do it? I don't want to have to think about that. Last week I gave a book to my daughter by just putting it on her desk. It was easy.

4. Longevity

In 10 years will I still be able to access my books? 20? Yes, because they're over there, on a shelf.

If ebooks cost a fraction of what they cost today then I would totally consider them. It's a tradeoff. Right now ebooks don't swing the balance towards them.

All your points are dead on. I'll throw in these cons as well:

5. visibility (as noted by angrygoat) and browseability is terrible.

6. Flipping through an ebook looking for something is impossible.

7. Illustrations or drawings are rendered terribly.

The list of pros of ebooks:

1. It's just a better experience. Ebooks are lighter than their equivalent books, easy to use one-handed, fonts can be adjusted, you can carry as many as you want with no extra weight, you can search within a book, you have access with wifi to your entire library at any point in time without having to fill up a cramped apartment. Browsing for books to read is terrible, but I can browse at my local B&N and then buy the ebooks on Amazon (which makes me terrible, but what can you do).

In balance, this means that I've switched almost entirely to ebooks.

The objections that you give (1-4) are the ones that are fixable by hoisting the Jolly Roger. This a step I am reluctant to take but if point 1 keeps going in this direction, then I can't really convince myself that I can justify the cost. A literally out-of-print book [1] selling for $13 is so outlandish that it makes my head spin. A book where the e-book is twice as expensive as the paperback [2]? What on earth is going on here.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/dp/B009FKTTMQ

[2] https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003XT605Y

> visibility (as noted by angrygoat) and browseability is terrible

Great point. I picked up The Linux Programming Interface from a Humble Bundle, knowing nothing about it, and my first impression was "This is a terrible book: very dry and not engaging." My manager mentioned it was excellent, though, so I actually picked up a hard copy, and then I saw what was going on: it's a Linux textbook, not the kind of programming book you'd really read from cover to cover.

I know this story sort of shows my cluelessness a little, but it also shows how having the ten-pound tome on my desk gave me insights into how the book was meant to be interacted with, that the ebook didn't.

Technical books are the exception for me. My entire library of physical books today is almost entirely technical books. Fiction and nonfiction are all ebooks. I read about a (fiction/nonfiction) book a week and am almost always also working on a technical book in the background (I run a technical book club in my company's engineering department).

> The objections that you give (1-4) are the ones that are fixable by hoisting the Jolly Roger.

I think that that's solving the wrong problem. Just pirating ebooks that are offered under crappy Amazon and B&N style licensing agreements may get you a book that's more palatable to you, but it doesn't do anything to improve the ebook market itself.

There are many, many publishers selling DRM-free ebooks out there, and manufacturers of e-readers that don't try to lock you in. If people who don't like DRM aren't willing to help them make money at what they're trying to do, they're going to go away, and DRM is going to become an even more pervasive problem because of it.

It's true that their offerings can be more expensive. They're smaller outfits and can't afford to be vicious with economies of scale the way Amazon can. This is one of those spots where "freedom ain't free" is a statement you can take quite literally.

> but it doesn't do anything to improve the ebook market itself


I don't want to have to change the world first and then read the books I want to read. For the moment I'm willing to pay, but I'm inches away from opting out.

I've even seriously considered building or purchasing a bulk book scanner and just ripping old mass market paperbacks for personal use. Or starting some sort of collective that does this.

The signal that I want to send to Amazon (and, as I understand it, to the publishing houses that desperately want to kill ebooks in general and are trying to do so by forcing Amazon to honor their price floors) is that the prices are just too high. They could dramatically increase revenue simply by lowering the prices. A premium for "early access" is fine -- if I want to buy a book the day that it is released, I'm willing to pay a "hardcover" premium. But I want the option to wait for the "trade paperback" price or the "mass market paperback" price, or the "gently used" price.

The DRM stuff I don't like but I'm not as passionate about, especially since I'm confident that Amazon will stick around a while. 84% of the reason that I accrued a personal physical book library (instead of borrowing from a library or donating or selling books after I've read them) over the years is with the memory of browsing my own parent's book collections and discovering amazing things and wanting to pass that experience on to my children. Amazon has their "family library" concept, so even though the browsing experience is currently terrible, I hope some day it will be better and all the ebooks I have acquired will afford my children the same experience as I had.

> The signal that I want to send to Amazon... is that the prices are just too high. They could dramatically increase revenue simply by lowering the prices.

They might be too high for you, on the specific books you want to read. But cutting book prices to maximize book revenues is Amazon's first and oldest game, and I have a hard time believing that they suddenly became clueless about how to play it when they entered (created, really) the ebook market.

Offhand, I can think of two explanations for the price of Amazon ebooks that seem much more likely. I'm not sure if either are true, but I wouldn't be surprised both are:

First, it could be that they have agreements with publishers, who have an interest in keeping the price of Amazon (and Nook) ebooks relatively high in order help keep non-Amazon booksellers in business. They've seen what Wal-Mart does to suppliers, and naturally would want to guard against ending up in that situation.

Second, it could be that Amazon has figured out that they really do maximize Kindle revenues when they don't discount their ebooks very cheaply. That would be the case if Kindle readers generally buy what they want when they want to read it, regardless of a few bucks' difference in the book price. (It's not beyond the pale to think that might be true of people who, almost by definition, are willing to spend $1-200 on an e-reader.) Or, alternatively, they've found that they can price discriminate more effectively through their subscription service.

I think the publishers strong-armed Amazon on this one. For a long time Hatchette would not allow Amazon to list its books unless they supported a price floor, and Amazon refused to comply. Eventually [1], Amazon crumbled, and now the prices are mandated across the board.

Your assessment (protecting non-Amazon booksellers, or Walmartization of the book market) is generous, and probably correct. My less generous assessment is that the publishers would prefer to completely kill off ebooks, lest authors notice that by employing a skilled editor they can just sell their books directly to customers for a fraction of what a book publisher charges, if they can live without the marketing spend and the addictive pull of advances on sales revenues.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/13/amazon-hachett...

> It's just a better experience.

That's rather subjective which is why I left most of this stuff out. Some people really like reading on a kindle or iPad, I don't particularly (the Kindle is "OK").

> Ebooks are lighter than their equivalent books

It depends on the book TBH. A lot will be heavier, many won't. The book I'm currently reading ("Medium Raw" by Anthony Bourdain) is 49g heavier than a kindle (the cheapest in the UK), which for me is effectively the same as 0g in terms of wether I will notice.

I am a relatively strong man, throwing a book or two into my bag doesn't make a difference to me.

Of course, if I were to carry my entire library around that would be a significantly different story :) But then I just pick books I want to read and take them, and if I change my mind later I do something else.

> easy to use one-handed

Never had a problem with this.

> fonts can be adjusted

Never wanted to do this.

> you can search within a book

I rarely want to do this, so it's not a particularly big deal when I can't.

> you have access with wifi to your entire library at any point in time without having to fill up a cramped apartment

I mentioned in another comment, I am lucky in that I don't have that issue where I live. The balance might be altered if I lived in a small Tokyo apartment (for instance) however.

> The objections that you give (1-4) are the ones that are fixable by hoisting the Jolly Roger.

I can buy ebooks and strip the DRM if I want, I tried it (on ebooks I legitimately bought) so I could make sure I always had the book. It was a PITA and didn't (for me) swing the pendulum enough to choose ebooks.

>> fonts can be adjusted >Never wanted to do this

You are probably young. Trust me -- when you are approaching 50, if not sooner, this is extremely helpful. And my father in his 80s has started reading again because he can make the fonts on his Kindle basically gigantic. There are of course a small number of printed books in large print editions, but ebooks allow this to be done on any book.

For better experience I don't know if I can convince you -- the Kindle Oasis is just ridiculously ergonomic. I'm a voracious reader. Reading a paperback without breaking the spine is an annoyance that I'm glad to have put behind me. Reading a full-size hardcover is just not doable one-handed or lying on your side in bed. The front light is easy on the eyes at night and doesn't disturb other sleepers in your bed. I've tried to go back especially to re-read treasured classics, like Hitchiker's Guide, and just went ahead and bought the e-book version.

> I am a relatively strong man, throwing a book or two into my bag doesn't make a difference to me.

I've put a lot of work and streamlining into not carrying a bag at all. Carrying my kindle in my back pocket or jacket pocket is easy enough. Similarly carrying a book depends on the book.

> > easy to use one-handed

> Never had a problem with this.

How do you turn pages? I used to have to do the awkward reverse flip - half close - move finger - let hang - flip up, or just free up my other hand for a second. On a crowded train neither of these work particularly well.

I'll bear the Oasis in mind if I see it.

> I've put a lot of work and streamlining into not carrying a bag at all.

I mostly have to carry a laptop so getting rid of my bag isn't an option. When I do leave my bag at home I might put a slim book into my pocket (I've got "The old man and the sea" to read at some point) or I'll read the news on my phone, listen to music, or just sit and think.

I did streamline my wallet though. Thin nylon all-ett wallet, one card, some cash.

> How do you turn pages?

I mostly free my other hand (it's rare I'm doing something particularly involved with my "spare" hand while reading). This is mostly in the form of "put down my up of tea for a moment". If I'm in the kitchen I might put the book down on it's back and use the reading hand to turn the page while also holding it open.

I only consider the option for ebooks in linear reading ones, like novels. For non linear ones I don't, so cookbooks (cooking or any other subject) or manuals I can't use them , I need paper. And you're right don't even began talking if there's a diagram/image/map.

Definitely, and I should have included that caveat. Kindle/epaper is ideal for linear books in my mind, but for non-linear, paper still rules, though I'm hopeful that some day someone will figure out a better way to use phones/tables for accessing that sort of content.

Cookbooks are strange. With the number of recipes out there in electronic form it seems like the tide has shifted, but I still buy cookbooks for general cooking stuff, and still find myself printing out recipes that I find online (like an old person!) so that I can actually use them in a kitchen environment.

Technical books, reference books, textbooks seem so incredibly natural for an interactive format, but I'm not aware of anyone that has cracked this. The closest metaphor I've found is having tabs in a browser, so I can store a limited history of my exploration of a topic, but it rapidly becomes an unnavigable mess.

I do the same with recipes, the ones I find interesting on the net I import them to a recipe manager (Gourmet) but when I'm going to use them I print them and keep the paper copy in a folder .

> A literally out-of-print book [1] selling for $13 is so outlandish that it makes my head spin.

You got that completely backwards. The book is freaking out of print. You can’t buy a physical copy anymore without a lot of effort. $13 seems a fair deal for conveniently getting a book you’d otherwise have a hard time obtaining.

For that matter, out of print books being rare and thus more valuable and selling for (sometimes much) higher prices are not unheard of in the physical world either.

I buy ebooks for two reasons:

1) To give some money to the authors (I'd rather bitcoin them)

2) Because it is a reasonable format for books I'll read once from start to finish.

Searchability is baloney in most cases (index is better), and it's definitely not a better experience, even on paperwhite type technology -the only way any sane person should read an ebook other than quick lookups. I de-drm everything, because it's mine, so that's not a consideration.

Textbooks, ebooks are basically useless unless you're remote and have no other options (and in this case; koreader on rooted hardware). It's for novels, philosophy, history books which are for fun; that sort of thing.

I read a lot of textbooks in DRM free eBook format lately, strictly for the weight. However, some of my books have licenses on them stating its a crime to even create a copy and worded so poorly that even personal backups are illegal, and I certainly am not allowed to share them with family members, resell, or let somebody inherit it. Same for almost all of my DRM free audiobooks. I don't find this acceptable when it comes up.

> Flipping through an ebook looking for something is impossible

If you're looking for something in an ebook, wouldn't it be easier and more effective to just search for it?

Much of the time, which is why I highlighted search. But especially for technical books, being able to put your finger in one place and flip back to where you are and glance back at where you are holding your finger is a physical metaphor that does not translate. Similarly for maps or lists.

"Wait, didn't that character die in the last chapter" is easily solved by flipping back a couple of chapters. If you search for the right thing you can find it too, but it's relatively painful for quick checks.

I mix eBooks and physical copies, and I agree with your list, but here are a couple advantages of eBooks:

1. Space -- I have an entire closet full of books. Every time I buy another physical book, I am slowly crowding myself out of a little more space in my apartment. Electronic copies take up no physical space.

2. Can read anywhere (using my phone). I don't like this for every book, but some books are good for reading in little bite-sized chunks. I read a page here and a page there while I'm taking a break at work, waiting at the post office, whatever. The constant availability makes it a lot easier to increase my reading bandwidth vs. trying to always have a physical book on me. Plus variety--I have hundreds of books in my pocket at any given moment, and can choose whatever I'm in the mood for.

Regarding space, totally, and I realise I am fortunate that I live in a reasonably sized suburban house (at least in terms of space). If I lived in a house share, in SF or in Tokyo I might feel differently.

The one thing I would say is that I do have to dump books sometimes due to space. That's no bad thing, there's not a hell of a lot of books that I actually want to keep forever.

Between ebooks and my local public library, I purged my entire personal (physical) library.

I never understood the argument that ebooks should cost less. The price of a good usually isn't determined by the cost to manufacture and sell. Why should books be different?

For me, I'll pay more for an ebook than a paperback because it's a more valuable format for me. Aside from being more compact and searchable, I can select a larger font. If it's more valuable, why shouldn't it cost more?

One thing we do agree on though is that DRM on books should be banned. At the absolute minimum, it should have a failsafe built in so that users never lose their books and when copyright expires, all protection is removed.

Good for you that you get more value out of them. I won't pay more though, because I personally have less rights and convenience with ebooks.

There's also an element of being taken for a ride here. I can afford the $8 snickers bar from the minibar in the hotel, but I won't buy it because I feel like someone is taking the piss. Attempting to use their position to extort me.

Same for ebooks. When your costs are lower, but you're charging more, I'm not going to buy the book because though I can afford the book I feel like I'm being somehow extorted.

How are you taken for a ride? The kindle version is almost always cheaper than the retail price of the physical version, and usually cheaper than the discounted price as well.

I can find examples on Amazon where the ebook is less, the same as, or more expensive than the physical copy.

Well, yeah, there are no absolutes, but it's usually something like the book has just been remaindered and not a permanent situation or is a textbook. In general if you're picking up something current the ebook is a few dollars less, which seems right for printed material.

Typically, the price of books is largely a function of the costs of manufacture and distribution. There are some fixed, up-front costs that don't vary with print run (editorial, typesetting, proofreading, cropyediting and so on), which is why a bestseller novel is way more profitable than a complex academic book that is expensive to produce and limited in sales, even though you're probably spending more on royalties and marketing support for that.

For ebooks, you can reduce your distribution costs (there's some cost of creating the file and distributing it, but you don't have shipping costs or returns), but of course you still need to make back your fixed costs. I manage ebook production for a university publisher (but I have no say on pricing decisions, only the technical stuff), and for us, the savings for ebooks doesn't really translate into a big price difference, because our fixed costs are such a large part of our expenses. In our market, ebooks still don't amount to a big percentage of sales, because the reader technology doesn't provide enough support for complex books.

I do argue as much as I can against DRM, but so far I have lost that fight.

> Typically, the price of books is largely a function of the costs of manufacture and distribution.

I don't think that's always true. The cost to print and ship hard cover vs paperback books is less than the price difference between the two.

I'm surprised about ereaders not supporting what you need for complex books. When I looked at Apple's version of epub it I thought it was pretty impressive. The Kindle format is more limited, but if you can represent something with html, css, and javascript, iBook should work.

You’re right. It’s pretty much never true. The publishing costs are dominated by the fixed costs.

The price of a good usually isn't determined by the cost to manufacture and sell. Why should books be different?

When the market structure of a good results in full competition, then the cost of a good is going to tend toward the cost of producing the good plus basic profit (if a company raises prices past this, another company can enter the market to produce the good more cheaply).

When the market structure of a good involves an effective monopoly, the cost will tend to whatever price the monopoly thinks will generate the most total profit (and that depends on the supply curve).

Naturally, you have markets that inbetween these two poles (economists talk about oligopolies and "monopolistic competition").

As far as what the price of books should be, if you think of a publisher as naturally having monopoly since each book is unique, then it makes sense for ebooks to not cost less. But if you imagine a look of books could be substituted for other books (one c++ manual versus another) then it makes sense for the price of ebooks to be less than that of regular books.


Actually the price of a good is almost always the cost to manufacture and sell. If it were not, someone else would manufacture and sell it at cost. Bear in mind that the profit inherent in captialism corresponds to the cost of the capital required to run the manufacturing and sales process.

Of course, goods fall on a commodity range. Some things are entirely fungible, others less so. The less fungible a good is, the more the cost can move away from the cost to produce.

Books sound like they aren't fungible - after all one title isn't an exact replacement for another. But, they are quite fungible in the sense that one murder mystery can in some sense substitute for another.

Very few things are not fungible at all.

I agree with all of this, but I'd add:

5. Visibility

A physical library can be browsed, including by a visitor, and serve a useful social purpose.

I often find it interesting to see what books someone has on their shelves, and it can lead to interesting discussions. I can't recall a time when I've discussed the contents of a Kindle library with someone.

If you so desire, Kindle has GoodReads integration. I don't personally bother, but when I talk books with people online they'll occasionally link me their list :)

To the price thing:

The fact that you have to store print books is a factor in why they can be cheaper. It costs money to maintain inventory - both the physical costs associated with warehousing those books, and the opportunity costs associated with devoting space to them instead of other books you might sell more profitably.

That creates an incentive to cut costs on books that aren't moving quickly, in order to get them out of your warehouse. No such incentive exists for ebooks, so the incentive to keep on charging the sticker price in order to keep yourself out of a JC Penny's situation becomes relatively stronger.

Not to say that this isn't a valid reason to like print books. Just wanted to point out there can be legitimate economic reasons for this sort of situation.

Piracy is a good option for popular titles and for more smaller titles usually you can get an epub version outside of the amazon store so buying is still a good option.

A good option, but unfortunately technical, is to buy ebooks and strip the DRM so that you can keep them outside of the store's ecosystem, back them up, read them in your choice of reader, etc. This is also useful for library ebooks.

I once looked into cracking the DRM on Amazon ebooks (that I had bought legitimately). It worked, but was a PITA.

No idea what you tried but I use the deDRM plugin in Calibre and it is very easy. If gen lib doesn't have the mobi, epub, or pdf I just buy it on amazon, and strip the drm so i can send it directly to my friends.

It was using Calibre. I may have different ideas about what is a PITA to you though. Whatever, the effort involved, + my other points didn't move the needle far enough for me to choose books.

Correct your first sentence and I agree with everything you said.

I don't buy ebooks at amazon.

I have hundreds of books in my collection. You will never catch me buying a book with drm on it. Get drm-free ebooks from a store or from project Gutenberg-type places.

Publishers can request DRM-free regime. Tor does on both Amazon and iBooks as a matter of policy, there are others.

I love my Kindle but because of similar reasons I am usually reluctant to buy any book on it. In my mind, whenever I buy a book for Kindle I assume it is long term rental and one day it would go away.

The things I like about Kindle are:

1. Reading at night. This is number one reason for me. With Popsocket on back, I can hold Kindle for hours in bed. Without Popsocket, it is awkward to hold while laying down.

2. Waterproof. You can read paper books in hot tub or pool too, so this is not that important.

3. Personal Documents. You can send pretty much any text/blog post to your Kindle via browser plugin. A lot of reading I do at night is blog posts.

4. Text to Speech. When I really want to be lazy, this is great then.

A few years ago when my Kindle Keyboard died, I tried going back to paper books 100% but I didn't read as much as I was reading on Kindle. So I am back on Kindle with the assumption that I will lose all my books sooner or later.

While I love the convenience, especially while travelling, I'd add 5. Fraudulent publishers; you can't easily see how 'thick' the book is. Some 'novels' turn out to be 70 page short stories.

I pirate ebooks for this reason.

If I like the book or the book has valuable illustration done in color I will purchase the physical copy, otherwise backing up my calibre library according to 3-2-1 is easy peasy.

No, you pirate because you're selfish and self-entitled.

The same thing can be said about the publishers who add DRM.

They dont want to loose money? I don't want to loose my book!

Thank you so much for the analysis, I will file it accordingly.

I must be very self entitled for downloading a digital representation of a book which I have paid for.

I have a large collection of technical books on my ipad. I can choose to read any one of them at any time in any place. I just need my ipad. This is both fun and educational. You appear to have completely missed the point of ebooks.

What app do you use for this?

> You appear to have completely missed the point of ebooks.

And that point is?

That they have a much higher density of information per kilogram than paper books.

That's not "the point" of ebooks, it's just one attribute they have.

I'm well aware that you can fit lots of ebooks in one device, but so far I've not been particularly limited by the information density of regular books.

No, ok, fair enough, but it’s pretty easy to imagine scenarios where the information density makes a difference. Any working trip away from your home/office bookshelves, for example.

I do both, but for cost - often there are specials. www.informit.com often has 2 for 1s or 50% off on black friday etc where I have loaded up. I still prefer books, but have run out of space at home.

To me, ebooks are an alternative to amassing huge quantities of paperback sci fi novels that I'll likely never read again. I also get to read them on my phone which often means the difference between me reading them at all or not. For any book I'll likely want to refer to again, art book, graphic novel, etc. then print is far better for the reasons you say. The general question I ask is, "Would I buy this in hardcover?" If the answer is no, then I'll get the ebook.

Do ebooks cost a similar amount to print books? If you limit what you're buying to recent bestsellers and the like, sure. But many ebook sellers, including Amazon, routinely have massive sales. I've bought ebooks for $2 or $3 apiece. I don't see similar discounting for physical books unless they're secondhand and well-worn--and usually even in that case the price doesn't go so low.

I use ebooks for books I think it's less likely that I'll reread, when I can get a bargain.

It depends on the book. A few months ago I bought "Kitcen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain). Back then ISTR the ebook was similarly priced. Now it's way cheaper.

I can go on Amazon and find ebooks that are cheaper, the same price, and more expensive than the print versions.

A few days ago there was a discussion in another thread about whether there were any practical uses for blockchain and someone mentioned eBooks & other digital content. An author/creator could upload the content and then the "right" to access it could be bought, sold, rented, gifted, loaned, etc.

I don't know enough about blockchain to know whether that's actually feasible but it was the first proposed use I've come across that seemed like it might actually have potential.

I use ebooks and physical books, but I am regretful of some physical books mainly because:

1) They take a lot of space. I have bookshelf's full of them.

2) They can get damaged by humidity and mold.

3) I am prospecting travelling/moving/migrating, and I will likely sell/donate my books in this case.

That being said I want to support the authors I read, and wish I could buy the digital book directly from the author (100% of the money goes to him/her), and get an electronic copy.

All of this is why my primary use case for ebooks is actually borrowing them from the library. It's super convenient because I don't have to worry about returning it on time -- it'll just disappear from the my device! But if I'm going to buy a book I almost always want a physical copy. (I've bought digital of a few of my favs that I often re-read on vacation but I do own physical copies of them too)

I have only really been buying books from Manning lately. When I do, I end up getting the physical copy + eBook combo. It costs a little more than if I were to just buy one of those items individually but what I have found is that I can offset the cost by selling the physical book if I don't like it or don't have a need for it anymore. The ability to do that helps offset the cost of both.

I like having a physical book, but the ebook is nice sometimes. I typically only buy the bundle now. Physical book + non DRM ebook. The last few times have been the same price. The ebook is more convenient sometimes.

If they don't include the ebook in a suitable format I'll just pirate it.

On the other hand, with e-books, I can put 5000 of them in my pocket and carry them around with me.

Seems like most of the downsides you list are solved by DRM-free ebooks

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact