Can we fast-forward until hardcovers are extinct, please?

By now, you’ve probably seen the NYT’s story on publishers phasing out the hardcover book in response to ebooks. Paperbacks are coming out earlier, and “many publishers” now “wonder if cost-conscious shoppers are reading e-books right away rather than waiting for the paperback.”

(You can stop wondering, publishers. They definitely, definitely are.)

So. Hardcovers are mortally injured and slowly dying. This is excellent news. I agree with Paul Constant over at the Stranger (and with myself) that the hardcover business model is unsustainable in a digital world. It continues to actively hurt publishing, but at least publishing seems to be growing aware of that hurt.

Since ebooks were first introduced, publishers have bent over backwards to protect the exorbitant retail prices of new-release hardcover books. They struggled to make distributors adopt the agency model, so they could drive up the prices of ebooks (even though they make less money with agency-priced books). They did that only to make hardcover prices seem like less of a rip-off.

This environment is great for established, in-demand authors like George R.R. Martin, who sold 170,000 hardcover copies of Dance with Dragons in just one day. But climbing the hardcover hill makes it harder than ever for new authors and unknowns to get the recognition they deserve. The higher the price of books, the fewer risks readers will take.

By contrast, without hardcovers, there’s no disincentive to buy the newest books and try out lesser known, lesser publicized authors. The death of the hardcover will make for a happier, healthier reading culture, and that will create more book sales, no matter what that crazy Macmillan CEO says (he also bribes people for the right to sell expensive textbooks to poor African kids).

Releasing paperbacks a little bit earlier won’t help either, it’ll only increase people’s incentive to wait for that paperback before buying a new book. That’s not a sound way to cash in on all that first-edition marketing. (Quick, name a book you were thinking about buying six months ago but didn’t.)

Only the death of the hardcover will do now. I can’t wait to rejoice when they finally kick the bucket.

What I Want to See in the Nook Color

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Nook Color, and found it good, but unfinished. While it has its share of problems, almost every one of them could be fixed with software adjustments and firmware updates. Here’s my wish list for the big update rumored to be scheduled for January.

Smooth edges

The biggest problem with the Nook Color is that its interface needs some smoothing. It sometimes takes an extra tap to wake the screen up, and navigating—especially in magazines—can be laggy and frustrating.

This isn’t the first time B&N has rushed a Nook to market: when the original Nook came out last year (just in time for the holidays), most reviews agreed that its interface was similarly laggy, and in later months B&N improved it markedly. Hopefully that happens again here.

Fix note-taking

Right now, you have to pin each note you take to a patch of text, and the firmware doesn’t distinguish between notes and regular highlights. If it did distinguish, and gave you more note-taking options (like, for instance, taking notes in magazines), it would make this a much more desirable device for students.

I’d also like to see more integration with a word processor—perhaps in the next hardware generation this could even happen through Bluetooth.

Apps – Instapaper, Goodreads, Evernote, Etc.

I desperately want Instapaper on this puppy, especially an Instapaper app that auto-downloads everything you’ve sent to your account, so you could read everything offline, like the way the Nook already does newspapers.

I’d also love to see an Overdrive app for managing library books and library audiobooks, a Goodreads and/or Copia app for social reading, a Google Editions app, and Evernote for proper note-taking. All of these (except probably the Overdrive app) are well within the range of possibility. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Wattpad, Smashwords, Scribd, the list goes on.
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What’s Really Killing Publishing (Hint: It’s Not Piracy and the Agency Model Won’t Help)

Publishing is not a victim of the iPad, it’s not a victim of Amazon’s $9.99 pricing model, it’s not a victim of piracy, it’s not a victim, period. Publishing is slowly strangling itself by myopically hard-selling each and every title it cranks out, instead of nurturing the readers who sustain it.

I believe the novel is the best form of entertainment available to modern humans. Reading a novel offers a deeper, richer, longer, and more satisfying experience than any other media. I read four great novels last year (onetwothreefour). I enjoyed those four books more than any movies or TV shows I saw last year, more than any album, or live show, or play, or anything else.

But there were only four of them.

The flipside of the entertainment equation is that books are more expensive than movies, TV shows, or albums—more expensive in terms of both money and time. If you hate a movie, you’re out ten bucks and ninety minutes. A book might take up days of your time, and up to $25 in hardcover—if you read a bad one, the sting is much worse. And it gets exponentially worse when publishers overtly lie to their readers—like say, The Girl She Used to Be, which was nominated for a mystery award though it’s neither a mystery nor worth printing, let alone reading.

Publishers don’t seem to realize this, and they’ve taken a shotgun approach to bookselling: they think if they can fire enough tiny pellets of low-grade iron, one of them’s got to hit something. I’m here to disagree.
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Sony Pocket Edition Discount Heads-Up

Today at Woot: refurbished Sony Pocket Edition ereaders for $115 including shipping. That is one helluva deal. The Pocket Edition is one of our recommended ereaders for book readers (as opposed to magazine or newspaper readers). More info in our ereader comparison.

If you were considering a Kobo, think seriously about this instead. Basic-model ereaders are more or less interchangeable, and Sony supports Adobe ePub, which means you can borrow library ebooks through your local library (Kobo supports Adobe, too—the difference is 35 bucks). Sony software is a headache, but if you’re reading books and loading up only once a month or so, it’s not so bad. And $115 is a great price.

eBook Pricing: The Race to the Bottom

A few weeks back, I read Ken Auletta’s New Yorker article on the release of the iPad.  The piece focuses on the future of publishing, ebook pricing and sales; the impression it leaves is one of confusion.  Publishers demand higher prices, consumers expect lower prices, and big distributors, like Amazon and Apple, have their own motives for trying to please both parties without alienating either.  For the time being, there seems to be little agreement about just how much ebooks should cost.

Auletta’s article was clear about one thing though: in the long run, ebook prices must fall.  He closes by quoting “a skeptical literary agent” who says, “You can try to put on wings and defy gravity, but eventually you will be pulled down.”  In other words, eventually, consumer expectations will win.  If buyers think ebooks should be cheap, then they better be cheap or no one buys.

But how cheap?  With no printing or shipping, the cost of making and selling one more ebook is practically nonexistent.  This is the biggest advantage of digital publishing, and maybe also the biggest obstacle to fair ebook pricing.  If one more ebook costs publishers nothing, how much should they charge for it?  They have to charge more than nothing, but how much more?  How low can prices go to meet consumer expectations and still benefit publishers?

Fair warning to the faint of heart: this is about to get intensely nerdy.  It’s about to get economic.
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Wednesday Links: 4-7-10

Some news about books and ebooks from around the web:

  • Here is an article from the NYT about literature and cognitive science. Basically, it’s about how empathy relates to reading fiction, and how readers process interrelated or overlapping points of view. Or “what the scholars call levels of intentionality.” Read it.

Obligatory iPad and Amazon news—and lots of other stuff—after the break.
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Wednesday Links 3-10-10

News about books and ebooks from around the web:

  • Vapidity will continue to rule the bestseller list. Sarah Palin plans to “write” another book (get ready, Marcos), Lindsay Lohan has plans to hawk her crazed mutterings, and Hilary Duff just signed a contract to write a series of young-adult Da Vinci Code-style caper novels (I kid you not). Previously, we learned about reality star Lauren Conrad, who’s writing novels (plural) despite having never read a whole book in her life (which you should do, if you want to write one). Then there’s always Dan Brown, a terrible writer of stupid books (even his website wants to be a movie)… but he has 80,000,000 readers. And let’s never forget Douglas Preston, a horrible writer who’s so overprivileged and out of touch that he attacked his own readers for not paying exorbitant prices for his crappy books. Please help me solve this. If you like any of those writers, do me a personal favor: stop buying their books and watch TV instead. TV does mindless entertainment much better than books, and then books can go back to being carefully crafted works of the imagination, and not just paycheck tickets cranked out by illiterate uncaring morons and vapid celebrities trying to cash in on their fleeting fame. Publishing industry: I hate you. To wrap up this rant, here is a grossly unreadable article about nothing, written by an editor from Knopf. It’s a joke, right? Nobody’s that bad a writer, especially not a professional editor, right? Right?
  • Borders is broke and starting heavy layoffs. Three months ago, while discussing the Nook, I noticed that Borders notably had no plans to release its own ereader/ebookstore. I said this about it: “Oh, and also… remember Borders? I’d say they have about 2 years of financial solvency left. It’s going to be like a brontosaurus dying.” Based on my understanding of the financial gobbledygook in the article in that first link, that timeline was just  slightly generous. Ebooks are the way of the future, bookstores. Don’t be shy.
  • Two weeks ago, the NY Times published this article by Motoko Rich about the prices of ebooks vs. paper books. It included this chart, which got everybody in a huff because it claimed that ebooks selling for as low as $9.99 will provide as much profit to publishers (not authors) as full-price, $26 hardcover books. Among the respondents: Gizmodo, GalleyCat, John August, and almost everybody else in the world. I just have one thing to add. Rich estimates the costs of printing and shipping at $3.25. Since online hardcover prices max out at about $15, that means, logically, ebook prices should max out at about $12. Since some new, hardcover, guaranteed bestsellers go for even less (like Stieg Larsson’s next one, pre-selling at Amazon for $11.50), ebook editions of those should come in at sub-$10. Which means maybe readers asking for $9.99 ebooks wasn’t so astonishingly entitled after all. Maybe the Macmillan/Amazon kerfuffle lost Macmillan more than it gained them. Maybe publishers should shut up about prices and windowing and all those other caveats, and just put their weight behind ebooks. Stop treating your customers like enemies, and maybe everything will turn out OK.

Wednesday Links 2-24-10

Douglas Preston (Jerk) Comes Crawling Back to His Readers

An arrogant hack author named Douglas Preston appeared in a New York Times article two weeks ago, wherein he said that readers who wanted ebook editions of his book (and wanted them for less than the cost of the hardcover) were astonishingly entitled and, quite literally, he accused them of making America unhealthy.

So. That ticked some people off—including me. Two weeks later, Preston has realized that maybe he shouldn’t run around insulting his customers, and he has now offered up a half-assed backpedal (via), in which he attempts to mollify his readers with about half a Hallmark card’s worth of affection. He succeeds, however, only in proving he thinks his readers are stupid enough to believe his obvious lies.

Chris Meadows at TeleRead debunks Preston’s turnaround pretty thoroughly. I just want to add a couple of “how stupid does he think we are?” points about both the statement and his other new comments:

  • Preston never apologizes. He should apologize.
  • Preston says he wants to make money for Wal-Mart. In his original comments, he said “the Wal-Mart mentality…is very unhealthy for our country.” Is this a joke?
  • He says he has no control over pricing or windowing (the practice of delaying ebook releases to force people to buy hardcovers), then says he supports windowing. He uses movies as an example of windowing, but fails to mention that movies in a theater offer more value and a different experience than DVDs, while hardcover vs. ebook editions of books offer exactly the same experience (and the people who disagree can still buy the hardcover).
  • In his statement, he says, “We want to write the best books we can.” Uh, no. If that was true, you’d spend longer than 9 months apiece on them.
  • He says he wants his “publishers to make [his books] available to you in the format in which you prefer to read them.” Come on, Preston, you’re not even trying.
  • And, of course, the ultimate lie: “From our perspective, the most important element in all this is you, the reader.” What does it mean when my BS detector shrieks and then melts?

Look, Preston, here’s the thing: you write books because they make you money. You hate ebooks because you think you’ll make less money on them. You hate your readers because they want ebooks, and because they don’t like being bossed around, or being told they’re stupid and greedy.

You grudgingly crapped out this… this statement, whatever it is (not an apology), in which you transparently lie and say you like your readers. Hopefully, it’s not fooling anybody, but TechDirt put this news in the “good-for-him dept,” so you got at least one. Basically, you’re a jerk. But now you’re being slightly more diplomatic about it.

Listen, you owe your readers nothing less than a debt of immense gratitude, especially if they’ve allowed you to write full-time and make a decent living at it. You should be fighting your publisher to give your readers what they want. They don’t want free books, and they don’t want to rip you off. They just want a fair deal, and when you call that “entitlement,” you should come crawling back on your knees and beg for their forgiveness. Instead you throw this sloppy mess of platitudes at them. It makes me furious, and I’ve never given you a dime.

OK, deep breaths.

The person I really feel sorry for is Lincoln Child, Preston’s writing partner, who hasn’t said anything stupid about this. But then, he’s worked with this colossal jerk for years, so… I guess he’s not entirely innocent.

J.K. Rowling Sued Again + Other News

Not really a full links post, but a few things caught my eye this morning. So here we go.

First of all, J.K. Rowling has been sued for plagiarism, again, hilariously. This time the plaintiff is the estate of a writer who died thirteen years ago. They claim she stole from a 36-page pamphlet called “The Adventures of Willy the Wizard.”

The entire case rests not on copied passages, but on the fact that “both Willy and Harry [are] required to solve a task as part of a contest, which they achieve in a bathroom assisted by clues from helpers.”

So, your case rests on the word “bathroom.” Good luck.

My other favorite line from that story is the estate’s PR guy (not lawyer) saying: “‘All of Willy the Wizard is in the Goblet of Fire.’” That’s a joke, right? Because “Willy” is only 36 pages long? Right?

And there’s a lot of other funny stuff in the Guardian piece. In other news:

  • Engadget reports the new iRex ereader is finally coming out, only four months late. This new model, the cutely named DR800SG, is notable because it costs less than $800, and it gives Engadget a chance to backhand the stupid Nook by calling the iRex “Barnes & Noble’s first big play in the space.” Since it has a stylus-driven touchscreen, file it under Y for Yet another reason not to get a QUE.
  • And, finally, The Rapture, one of my favorite bands, says this about their upcoming release:

“Our new album’s gonna be fucking 100 times better than the iPad,” [band member Gabe Andruzzi] jokes. “With this record you’re going to be interfacing with your soul in ways that have never happened before.”

So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.