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Friday, 29 April 2011

eEverything - overview

eBooks - eBooks - eBooks - it seems these days that everywhere you turn someone is either talking about or writing about eBooks. The Archive has long championed this new technology, believing it to be the saviour of mid-list fiction. And now in this three part article we will tell you everything you need to know about eBooks, from eReaders to the eBooks themselves and in this first part we give a general overview of the current state of play.

"Assurance, tax and advisory services group PwC on Thursday (28th April 2011) cautioned publishers, content owners and retailers to act quickly to secure positions in the eBook and eReader market or risk losing out to a new industry"

Way back in 1455, Johannes Guttenberg printed a Bible using a new kind of movable type that pressed ink onto paper - this was a great world changing invention and although there have been many innovations over the years, including computerised printing, the basic method of printing uses the same principles. Until now that is - the success of digital readers mean that it is now looking likely that print is very soon going to be left behind.

“Digital publishing appears to be reaching critical mass,” said Vicki Myburgh, South African entertainment and media industry leader for PwC. “Media coverage and extensive reporting on eBooks and eReaders have given most consumers a basic understanding of the digital technologies. They don't, however, truly understand the larger concepts behind digital publishing and the advantages of reading digital books over paper ones.”

Dedicated eReaders like the Kindle and Sony (the two market leaders) are rapidly dropping in price, and so are the books that can be read on them. These digital downloads don't consume the planet's resources - forests remain standing with digital, the books do not need to be shipped by road, air or sea and are much more flexible than traditional books. For instance the print size can be increased at a touch of a button. eBooks are often, though not always, cheaper than the print version - Stephen Leather's Hard Landing is £7.99 in print and only 49p on the Kindle. Of course that low pricing is absurd and in time, even by going their own way, cutting out publishers and agents, writers will still need to charge more than 49p for product. It is my guess that eBooks (fiction) will eventually balance out around the £4 - £5 mark - a fair price when one considers the amount of work put in by the writers of these books.


There is also the matter of convenience - Stephen King's Under the Dome weighed in at close to a thousand pages, and most bestsellers number above 500 pages - imagine carrying several of these around with you and yet a standard eReader is capable of carrying the entire top ten bestseller list and hundreds of other titles. No matter how many books you have in your Kindle it will still weigh only 247 grams. And of course eBooks (as long as DRM free) can be synced across several devices using APS such as Amazon's Kindle for PC - buy a eBook and read it on your eReader, smart phone of computer screen.

Now readers wanting an experience that mimics reading a printed book need a dedicated eReader such as the Sony range and the Kindle - these use pearl eInk displays which closely simulate the printed page and the no-glare screen minimises eye strain. Devices like the iPad use conventional screens similar to your computer monitor, and reading for any length of time can be a bugger. Dedicated eInk readers can also be read in direct light, that thing called the sun, with no glare. The sun bounces off the screen just as it would paper. Where devices like the iPad win out is in their full colour screen which is far better suited for reading digital comics and magazines. However most industry experts believe that coloured eInk is just around the corner.

"PwC urged publishers, bookstores and device managers to take the opportunity to provide the market with innovative products before they were pushed out of the market.
Failure to re-strategise and adapt to these changes could push traditional bookstores out of the expanding market for digital content, the financial services group said. “Traditional bookstores will need to emphasise their strengths in terms of customer knowledge, customer retention as well as competence, and distribute content in all formats and via a number of channels,” it said.
According to the survey, eBooks and printed books would co-exist. “Even though consumers preferred to hold a book and thumb through the pages, this appears to be an insignificant factor. On the other hand, experts are less optimistic with regard to printed newspapers and periodicals. Tablets such as the iPad will ensure that newspapers and periodicals can be attractively displayed in digital form and can be purchased as part of a subscription thanks to integrated internet access,” PwC said."

Best eBook readers - at the moment is seems to be a contest between the Sony and Kindle range. Both are quality eReaders with many of the same features, but the Sony is slightly more versatile simply because it supports the ePub format which the Kindle doesn't. For instance public libraries can load eBooks to devices such as the Sony but not, as yet, the Kindle. Amazon's device though wins out because it is totally PC free - you don't even have to own a computer to use the Kindle which connects seamlessly with Amazon's Kindle store. Again I am ignoring the iPad which is a fantastic device but in truth it's a tablet computer and far better suited to other things rather than reading.

Book lovers want a reading experience as close as possible to a real book - they want to forget they are holding a glued together chunk of paper or electronic device, and lose themselves in the story - only dedicated eReaders can offer that.

In the current market it's a simple choice between the Kindle and Sony ranges. Both do much the same thing and both offer the pearl eInk display. The Kindle screen is slightly better, but the Sony is far more versatile because it supports the ePub format which the Kindle doesn't. In practise this means, at the moment, lending libraries can supply books for loan to devices like the Sony but not the Kindle.

The Nook is also a great eReader,as is the BeBook and Elonex - in fact besides their eInk readers, Elonex have a low priced colour eReader on the market, but the problem is this doesn't use eInk and has a LCD screen which is very reflective. Colour will only really take off when colour eInk is perfected.

"The weight of several paperbacks and a well-known airline's weight restrictions tempted me to an impulse buy of the Kindle. I have been delighted with it. It is intuitive and easy to use: a pleasure to read. I find it lighter than most paperbacks and you don't need to hold it open.

"I also was able to sit by the pool and download books, none of the hassle of trying to find a decent book in English and then paying over the odds for it while on holiday. I have also read a couple of classics free of charge that I wouldn't have paid for. Overall, an excellent buy." Angie Ford, Computer Active

PROJECT GUTTENBERG offers thousands of free public domain eBooks that can be read on any device - you only need
to download 23 free classics, which each would cost several pounds in print, to offset the price of an eReader.
Many times the Archive has made the claim that eBooks are the future of genre and mid-list fiction - for proof of this check out all the westerns, the Archive's favourite genre, available digitally - if you are lucky enough to find any westerns in a brick and mortar book shop the chances are the range will be very limited. And it's the same for other genres which have all but vanished from mainstream book shops - horror, Sci-Fi, erotice novels, noir thrillers.

The final photograph on this page are my own bookshelves in my den - you see that Kindle in the bottom corner (tan leather case without bad motherfucker written on it) - there are more books on that device than displayed on these shelves. Since getting my reader I have continued to buy paper books, so I think there is definitely a case for using the two systems side by side. It all depends on what kind of books you wish to read. With the ebook reader you still get a pleasing tactile experience that is somewhat different to but just as satisfying as holding a traditional paper book and the range of titles are also greatly expanded - in a very real sense since although there are far more printed books than eBooks you try finding these in your local bookshop. I now buy more books as eBooks than conventional books, and that seems to be the current trend. There is also evidence that people who have not been regular readers for many years are now buying eBooks on a weekly basis. It seems that eReaders have provoked a resurgence in reading.
In the next article we will look at the range of eBooks available and particularly those in the western genre.

1 comment:

Chap O'Keefe said...

The line that strikes me here is this: "Stephen Leather's Hard Landing is £7.99 in print and only 49p on the Kindle. Of course, that low pricing is absurd and in time, even by going their own way, cutting out publishers and agents, writers will still need to charge more than 49p for product."

If you know the secrets of the self-publishing Kindle superstars, like Joe Konrath, John Locke and Amanda Hocking, please let us know! It would seem marketing and a giveaway price (99 cents or 69 pence) are the keys. Frankly, I don't want to turn into a social-networking huckster. Though I can understand why western readers can't afford £13 for their own copy of a library hardcover, I do think they should expect to pay three bucks or two quid for a well-written book, whatever the format.

You are probably well aware of the Amazon Kindle pricing structure: 35% to the author for under $2.99; 70% for prices above (a similar arrangement in UK pounds, I believe). And unless you live in the US, the UK or Germany, where you can be paid directly into your bank account, you must amass $100 before they'll send you a check/cheque in payment. Also the US and UK sales can't be added together. Thus if I reduced my own single Kindle book to 99c, I would have to sell around 300 copies in the US before seeing any return whatsoever, as opposed to 50 at $2.99. There's no indication that I have that kind of following, despite fine reviews from peer authors. (James Reasoner gave me an excellent one at his blog just recently, for FAITH AND A FAST GUN.)

All said, ebooks do look to be the way of the future. The conventional book trade has failed genre fiction. When did I last see the kind of book I wanted to read in a bookshop, and at a realistic price? Buying by mail order involves (to New Zealand where I live) horrendous postage. Yesterday, I received my three complimentaries of THE SHERIFF AND THE WIDOW from Magna Large Print Books. The Royal Mail label on the packaging says the postage cost the UK publisher £18.64!

There'll be more about the western and ebooks in the next Black Horse Extra, due online (free) in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, another reminder that MISFIT LIL CHEATS THE HANGROPE is now available in the Amazon Kindle Stores at a fraction of its cost in print or large print.