Archive for the ‘ebooks’ Category

Kindle Sales Are Soaring

July 20, 2010

According to, the Kindle edition e-books  have outsold hardbacks  for the last 3 months.   During this period Amazon said it sold 143 Kindle edition books for every 100 hardbacks. These figures don’t include the hundreds of thousands of public domain kindle downloads that are given away for free.

This is a pretty impressive figure and is indicative of the meteoric increase in e-book sales. The Association of American Publishers has stated that e-book sales are up 400% through May  over same period last year.

There appears to be a little spin going on.  Amazon’s earnings  are due out this week, so the company is putting  forward an optimistic report. What isn’t mentioned is the number of Kindle editions sold relative to sales of paperbacks.  One can only assume that paperbacks continue to outsell the e-books. But one must still be impressed about the growth of e-book sales.

On another note, there is an extremely thought-provoking article   in The Nation by Colin Robinson, co-founder of the progressive publisher OR Books   Robinson argues that the vast selection of books on Amazon has the paradoxical effect of reducing choice. He cites the book, The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz which argues that when consumers are faced with too much choice they tend to fall back on what is safe and what is being highly promoted. Robinson believes that this, in part, is what is causing publishers to abandon the mid-list books to focus on the siren song of the blockbuster bestseller. Robinson has been a major figure in progressive publishing, first as publisher of Verso Books and then New Press. His new venture, OR Books, is one of the few publishers that does not sell through Amazon. This article is worth thinking about.

iPad versus Kindle (and Nook)

May 28, 2010

There is a terrific article in the current issue of The New York Review of Books. The article is by Sue Halpern  and is called “The iPad Revolution“. It is a very good comparison of iPad and Kindle and the relative differences in the approaches of Apple and Amazon. Bottom line is that neither of them are perfect. (We already know that). But  it is the best thing I have read on this issue so far.

Bulletin: New Book Technology

April 20, 2010

Here is something very funny coming out of Canada.

Introducing the new Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device, trade-named *BOOK*.
*BOOK* is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no electric circuits, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It’s so easy to use, even a child can operate it.
Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere — even sitting in an armchair by the fire — yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc.
Here’s how it works: *BOOK* is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. The pages are locked together with a custom-fit device called a binder which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence.
Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) allows manufacturers to use both sides of the sheet, doubling the information density and cutting costs. Each sheet is scanned optically, registering information directly into your brain. A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet.
*BOOK* never crashes or requires rebooting, though, like other devices, it can become damaged if coffee is spilled on it.
The “browse” feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet, and move forward or backward as you wish. Many come with an “index” feature, which pin-points the exact location of any selected information for instant retrieval.
An optional “*BOOK*mark” accessory allows you to open *BOOK* to the exact place you left it in a previous session — even if the *BOOK* has been closed. *BOOK*marks fit universal design standards; thus, a single *BOOK*mark can be used in *BOOK*s by various manufacturers.
Portable, durable, and affordable, *BOOK* is being hailed as a precursor of a new entertainment wave. *BOOK*’s appeal seems so certain that thousands of content creators have committed to the platform and investors are reportedly flocking to invest. Look for a flood of new titles soon.

Credit to Peter Waldock of North 49 Books, Toronto Ontario.

Battle of the (E-book) Titans

March 21, 2010

Ask the Agent has been covering the developing story of the changing models for selling e-books and the struggle for market share between  Amazon and Apple.

An article appeared in the New York Times on March 17 that adds a new and troubling wrinkle to the story.

90% of the retail sale of e-books is now done by Amazon. This would be a monopoly by any reasonable definition. Amazon is cementing its dominance in the marketplace by offering  e-book downloads that can only be read by the Kindle, a media device that is manufactured by Amazon and sold exclusively  through Amazon. Thus if you own a Kindle, you can only buy e-books from Amazon. If you buy e-books from Amazon, you must buy a Kindle to read them.

Amazon has come to dominate internet retailing by aggressively discounting products in order to increase market share. They did this to great effect with books from the very beginning. They have been doing the same thing with e-books. Publishers have been selling e-books to Amazon for approximately $12.50. Amazon has been selling below cost at $9.95 for their  e-book  best- sellers.

If you ask the  major publishers how they feel about this, they will tell you privately, as they have told me,  that they are profoundly troubled by the market power of Amazon and are concerned that the deep discounting practiced by Amazon will devalue  what the marketplace thinks is a fair price for books. Last month the sixth largest American publisher, Macmillan, announced that it was changing its retail terms for e-books to the “agency model” which would not permit Amazon to discount titles. Amazon retaliated by pulling  “buy” buttons for all Macmillan books both electronic and physical.   This lasted only a week, but it should be a cautionary tale regarding the dangers of monopoly power in the distribution of ideas in a society or, in the case of Amazon, in the world.

Enter Apple and the iPad. It is difficult to imagine that Steve Jobs can be considered the friend of the little guy and a force against monopoly. Certainly the clout that Apple exercised with  the music industry in forcing them to accept   the iTunes model has done considerable damage to the music companies and artist royalties. But in publishing, as in Mid-East politics, the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” rules.

Five of the six largest book publishers fell into the arms of Apple and negotiated a new  sales model that allows the publishers to control the retail price sold to consumers of the book. But Steve Jobs is not Mahatma Gandhi and has imposed his own stringent conditions on the publishers. Under the new agreements with Apple, publishers will not be permitted to allow any other retailer to sell books below the price that is sold by Apple.

Amazon has reluctantly gone along with the new model, but is insisting on having a 3 year contract that would lock publishers into the current arrangement and guarantee that no other retailer will get better terms. Publishers are reluctant to agree to such a contract. The whole e-book market is in flux. Nobody knows what the e-book firmament will be like in three years.

But according to the New York Times, it gets a lot worse. Amazon has only agreed to the new “agency model” for the six largest publishers. The other 10,000 smaller publishers have not yet signed on with Apple. Amazon  has been speaking to them and telling them that they prefer to stick with the old model where Amazon can sell books for whatever price it chooses.

 These same publishers have spoken to Apple and have been told that Apple will only work with them if they sell to all other retailers under the same terms as  they are selling toApple. In other words, there is reason to believe that in order to do business with  Amazon, publishers will not be able to do business with Apple –and vice versa. A tough choice for the smaller publishers and a distressing possibility for the consumer.

The message Amazon sent forth during  last month’s negotiation between Macmillan was eloquent and persuasive.  That message was that  a publisher who doesn’t agree to Amazon’s terms risks having their books not be carried by the largest book retailer in the world.

Book publishers, and particularly smaller book publishers, are clearly getting whip-sawed by the two giants. The stakes are high for both Apple and Amazon. But the stakes are even higher for book buyers and the free marketplace of ideas.

Amazon v. MacMillan: The End of the Affair

February 6, 2010

Well, it looks like as of yesterday, Amazon has restored the “buy” buttons for books published by Macmillan.  During the past week, Macmillan has been negotiating terms with Amazon. Apparently they have reached an agreement. We don’t know the details. Two days ago, Macmillan CEO John Sargeant said: “Amazon has been working very, very hard and always in good faith to find a way forward with us.” Good faith, huh!  I’m not sure that pulling a publisher’s books from the digital book shelf  during negotiations is indicative of bargaining in good faith. It certainly showed no good faith to the Macmillan authors whose books were unavailable for a week and to the readers seeking those books.  As more major publishers revise their terms for e-books, it will be interesting to see whether Amazon will stop selling those titles while negotiating in “good faith”.

This entire affair has highlighted some very important issues that go well beyond the squabbling over crumbs by  two large corporations.  You can read some of the comments on this blog and others. What are the dangers of  monopolistic concentration  in the distribution of ideas? How important are e-books in the literary future? How do commercial values conflict with literary values? What is the role  of the community book store as books turn to digital? How will authors be fairly compensated for their work under the new e-book business model? What provides the better reading experience: e-books or paper books? Are the major publishers dinosaurs? How much is a book worth?

And then there is this  notion that “information wants to be free”. We have discussed this in a previous blog entry about the book, Free by Chris Anderson.

 Amazon was playing to the house throughout this affair by implying that they were trying to protect consumers by offering e-books at a good (i.e. loss leader) price. Amazon fans made their opinions known with numerous comments that books weren’t even worth $9.95.

Humorist Roy Blount Junior, who is president of the Authors Guild,

 made a brilliant and witty statement about this curious notion in the Authors Guild winter newsletter. I’ll quote it here:

“Then of course there is the school of thought that books shouldn’t cost anything, because “information wants to be free.” One thing wrong with that notion is that just as a pie is more than its ingredients (and does anyone other than a child living at home expect pie, or even pie ingredients, to be free?), a book is more than information. It’s someone’s –several people’s—work.

“Another thing wrong with “information wants to be free” is that it is espoused, it’s my impression, by three categories of people:

“One: People who are paid by universities to teach occasional seminars and write books that not many people would want to buy anyway if they could help it. To send one’s child to one of these universities costs (say) an author maybe $50,000 a year. How about College wants to be free?

“Two: People who have invented a high-tech gimmick that has enabled them not to need any more money the rest of their lives. How about High-tech gimmicks want to be free?

“Three: People who live at home with their parents.”

Good for you, Roy Blount! Once again the best weapon against bombast is ridicule.

Battle of the E-book models (a follow up)

February 1, 2010

Yesterday we posted a blog on the week-end brouhaha of Amazon pulling the “buy button” plug on all titles from Macmillan Publishing.

Things are beginning to sort themselves out. Amazon pretty much admitted that they were capitulating because Macmillan had a “monopoly” on their books. Although this is technically true, the use of the loaded term, “monopoly” was artful and paradoxical; since Amazon’s strategy all along has been to establish a monopoly on the distribution of the e-book to the consumer.

I have gotten some questions about some of the technical issues , specifically the economics of the conflicting models, who gains and who loses and what will be the competitive impact on  the physical book and the community bookstore. I would refer you to Mike Shatzkin’s blog, “Ideological” which offers some very detailed answers to some of the questions. Mike’s language is pretty technical and seems to speak to industry insiders, but it is also pretty incisive.

Mike just emailed me and made a significant point, an error in my observations. He said that the Amazon model is “sustainable”. They are only selling about 25% of their e-book titles as loss leaders. E-books are actually profitable for them. The reason that publishers are fighting on this (and will probably prevail) is that they are concerned that Amazon will be the only retail channel for sales. They do not want this to happen.

One other issue to consider is that under both plans, the price of e-books will be heavily discounted off the price of physical books, at least in hardcover. Ideally publishers would like there to be parity in price so as not to discourage the consumer’s choice. This does not appear to be happening. On the other hand, there is no indication at the moment that the e-book price will be reduced at the time that a paperback will come out. The e-book price will be much closer to the price of the paperbacks.

We’ll be bringing you updates on this important issue. Stay tuned.