Monday, December 8, 2008

Is iTunes the New Kindle?

A new story is out saying Apple may consider putting books on iTunes; I'd hardly consider this a story—I'd consider it a fact. The technology is there, and people are already putting books on their iPod touch and iPhones; I predict a new touch will come out sometime next year (followed soon after by a new iPhone) that has better resolution that can handle books.

Publisher's are struggling to figure out how to make profit in a digital age; I've been saying for years that they'd soon have to go through what the music industry went through several years ago with MP3's, and I think the time has arrived.

Two things are on my mind, however. One is what format Apple would use; one can only hope they don't use their own; and two, what will happen to the authors? Musicians simply learned to tour if they wanted to make money, but what about authors? Maybe Stephanie Meyer can sellout the Nokia, but the average author can't even get a handful of people to show up for a signing at Barnes & Noble. What happens when people start putting books up on bit torrent and publishers go from making $50,000 to $100,000 on a mid-list author to making less than $10,000—my guess is they cut back the number of authors they sign, which is already low.

My longstanding idea for putting advertisements in an eBook might start looking like a better idea to them. And FYI, here are the two blogs I've mentioned advertising in the past:

http://speakquietly.blogspot.com/2007/12/future-of-books.html

http://speakquietly.blogspot.com/2008/06/welcome-to-wonderful-world-of-free.html

17 comments:

Peter Warnock said...

I don't have any interest in reading books electronically. I spend 10-12 hours a days staring at a screen, and the one or two hours I spend reading a paper book is welcome relief for my eyes.

That said, I think that electronic books will open up new markets for readers that do like to read electronically, while readers like myself will continue to visit the library or buy books.

Ad supported free books are a good idea. Following the 80/20 rule though, the top 20 should always have the opportunity to opt out of ads by buying the product.

A.R.Yngve said...

What I've heard (please confirm if possible) is that when Charles Dickens published his novels as serials in magazines, naturally there were advertisements on the same pages as the text.

From this we learn that

A) Ads in literature have been tried before and readers did not cry bloody murder;

B) Re-introducing the serial format might be a good idea.

Or, you can go even further back in publishing history and bring back patronage...

tmamone said...

Hey Scott, the guys at Andrew Sullivan's blog just mentioned this entry: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2008/12/your-ad-here.html

Andrew said...

I guess I would probably consider it an apples and oranges kind of argument. While it's irrefutable that e-books are already catching on to some degree, the transition from the tangible to the ethereal in books is not easily comparable to that of music, in my view. With music, people were barely required people to alter their listening habits when switching to an entirely digital format. The same can hardly be said about e-book, which would require people to read long format pieces off of a screen. That's a pretty drastic shift. Far more profound, I think, than music hold-outs who were most concerned about security and, beyond that, having a copy of the liner notes.

toxic said...

I think books are unusually resistant to file sharing. If there was a lot of pent up demand for it, it would already be a big thing since books would be the easiest thing in the world to trade as far as bandwidth goes.

Because there is no pent up demand and the technology for viable e-readers is developing post-internet it should be fairly easy to do an itunes style drm program that should keep piracy in check.

The fact that book tastes are so individualistic will help mitigate piracy as well. The current file sharing systems demand a certain level of popularity to make distribution possible, which is why its very easy to find the current #1 hit song, but damned hard to find older material. Books, most of which are never hot sellers, should be fairly insulated against the current piracy paradigm, and I doubt it will change too much without a radical change in copyright law.

What will work to encourage piracy is if publishing companies won't step off the price a bit; $30 for a new hardback is a bit stiff, $30 for a new file is ludicrous.

Rather than ad supporting or in addition to ads, they might want to consider a library/netflix format, where you can "check out" 5 books at a time from the library, and once you return (delete) the current file you can pick up a new one. Charge 10 bucks a month, give the authors .50 cents a read or something.

Anonymous said...

I don't enjoy reading books on screen, and I'm 28, so I'm not some old curmudgeon who's set in his ways. (Instead, I'm a young curmudgeon who's set in his ways.) But seriously ... I love books. Paper books. Books with a cover, and a spine, and actual, physical, tactile pages, with inked letters pressed into the paper. I buy books for entertainment, and I buy books for reference. I buy books with minimal illustration, and I buy books in which the text is half--or less--of the actual content, with photos and illustration making up the rest. The idea that these books might go away and be replaced with electronic version makes me quite sad.

Sean said...

That very sentiment - people preferring to read on paper - makes me wonder whether book piracy is even flagrant at all.

Whereas the RIAA has some legitimate claim to piracy killing sales, book sales have been in relative decline for a long time now, even preceding the advent of p2p. The publishing industry co-opted that argument simply because they didn't have an explanation to dropped sales and lowered advances beyond "nobody reads books anymore."

Sean said...

"Rather than ad supporting or in addition to ads, they might want to consider a library/netflix format, where you can "check out" 5 books at a time from the library, and once you return (delete) the current file you can pick up a new one. Charge 10 bucks a month, give the authors .50 cents a read or something."

And that's better than a public library, which allows you to check out books for free, because...?

David Nygren said...

I like the idea of Peter's 80/20 rule. But I wouldn't be surprised to see Netflix-type model Sean mentions come to pass, too (how about a free Kindle (or whatever)with an annual subscription?). Earlier this week I wrote a post on the e-book's possible affect on the future of publishing here at The Urban Elitist.

Half Sigma said...

"And that's better than a public library, which allows you to check out books for free, because...?"

Because you don't have to physically go to the library and look for your book.

Stephen said...

The difference between books and the piracy of music and movies comes down to convenience and common use.

The convenience of simply entering a search term into your favorite bittorrent website and downloading it within minutes without removing one's ass from the couch is obvious. As a bonus, it's also free.

The UK Guardian recently published a top 1000 movies to see before you die. I can tell you, without the prevalence of bittorrents, to trek around and search the shelves of all the DVD rental stores in my city would have an absolute fools odyssey. And even with that level of righteous perseverance, I wouldn't have found the amount of the titles as I did.

What nullifies the convenience and the $0 price point is the common use. Music comes down the ear-plugs, whether it's on CD or not. Films have always been watched on a screen, whether the bits are legit or not. Books are read from paper, on smaller book-sized pages, pre-bound so pages don't get missorted or lost, made of a size that deliberately fits inside a handbag or satchel. A book can be held open and read with one hand. A book doesn't make your eyes tired, not unless it's bedtime, and it helps you get to sleep when nothing else will.

Miriam said...

What I've heard (please confirm if possible) is that when Charles Dickens published his novels as serials in magazines, naturally there were advertisements on the same pages as the text.

Almost--the ads would "wrap" the text. See here for some examples.

John Muccigrosso said...

How much do authors make anyway? Academics make nothing on theirs, or most of them make nothing anyway, and sometimes even subvent their own books. Academic publishing houses are on their way out, but most charge exorbitant prices because of libraries that are forced to buy their publications. So there's a segment of the market that won't miss the traditional model. (Tell that to them though!)

Why wouldn't an iTumes model work? As with music, most peple will pay a reasonable - small! - price to obtain the book.

Peter Warnock said...

@toxic The rental format seems to be working for Audible; Amazon paid $300 million to acquire them a year ago.

Anonymous said...

It's going to take an entirely different device, something built specifically to nail e-book reading usability. I don't want to pinch and zoom through every page on a tiny screen, I just want to read. Scale an iPhone up to paperback size and you've got a deal.

Peter Warnock said...

Perhaps Apple will be releasing a new product that connects to iTunes.

Did you know iTunes already downloads PDF enclosures from blog feeds?

JA Konrath said...

Barry Eisler sent me here, knowing I've been talking about ads in ebooks for over a year now.

It'll happen.

As for file sharing, I can announce it is alive and well with both ebooks and audiobooks. I've seen copies of my books shared on all of the major torrent trackers, plus Usenet, eMule, and file lockers RapidShare and MegaUpload.

Every major and most minor authors are being shared. Just go to Google and type in an author's name+torrent and you'll see the public trackers. The private trackers contain even more.

What exactly is the advantage of paper other than nostalgia?

And how many people reading this didn't ever think they'd give up their CD collection? :)