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Why the commercial ebook market is broken

(Note: In the following rant, I'm sticking to American currency and prices because (a) they're relatively familiar to non-Americans, and (b) they're where I've got the hardest data. Not to mention (c) being where the market I'm talking about is — or isn't.)

I've been ruminating for a whole long time now about the dog that didn't bark in the nighttime world of publishing — the coming ebook revolution, which has been coming now for something like 20 years and counting without much sign of actually arriving.

In point of fact, ebook sales figures are dismal. At best, they tend towards 20% of hardcover sales by volume — and that's for ebooks that are available in open formats that are not tied to a particular hardware platform, and that are not crippled by DRM (digital rights management) encryption schemes that prevent users from reading them on more than one machine. DRM-infested ebooks sell an order of magnitude fewer copies, in many cases not even covering the cost of taking the existing typeset masters and saving them in an ebook format.

The performance of the ebook market is in fact piss-poor. It can be explained in part by readers' natural aversion to DRM (if you change mobile phone or laptop, why should your entire library evaporate?), but also in part by publishers' idiotic aversion to the idea of trusting readers.

When you look at the "pirate" ebook field, things are a lot livelier. There are any number of locations on the internet where you can grab hundreds or thousands of novels, for free! — albeit in violation of the authors' copyright. These books are either produced by scanning a paper copy and feeding it through OCR (optical character recognition) software, or by cracking the DRM on an encrypted ebook. Lots of people download books off the net, but one thing even the proponents of ebook DRM agree is that it doesn't seem to have had any economic impact on the sales of dead tree editions. In fact, there's a lot of evidence from research into music file sharing that people who use "pirate" ebooks actually buy more of the real thing. (Eric Flint volunteered this source: The Effect of File-Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis, by Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strump, published in the February 2007 issue of the Journal of Political Economy.)

So what's going on?

As Cory Doctorow has observed, the common complaint that readers don't like staring at a screen for hours on end doesn't hold water; we actually spend a lot of our time staring at computer screens, PDAs, and tiny little displays on mobile phones.

Let me stick my neck out here, with an opinion that goes against the conventional wisdom in publishing circles.

In the pre-internet dark age, there was a subculture of folks who would get their hands on books and pass them around and encourage people to read them for free, rather than buying their own copies. Much like today's ebook pirates, in terms of the what they did (with one or two minor differences). There was a closely-related subculture who would actually sell copies of books without paying the authors a penny in royalties, too.

We have a technical term for such people: we call them "librarians" and "second-hand bookstore owners".

Library lending was tolerated by authors and publishers because it was widely accepted that in the long run, people who borrowed our books from libraries were more likely to read them than people who had no access whatsoever. And having read, they were more likely to become regular readers and to eventually buy — if not the books they'd already read, then the next one on. Library users were often poor, or casual readers, or young. I remember latching on to the local public library when I was five or six years old. I read my way through most of Andre Norton's childrens range before I was eight, and I certainly didn't pay for them. I couldn't pay for them; I didn't have enough pocket money to make a habit of buying books at anything approaching the rate I could read them until I was in my teens, and even then, I was mostly limited to second-hand paperbacks.

So, in the dark pre-digital age of the 1970s, I was an avid supporter of that period's equivalent of your demonic ebook pirates. And y'know what? I defy anyone to tell me I was wrong to do so. Or even to assert that it hasn't, overall, been a good thing for the SF field, because it got me into the habit of reading, and these days, with a disposable income, my biggest problem is finding bookcases to stick all the new hardbacks I've bought over the years since my teens.

Now, let's talk about ebooks.

I'm not going to flog the already-dead DRM horse; I've been there before and both sides of the debate are fairly well covered.

What I'd like to point out is that the economics of the commercial ebook market are sick.

Right now, many of the largest publishers charge a cover price for ebooks that is 80% to 100% of the hardcover price. Virtually nobody except Baen (and now a couple of other publishers who've dipped a toe in the Webscription market, and some self-publishers) is even thinking about trying to establish what an ebook is really worth in the market.

We know roughly what it costs to produce a book, and we can point to the areas where ebooks are cheaper than paper editions (no dead trees and ink, for one thing; no warehousing or distribution for another) and more expensive (downloads, website maintenance). But we don't really know what an ebook is worth to the readers, because the market that could give us meaningful feedback on pricing has been strangled in the crib.

My take on ebooks is that they are — and should be seen as — the cheapest form of disposable literature. They're not cultural artefacts (pace Cory Doctorow); you don't buy them in signed, slipcased, limited editions. They're like stripped mass market paperbacks without even the value-added of doubling as wood pulp wall insulation once you've read them.

Now, there exists within writing and publishing circles a neurotic fear that sooner or later (probably In Five Years' Time — that seems to be the normal window) a cheap digital paper based ebook reader will come along, that makes the experience of reading text on a screen no different from the experience of reading a lump of dead tree stitched inside a piece of pigskin. And, as the horror story has it, we will be In Big Trouble, because the pre-existing availability of pirate ebooks will lead to enormous proliferation and a total crash in the value of books. Some pretty smart people believe this story, and the result has been to give it more credibility than it actually deserves. And it leads them to draw what I believe to be faulty conclusions; if you want an example, look no further than this column by Jerry Pournelle. (NB: I don't want to single Jerry out for specific opprobium, and I think it's only fair to note that what he's really talking about is the DMCA. However, I think this article typifies the received wisdom among many writers on the subject of ebooks, piracy, and DRM, which is why I dragged it in here.)

It's the received, prevalent wisdom — and it's a load of rubbish.

First of all, if overlooks the point that publishers don't manufacture ebook readers; the consumer electronics industry does. And the consumer electronics industry will not cut off its own nose to spite its face by producing an ebook reader for $20, if it can produce one with extra bells and whistles that sells for $350. We've had the tech for a $20 (or $50, anyway) ebook reader for a decade; it would resemble a grey-scale palm pilot, albeit without even the PDA functionality. But the parts are dirt cheap these days! If a manufacturer thought they could sell the beast, they'd be churning them out by the bucketload — and it's perfectly possible to read ebooks on a 160x160 green screen. I used to do it all the time in the mid to late 1990s. The reason nobody makes such a beast is because it's simply not profitable to do so. Explaining why this is so ought to lead into a long essay on the cost structure of consumer electronics, but basically, unless the Chinese government decides to subsidize its indigenous manufacturers in order to deliberately destroy the western publishing industry, it ain't gonna happen.

Secondly, and more devastatingly for the sky-is-falling promoters of the "pirate ebooks will doom the publishing industry" theory, until ebook readers cost no more than a hardback, 90% of readers will ignore them. And that's regular readers, not the folks who own four books (and one of them is a Bible). Expecting people to cough up $200 for a reader so that they can then pay $25 for new novels to read on it — as opposed to buying the novels for $25 (less discount) in hardcover and having the cultural artefact — is, well, it's just bogus.

We might see such a device (at $200) take off in the book club market. Imagine you join the e-book club. Your first sign-up gets you an ebook reader loaded with five titles for $20. Then you have to buy a book a month for the next year before you can leave, and you're paying $20 a pop. After a year you've got 17 novels and an ebook reader, and you're out $240 for a $200 reader. Most abook-clubbable people will stay in (they're set up for the club and they've already got a small bookshelf on their reader) and over the next year the club can make the profits to pay for that first year's loss-leader.

But 80% of readers don't do book clubs. I've seen my book club sales, and they're piss-poor (except in France, which is different).

Basically, the universal ebook reader is a non-starter — at least for this generation — for the same reason that it's near-as-dammit impossible to sell hardcover midlist novels for more than US $24; consumers don't like being milked.

Now, having demolished the myth of the $5 ebook reader being just around the corner, the second problem the publishing industry has with ebooks is their misapprehension of exactly what the "pirate" ebook field is costing them. Some otherwise fairly intelligent folks in the SFWAs anti-piracy committee think they're potentially costing up to 30% of their revenue stream. I'd like to call bullshit on that.

There's a figure I've heard quoted (unfortunately I don't know the source so I can't cite you chapter and verse on it) to the effect that the typical dead-tree book has, over its life cycle, an average of four readers. Moreover, sell-through in paper is around 50-60%; that is, for every book sold to a customer, 0.8 to 1.0 other books end up being returned or pulped. So the real figure is more like ten readers per book actually printed by the publisher.

Think about that. Today, publishers try like crazy to tie ebooks to a single reader via DRM, in their misplaced zeal to reduce profit leakage; but for the economic hit from piracy to equal the economic hit from libraries and second-hand bookstores and friends lending friends books, the unlicensed distribution channels would have to be shifting nine ebooks for every one that is sold commercially.

And you know what? I don't think most of the ebook sharing subculture is even about reading the books in the first place — it's about collecting, and participating in a gift sub-culture where your kudos is governed by how much stuff you can give away. Yes, this probably sounds alien to a lot of you. All I can say is, you haven't spent enough time monitoring alt.binaries.e-books.flood and the other pirate ebook distribution channels. There are folks there who, of a weekend, post more books than I could read in a lifetimes. Random, eclectic, nonsensical collections of books, some of which are hopelessly corrupted and most of which are poorly proof-read. These folks are not reading what they put out. They're not putting it out with helping other people read the stuff as a primary goal, either. There's another dynamic at work, and no scheme to stop or reduce ebook piracy stands a chance of working until we understand why it's happening.

Interestingly, Baen's webscription titles are under-represented on the ebook warez newsgroups. I don't think this is an accident. Books that come up most often are either scanned and OCRd paper copies, or cracks of DRM-locked ebooks. If you look at the posters' activities in terms of proving status within a gift economy this makes sense; OCRing a book or cracking DRM takes time and effort, and is a demonstration of putting effort into something — it's a high value activity. Whereas posting something you grabbed off Baen's library of for-free books, or paid $5 for is just stupid — it's like turning up to a a wine and cheese evening your friends are running on a "bring a bottle" basis with a bottle of Buckfast or Mad Dog 20/20. It's cheesy, tasteless, and looks cheap, and that's how the ebook pirate elite will view you.

So, it's time for me to advance some tentative conclusions about why the commercial ebook market is broken:

  • Most current ebooks are grossly overpriced relative to their utility to the reader. eBooks are actually disposable literature, like mass-market paperbacks only more so.
  • We are not going to see cheap ebook readers any time soon because publishers need them, but consumer electronics manufacturers don't.
  • Readers won't buy expensive ebook readers because they're reluctant to pay over $25 for a novel at the best of times. Only bundling a metric shitload of high-value content with a reader will make it attractive.
  • Insofar as there are no lending libraries or second-hand bookstores for ebooks, ebook piracy is the equivalent niche to those traditionally tolerated outlets.
  • Historically, only 25% of readers paid into the authors revenue stream. A 75% piracy rate may therefore be seen as a continuation of business as usual.
  • The pirates are not motivated by profit but by a poorly-understood social phenomenon connected to status in a gift-giving forum.
  • We do not know what ebooks are worth to readers, but the relative lack of Baen product in the usual places suggests that if unencrypted ebooks are readily available at an affordable price (i.e. less than an MMPB) then demand for the pirate edition will be reduced.
  • Which leads to the next question:what is to be done?

    (To be continued, when I get around to it ...)




    I wrote a few notes on the book reader I'd like to buy at http://www.kryogenix.org/days/2007/01/05/a-book-reader which *might*, *might* make economic sense. But it's unlikely; it requires, I think, rather a lot of co-operation between publishers. If one ever comes on the market, though, I'll be first in line.


    Stuart: you're not kidding about the "rather a lot of co-operation". What it'd actually take is the abolition of the existing copyright regime and a hostile takeover of the British Library, probably by the corporate villains in Vernor Vinge's "Rainbows End" (and if you haven't read that, you need to :).

    But I disagree with you about several design requirements. Firstly, people are used to gizmos and gadgets. (Count the number of people around you who don't have a mobile phone these days.) I figure a couple of buttons are forgivable -- and your users are going to need an input device anyway, to select the book they want to read.

    Secondly, and more importantly, it's too expensive. Booksellers in the USA found that for every dollar over $24 a midlist hardcover novel cost, the readership dropped 10%. By the time the price hit $35, virtually nobody was buying them. When you buy an ebook reader, it'd better damn have at least one book on it already, or it's no use to anybody; and I reckon those people who don't read more than one book per three to six months will not be willing to pay more than that one book's hardcover value for the reader. Why should they? Buying hardcovers is no more expensive, in the medium to long term (i.e. over the next year or two).

    Reading is already a minority recreational pursuit compared to listening to music or watching TV and movies; it was bad enough for the CE industry launching the CD and DVD formats, trying to get consumers to buy in to a new player. eBooks are a million times worse, and only crazed bibliophiles like us actually want ebook readers. (Oh, us, and classroom managers. But they're a different matter. I'm talking fiction here, not text books.)


    Fair play on the economy point, since you know a lot more about this than I do :)

    The thing about 10% dropoff per dollar is pretty instructive, it must be admitted. My idea was that you get around the problem of only crazed bibliophiles wanting ebook readers by essentially not telling people that what they're holding is an ebook reader; instead, you tell 'em it's a book which is a library or something and never ever ever mention the word "digital". I mean, people will intellectually know that it's really a computer, but if you make it look like a book and work (broadly) like a book and feel like a book and not be like a computer then your market becomes everyone on the train with a book, which used to be everyone and is now everyone who doesn't own an iPod.

    Plus, now I have to go and get Rainbow's End. And the library's shut. Excuse me while I drown in irony. :)


    If you look at the movie pirating "business" you see something very like the book-sharing you're talking about, which bolsters your point. Right now the two main sources of pirated movies are a) digital copies stolen from the studio or distributor and b) copies made by taking a camcorder to the theater and pointing it at the screen. For the movie industry a) is a commercial security problem; if they can't reduce that to an acceptable level they're not trying hard. b) is exactly the book-sharing situation: the only reason for having such a copy is bragging rights, since most of them are unviewable.

    One way to pad out the initial cost of the ebook hardware is to deliver it filled with books: 1 or 2 commercial properties, and a boatload of stuff from the Gutenburg Project. Sure, most people won't read them, but they'll feel like the initial deal is reasonable.

    As for affording all the storage that'll cost, a book weighs about 1-2 Megabyte (or less) as a text file. Store it as PDF, and you multiply that by 10 or 20, but you still have space for a lot of books in 256 Meg of flash, which costs a few dollars these days.

    And speaking of memory and hardware, if you handle it right there are already a lot of readers out there: every iPod that has a usable size screen. The first shot at a distribution system should be to make a deal with Apple to go through iTunes. They already have a deal with audible.com for spoken books, why shouldn't they do a deal for written ones?


    umm, I can't say I know much about commercial ebooks. As i've never bought one in my whole life, but take my story as a case study.

    English isn't my native tongue. 3 years ago, I only read the stuff we had at school that I found mildly intersting. Then one day i was browsing around and found an Ebook-reader for my cellphone (a SE T610). I considred the idea awesome and started reading my first ebook ever. A pirated version of a novel by Chuck Palahniuk. Then I moved to some stuff from project gutenburg. It was a pain to read on that tiny phone before sleep in complete darkness, but that's the way i liked it and became used to. The software had an even a more tiny font, but I was addicted and i think it took it's toll on my vision. I only read at bedtime. for like 30 minutes. Sometimes more.

    By the end of the year I considred myself an avid reader. Although I never truly read a paperback. Then Accelerando came out and I got a new phone (nokia 7510 I think). Again, it had that awesome free ebook reader. ReadM. Without all the space constraints and support for a myriad of formats. Also much larger screen/fonts. To be honest I almost never read in public on my phone. I don't imagine myself doing it on another device other than phones :/

    Nowadays, my reading is diverted but mostly coherent to legaly free ebooks. Since I moved to Cairo I buy paperbacks (retail paperbacks of the books I liked where not an option in my hometown. Of course there was internet shipping but that's another story.

    As to why I don't consider buying ebooks. Price is propably the largest factor. I consider commercial ebooks way too overpriced. Then there is format. I only want books in pure txt or maybe Doc (.pdb) format and most of what i've seen are pdfs. Then comes complete blockers like DRM, etc. Pirated e-books are usually in pure txt. Of course, I don't always find the books I want, which is why i'm seriously considering ebooks nowadays.

    Hmm, this comment has grown too large and messy.

    BTW, Do you know any ebook retailers that offer the above mentioned options and have Bob howard stuff for sale? :P


    I'm not the market, but I wouldn't buy any ebook-reader that isn't high-contrast black on white (as is text on my computers' screens) ((maybe epaper will do the trick)), that is very lightweight and portable, has a really low energy consumption, a good bookmark function, doesn't look cheap and is usable in bed and in train and airplane. That is, the ebook-reader should not only signify belonging to the class of cultural valuable artifacts, but should also be usable in the way I use books (i.e. for entertainment). The only advantages of reader against real books would be the possibility to take more books with me travelling, the need for less storage space, and the possibility to read free e-books more comfortable than using my laptop. A e-book reader that is badly designed would not compete with the laptop, anyways.

    But I do not only read books for entertainment -- there are other books I read for work, and use notes, sticky notes and underlines while reading them. I haven't yet seen a screen reader that enables this working with the text, so even with most PDFs (scientific papers), I print them out to read them. To enable this functionality in a stand-alone reader would be quite a design challenge ...


    I really appreciate that you bring up the e-book issue and respond to the doomsayers.

    I'm still waiting for the "digital-ink" e-book reader that ISN'T crippled by DRM...


    If every book sold has 4 readers, but only half of the books which are printed are sold, then surely it's 2 readers per printed copy, not 8-10?


    Here's my personal experience:
    I've been using Palm OS devices as e-book readers for just about a decade now. At this point a Palm TX running PalmFiction is on par with the Sony reader in terms of quality and has the added plus of being self lighting. For reading long titles (Cryptnomicon or the Harry Potter Books) It's the only option I'd contemplate, due to the simple logistics of carrying around the text and having it handy at the times I get a chance to read (waiting for something or traveling). The 4 GB SD cards I use are under $24 and hold roughly 8 pickup trucks of books if compressed text is used (in reality it's split across a few hundred books, a few hundred MP3s, and several dozen videos. When I read a book I always buy a dead tree copy to support the author, and often buy several to give to friends. One of my best friends follows the same path.

    What I see from my experience is:
    a.)e-book readers are viable in the form of PDAs
    b.)The users are raging bibliophiles, who love books and authors and are very interested in keeping bookstores and authors in business. They just want a secondary copy which is portable.
    c.)DRM is simply to annoying to be viable.
    d.)As long as we're talking transferable content (i.e. non-DRM) storage is completely moot.


    Kareem: BTW, Do you know any ebook retailers that offer the above mentioned options and have Bob howard stuff for sale? :P

    I live in hope. (Jim Baen made me an offer for non-exclusive rights to those books for Webscriptions, but unfortunately this was about a week before his fatal illness, and I didn't follow through fast enough.) As it is, I hope my main publishers will see the light about the stupidity of DRM within the next couple of years, but I'm not holding my breath.


    Sorry, Chris: it's the ratio of opportunities for readers to pay for the experience to actual remuneration events that I'm getting at. I need a less clumsy way of phrasing this ...


    Charlie, we thrashed around this one in Cheltenham, back in both our dim and distant bachelor days, and while I've come around to your way of thinking I still think the main stumbling block to e-books isn't DRM but that people who buy books actually like to buy books. They like the act of going into a bookshop and holding the merchandise in their hands. They like to be able to pick up something that isn't going to crash or need recharging. MP3 and music downloads had it easy because we've always listened to music on some kind of electronic device; digitising text is a bigger cultural shift, I think and will take longer to gain momentum.


    Dave: we've always listened to music on some kind of electronic device ...

    That's a lovely phrase. Mind if I cut it out and keep it? ;-)


    Charlie: well, yeah, apart from live music and orchestras and wind-up gramophones and that kind of stuff... You know what I mean.


    My hope was always for some massive institution like the University of California system to subsidize an eBook reader for its students. UC would put its geeks to work developing the thing, which would be able to hold a university education's worth of textbooks, notes, and lectures, then go to the textbook publishers and say, "Here's the deal. Either you whip up cheap (sub-$20) electronic versions of your books, or we switch our entire student population over to Wikipedia." And then UC sells it cheap to every other state university system, and we'll have an entire generation who can carry around their backup brains and read them whenever and share stuff, and...

    ...and then the drugs wear off and I go back to watching cartoons.


    It seems to me as a very avid reader (a few books per week all my life) that the problem is also selection.

    Let's see -- in print (via Amazon, abebooks and alibris) virtually any book i might be interested in. I just finished reading some books by James Moffatt from the 20's and 30's. Cost about $30 total for 4 books.

    Now, in eform -- perhaps a few thousand titles in a limited variety of genres -- many scifi, few academic theology; virtually no modern poetry.

    Seems part of the problem for ereaders is simply content.


    Well, first, the quantity of books published, scanned as ebooks and available for download are enormous. Pretty much anything you'd like is available somewhere, and if it isn't, new book-friendly scanners are making it easier to add to the mountain.

    As for the electronics companies, screw them, really. Government and public schools should make their own reader and their own textbooks, thereby kicking out the Texan black hole for textbook funds. English and math don't change every five years, so we don't need to keep killing trees to make book publishers rich. A large number of e-textbooks are being created and distributed under public licensing schemes. The U.S. starves it's public schools; those schools need textbooks that cost zip. The One Computer Per Child project shows what can be done when profit is taken out of the equation.

    And this brings to mind: why can't we build our own ebooks, if the parts are so cheap?

    Lastly, we're in a giant climactic meltdown. We need more trees on the ground sequestering carbon; we, as a matter of survival, must stop cutting forests down to spray ink on the products. Preference for Victorian era bookbinding is not an option. 6.5 billion people cannot all buy books -- the deforestation for such lunacy will further tip the heat buildup into disasterous territory. We have to make sacrifices for the future of humanity. E-books are a small thing to accept in that frame.


    "And the consumer electronics industry will not cut off its own nose to spite its face by producing an ebook reader for $20,"

    No, that's called "refusing to give the customer what they want". I'm starting to think that Something Needs To Be Done. And $100 is more reasonable, from my POV (You really want an e-ink screen rather than LCD, even greyscale LCD). I'm not willing to spend on an expensive PDA which I *will* break.

    "generations" are getting shorter. I know you mean people generations, I mean electronic generations. And it's increasingly clear that business and government institutions cannot deal with the increasing pace of change. That is, however, another rant.

    Till Westermayer, yep, e-ink can do that. Another reason to want it. (It only uses power when you change the letters...)


    Charlie, the only flaw in your argument, and it's not a big one but worth pointing out, is that libraries pay royalties when they loan out books. Sure you're aware of the PLR, but for those that aren't:

    Overall though, I concur, I've always leant books, borrowed books, etc, and doing so encourages more sales. Same with music, really. Publishers are chasing their tales rather than moving with the market. Ah well, some things never change.


    I love books, I'm running out of room in my house to store them all. When I first discovered "ebooks" floating around ye olde intarweb in the pre-p2p days I was very excited (hell I remember file trading on BBSes!). I grabbed everything I could find. I had thousands upon thousands of books. About a year later I tried reading one and made it about 3 pages in. By about 1999 I had deleted the entire collection. Then in the early days of bittorrent I found a tracker full of ebooks and repeated the pattern. Thousands of ebooks sat on my hard drive until I needed to free up some space and away they went.

    The problem with ebooks is that their utility is pretty minimal. An mp3 player makes a hell of a lot more sense than an ebook reader. I never travel so light that a book or three is a burden, and a book or three is the maximum I will read when traveling. Compare that to music, I may want hundreds of songs in a variety of genres. Bringing them all on CDs is obviously a burden. The only actual benefit to ebooks is that people like me who love to own books would save a lot of room in their house, and really having shelves full of books makes for some nice decoration in your home. People look through your books and learn about you or find something to start a conversation about (Them: "Oh, I haven't read Accelerando yet, what did you think?" Me: "It's great, feel free to borrow it if you'd like."). Ebooks would be a supplement to a real book collection and never a replacement, whereas an mp3 collection is a workable replacement for a CD collection.

    My prediction: There will never be anything more than a tiny niche market for ebooks. Even if the mythical $5 ebook reader is invented. Even if they give away the "perfect" ebook reader and sell ebooks of $35 hardcovers for only $.99 on itunes. Ebooks are like the futuristic uniforms regular people wear in crappy SF, it's just not going to happen. If we're still human in 50 years the bankers will still be wearing the business suit and tie combo we all recognize and those of us who are literate will still be buying books in the same format we all recognize.


    Andrew, the e-Ink dev kit is a mere snip at US$3000: http://www.eink.com/kits/index.html


    Books, even paperbacks, take up space. I suppose we all dream of living in a place where there is room for our great library, but the reality is that wall space for books costs money. I accumulate books at a frightening rate - Andrea and I are traveling right now, we've been gone for ten days, and there are six books belonging to me in the luggage, four of which I've read. What a waste of energy!

    Books that are worth lending out, I want in a good-quality paperback edition. Books that I enjoyed once, I want to be able to compensate the author for having written, but I don't need the hardware token, and I don't particularly want the $0.05/title the used bookstore will give me.

    Oh, and I don't want to have to wait until the damned paperback release a year after the book comes out in hardcover, and I bloody well don't want to be buried in hardcover books, and I don't want to pay $25/book for the privilege of reading it a year early. If you make me do that, I'm going to go to the library, unless I *really* like you. (I have a couple of your books in hardcover, actually!)

    The idea that nobody would buy e-books if they were distributed in a reasonable way is poppycock. I don't know what percentage of the potential market non-DRM e-books represent, but it's probably noticeable. *If* they're priced right and easy to get.


    Er, oh, and I could care less about having an e-book reader. I want the e-book on something I already carry in my pocket or backpack, so either my laptop computer, or my cell phone. If I have to buy an extra box, carry it around, and carry its charger around, it's not going to happen. But of course if the books are released in a reasonable, non-DRM format, the format doesn't dictate the reader, so I'm a happy guy.

    Er, also, I've purchased quite a few books from the Baen webscriptions library. Not as many as I would like, because Baen tends to focus on authors I don't like, but pretty much every time I've had a choice between paper and electronic, I've gone electronic. I wish I had more choices like that.


    I would pay $200-$300 US for a pocketable, expandable device with search functionality if it was bundled with, say, The Complete History of Middle Earth or The Complete Aubrey-Maturin or The Complete Stross.

    I would pay more if it was in colour and I could buy it preloaded with The Complete Sandman.

    But the devil is in the details, as Ted said, it would probably need to have other functionality (music, video). And it should have at least a Massmarket PB screen size. Other wise I'll keep wearing my cargoes and shoving trees in my pocketses.


    We have a little ebook club and it's doing very nicely, if I say so myself. We "give away" the old Gemstar reader for a year's commitment, and for your monthly $19.95 you get two books. After a year, the very wonderful device is yours to keep, and we hope you'll stay in the club. Many do. We pay royalties four times a year and really, it's been swell. It's a model that works.


    I already buy a considerable number of ebooks, as monopole says the latest Palms work well as ebook readers and are useful as PDAs as well. Minor quibbles about battery life and e-paper screens would be very nice, etc. but basically they work well now.

    I'd happily buy most of my books in that form *if* I could get them at a reasonable price *and* DRM was not the pain in the rear it is *and* more ebook titles were available. Near hb prices is simply ridiculous (and hb prices are absurd already, no wonder recreational reading is dying a slow death. e-books are the solution, not the problem!) I think a reasonable starting point to see how the market went would be ebooks at %50 - %60 the pb price.

    Secure Palm reader format is probably the most reasonable of the DRM schemes and what I use 95% of the time, but it sure would be better if they stopped being so retarded and dropped it altogether.

    Example of what can happen if you allow flexibility: The other day I downloaded the podcast of "Just Do It" by Heather Lindsley from from Escape Pod, I liked it and noticed it was published in print in F&SF June 2006. Checked Fictionwise and sure enough they still had that issue available so I bought it (heck, it's only $3.99 not $39.99).


    I personally love my Sony Reader - I bought it six weeks ago and use it constantly - it's my main medium for reading books. I've bought about ten and downloaded about 100 from manybooks.net. It really has changed the way I read, especially when it comes to casual fiction. 90% of what i read are novels that I'll read once and then move on from. I have a huge library, but I end up donating the paperbacks to goodwill every year because they take up too much space. And if I can buy a bundle of 3 sci-fi titles for $11.00, that's a great deal for me. If I can get great books under creative commons for free that's even better (I give away my own book, Geek Mafia for free). The e-book industry is still young, but I think it's got extreme potential for growth. Yes $350 is too much for most people, but everyone I show my reader to wants one. It's very easy to use and read and especially travel with. In four or five years when the electronic ink tech is even cheaper and more flexible, I think you'll find these things more and more popular. I really do hope they're the future, as, quite frankly, IMHO, they totally rule.



    Ted Lemon, right, chargers - eink devices, again, can run off standard batteries, because they're very low power.

    David S, well, the Baen prices are *effectively* 1/2 PB for UK readers. $5 is ~£3.00, paperbacks are £5.00-6.00.

    I own over 250 non-DRM ebooks. I own 2 DRM ebooks, from fictionwise (an author who has some Baen Books, and some not - and I wanted the other...).


    As someone working with alternate business models for content distribution (first in music, now in publishing), I would like to pose a question to you all (and you too, Charlie):

    If you could download a free ebook, to be read in a form already available (laptop screen, cell phone, etc.), would you return upon consumption to leave a tip in an online tip jar (via PayPal or a similar service)?

    I write the Secret World Chronicle with Mercedes Lackey, and for some reason, our "donation" page has gone bonkers this week! Folks seem to see it as a way to thank Misty for years of entertainment... which is fine for me and for the hosting bills.

    I'm a firm believer in "try before you buy" because that is how our "easy access" economy functions these days. Think of DVD sales: most people don't buy a DVD of a film they have never seen unless a friend or reviewer has strongly recommended it; rather, they purchase an archival copy of a movie they enjoyed as a rental or in a theater.

    What I'd like to see is a well known writer with a well trafficked, professional website, who publishes a first run book with a tip jar model. I am betting that experiment would pay off. Handsomely.

    The thing is, you don't need to solve the question of who will promote everyone's books if publishers are sidestepped through digital distribution. You only need to solve the question of who will promote YOUR books.

    I think about this a lot!



    Since Sony released the reader I've been waiting for this essay. That is, the essay which inadvertently welcomes the end of the 550 year old pulp-based information distribution system. Like the mp3 revolution of almost 10 years ago, this revolution will not come from the top down.

    I am in the business of creating and providing printed documentation, often volumes running in the thousands of pages. The technology has progressed to the point that my operation has regressed to taking PDF files and making hard copies. The "master" PDF is then provided on a gussied up thumb drive. My clients' customers over 40 have no idea what the thumb drive is. My clients' customers under 30 wonder why they are being weighed down with double-digit pounds of paper why they have better access to the same information on their ever present laptop.

    Books will continue to exist, as LPs do today, for their fetish factor. The $50 stand-alone reader, which will sell for $150, is right around the corner. If you think some of the folks providing the vanity presses work today are a bit tilted, just wait.

    Imagine a PDF version of the local paper or forums or blogs, instruction manuals, essentially podcasting one reads will be the killer app among those few remaining for whom picking up something and reading it is not an anathema. It won't be as big as the ipod, but it will not be uncommon.

    The big players will be behind the times in this.


    I have to agree with monopole that PDAs are an ideal eBook reader. I read novels almost exclusively on my PDA, because it's backlit (and therefore ideal for reading in bed), and portable, nicely sized, has good bookmarking functionality, and lets me carry around a large number of books at the same time. I confess that I use Microsoft Reader (free download) and .lit files because it works well on my PDA (a Dell Axim). I tend to avoid PDF eBooks because the formatting doesn't work well on a PDA. Of course, I use the PDA for other things, too - being able to read eBooks is just an added bonus.

    I see a stand-alone eBook reader as a non-starter unless it's the price of a hardback book. The easy comparison is to an iPod or a walkman, but those replaced comparably priced hardware (stereo systems) and in addition were portable. An eBook reader replaces a book (or even a stack of books), but books are already pretty portable. A single-use device for reading eBooks just doesn't make very much sense.

    As far as the books themselves go, I agree with Charlie's thoughts on pricing - eBooks are more disposable than MMPBs, and should be priced accordingly. Also, until eBooks hit critical mass, there just won't be much of a market for them. One thing I would like to see to drive that would be including an eBook version (or access to one) with a dead-tree version of a book. Baen Books (yet another plug) has done this quite nicely, so I'm always happy to buy their books.

    I love books, but find reading on my PDA much easier than reading a physical book. If I got an electronic version along with a dead-tree version, I'd have the best of both worlds, and would probably buy more books because I know I'd read them, instead of letting them sit on my shelf while I read something that's more convenient than dealing with a fat hardback.


    With the rise of sites like PaperBackSwap.com, I would not be surprised if the number of readers per book rises even higher. I joined in December, and I've already sent and received over 30 books.


    I don't think it's the lack of a cheap ebook reader that's really holding the industry back, I think it's the lack of cheap ebooks themselves. Plenty of people are happy with reading books on a monitor. I know I find it far more enjoyable than my attempts to read on a Sony Clie, which is the closest I've come to an ebook reader.

    And given how common laptops are now, the arguement that ebook readers give people mobility to read where they want doesn't hold as much weight. The sort of people who will buy and read ebooks are the same sort of people who likely own a laptop and take it with them to cafes. They're probably getting most of their news online, on that same laptop. To think that they'd replace thier newspapers with a computer, but not books is silly.

    The other large potential audience, and I think the source of many pirates, are international readers. English has become the defacto lingua franca of most of the educated world. And a good portion of international English speakers enjoy reading books in English. Unfortunately, the current publishing system makes that difficult. Even the English speaking countries have a fractured publishing system, with publishing rights divided up so that books are published months or years apart in North America, the UK, and Australia -- if they're published at all. And that leaves out probably a hundred million other people who are forced to pay to have books shipped.

    Which brings us to price. The major English speaking countries are some of the highest cost of living nations int he would. Purchasing Power Parity might give an equivalent lifestyle in many nations, but it really hits you in the wallet if you're trying to pay $25+$15 shipping for a book when you only make $15,000 a year in your own country. Nevermind that you're a middle class professional at home, at US prices you're barely above poverty level.

    So it's a real slap in the face to international readers to make a product that's accessible for them -- just a mouse click and credit card away, and then price it out of their reach. If every book was also published as a $5 ebook, you might loose sales in North America to pirates, but you'd probably gain even more from across the globe.


    Fascinating post and I agree wholeheartedly, but I wonder if a universal ebook reader could be introduced for content that is already disposable and cheap: newspapers, magazines. A reader can be networked to allow for content subscriptions (to include books once the device takes off) and a minimum set of features, only those that are most valuable. If someone can get into the habit of reading the WSJ or Cosmo of a screen, it's a much smaller step up to novels.

    Given that a 2GB SD card costs under US$10, a reader can come pre-loaded with a distilled wikipedia and most of Project Gutenberg for no extra cost.


    Not all authors in the old days liked second hand booksellers or libraries. Robertson Davies1, for one, was pretty caustic on the subject, and used to say that every time someone checked a book out of the library, that was one less book sale for him-a line of reasoning not too different from what we hear from the RIAA and MPAA nowadays. He lobbied the Canadian government to make payments to writers, with the monies coming from taxes, for every time someone checked out one of their books from the library.

    1 For those of you unfamilar with him, he was one of Canada's literary greats of the 20th century, and was, in the last few years of his life, constantly mentioned as one of the people likely to get the Nobel Prize for Literature.


    I've become an avid ebook collector for a couple of reasons: firstly, because I like having searchable books, but mostly because I passionately love loaning books out and sometimes don't get them back. I've bought three copies of _Schismatrix Plus_ and multiple copies of at least one of Charlie's books. I'm coming to the conclusion that I'd really like to destructive-scan my entire library into some open format like HTML, and buy a cheap PDA as an ebook reader. But even with all that, I really don't see paying $24 for an ebook, no. $10? Maybe, if I get my choice of formats. Not $24. I'm poor; I wait for the MMPB version.

    I see some brave authors selling ebooks online without resort to a publisher. None of them have really caught my eye yet, but if any of my favorites start taking this route, I'll be PayPalling them before you can say "dematerialization of cultural data". But I imagine most established authors wouldn't be too keen on giving their publishers the finger in such a way...


    Charlie, could you address the potential for an ebook reader as a substitute for deadtree school texts? I would love a device that contained the last few semesters' worth of my college texts, particularly the ones I refer to often. Seems like that might be a way to sneak an ebook reader into the mainstream, relying (preying?) on a market that forces people to buy books regularly.



    I seriously hope you're wrong. I really, really *want* to be able to carry my entire collection of technical references in one 2-lb package. It'd be nice to have some recreational fiction in there, too. I have the O'Reilly Safari subscription, and it's great - but I need another display device to read it from! And as previously mentioned, I'm tired of schlepping books (including a few of your works) from shelf to shelf and house to house as I move through life. Remove the bookshelves and I could easily live in a 20% smaller abode.

    Yes the publishers are pricing ebooks wrongly. If the egg came first - *that's* the egg; ebook readers are the chicken and will drop price naturally as soon as publishers get ebooks into paperback price range. That's *if* they do, so let's hope Jim Baen marks the path for them.

    All your math wrt number of reads per book misses the point. Paper is a sort of DRM - you and the paper must physically coincide in the same space at the same time to read that instance of the content. The problem of DRM is to emulate that sort of behaviour, rather than allowing any one instance-owner to spawn off a thousand exact copies in the space of a heartbeat. Solve that, and the rabid fears of the music/movie/book/whatever publishing industries evaporate. Then we're good to go. The trick is to achieve the status quo, electronically.


    I don't have a reader, nor do I purchase e-books, but I'm waiting impatiently for the perfect storm of a cheap workable reader plus a drop in prices of e-books (already here in Baen) plus the shedding of DRM. Because I'm probably the ideal user of ebooks. I can burn through a novel in an hour and an epic in three. On a week's vacation I pack six to eight books and wind up re-reading half of them before the trip's over. I keep reading my paperbacks until the tape gives out and they fall into more than three sections. (Before that, they're just Parts 1, 2 and 3.) And my reading time is almost exclusively on the bus, and during meals, where hardbacks fail because they're too heavy to hold open in one hand. If I succumb to the lure of a hardback, I read it only in bed and carry a different one around with me.

    But the single strongest reason I want an ebook reader and the marketplace to go with it, is one I've not yet seen mentioned - for short stories. I want to carry a library of my favorite short stories on the bus with me without lugging a half dozen Asimov's and a hardback anthology. I want to finish one short story and go immediately to one I'm in the mood to read, without going home and digging it out of my library. I want to search my collection of short stories by title and author instead of resorting to Google and my system of colored Post-Its to remember what anthology that particular one was in - no not that one, the other one by her. Was it in the 1991, or the 1992? Asimov's or F&SF? What theme was that anthology again? I want to make my own collections with themes and moods of my own devising, as I've been making mix playlists, mix CD's, and before that mix cassettes and 8-tracks.

    I hear from the editorials at Helixsf.com, not to mention most anywhere else the topic comes up, that SF is dying and the short form is leading the way to the grave. If I'm willing to pay a twenty-dollar dead-tree subscription for one really kick-butt story per issue, on average, obviously I'd pay a buck or two for a download of one. As long as I could read it, on the bus, or with a fork in one hand, without having to print it out myself on 8 1/2 x 11 with a re-used file folder for a cover.


    I will bet you fair sums that ebook readers will be available for under $50 well before 2012.

    I was largely writing about the DMCA being broken.

    I have never defended high prices of ebooks, and in fact I have argued for condierably lower prices. The traditional division of profit in the publishing industry is that writer and publisher make about the same profit, and publisher pays overhead including editors and production and sales.

    With lower production costs and much lower shipping costs, and lower distribution costs, the only reason ebooks are kept at high prices is to keep them from competing with print books.

    Your notion of what I believe isn't derived from the column you quoted. I certainly did not defend high ebook prices.

    On the other hand, the notion that authors must become performance artists and give their books away and charge for readings and jumping up and down on stages is popular, but you may lose some pretty good writers if you do things that way.

    Jerry Pournelle


    We publish e-books, some of them original, some of them SF/F, some of them by famous writers, some of them available only as e-books. This part of it is work, but also fun. It is a very small business, hidden-knowledge.com.

    We publish them in more damned formats than you can shake a stick at. Is this a problem? You bet. A standard will help.

    We publish them without any DRM. Is this a problem? Not at all.

    We price them in the USD$4.95 to 9.95 range, comparable to a mass-market paperback. When considering price, remember that the online sales distributor takes 50 or 55% of the selling price, and keeps it to pay for the distribution mechanism. Is this a problem? I don't know; have you bought any new books lately? The price for used mass-market paperbacks or hardbacks on the Amazon Marketplace is USD$0.01 plus USD$3.49 shipping (not true for Charlie's books, but true for most SF/F). Second-hand books for $3.50? Not a problem.

    Reading on screen? Not a problem. Reading on phones or MP3 players or Treos? Not a problem.

    Presence of hundreds of books online for free at Google, or Munseys.com, or Project Gutenberg? Not a problem; in fact, a solution: many things for people to read when they've finished "The Doom That Came to Milton Mowbray" and don't have any money to buy new books until next week.

    Just what is the problem? I don't think there is a general problem. I think our expectations are out of line with the typical adoption curves of cultural mechanisms, which always take longer than adoption of the toys du jour.

    My guess is that e-book publishing is a self-organizing system that is slowly beginning to coalesce. Hope I'm right.


    I think Stross is onto something when he says "My take on ebooks is that they are — and should be seen as — the cheapest form of disposable literature." Maybe the problem is, in part, the content. Making cheap pulp paperbacks created pulp literature, which had different formats and different style from what went before. Dickens wrote serials for magazines, which were retroactively packaged into novels.

    Maybe we should look for literature that's the equivalent of a one-, five- or fifteen-minute podcast. You read it once and then usually delete it/throw it away. It's short, it gets to the point, and you can read it while on the commuter train or waiting for your coffee. It could be something like 365 Tormorrows or it could be something like the Deep Love series that was a surprise hit on cell phones in Japan.

    Right now, the best way to read novels is ink on pulp. The short story market is in intensive care. Flash fiction, read on PDAs or cell phones or music players, might be what comes next. The literary voice of the 21st century will come in chunks of less than 1000 words at a time.


    Charlie, thank you for writing down what I've been thinking about for at least the last two years. I've been using a PC based ebook reader on my laptop off and on for a while, and have yet to buy a single ebook. The price is just too high. I also feel the same way about buying downloadable MP3's.

    One publishing area that does seem to get the ebook thing is in electronic data books, nearly all component vendors now publish all their data books as downloadable PDFs. Granted these vendors generally gave away the dead tree editions in the hopes of selling more chips. So for them the use of the PDFs saves them a ton of money in printing and shipping costs.


    I believe that ebook readers *are* going to be ubiquitous, and sooner than most folks in the business think. I already carry one with me all day every day: Plucker on my Treo. My first thought on seeing the iPhone demo was "That would make a killer ebook reader". I think that within a few years many people will have phones with a high-res, high-pixel-count screen that would be quite acceptable as an occasional ebook reader. Once these devices are widespread, it won't take much for the idea of ebooks to really take off.


    I don’t think we have to wait till 2012. As Dirk says many people have a free eReader in their pocket or handbag - their regular cell phone (non-smart but j2me enabled).

    I have done a lot of reading on my cell and always have 3-4 books ready for 'impulse reading'. I got a nice little frisson just from the idea of putting _Accelerando_ in my phone.

    It's strange that you can be waiting till 'they' finally deliver the long awaited eReader, and you turn around and realize you have been carrying one around for months.

    Unfortunately I had to 'roll my own' books (including skimming and tweaking text format etc. to read well in the very small screen), and there is nothing available that is not public domain, creative commons (not that there is anything wrong with that…as far as it goes).

    I started downloading and reformatting books for my cell phone. Over the course of many books I refined the eReader; to make best use of the screen and to make the interface non-intrusive, trying to directly connect me to the author. When I started researching more to read, I realized how many of the PD works I was interested in reading for their own sake, rather than to ‘feed the phone’ or an exercise in ‘cultural virtue’.

    The process is laborious, and some people are never going assemble a book in a phone from scratch. I was getting a lot of value out of the books and I thought others might also. My partner and I put together a service www.booksinmyphone.com. There you can browse précis and purchase books from the ‘classic’ lists of major publishers that should run on 90% of the phones sold today. We charge a few dollars to recover the costs of formatting and distributing.

    I think one way or the other this kind of reading will really take-off.


    Charlie, I think you're headed in the right direction, with a clear focus on the economics of the situation. Assessing the economics is the only thing that will help us sort out what works and what doesn't.

    Over on TeBC ( groups.yahoo.com/group/ebook-community ) I've suggested standardizing at a MUCH lower layer than most, and pretty well been laughed out of the room for it. I think I've earned my curmudgeon stripes by now. My suggestion was to standardize at 800x600 monochrome bitmapped pages, because anything higher drove up the minimum cost of the end-user device. It could handle simple images and anyone's alphabet, yet avoided the scope-creep that seems to drive us to laptops displaying PDFs.

    You could still use such a format in a higher-end device, much like you can play CDs in your laptop. But it at least leaves the option of a $20 device open, much like you can buy a $20 CD player down at the corner store.

    Standardizing on pure page images on an SD card with simply page/chapter navigation controls -- not even a file structure -- would allow buying preloaded cards, and stuffing them into an otherwise memory-less device that has no software that can grow old or host security vulnerabilities. And, yes, you can load your own cards with your own works if you want to do that. If an e-ink screen makes sense, fine - but standardizing on the media is more important than standardizing on the device or the display.

    Of course, it comes in for ridicule from those who think that ebooks must be at least ASCII, and likely something even more complex than that. But it seems that almost anything you can do in the higher formats, you can do in bitmap - but the more demanding user ends up paying more for their device, while everyone gets the same bare minimum media. Now that's the kind of economics that seems to make sense to me.


    Catbeller @17: We have to make sacrifices for the future of humanity. Aha! A neo-puritan! No thanks, I don't buy into your eschatology.

    Given the average number of books per household in the US -- about two -- and the average weight of a hardcover -- about 600 grams -- it would take roughly 6 million tons of wood pulp to bring every household in the planet up to US standards. Which sounds like a lot until you realize that (cf. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000) we've got roughly 422 billion tons of wood biomass on this planet. So the argument that we've got to switch to ebooks otherwise we're raping mother Gaia and causing deforestation on a massive scale is basically a load of bollocks.

    MattGB @19: if we end up with a situation in which "pirate" ebooks are seriously cutting into copyright revenues, then either the existing cultural and legal enforcement mechanisms will have been broken beyond repair, or it's time to change the law. There is no reason not to track ebook downloads and apply a compulsory licensing scheme akin to the musicians' performing rights societies to book consumption, or to remunerate authors via a tax on bandwidth (as appears to be the coming model for online music distribution).

    Only the current phobia of "socialism" prevents us considering alternatives to copyright as means of paying artists and content creators.


    I agree with the initial post as far as regular ebooks (novels) goes. But the ebook reader revolution might be stimulated by the needs of people in the research community (researchers and students). For example, my university is step by step dropping printed journals and switching to ejournals. That forces researchers and students to either print a paper copy or read the text on a screen (regular computer screen or some ebook reader). Paper, laser toner and other printing related materials aggregate into large costs for the research institutions. And regular computer screens are non-optimal for reading longer texts. The universities then have incentives to push for cheap ebook readers. It might therefore be economically rational for universities work together and collectively subsidize production of a cheap ebook reader. Once that is established, the rest will follow.


    Quux @37: Paper is DRM ... hmm, that's a very interesting idea, and I need to give it some attention.


    JEP @39: Hi, and welcome to the discussion. On the other hand, the notion that authors must become performance artists and give their books away and charge for readings and jumping up and down on stages is popular, but you may lose some pretty good writers if you do things that way. ... I'm certainly not advocating that; I think it's as much a parody of Cory's position as my citing you was a parody of the sky-is-falling scenario.

    The real question is, how do we (as writers) continue to make a living while making our works as widely available as possible to a global audience?

    And I'm hoping to find some new lines of thought here ...


    I'm a lover of all things technical and have been an e-book reader for years now. My first encounter with commercial e-books was relatively painless and the software used my credit card number as a DRM key (that was before DRM existed in its present form) to effectively discourage sharing.

    I believe that the lack of uptake of ebooks is in part due to the "Monty Python Quest For The Holy Grail" that the average punter needs to undertake to get onto a device in the first place. That and the lack of High Street/Main Street retailers that would entertain a CMS/distribution system in their shops, despite the potential.

    When you consider that Joe Public you can walk into almost any large supermarket and Bluetooth images from a cellphone and make perfect prints without a second thought then you realise that "the trade" needs a collective kick to realise the potential its missing and make it just as easy to download a book!


    I've always been slightly bemused that eBook readers don't come packaged with all the best stuff from Gutenberg etc, appropriately reformatted for nice display. An eBook reader that costs $200 and comes with $50 worth of books is one thing - a reader that comes with 50 or so great works of literature, etc is another.

    And pretty much most techies would buy a $200 device that partnered with O'Reilly etc to have the tech books they wanted, and added to that all the technical manuals from selected common manufacturers (as most of them provide them free anyway). Similar niche uses exist for academia and education, most professions, many large organisaiton. While its not going to lead to mass market use, it might lead to a big enough market that eBooks start to mature as a market.

    The biggest problem is definitely that eBooks still cost more than a MMPB - and, apart from searchability etc, give you less. I'm guessing this isn't just publisher delusion, but markets too small to have effective economies of scale. The chicken and egg situation needs to be broken by a company that will do a good job of providing a range of content provision programs, as well as manufacture device (and also licence the standard to other devices).


    Incidentally, Jerry, do you know what Diane Duane and Lawrence Watt-Evans are currently up to (separately) in the way of subscription-based online serials? According to them, the profit margin has taken them somewhat by surprise ...


    Was going to write a lot, but saw that Jett @20 is on the same wavelength as me. As someone who reads a lot of short SF (www.bestsf.net), and has had gadgets going back many years, and have tried Palms, PocketPC, MobiPocket eBookReader etc, and have paid for copies of e versions of sf mags like Asimovs, you'd have thought I'd be a proponent of ebooks. But I've given up on e-book reading. Small screen/text, battery life, etc, and just less easy altogether than whipping out a pbk or a magazine on the tubs/train/bus.


    I am using a Palm Treo 650, with the Mobipocket Reader. Living in South Africa, the cost of books is quite high (approx. R120 for a new paperback). The availability of free / low cost books on Baen, Fictionwise, etc is a great solution for me, as even after converting the USD cost of the book to SA Rands, it is still cheaper - approx. 30%.

    Thus, for a country with a weak exchange rate against the USD, e-books are a sound economic alternative to new paperbacks, and are usually available before the books hit the shelves.


    Okay, after thinking on it...

    Charlie, frankly I think your argument is broken. You're trying to say that people won't pay more for a mobile phone than the cost of a single call. Reading on a mobile screen, or anything smaller than a paperback WILL be niche - that is the problem with the current market, more than anything. The size of the paperback...is not an accident, in ergonomic terms. That is the "problem", ime.

    I also disagree that you should seperate classrooms and other reading here - I think that's the likely way to GET a cheap, reasonable ereader.

    Adam Rakunas, yes. You need to pay for the development liscence and support. Dev kits for anything are expensive...it's not really got that much to do with the commercial prices of the end user product.

    Actually, there IS another potential killer app. A second device, slightly higher spec, with wifi. And a subscription to a news service. When you go throguh the station in the morning, it connects to the news point, grabs the news onto your e-reader as you walk past...and you pull it out on the train and start reading.


    Re: Eric Flint volunteered this source: The Effect of File-Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis, by Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strump, published in the February 2007 issue of the Journal of Political Economy
    Most direct link be:


    Andrew, a phone is not an ebook reader (in terms of instant gratification, anyway). When you pay for a mobile phone, you're not paying for a single call, you're paying for the capability of making and receiving calls -- usually many of them per day. When you buy an ebook reader ... well, if you're me, you read 50-70 books a year and about half of them are ebooks, and you read at 350 words/min, so you're buying something you use for about an hour a day. Which is in the same ball-park as mobile phone use. But if you're an average member of the public, you read maybe 2 books a year; if you take 6 hours to read the book, it's a gizmo you expect to use for an hour a month.

    Moreover, the mobile phone gives you a capability you cannot have without it, namely the ability to be contacted (or to talk to people) regardless of where you are. Whereas the ebook reader just lets you read a book. It confers no huge advantage unless you want to either search the text, or carry around multiple books at the same time.

    So the equivalence you're making just isn't there.

    I agree with you about screen size, though. I currently read ebooks on a Nokia N800 web tablet (because the 800x480 pixel display is simply better than my Palm TX's 480x320). It's a bit smaller than a mass market paperback, and having a bigger screen would indeed be good. I'm less hung up on digital paper, though; if it'll run for 20-30 hours on two AA cells, that's good enough for me -- I'd be changing batteries about once a month, and even a voracious reader would be able to run for a week. And my Psion 3a used to do that, back in 1994. It's only the fad for colour backlit LCD displays that have turned PDAs into energy hogs; we had the technology to make power-parsimonious monochrome LCDs a decade and a half ago.

    NB: if you want a wifi-equipped gizmo for reading news on the go, Andrew, you really want to investigate the N800 ...


    Andrew (33), I'm not sure the international price argument counts -- at least not for western "English as a foreign language" markets. In fact, US (and even UK) paperbacks are often way cheaper (even counting transport) than the local translations or local works here in Germany. That may be because Germany is a high-price book market with some institutions (book prices have to be fixed by the publisher, not the store, and if its not used-books or some special deals, stores must sold for the publisher-fixed price), that may be because of economies of scale, but whatever the reason is, reading English paperbacks here is cheap (hard-cover is another area).

    Catbeller and Charlie about "paperless saving the world" -- I guess one could look at the prophecies about paperless offices thanks to digital word processing as example where "saving paper by electronics" didn't work (nowadays draft prints and so on have multiplied the mass of paper used in offices). I don't think it will work with newspapers and books, for different reasons. One is haptics, another one are unintended uses (old newspapers are messy, but helpful to wrap garbage in or to clean the windows ...). And even if replacing books with readers and ebooks will work (and will really be a replacement and not only an additional way to read, as it is the case with MP3 players), I'm not sure if it pays, ecologically speaking. Manufacturing electronics is really dirty from a life-cycle point of view (i.e., including the extraction of raw materials etc.). Manufacturing books, especially if one uses partly recycled paper or the like, is much cleaner. I would guess that the ecological effects of one e-reader are comparable to a fairly large number of books. There is also the amount of energy used for using the reader. And the comparison becomes even worse if the reader is replaced every two years or so because data is transferable and the new model looks so much better (or the old one is broken). ((On a related note: the internet server architecture is fastly becoming one of the biggest sources for energy consumption ...)).


    I'm another Palm PDA user and that's what my book-or-three-a-week reading's been done on, almost exclusively for the last decade. I have a couple of dead-tree books that I want to read, but it's just too much hassle! (You need a light on (bright enough and in the right place), two hands free to turn pages, no dictionary pop-up, no auto-bookmarking, etc. And that's assuming that you have the book you want in your hands already!)

    One of my pet peeves is the idea that ebook readers need to be the same size and heft as a dead-tree book. The size of a paperback is a compromise between manageable size vs thickness (for a 'standard' novel) vs minimising the hassle of turning pages.
    An ebook removes the page-turning impediment (just a momentary pressure of the thumb, without needing to move it much if at all) and so fewer words per page is no problem.

    For textbooks or other graphics-heavy material, the problem is restored and a tablet-PC style of device is more the order of the day.

    Battery life, display resolution and price are transient concerns, and the current exponential progress in technology will sweep those problems aside.


    Charlie, I'd agree IF it was only novel reading. But it's not just that. You can use them for ANY text. And there's a host of educational material and manuals which they can also be used for, and they'd be useful in the workplace for a lot of people as well.

    The news thing isn't for me (I don't spend long enough on the bus, generally, for it to be worthwhile - but large numbers of people DO commute), but regardless the N800 is simply out of the question. I can't afford a £275 machine, and it's fragile - I'd break it inside in a month. As I said, I have a Fujitsu Stylisic 1200 which is old as heck, but it's quite rugged (And it was £90).

    Till Westermayer, recycling paper above the quality of newspaper rag is actually less environmentally friendly than burning it for power and buying new wood from a sustainable forrest.


    Charlie@47: And languages are region encoding, though it's pretty easy for some people to crack.


    Charlie, you hit the nail on the head with the motivations of the pirate. Of course, this is true of most of the warez pirating culture, be it a pirated copy of Photoshop or the latest and greatest game: it's all about the fact that the pirate(s) got it somehow, broke whatever copy protection is on it, and then posted it. Preferably before it's official release. There's where they get respect in their little subculture.

    What would happen if the books were cheaply available, widely available, with no DRM? Why, there wouldn't be much challenge to that, would there? No challenge=no respect for the pirate=the pirate moves on to something more interesting.

    As for myself, I've spent quite a few hours reading books on the internet: John Scalzi's "Agent to the Stars", some of Cory Doctorow's releases, and quite a bit of the Baen Free Library. In most cases, while these didn't translate into direct sales for those works, it certainly translated into sales of other works by those authors.


    Ian@57, size is also related to readability, i.e. the letter size should not be too small (and not to big), and there should not more than ~ 45 letters per line, if you look at it from the point of view of usability/cognitive psychology. E.g. this blog is not really well readable on a large screen. And a book on a phone (or a small PDA screen) is nothing I want to try ((I once did read some free SF book on my PDA and found it a nuissance; others on a small laptop, that worked better)). So an ebook-reader should have more or less the size of a larger paperback, somewhere between ISO B5 and ISO B4. Oh, and I want typographically rendered pages, not "system fonts"!

    Andrew@58: I guess the eco-bilance of recycled papers vs. fresh papers depends on the way it is de-inked and what is understood by "sustainable forestry" (worse or better than FSC?). But it doesn't change my argument, just replace "if it's made from recycled paper" with "if the paper is produced as eco-friendly as possible".


    One reader's datapoint. I like having physical books, and for "consumption" reading, carrying them around doesn't bother me. I buy a few e-books, but they're generally stuff that's PoD, or otherwise not readily available as physical books. I notice, however, that I don't stick them on my PDA, which could handle them fine. The stuff I have on the PDA is reference material; the point of having it electronic is to save carrying big binders around.


    Just to add another anecdotal voice to the fray: I actually prefer e-books to their dead-tree versions. Aside from a few legacy books that couldn't bear to part with when I moved overseas, I do all my reading on a run-of-the-mill home PC or on a laptop. I've stopped buying paper books altogether except for those I cannot get in any other version.

    Aside from all of the already-mentioned benefits (search, storage, and so on) what I like the most is the fact that I can adjust the text size, style and line length to whatever is comfortable to me. As my eyes have begun to fail me, I find the ability to blow the text up "real-big like" a definite advantage.

    The biggest negative is that I get a lot of flak from my wife and her mother-in-law for being on the computer all the time -- although they spend a similar amount of time with their books. I can't quite get them to understand that I am doing exactly the same thing they are, but through a different user interface.


    Well, I've been reading pirated e-books on a palm T5 for the last couple of weeks. I say pirated, but I feel no guilt about obtaining a copy of a book I own in dead-tree format which happens to be on another continent and which I have a hankering to re-read. It would be nice if you got e-book versions with paperbacks, for example.

    I read a lot and I'll take any opportunity to grab a copy of a new interesting book that comes out, but I refuse to re-buy books I already own. I'm more cautious about buying books from a brand-new author, and tend to sniff around reviews, but I have a long list of authors whose new books I'll buy more or less automatically.

    Of the very few books I've read in (unemcumbered) e-book format first (Bujold, Accelerando, Stross horror bits, Weber, Doctorow), I've then gone on to buy the dead-tree versions of almost all of them immediately.

    Personally, I'm looking forward to the e-ink based reader coming later this year because it's going to make reading these sorts of books far more pleasant, but I'm still going to primarily be buying dead-tree paperbacks (because that's all I have space for).


    It's a case of the Waclawsky principle.

    Explanation - last spring, I interviewed Motorola's chief software architect, John Waclawsky, who remarked apropos of something different that there are two kinds of technologies, those that offer substantial direct benefits to the end user, and those that are designed by people who think they can see the future, and that these are also known by the names "success" and "failure".


    Till (57),

    I wasn't thinking of the European market for English-language books. Western Europe already has a standard of living high enough to afford to import books if they want, as you mention. Eastern Europe will probably follow over the next several years as they become more integrated.

    I was thinking rather of places like India, Africa, South America, etc. I run into a few book pirates who justify their piracy on those grounds. There was one South African I spoke to that was very passionate on the subject, basically saying it was neo-colonialism of wealthy country's industries trying to steal the wealth of the developing world by charging unfairly high prices for goods.

    It's the same problem that the movie industry has run into, and tried to address with their region system for DVDs. People in 2/3rds of the world aren't going to pay $25 for a DVD, and they aren't going to pay that for a book either.

    I agree with them, for reasons of my own. I think ebooks should cost slightly less than paperback books. As a consumer, you aren't getting a physical object, so you shouldn't pay as much. Of course, with books as with music and movies it's the information that really matters. I'd probably set the price of an ebook at about 80% of the price of a paperback. $4 or $5 seems fair, maybe $8-$10 for new books for the first couple months.


    Has a couple people have pointed out, fiction ebooks are only part of the market.

    I happen to think that nonfiction books, especially technical books and textbooks, would benefit even more from ebooks.

    It would make updates much easier, and would make new forms of marketing possible. Instead of buying a paper textbook or manual, and needing to get a new one every couple years, it would make more sense to by an annual subscription and get free updates to the material. Publishing companies would have a steam income stream, and could afford to keep staff to update the materials gradually rather than paying for a new edition then printing thousands of new books.

    The other huge benefit to ebooks is the ability to search the text. That's not so important in novels, except for finding a passage that you like, but it's huge in textbooks. Thanks to the internet, a lot of people have grown used to being able to search and find answers right away. That's the reason things like Wikipedia are hugely popular with students. Who wants to page through a book when you can just do a search in google or wikipedia? It would be handy for less serious things too, like RPGs. Several companies have ebook versions of their books, and it's very nice to be able to look up a rule without paging through several sourcebooks trying to remember where it was.

    Of course, and ebook reader might not be needed for these things to happen. If we get to a point where most students are given laptops by their schools, then the various education departments and ministries of the world might put pressure on publishers to produce ebooks for their students (as a cost saving measure).


    Of course, the search technologies in even an e-book are going to be fairly primitive. This is why people talk about using things like the Google book search to find the location of something that's in a dead-tree book next to them.

    I still prefer dead-tree reference books in many cases, it's helpful to have several open on a desk, each with their own screen real-estate. I have all electronic screen realestate busy doing other things.



    Charlie @51: Also, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are using the same model ("Storyteller's Bowl") for Fledgling and were amazed at how fast they got funded; they're now up to 29 and 5/6 chapters funded, with only 8 posted so far, and their book is only going to be 30-40 chapters long. I've interviewed Duane, Lee, and Miller about it on my podcast (click my name to go there). There are some people who don't like the idea, though, thinking of it as a "ransom" model: "pay up or it doesn't get finished."

    Charlie-in-general: Some comments I've noticed about this article elsewhere, on ebook industry blogs or mailing lists, is some grumbling that it (and other ebook prognostication articles like it) fails to take into account the existing (or to hear some participants in it talk, "burgeoning") independent-press ebook-only publishing industry—small companies who publish original works as ebooks because they can't afford print distribution, or else e- is where their market is.

    I don't have any figures for how well this indie-pub ebook industry is doing. However, there are a number of people in the industry who claim that their epublishing houses (genuine publishers with editorial review and so forth, not just "slap a manuscript in a file and call it an ebook" vanity presses) are actually turning a decent profit. Some people think that this industry will eventually cause people to start buying ebook readers just to read the books that aren't available in print.

    But I find myself asking: if most ebook prognosticators don't even seem aware of the indie ebook market, how big can it really be? I have to wonder if there's not an unconscious tendency on the part of people to assume it's bigger than it is because the fact that they're a part of it affects their perspective.


    You make some great points.

    My recent explorations into possible hardware solutions makes it obvious that a colour ebook is quite possible with today's technology. The paper book will undoubtedly be around for years. One cannot deny its limitations and the advantages of ebooks and magazines though.

    I enjoy several magazines in Zinio format on my tablet computer. At it's very best it is a wonderful mechanism for reading. However, it is heavy and noisy and power hungry. Right now those factors are holding it back.

    I have one suggestion for a wedge that might be driven into the current ebook logjam we are currently experiencing. That is the common everyday telephone book. EVERY home has a phone book. Think about that market - probably 200 million units in North America alone. Phone books are free. They are ubiquitous. We are now at the point where distributing a phone book through the internet or even giving away a 2GB SD card is cheaper than producing, printing and delivering the paper version.

    A robust, colour, battery sipping reader is probably a couple years away. Someone - regrettably not the company I work for most likely - will start giving these away soon enough. That will get a dedicated - one trick - ebook into every home on the planet. After that I think greater acceptance for a general use device is more likely.

    You're going to ask why anyone will want a phone book in the future when they can look up numbers on the Internet on a cellphone or browse the internet. The answer is simply this - phone directories are a huge business. Printing a phonebook is pretty much a license to print money. It's hard to not turn a profit in this business. But current phone directory companies cannot make any money on the Internet or with cellphone type directories. They make money off of pretty full colour advertising. The only way to keep making money is to produce a dedicated electronic version of the phonebook and the industry will swing that way as soon as the delivery mechanism is in place.
    I'm always amazed that I see absolutely no mention of this market in any discussion of ebooks. If I could tell a manufacturer that I can take all the readers he can produce because I'm giving them away, you'd think someone might be interested in a market that is probably in the billions of units.


    I've been reading ebooks on PDAs since the original US Robotics (Palm) Pilot. Once I upgraded to an iPaq with it's clearer, larger screen, I knew that ebooks were the future. Once the Barnes & Noble ebook store/fiasco/scam openned, I knew that it would take a while.

    The arguments made against ebooks (DRM, poor screen quality, online store horror stories) are the same as were made against downloadable music. (DRM, poor audio quality, online store horror stories)

    Like with music, decent stores and ebooks readers will eventually appear, and the industry will take off.


    One little thing about ebooks and poor screen quality. If you don't encumber your ebooks with silly DRM stuff, then every generation of new book-readers gives your existing material far better quality. This is a nice side effect.

    I've read several e-books on an old handspring visor, and the t5 with its high resolution wider screen is far better. HOwever, an eink display, particularly one that folds for storage and doesn't eat bettery and provides me with a pleasant to look at non-reflective surface will be absolutely dreamy.


    Oh yes. I'd be willing to pay a small surcharge to get an unemcumbered e-book version of each of the MMPBs I bought at the time I bought it. Given that isn't going to happen, I'll take advantage of the freely given effort of someone else to convert the book I own into an ebook format suitable for carrying around.



    Andrew G., well, the large-format PDF is still currently the method of choice for delivering epublished pnp RPG's for a few reasons (and I've done some of this).

    That would have to change as well... (and the minimum size is again really softback, trying to read those on a much smaller screen is an exercise in frustration).


    Monopole (and other PDA readers) right there with you. About half my recreational reading is done on a (wait for it) Palm IIIC with Mobipocket 4.9 or eReader for the occasional secure Palm file. The IIIC cost less than $50 a couple of years ago. Given that I do use it as a basic PDA as well as a reader, I'd say my actual cost was under $25. I note that IIICs are going for under $25 on eBay and there appears to be a thriving market for LiIon replacement batteries for the things.

    I buy ebooks from Baen, Mobipocket, and Fictionwise. Thanks to this post, I'll be checking out Hidden Knowledge. I can generally find what I want with a little work.

    My only beef with the Palm is the 8meg of RAM, but I suppose I could fix that by upgrading.


    I do some ebook reading of unencumbered ebooks on my Palm Z22 ... however, I still much prefer the dead tree editions for some reason; maybe nostalgia. I wish other publishers would figure out what a good thing Baen has with their free book library. I've purchased authors I never would have thought twice about before just because I had a chance to sample an entire book to see if their writing meshed with what I like. This can do nothing but help sales as far as I'm concerned, and the fact that Baen hasn't gone out of business seems to confirm that.


    Apologies if I'm going over the same ground as another comment; I'm at work so I don't have time to read the whole thread.

    I recently discussed ebook reading with a friend of mine who owns a used bookstore, and we talked about designs for ebook readers. I can imagine a device with a tough, flexible e-ink 'screen' that unrolls from a tube containing the electronics and batteries. (You could make it look like an old-fashioned scroll, or the phones from the TV show Earth: Final Conflict, or any number of other variations.) Put some music-player style controls on the tube, and I think many people would have no problem with it. I think something like that could be done right now, but *probably* not at a price people would pay. However, the components will continue to get cheaper, and at some point it will be possible to build one for the same price as a good music player. (And in fact there's no reason you couldn't combine the two.)

    Re. the electronic industry not doing creating a cheap reader because they don't want to block sales of expensive readers... I don't think that's a stable situation. What happens if some small company decides that it's an untapped market and takes a shot at it? Or, suppose one or several Makers decide to build a reader from COTS parts, and post the recipe on the Web? (c.f. the Daisy MP3 player). Or, as Bob Hawkey @ 71 points out, what if someone decides to build a reader simply as a means to an end? My point is that there are too many *different* reasons for wanting a low-cost ebook reader, and too many *different* ways of getting to one, for the current lack of such a device to last, regardless of what some companies want. One way or another we will see ebook readers take off, in much the same way that music players have, within the next few years.


    Expecting people to cough up $200 for an iPod so that they can then pay $11.99 for new albums to listen to on it — as opposed to buying the albums for $11.99 (less discount) in jewel cases and having the cultural artifact — is, well, it's just bogus.

    The only thing keeping eBooks and readers from taking off are technology (which is allllmost there) and availability of media. Critical mass is coming and once it does it's going to be MP3/AAC/iTunes all over again.

    No one wants to read a book on a 160x120 grayscale screen for several reasons. One, the battery performance with a back light is no good. eBook readers need to have battery lives measured in days, not hours.

    Second, the resolution is just too low. If you can't fit a good two (or at least one) page(s) of text on the page it's not going to feel like reading a real book.

    The Sony Reader is an incredible piece of tech. The screen is silky smooth, it works in very low light (without a back light) and the batteries last forever.
    But it's too damn expensive. When that thing is available for $150 instead of $400 you are going to start seeing them fly off the shelves.

    I'll betcha.


    "So the real figure is more like ten readers per book actually printed by the publisher."

    I call bullshit.

    My figure for Charles Stross books is about 0.8, as I haven't read all of them yet. I can't loan them out. I tell my friends that Stross is a great writer, and that his books are a blast, but they have no interest.

    The only books that I can loan out are mass market hardcovers such as John Stossel's "Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity". It's gotta be a quick and easy read with a well known author.


    There is one possibility of a future eBook market that is not discussed. If we focus only on fiction or the cultural sector that will be largely based on royalty-based business models, the eBook market makes no sense. But what if the eBook hardware was financed through the desire for non-fiction works that were peer produced (IE: had no marginal cost, and were paid for in fixed-cost ways). If everyone already had vendor neutral eBook readers (IE: anyone who believes DRM will help them are excluded from this analysis as DRM kills any possibilities) in order to read their textbooks, science and medical information, then low-priced fiction would then be able to be marketed.

    (If "peer production" is not a term in your vocabulary, check out http://benkler.org or http://flora.ca/floss )

    The problem is that the fiction author who ignore or oppose a diversity of methods of production,distribution and funding by promoting changes in the law to privilege the industrial methods are cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

    Comment on the "paper is DRM". This all depends on what you believe DRM is. If you believe the myth that it is "copy control", then the fact that it was more expensive to copy paper providing a disincentive for infringement was true. The problem is that this belief isn't based on an understanding of the science or mathematics behind DRM: it isn't possible to create a technology that makes bits harder to copy. The most powerful use of cryptography still requires that the encrypted content and the decryption key be in the homes of technically sophisticated people who will always be able to decode them.

    I define DRM as the combination of two controversial techniques: encoding content such that it is only interoperable with specific hardware, and the locking down of the hardware to treat their owners as a threat. Both of these techniques are harmful to authors and their audiences.

    In the analogue world, neither of these threats existed. Paper was interoperable with any brand of "eyes" (and there was no right to refuse people to read with a variety of brands of eyeglasses or contacts as "hardware assistance"), and there wasn't anything locking down a persons brain to disallow them from having thoughts that didn't coincide with the interests of some commercial entity.

    Note: I'm a Canadian that hosts a petition to the Canadian government on this issue. Please see: http://www.digital-copyright.ca/petition/ict/


    I have also been reading ebooks (from fictionwise) using a variety of readers and formats on my pocket pc's for years - the latest - a dell axim x50v has a vga definition screen that makes ebooks look really good. The machine also has buttons on the side that can be used for scrolling.

    I think many people would want a combined ebook reader and music player. With the proliferation of media players, phones and PDA's with good screen definition I think the format wars and price are the main barriers to take-up.

    An iTunes for books, newspapers and other periodicals could well be the killer app that kicks off the market.

    On price - I think $2-$5 is the correct sort of price range for an ebook.


    Russell @81: I believe that the "Paper is DRM" assertion was not meant in terms of what DRM does, but what it is for. Broadly speaking, the intent of DRM is to try to make an electronic book "like a paper book" in that one "book" can only be read by one pair of eyes at once—not copied and shared to be read by thousands of pairs of eyes at once.


    One thing I'd like to add to the discussion here which is almost always overlooked when discussing ebooks of any kind is theimpact electronic publishing has had for the blind/visually impaired segment of the population.
    Prior to ebooks, we had to either buy books in audio format from publishers (which is often 2 or 3 times the price of a hardback) or wait for the library of congress National Library Service (nls) to record the books for us, then borrow them from the local library for the blind in our state. Of course, there's only a small fraction of books converted to audio by nls, so that limited what we could read. The fact that a lot of publishers are doing the audio thing these days helps, but historically, blind/visually impaired folks are the largest segment of the unemployed populous, so affording such things was typically out of reach for most folks.
    Enter ebooks. Now, with books in electronic form (non-drm for reasons I'll get to in a minute) we can now read the books just as soon as they're available, the same time as sighted folks. This is a great thing.
    The nls generally took a year or more to convert books into recorded format, though *real* popular books would sometimes come across sooner)
    But the point here is that with ebooks, we can now use our computers, and standard screen reading software to read *any* book we like assuming it's available in electronic format.
    The problem with drm in this context is that drm products generally require a specific program to do the reading, and little (or often times) no consideratiion was given to blind computer users when that software was written. As a result, screen readers do not work with such products, thereby effectively locking blind users out of anything with drm in it.
    The only exception to this was the windows version of the palm reader. Version 1.0 was 100% accessible, and had keystroke commands for every function you might want to perform.
    Unfortunately, version 1.01 removed most of those shortcut keys, which makes changing pages a labor intensive process (since we can't simply click the mouse on an icon, bnut instead have to search for it first, then click it, then move back to the text to read it)
    On the other hand, unencrypted books can be put into any program we're most comfortable with, whether that be internet explorer, netscape, lynx (a text-based web browser) or even text edit.
    Admittedly, the market segment that is blind/visually impaired who buys ebooks isn't all that large, but compared with sighted folks who buy ebooks, I'd be willing to wager the percentage is *much* higher.
    I own well over 500 fictionwise titles, 09/99 through 12/04 of webscriptions (baen.com ebooks) and various other titles from scifi-az.com, alexlit.com, and a few others. All together, I own somewhere around a thousand ebooks, *all* paid for, and that doesn't include my gutenburg collections, or other various ebook sites.
    I used to collect them from usenet as well, to obtain books I couldn't find in other formats, but I've since decided that if those authors aren't going to cooperate with ebook publishers, there's no need for me to read their works, and have long since deleted all my usenet obtained titles.
    I'd also like to point out that consumer market asit relates to ebook readers isn't limited to nonsense on the sighted only devices. I've tried numerous times to get companies building note takers for the blind to include ebook readers, and they have largely ignored me, while those who have included such a reader have largely gone the way of including the proprietary reader used by bookshare.org which I refuse to use, since they charge a yearly fee for access, and often times their books are nearly impossible to read due to scanning errors.
    I'd tried to offer them uploads of Baen free library books (with Jim's permission) but gave up on that after only a few uploads, because of the hoops I was required to jump through to get a book into their system.
    So, there it is, blind folks like to read too, and despite all the problems with bookshare.org, a *lot* of blind folks are using them, because they're unaware of anything else being available. I personally think this is a shame, considering the excellent sources available elsewhere, but bookshare does fill a purpose, and it's one the publishing industry should take note of, since it proves beyond any doubt that all kinds of folks notonly want to read their books, but that they *will* read their books regardless of how they have to do so.


    Enjoying the commentary and discussion.

    I'll echo the comments that early adopters of eBooks and eBook readers are likely either techno- or biblio- philes. I happen to be both, and have recently had to (cringe) start whittling down my book collection for lack of physical space. I am a 'collector' and this process is simply the latest step in an overall need to shed 'stuff':
    -25 years of comics (30 long boxes)
    -30 years of books (70-80 bankers boxes)
    -4000 music CDs
    -500 DVDs
    (We’ll ignore the LPs and VHS tapes; they're two generations back). I’ll leave it to you to guestimate the cost of all that legally purchased goodness, but it wasn’t small.

    The problem: Data Bloat. I have too much stuff, not enough space to store it, and difficulty in finding something when I need it.

    The solution:
    -My MP3 600 gig HDD means that my full music collection is accessible, useable from multiple points in my home, and most importantly, searchable. I carry a snapshot sample on a few devices relevant to my need (Palm, Cell, iPod, etc.).
    -My eBook collection is a pain to manage (7 gigs and counting). When the Sony Reader is available in Canada, I'll pick one up. Paying 3-5$ per eBook sounds fine to me, and if things that I find recommended on trusted sites like www.sfsite.com are available, I'll buy them. Now if only I had an easy way to move them from my repository to my mobile device.

    Final Thoughts:
    -Unlike music, I can’t listen to 30 seconds and know if I like it. Trusted recommendations for books are important, and particularly links from review sites or blogs to eBook portals.
    -Although I prefer reading a physical book, the benefit of not needing to lug around a Hardcover on the Streetcar is palpable. I read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell on my Palm while shoulder to shoulder with other commuters. I’ll always keep certain books in Hardcover (Foucault’s Pendulum, Good Omens, T.A.Z., etc) to showcase on a shelf, eBooks have a place in my collection.



    Right now I'm reading my ebooks on an Axim x51v. It's nice, but I'm about to get a Bookeen 6" e-ink ebook reader. (Well, actually I'm getting two, one white and glossy, one black and matte, because I'm testing them out for Baen's Bar readers. I'm a corporate officer of NAEB, Not Another E-Book, LLC.)

    The Bookeen device will cost myself and other Barflies $350, will support PDF, HTML, TXT, RTF and PRC. We're working on support for FB2 (FBReader) and the non-DRM version of eReader's PDB that is created by Palm Ebook Studio (available from eReader). All these will be non-DRM formats.

    Right now Baen's Webscriptions offers individual titles for around $5-$6 and monthly 'bundles' for $15. Notice that buying a bundle gets you 5-6 titles and there's no commitment to buy more than one month at a time. That drops the individual title price to something between $2.50 and $3. And Baen is working on adding titles published elsewhere to the library.

    The Bookeen reader has a 6" e-ink display, measures 4.7" x 7.4" x 0.3" and weighs only 6.3 OUNCES! That's small enough to fit into a jacket pocket or small purse. It's battery will last for several days - while displaying a page every hour of the day.

    Someone here said that he couldn't imagine needing more than three books at once. Great. However, I am one of those who devours a book per day. And with support for 1GB SD cards, I can store between 500 and 2,000 ebooks on one card. That makes the reader perfect for daily commutes, long trips and leisurely reading at home without the need to get up and re-charge the device, re-shelve a book or wait the forever-time between release of the arm-breaking HC and the PB version.

    I've also seen that the Bookeen device makes a great reader for the graphic novels available in PDF format. Since I've recently gotten hooked on graphic novels, this is a plus, as is the inclusion of MP3 support which allows me to play audiobooks and music.

    Yes, I want to get this for jsut $99, but I can live with it at $350 as long as I can get ebooks for $5 per.



    Derek, does that thing support SDHC cards, or just SD?

    (Even if the answer is "just old-fashioned SD, best ebook reader software I've yet tried, and a machine that size that runs it natively at that price would ...

    Damn, my wallet just spontaneously combusted!


    I don't have time to read through all the above comments, so forgive me if this fairly obvious point has already been made...

    The eBook reader concept will really take off only when it's marketed not as a separate device (who really wants yet another piece of hardware to carry around?), but as added functionality in a multi-use device that's also an mp3 player, a phone, etc. How difficult would it be to add pdf-viewing capability to an iPod or iPhone? Not very, is my guess, but making this a standard feature would allow Apple to jack the price up an extra $25 or so (which they'd surely be amenable to) as well as create a new revenue stream by selling books through their online store. Seems like a consumer-seller win-win situation to me. This is such an obvious strategy that I'm kind of baffled no one's already rolled it out.


    The place where the comparison between ebooks and mp3s falls apart is the technical ease of conversion.

    Digital music didn't need either e-music stores OR mp3 players to help it gain in popularity, while ebooks need one or the other.

    I had converted my entire CD collection to mp3 format long before I had an mp3 player. Why? It was easy enough to do -- just put the CD in the computer and click a button. And I had the benefit of all my music backed up on my HD and the ability to play it on my PC, create playlists, and burn those playlists to CD. This was all legal as fair use, though I'm sure the RIAA didn't like it.

    With books the case is much different. I would have to destroy each of my books and laborously scan in several hundred pages of text to be either stored as a large PDF file or OCR'd into a text file. There would be a good chance that errors would crop up during the conversion, making the finished product less enjoyable. And I would have destroyed a perfectly good book to do this. I have to date only scanned a single book to an electronic file -- a copy of the Principia Discordia several years ago to replace a low res scan my friend had made in the mid 90s.

    What the ebook industry really needs is an iTunes for ebooks. Of course, you can get audio books on iTunes, but that's not the same really...

    Maybe we'll get lucky and Apple will release an iPod that has ebook reader functionality and cut deals with enough publishers to get a good affordable library of ebooks on iTunes. If they pull it off there will be bound to be plenty of copycat services and devices a year later.


    Check out the "Not Another EBook" group (http://naebllc.com/ ). This is a bunch of (originally) Baen readers who have decided to create their own reader. Assuming sufficient demand the price for an eInk reader is going to be $300 or less. I imagine that such a reader will either come filled with the Baen Free Library, webscription coupons or some other easy way to get Baen books....

    Oh and to Charlie, I'm positive that Toni Weisskopf @ Baen would be happy to take your books and ePublish them so long as you have the rights that permit it.


    Francis: I don't have the electronic rights to my books -- they're sold to the existing publishers. However, I'm sure they'd be happy to hear from Toni (and stuff is happening that I can't talk about publicly).


    Charlie @ 87, It supports standard SD cards up to 1GB in capacity. We'd like SDHC support but that's not on the table at this point.

    Borovan @ 88, given the size of the screen on an iPod, PDF support would give a crappy image. Now the iPhone may well be different. I've got an x51v and it supports 640x480 and PDF ebooks are 'passable', but I wouldn't want to be FORCED to read PDF ebooks every day. I use MS Reader and eReader Pro on my Axim. They read great!

    Francis @ 90, Well... yes, IF we get at least 5,000 people to agree to purchase one of our Bookeen ereaders, we can get the price down to around $300. So far, at http://www.naebllc.com/, we've managed to get 268 people pre-registered and agreeing they'd like an opportunity to buy one at 'club' price (no commitment to buy ebooks) which means we'll have to all pay $350 per unit. Yep, I'm going to have to pay $350 for EACH of the two sample/evaluation units I'll be testing/reviewing next month.



    After reading Charlie's post, I read the following announcement on my Dutch newsprovider (translation mine):

    EINDHOVEN (ANP) -- The national PCM-newspapers de Volkskrant and NRC Handelsblad will soon appear on electronic paper. This happens through a technology designed by a former Philips company: iRex Technologies.


    PCM (the newspaper owners) uses the iRex devices with the distribution. Those devices, called iLiads, make the electronic ink excellently readable. An iLiad can also be used to write text and convert that to documents.


    Then I checked the iRex website for the price of an iLiad: a hefty 650 euros. So I don't think this baby's gonna fly. And I'll keep reading electronic files on my PDA, along with dead tree books and magazines.


    @81, who said "I define DRM as the combination of two controversial techniques: encoding content such that it is only interoperable with specific hardware, and the locking down of the hardware to treat their owners as a threat."

    To some extent that has been true of e-DRM in the present and recent past. Doesn't mean it always needs to be true. We're still very much in the infancy of this data-as-bits revolution.

    It's important to recall that shots have been fired on both sides of the DRM battlefield. Yes, content distribution companies have tried to whittle away at consumer rights by producing forms of DRM that would in real-world use require constant repurchases of the same content in order to keep 'owning' it as consumer hardware evolves. But it's also true that a scarily large number of consumers began giving away tens, hundreds, even thousands of copies of content the very minute they were able to make that many e-copies at negligible cost, and justifying this with arguments about fair use. Fair use was never meant to enable one purchased copy to be experienced in multiple places by multiple people at the same time, as a matter of course.

    I don't say the above to justify current forms of DRM. Only to point out that there have been missteps on both sides of the debate.

    Is it possible to create a DRM that a) is enough of a standard to eliminate hardware lockin and b) returns us to the status quo of physically distributed media (which was also pirated, though more expensively)? I'm not going to be the designer, so I can't say with certainty. But in an increasingly 'networked everywhere' world, and with public-key encryption available to us, it doesn't seem like a completely insurmountable problem.


    Um. I'd love one, but $350 plus import duty (unfortunately ebook readers don't count as a lot of things which would be exceptions) and tax takes it beyond what I can commit to buying (to at least $450), again :/


    RE 95.

    Since the hardware seems to be mostly originating from a Paris based company (Bookeen) I would think it ought to be possible to dodge the import duty issue for Europeans


    Andrew @ 95, As Francis (@ 96) mentioned, Bookeen is a Paris-based company and there's a good chance that the NAEB ebook reader purchases by European customers will have their devices shipped direct from Bookeen. Or at least shipped to an EU agent who can send them onward. We're looking into it right now.

    One thing I'd like to point out is that signing up to express interest in buying one does NOT bind one to actually buying one. Further, every person who does sign up helps us to gain a bargaining advantage (5,000 potential customers) to drive our cost/price down under $300 (US, not including shipping charges).



    (1) A Z22 with a colour 160x160 screen and 32MB of memory costs $99 new (much less from ebay).
    (2) Libraries lend electronic books. For example search for electronic books here. I don't think that particular library is anything special so I assume other libraries do the same.


    Mr. Strosser:

    Apropos of your e-book blog, I just went to Analog's web site with the idea of subscribing to the electronic version. It was $32, discounted to Fictionwise.com customers for $28.

    I sent the following to the publisher:

    "I highly recommend that you read Charles Stross’ recent blog about the cost of e-books. It applies directly to you folks.

    Here’s the url: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/

    I cannot conceive of why you have to charge $32 or $28 (discounted at Fictionwise.com) for the electronic version of Analog. I would probably subscribe for as much as $15-$20, but $32 is way too high.

    I have read Analog on and off for 40 years, but I am trying to cut back on hard copy magazines. Prices like these don’t make it easy.

    Go cheap and start a strong web campaign. I believe you’ll find enough readers to justify the discount.

    I’m sure I’m spitting in the wind."

    I wonder if I'll get an answer???

    Rick York


    There are lots of free "books" in un-DRM-ed formats on the web, though most deal with technical subjects, and about 90% of these technical subjects belong "computer science" and "computer programming". Also, most of those books do not resemble the paper books we know: have more than one author, and most of the authors do not have their name on the front page, most of them are updated and glossed over all the time and most of them will disappear or become obsolete sooner than it would take a normal book to pass the editors, get into printed form and arrive in the bookshops. Most of them, while being very useful, make no claim at authority the way the paper books do. This will make the traditional publishing houses change their mind about e-books and e-book readers as soon as they will notice that others have already started doing the same thing.

    Back on topic:
    [ rant ]
    I hate publishers. Take, for example, Apress: all their books (as far as I can tell) are available on file sharing sites, and most of them in carefully prepared editions, some of them done better that the originals. Still, Apress price their ebooks at 50% of the paper book price, and have a limited list of countries they would sell their ebooks to. Harper Collins? I hate them too. Cambridge University Press ? Professional jounals ? They charge you somewhere between 5USD and 32 USD per digital copy of an article from journals that are acquired only by libraries and that do not get their money from sales but from donors/government. I could go on for ever.

    I would buy books for 300 USD to 500 USD per month, which is about one third of my income (I live alone, have no life (bla bla), so it really makes sense) . I used to be a research historian reading 3 to 6 books per day and skimming through 5 more until I got tired of chasing through libraries, begging for photocopies and daydreaming about getting to that "good library" that nobody ever found but everybody talks about and got a better paying job. Now I can afford those ^%$^%$ paperbacks and hardcovers I cannot find where I live, and I really would buy books for 300 USD to 500 USD per month, only if those publishers would get it: I don't want to turn my place in a dead-trees storage, I need e-searcheable books, I need books I can e-bookmark, I need books I can e-index according to my criteria, I need to be able to buy them from here and not ask friends in sunnier places buy them because my country is not on the list, and I need them now, not after four or five weeks when Amazon.com would deliver them to the backwaters I inhabit. It would also be nice to be cheaper than the paper version: they spend less with paper, storage, and transportation, so that would be only fair. No, I don't feel comfortable with raiding bittorrent sites. I am part of the market beyond the "$ curtain" that would make those books printed now only in 1500 copies pay for themselves, and would permit those authors that now get the "who would buy a book about accounting practices in the South-East Virginia tobacco farms in the XVIII-th century?" kind of answer be published and the publisher get some money for the effort not depending on donations from "Big Corporation Needing Good PR Foundation".
    [ /rant ]

    The e-book readers are not the issue. There is a huge horde of people out there that would buy reasonable priced e-books, fiction or non-fiction, read them on the mobile phone screen, laptops or print them on dot matrix printers as raw text, and that, surprisingly but true, don't enjoy stealing. Just make it easy for them to buy and use those books.


    Charlie, your description of the core of book piracy being a gift/kudos economy is pretty interesting, that had not occurred to me.

    I wonder though what orbits the ‘core’? Is there a vast oort cloud of consumers? It seems like most of the communication traffic would be between participants in the economy, how do we get a sense for the parasites on that economy?


    If you look at the movie pirating "business" you see something very like the book-sharing you're talking about, which bolsters your point. Right now the two main sources of pirated movies are a) digital copies stolen from the studio or distributor and b) copies made by taking a camcorder to the theater and pointing it at the screen. For the movie industry a) is a commercial security problem; if they can't reduce that to an acceptable level they're not trying hard. b) is exactly the book-sharing situation: the only reason for having such a copy is bragging rights, since most of them are unviewable.

    I'm afraid you're wrong. WhenI was deployed to Iraq, every base I was ever at had a huge "Hjji Mart" either inside the gates or right outside, where the soldiers could buy their fill of local knicknacks and junk food. Among all that junk, was rack upon rack of pirated DVDs, most of them ripped directly from DVDs bought at the PX. The better ones came in actual DVD cases, but all of them had authentic looking labels printed on the DVD. Most of the time, the ONLY way you could tell them from 'legitimate' copies was that the small print was rife with mispellings, like "This movie is cccopyrited 200g".

    The main driver behind this market is that Iraqis are way too poor to spend the equivalent of 20 dollars on a legal DVD when they can get a pirated copy for 50 cents. (They charged us 3 bucks though, the budding capitalists). Does this mean that every pirated copy of "X-Men" is costing the studio $19.50 in "lost profit"? No, because if the Iraqis couldn't buy a copy for 50 cents, they wouldn't buy it at all. If the studios were to institute some sort of sliding scale, setting their prices according to what the average resident of the country could afford, they could profitably do business in the third world, but I doubt they'll do that.


    nicholas bennett, there is a sub-cycle of consumers, but mostly they're feeding themselves and themselves only (and they rarely read anything themselves, as has been said before).

    Serious copying of material to *read* (and even then, it tends more towards RPG games than ebooks) ...tends to be within smaller circles. Some DCC hubs and private WASTE servers.


    Given the average number of books per household in the US -- about two

    How did you arrive at that number, Charlie?

    I went looking, and while I couldn't find the exact answer, related figures point to a value at least an order of magnitude higher.

    A few facts I dug up:
    - 103 million households in the US (http://www.census.gov/prod/1/pop/p25-1129.pdf)
    - consumer publishing $6.32 billion in 2005 (https://www.rwanational.org/eweb/dynamicpage.aspx?webcode=StatisticsIndustry)

    That puts spending on books at about $60 per household, which between paperbacks and hardcovers should pay for about four books.

    To get two books per household, with a rate of four per household per year, you need a dwell time of just six months. That just makes no sense. People are notorious packrats, and books don't spoil.

    I'l guessing the real number is at least 20 books per household, but probably not 200.


    On a very different note, congratulations for your Hugo nom for Glasshouse, Charlie!


    The engineering adage is: People don't like change. They like improvement.

    Ebooks are not an improvement over paperbacks. They're not lighter, cheaper, or easier to read and maintain. They can't be sold to a used bookstore when you're done with them, they don't have a standardized format, the storage medium degrades more quickly, and if you drop one in the bathtub, you can't just dry it out in the oven and continue to read it.

    But you can store a whole library in a small space, right? Wrong. You store books so you can read them again, and in 10 years your reader will be worn out and the new readers won't support your format.


    I have odd tastes that can only be satisfied by ebooks. I like obscure Victorian and Edwardian novelists. Authors like Charlotte Yonge and Mrs. Wood who have not been reprinted (or only one book reprinted) and whose books can cost hundreds of dollars used, if they're available at all. That's what took me to ebooks, that's what took me to Distributed Proofreaders, that's what keeps me proofing away. For the those other oddballs out there who NEED more Susan Warner novels.

    Currently reading Harold Bindloss. Now I know what "I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK" was spoofing. (Manly men with thews of steel! hewing down forests! digging mines! subduing evil nature!)


    Very good points from a lot of different angles. Howerver I just have not seen one like, you can get those titles everywhre and have chance of simply using them. I for my part have not the slighest idea if the books I'm reading and buying are available as e-books. I buy books regular and I buy them to read them ;-). And I put them on my shelves, if I later come back to it's problems I take them off again. However my books have one big drawback, they are outdates within a few yeas. Yes you guess right they are mostly about computing business.

    I have found that to understand a think I like to have it in a book form. On the other hand if just want to lookup something fast I prefer online stuff. But I have to admit I hate reading from my monitor (it's an excellent one) and
    I even hate much more how documentatoin is presented. There, you can search for it but you won't find it under the works you expected it. However I would really like to know who the hell likes what the MSDN folks have on their side. This is simply soooooo bad. Now for that I buy books howerver for the areas I'm interested in there are no books available.....

    Now something to the coment 104. People like improvements? Well obviously not in the computing industry....



    I would pay $200-$300 US for a pocketable, expandable device with search functionality if it was bundled with, say, The Complete History of Middle Earth or The Complete Aubrey-Maturin or The Complete Stross.

    One assumes the latter refers to his works, rather than an uploaded instance or something similar.

    This discussion will likely wind up help fertilise a course paper later this year on library issues. In the spirit of the original, I intend to ignore copyright in swiping all your ideas. Bwahahah.


    John Macossay @ 104:

    Here's the thing. Every single point you made about ebooks is incorrect or could be made incorrect.


    I already have a preferred platform for reading ebooks. It's called a laptop. It's portable, the LCD screen doesn't have any headache-inducing flicker and I can dial down the brightness to a level I feel is conducive to extended text reading.

    All I need are ebooks that are:

    1) in a standard format like PDF or HTML, not some stupid proprietary ebook reader format;

    2) not retarded by DRM so I can't copy text, switch machines or copy to friends (the library/sharing paradigm again)

    3) priced at what they're actually worth, which is probably at or slightly less than the cost of a mass market paperback

    Why is this so damn difficult to provide? I'm interested in the text, not the paper artifact most of the time. I would jump at the chance to pay at least paperback price for instant gratification and the ability to take an unlimited amount of books with me wherever I go on hardware I already own, not another specialized widget I have to throw down for.

    But I search and I search and that simple gratification is rarely found. I always take the opportunity to check out a free or CC book as I find it, particularly by a writer I haven't previously read. It's due to the CC licensed works released by Charlie, Cory Doctorow and Peter Watts that I have become an avid fan. I also pay to subscribe to Baen's Universe and a few other worthy e-pubs.

    I've searched popular outlets for SF e-publishing such as fictionwise to get my instant fix for new books, but everything I've found violates the 3 requirements above. What crack are publishers smoking to think I would want to pay $25-30 for a DRM-crippled text file in Microsoft Reader format?

    What I need is so simple, but what's provided is so complicated in a stupid, greedy, baroque sort of way.

    I just want to read good books and support the authors I like. Will the paranoia ever end so that will be possible?

    (I should mention that right now I am reading none of the newly released books I want to read because in my current financial situation I can't afford the hardcover prices. I wonder how much more sales a cheap, reasonable e-release would add to the bottom line for a first printing, particularly by a new author. I must say I'm hesitant to spend $25 for a block of bleached wood by an author I know and love, much less a newbie I've heard of only through reviews. At something like $5-6 that decision becomes much easier and everyone can share the wealth.)


    I don't understand any of either the hype about dedicated e-book readers or hand-wringing about the lack of an e-book market. I've been reading e-books on my Palm since I got one in 1998. Stuff off Gutenberg converted into Palm Doc format. Bought a bunch of books from Peanut Press (now Palm Digital Media). I read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and half of Stephen King's Dark Tower series on my Palm. Worked just fine. It's the perfect form factor for me (though the Palm III with its greyscale screen and ultra-low battery consumption was nicer than my current Tungsten E). It's always on me. I can dip into my personal to-read queue and read whenever I've got a spare moment - at lunch, waiting for a bus, whenever. Can't say the same about either a paperback novel or some 'dedicated e-book reader' that's bigger than will fit in my pocket.

    I've also got Tome Raider on there with a dump of Wikipedia circa 2005, on which I geek out excessively looking up all sorts of trivia, and PDF and Word .doc viewers, which I've used to read book-length works. And I've got an MP3/Ogg player which I can listen to my latest album on.

    (I have never seen the point in iPods, but I guess they're what people who don't have real PDAs - or cellphones with PDA capabilities, which is how many now? - settle for.)

    Now, granted, although I love a PDA as an ebook platform and find Palm Reader encrypted format tolerable, I don't consider it good value for money at near hardback prices - nor will I buy anything in encrypted ebook that I think I might want to give or lend to a friend. So the bulk of my book purchases (political nonfiction) in the last five years - and they've been a *lot* - have all been paper, purely because of this requirement: I need to be able to lend or give them without being a criminal.

    Dedicated e-book readers are not the answer and their lack of success is not a problem. The lack of decent cheap converged open-access cellphone/music-player/PDA devices, perhaps, is. DRM and price point most certainly are.


    Johan @104: actual survey data. About 80% of books sold in the USA are bought by about 20% of the population. The top 5% of book-buyers buy roughly 50% of the books printed. The number of books you'll find in an average household by sampling is about 2 ... except that once in twenty or thirty, you'll find the floor joists groaning under the load of bookcases.


    "Now, in eform -- perhaps a few thousand titles in a limited variety of genres -- many scifi, few academic theology; virtually no modern poetry."

    I take it you chaps aren't aware of the fserve bots in ebook IRC channels then. Most of them have thousands upon thousands of books on all different sorts of topics. Here's an anonymous "image board" dedicated to fan-scanned ebooks (usually .lit/.txt/.pdf) with the books in rar files embedded in the images: http://www.anonib.com/bookchan or just visit ebooks in irchighway.net



    Info on getting ebooks from IRC: it's irc.undernet.org #bookz


    Johan (104): Don't forget library and business purchases. Each library in North America buys a couple hundred books a year, at least. And businesses are often buying technical books or books related to training, which have a rather short lifecycle. Unless they're like my office, which has a closet with things like Windows 3.1 beginner's guides and a manual for DOS 5.0 in it.


    The dire need for a hand held reading device is obscured by the doomed e-book print mimic. The needed realization is that the killer e-book is a BLANK book awaiting connectivity to places and events. Its called place based learning or cultural tourism.

    Tourist's Path. GPS is often used by tourists to mark and find specific locations. Driving Horseback riding Walking & running Golfing Hiking Scuba diving Mountain climbing Flying Town and City Tours. GPS is used by many tourism groups to mark locations of structures and natural places. Byways and Trails. GPS is used to mark roads and trails for hikers, bikers, and cars. National Scenic Highways BLM Scenic Byways State Historic Projects Coastal Drives Route 66 Historic Trails Pony Express Route Civil War Sites Walking Tours. GPS can be used for walking tours through communities and parks. Groups may use maps, guides, audio, and photos. Cemetery tours Historic markers Community tours Historic homes Small parks Buildings and grounds Historical Reenactments. GPS is used to mark exact locations and times for meetings and events. These are great opportunities for students to write historical fiction. Storytelling. GPS is great for activities that involve meeting at a particular location or events where the goal is to give people the sense for what it might have been like to have lived in a particular place in a different time period. For example, you might convene in the location of an historical tribal meeting or at an old fort. Shelbyville, Illinois holds a cemetery walk in the fall. Storytelling is enhanced when participants experience the same location as the original event. Natural Places. GPS devices can be used to locate a range of natural places and reduce the need for signage. Geologic formations Hot springs Geysers Waterfalls Animal migration Dinosaur tracks For example, middle school students in Wheelock, Vermont conducted a Study of Soils that involved using GPS units to collect waypoint used in mapping soil types. They used worksheets to note GPS locations, site descriptions, sketches, soil profiles, and soil type analysis. Ecosystems. GPS is used to monitor ecosystems. Chesapeake Bay Salmon Movement Changes in sea level Hillside Erosion Migration Patterns Remote Location Tours. GPS devices work particularly well in areas without signs such as historic sites, building ruins, petroglyph locations, ghost towns and natural areas. Biological Surveys. GPS can be used for many types of scientific surveys including remote navigation, locating specific points on ground, mapping species encountered, mapping geological features, and mapping boundaries. Scientists trace changes over time and can compare "before and after". Scientific Experiments. GPS has been used to trace animals such as bears, wolves, and birds. It's used to mark old coal mines, mark underground wiring paths.


    Ebook prices and formats hold the market back more than the price of ebook readers. If downloads are cheap and publishers do ad campaigns about piracy and how the artists make money via royalties, then piracy will remain low. Music piracy has decreased significantly over the last several years because you can download music cheaply and easily. (Music publishers don't entirely understand this. Look how hard Steve Jobs fights the industry to keep iTunes downloads at $1 each.)

    I suspect some of the reason for the pricing is that 1) they don't really want it to succeed and 2) pressure from distributors and book chains that see cheap ebooks as competition.

    Another good area to look at is the role-playing game industry. A lot of the publishers duplicate their books as for-sale pdf's. Some publishers do only pdf. Some support their main books with supplemental pdfs. A number of companies release out of print books as pdfs for fans of older versions. Interestingly, the major publishers tend to way overprice their pdfs and thus suffer from piracy. They do this because of pressure from their dead-tree distributors. You can see examples of this at places like www.rpgnow.com.


    I take it you chaps aren't aware of the fserve bots in ebook IRC channels then.

    I am, and they're like he says - many scifi, few academic theology (or much of academic anything, not even popular science or politics, apart from Ann Coulter and Michael Moore); virtually no modern poetry. Plenty of computer/programming stuff. OK, there are more than a few thousand books available but there's still a heaving mass of crap to sift through.


    There is a relatively cheap dedicated e-reader, the eBookwise for $125. But it's not e-ink; I'd sooner pay much less for a used Palm, or three times as much for a Nokia N800.

    Amazon seems to have at least thought about making an e-ink reader. But there doesn't seem to be anything public about when or if it'll be released, let alone its price point.


    David @118: Most anti-piracy (I hate that use of the word, by the way) ad campaigns I've seen so far (in particular, the RIAA's) are condescending enough to make one want to go out and download more after seeing them. If the publishing industry wants to have an impact through advertising, they'll have to do better than that.

    As for the roleplaying game industry, the illicit downloading situation is a bit more complicated than just overpricing of PDFs; RPG fans have a strange love-hate relationship with their games. Since RPGs have become a niche market, their prices are relatively higher than mass-market books. A number of fans don't understand the economics of the situation, gripe that RPG prices in general (not just the PDFs) are too high, and that the game publishers are gypping them, and so they download the books illicitly instead as a protest.


    Gary Frost, the Gizmondo tried that. You might want to read up on them.

    David Chunn, I prefer http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/. It's interesting to note the pricings compared to print as well, for many publishers.

    Chris, well, RPG print prices *are* massively inflated in the UK, typically. Hence why I moved to buying electronically.


    I think that if e-books are relatively cheap ($2 for spiffed up copyright-less books and at most $5-$10 for copyrighted ones) then people will be more likely to buy them. However, academic presses such as CUP and others that sell the e-book for the same price as the hard copy astonish me and I would rather have the hard copy for that price then an e-book which isn't the most secure\tangible item in the world.

    Look at iTunes and similar sites, people buy a song for a buck and because it seems so cheap they buy a bunch of other songs, some of which they never listen to more then once or twice. If books are sold the same way then people will probably end up buying more books then they would otherwise (not even considering that all sorts of marketing can be done such as offering entire collections of an authors work including the out of print titles). I would love to see a lot of books which have gone out of print as e-book titles.

    The e-reader probably would have to be incorporated into cellphones\pda's\ipods then be a standalone device that didn't do anything else because I and people want everything to be in one gadget. Although, I wouldn't mind using my baby laptop to read books when travelling.

    And of course this wouldn't lead me to never buy a book again. Instead it would probably lead me to buy more books. A lot of the sci fi and other books I borrowed from the library as a kid\teenager I now have on bookshelves and in boxes and wherever else I can place them.

    The other thing that I find interesting as a writer is the YouTube phenomena. Could books be marketed online as audio\video files? Could cults be created around authors who provided videos of themselves reading the entire book (or perhaps a "cast") or perhaps the voice reading with static images that inspired the author or relate to the work accompanying it? It could be an interesting forum that merged the novel with audio\video. People watch entire films on YouTube, perhaps they would want to suscribe to ten or whatever minute readings of a book that arrived as a link in their inbox every day\week\etc. People might not want to pay for this stuff so it might work better if commercials or some other advertising could be implemented like the t.v. show episodes available online from some American television companies


    I downloaded some free files from RPGnow that had DRM. My laptop crashed and now the files are useless. That taught me not to use DRM files -- a technical glitch and I'll lose my money.

    I have a database of all the slides I took, carefully indexed on Atari 1040ST disks. I can't read them now, so all that data is gone. I can still read the index cards I used before I modernized, though.

    And this is why I like paper. I don't have to worry about anything short of a house fire. I'll still be able to read it in a few years. In fact, I print out all the PDF files I buy from e23 and store them, just in case. (Yes, I know I can redownload them -- if SJ Games stays in business. That's an if...) I also add the cost of printing to the cost of the file when computing the 'true cost' of the PDF; if this is higher than the paper copy, I'll buy the paper copy instead.

    And finally, I don't feel guilty about downloading copies of books I own. The publishing industry has been saying for a long time that the bulk of the cost of an item, be it a book or music, is not for the physical material but for the intellectual property, and so I deeply disagree with being charged this 'IP fee' twice when I want to use the IP on a different device.


    Paper is DRM ?
    And a desire for a form of DRM that only enforces the restrictions that we used to have with paper books.

    I'm reminded of the flag people that had to walk in front of the first cars.

    The fact that it's easy to copy bits is a feature, not a bug. Trying to "fix" it will get you nowhere.

    I also have a suspicion that the technology-literate bibliophiles who are the most likely to read ebooks are also the people likely to be most knowledgable about (and therefore put of by) DRM. Isn't "know your customer" the first rule of marketing ? (Then again, I thought another rule was "and don't sue them", so I could be mistaken here, too.


    This Bookeen reader appears to have essentially the exact same specifications as the Sony Reader, at the same price. So what's the advantage? It's French? Sony's software is pretty mediocre, but there's no reason to suppose Bookeen's software will be any better. The biggest problems with the Sony Reader are hardware issues-- the screen doesn't have enough resolution or bit depth, so characters are ragged and the antialiasing isn't good enough to fix it. The processor is too slow and the memory too limited to permit fast PDF rendering. The Bookeen unit appears to have the same hardware specifications so these problems will likely be present there too.

    Anyway-- I've been reading books for years, on desktops, laptops, my Newton, two generations of Palm Treo phones, my Nokia 770, my Motion LE1600 Tablet PC, and my Sony Reader. I've read a LOT of books this way. All these platforms work reasonably well, but they could all stand to be improved. I'm looking forward to the next generation of E-ink devices. The Emano Tec MedTab (http://emanotec.com/medtab.htm), although not meant or priced for this application, looks like a good next step; a consumer device with the same display and processor should be along soon enough.

    I don't particularly agree with the reasoning put forth in this article, but I do agree that ebooks should be less expensive. Publishers and authors should be looking to make about the same amount of money from paper or electronic books, but instead they seem to be trying to cash in on ebooks-- maybe they're just hoping this is a way to increase their profit margins? I dunno. Five or ten bucks for new books would be fine, with backlist titles priced down appropriately-- which means "free" for most of them.

    Is this a chicken-and-egg situation, or a catch-22 situation? Will the market evolve naturally, with ebook readers and ebook titles improving incrementally together until they're finally able to attract customers in volume? Or will the market be stuck in the current rut forever because each side believes the other is the problem? More likely, I think, the market will appear to be stuck until someone does something discontinuous, like introducing that fabled $50 ebook reader in spite of its apparent impossibility. We'll see.

    . png


    Robert Prior, that's why I use DriveThruRPG. They use watermarked PDF's. They CAN track offenders, and there are no per-device limits or anything silly like that.


    Peter G.@128
    Why a non-Sony reader at the same price:
    -SD cards instead of Memory Sticks (half the cost and size).
    -Bookeen hasn't secretly installed rootkits on tens of thousands of systems.
    -Bookeen hasn't driven LikSang out of business.
    -Bookeen isn't a major player in DRM measures for audio and video.
    I'd pay more than Sony's list price, just to spite them!


    Well, I guess it's time I asked this of our good host, Mr. Stross. Bear with me here - I know I'm largely ignorant of how the book market works, so I'm kind of thinking out loud, and perhaps wrong in many of the assumptions that lead to my question, but what the hell, I'll spit it out anyway.

    When I think of ebooks (or emusic or emovies or whatever, distributed digitally) and then ask myself Who is in a position to change the way things work?, I come up with a few obvious candidates:

    Consumers. Well, we've got some pretty good clout (buy or don't buy), but we're a pretty diffuse force, and we sit at the end of the pipeline. We can only apply our force as disparate individuals, and only by passing judgement on what comes out of that pipeline.

    Distributors. They seem like the most obvious candidate, those evil moneygrubbing faceless corporations. Publishing houses in the book world, the labels in the music world, and (I guess) media conglomerates like Viacom in the movie world. But when I think more on it, I realize that all those entities are most likely, at some level, captive to the many, many contracts they've signed. It's true that in large part they wrote those contracts, but at the end of the day they are dealhouses - their forte is getting everyone to agree to work together, and taking a cut off the top for their troubles. These entities are the pipeline's middle.

    But creators (guys like Mr. Stross) look like the wellspring. Their output feeds that pipeline, and they must at minimum approve the terms of entry. They sign their names at the bottom of the first contracts, the contracts that start that flow through the pipeline. They too are a pretty diffuse force, but they do have writers organizations (like SFWA) that can help them hold together as cohesive groups.

    So maybe I'm naive. But it seems to me that at the beginning of the process, the creator/author holds a lot of power here. He has at least some ability to reshape the contract he signs with the publishing house. The originating contract - the one that kicks the rest of the pipeline into gear (sorry about that mixed metaphor). I don't know the ins and outs of it (I've only seen one book contract in my life), but can't you guys be working up some additional clause in that originating contract? Maybe price the electronic distribution at x% of the hardcover price, and y% of electronic distribution profits to be remitted to author?

    And what about going it alone - becoming your own distributor, as Stephen King did with The Plant? Looking at the reporting on that experiment, I see that many declared it a failure, as at the final chapter he was getting "only" about a 46% percent payment rate - but he still netted better than $400k on the deal.

    I'm not sure of the exact mechanics of it. But it seems to me that authors (especially established ones) have a long lever here, and if used properly they could be doing a great favor both to themselves and to us reader types.

    So here's my question, in shorter form, Charlie: Why aren't you guys using that lever more often? Is there some missing peice of the puzzle that's holding you guys back?

    (Note: please don't attribute an accusatory tone to this question; I really do ask it in the exploratory/curious tone.)

    Thanks for any thoughts you can provide.


    The collector/potlatch aspect to the paper-to-ebook piracy culture is nothing new, it was present in the early days of IBM PCs - I had a coworker that had just about every piece of MS-DOS 1 and 2 software that was available. I don't think he used more than a couple of them. It was the thrill of having them and the bragging rights that motivated him. Think of them as baseball cards on floppy.


    Derek Benner 9: I clicked on your link to try to express interest, and got a 404 error from VDeck.

    Is there another address I can try? Is there a mechanism for signing up through Baen?

    My hard copy to-be-read pile is growing because lately I've been doing all my reading online.

    Something must be done.


    The link is http://www.naebllc.com/ - with no closing comma. Auto-heating of links tends to be greedy, and I've learned to break out links with spaces before and after.


    Andrew G @91;

    That point on "ease of conversion" hits harder the more I think about it. I've started migrating some tapes to MP3, and it is NOT the piece of cake that CDs are. It has to be done in real time, with good sound levels, followed by a cleanup edit and normalization in a reasonably capable sound editor. If you are doing multiple tracks, they must be split manually, because (of course!) tape materials don't know where tracks begin and end, unlike CDs.

    I'm doing longer form material (documentaries, radio shows) so it's fairly efficient. But for short material, it could easily take you twice as long in real effort as the track takes to play.

    Where I disagree is that the industry needs an "MPEG for ebooks". You could convert to MP3 with a high confidence that this would be a usable multi-platform format. And although it is possible to do that with books today, it is hard, and it's limited. If material is on CD or tape, it can be converted to MP3. But just because it is "on a page" does NOT mean it can be converted to an ebook.

    Right now, most ebook formats are more like MIDI than MP3, so some things that appear on the page simply can't be converted.

    Radical thought - which I already made above - lets just do page images AND STOP THERE. You might not be able to successfully OCR all your books, but if you can just scan the images, then that might be enough.


    to post 121:

    You must be looking int he wrong IRC channels. Last time I searched there were doazens of servers and one had over 36000 titles which included loads of recent fiction. Admittedly I didn't notice any modern poetry but I don't read that so wouldn't have looked. How about this site? http://XXXX/ (DELETED BY ADMINISTRATOR) loads of non-sci fi there.


    Looks like the vast majority is scifi to me. I only know bookz on Undernet but given the magpie mentality I imagine most of them would be assiduously downloading elsewhere if other stuff was available, and frankly there are whole categories of stuff (eg academic books) which no one seems to be interested in scanning.


    Chris @ 46 and @ 134: the problem with book pages as images is that you cannot reflow the text for a different screen size (PDA or phone), and you cannot search.

    Derek @ 94: I've read that the Bookeen runs Linux. SDHC suppord should be possible with a software patch. The Nokia N800 officially supports only SD cards, but there's already a patch for SDHC support. The 1 GB limit sounds like an older Linux kernel limitation; it's been fixed since. I currently have a 4 GB SD (not SDHC) card in my Nokia N800.


    Adrian, some of the academic publishers (I can't remember the names offhand...) give the ebook version of their titles away for free...

    Chris Smith, what are you using? I've had quite good results without tweaking from cdex.


    Quux @131: you make a fundamental mistake -- publishers are not distributors. If you want to use a music biz analogy they're more like small recording studios that work with a list of musicians, while feeding their records out to large wholesalers.

    They serve a valuable function insofar as they edit and clean up the text and make it comfortable to read (manuscripts tend to be a lot rougher than what you expect to buy in a bookshop), and, more importantly, they filter; the readers have a reasonable guarantee that what comes out of a publishing house will be of reasonable quality most of the time.

    For every creator like me, there are a thousand schizophrenics trying to document The Conspiracy, and fifty amateurs who vary in skill between Promising (i.e. they'll get there when they've finished learning the trade by writing their million words o' crap) and gouge-your-eyes-out-bad. Without that publishing filter, you'd be pearl-diving in a cess-pit. Trust me, even if the rest of the conventional publishing chain goes to the wall, you'll need editors.

    Bookshops and commercial wholesalers take something between 50% and 75% of the cost of a dead-tree book. We -- authors and publishers -- put up with them historically because we needed them to reach the reading public.


    It seems to me that we ignore the attraction of the paper book at our peril - for those of us over that age, a love of paper books is hard wired into us. An ebook is only ever a substitute, and a pretty poor one at that - much like Cadbury's Dairy Milk compared to real chocolate. I write electronically and consume much writing electronically - these august pages (?) for a start - but I doubt I'll ever have much use for ebooks on my PDA, or laptop or any other medium.

    But that's me. If its your way, that's fine by me.

    The next generation will be different (they always are) My kids consume immense amounts of fiction electronically - its called fanfic/slash/whatever (no, I think I'm the only one in the family who goes there) Which doesn't stop them from wanting paper books at a rate that promises to have me dying in penury (with a spectacular library...) Not either/or but both.

    But they are nearing college age, which means those meaty, beaty, big and bouncy textbooks that cost you a literal arm and a leg (if you're paying for your studies by selling blood...) I remember hardly being able to carry more than one of my law textbooks at any time, and I wasn't the feeble creature then that I am now. You want to bludgeon someone to death with a textbook - go into a law library. Talk about spoiled for choice! Except, go into a really modern law practice and you'll scarcely see any printed paper (that isn't an invoice denominated in amounts to make your eyes water) Huge rooms of tomes eliminated and access to the data from your desktop in a fraction of the (billable at $100 per hour) time it used to take. See. It can be done, if there is an economic argument for it. Of course, you have to be a bloated plutocrat lawyer. The rest of us make do with Google and wikipedia.

    At base, the argument is about marginal cost, and the different values placed upon it by supplier and consumer. I might be prepared to consider $20 for an ebook (although those nice young men in their clean white coats would be knocking on my door shortly afterwards) if I believed that the greater amount of that would go to the author, because I know enough about economics to know that - even in the hall of mirrors that is publishing accountancy - right now the amortised cost to the publisher of an ebook is negligible (its all amortised on the paper versions) We don't buy ebooks because (mostly - there are bound to be exceptions) they appear to be a rip-off.

    What happens when the Chinese - who don't appear to understand the word 'copyright' - take over is open to debate.

    As for the contrast between dvd piracy and ebook piracy - last Monday a work colleague offered me - for free - a pirate dvd of the latest Turtles movie. He downloads 24/7 365 days a year. I made my excuses and left. Nobody has ever offered me a pirated ebook.


    A number of comments.. Firstly, I know it's a(n) historic thing, but why do you want an entire book on your e-reader device? If you're going to be an opportunistic reader that snatches word-bites on trains and buses then the likelyhood of being able to finish War and Peace in one sitting is unlikely. With high-speed 3G communications links then downloading the next chapter or even having it "pushed" to your device is surely the way to go, and also ensures you can have several books on the go. Next, I don't believe at this time that the book trade sees any point in eBooks. They're ignoring them in droves while bitching about the continued fall in sales of the dead tree product: throw me a lifeline? No thanks.. I'll wait for the next one.. If eBooks are going to be widely adopted, and I'm sure they will, they're going to be sold by non-traditional retailers, wirelessly, and when Apple finally get their iPhone onto the streets I predict that the Luddite cry of "not on my phone" will effectively be silence.


    I can't read an ebook in the bathtub, damn it! That's an annoyance.


    Somewhere upthread, somebody mentioned the website operation taking 50% of retail, more or less. This is the sort if figure I see in other areas, places selling stuff for CGI such as www.renderosity.com (and they publish their standard contract). Also, anything under $5 seems to be presented as a loss-leader, or only available to people who pay an annual subscription.

    The Poser program also seems to be a low-price market, compared to what some sites sell for "professional" 3D. There are some good models available for hardback book prices.


    Marius Gedminas @138: "the problem with book pages as images is that you cannot reflow the text for a different screen size (PDA or phone), and you cannot search"

    Turns out - contrary to expectations - this is NOT true. There is ongoing work to allow a page image to be 'sliced' around the words, and then reflow the individual word images. This process does not require any OCR. Separately, OCR for search is more effective than most would realize. I only just learned that Office2003 includes a basic - but fairly capable - OCR functionality.

    The point though is that reflowing and searching are not core functionality needed for reading. Treat them as the enhanced functionality that they represent, and the few users that do need them can get better capabilities in order to implement them.

    The other side of this argument is that the lack of a single 'page size' and media is fragmenting the market. Check out Cory's latest in Locus - a response to that would be to standardize the digital page dimensions and media, and let the authors loose *inside* the standard. If the size is standardized enough, then it becomes easier to figure out how to adapt the 'one size' to your device.

    One thing I see a lot of - here included - is people saying "what I do" and "what I want". But this is the digerati. Try thinking like a 100 million person mass market instead. The cost savings from simplifying for them are substantial. I'm prepared to give up reflow in the basic devices in order to get a thriving ebook marketplace going.


    Andrew Crystall @139: "What are you using? I've had quite good results without tweaking from cdex."

    How does this help me transfer tapes?


    How does this help me transfer tapes?

    I've had decent results using Audacity - it has a waveform display which you can cut and paste from which generally shows track divisions reasonably clearly. Takes a bit of fiddling about, that's all.


    A good bookshop is a valuable thing. One where the staff know you, and recommend books they think you'll like that you wouldn't have looked at on your own. Unfortunately they are being driven out of business by the chains...

    The Chinese understand copyright -- they just don't assign it the priority that the RIAA does. Given the other problems facing China right now, frankly I agree with them. And given the rather heated rhetoric coming from the US, frankly I rather doubt any figures anyway...

    U.S. group wants Canada blacklisted over piracy

    The reality being rather less dramatic:
    Piracy in Canada noise getting tiresome


    Monopole @ 130: The Sony Reader also accepts SD cards (there's one slot with two sets of contacts, just like most N-in-1 card readers). Sony doesn't put rootkits on people's computers anymore, and the Reader part of the business never did; you might as well refuse to buy Sony products because of Pearl Harbor. Don't be an idiot.

    Kiwi @ 143: None of my paper books are waterproof either (well, the Special Operations Forces Medical Handbook is waterproof, but I also have the ebook version and that's the one I read). I think we'll get waterproof ebook readers in due time, anyway. That MedTab gizmo I mentioned in comment 128 is waterproof, for example.

    Chris @ 145: Another thing that would help is for the PDF format to gain official support for reflowing text. It's getting better for this, but nobody is taking advantage of it. Early PDF authoring tools used to have no concept of text columns, so the text in line 1 of column 1 was followed (in the file) by the text of line 1 of column 2. This made it impractical to copy/paste text from a PDF, or to reflow it. Newer PDF tools encode column 1 followed by 2, so copy/paste works better, and reflowing would too. Someone should build this concept into an ebook PDF renderer, and Adobe should add some support (if it isn't in there already) to let a renderer bypass repeated header/footer content, do the right thing with footnotes, etc.


    David @ 136: Good heavens, man, that's a pirate site. Don't go spreading around URLs to sites that distribute pirated books. That's exactly the behavior we're trying to STOP here.

    Charlie, you ought to edit or delete that comment, lest someone suppose you approve of book piracy...


    Chris @ 145– an interesting idea, do optical break recognition and then slice and re-flow the images.

    Really even ‘text’ is not going far enough to support reader agnostic books. I think you really need to mark-up the text so that the reader program can identify features like the following:

  • * Chapter heading (to auto build contents the reader can use)
  • * Quotes
  • * Attribution of quotes
  • * Footnote anchors
  • * Footnote bodies
  • * Attribution of footnotes
  • * Whitespace is / is not significant (the poem laid out like a snake in Alice in Wonderland )
  • * Original work page numbers (so that the index / glossary still means something)
  • Then each reader program running on different screen sizes, and font options can choose how it can best render that marked up text.

    Text is a great start, and you can certainly read it, but to fully capture a book you need to take that extra step. Text Encoding Initiative (http://www.tei-c.org/) is formulating guidelines and standards in the area.


    Peter G: I haven't been following the postings in detail -- too much stuff going on elsewhere. Censored as of now.

    Interestingly, it looks like Quanta, who are contracted to manufacture the OLPC, are planning a commercial $200 version for developed nations. Looking at the OLPC spec, it's not only a very useful electronic tool priced so as to be near-to-disposable (rather than being an expensive fashion accessory with built-in obsolescence, like most current laptops), but it'd be a great ebook reader too. Hmm.


    Nicholas @ 151: Good list. I wonder if there's someone out there who can take this to Adobe so they can explain how to achieve these results in the current PDF spec or agree to add the necessary new features.

    Charlie, the OLPC is overkill for an ebook reader-- much too big and heavy, with an unnecessary keyboard and a power supply not well suited for use in developed nations-- but the technology behind it could be adapted to create a good reader. I doubt there's any point to asking for a reader derivative right now, while Quanta and the OLPC people are busy rolling out the original version, but this subject would be worth revisiting in another year or so.


    I read many paper books. I have too many in my house. I'd cheerfully get rid of most of them if I could replace them with ebooks. Two problems:
    1) Many are older books which are unlikely to appear in electronic form. They're not likely to be reprinted in paper, either, but as M. Ward@41 pointed out most are easily available in the used market.
    2) I don't find eBooks nearly as readable as paper books. LCDs produce high contrast by backlighting - I find the glare tiring. Standard typesetting for paper books has a resolution of around 1200 dpi - most LCD screens run no higher than 100dpi. I can read them but I find it less comfortable. It's not bad for a series of short passages (e.g., email or web sites), but I often print long texts out and read them on paper. I prefer the figurative headache of printing a copy to the literal one of reading it from a screen.


    Kiwi @143: Actually, you can read an ebook in the tub, thanks to a technological innovation that I like to call "the ziplock baggie".

    In fact, you can read an ebook in the tub even better than you can read a pbook, because with a ziplock baggie there's no chance of getting water spots on the book when you turn the page.


    Peter @153: Assuming it uses the same form factor as the OLPC, the keyboard can be folded around out of the way, and suddenly you've got a tablet PC with some arrow controls on it. Forget about reading on a paperback-sized screen, you've got a hardcover-sized screen to play with.

    Plus you can use it to check your email, surf the web, write, and so on.


    Peter G.@149
    I Stand corrected on the SD slot, on that count they may have come to their senses. In addition, the PRS-500 is considerably better than the DRMed to the point of uselessness Libre.

    On the other hand Sony as a corporation has established a consistent pattern of pursuing DRM and device lock-in deliberately and with a deliberate disregard for legality. Their conduct is ongoing, and they do not deserve my dollars.


    There isn't that much price elasticity in demand for books. That is, there's only a modest scope for increasing sales by cutting final cost.

    Therefore, from a writer's p.o.v., there's not much premium in delivering a cheaper book even in return for a larger share of the price.

    And I read novels on screen all the time -- downloaded ones whose copyright has expired, mainly from Project Gutenberg. I've got a huge number of the classics and obscure stuff I like -- Buchan, Davis, Sabatini, and so forth.


    Steve: yup, there's not that much demand elasticity. On the other hand, I'm most interest to watch Baen's experiments with ebook pricing. The ARC access thing is a jaw-dropper; people will pay nearly a hardback price for access to an uncorrected manuscript, then in many cases buy it in hardcover when it comes out? Who'd have thought it?

    I think Eric Flint made a point about book prices being a reverse auction driven by the reader's tolerance for deferred gratification -- wait longer and it gets cheaper. In which case, ebooks let us get away from the traditional paradigm (hardback first -- pricey -- then maybe a trade paperback, then mass market, and finally cheap remainders or low-cost editions) and consider more innovative models.

    For example: we could release a new ebook with a cover price of $25, then drop the price by 10% per month until it hits a floor of $5. (Want it now? You can pay -- or wait a bit longer.) Alternatively, there are premium models; pay $50 and get access to the MS the moment it's delivered (and a signed hardback via snail mail as soon as it's printed.)


    Nicholas @151:
    Re: ‘text’ is not going far enough/Chapter/Quotes/Attribution/Footnote

    This always happens. We take one small step, and then scope creep kicks in. Then we end up requiring significant computing power just to 'read text' because of what we let into the standard. I estimate that your suggestions place us two to three orders of magnitude too high in requirements.

    All of this capability requires too much computing capability. And I should explain "too much".

    My estimate is that the basic "just want to read" market (the really big part) can sustain a $20 reader. Allowing for markup, manufacturing, screen, cases, and other niceties, I would estimate that you have a budget of $1 (yes, one dollar) for the electronics.

    So, rather than try to figure out what would be "best for reading", I tried to figure out "what can we do for reading with $1".

    That's how I ended up with pure bitmaps (no compression), and static indexed buttons for navigation. No onboard memory - materials are stored on a removable card. That's the key part to enabling the up-market devices. You can buy a more expensive "allows margin notes" device. And you can buy a waterproofed "read in the shower" device. They all take the same basic media. You won't worry about the cost of the shower device, because it will be 'basic reading', and should come in under $50. Memory cards are now cheap enough that publishers could "publish to card" and sell preloaded cards from a rack in the bookstore. Even the computerless user can save space by having one reader and 50 SD cards over having 50 paperback books.

    Meanwhile, your truly high-end user can use optical reflow and OCR to enable a better reading experience on their $800 laptop. Even a recent Palm device likely has enough computing oomph to do that type of decoding, so you can still buy the 'book card' off the shelf in the airport and read it on your Palm during your flight.

    A really simply format on-card (by simple, I mean that the standard can be written in under 8 pages; even better, under 2 pages) means that you can store your own materials on a blank card for later reading.

    (I have an "example" somewhere on my hard drive ... more in a bit)


    Charlie @115: At the risk of being pedantic, what "actual survey data" are you referring to? I don't think you're a liar, Charlie, but I would love to nail down this rumour one way or another.


    Johan @ 161, I think I've read similar claims elsewhere. I BELIEVE I first saw a similar claim in one of the earlier editions of Writer's Market, or maybe it was in an article in Writer's Digest. Either way, based upon the anectdotal evidence of my friends' homes, I'd have to agree with these figures. I, unfortunately, am one of those whose joists groan under the weight. ;-)

    Charlie @ 159, I'm one of those who willingly shell out $15 for an Electronic Advanced Reader Copy (E-ARC) version of a Baen release, then turn around and shell out $6 for the edited ebook as well as - for some of them - also shell out the full price for the hardcover or paperback version. But I'm getting pickier. Lately, I only buy E-ARC and ebook versions unless they're good enough - upon reading of the ebook - to be worth putting into my hardcover collection. I've been giving away my paperbacks to various 'books for the troops' collection drives. You have to understand, I've got two 48-inch-wide bookshelves crammed with my non-fiction collections, and they're still growing.



    Charlie & Steve,

    You're probably right about demand for books being fairly static. Personally, I'd buy more books if they were available in ebooks right away. There are a lot of authors who I enjoy, but who's I consider "library" authors. That is, I check their books out as soon as they come in the local library, usually a couple months after release. If the were released as ebooks at $5 or under, I'd probably by the ebook rather than wait for a library copy to come available. The chance to read them sooner would be worth it to me.

    There's also profit to be made on the opposite end. A lot of books have gone out of print, and if your library doesn't have one then you have to hunt down a used copy. I'd much rather pay $3 or so for an ebook than for a beaten up used copy. Ebooks could be a good way to continue to make money off a book even after it's no longer economical to keep it in print.

    I hope 50 years from now my grandchildren will be able to read both of your works without trouble. :)


    Chris Smith, dump the tape to WAV, use cdex for processing to MP3.

    Also, I think you underestimate the computing power needed to deal with bipmaps compared to text. Also, if we're dealing with eink screens rather than LCD's, it just magnifies the problems associated with bipmaps.

    Charlie, well, I've bought ARC's. Not many, but I HAVE bought them. I'm not the most patient person when it comes to finishing books :)

    "pay $50 and get access to the MS the moment it's delivered (and a signed hardback via snail mail as soon as it's printed.)"

    Interesting. Not something I'd personally go for (I tend to buy ebooks, then the paperback when avaliable - otherwise I'd of just waited for the paperback) but definately sounds like a good idea.


    A book and a ebook are completely different mediums--
    Marshall McCluan said, "the medium is the message," and he was right.
    I can glean information and blog on the web-
    Great research tool, but I would never use it to consume the several books week
    I read. Assembling pixels cools down everything.


    Andrew @164:
    Re: dump the tape to WAV, use cdex for processing to MP3

    I have several thousand analog-to-digital recordings from various sources done pretty much that way (well, not cdex, but close). The question was not how-to, but noting that analog to digital transfers will never be as easy as CD-to-mp3 transfers - no "click once and walk away".

    Re: I think you underestimate the computing power needed to deal with bitmaps compared to text.

    Why? Careful planning of the layout of bits/pixels on an SD card allows a direct transfer of the requested bits from the card to an LCD display module with no processor intervention at all. How will this ever take more computing power than processing text? (To be fair, if everyone would accept plain ASCII text, it might be possible. But plain ASCII text without adornment of any kind seems to come under fire as being insufficient.)

    Re: if we're dealing with eink screens rather than LCD's, it just magnifies the problems associated with bitmaps.

    I know something of how the eink screens work at the screen level, but not at the interface level. Given that the system interfaces for LCDs look nothing like how an LCD actually makes pixels appear, why couldn't or wouldn't similar system interfaces be used? And, since the eval kit for the eink display uses a gumstix computer (nothing proprietary) it seems likely that the eink controller uses some form of fairly standard control interface. I can see how an eink display might be as difficult as any other technology, but I can't see any evidence it should be more difficult. (In a disappointing note, E Ink doesn't provide any datasheets that document how to interface to an E Ink module. Development kits for a price are one thing, but datasheets are a necessity for anyone doing exploratory design alternatives. Datasheets are what enable designers to even consider your component.)


    Awsome rant! I have been wondering about the e-book market, and tend to feel about the same as you. Sony has just released a very nice e-book reader, but it is a bit painful as far as cost. Besides, with my active lifestyle, why would I want to toss an expensive e-book reader into my backpack and risk breaking it. A much cheaper chunk of "wood pulp and pigskin" won't crack, short out or ever need a battery charge. Who could ask for anything more?
    Davis Bigelow
    Author of "Three Seconds On, Three Seconds Off"


    I found your entry interesting. Personally I FAR prefer ebooks to any other format. I have limited space to store books, and I find that always having my PDA with me to read ebooks is beneficial. I have spent hundreds of dollars at fictionwise (as well as whatever baen books I find interesting).

    I find it frustrating when some publishers don't publish their books as ebooks, or seriously overprice them (I find it hard to justify $20 for an ebook when the SFBC has it for 9.99). However in general I will NOT buy books that aren't ebooks unless I know.

    1) The publisher never publishes it as ebooks
    2) its not available as an ebook and I really want it.

    The interesting thing is that I came to this page looking for information on the Jennifer Morgue. I've been putting off buying it, hopeing it would appear on Fictionwise, and wanted to check to see if it would be available anytime soon on Fictionwise, or if I should break down and purchase it through the SFBC... [I discovered your writings through the ebooks on fictionwise, and have even purchased a few dead tree versions when I couldn't find them as ebooks).

    The great benefit of ebooks is also that it should reduce the number of books going out of print. I have spent more time than I like to think about searching for out of print books. I aplaud Eric Flint and Baen books for the work they've done in returning some very good writers to print.


    Jon: apropos Jennifer Morgue, Golden Gryphon don't publish ebooks at all. Ace hold the US ebook rights (and Orbit hold the ebook rights for the UK and Commonwealth -- don't ask, it gets positively Lovecraftian) and I know Ace have published an ebook of The Atrocity Archives; it is possible they will release Jennifer Morgue as an ebook when it is published in trade paperback (i.e. not before November).

    There's something else going on but I can't talk about it yet because it hasn't happened (and might not).


    We are developing a software suite that helps you publish and read electronic books. The Bytesize reader, the piece currently available, reads Bytesize published documents. We have lots of samples on our web site at www.bytesizesystems.com. You can download the reader and Bytesize published books and documents. You should find that the reader makes the books very easy to read and study. Our main purpose is to provide a reader to 'intensely read' books and documents that lets you browse, highlight, annotate, and search in useful ways. We hope you will find the reading and studying experience superior to other readers.

    Down the road, users of the Bytesize suite will be able to import lots of formats into Bytesize format, and publish their own works in Bytesize format. We think it will be very useful to teachers building course materials, ebook authors, and anyone studying lots of documents to create new knowledge.

    We'd love to get input from new users of the software on what you like and how you think it can be made more useful. Our early test users are mostly college and high school level instructors and students. We need a broader base of input. Download the software (free), try some of the free Bytesize documents on the web site, and send your thoughts to info@bytesizesystems.com. Thanks,

    Glenn at Bytesize Systems


    Glenn: The world doesn't need a new file format for ebooks; we've got perfectly good ones already.

    Nor do we need new closed-source software to create ebooks in a non-interoperable format.

    What we need are market-driven structural changes in the publishing business.

    You can't legislate changes in 150-year-old business practices by waving a magic wand and producing a piece of software. The world doesn't work that way.



    Charlie: a question. Are you so sure about the superiority of the e-book? I'd say that Doctorow's hypothesis isn't ... ah ... completely empirically verified. In fact, it may be bollocks.

    I can't even edit my own work without printing it out; let alone read anything by someone else of any substantial length. Judging from the use of the printer at the office, I'm not alone in this.

    This goes double for non-fiction --- books and articles cited for professional research --- which everyone I know prints out. It's simply much easier to work with paper, except (obviously) for data. You can make margin notes, more easily scribble comments into either index cards or (in my case) an electronic indexing program, and use your tactile memory (or post-it notes) to find things.

    Lastly, of course, there's the bookstore experience. I know, people said the same thing about record stores --- but that doesn't make the argument incorrect, since bookstores are a rather different retail experience.

    None of this means, of course, that any of the above is correct; just that there are obstacles to the ebook other than the pricing of ebook readers.


    Charlie @ 169: So who has the ebook publishing rights in the rest of the world?


    Chris Smith, it sounds like you're talking about processed files, i.e. "Careful planning of the layout of bits/pixels on an SD card" rather than actual bipmaps..


    Thanks for the feedback about Jennifer Morgue, I had purchased The Atrocity Archives as an ebook, and was waiting for the ebook version of Jennifer. However while I understand (and I hope) that something might be happening I'll go ahead and purchase the SFBC version :)
    I've seen that a lot of your Tor books are up on Baen's websubscriptions for release in May. I hope they overprice them like they did Dave Weber's book, and then come to the conclusion that ebooks can't work when their pricepoint was just too high. I don't know all the licensing deals, but somehow I would imagine that the profit margin on a ebook being sold through 1 level of distribution than a dead tree version that goes through several. (but of course I could be wrong :) I'm currently waiting for The Clan Corporate to become active there, and even if it is overpriced I'll buy it when it becomes available.

    I know I'm an outlier for books. I LOVE ebooks because it means that I can always have a good book with me, I just have to carry my PDA around.

    In reguards to #172 above, I don't use paper for anything, I strongly prefer editing on electrons, especially for technical data, where I can use the many capabilities of word processing programs to embed comments, search, and spell check (one of my weaknesses).


    In my experience, Jon, you're an outlier.

    Of course, my experience consists mostly of academics and journalists, with the occasional Army report-writer thrown in. (The papers in question often involve a lot of econometric results or data tables.) Obviously, nobody in their right mind writes on anything but a screen. It's the bloody work with the red pen that requires printouts. Ditto the need to reference between 16 different sources to write one section.

    It is possible that my observations are biased. That admitted, the stubborn refusal of the paperless office to lose its paper implies otherwise.

    If I am wrong, I'd like to know. Jon?


    Something like a very limited version of HTML would work, I think, but display-time processing would be a problem.

    I think there's a need for the sort of basic structural tagging that gives you such things as Chapters, Italics, and footnotes. Can you imagine Pratchett without footnotes, or Dunnett's Lymond not breaking into italicised foreign languages.

    We are, it seems, looking for something close to what Sir Rim invented at CERN. But no feature-creep, please.

    (And now somebody will bring up The Worm Ouroborous and ask if the ebook format has to be able to handle Greek. Well, you have to stop somewhere.)


    re 159

    Ebook at $25 with price decreasing over time is already the model we have; the absurdly high prices publishers charge won't last.

    But if there's enough file sharing, no price will last long; certainly not the premium price.

    Public radio finds that about 2% of listeners actually subscribe. I have more subscribers at my web site than many get, but I don't have 2%. We recently sold the movie rights to one of my early books for a lot; but if movies aren't made because they aren't a good investment, those sales go away also.

    In the Orient most software has been pirated; if that practice is imported to the US, then the software industry will be in large trouble. It may be impossible to do anything about all this, but giving up on copyright is almost certainly not going to work.


    I feel like the main limitations are form factor and economically driven. Already regular phones are (probably) more powerful than my first PC and will just get more powerful going forward.

    There is a limit to how large an object I would carry with me all the time, pocket size is actually very nice once you get over the 'it's way smaller than a book' barrier. Other people have different thresholds, but the preferred size is not primarily driven by tech but by human factors.

    If eBooks will always cost the same as paper books (to protect existing distribution channels) then how would even a free eReader help un-break the market? For recreational novel reading most people won’t be valuing the extra capabilities (e.g. text search) that eBooks bring.

    What will it take for publishes to be comfortable lowering prices?


    Wow-where to start?
    Chris @ 160 I think you've hit the nail on the head (at least for me). Simplicity is the key. I started with a Franklin eBookman about 7 years ago, and upgraded to a second-hand Compaq 3630 iPaq ($120 from eBay) a couple of years ago-more file formats, and you can read in the dark, which made the wife very happy. The Franklin though was a great little reader, a pure and simple pocketbook. And yes, once you get past the 'thats not a book!' phase, theres no looking back. I do all my reading on the iPaq (and very occasionally the laptop, before the incident of The Hard Drive That Ate Itself).

    I still buy books in the dead tree medium, to support those authors whose books I download, read and thoroughly enjoy from IRC. But, I'm only buying them because its the only way I see to pay for them-I absolutely refuse to pay money for an eBook and then be told that I can only use it on a specified amount of devices, in the format in which I purchased it. But, theres also a wealth of good free fiction out there, for those folks who aren't comfortable with the 'pirate' eBook scene. Arrr matey.

    And a quick word on content: those lovely French folks at mobipocket.com do a very nice reader, which also subcribes and displays a *staggering* number of newpapers and magazines from around the globe. Well worth having a look at, and very nice and simple interface. For those talking about a lack of choice on the IRC bookchannel-well, you havent looked hard enough. Yes, theres a bucket of sci-fi and fantasy (its what us geeks read, you know), but I've also slaked my thirst for Messrs. Wambaugh, Patterson, McDonald, Block and King amongst many others from that very same source.

    Talking about ease of conversion, and a barebones type ebook program-Microsoft Reader is my weapon of choice nowadays (after much experimentation and soul-searching, trust me!) The display is good, it supports chapters, footnotes, italics, etc. And, strangely enough, Microsoft have actually been very helpful and produced a tool called the Microsoft Reader Add-In (http://www.microsoft.com/reader/developers/downloads/rmr.asp)

    This wee beastie puts a Reader button on your Word toolbar. Open your .txt, .doc, .html, .rtf file in Word, press the button and hey presto, youve got a .lit file. Couldnt be much more easier ;)

    Oh, and Glenn @ 170? Charlie is correct. The LAST thing we need is another closed format. Take thy spam elsewhere.


    OTOH, we've gotten along very well without ebooks as a major factor all these years. It won't break my heart if it never comes to anything.


    Steve @181: I am currently entertaining joiners by asking for quotes for bookcases to hold another 3000 hardbacks.

    While I understand and agree -- in principle -- that the non-arrival of the ebook in real commercial terms won't hurt us, the joists under my flat are groaning. (Metaphorically, I hasten to add.)

    Noel @176: I'm going to weasel out of your very valid point by observing that I'm primarily concerned with fiction, for casual reading, not complex compound reference documents, for analysis and criticism. The requirements for the latter are more stringent (and make me think that something like the One Laptop Per Child project's reference platform, with appropriate software, might be more like it; able to display an A4 page, software for annotations and editing, and so on ...)

    Andrew G @173: I'd have to read several contracts to give you a definitive answer, but I believe it's something along the lines of "whoever gets there first", with the added whoopee fun cushion that the translation rights holders get to play with their respective translations' ebook rights.

    Jerry @178: I don't think voluntary subscriptions are a great way to go, unless we find some way of multiplying the pool of interest by a factor of fifty (at least). On the other hand, I don't think it's necessary. We know that most people are honest most of the time, especially when there's very little at stake; I suspect a good chunk of the reason for the high rate of software piracy in the orient is that a copy of, say, Adobe Acrobat Publisher that sells for $800, is not exactly pocket change in the US (but is affordable for businesses that need it); but in China it's more than many people earn in a year. If Adobe tried to ramp the price of Acrobat Publisher in the US to $50,000, and Microsoft jacked Windows Vista up to $5000, I suspect we'd see a much higher rate of piracy. (And a big switch to cheaper -- or free -- alternatives.)


    Steve @ 181: The paradigm it is a-changin'. Yes, reading is lagging behind listening to music or watching videos, but as the market for hand-held, on-the-go entertainment devices grows, so will acceptance of electronic books and reading devices. Further, it makes no sense to an iPod-generation consumer that it's BEST to be able to plug-in-and-download the latest music, but have to make a special trip to the bookstore to buy the latest novel.

    Publishers who refuse to understand this will pay the price. No, not this year, and probably not even next. But mark my words, ebooks ARE becoming a viable alternative to lugging around dead tree fiction. Don't believe me? Just look at how fast dead-tree-only novels are finding their way into the 'pirate' markets. I did an experiment recently. I signed up for a Usenet service as well as installed a bittorrent app and mIRC. Then I went out an attempted to find ebook versions of all the paperback novels I have on my shelves. Except for the novels by L Neil Smith, I was able to find versions of ALL of them - and I'm talking from David Wingrove to Patrick O'Brien to James Lee Burke and even yours - over 4,000 novels. And most of them were novels that AREN'T available through Mobipocket, eReader, Fictionwise or Baen's Webscriptions. Further, many of these are being downloaded 500 or more times per day!

    IOW, the publishers are kidding themselves if they believe they can prevent the books from finding their way into the ebook market. The best possible course of action the publishers can take would be to adopt the Baen approach and use inexpensive ebook versions as a come-on for their dead-tree editions.

    And authors who believe they must be 'protected' from non-DRM'd ebook because of some 'threat' of lost revenue, clearly don't understand the process. Also, the idea should be to make reading EASIER not harder. If that means ebook formats and readers that appeal to the iPod generation, the authors who wish to succeed will press for such options.

    Others will continue to bury their heads in the sand.



    Andrew @174: "Chris Smith, it sounds like you're talking about processed files"

    Files? Missed the point where I said there was no filesystem? You could view the entire SD card as one file, I suppose - which you likely would do during mastering - but that doesn't really make it a filesystem. Think of audio CDs. No filesystem there, either.


    Chris: I currently use a mix of SD cards; 4Gb in the camcorder, 2Gb Sandisk with integrated USB in the PDA (so I can simply swap it into the laptop, copy stuff back'n'forth, and whack it back into the PDA -- they don't do this in 4Gb yet). I'm shortly switching to 8Gb SDHC cards.

    A 1Gb card can -- if you assume books come in something like RTF or OEB format -- hold about 1000 350-page novels. That's a fair library.

    You're implying that your system would store one book per card.

    Given that there's probably a floor on how cheaply you can manufacture SD or similar cards -- the plastic and packaging alone amounts to a chunk of the cost -- then I don't see where the advantage lies. And I see a serious disadvantage insofar as your system would require me to carry a walletful of memory cards about. While losing searchability and all the other useful extras ebooks were supposed to bring us.

    Meanwhile the CPU horsepower needed to parse a basic XML DTD like OEB isn't that great. I'd bet the 70MHz ARM cores in my iPod nano are up to doing it pretty fast, never mind the 312Mhz one in my PDA. You don't need to jam a whole Linux distro onto an ebook reader to make it workable, and I suspect the cost of designing dumb hardware to slurp up page images and zap them at the screen probably exceeds the cost of using a cheap off-the-shelf CPU core and free, GPL'd off-the-shelf rendering software like FBReader.

    I think you need to go back to the drawing board on the idea of distributing ebooks as bitmaps and using a dumb reader. I don't think it's going to fly.


    Chris @ 184:

    Ummm... Just to point out the obvious... text, and even RTF is far more condensed/compressed than the equivalent page expressed as a bitmap, you DO understand this, don't you? (Oh sure, if one is talking a 'special case' such as a book title and author's name in black on a white background, the RLE-encoding will probably be less, but that's a 'special case'.)

    Further, as so many people have mentioned, it's nice to be able to just 'jump' to a certain point in the text flow. You aren't going to be able to do this with pure bitmaps for every imaginable combination of screen-size/dpi for even *ONE* book. For one thing, to do a text search, the program will have to scan the image on-the-fly, converting the bitmap to text as it travels along the file. For another, just being able to re-format the bitmap image to display well on different size screens is going to be processing intensive.

    And then there's the whole idea of it taking no processing to shove the bitmap images out to the display controller. Who says? Are you planning on building in shared memory? That's expensive as are the support chips.

    Nope. Some form of text file, be it XML, TXT or HTML-based will always be the best format for ebooks.



    I have been reading through this series of posts about ebooks and their devices and I just have to add my 20 won worth.

    My post provides more information about the ebookwise reader mentioned by Zed in post 122. In post 143, Kiwi mentions that you can't read an ebook in the bathtub but I do. Without the ziplock bag that is recommended by Chris in post 155. My device is so easy and convenient to hold in one hand that I don't worry about it slipping and I don't tend to splash while I am reading.

    The problem isn't that there isn't a cheap, reliable, well-designed ebook reader device, the problem is that it isn't available in stores and only people who really search the internet will ever find out about it and the vast selection of ebooks available.

    I have always been a voracious reader. I read through the children's library and then moved up to the adult library with special permission as I was under 14 at the time. I carry at least 6 books when I travel. I own tons of books.

    Now I live in Korea where it is not only hard to obtain the kind of reading material I like, and expensive when I can get it because of shipping costs, but housing is small and there is no room for storing all the books I read.

    So I was searching for some kind of ebook reader device and when I was back home on holiday I checked all the electronics stores and there was nothing. Back in Korea, I started seriously searching online and finally started to find the information I was looking for.

    I can read for 20 hours in the dark on a 2 hour charge, I have carried over 60 books and not filled up my device, I have e-subscriptions to Asimovs, Analog, and Fiction and Science Fiction which I read on my device and have been purchasing lots of other reading material. I also went back and purchased old editions of the 3 magazines to start to catch up on my reading.

    There are cheap and marvelous devices, I have an ebookwise available here for $124 + shipping. http://www.ebookwise.com/ebookwise/ebookwise1150.htm

    I buy most of my books at fictionwise where they are cheap and plentiful. I also have lots of books from the various Gutenberg Projects.

    I have written a wiki about the ereader device, the other options including a free reader, where to get books, and my experience with it here:


    However, I have to agree with someone who said earlier that s/he wants their reference books in hard copy. I am taking a masters and I found that the ebook was just not as convenient as being able to pick up a paper book and flip through looking for the quote, even though my ebook is bookmarked and searchable.


    Charlie @ 185:(P.S. Sorry about the length.)

    "A 1Gb card can -- if you assume books come in something like RTF or OEB format -- hold about 1000 350-page novels. That's a fair library."
    "You're implying that your system would store one book per card."

    It would store one 'sequence of pages' in one card. But this need not be one book. In fact, it turns out that a 1 GB card could store over 100 350-page novels. Granted, that's not 1000, but it's still a lot. It's more than most people buy in a year, as you pointed out.

    "Given that there's probably a floor on how cheaply you can manufacture SD or similar cards -- the plastic and packaging alone amounts to a chunk of the cost -- then I don't see where the advantage lies."

    The advantage lies in serving the market for just reading a few books a year. Every other example of ebook designs that I see is designed with a thought towards unlimited upward potential. But the cost of the that is a format with unlimited upward potential, and THAT is a killer on the reader end. You pointed out that your own thinking is towards fiction reading, not academic use. Taking advantage of that distinction can be useful.

    Optimizing the cost of memory is not the only goal. It's not the cost of memory to the biggest users that needs optimizing, but the cost of the entire system to the market as a whole.

    "And I see a serious disadvantage insofar as your system would require me to carry a walletful of memory cards about."

    I did say you could write your own. So, you can either just buy and keep individual books on cards, or you can buy them, and transfer them to your one giant card. (I've used exactly this model with hand held video games - either carry around the ROM carts, or transfer 12 to 20 carts to on giant flash cart.) Also note this still allows for electronic purchase, it just doesn't work very hard to optimize that part of the system. So what if a ebook novel is 10 to 20 megabytes? Is that a real problem?

    "While losing searchability and all the other useful extras ebooks were supposed to bring us."

    Covered some of this point. Searchability is not lost (OCR). Reflow is not lost (slice and dice). But they are high-end client features.

    "Meanwhile the CPU horsepower needed to parse a basic XML DTD like OEB isn't that great. I'd bet the 70MHz ARM cores in my iPod nano are up to doing it pretty fast, never mind the 312Mhz one in my PDA."

    Those cores are also likely up to the job of doing the slice and dice reflow, and OCR-based searching. Since you've already got the horsepower, you can make use of it, and simultaneously reduce the *minimum* reader requirement drastically - both on the same basic media.

    "You don't need to jam a whole Linux distro onto an ebook reader to make it workable, and I suspect the cost of designing dumb hardware to slurp up page images and zap them at the screen probably exceeds the cost of using a cheap off-the-shelf CPU core and free, GPL'd off-the-shelf rendering software like FBReader."

    I'm not sure most people realize just how dumb that hardware could be. It's possible to deal with the card in MMC mode - you request the block of data you want, notify the display subsystem to accept the block, then get out of the way. We're talking about hardware with onboard storage reduced to less than 100 bytes - perhaps less than 500 total including microcode. (The display subsystem might need 64K internally, depending on the display technology.)

    Software is never completely free. Maintenance costs are involved. Any software that handles external inputs is potentially subject to a form of attack, and should be updateable unless it is calculator-simple. Software implies hardware, implies memory, implies, processor, implies battery life.

    The 'sweet spot' for a mobile software based design puts you in laptop territory. But that's a 'local maximum' in the value equation. I'm looking for other maxima, and I think that there's one much farther down the curve.

    Finally, remember that 'design costs' are amortized across the entire manufacturing run. It may be worth spending 100 times as much (10,000%) on design to save 95% of marginal costs.

    "I think you need to go back to the drawing board on the idea of distributing ebooks as bitmaps and using a dumb reader. I don't think it's going to fly."

    It still faces the same large hurdles - reader and publisher adoption - as any other system. What it doesn't face is a high adoption cost for the moderate to low reader. It doesn't require a computer, either in-system or as an adjunct, but it can *use* them to good effect.

    Derek @ 186:

    "Ummm... Just to point out the obvious... text, and even RTF is far more condensed/compressed than the equivalent page expressed as a bitmap, you DO understand this, don't you?"

    Curmudgeon stripes were gained on this point some time back.

    That compression is the PROBLEM, and avoiding it is part of the solution. Sure, we could get our memory costs even lower, but once it's "cheap enough", we can trade off memory inefficiency for savings elsewhere. (For the record, 'text' is a form of lossy compression.)

    "Further, as so many people have mentioned, it's nice to be able to just 'jump' to a certain point in the text flow."

    'Nice' doesn't pay. Got any well-researched, hard numbers on the market for this feature? What is it really worth? Or is getting 'on the page' good enough, like with paper?

    "You aren't going to be able to do this with pure bitmaps for every imaginable combination of screen-size/dpi for even *ONE* book. For one thing, to do a text search, the program will have to scan the image on-the-fly, converting the bitmap to text as it travels along the file. For another, just being able to re-format the bitmap image to display well on different size screens is going to be processing intensive."

    I'm so glad you understand. I was beginning to think you didn't get it.

    "And then there's the whole idea of it taking no processing to shove the bitmap images out to the display controller. Who says? Are you planning on building in shared memory? That's expensive as are the support chips."

    A CD player can be built with almost no memory, yet manages to present over 700 megabytes. You're still thinking of this as a computer. Scale back. Way back. Your market doesn't care if its a computer. They care about cost and reading.

    Nope. Some form of text file, be it XML, TXT or HTML-based will always be the best format for ebooks.

    Bingo. I don't want the "best format for ebooks". I want the best format for the market that ebooks serve. And that is not the same thing.


    A large part of the expected market, as I understand it, for these proposed ebook readers is in academia/technical manuals, which HAVE to be searchable. No one is going to buy a reader stuffed with technical manuals if they have to read the whole thing before finding what they want to look up. My initial suspicion is that selling ebook versions of major textbooks would be very well recieved, especially if they can be updated for each edition/errata/etc, rather than having to go and buy the new copy. That, for me, should be the initial target market, and, as such, requires more than a simple text display or possibly searchable bitmaps.

    Additionally, co-operation between the Universities and ebook/reader publishers to offer an reader with the entire class reading list already there would be great, and, given the cost of some of these textbooks, could be quite expensive without putting off many of the buyers.


    Given that textbook publishing is widely considered by its victims to be a prime example of screwing a captive market for everything you can get, and that said victims are also no strangers to file sharing, I wonder somewhat about that, at least for the undergraduate sector.


    "OTOH, we've gotten along very well without ebooks as a major factor all these years. It won't break my heart if it never comes to anything."

    Posted by: S.M. Stirling | April 2, 2007 10:52 AM

    IIRC, that was Hollywood's attitude towards TV, on a very, very mellow day. And to the VCR. Again, on a very mellow, martini'd or Prozac'd day; on most days it was 'aggggghhhh! It's going to kill us all!!!!!!!'.

    Getting a working e-publishing system running holds great potential for increasing authors' salaries. Currently, the sheer manufacture and movement of pulp eats huge amounts of money; the publishers/editors and authors split the profits. Removing a major cost should put a lot of money into the pockets of both groups.


    Chris @ 46 & 188:

    Okay. So let me get this straight. You say that storing a letter as a bitmapped monochrome array of pixels (1 bit per pixel, 5 pixels by 7 pixels plus one row of space top and bottom and one row of space left and right for a total of 7 x 9 for a total of 63 bits (EIGHT BYTES!!!)) is better than storing a single ASCII character in one byte? And so what if the 'rock bottom' customer who picks up this jewel of an ereader happens to have aging eyes and needs larger text? You DO know, don't you, that simply magnifying the 'letter' by doubling up on the pixels is going to create some very difficult-to-read characters? And you're going to rapidly consume onboard memory to accomodate this? While, with an ASCII-encoded text file, the device can simply store font information for each character at the various sizes. Think of the "E"s. "E"s are one of the most popular letters. Storing font info for "E" and then using the ASCII representation will cut file size by approximately 80%. (Of course this holds true for all the other letters. And that means more books on the card.)

    Further, as you suggested in post 46, you want to support page/chapter navigation. How? Show me the BMP-format markers which are native to BMP that indicate the start of a page or chapter. Don't bother - you can't. Page and Chapter are text markers not bitmap graphics markers.

    And FYI, people are already working on bundling stories right onto SD cards. A simple 16MB SD card can hold as many as 30 RTF/TXT-formatted novels. You know what? That's a fairly decent selection from Baen's Free Library. And a 16MB card is very cheap. We've already THOUGHT of that idea. But we didn't waste time and effort trying to shove a text file into a bitmapped image when doing so doesn't fit the message or the medium.



    Pat @187,

    It's an LCD not e-ink. That has major battery life implications. And it's tied into Fictionwise/eBookwise.

    Chris Smith @188,

    "(For the record, 'text' is a form of lossy compression)"

    HUH? No, it's *NOT* lossy. All the letters in the book are there. You're talking about having to constantly use the processor to refactor the images, which is very expensive on battery life - you SHOULD be running the processor at very low clock speeds.

    "A CD player can be built with almost no memory"

    Have you looked at the Red Book standard? Also, minor noise in audio does not increase your battery consumption, as would ANY noise in your bipmap format.

    You're talking about the best format for high power devices. By the time you get there, you could be using a vector format for storing the text. Which has its own advantages.


    Flash memory is now cheaper-per-image than Kodachrome, and those 10 megapixel digital photographs record more data than a hand-held camera can clearly resolve.

    So effecient use of memory isn't a problem.

    But bitmaps are a dumb move, unless you have a standard display that everyone uses. Arguably, that's a more stupid strategy than DRM locks.

    Are the potential manufacturers of the readers going to be willing to throw away a set of options to make their producet "better"?


    Andrew@193: you are not really correct in criticizing the ebookwise for battery life. Ebookwise has plenty of battery life. The main problem with ebookwise is 1)they use an antiquated memory card and 2)the desktop conversion program isn't that great. Once you get the ebooks on the ebookwise in readable form, it's great. It's getting them there which is the challenge.


    Thanks for the informative article. Personally I think that ebooks as anything more than a novelty is a long ways off. The reader would have to come free with the books for it to make sense for the great majority of people. Other than that, there is the home pc. Despite your dismissal of reading on-screen, for me that is exactly the problem. While my screen is crystal clear, sitting at the computer for hours reading doesn't appeal at all. I can go to my easy-chair, curl up on the couch, etc. with a real book.. sorry, but I think using the PC for book reading will be a niche in the forseeable future. So what is possible? Offering things that a paper book cannot give you. Look at the appeal of pop-up videos. Perhaps you could have annotated text (of course you have to pay someone to annotate), or audio-version such as Podiobooks, or "expert" analysis, or even PG/R/X versions, or.....or something that can't be done with paper to give peopel a reason to switch.

    And of course DRM kills anything possible. Does the fact that you can give a book to a friend when you are done with it destroy the industry? I don't think so. You could argue that if it was illegal to do so (and everyone actually obeyed the law) you might get more sales, but the price of the books has gone up to compensate and everyone is happy. Despite this successful model, DRM attempts to force things into very narrow constraints, possible if you have full control of what people can do (like the HD movie industry) but when its cheaper to simply buy the paper copy, you have no leverage.


    Just a minute. Let me get this straight Charlie, you would actually PREFER to read an ebook?


    Glenn: yes.


    To reply to Andrew/193 I can purchase books at fictionwise or any other ebook provider to read on my ebookwise device. If I buy from ebookwise, they download directly to my reader. Buying from fictionwise or other ebook provider or getting books from Gutenberg means I have to download the book to my computer and then upload them to my bookshelf at fictionwise, which requires no conversion as long as they are .txt, .html, .rb, .rtf, and .doc, and then download them to my device through my usb. The uploading and downloading of each book takes about a minute, maybe two if it is big.

    To Robert/195, there is no conversion of the formats I mentioned above.

    To Glenn/197, I prefer reading an ebook, it's one-handed, self-lit, carries a huge variety of books so I need only to carry 1 object yet I can read lots of books, it weighs less than some of the paperbacks I normally carry, I can write notes in it, bookmark sessions, I can have 2 books open at one time and switch back and forth, in less than 10 seconds after pressing the switch, my book is open to where I left off reading, in short, it is incredibly convenient.



    I'd prefer to read an ebook too, at least in cases where it's not a book I want to "collect".

    There are a couple of qualifiers for me though:
    1. The ebook should be cheaper than a physical book.
    2. The ebook reader should have a screen at least the size and contrast of a mass market paperback.
    3. There should be some sort of limited preview available at the ebook seller, maybe the first chapter or some random passages.

    That would do it for me, as far as fiction goes.

    I still think the real benefit from ebooks shows up in the nonfiction area, especially manuals and textbooks. The ability to search, include rich media content, and update the material is a vast improvement over paper books.

    However, textbooks would probably require larger and more powerful readers than novels that are mainly text and don't rely on page layout as much. But a reader that worked for textbooks would also be great for e-magazines and e-newspapers that include a lot of content besides text.


    It seems to me that we're about at the stage where a simple ebook reader could be banged together from a kit, or from store- or catalog-bought components. What do you need? A reasonable sized display, an iPod style control (i.e five buttons), a bit of low-speed RAM, Bluetooth input, maybe a brightness control. The only tricky bit might be getting the OS in there, but that wouldn't be tricky tricky.


    E-ink does sell a kit... for just $3000.

    One could put together an LCD device, but I'd be surprised if it ended up cheaper than one could find a used gadget of greater ability (not to knock someone doing it -- it'd be a cool project.)


    Zed, as I've mentioned before that's a development kit, not an actual end-user product. They are usually expensive.

    Andrew G., well, if I worked for a university I'd look at making a more capeable reader. Sure, you want it hardback sized, to handle PDF's, all sorts of images, video playback even. And with a built in (upgradeable) dictionary, active touch screen, deacent sized battery, etc.

    It's not quite the same as what I'd like for my own home use.


    It's funny that you mentioned libraries and used books sales, Charlie. As I noted when I reacted to your post on my own humble site, there's a big and growing controversy over used game sales, with a lot of prominent gamers calling it theft in all but name. If you step outside the book market, you'll see that this really is one small part of a much bigger issue, and judging by the way even the consumers of the newest form of entertainment media (interactive gaming) are behaving, those who advocate fair use might be fighting a rearguard action.

    By the by, I'm also surprised that nobody here has brought up comics. Ebooks for prose have had limited success at best, but comic scans are a huge "scene" already, and only growing bigger. Considering how intertwined the "graphic novel" and traditional prose branches of SF and fantasy are becoming, I'd say that comic scans might be pointing the way to where the prose "scene" will eventually end up.


    (And in case anyone wonders, while I have read comic scans in the past, I haven't really bothered with ebooks, for all the reasons named above.)


    Demosthenes @ 204:

    Re: "Considering how intertwined the "graphic novel" and traditional prose branches of SF and fantasy are becoming, I'd say that comic scans might be pointing the way to where the prose "scene" will eventually end up."


    Gee, wouldn't that look a little like bitmapped page images with simple page navigation?

    (Yep, I've used/played with CDisplay.)



    It gets even hotter on the games industry insider forums. There is a strong faction, which I support, which basically says it's no threat if we get off our backsides and make games people want to keep, and with compelling interaction with other people - and we CAN regulate that via key etc. (without requiring intrusive DRM - and I *LIKE* Bioware's idea of storing the keys online and securely, in case you forget them) as single player games cannot.

    (Unless you're EA, and they're getting hammered for their recent server downtime)


    Charlie and Rod re 170,
    Thanks for the comments. Not trying to spam. Bytesize started the software several years ago with the idea of giving writers a better alternative to publish and readers better tools to read. The ideas was that a great reader for studying would lead to a useful new format accessible to the masses inexpensively to create new knowledge. More focused on textbook, study of literature, and other information delivery vs. recreational reading. I tend to agree with you that we have to make it an open format at its foundation. We still hope it will be good enough to buy vs be free and that it will make a notebook PC a good reader. What are your thoughts about evolution of notebooks into better choices for reading ebooks than the specialized devices? I think that a robust 2 pound notebook that is easy to read, connected, has an 8 hour battery live, costs $800 will ultimately beat out phones with big screens or reader only devices for reading/studying anything. It will be more open, too.



    Surely the DRM mandated by publishers is a deeply self-defeating move.

    But I think that e-books will always be a niche market. Some things are not improved by the application of electronic technology.
    (Like voting, for example. Or archiving your grandma's recipes. Or teaching elelementary school kids to write.)

    And I collect and preferentially use the e-book form for technical
    references (I'm a computer engineer, and I use a _lot_ of technical books.)
    And I often use Project Gutenberg for reference.

    BUT :
    E-books are inferior in a score of ways that are important to me as a consumer:
    - real books physically last for lifetimes
    - real books are not subject to format obsolescence (have you tried accessing those files you put on 5 1/4 -inch floppies back in 1985?)
    - real books do not rely on power or batteries, can go to the beach or the bathtub or the woods or the train or the car.
    - real books are easier and more comfortable to read (and this from someone who spends ten hours a day reading and writing at the best available computer terminal)
    - real books do not rely on the quirks of one vendor's software for underlining, marginal notes, dog-earing.

    And the nod to McLuhan at #165 is spot-on.


    Joel @ 209:

    'real books physically last for lifetimes' - Not! I can attest to this because I've had to replace over half my library due to wear-out. Gets expensive.

    'real books not subject to format obsolescence...' - Ummm... Don't you mean 'storage media' here? Because the format of the ebooks don't change over time.

    'real books do not rely on power or batteries'. - Got me there, but then 'real books' are so bulky as to make it far less likely I'll take all the books I want or need on any long trip - or short trip to the bathroom.

    'real books are easier to read...' - Hunh? Have you tried holding a paperback in poor light while lying in bed at just the right distance to relieve arm-strain but far enough to overcome eye-strain due to too-small print? Nope. Even with the strain caused by reading an LCD screen that refreshes at 60Hz, it's easier and more comfortable for my aging eyes to read using my PDA. And the e-ink displays seem to be even better.

    'real books do not rely on the quirks of one vendor's software...' - This is very true, especially with the vendors who insist upon creating new, proprietary, DRM'd ebook formats when there are plenty of decent non-DRM formats out there already. Thankfully, NAEB's ebook reader will never restrict users to one, proprietary, locked ebook format - you have our word on that.

    Derek Benner
    Not Another E-Book, LLC (NAEB)


    Joel @ 209 and Scott @ 165:

    Speaking as one who DOES devour about a dozen ebooks per week, McLuhan was full of it.




    Chacun a son gout, I guess.

    >> 'real books physically last for lifetimes'
    > - Not!

    I have portions of my grandfather's and great-grandfather's libraries. The books are in fine condition, except for the mid-20th century ones printed on high-sulfur paper.
    And then there's the Bodleian ... I seem to remember that some of their physical books are several lifetimes old. Or older. Just sayin' ...

    >> 'real books not subject to format obsolescence...'
    > - Ummm... Don't you mean 'storage media' here?

    Thanks, I wasn't clear. I mean both.
    I'm a computer engineer, and I have been stung both by file-format obsolescence and by storage-medium-format obsolescence in the short 25 years of my career. Repeatedly.
    Storage-medium obsolescence is easier to illustrate: I can't currently play my grandma's collection of 78-RPM children's records. Nor my own eight-track tapes.
    I can't currently recover my backed-up files from the 5 1/4 - inch floppies, nor from the QIC tape cartridges, nor from the 1/4-inch serpentine-recording tape cartridges on which I archived them - yet all these backups were made in my own adult lifetime.

    >> Because the format of the ebooks don't change over time.
    But the file formats supported by commercially-available electronic readers almost certainly will. Think decades.
    An e-book archived during the 1970s in the US would likely have been EBCDIC-encoded, on an IBM MVS storage volume.

    > 'real books' are so bulky as to make it far less likely I'll take all the books I want or need on any long trip - or short trip to the bathroom.

    Got me about the long trip -- I tend to buy books along the way.
    You take more than one book on a trip to the bathroom?

    > Have you tried holding a paperback in poor light while lying in bed at just the right distance to relieve arm-strain but far enough to overcome eye-strain due to too-small print?

    More than once. In fact, pretty much daily for the last forty-five years.


    > McLuhan was full of it.

    Perhaps. However, you have offered no evidence other than personal anecdote for this assertion, while McLuhan seems to have had considerable data on his side.

    Care to offer an argument rather than an assertion?


    Joel @ 213: Not really because that's just about the level you used when asserting that Scott, and by extension McLuhan, was spot on. I've seen McLuhans data; I was not impressed.

    And as for @ 212, well, you've offered no evidence rather than personal anecdote about the lifetime of physical books - unless of course one is willing to shell out big bucks to maintain the proper environment for those books, money that I cannot afford to dedicate. Further, again EBCDIC vs ASCII is 'storage medium' not EBOOK format. I'll grant that ebook formats created for the purpose of keeping the publisher's/software-manufacturer's hold on the user IS subject to change in order to 'persuade' the user to invest in recurring upgrades of software and hardware. However, HTML, TXT and RTF ebooks will not change and will be readable. Granted, one doesn't get all the nifty library functions in these, but they're READABLE over time. And if you have checked out Baen Books, you'll note that their ebooks are always offered in those three formats - for that very reason.



    Andrew (207), are those free to access or members-only? I've been interested in the biz of gaming since way, WAY back (Fidonet at least), and this debate really grabs me.

    Chris: Not that I really want to drop into that whole debate, but I'm with the "using bitmaps for prose is bloody silly" brigade. .pdf style, maybe, but straight bitmaps are too huge, too unchangeable, and too unsearchable. I think the only reason comics use the format they do is because it's abundantly easy and NOBODY has an ebook reader for the format, so alternate formats don't make sense.

    (That, and .pdf readers are uniformly terrible.)


    > However, HTML, TXT and RTF ebooks will not change and will be readable.

    You will perhaps forgive me for doubting.
    I don't expect that any of these formats will be directly readable by comsumer devices in the year 2057. We'll just have to wait and see.


    Format obsolescecne: ebooks are not a library technology in themselves. They are a distribution and use technology.

    Lending libraries are one of the places where DRM might be justified. You can track loans, even pay a small fee for each, just as we do today with paper, and a part of the DRM deal is that at a certain time, the "book" dies.

    It will need some changes to how the library buys the book in the first place, but it doesn't seem different from how a company buys and manages software licences.

    Instead of buying, shelving, and tracking 10 physical books, you allow the system to make available 10 copies of the ebook.

    Now, whether that's a sensible way to run an eLibrary, I'm not sure. It could easily be a crippling adherence to an obsolete model. eBooks, eMusic, the whole business is a fundamental economic shift. It becomes possible to make and distribute a copy for as near to zero cost as is ever likely.

    But eBooks could make all books into library books.

    Excuse me, there's a bunch of guys at the door from the Encyclopedia Galactica. They seem to be selling Hari Seldon cuddly toys....


    Demosthenes, the private forums in question (TCE) are for games industry developers only. Sorry! You might be interested in QT3 though: http://www.quartertothree.com/

    joel hanes, well, we might well all be using full sensory spectrum inputs by then but plain text is plain text...


    Derek- #210, 214,
    You have me intrigued. What are you doing with your books that they are wearing out?
    Even some of my books which have been read 20 or 30 times, by both me (A careful reader) and my sister (A careless besom with books, cracks the spines, throws them all over the place) are in perfectly good shape, and could be read another 40 or 50 times.
    Another example- when I was at school a mere 15 years ago, they were still handing round 30 year old maths textbooks for us to work out of. Granted, they would not suffer the wear of being carried round in bags, but even school textbooks that did generally survived for 5 or 10 years, that I can think of.

    So, what on earth are you doing with your books?


    Count me as another against books as bitmaps. The basic idea is an example of one of the banes of programing and using computers - the needless destruction of information. As others have said, the 'benefits' of such static rendering are marginal at best, and are far outweighed by the real benefits of dynamic rendering and processing.

    Another thought - you can get books on microfiche with a handheld reader/magnifier. Presumably you could get a printer that will create microfiche sheets or contact a company to do it for you. A box the size of a paperback could hold tens or hundreds of books and you wouldn't even need batteries to use the system! Of course you couldn't search except by brute force, and you'd be stuck when it comes to the formatting etc., but those features aren't important to the general public anyway, right?

    Also, along the same lines, why get rid of file systems? They're such darned useful things, you'd almost think someone could have invented them not too long after people started storing information on computers.


    Guthrie @ 218: Are you REALLY SURE you're ready to know? ;-)

    I've gone through three copies of L Neil Smith's "The Probability Broach" (the early paperback). And if it isn't a hardcover, I don't get more than a couple of years out of a book. But of course not having a job means I have vastly more time to read. And I tend to break the spines of the larger ones - even done gently, they tend to age fast.

    Nope, I prefer ebooks and hardcovers. Being on a 'generous' fixed income (Social Security Disability - which gives the lie to the term 'generous'.) I can't really afford to stock my entire library in hardcover. Plus, if I had to put all my books into HC, I'd need to add a whole new room for the bookshelves. Ain't gonna happen. ;-)



    How is it that you foresee HTML, TXT, and RTF files being no longer readable by 2057? I could see the physical formats on which the files are stored being unreadable by then (after all, who still has an 8" floppy drive in their computer?) but the file formats themselves becoming obsolete depends on something better coming along to put them out of commission. And in order for something better to come along, there has to be some need that cannot be fulfilled by the current formats.

    Not saying it couldn't happen, but I have a hard time coming up with any scenarios where it would.


    Hang on Derek, you mean you are reading books tens of times in a few years? Because I can't imagine how much damage it would take to render paperbacks from the last 20 or 30 years unreadable.
    (Except for that period in the 70's when they were using rubbish glue that lost its flexibility)
    Or, I suppose if you are using 50 year old books then yes, they are noticeably less durable than modern ones. Old Pelicans and Penguins could be rendere duseless by two or three careless readings.
    I see Smith published in the 80's. In that case, unless you have really cheap paperbacks in the USA, I still have trouble believing you.

    (I am a bibliophile with over 3000 books, been using the library since I learnt to read, have borrowed books, lent books and bought new and second hand for quite a while now.)


    > How is it that you foresee HTML, TXT, and RTF files
    > being no longer readable by 2057?

    Likely not readable _by_consumer_ebook_devices_

    It is in the interest of both the consumer electronics industry and the copyright holders to obsolete the existing format and move to a new one every couple decades.

    78 RPM record => LP => CD
    VHS => DVD

    Each new format offers advantages
    At each such transition, consumers re-purchase a portion of their libraries in the new medium.
    After a few years, readers for the old format become increasingly rare, and then the format becomes de-facto dead.


    joel hanes, again, you're really really making the mistake of confusing physical and file formats...


    Guthrie @ 223: Yep, that's exactly what I'm saying. I don't peruse novels so much as devour them. Like I said, I have far fewer problems with hardcovers, but paperbacks just don't last around me. So why should I pay that same $4-$7 per copy year after year when an ebook edition will last me for far longer?

    Look, I don't buy MMPBs for their archival quality - I buy them to be entertained by the stories. If a particular story truly resonates for me, I go out and buy the hardcover versions, when I can. And given that ebooks will 'last' far longer than paperback, I've - over the last two years - purchased far more ebooks than paperbacks.

    Cluttering up the house with thousands of paperbacks may well work for you. If so, have at it. For me it makes more sense to buy in ebook format.

    joel @224: As Andrew has noted in 225, the physical storage medium is NOT the file format. As long as one pays enough attention to one's files to ensure the - when needed - migration from floppies to CDRWs to DVDs to Blu-Ray discs - with a side storage onto external hard drives - HTML/XHTML, TXT and RTF ebooks should be readable for decades or longer. Right now I've got an external 300GB HD system, 2 150GB drives RAIDed down to a single 150GB drive, as well as four DVD-DL discs containing all my ebooks. This includes my PDFd and CHMd programming, photography and Adobe non-fiction. I've also got my favorite novels stored, two copies each, onto 2GB Compact Flash cards so that I don't have to plug my PDA into the cradle in order to swap in a favorite.



    What really horks me up about ebooks is that it is so difficult to manage large numbers of ebook titles on a PDA. eReader Pro and MS Reader have a simplistic library manager built into them, and FBReader has this Gawd-awful manager for the PCs, but I've yet to find a decent one that works the way I want to deal with large numbers of titles.

    I like the way MS Reader handles sorting by Date Acquired, Last Reader, Title and Author, but chugging through page after page of books searching for one title out of 900 stored to the CF card gets tedious. I like the way eReader Pro drops me right at my most recent point of reading in a book when I open it up, unlike MS Reader which forces me to either start from the beginning or use the Goto option.

    I especially like the ability of FBReader to bundle titles into categories and only see the books within a category, but sometimes I just want to open a new ebook by selecting File|Open from inside the current ebook and have the reader just pop up a quick 'File Open' dialog and then close the current title once I've made my selection.

    Once we at NAEB get our sample units I'm pushing to have a decent library manager app created if the device doesn't come with one.

    Any suggestions?



    Derek, I understand why you would find E-books much better. I'm just slightly amazed at the way you go through books. I dub thee "Derek the book eater".


    Guthrie @ 228:

    Don't get me wrong, I LIKE the smell and feel of a new book in my hands - well, a new hardcover, that is - but I'm more concerned with enjoying the stories at the rate I read. These past three days I've powered through Nursery Crimes 1 & 2 and Thursday Next 1-3. I'm working on TN4 today. :D

    And I'll gladly accept the nom de plume of 'Derek the Book Eater'. :-)



    As someone living in Southern California, I'm obliged to point out that books wear out faster if you read them in a hot tub, or swimming pool, or ocean, or even just a bathtub.

    This would seem to be true for most eBooks. When there's one which meets all the criteria required by Mr. Stross, plus is Jacuzzi and Chardonnay-resistent, then I'm definitely in the market. I can't afford the Space-rated ones, though.

    Southern California: where people actually DO surf with blackberries and similar PDAs in baggies, to keep them dry.


    Contact Person : Werner Stampfli
    Company Details: [spam deleted]



    Can you believe it? You just got hit with a scam in 231.

    Gotta say that this guy, Werner Stampfli sure didn't go out of his way to make himself sound legitimate.



    Derek: sure I can believe it. The only reason it got through was that I'm at an SF convention and the hotel wifi has been down all day.


    Joel @224: You might have a point if the formats you were talking about were tied to any one particular company, but they're not. They're not even specifically "ebook" formats; they're electronic text formats that predate the existence of ebooks qua ebooks.

    The trend in ebook readers has been toward being able to read, or at least convert from, these formats, not away from it. As long as the formats are around—and as generic electronic text formats, there's no particular reason why they should go away any time soon—it's likely they'll be readable as long as the files themselves are migrated to modern media.


    Anyone seen this:

    A small Cambridge-based company is aiming to change this, as it enters the final stages of designing an e-reader which for the first time will dispense with the need for a glass screen.

    The uniqueness of Plastic Logic’s device, prototypes of which have been seen by The Times, is in the semi-conductor that transmits messages to the display; being made of plastic, it can be bent or dropped without breaking.

    It has the dimensions of a magazine, is suitably light, and displays black and white text on a nonshiny surface that is not “lit” the way a screen would be, giving it a remarkable resemblance to paper.

    One of the trial designs seen by The Times comprises a screen backed by soft, white leather, which is folded over and buttoned in the manner of a wallet. The fact that it looks more like something one might buy in Gucci than in Maplin will no doubt add to its appeal.

    The new technology, known as “e-ink”, divides each square inch of the page into 22,500 “microcapsules”, which are either “on”, making them black, or “off” (white).


    “The most important challenge is maintaining the look and feel of a newspaper or magazine"; not a book...


    --You will perhaps forgive me for doubting.
    --I don't expect that any of these formats will be directly --readable by comsumer devices in the year 2057. We'll just --have to wait and see.

    In 2057 quite likely it is as easy as :-
    'computer, convert html book Glasshouse for my follicle implant holoreader please' then off you go. :)

    Of course, access time to find it in the 100 million books you carry around might add on a coupla nanoseconds.


    As a literary agent I've been grappling with electronic rights issues, tracking revenues and listening to True Believers in e-books for some time. I used to represent Cory Doctorow, so trust me I have heard it all.

    Here are my conclusions:

    1) Better devices and downloading are not going to change anything. Consumers don't like to read e-books, at least not in big numbers. Period. Consider: iPods aren't cheap, had all the same issues and yet they took off.

    2) Blaming publishers, copyright law, ecryption, fear of change or anything else for the failure of e-books is a crock. Publishers and authors alike would LOVE to make more money.

    3) You are right, Charles, in that high pricing is an impediment to people using e-books. What price threshold works? You've already said it: free.

    4) I agree that giving away free e-books does no harm. However, I question whether it does any good. I have seen little to no evidence that promotional e-books sell more "dead tree" units.

    5) E-books are about as useful to fiction authors as print advertising or self-promotion, which is to say their benefit is marginal.

    6) I note only one area in which e-books have been successful, erotica, and that "success" is only anecdotal.

    CONCLUSION: Sorry, but e-books are not now and never will be a magic bullet. Great stories coupled with great writing are still the only means to success.

    That has been true since the campfire and will be true when "content" is beamed straight into our brains.


    Hi, Donald!

    Apropos point 3, it turns out my publishers read this blog. When the UK edition of "The Atrocity Archives" shows up this June, Orbit plan to release the ebook edition at considerably less than the paperback price -- hopefully it'll give me some data on the effect of a cheap ebook edition (as opposed to a free one, or a full dead-tree price one) on sales.

    On your point 1, I think you're making a category error in raising the iPod. The iPod and the iTunes music store are two very different items, marketing-wise; unless I'm very much mistaken, total ITMS sales average roughly ten tracks per iPod sold (a billion song sales vs. 100M players) which should tell us something about what's going on. For a true ebook equivalent to the "rip, mix, burn" culture the iPod spawned, we'd need to see a gadget about the size of a book that could not only act as an ebook reader, but which could automagically digitize a paper book placed over it in about ten minutes flat (the equivalent of ripping a CD).

    I take your point about great stories being the means to success; without them, all else is folly. But I'm not convinced that ebooks are useless as a sales tool; my figures for "Accelerando" (with a free ebook release) suggest a much bigger surge in paper sales between that book and its predecessor than for the other novel I published the month afterwards (without an ebook edition at the time).


    If one in 20 are avid readers, and probably a small percentage of those are interested in reading off an ebook, and of those at least half (read the chain) are relatively satisfied with non-specific ebook readers (PDA's, computers, ect.),that leaves a small market indeed for next gen ebook readers. Most gizmo makers want a huge market to sell thru - and e-book hardware just doesn't match up. It needs a large footprint for the screen, which turns off the the young gizmo generation, who wants one device to do 100 different things - and be the size of a postage stamp. That's the reason to encourage a small firm like Cybeen. The pond might be big enough for them over the long haul. It won't be for Sony. By the by, my ebook reader is the first generation Cybeen CyBook - short battery life, screen flicker, but it'll read anything with a beautiful 8"X10" color screen (showing a full hardback page of text per screen - lovely!).

    As to price...below $500 has been the market mushroom price for consumer electronics since the VCR in the early '80's. If it doesn't mushroom when it goes below that price zone, that usually means it's not going to - at any price. (You can argue that the mushroom price has dropped in the the last few years to $200 - I won't quibble.) We have been in those zones for awhile (and no demand mushroom). I think it'll remain a specialty item for the forseeable future - at specialty prices. After all, consider... 500 books at $5 a book is $2500. The chip to store them on costs $10. Does it matter whether the reader is $20 or $400? You're only going to buy one of them. As compared to $2500 (or more, over time) you'll be spending for the books? And if someone only keeps 4 books around the house, they aren't going to spend money for an ebook reader even at $20.

    Finally, a point on e-book readers. If you get the opportunity to, alway buy one that uses standard batteries (like AA or AAA). You can get rechargable batteries in those forms if you want a rechargable battery, but they'll be making AA's and AAA's long after the custom Li-ion in the average gizmo is long dead (rendering the gizmo useless for all time....)


    Donald @ 238:

    First, let me apologize in advance for any spelling errors; I just went through a COMPLETE eye exam and my eyes haven't yet had the dilation and numbing agents wear off so I can BARELY see the screen.

    On point 5, you really should check out the success Baen Books has had with their Free Library, Webscriptions and bound-in CDs chock full of earlier novels. According to all the evidence collected by Baen, they're an invaluable marketing tool. But then, Baen has always offered HTML, RTF and PRC versions of each story to avoid forcing their readers to buy soon-to-be obsolescent software just to read the ebooks.

    As for point 6, I'm going to go out on a limb here and mention that I can find MOST of the current authors, in just about every genre, through the IRC, Usenet and torrent networks. This despite the publishers not releasing them as ebooks. Sorry, but if no one wanted these stories in ebook format, they wouldn't be so easy to find. Your argument on this point holds no water.

    Granted, the publishers, authors and agents are not receiving any income from these 'free' ebooks, but that can only be blamed upon the reluctance of said authors and publishers for making it easy and inexpensive for readers to buy them. Given that I can find just about every author currently represented on the NYT Bestseller list in these 'free' archives, I'd have to say that the publishing industry is missing the boat by pretending there's no 'market' for their novels.

    And I'd much rather buy a $5 or $6 ebook than seek out a 'free' one that's been scanned in 'on the sly'. In fact, every time I discover an author this way, I first look to see if I can get his/her novels through eReader, Mobipocket or Fictionwise (It's a given if it's a Baen book.) and if I can, I buy that story and the others from legal sources. If I can't, well, I usually send an e-mail to the author asking that the author push to have those stories released as ebooks.

    As I'm going to read it in ebook as my FIRST option when looking at any new novel, it makes no sense to me to waste my time packing my house with walls and walls of paperbacks. Those who I like the most, I'll add - and I'm quite selective here - to my hardcover shelves.

    As a literary agent, you should be encouraging your clients and the publishers to offer ebooks. You're failing in your job if you don't.



    Donald Maass, I've yet to see the iPod for e-books. The devices which currently claim to be e-readers are either computers in a bad form factor, or are less functional than the pre-iPod music players.

    Your writing off of the market is premature.


    Donald @ 238:

    My reply is over at my blog, I thought it got too long for a comment here.

    On a sorta related note I'm getting instalanched on my thoughts about how new authors need a different model to get success and how eBooks could help that.


    I'll just chuck in some personal experience of being one of the authors published by one of those little indie epubs. The epub in question is RWA recognised, but is not SFWA-recognised and I doubt will be in the forseeable future, to give you a handle on how small of a small press it is. It explicitly caters to niche markets rather than trying to compete with the big girls of the genre.

    No DRM, cover price is similar to MMPB for the genre -- my last two were $6.99 for the 62 kword book and $7.99 for the 102 kword book, novellas are around the 2.99 or 3.99 mark. I don't get an advance, I got just shy of $1400 royalties in the first five weeks from the 62 kword one. (The other one hasn't been out long enough for a royalty statement yet.)

    And that book was on a pirate ebooks binaries newsgroup within two weeks of being issued.

    An experience I haven't had yet, but one of my friends has -- on a public chat board she's been on for years, one person saying "I love her books and I really want to read this new ebook, but I want to save my money to buy the hardback of Big Name Author's book as soon as it comes out this month, can someone make me a copy?" and someone else saying "check your email" -- knowing full well that the author is a long-term member of the board. *That* shameless about pirating a cheap and unlocked ebook because it's easy to do so, from someone who's willing to spend money on a hardback to get a book now rather than wait for the library copy or the paperback.

    So yes, people will buy ebooks even when they could easily pirate them -- but the books are also being pirated by people who could pay for it but choose not to. Whether this is a big enough fraction of readers to be a real problem, I don't know. I think at the moment it isn't. But I think it's too simplistic to say that people only pirate for the kudos.

    (And for real weirdness, there was the person who joined a review site to get free ebooks, and started selling "exclusive limited run, not obtainable in print edition anywhere else" dead tree copies through eBay...)

    On the subject of the size of the market for ebooks, one of the things I've noticed is that many readers who are heavily into ebooks have a very skewed view of how many people actually read ebooks. I usually notice it in the context of the ebook-reading members of mailing lists for romance fans getting very offended by suggestions that ebooks are currently a small section of the market. *They* read lots of ebooks, so obviously everyone does. And they buy half, three-quarters, nine in ten of their books in electronic format, so clearly there are more ebooks being sold than dead tree ones. Can you say "sample bias"?


    Jules @ 244:

    What can I say? Some people are tacky and will choose illegal behavior even when they don't have to. On the other hand, others won't.

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and admit that I used to read pirated copies of Steve Miller and Sharon Lee's Korval series. (Just the ebook versions.) Don't get me wrong, I also own the entire set in both Meisha-Merlin trade paperback and Ace MMPB versions AND I used to own Embiid versions of the ebooks. However, switched from one PDA to another and could never get the Palm-to-WinMobile emulator to work right after that. So when I could, I downloaded a set of 'free' ebooks in a format that would read on my WinMobile machine.

    But I never stopped urging M&L to put their books up through Webscriptions and I continued to advocate that Baen sign them on. Well, the persistence of the Korval fans paid off. Steve and Sharon have released their novels through Webscriptions and I bought each of the first ten novels on the first day that each bundle became available. I've never felt that I was acting in a criminal manner by 'stealing' the other ebook formats because I had bought - and continue to own - TPB, MMPB, and Embiid-ebook format versions. Now that I have my Webscription versions I have deleted the 'free' versions from my system. So each of the publishers and Steve and Sharon have received payment four times for each story.

    Will there be people who can't be bothered to 'buy' their ebooks? Sure, but there will also be those who 'steal' them only so long as it takes for the publishers to get around to offering the stories in ebook format. Penalizing those who would rather be honest by refusing to release ebook versions only loses a money-making opportunity for the authors and publishers. But I guess some publishers just can't be bothered to stop and pick up found money.

    And don't think my efforts to 'steal' the 'free' versions of the Korval stories cost me nothing. I had to pay for the 'privilege' of owning the Usenet software. I had to pay for the copy of eReader Studio which allowed me to convert the text files into eReader format. I had to take the time - even if we assume $6.25/hour of California minimum wage - to edit and convert all the text files for those ten stories, which took about 23 hours. IOW, the monetary and labor cost to get 'free' copies in eReader format ran to more than I would have paid for additional MMPB copies.

    Given my desire to read and re-read some of my most favorite stories, the cost was well worth it, even though I went and spent another $40 for the legal copies from Webscriptions.

    When I can, I pay. But I will almost always choose ebook over paperback. It puts less strain on me. And given that I've paid the ridiculous $17.95 and $18.95 prices for 'new releases' through Fictionwise and eReader, rather than get 'free' versions through Usenet, I think that I've demonstrated my willingness to overpay rather than steal.

    But so many publishers would rather treat potential customers as thieves and pirates than offer their product in a format that the customers want. And that brings up another point. If the publishers going to shout to the world that you think a whole segment of potential customers are nothing but criminals-in-waiting, they have no one to blame but themselves when those potential customers tell them F*** You and decide to obtain 'free' copies in the format they seek.



    Derek @244: I quite understand the honest reasons for getting a pirate ebook where that's the only way to get the ebook and you've already bought the book in a different format, dead tree or otherwise. I'm just saying that I have personal experience of people pirating commercial ebooks that are multi-format, reasonably priced and not crippled with DRM, because they can afford to pay but choose not to.

    In spite of that piracy, I wouldn't want my publisher to go the DRM route, because I know how I as a reader feel about DRM. I think that it would hurt my sales far more than the loss of sales because of the twits who will hand out copies to their friends.

    I think that DRM is stupid and counterproductive -- because people resent being made to pay the price of a hardback for a book they can't even sell on to a second-hand bookshop afterwards, and may have to buy again if they buy a new reader. It doesn't feel fair, and when it doesn't feel fair, people will find a way around it. And that will lead to a general attitude of expecting any ebook to be free, rather than people being willing to pay a fair price for a book.

    I'm in a different position to Charlie, and to the Baen authors, because my books are (mostly) e-only and I'm not going to see increased sales of a non-existent print edition on the back of the ebooks. But were I writing material that I could sell to Baen, you bet I'd be in there for the Webscriptions and the deal with putting one or two books in the Baen Free Library.


    Jules @ 246:

    What's your website again? I'd like to take a look at your work.

    Also, once we get the NAEB reader INTO production, we're going to want to bundle ebooks as well as make known where to buy others. I'd like to have a chance to include your work in our list of other sources. Just send your website link to me at delphidb-AT(substitute the '@')-comcast-DOT(substitute the '.')-net.

    I wrote it that way because those 'smart' address collection engines which recognize the 'AT' or '-AT-' haven't been trained for an interrupted sequence yet, not because I wanted to imply you couldn't figure it out for yourself.



    Jules @ 246:

    P.S. You wouldn't happen to be the author of "The Syndicate" would you? I just did a SEEK on mIRC and found several listings there. As soon as I have your website link, I'll go and buy a copy of several of them.



    Derek @248: That would be me, yes. And you'll need to talk to my publisher about cross-marketing deals, but there are a number of cross-genre writers published by the erotic romance epubs who are sf writers first and romance writers second -- there might be something of interest to the NAEB group in there.



    I know webscriptions is currently aimed at sci-fi and fantasy. But...the software and technology is there. I do wonder if it'll stay within those genres.


    I seem to recall various social psychology studies that suggest about 82% of the population will pay, even if they can get a "commercial" product for free (e.g. via downloading from a warez site); the question is whether the 18% of defectors constitutes a greater drain on sales than the imposition of DRM, and the sort of figures I hear suggest that DRM cuts the sales potential of a fiction ebook by about 80-90%. So putting up with 18% freeloaders makes more economic sense than shooting yourself in the head, market-wise, even if it's annoying.

    Jules, you might want to talk to Arnold Bailey at webscriptions; it's not just Baen any more, they deal with other publishers too, and with the sort of sales you're talking about I think he'd be interested.

    Donald Maas: the real driver for ebooks that we've mostly ignored in this discussion is college textbooks. They cost a fortune -- cover prices typically in the range $30-60 -- they weigh a ton, they're frequently updated on an annual or biannual basis, and the price/weight alone is enough to make an A4-sized tablet PC attractive to students because it's easier to carry around. As they need a PC anyway ... well, it's a niche that ought to take off sooner or later, and I suspect the Microsoft UMPC is aimed right at that market.


    Jules at 245:

    An experience I haven't had yet, but one of my friends has -- on a public chat board she's been on for years, one person saying "I love her books and I really want to read this new ebook, but I want to save my money to buy the hardback of Big Name Author's book as soon as it comes out this month, can someone make me a copy?" and someone else saying "check your email" -- knowing full well that the author is a long-term member of the board. *That* shameless about pirating a cheap and unlocked ebook because it's easy to do so, from someone who's willing to spend money on a hardback to get a book now rather than wait for the library copy or the paperback.

    I agree it's pretty slimy and I'm not condoning it but realistically how does it differ from "I love her books and I really want to read this new book, but I want to save my money to buy the hardback of Big Name Author's book as soon as it comes out this month, can someone lend it me when they've finished it?"

    As Charlie wrote in the original post, very few people buy all the books they read new. Many of us borrow books from friends, libraries etc or get them used from 2nd hand bookstores. To me this is an (admittedly tactless) electronic equivalent.


    Derek @248: if you didn't get my email, my public address is jules.jones(at)gmail.com -- and because I am a pixel-stained technopeasant wretch, you can see sample chapters online before buying.

    Charlie @251: Those numbers involve epub standard royalty rates, not ebook-version-of-print rates, so the number of copies shifted may not be what you thought. But thanks for the suggestion.

    One more set of numbers to add to the mix -- my first ebook was released in DRM-free format at Fictionwise after its sales direct from the publisher's website had settled into the long tail backlist level. It was released the same week as the DRM-locked ebook version of another rascafarian's new fantasy from HarperCollins. We compared notes. Our books were running at about the same place in the bestselling lists of our respective genres -- and when we got our first royalty statements, my small press book had sold about the same number of ecopies as her major house published book that had sold $LOTS of print copies. (Obviously I'd much rather have her total royalty statement, even if the ebooks were running at the same level. :-) I can't say for certain that's a reflection of the effect of DRM, but I think it was one of the factors.

    Francis @252: it's the difference between "lend" and "make a second copy of". It's what the discussion of paper as a form of DRM is about. If someone wants to lend or give a paper book, they don't have a copy to read themselves any more. If they want to read the book again, they have to buy a second copy, or get back the first copy. And if the lendee likes the book that much and wants to read it again after they've returned it, they have to buy a copy or borrow it again. In that situation, sharing books can lead to more sales. More sales is good, therefore sharing books is good.

    When someone just duplicates the book and gives away the copy, there's no such incentive for the recipient to go out and buy their own copy if they like it enough to want to read it again.

    If the first person had deleted their own copy, that would be functionally equivalent to giving away a dead tree book when you no longer want it, and I'd have no problem with that. But I doubt very much whether that's what happened. This is much more like taking the book into work, running it through the photocopier, and giving that copy away to a friend.


    > We do not know what ebooks are worth to readers

    That's a very insightful post.

    Now let me _buy_ your works in PDF/Latex/whatever Format, because I'd like to read them on my iRex Iliad ereader as I did with "Acellerando".

    Yes, I want to give my money to you, the author, to keep you from starving and to make you write even more great stories.

    But unfortunately you can not accept my money because you already signed away your rights to the publishers as the musicians did a decade ago.

    So I have to buy a overpriced (in Germany) dead tree edition of your books for karmic reasons (though I doubt that you'll get much of my money) and to download a PDF off the net illegally to actually read it the way I want to in the 21st century.

    This is very, very broken.

    There are publishers who sell non-digitally-restricted personalized copies in PDF format online and seem to make quite a living of this. See http://pragmaticprogrammer.com/. They already got about 200€ from me.


    #!Chris: yep, that's about the size of it.

    Note, however, that the publishers are already aware that there's a problem, and the battle is being fought in the boardrooms right now. And they're aware it's not just about DRM, but about pricing structure. (Orbit will be publishing an ebook of "The Atrocity Archives" when they release the paperback in June, and it will cost significantly less than the dead tree. It's probably going to be DRM'd, but they're aware of my opinion on the subject, and if company policy permits ... well, we'll just have to see.)

    Long term, I think the major SF/F publishers will move to DRM-free open formats sooner rather than later, possibly within the next year. But SF/F is a minority pursuit -- only about 7% of the fiction market, in fact -- and what happens in other fields will happen at different speeds.


    I'm just a reader and will spend a couple of bucks on ebook, especially since I've run out of wall space. I own a Cybook, a Rocketbook, a Clie, all bought cheaply from eBay, all used for reading purposes. I've read pirated stuff and legally free stuff, like Acceerlando and now Move Under Ground. It seems that the publishing houses could easily put out inexpensive electronic versions for which the author get their just royalty. It doesn't seem like a big deal, if Charlie's getting his editing mauscript as a PDF, then everything is in a digital format to begin with. The problem with pirated stuff is that you're limited to what's being pirated. I just read a neat reviuew of Roberto Bolcano in The New Yorker and you know his stuff ain't on the "to be scanned" list at alt-binanries.whatever. I'll hafta wait 50 yrs so Gutenberg will do it. Tree books look good on the wall, but I'd rather read something that is back lighted, that I can up fonts on, and that I can transfer from device to device. Someone earlier in these contents said that content isn't there and that's the problem. Once the content is out there, ebook readers will buy it. My 2 cents.


    Jerry @ 256:

    C'mon! Where's your adventurous spirit? Buy a scanner - they're quite cheap these days - and scan the books in on your own. Then you'll have an 'original' ebook for your collection.



    The whole series backpackaging (Liaden etc.) sounds like a very clever idea. Especially if you bring out a new book - buy this one new, get all the others at X discount.

    I have certainly lost count of the number of times I have heard people say "ok, they have book 4, where the hell are the other three? I am not buying just the 4th book."

    There's also the keen fan 'want it now' satisfaction that a commercial ebook can give you. Sure, it might turn up on IRC or USENET sometime, but if you can buy it a minute after it is released and read it the first day? That is worth paying for. That is worth nothing if it is released 2.5 years later, and someone has already scanned it 2.42 years ago, and it has been edited and upgraded 4 times since then.

    Also the people that you will never sell a new hardback to, even if you deliver it with flowers and a card. Especially considering having to pay someone with a plane to fly it here, to start with. Peter Watts I think mentioned he had to split his Behemoth book up so it wasn't over $25 in greenbacks. More like $45 here, so pretty unattractive.


    Blue @ 258:

    Lord knows I've had that happen often enough. Right now I'm looking at the 'Alaska Mystery' books by Sue Henry. They've got most of them on eReader and Fictionwise, but of course they DON'T have the first one, "Murder on the Iditarod Trail".

    Given that all of the books released appeared on the list at eReader the same day, I wonder why the publisher didn't release the first book.

    I had to find a copy at the local Barnes & Noble.



    "Compensating the author"? That's just a side-thought. I buy a book or an e-book for me. It's value to me is in the reading, taking me into another world for the duration; imparting knowledge and skills; or just a single wonderful turn of phrase. I bring a laptop around for work and leisure anyway, what's a few extra gigabytes of e-books. If it's freely posted, I'll download it.

    What would I pay for an e-book? US$1.00-2.00 for an old title, US$4.00-5.00 for a brand new release. I bristle when I see them trying to charge what they charge. Why? I can go to a second-hand book store and buy the former for $2.50. When the latter is released as a mass market paperback in 6 months, I can buy it for $7.50 if I deem it a "keeper", or stuff the ebook copy into my harddisk if not (just in case I change my mind).

    Textbooks are going the way of the music album. There are online web sites that explain the math or science better than the expensive dead-tree texts, and for the price of free. Literature? Gutenburg. Spoken English? Youtube. Guitar lessons too, for that matter.

    The internet gave me choices, options, alternatives. And I'm going to take full advantage of it.


    I've been reading eBooks for years, now. I prefer dead-tree publications when I'm lounging by the pool, and eVersions when I'm on the road (not literally on the road, you understand - that would be foolhardy).

    From the beginning I've never understood how publishers get away with charging hardback prices for eBooks (and in the UK we have to add 17.5% tax on top of the published price, whereas the paper version is tax-free, as eBooks are not recognised as books by the nice man at the tax office).

    I've tended to buy eBooks only when they've been out for a while and the price has dropped. Short fiction prices are palatable, too, but only because when you buy a short story in isolation it's easy to forget what you would be paying for an anthology full of them.

    Publishers complain that ePublishing isn't profitable because they've tried it, and the sales are too low, not realising (or choosing not to realise) that the reasons the sales are so low is that customers are pretty savvy and don't like to be fleeced.

    Baen are showing the way forward, and it looks like Orbit have some sensible ideas in this arena, too (Orbit recently began sponsorship of a free weekly genre fiction ezine). Until more publishers realise that ePublishing isn't just good business today, but will become vital for their survival in the industry, I fear that Baen and Orbit will be dancing alone in the dark for a while to come.


    I have been looking to buy a ebook reader for years but really don't understand the tecnology so most of what I just read went way over my head.I'm a busy mom of four and would love to have books at my fingertips without having to carry alot of different books around.Ebooks appeal to me for the instant avialibilty. I read reviews on ebook readers and don't understand what all of it means .I just want to know what is the best reader on the market?


    I use my Dell Axim X51v and have a 3.5 inch screen, VGA, any font that I desire, complete control over font size, color, margins, line spacing, etc. I use Mobipocket reader (sponsered by Amazon.com) and have read hundreds of full-lenght novels, short stories, and works of non-fiction. Sadly this device is no longer on the market but the conversion has taken place and I am an avid ebook lover.

    Ebooks will remain a part of my experience and despite technical and social hurdles, ebooks promise to extend reading options to the masses.

    Multiple formats can exist (think MP3, WMA, OGG for music) but readers need to be on devices that we use daily (PDAs, Blackberries, cell phones, laptops, etc) and need to handle these various ebook formats (see Mobipocket for the best example of this type of reader).

    Pricing simply has to be nailed down. You can't sell the latest Paula Deen biography in ebook format to people when it is priced the same as the hardcover. Like the author of this article said ebooks need to be viewed differently by both the pubs and the peeps: they need to be more 'consumable' like paper back books, and the price needs to reflect this.

    People catch me reading all of the time and inquire as to why I'm sitting there staring at my (beautiful) screen. They're typically quite surprised to see me reading a Terry Brooks novel or Career Warfare, for example.

    It really is only a matter of time before ebooks become more mainstream, especially as our reliance on digital devices increases. Ebooks will never replace paper books but they will provide a very nice complement (and eventual marketshare).


    Jolie Lynn @ 262:

    Well, for the longest time, you had to read your ebooks on either a desktop or laptop computer. Then someone came up with decent PDAs, and we started to use Palms, Dell Axims and soon people were creating software to allow for reading ebooks even on iPods and Gameboys.

    I think most people these days use their PDAs, but with the development of e-ink technology, (currently black-and-white displays) Sony, Hanlin, STAReBOOK and Bookeen have created (somewhat expensive at $350-$450) lightweight (about 6 to 8 ounces) readers with a 6" display (The Dell Axim x51v mentioned in comment #263 has a 3.5" display.) that can run several days between battery charges (The Axim x51v runs 3-5 *hours*.) Interestingly, the iRex Iliad e-ink ebook reader has an 8" display, but it costs about $700 in the US.



    btw...I copied the complete text of this thread and am reading it (in Mobipocket format) on my PDA. :)

    Most people use cell phones and other electronic devices (shavers, PDAs) so battery life only needs to be around 4-5 hours for ebook reading. People are VERY accustomed to charging devices.

    ...incidentally if you set your PDA to low backlight and kill un-needed processes you can squeeze 10-14 hours out of your device on average (Palm, Pocket PC).


    wow.. this is long.. and my grammar is probably horrible.. oh well..

    it occurs to me that the ebook reader is bad for the publisher, as it effectively destroys the methods by which publishers make money.
    A website, set up to be a big directory of purchase-able ebooks, with a half and half royalty system, where a typical paperback science fiction book(the kind i tend to read and buy)costs perhaps 2 USD, maybe even 1, would (IMO) be the ideal method of distribution. Such a system would allow for reviews, searches, a larger consumer base, and ease of publishing among other things. ideally the books would still be proofread and such before distribution. Additionally, with the increasingly well made software for the translation of textual material, there is a rapidly decreasing need for separate language specific distributions of textual material.
    such a site might be profitable, even without an available reader. After it caught on, it could design, develop, manufacture, and sell a reader, just by using the profit of of the endeavor.
    such a system would only "catch on" if the enough mainstream authors endorsed the new system(I think)

    to point out the idiocy of anti-piracy attempts, every book i have purchased that was written by Charles Stross i first pirated and read in ebook format, and would not have purchased, had i not come across them that way first.
    the reasons i purchased them are:
    A. I liked them, alot. I like to share things I like with my friends. Physical books are easier for me to get my friends to read.
    B. I recognize that if no-one bought Charles Strosses books, they wouldnt be there for me to read.
    Incidentally, these are the same reasons that I purchase Music in CD format on occasion.
    I think alot of people don't realize that ebooks are out there, or they haven't read them, because they don't like committing piracy, or paying full price for an electronic representation. I wouldn't pay 200$ for a .jpg of a diamond ring, would you?
    I think that a system similar to iTunes and the iPod is a foregone conclusion, and that the best way for publishers to deal with it would be to be the first to jump on the bandwagon.

    on ebook readers:
    a laptop is large and unwieldly,
    PDAs are too small, and use too much battery(IMO),
    ideally a device for ebooks, would be about 3" wider and taller than a standard paperback, and about the thickness of a graphic novel, would have an adjustable backlight, with settings for conditions ranging from a well lit room, to an unlit room, it would be capable of displaying color, and its battery life would be at minimum, the time it takes an average reader to read three novels. software wise it would support highliting, circleing, strikethrough, and perhaps minimal textediting functions. i picture a touchscreen for the whole screen, with software buttons for page dn/up, show keyboard, magnifying glass, read aloud, highlighter, pencil, color(of highlighter and pencil), save, load, search, copy, paste
    the standard format would allow for embedded pictures, and text formatting, software would be freely provided to convert standard accepted ebook formats(the non encrypted ones) to a format readable by the ebook reader.
    optionally, and address book, a scheduler/calender, and a public phonebook would be included, wifi/bluetooth/usb(and other flash device ports) would alse be optional. Although, clearly, an easy method to move books to and from the reader and a computer would be necessary.



    I am new to the list. I have developed a
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    I think a better distribution method for eBooks, at least at first would be to include them with the paper copy. Buy a hardback "deluxe" edition of book, and get a free electronic copy either on a physical CD or flash memory card, or in the form of a shrink-wrapped serial number that you can use to download it from a centralised source. This is quite common already with technical books on programming or software-related subjects, so why not for novels too?

    Nobody will pay for eBooks when there are no good readers, and no-one will pay for readers if there is no good source of books to read on them. Short of someone like Apple or Amazon suddenly solving this with an iTunes/iPod-like solution, it seems like quietly distributing such books into every home without making a big deal about it might be a good way to kickstart the market.

    "Buy the new Sony Reader! Wondering what to do with all those digital ebook download vouchers you've been using as bookmarks? Look no further!"

    Then maybe Sony can pay a small royalty to the publishers out of their hardware sales, and everyone is happy.

    Incidentally I wrote a review of the current generation of Sony Reader detailing exactly why I *won't* be buying it yet. $350 for a monochrome screen, a dodgy proprietary software interface, a pointless MP3 player, and DRM up to the eyeballs? No thanks. http://www.charcoaldesign.co.uk/weblog/2


    I am an avid ebook reader and find ebooks to be superior to paper in ways that cannot be matched by any paper book ever:

    I have used various ebook readers on PalmOS PDAs ... usually I want the least non-text-interface possible and turn off the status/control bars etc and operate just off button-controls.

    Suddenly I found that not knowing how close to the end of the story I was changed my entire reading experience. With paper, when I am holding 10 to 20 pages on the right side, I know that the intense conflict I am reading about is likely to work out for the heroes (or other such variants).

    Then I dismantled a dead long-arm-bedside-lamp and mounted a PDA holder to the lamp-head-tilter so I could read in bed without even holding the PDA ... then I turned on smooth-scrolling ... and I end up being able to read for an unlimited time, without tired arms (I have a heart condition).

    Also, I have many books, short stories and programming references on my PDA at all times. I never know when I will have a sudden block of unlimited involuntary downtime (shopping with my wife, waiting for her to finish performing) or what I'm going to be in the mood for.

    Charlie, Jerry and other attendant writers: Please put out a paypal tipjar ... many people would be using it :)


    Interesting post Charlie - I read Jerry Pournelle's when he posted itand I emailed him as well about his post which to me is a perfect example of missing the point - in Jerry's case I think because he isnt that familiar with the tech and has a political point to push.

    Here's the thing - Im probably what Jerry would call and ebook pirate. Ive been reading ebooks on my PDA's for 10 years now, starting with an old Palm III and now on my HP smartphone. And for all those years I have been reading, yes shock horror, pirated ebooks. They are easy to get, easy to work with and while some of them are badly scanned and badly formatted they are easy to fix.

    And yet there are over 5000 books in this house and I buy books constantly. So why pirate ebooks? I love paper books, adore them, collect them like no tomorrow and always will- paper books have presence and heft and offer many pleasures from the tactility of it to the smell of paper and ink and yet... They can be a pain. Whereas with ebooks I can have hundreds on my PDA and carry them around with me. I tend to read paper books at home and on planes these days - the rest of the time Its often ebooks; it might be in a lift, on the train, in a boring meeting, when the wife is talking about her friends - anytime basically.

    And heres the rub - Id pay for ebooks as well. But right now I dont buy many. The current range of technologies for DRM and the ways in which ebooks are distributed universally suck. Adobe PDF is painfull on a PC, on a PDA its worse - memory intensive and slow and Microsoft Readers insistence that ebook means making the screen look like a print book results in both slow and painfull usage - something which is a true achievment if you think about it. I laughed at the Sony Reader when I tried one (better than other versions but still crap) and the thousands of other ebook only tools from companies - they're all crippled fundamentally and again all want to make the same thing happen - make a screen look like a book. God no. Please

    Text is text, it can be reformatted to suit the reader, its easy to read, its fast and with HTML or XML infinently adaptable - give us ebooks we can manipulate and use and we will buy them.

    I think the majority of people who read ebooks are like me - they also buy a lot of books and often have extensive paper libraries - they use ebooks for many reasons and they would pay for ebooks if only they could do so without the painfull DRM implementations, closed format books that need a slow and bulky reading program and please yes without price gouging the consumer - Note to publishers : charging people a lot of money for an ebook is not going to work as an alternative revenue stream - for evidence see MP3. Stop it already.

    I have long said ebooks encourage people to read and I stand by it. Oh and Charlie, I discovered you via an Ebook version of "A boy and his god" which made me want to read more and led to an investment in Singularity Sky and, wel, that leads on and on :)