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Why ebooks are not like paper books

Two key points of difference:

1. Genre-based marketing. With a paper book, the cover design, artwork, pull quotes, title, and other front material—and the publisher's imprint logo—serve to tell the bookstore staff which shelves to put the item on, and to cue readers that this book is similar to others with similar design values. That's all. Genre is basically just a tag to identify how the item is to be sold.

Because this system is static, printed on paper and card, it's inflexible. You can't easily market a novel as both crime fiction and SF simultaneously; you have to pick one, or the other, and hope to hell that the genre you put the product in is the one that will sell best.

You can, in principle, put different covers on the same book. But it's expensive, and you also have to get the [reluctant] distribution channel, the booksellers, to understand why you're trying to jam twice as much content down their throats to fill their precious shelf-inches. (After all, they can't sell something if they don't have shelf space to display it on.) It works for bestsellers like the early Harry Potter books while they were breaking. For midlist authors? Go away!

Ebooks don't need to take this one-shot approach to marketing. It's possible to apply multiple genre tags to books; Amazon already do this. With a bit better storefront design it's possible to give readers browsing by genre views of titles that they otherwise wouldn't notice. It's even possible (in principle) to design different covers to display to readers using different search criteria. Expensive, but possible.

2. No reprint delays. If a hardcover breaks big in its first week on the bookshelves, it will rapidly sell out and be replaced by ... empty shelves! Yes, publishers can go back to press. And they do. And in this age of PDF-to-press printing, it's possible to have more hardbacks available within a matter of several days to a couple of weeks. (The same goes for paperbacks.) But in the meantime, the ramp-up in sales, and thereby the ramp-up in reader interest, stalls and goes off the boil.

With ebooks every print run is infinite. I suspect this is behind the success of titles such as "Fifty Shades of Grey". Ignoring its explosive bestseller growth in print for a moment, FSoG started out as a purely ebook phenomenon. If it had been printed the traditional way, in a run of 2000-8000 hardbacks, they'd have sold out. Period. A few weeks later a trickle of new stock would have shown up in the bookstores. Meanwhile, everyone would have forgotten the title of that sizzler they'd been reading a couple of weeks ago, thereby depriving their friends of the hot tip.

Other key points:

It's irrelevant in trade fiction, but epub 3.x permits embedding of Javascript. Which means that technical books can contain anything, up to and including a full i486 emulator running Linux. Or a Python interpreter. The LLVM compiler can emit Javascript instead of machine code; arbitrary programs are now embeddable in ebooks. This is going to revolutionize some aspects of publishing; imagine a programming tutorial where the code examples are editable and executable, inside the ebook.

...

What other fundamental differences can you think of, from a publisher's viewpoint? (Not including the whole DRM/file format stuff we routinely rehash here. I'm looking for angles that change the shape of the whole game.)

285 Comments

1:

Love the points, but I have to say the thought of arbitrary JavaScript in an eBook scares the living crap out of me from a security point of view. It took 10+ years for us to secure the web browsers, and in many cases that's still not completed. Now we're going to have to worry about Kindles being botnetted?

I love the potential, don't get me wrong, it's a really good idea from that aspect. The thought of an embedded virtual machine, or an e-book version of http://eloquentjavascript.net/ that teaches you the language as you progress is fantastic but... still very scary.

2:

Rather obviously: size. There's no restriction on the page count due to binding, and a shorter book isn't penalized by looking "poor value for money" next to a fat volume.

(For that matter: why still have "page" as a concept?)

3:

One possibility, if you assume that e-book lending becomes something publishers get to grips with, would be a system that automatically asks "do you want to buy your own copy?" when you return a borrowed e-book.

4:

Hummm... I suppose you could have eBooks that have multiple story avenue / threads that take into account (human) reader or random choices. It'd probably need a fair amount of sophistication to carry off though and some kind of natural language processing. PROLOG for Kindle shortly followed by the rise of the machines(tm)?

5:

You obviously haven't looked closely at iBooks and iBooks Author. The tools for embedding all kinds of coded objects (that's in the Objective-C sense too) have been there for a while.

Although it borders on DRM, to answer the original question in part, lack of relending will help eBook sales. I occasionally lend print books out but I'm not lending out my iPad to someone to read a book on and I bet the same is true of a Kindle user and their Kindle by and large. I'll point them at the link and suggest they buy it instead, a bam, another sale. (Yes, there are a lot of ways around this, but I bet a significant number of people won't use them for lack of technical know-how or willingness to that obviously break the law. I DRM crack Kindle books because I prefer the iBooks UI - but I figure it's fair use if I keep the cracked book to myself and my iPad.)

It's possible the audio books industry will die. I'm not sure how tricky piping from eBook formats to a screen reader or similar is but I bet it's not that hard. I have occasionally used a screen reader and I don't particularly like it (although I wear hearing aids so I'm not a good candidate for it) but some computer voices like Siri are pretty good these days and might well give you a good automatic audio book companion.

6:

Good points Charlie. Not sure if you have deliberately chosen to focus on the act of selling ebooks. Let me add my bit from a reader's point of view.

- A book is a perspective. Once this perspective is shared, it in turn creates ripples of responses in other minds. It is this reaction that leads to a sense of community via a shared understanding or view of the book. This community can become much bigger with the ebook. Kindle does this to an extent with its 'share annotations' feature but I feel this is just the start.

- Imagine what movies do in the deluxe edition of their DVDs..where you peer into making of the movie. Custom artwork, the views of various folks involved in creating this work. Why should book authors not do similar things with ebooks? Say I read the Ramayana, perhaps the author can leave a bonus chapter for fans who visit the southern tip of the Indian peninsula? Or share details of what works inspired the author? What crafty allusions have most people missed, which the author could reveal via an update after a few months..and so on.

For context, at our startup we are looking to scratch our own itch by building an ereader app that will let us tap into a community of similar thinking people. We are brainstorming now but keen to take a crack at this.

7:

I'm somewhat disappointed to note that this was pretty much my reaction too: "Sounds cool!", followed almost immediately by "Oh noes! Another spam and/or malware vector" :-( I hope that this has been thought through properly. And that ebook readers have an option to turn it off.

8:

"Page" is still useful because it's a much larger chunk than "word", and a much more fixed size than "chapter" (even ignoring the fact that many books aren't divided into chapters). If you tell someone a book is 350 pages long, a lot of people will actually regard that as a more useful indication of length than 114,000 words (never mind 632,500 characters, 16 chapters or 2660 paragraphs). They know how many pages they read per hour - or, more relevantly, on the train while they're commuting to work.

9:

Actually, that's something that an ereader could do better than print has so far - Fighting Fantasy style books, since you can only display the current page and not several paragraphs at once (for those unfamiliar with FF, they were soloplay games published as paperbacks, with typically about 400 paragraphs that were read out of sequence according to decisions the reader made, plus pen and ink line drawings, so you'd get the 400 paras on about half that number of printed pages, and sometimes get 4 or 5 paras on a single page).

10:

Color illustrations and photographs are no more expensive to print than mono and grayscale.

There's no particular economic need to limit the number of photographs (bytes are cheap) nor to push them together to special inserts.

You can embed animations.

You can embed audio. The first thing I can think of is a pronunciation guide, but assuming rights clearance, no real reason not to have a background playlist. Perhaps a soundtrack...

Definitions can be accessible from every mention of a word.

Multitracked plots -- in a multiviewpoint book, you could have options to read a single track at a time, or interspersed, or to leave out a particular track.

11:

...and now we're on the countdown to the point where the publishers realise that if you can set up dynamic content in an ebook, you can run banner ads in there that vary on a per-person basis and which can be updated on the fly; that's something you can sell (hell, that's a whole business model) and now your ebook becomes your spambook.

Not to mention that that's the last time I can give an ebook to any child, because questions like "Daddy, what are penis enlargement pills?" are not desired outcomes from giving your child an ebook of Winnie-the-Pooh, and spam overcomes even the best filters eventually...

12:

The concept of "edition" should disappear. You can (in principle) push out new edits, typo fixes and changes on a daily basis if you want to.

O'Reilly already does more or less this with some of their books. They start selling the book before it's even finished, then push updates to people as the author works on it. And presumably push errata and corrections too, over time.

Perhaps we should expect to see software-style versioning of books in the future, rather than the simple edition (major revision) and printing (minor revision?) we see today.

13:

Updates. You can apply errata to an ebook and have it distribute out to devices. The corrected second printing can be transmitted to everyone who purchased the first printing.

Piracy. Substantially less effort involved in pirating an ebook than a traditionally published one. Anyone with a minimum set of skills can distribute an infinite number of copies of a digital book without the author getting a penny. Readers can also aquire pirated books at no functional cost - something that wasn't possible with the original form of copyright piracy (the term has been equated with copyright infringment for several centuries - it's not a new coining).

14:

Something we're allready seeing: the cost of having an available backlist becomes minimal. You don't have to pay as much for storing them, and creating a copy the customer can buy costs minimally, with cost not scaling down much with number of copies.This essentially means that royalties can continue trickling in indefinitely, and even if your book went out some time ago it might become a new cult hit because you published a popular book/some celebrity discovered you/etc.

Another application of this is that *for the reader* having a large amount of books does not necessarily imply need for large appartment/house and costly bookcases(not to mention carrying heavy loads). And given good backup practices any kind of home disaster(fire, flood, etc.) does not mean that books that cost in the thousands of dollars(at least), and some of whom are hard to replace, will be destroyed. So less people doing that math, and maybe buying more.

15:

When I was about 10 I used to read a lot of fighting fantasy books (so much so I tried to write one using hyperlinked word documents which worked quite well up until the nth hundred page and I lost track of the variables). Until I grew out of them I had them all up to a point. Recently I googled the series just out of nostalgia and to see what came out after I stopped and found that some had been turned into apps. Now I've got them on my phone and they work great, especially with the phone keeping track of the inventory, provisions, combat stats etc.

I think you're right though. Ebooks represent a great platform for text adventures; no need to keep a notepad, pen and dice. It will be interesting to see if any authors capitalise on this in future and if text adventures can really take off (I doubt it will rival passive books but it would be great for getting kids into reading over video gaming).

16:

I guess with an ebook you coud supply the narrative with an adequate atmosphere soundtrack...

17:

The downside difference is the potential for snooping by the publisher or provider. At the moment most of my reading is in dead tree form via local libraries. If I use their ebook method, then Adobe know everything I read (have to use their DRM and be logged into them to decode). If I buy an ebook (and leave a reader online?) then the publisher can see what I read, for how long at what speed etc. I'm finding it difficult to find what each reader does to protect me - or not! So I'm sticking to books, despite being a long-time Linux geek and IT admin... lack of trust on my part.

18:

Color illustrations and photographs are no more expensive to print than mono and grayscale.

They are, however, much more expensive to prepare for pre-press!

You're falling into the common trap of assuming that what you pay for a book is the price of printing/binding (the "ebooks contain less physical matter so they should be cheaper" fallacy). Actually, the fixed cost/overheads of producing a book are almost always higher than the cost of ink on paper, and in the case of photo books they're raised by the need to tweak/edit/photoshop the images to best display them.

(This is even before we get into the vexatious question of image rights. It's all very well if when you write a book you take all the photos/draw all the diagrams yourself, but if you need stock art you're going to end up paying for it. Paying a lot. I've seen amateur/low budget film/video productions where the background music licensing fees exceeded the production costs of the film.)

A picture can tell a thousand words. But it may cost much more than a thousand words to draw/shoot/otherwise produce. And video is 25-60 pictures per second blurring past ...

19:

First thought: the potential for publishers to gain huge, huge amounts of data to dredge. For example: A/B testing on different covers or blurbs; learning if readers read a book all the way through or get bored halfway through (if they start at all!); statistical reccomendation services based on what's already on the e-reader (this already exists in a primaeval form, but I don't think any publishers are in on the act yet). The feedback loop between reader tastes and what gets written/published becomes much, much faster.

Second thought: the (legal) second-hand market is absolutely demolished. Publishers rejoice.

Second-and-a-half throught: Publishers have more direct control over all the sales channels. There's no bookshop tender to give you recommendations any more.

Third thought: dynamic in-book advertising. Ew. Ew ew ew.

Fourth thought: there's no exposure to the risk of books not selling. (That is, by the time a book is ready to go, all the costs are already sunk and there's no danger of a loss because bookshops can't flog the printed product.) This might lead to publishers taking up more risky books, possibly offering the authors high-royalties-but-small-advance contracts.

Fifth thought: the barrier to entry in the publisher market is much lower. Many new, independent publishers might emerge, and there might be a decoupling between the editing, typesetting, etc departments and the hedge-the-risk-that-feeding-the-author-might-cost-more-than-we'll-earn departments.

Fifth-and-a-half thought: Spam ebooks. We're already seeing these.

20:

the point where the publishers realise that if you can set up dynamic content in an ebook, you can run banner ads in there that vary on a per-person basis

Have you ever asked yourself why you don't already see (static) ads in print books?

Hint: those annoying author/publisher contracts contain boilerplate forbidding almost all advertising in books[*]. A battle that was fought and won before I was born.

Spambooks will show up if Amazon, Apple, et al manage to disrupt and destroy the existing publishing industry. Probably not before.


[*] The exception: publishers are allowed to use some blank pages at the end of mass market editions to promote other books in the same imprint as the one you just read. And by agreement with the author, they may sometimes include chapter-lenght extracts. But. Ad marquees blinking at you in the middle of THE APOCALYPSE CODEX? Ain't gonna happen as long as the Big Six are still publishing me.

21:

One example of changing titles.

There's a classic design book "The Design of Everyday Things". The title for the first edition was "The Psychology of Everyday Things". Which according to the author pleased his academic peers, but didn't attract folk outside of that group.

I've encountered people who've read both editions (admittedly with a gap between reading) and have been *certain* that they were different books. When, apart from normal reprinting fixes and the occasional new "this is now a classic" introduction section, they are identical.

I imagine that many publishers/authors are keen to try things like a/b testing for this sort of stuff - along with genre/covers/etc.

22:

Piracy is something we are going to have to live with. In my latest (non-ish fiction) ebook I add a paragraph in the introduction that if the reader is reading a pirated version and they think it worthwhile, please send me some money!

23:

First thought: the potential for publishers to gain huge, huge amounts of data to dredge. For example: A/B testing on different covers or blurbs; learning if readers read a book all the way through or get bored halfway through

Not cost-effective.

A typical midlist novel sells maybe 10-15,000 copies in the UK, and perhaps 40-60,000 copies in the USA, in all editions (hardcover, mass market, and ebook combined). A typical US midlist book advance is in the range $7,500-15,000; this is also around the same size as the publisher's net profit after all production costs.

Also note that the production costs of a book exceed the actual printing costs for a dead tree edition. Paper is dirt cheap. Editing, typesetting, cover design, proof-reading ... this is where the overheads lie.

People are always astonished when they learn how little money there is in fiction publishing. What makes it all possible is the odd bestseller, where you can stick an extra zero after all those figures.

24:

One other thought struck me. What you are talking about changing presentation is basic marketing. A company I worked for sold semi-fine jewelry and would put together catalogues. Some would be their imprint, others would be the name of a famous retailer slapped on our own content with points given back to that retailer in everything we sold, essentially free money for them. We experimented not just on the covers but the contents, seeing which variant got more lift.

The same thing is being done with textbooks, buyers capable of ordering chapters off a menu and getting a book custom-printed to spec.

Variant edits of popular material have been produced before: bowdlerized bibles, porn parodies of Star Trek with the sexy bits removed, abridged novels and condensed books, etc. More recent is the joke with Pride and Prejudice to see if the crossover potential with young boys could be enhanced with zombies.

All of this can be done by hand and could have been done in the past save for pushback from the channel as you pointed out.

But it could get worse. Given how abysmal the public taste is and how formulaic popular fiction can be, the procedurally-generated novel is inevitable.

Some press agencies already have bots writing the sports stories, the ones reporting scores and facts, easy to plug into templates.

With the feedback allowed via digital publishing, it will become possible to fully optimize mindless entertainment, scientifically arrive at the optimal ratio for sex, violence, scandal, outrage, titillation and pervy gratification.

Imagine voting buttons on every paragraph. Dowvote a philosophical chapter? You won't see another. Upvote a sex scene? Do that enough and the hero will boink anything he sees as an introduction.

I bet this is how movies developed in Idiocracy. Orwell had the right idea, wrong body part. "You want a vision of the future of comedy? Imagine a bare bottom farting on a human face -- forever."

25:

The biggest constraint with books to date is the physical space they take so I've donated many of my physical books. Years later I get frustrated because I want to return to something and don't have it any more. In contrast, ebooks I just collect. So while I physically share/distribute my books, I don't do so for my ebooks. I just recommend and send a link...

But I doubt the whole concept of "owning" a creative work going forward.

I imagine a future where I could pay a nominal fee (subscription?) to check books in/out on demand. Libraries in the cloud with every book ever written. Provided I was confident that anything I wanted was easily within reach, why would I need to own it?

Should publishers become librarians?

26:

Another new thing is potential up/cross selling while reading.

The friction of getting somebody to purchase something at the end of the book has gone from

1) Finding a store with the book (or whatever).
2) Travelling to the store.
3) Purchasing
4) Returning home.

to (in the case of some digital products) two clicks and it's delivered over the intertubes into the device in my hand with seconds of purchasing.

Two-freaking-clicks.

My impulse buying of books has gone way up since I started reading ebooks - and that's with an infrastructure that is missing really obvious ways to make it even better.

For example I bet in a couple of years time the page after "the end" in any ebook I read will include a dynamically generated list of potential further books to purchase based on what I've just been reading, what I purchase after reading similar books, etc.

27:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_of_Dragon_Pass

Check this out. It's basically like a narrative engine. It's very hard to describe well, like a mash-up of choose your own adventure books and dice-roll fantasy gaming. Wiki does a better job of explaining what's going on. It feels like there's real potential here.

28:

On a/b testing...

Not cost-effective. A typical midlist novel sells maybe 10-15,000 copies in the UK, and perhaps 40-60,000 copies in the USA, in all editions (hardcover, mass market, and ebook combined). A typical US midlist book advance is in the range $7,500-15,000; this is also around the same size as the publisher's net profit after all production costs.

Remember you don't just have to a/b test on purchases. Earlier steps in the sales funnel can act as good proxies for final sales and allow you to optimise conversions.

So you're going to look at how different titles/covers rank in search results, in number of click-throughs from search listings, in number of click-throughs/references from external sources, etc.

29:
This is going to revolutionize some aspects of publishing; imagine a programming tutorial where the code examples are editable and executable, inside the ebook.

Or the 2014 issue of "Case Nightmare Green" that integrates with the external strosspedia.com that includes the crowd-sourced always-up-to-date character summaries, plot overviews, timelines, links to Bob/Angleton slashfic, ability to pre-order the 2016 limited-release baby-leather bound box set, etc.

I imagine that in-book integration with external sites is going to become an interesting contractual point in future author/publisher conversations. Is it worth dropping N% of sales to keep the right to link to author-owned external content rather than the publisher-owned stuff. How much is the reader-community worth...

30:

The flipside to it being very cheap to keep the backlist available is that there is some loss of motivation for publishers to publish new books. Continuing to promote "a classic" becomes far cheaper than publishing new stuff. This applies differently to fiction and non-fiction.

Much non-fiction goes out of date. A publisher has to either publish a new edition, or a new book, if he's to have a sensible offering. Non-fiction publishing becomes (even more) like software publishing.

For fiction, it's harder to predict.

31:
Second thought: the (legal) second-hand market is absolutely demolished. Publishers rejoice.

Not necessarily. The EU Court of Justice ruled yesterday that software licences are resellable, and that attempts by the original producer to prevent this are illegal. Given this precedent, non-transferable e-books are likely to become a thing of the past at some point. The really points from the ruling are probably this sentence:

“Such a transaction involves a transfer of the right of ownership of the copy.”

and this paragraph:
“The Court observes in particular that limiting the application of the principle of the exhaustion of the distribution right solely to copies of computer programs that are sold on a material medium would allow the copyright holder to control the resale of copies downloaded from the internet and to demand further remuneration on the occasion of each new sale, even though the first sale of the copy had already enabled the rightholder to obtain appropriate remuneration. Such a restriction of the resale of copies of computer programs downloaded from the internet would go beyond what is necessary to safeguard the specific subject-matter of the intellectual property concerned.”[my emphasis]

That last sentence is probably the biggest kicker from the industry's point of view: the court has specifically said that forbidding resale is not a valid part of protecting the copyright holder's IP. One of the major arguments for preventing resales has been that it's necessary for precisely that purpose, and that argument is now no longer available.

32:

There is another problem.
On my bookshelf I have books I bought 40 years ago.
I severely doubt any eBooks you buy now will still be with you and accessible in 40 years time. I would bet on none at all if they have DRM.

33:

The notion that Amazon and Apple might decide to "enhance" the product they're selling with a bit of (in)judicious advertising makes me cringe in horror.

On the one hand, yeah, I can remember looking at the old advertisements in my mother's "Golden Wattle" cookbook and thinking they were interesting. But on the other hand, this was a cookbook - it wasn't a narrative, and the ads in question were for various foodstuffs and cooking-related products. Also, by the time I was reading them, they were about twenty years out of date (the cookbook was in ounces, pounds and pints; the prices were in pounds, shillings and pence - it dated back to my mother's schooldays in the 1950s), so most of the interest was historical.

Quite honestly, the only books I could think of which suit having ads in them are the Jasper Fforde "Thursday Next" books (and even there, it would need to be the existing "ads" for the Goliath corporation products - somehow the jokes just wouldn't work if they were advertising washing powder or similar). The idea of having ads inserted in ebooks which I couldn't screen out (as I do with web ads) or turn off (televised or radio ads) makes me shudder. Horrible thought.

34:

You mentioned embedded reader-usable software.

This is an echo of the CD-ROM bound in with computer books. I believe there were some pitfalls in such things in the UK, because of the rules on VAT.

Under current UK tax law, all ebooks are liable for VAT. Those extra programs cannot make a difference. Or can they? Amazon supplies ebooks from Luxembourg. Under EU-wide rules, they're classed as a service, and so they're taxed at the Luxembourg rate, 3% instead of 20%.

If that included software affected the classification Amazon would have to charge VAT at the rate in the destination country 20% in the UK.

It means they lose a big advantage over a US-based supplier.

35:

I'd agree that this makes sense. I buy "a lot" of books and have bought UKian or USian copies of $title even though the version I bought was later and/or cost more, simply because I couldn't live with the cover picture on the earlier/cheaper copy, even back in my student days.

36:

I've been wanting to see an e-book of Bester's The Stars My Destination (Tiger, Tiger), with the text going around and around in one of the last chapters.


I do have an e-book which was written with the top line of many paragraphs bold. Except my display isn't the same as the dead tree book, and the top line is maybe a line and a half on my reader.

37:

ChiZine Publications offered a year subscription to all of their books published this year and I bought that. I don't usually buy everything they put out. I have some favorite authors, and don't know the others. The price of the subscription was worth the value. They have the equivalent of more orders from me (and metrics for how many books were sold? exposure to new authors?).

I don't know if that was an experiment on their part. I really like the idea and hope it sticks around and other publishers pick it up too.

38:

One thing I'm interested in is the way that novel-writing at the bestselling end is becoming more like television - that is TV at the high-quality series end, consumed by many in the form of an entire season on DVD or streamed. I suppose it's a long time now that there's been a pattern of bestselling writers putting out one big book a year ("A Christie for Christmas") - but the electronic platform is definitely pressuring/attracting writers to release stories (Lee Child's "Second Son" story is perfect example) at other points in the cycle as a teaser. Novelizations from popular TV series (I read Christa Faust's "Supernatural" installment recently for instance) also fill in desire for fans waiting for a next season. I think there's a good chance that in ten years, there will be a number of writers - it wouldn't suit everyone - working in a series format where short installments are released much more frequently over at least a season if not a year - say, 8 25K novellas about a set of series characters, some quite self-contained and some developing an arc over the whole 'season' of the narrative.

39:

Amazon has started doing something like this when you get to the end of a book.

Amazon could go in to trying to upsell/crosssell non book items when you get to the end of the book. Vacation packages.

40:

As in: "You've just read Happy Potter so we think you will like the real thing with Aleister Crowley - a free tab of LSD with every book!"

41:

I have a kindle. Amazon's recommendation engine has become noisier and their browsing UI has never been as good as I'd like. in the future: someone creates a great author browsing UI. wins my heart.

42:

heh. 3d printer cross-sells.

43:

Echoing Carlos @25's point, this is a fairly obvious gap that publishers could address in future boilerplate to ensure their continued access to (and control of) an author's back catalogue. It's been a while since I looked at the Society of Authors standard contract template, but I believe that rights revert to the author after a surprisingly short period of time (5 years?) if the book is continuously out of print for that time. Now, how does that work for an ebook, which may remain available for purchase on Amazon/iBooks/publisher's website indefinitely? Is this being addressed in current contracts?

And as a corollary of the above, I can see a small but non-trivial resurgence of interest in obtaining hardcopy versions of books, for reasons of nostalgia, aesthetics or scholarly veracity. I assume they'd come from some evolved version of the Expresso book machine which can handle formatting .epub files, or from online on-demand sources. A good analogy might be the way that digital photography and printing has changed the way people treat their photographs - print far less of them, but will produce some on 50x30cm print blocks for wall-mounting at £20 a pop...

Other fairly obvious ones:

  • Serialised/novella formats, which dripfeed a popular author's work in smaller and quicker (and ultimately more expensive) formats

  • Crossing the line from book to app, with epub 3.0 - walk around Edinburgh reading the new Rebus, and link to simple low-effort stuff like Google Street-View, etc. Anecdotally, going further and trying to be ambitious in what you include in a book (multimedia etc) has proven much more attractive to the artist than the punter, and isn't worth the effort for the most part

  • Continued growth of the 'ebook summary' which carefully skirts the edges of copyright infringement and offers a potted overview decent enough to spoof having read the real thing

  • Control of genre classification falling out of the hands of the publisher (and author) due to multi-tagging mentioned by OGH - cue much gnashing of teeth from authors of literary fiction who dip their toes in the speculative or criminal pond but are loath to admit getting wet

  • Continued expansion of programs like Amazon's KDP Select service, which will replace the trad publisher POS 12-copy promo display stand now disappearing from bookshops

  • With the (hopeful) death of DRM, the rise of 'affiliate purchasing' of ebooks in conjunction with the local bookstore, where they may not ever have stocked the book but get a cut of your mildly inflated ebook purchase cost, which in turn can feed into loyalty programmes and other clever ideas to bolster the slim chances of survival currently enjoyed by that sector. Oh, and they will need to diversify and start selling (and supporting) ebook readers.
  • Speaking personally, I have gone back to reading history texts in hardcopy format. Even on an iPad, it's a pain having to find and reference a map or image compared to simply flipping back a few pages. I think there will always be a market for certain kinds of hardcopy books - niche but robust.

    44:

    About a decade ago, there was a company named Big Engine that had much that idea. There's an interview with the founder here.

    You may note an unfamiliar title by a certain writer listed in the 'to be published' list on that page.

    Sadly, Big Engine didn't make it.

    So the idea has been tried, but it's not a sure-fire formula for success.

    45:

    Many gamebooks have taken advantage of HTML. There was an online version of the first Lone Wolf gamebook that tracked your character sheet and made dice rolls for you, but I can't find it any more. Looks like they made it a Kindle exclusive.

    46:

    "Big Engine" went under due to their attempt at a short story magazine not selling as well as they'd hoped. I know because I got all the communications from the receiver or whatever the proper name is these days.

    47:

    As for fifty shades of grey! I want to recommend the brutal review by Jennifer Armintrout. Why people actually like this book is beyond me. It's a lighthearted story about abuse, a shitty relationship and really inconsistent characters that only make sense when they quote from Twilight. But the "review" is golden!

    http://jenniferarmintrout.blogspot.ch/2012/06/50-shades-of-grey-chapter-26-recap-or.html

    48:

    They're headed that way. It has my colleagues and I worried.

    49:

    Will the ebook be about text, or will it just be a container format that also happens to be able to handle text (with some convenience tools like search)? There is no difference between a book containing movies and executable coder vs. some movies and executable code linked and explained by text.

    Orin @13: "Piracy."

    You seem to be on the same page as many of the publishing industry there. Let me tell you one thing: When I buy information or entertainment, I don't pay for it because I'm too dumb to download it somewhere. The reasons for paying are that

    (1) Someone like will feel morally obliged to provide compensation if provided with something of value. I know, for moral obligation and a nickel you get a stick of gum.

    So here is one reason why even an egomaniacal sociopath would feel the need to pay:

    (2) You want more of the good stuff, and you won't get it if your creators need to work a day job to support themselves.

    If I did download stuff like TV shows (which I don't, of course), I would do it because I CAN'T GET THEM any other way. Dumb media industry people would think I did it because I was a cheapskate, when the real reason is that they simply don't service the area I live in. I would certainly pay, and I'd happily donate on top of that to keep shows I like going, if only I could.

    50:

    Bullet 2 - And get mugged for $shiney_tech in some parts of Embra too. The same issue would apply with OGH's Rule 34 and possibly Halting State, for exactly the same reasons.

    51:

    One thing I'm quite hopeful for is more flexibility in terms of what length of text is considered publishable. So many books feel like a great idea for a short(er) story was padded out to 100,000 words just to make the paperback heavy enough to sell for 7.99.

    That problem is much more acute in nonfiction, often political, books, where a really good argument that takes 20,000 words to make is padded out with repetitive examples. Matt Yglesias' The Rent is Too Damn High was one attempt to package just enough content to make the argument he wanted to make, which was only possible in ebook format. Hopefully that experiment was successful enough for others to follow.

    Just as the structure of many of Dickens' novels is influenced by the fact that they were originally published as serials, we should see a resurgence of novellas, long-form "short stories", and the like.

    I also think we'll start to think about books in terms of words instead of pages, and that that change will come quite quickly once it gets started.

    52:

    If the guy who recited Crowley on my answering machine because I was late to our RPG session (again) is any indication, that'd be

    'You enjoyed Aleister Crowley, Hermann Hesse and Linkin'Park, would you like to read "Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy for Dummies"? Now with the latest ward fashion trends! And please get some style...'

    53:

    No. You still need a concise and unambiguous descriptor of what version you are looking at (for citation purposes, if nothing else) and arbitrarily letting the publisher change your files has obvious risks. You might get more editions, but you still need them. In addition, correcting a laid-out book is expensive, so publishers are still likely to issue revisions in bursts and only do it for successful books. (There are a few types of writing where the body is just an array of paragraphs plus some machine-generated information at the top of each page, but most books need more work to design).

    54:
    It's irrelevant in trade fiction, but epub 3.x permits embedding of Javascript. Which means that technical books can contain anything, up to and including a full i486 emulator running Linux.

    Sigh. Last thing we need. Expect to see lots of ebooks with useless scripts that do things like replace functionality the reader is supposed to provide, add cute animations that don't work on eink displays and add nothing to the content, and/or break because you don't have a reader that allows connecting to the publisher's server to load more scripts on the fly (assuming it allows XHR; if it does, also expect a bunch of "like" buttons).

    Oh, and turning it off renders the book unreadable unless you pick it apart manually.

    There are already designers targetting web browsers that think it's absolutely vital that they do all of that (or equivalents).

    I want my books to be books, thank you very much. Not "apps". Definitely not if they could be trimmed down to be books without losing anything of value.

    55:

    Actually, TV shows are in a far better position with regards to piracy. All they have to do is get their act together and keep the ads in, albeit targeted to different nations. Make downloading easy and free, and they will still make money. However, as soon as I see "Not available in your area" it's "Hello pirate bay".

    56:

    There is a sense in which the current fundamental differences between ebooks and paper books are diminishing. (I hope this isn't going too far afield from Charlie's question.)

    Despite all the myriad ways in which the ebook existing as a virtual good (an inventory item distributable online, having no tangible physical instantiation) creates new marketing opportunities and enables new sales methods, it does have drawbacks. The paper book as a physical item offers certain advantages to marketers; it can be placed with eye-catching art to stimulate customers picking it up and making an impulse purchase, it can be sold in places with no electronic or even electric infrastructure, et cetera.

    What I'm noticing right now is that electronic readers (the hardware) are plunging in cost. Full-color mostly-Android tablets can be found for under a hundred bucks at the right discount stores in the USA now; there are reasons to despise them, but it's a trend.

    So, what happens when the price of a fully-competent reading device plunges down into the price range we expect to pay for a book or a magazine ... and then keeps right on dropping?

    One thing is, I expect it to rescue what's left of the magazine business. A copy of the Economist that's in a dedicated e-reader but sells for the same price as the current paper magazine won't displace all the e-sales to people who current buy the mag to read on their phone or their Kindle or whatever; but it will create an assortment of value-added opportunities that make it an easier sales proposition than the paper magazine is.

    Tech of this sort will also allow local retailers to put ebooks on sale as physical objects, wherever and whenever those retailers feel as if local conditions would support that sort of sales.

    Thus I predict the emergence of yet another class of book-like object, neither fully physical like a paper book nor fully digital like an e-book, but having attributes (good and bad) of both.

    57:

    Speaking as a native of that shining metropolis in the shadow of the Campsie Fells, I can't but agree, but the advantage of Google Streetview (like) is the virtual experience from the comfort of your own home/bus/bunker. I'd be grateful too if the sensory experience was merely visual, myself...

    Smart-gegs will no doubt be disguised as something cheap and budget-Specs@ver-issue, much like swapping #MUG-ME# Apple white-buds for anonymous Sennheisers...

    58:

    My current project, Ultraviolet Books, is alpha-testing interesting proprietary "Document Analytics" tech from an unannounced startup in Seattle. In addition to the data described in that Wall Street Journal article, we learn things like the words the reader looks up in the built-in Kindle dictionary, and titles of other books on the same Kindle. (There's a strong crossover between our books and Stross titles.)

    Knowing where the reader drops out of (stops reading) one of our books is potentially quite useful. We push out new versions to correct typos, so why not revise unpopular scenes? So far the data has been ambiguous here, so we haven't acted on it yet. But I'm sure it will happen.

    http://ultravioletbooks.com/2012/07/document-analytics/

    59:

    More delicious low-culture artifacts will capture the public attention and they will be written by people who don't have an agent, wrote the book in their spare time and started selling it well before a copy-editor struck it with the red pen. Typo-ridden guilty indulgences will make frequent appearances on the best-seller list, and they'll defy the ebooks-are-just-as-costly-as-books model (the thing's already selling as is so the post-production costs will be minimal when it gets picked up by a traditional publisher).

    I think paper books will become more like collector items. It's possible they'll sell for more (perhaps up to US$60 or US$80) and be printed in smaller quantities at a much better quality, with the ebooks going on sale for casual readers ($10 or $14). The fans will buy up the hardcovers and in exchange they'll get a product that will hold its value. I don't think it will go this far, but I think the availability of cheaper ebooks will allow publishers to raise the price on hardcovers which they apparently haven't been able to do since 1980.

    60:

    replying to self - I'm not claiming that you'd not get mugged for $shiney_tech in some parts of Glesca too, but no-one has suggested using Laidlaw or Alex Grey as the basis of tours (yet).

    61:

    The same number of pictures will, yes, cost the same amount to produce - but with ebooks it isn't necessary to put the pictures all together on special pages reserved for colour picture printing, you could put them within the text at the point they are referenced. I have many history books which have 10-20 pages full of pictures that one has to refer to when a picture is mentioned in the text, ebooks remove the requirement to put the pictures all together in this way.

    62:

    It might change but at the moment bytes are not always cheap. The big retailers charge for the size of the book and that can get expansive fast for books with a lot of pictures. That might change in the future, but at the moment the party with the largest marketshare is charging the most (going by a recent post on boing boing).

    63:

    It's easier to sell an e-book that's too long for a magazine and too short for a book.

    64:

    I suggest having a look at the app version of "The Waste Land," for the ultra-deluxe version of what you're talking about (the original poem, the poem after Ezra Pound got at it, notations and explanations, pages scanned from the manuscript, multiple readings by different people - including T.S. Eliot himself. And more! :-)).

    65:

    I hope the technology gets there. I'm impatient for it.

    I have a physical version of The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War and I snapped up the ebook version when it finally came out because carrying around the pbook is unwieldy.

    I bought a kindle dx to be able to read books like this (along with all the programming references and so on) and the user experience was not good enough for me to replace my dx when it broke the second time.

    A tablet platform might be approaching it, but then you'll need publishers to catch up -- that Thucydides ebook version is formatted pretty horribly.

    66:

    The idea that eBooks will sell in future for "$10 or $14" is extremely unlikely. The most obvious pricepoint is $2.99, and after that $1

    67:

    It seems to me, e-books and POD lets publishers keep a book "in print" without actually selling any. Any thoughts on how to protect the interests of authors in that case?

    68:

    With print books, for people with poor vision, you need a separate print run of large type books. With an e-book, you just make the reader display the type bigger.

    69:

    And with illiterate people you just need a good text to speech. Does Android do a good app for that?

    70:

    Another point is that authors' signatures can become as elaborate and quirky as their imagination and technical support allows. Animations? Sound clips? Interactive applets? Sure, go nuts. (But if Dave Langford signs with a parrot, don't look at it too long.) The attractions for Art Major types should be obvious.

    71:

    I think what you want is a clause that says that the author can trigger reversion if annual revenue falls below some nominal amount and the publisher can't demonstrate significant unsold inventory.

    72:

    Great summary! Thank you, Mr. Stross. Sooner or later, you'll run into Peter Higgs in Edinburgh... Love to see you interview him.
    Forty-eight years ago, British scientist Peter Higgs had a eureka moment when he realised there could be a particle that confers mass, one of the greatest puzzles in physics.
    “He said: ‘Oh shit, I know how to do that!’” former colleague Alan Walker told AFP of the breakthrough as recounted to him by Higgs, now 83...

    73:

    So...epub 3.0 decided to put in _Javascript_, but couldn't spend ten minutes adding a 'series' and 'series number' field for books in the metadata?

    Good planning, guys. Really good planning.

    74:

    That kind of clause is standard -- with added special sauce to ensure that they can't claim ebooks or print-on-demand editions are "in print" (they have to actually sell a certain number of copies).

    75:

    Charlie, what are your thoughts on the appropriate royalty rate for e-books?

    76:

    190% is the appropriate royalty rate for ALL media.

    Hang on, what am I saying?

    200%, and not a percentage point less!

    (Gross, not net. And I want an exclusive option on your soul while you're about it.)

    77:

    Right. And the closest to that a publisher might agree to?

    78:

    Eventually I would guess one third each for author, publisher and online retailer with prices converging on $3 retail.

    79:

    There'll be a lot fewer books written, then -- not many people can make a living on a $1 take per unit, given how few copies of any given book are sold.

    80:

    Seriously. I'm buying them as fast as I can read them. Lowering the price won't make *me* buy more.

    81:

    Ah, yes, instant updates, AND instant removals. I can just see some hacker getting into the servers at Amazon/B&N/etc., and triggering the software code there that automatically updates all your books--with a blank paragraph. (or even better, to replace every version of Kings in the Bible with the print version of "Debbie Does Dallas.")

    OR, the government (Myramir, Syria, Iran, pick your favorite "bad" government) decides that a certain "book" is illegal and orders it removed from all ebooks in its territory.

    OR, someone makes a copyright complaint, gets it through the courts, and suddenly a book you like and want to keep is removed from your eReader.

    OR, the government decides it wants to know who all the subversives are that bought "Winnie the Pooh" and orders Amazon/B&N/etc. to turn over those names and addresses.

    I think I like my eReader "detached" from the Internet, without any special "programmable" features totally under the control of someone I do NOT like or trust.

    Terry Kepner
    www.FlyingChipmunkPublishing.com

    82:

    I will note that since the "1984" debacle, Amazon policy is that requests to remove already-purchased books from Kindles must be escallated to Jeff Bezos in person for approval. Because he'll be the guy going on CNN to apologize if they get it wrong, and they've worked out that it's a third rail issue (i.e., you touch it, you die).

    Authoritarian governments ordering content to be removed is another matter; government fiat trumps corporate discretion, and by the way, your quaint US first amendment doesn't apply internationally. (Hell, it doesn't apply to all content in the USA; consider child pornography, for example.)

    83:

    Or a lot more, of low quality but with the Big Names still pulling in megabucks. Jumping the gap might be more difficult then, or maybe not...

    84:

    I would expect ebooks, especially series, to become less linear to follow than print books. Without the space constraints, and with (explicit) hyperlinks between content, the path through that content can change.

    This is about more than just the Fighting Fantasy comments above, true as they are, because with large world series, or with technical books, there's no barrier to adding additional content anywhere within the "timeline" at a later date. Collaboration between multiple authors may change, becoming easier but looser.

    I think for technical publications there's already a lot of evidence for this in online only journals, particularly in Living Review style, but this could easily expand into ebooks of all sorts.

    85:


    This is going to revolutionize some aspects of publishing; imagine a programming tutorial where the code examples are editable and executable, inside the ebook.

    You mean like this?

    86:

    Maybe the color printing side of the expenditures won't limit the art any longer, but publishers will still, hopefully, need to pay the artist, and wages tend to be the largest expense when they any part of expenses, so I wouldn't be holding my breath waiting for an explosion of art in ebooks.

    That's before we add in the fact that books with a lot of art might distract readers from the flow of the text, so drawings might be contraindicated anyway.

    87:

    I wonder if eBooks are going to spawn a "Did you like my book ?" email-form at the end, allowing authors and readers to communicate more easily.

    For me as an Open Source programmer, getting the totally random email from somebody in Elbonia who uses my software is worth at least two cups of tea in terms of productivity, and I would imagine that many authors would feel the same way.

    Of course, I'd hate to be a the receiving end of the form in the Harry Potter books, and I could imagine that the 'political grandstanding' books might prefer to disable the form, but how about you Charlie ? Would you enable that form if you had the option ?

    88:

    What??!!??

    It's inherent to the way the kindle/amazon model works that amazon knows what's on my kindle, because they put it there. The idea that a third party content provider can include malware in a book which reports back to the mother ship with details of all my other reading is somewhere between appalling and illegal.

    That adds another answer to Charlie's question - we are going to need defensive software on our ereaders to protect privacy and defend against intrusion.

    89:

    You've always been able to put your own content on a Kindle, without Amazon's help.

    90:

    Document analytics.

    That's an interesting one.

    Could use the power of e-readers to analyze drafts of books. The e-reader could collect data on where users stop reading, how long they spend on particular pages. When they put the book down for the night. Where they re-read a segment. Dictionary lookups, as mentioned. Outside internet searches perhaps. If the book was hyperlinked itself you could find places where people refer to the glossary or appendices.

    Beta-testing for books.

    Oh look 24% of people forget who Glaivin of Meath is here, so lets add a little more context. People re-read page 214... is it awesome or confusing?

    Could go so far as building in beta-reader feedback prompts.

    91:

    Of course - that's why I refer to the kindle/amazon model, which is the overwhelmingly dominant way of using a kindle, although you are quite right that it's not the only way. It's not clear from the earlier comment whether any such non-amazon content would be captured in a report of what was on the kindle.

    92:

    Could also make footnotes more accessible without special academic style formatting. Could be great for series. Do a bit less inline rehashing for people who read the previous book two years ago, and link to more info on various topics.

    93:

    JavaScript? To paraphrase our esteemed host, "the many-angled ones live at the bottom of the JavaScript interpreter". As a security guy, it scares the something-or-other out of me.

    As for privacy -- here is an article on that, that I think is outside their paywall.

    And ads? DAW did that to a pile of science fiction books in the 70s; I still have plenty in my collection, though I've surgically altered a few. Maybe the publishers can't do that any more, but what about the readers? They probably can....

    94:

    Hyperlinking. You can now write that hard SF masterwork without stopping the plot to explain quantum thermodynamics for eight pages. No more "As you know, Bob" speeches. Just link out to the Wikipedia page, or to your own website where you've already posted the multumedia references and digressive bits. (likewise you could also just load all that material into an HTML package that comes as the ebook's appendix, meaning you wouldn't have to worry about bandwidth or wifi connectivity).

    Also, links to other books by the same and related authors, right there in the front or back matter.

    This gets useful for packaging classic texts alongside critical appendices. Imagine those Annotated books where all the supplemental material is multimedia and accessible right there on your device. The price point for such a thing might get a bit hefty but I foresee an edition of the Annotated Alice in Wonderland that comes complete with pop up windows for watching all the various movie adaptations, links to scholarly interpretations of the symbolism and historical and contemporary critical essays, plus every translation of the book.

    95:

    An explosion in halfwits on Amazon giving one star reviews and whining endlessly on about the price of e-books.

    Astonishingly, there aren't any examples on the Apocalypse Codex yet.

    96:

    They don't wind me up nearly so much as the ones who give five fucking stars to truly awful crud. I can barely type just thinking about it; I'm so consumed with rage at the five-star reviews of "books" that make me want to hurt myself.

    The worst of it is that I'm sure that for most of these reviewers, it's the first thing they've read for months or even years. Of course it seems good to them! If you had never heard music you'd think prog rock was the best thing ever, and the fact that they're reading something makes me think that maybe one day they might advance to reading something good, and I hate to discourage them... but really, five fucking stars for this badly written hack job that the publishers clearly got tricked into promising to print and didn't even want to waste an editor on?

    (I am thinking of one book in particularly for my wrath - I won't name it in full for fear of libel action, but suffice to say it begins with the non-word "n00b" :p )

    97:

    I've noticed that in the Amazon Kindle store a lot of works have genre tags that are... non-intuitive. If there's no cost to using a genre tag, and adding one might drive a sale, the tendency will be for everything to be tagged in every genre.

    Since accurate genre tags make it easier for customers to find the books that they want, I suspect that some limits on genre tags may be developed.

    98:

    Persistence.

    In the paperback format, books can only really stay around while they keep selling, which means the number of books published 30 years ago still available for sale (outside of used bookshops) is fairly small (I don't know the figures, I do know that when we had 28+28 copyright the reregistration rate was about 14%). Once an ebook is for sale, there's no reason it can't keep being for sale forever. I'm not sure how much financial impact this will have (after all, they stop reprinting the paperbacks for a reason) but I suspect that we'll see a handful of Wondeful Life type moments where books that were previously obscure get big decades later.

    99:

    Should publishers become librarians?

    The short answer: Hell No.

    The not-so-short answer: Librarians already have enough problems convincing the MBAs who manage many libraries (or the parent org that manages the library) that they aren't a business, and therefore expecting a library to turn a profit is a fools game. The major problem facing libraries to day is convincing the management that they are a non-profit community service, NOT a business with untapped potential profit streams.

    As Charlie has mentioned with regards to the production overhead costs of a book, running a library costs money. Even a virtual library full of ebooks would require cataloging, metadata, systems, and admin support staff. And that's not even getting into acquisition costs, which takes up the bulk of a library's budget (and ads at least 2 more staff members). A tiny public library serving a small town and the mostly-rural surrounding community has a budget of well over a million US Dollars.

    Most local governments don't want to pay for the costs involved in this, as there's no profit in it, so why would a Publisher want to take on that headache?

    100:

    Link rot.
    Putting hyperlinks in ebooks may be more trouble than it's worth.
    And on a totally different topic, can anyone explain why someone is selling my book (used) on Amazon at 3x the cover price of a new copy???

    101:

    Hmm. Obvious consequences: Books aimed at a truely global market - Phone tech has amazingly high global penetration with the poorer bits of the world a generation or two behind on models - which implies that in quite short order, shanty town dwellers and farmers one step away from turning the soil with a stick will have ereaders. - And apart from using this for free entertainment/education courtesy of project gutenberg, there are books this market will pay for. Textbooks and how-tos, in particular. And this is a /really big/ market - the authorative bible on "how to build a house, starting with dirt" or "Waterpurification and solar ovens" is going to have a lot of sales.

    102:

    Languages and ereader fonts will be an issue.

    Expect people to be able to read and write English, but their spoken English will be broken.

    103:

    Because if they find a buyer, they win!

    It happens all the time on eBay and I've seen it on Amazon. Sometimes it's to take advantage of geographic restrictions - your publisher might not be able to sell that book to an Australian customer, but Joe Random can. Other times it's to take advantage of equivalent stupidity on the part of the buyer. Either a religious belief that second hand = value for money, or the donkey effect = click the first link, don't read the list.

    104:

    And expect the imperialism of some written languages to increase: providing translations for more than a few languages for all the world's content is going to be prohibitive, so expect English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, and Russian to be the big winners.

    105:

    Javascript in an ebook? Good thing we don't live in the Laundry universe. Imagine what nastiness would ensue if someone stuck a summoning script into a bestseller. Lots and lots of chewed brains and eaten souls.

    106:

    Do we know any examples of someone self-publishing an eBook which then gets picked up by a major market book publisher? Akin to how John Scalzi's self-published Old Man's War, which was then picked up and published in 2005, nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2006, and optioned by Paramount Pictures in 2011?

    107:

    The impact of Amazon's highlighting system interests me. Not only can you go to the book's page and see what people have highlighted, but a new to the book reader with highlighting enabled with be able to see frequently highlighted passages.

    It changes the reading experience to a tiny degree, because you come up to a passage and already know from the highlighting that other people found this passage more interesting than others.

    108:

    Or how about going the whole way and publishing a website as an eBook?

    109:

    I no longer have a to-be-read pile. Instead, when I hear about a book I might like to read, I download the free sample. That's a lot of books I'm not buying.

    If my behavior is common among a significantly significant fraction of the market, that could change the economics of publishing.

    110:

    I can export my index of books to my new device (depending on lockdown / features). Thus, my library travels across tech updates as well as location.

    111:

    OK, well @include here everything I said before about opportunities the eBook brings - I remember going on for ages about dynamically changing covers for one. Also include in that dynamically changing titles - "The Case of the Mauve Sexbot" for the detective genre, "Up Uranus" for the SF, "Pink Shading to Red" for the in-vogue mummy porn crowd. Hell, crossing genre becomes a positive advantage in increasing potential audience size. The subtitle becomes the production identifier so you know they are the same. Or maybe they aren't - slice and dice the text to highlight different aspects and we hit the arena of different cuts of a movie.

    However, step back a bit. What's really happening is that all forms of content delivery are melding into one. Movies and TV used to be different beasts, but over time cinemas have faded away, VHS/DVD rise and then become passée - and we are reaching the point where they are all just computer data rendered to a screen - any screen.

    Similarly a blog, a web page, a newspaper, a magazine, a book - all trending towards just text/picture content delivery.

    It doesn't take much to see how where it's all just one thing - the delivery of information/stories/ideas to a user. I say 'user' rather than viewer/reader, since the trend is towards interactivity rather than passive consumption (eg games).

    So, what does that mean?

    Well, first, the text-only delivery of the story trends towards richer content, and more dynamic interaction/reaction with the user. The aim is to convey a compelling story to the user, and converting the text into audio, adding pictures/video, etc. are all possible - and to be expected.

    Second, the universe is key to making money. An author (such as yourself) can put out maybe one novel a year, which makes ... not very much. Create a compelling universe/characters/etc. and then sub-licence other authors to 'play' in that universe can increase the amount/choice of content for the user - and the fees for the author. Think Star Trek/Wars books - but across different media types. Close control of IP on 'universes' is key - how's that handled in your boilerplate contracts?

    Last - AI on content creation. As has been pointed up before, the metastructures of most stories follows common patterns (hero with a thousand faces). Also the low level grammer/spelling/word choices are susceptible to AI. The bit in the middle becomes one of plotting/editing/structuring - so potentially the author's job trends towards that ever decreasing gap as dynamically adapting text hits common story archetypes. Productivity goes up, but in the end the job gets outsourced, then automated out of existance and the MBA publishers just sit there, raking in the cash (remember, I said you should actively seek to renegotiate the power structure?)

    112:

    Yeah I thought about link rot after I posted. That would be ameliorated with all the backup material in an attached HTML file, but that opens up issues of legal clearance, etc.

    113:

    Not yet, but I'm still writing the 1st draft!

    114:

    I use books as tools a lot, so here is one difference: =with ebooks, the publisher doesn't control the display size and shape=. Currently this ruins ebooks for some purposes (overview maps, atlases) and seriously limits them for others (anything with detailed tables or diagrams that the user needs to see at a certain size and resolution). When expandable soft displays become available this will just be a serious limitation. Expect less books with the colour illustrations squeezed together in the centre and unreferenced (beacuse they were chosen to fill a bundle of 8 or 16 glossy sheets not to help elucidate the text) and many where your reader's lack of colour or low-res display seriously damages picture quality. (By corrolerary, books with lots of photographs, or intricate tables and diagrams, will be with us long after nobody buys a best-selling novel on paper).

    The continuous sales from ebooks may help to solve the orphan works problem. If the publisher needs to know who to send their quarterly royalties cheque too, they need to track who has the rights to those royalties.

    115:

    If e-books take over, where are you going to hide the trigger for the hidden door to your secret room? And how will you press flowers without the heft of a large tome?


    One class of books where the print version is still quite superior are the large "photo books". The print versions usually have much higher resolution and importantly a wider color gamut. Technology is slowly catching up, but these are still generally much more pleasurable to view in paper form.

    And of course the niche books which depend on their physical existance: the "pop-up book", the "cut-out" book, etc.

    Here are a few things that paper books did that may now go away as irrelevant:

    * separate recto/verso page layouts
    * those "this page intentionaly left blank" pages.
    * color plates, for books that are mostly black-and-white but need color illustrations
    * fold-outs, for maps and other oversized content
    * thumb tabs
    * spine "artwork". Sometimes viewing your collection from the "side" rather than the cover is more efficient
    * size-at-a-glance comparisons; small books and large books often look the same in e-format
    * cultural/language differences regarding the order in which you read the pages (from front-to-back or back-to-front), as well as on which side it is bound (left or right)
    * floating figures and images, where due to page layout the figure may be on a different page from its reference in the text
    * tear-out reference cards and such

    And there are some more important things that print books are currently better at, but e-formats may some day catch up:

    * the barrier to entry to make a physical book is a good first-level filter to weed out much junk.
    * paper books have better permanence, currently, though this should change
    * it is relatively easy to compare two paper books, by edition and printing number. e-format books on the other hand may potentially be customized for every single person, and it may not be easy to tell them apart.

    116:

    How about a book that examines other books on your reading device, and automagically incorporates elements of those books into the one you're reading.

    "These are not the droids you're looking for, Bilbo Baggins," said Alice.

    Or uses analysis of your content to branch the story "Hmmm, this reader likes romance, I'll go with the mushy tissue-box ending".

    Another idea would be to have different reading levels/length/languages built into the same device; although perhaps auto-abridging and changing reading level is a device function.

    117:

    I do have an e-book which was written with the top line of many paragraphs bold. Except my display isn't the same as the dead tree book, and the top line is maybe a line and a half on my reader.

    This happened with the Kindle version of The Apocalypse Codex too. The first line and a half of each chapter is in all caps.

    118:

    I'm not 100% sure it's true (no direct experience and it could be an internet legend) but War and Peace on the Nook supposedly had a hack job... every instance of Kindle/kindle was replaced by Nook.

    Characters nook the fire and the like on a regular basis.

    119:

    libraries are having a lot of trouble with E-BOOKS. The publishers will not sell to them. They will not say why but it likely that they see people passing the content around and cutting the publishers out.

    120:

    The publishers also realize that libraries will never be buying a replacement copy that gets lost, stolen or worn out, so they are loosing repeat sales. That was the whole impetus for the bone headed decision by penguin to build into the DRM on their ebooks for libraries a limit to the number of times it could be loaned.

    (Speaking of bone headed decisions, I get that there's an overhead cost for ebooks, but $19.99 for the ebook version of JK Rowling's new book? Are you shitting me?)

    121:

    No time to write a lot, but I wanted to throw this down on the site somewhere.

    I have a Sony eReader and want to buy an ePub version of The Apocalypse Codex.

    Such a thing exists, it's on the Penguin.com US website, but since it's a US site and I live in the UK, officially I can't buy it (and would need to jump through several hoops to do so).

    As far as I can tell, no UK seller sells the ePub version now Waterstones have made their faustian pact with Amazon (they've removed almost thier entire ePub ebook catalogue from what I can tell).

    I'll keep trying to hunt down a legit ePub version and buy it so Charlie can feed the cat - but you might want to mention to your publisher that for a UK citizen as of now it's far, far easier for me to get a pirated version of your latest book in ePub that buy a legitimate version from a bookseller (with or without DRM).

    I'll not go the pirate route, but this isn't the only book I'm finding this is true for (Harry Connolly's books now have the same problem) and as far as I can tell this seems to be mainly down to the activities of Amazon.

    This is really hacking me off :( .

    122:

    Am I the only one who is dreading the internetification of ebooks?

    The main reason I bought the ebook reader I have is its lack of internet connection.
    I found that reading PDFs, etc. on a laptop was leading to my attention span rotting away (this text is too long; whats been happening on the webs?). So moving to an ebook was a deliberate way of removing distractions.

    Similarly disabling Ads, javascript most of the time in my main browser.

    While on certain instances I would appreciate the ebook to have dynamic content, please, please, please publishers avoid it by default.

    123:

    There are work-rounds. I don't know the current status of the various DRM-renoval tooks which can be applied to Kindle books, but they exist.

    You would have to download the Kindle reader for your computer, and link that to Amazon. I have tried the processes out, but since I have a Kindle, as well as my old epub reader, it isn't anything I have needed to do.

    That way, you're still paying Charlie.

    124:

    This comment probably comes from too much thinking about spycraft (I'm about 2/3 of the way through The Apocalypse Codex, but had to stop for awhile to keep the dogs company while the fireworks are going off). An ereader with thousands of books on it would make a really excellent tool for creating book codes. Even if a counter-espionage agency got physical access to the reader they would have to know which book was being used as the key. For that matter, you could use a double or triple level code with multiple books, making the code that much harder to break.

    125:

    Luxury paper editions already exist in the form of The Folio Society. Beautifully bound hardbacks with slipcases and good thick paper. They are wonderful objects, but I wouldn't read one at the breakfast table in case I got strawberry jam on it and it is probably too bulky for reading on the morning train.

    126:

    Ian: yes, exactly like that except that course is web-based; if you have no connectivity, it stops working. I'm thinking of dynamic tutorial material packaged inside an epub file that will work anywhere there's an epub reader.

    ... Fast forward a bit and we're looking at a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, aren't we?

    127:

    I've already got such a form on my website; I get quite enough feedback through it already. It's actually a time sink and detrimental to my productivity, when it goes past one message per day. And that's harder for a reader to find than something built into the book. If it was in the ebook, I'd expect to be deluged.

    128:

    Do we know any examples of someone self-publishing an eBook which then gets picked up by a major market book publisher?

    What do you think "Fifty shades of grey" is?

    129:

    Last - AI on content creation. As has been pointed up before, the metastructures of most stories follows common patterns

    Assuming the common patterns ever get automated (which I think is a big stretch), then all that will happen is that the smart authors will take to innovating and pioneer new patterns. (Seriously, I don't do the Hero with a Thousand Faces. Because I don't believe in heroes -- they're an emergent side-effect of the bronze age warrior culture and the hagiography of violence: I vastly prefer to deal with ordinary people trying to do the right thing in circumstances where they have no divine right to rule or destiny to lead ...)

    130:

    Andy W: the UK epub edition is coming soon. It's just that trans-Atlantic disconnect I mentioned in this earlier blog entry. Go check Orbit's web site next week for more information.

    131:

    Bruce: you are familiar with the other Bruce's term for how you deal with book codes? "Rubber hose cryptanalysis."

    132:

    "John Dies At The End" by David Wong (pseudonym of Jason Pargin, founder of Cracked.com)

    -web series in 2001, small press hard copy 2007, republished by big firm 2009. Movie adaptation by Don (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) Coscarelli out this year, as is the sequel.

    Fun book - manages balance of cosmic horror & dick jokes nicely.

    133:

    No less a personage than Clifford D. Simak covered this in "So Bright The Vision," with Earth's sole trade good with the galaxy being pulp fiction, and authors being skilled operators of 'yarner' machines.

    134:

    but over time cinemas have faded away

    What? Figures have been roughly static for the last two decades, and I've seen other places that show pretty static figures since the mid '60s, with a big drop having been between 1956 and 1966.

    So, unless you're referring back to before Charlie was born, no, cinema attendance has not faded away. At least not in the US (figures come up first for the US) and not that I've noticed in the UK.

    135:

    If the e-reader logs book acccess times and pages looked at, then using it for book codes is significantly less secure than the paper version. (Added at preview: And if you hack the system so it doesn't log those things, you lose plausible deniability, leading to the rubber-hose cryptoanalysis Charlie mentioned.)

    136:

    Less obvious consequences:

    It is not just a young ladys illustrated primer, it is the ubiquitous availability of every bit of knowlege in the scientific and cultural canon. Cultural imperialism is one word for it, I suppose, but it goes both ways - The ongoing compression of all portable computing functionality into phones and the constant spread of said phones to every remote corner of the globe doesnt just mean that not only will people in the back of beyond be reading a lot, some of them will also be writing.
    (.. and I just had the image of Sarah Mbeke, 3 dollar-a-day farmer waking up one morning and finding several hundreds of thousands of dollars in her account because her comedy of manners poking fun at village life vent bat-shit viral) The future is going to have an absolutely enormous number of people who are part of the literate cultural circle.

    Hmm. Someone is going to exploit this to sort the slushpile somehow.

    137:

    Accurate text/speech interfaces might actually reduce literacy

    138:

    Bruce, you don't need sophisticated tools to do crypto, a deck of cards can be enought. And it's easy to destroy the key: shuffle the deck.
    As Charles might be aware, the other Bruce build such a cryptographic algorithm (Solitaire) for the Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon (It's called Pontiflex in the book).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solitaire_(cipher)

    139:

    By the way, what happen to ebooks pricing??
    Some months ago, it was almost the same price for pbooke and ebooks. Now, ebooks are about 30% cheaper that pbooks.
    Disclaimer: I do not look at a big sample so I'm not sure that's a real trend.

    140:

    Something as easy to pirate as ebooks cannot in the long term be sold at the same price as paper. I also seriously doubt that any will be sold for more than $5 in the near future without the ratio of pirated/bought going through the roof.

    141:

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned the one advantage that drove me (kicking and screaming, a bit) to e-books:

    Every book can be a large-type book.

    With eyesight failing me as I age, this is *huge*. I went nearly seven years without reading a single book for pleasure, because most of what I want to read is not available in large-type (and say what you will about audiobooks, I find the experience of listening to a book qualitatively different from the experience of reading one). Buying a Kindle was like getting my life back. I buy more books now than ever, all in digital format, and am gradually giving away my print library.

    142:

    Exceedingly unlikely. Reading is very easy to teach to the neurotypical, and has high utility, simply because it is faster. Heck, I expect that the I-Clone that winds up in the hands of the poor will quite rapidly acquire a quite sophisticated self-study course in literacy app.

    143:

    I have to agree. I noticed months ago that I can not read anything in a format smaller than trade paperback.

    144:

    IIRC, the Primer needed not just connectivity for new content supplied as the reader grew older but on-demand motion capture acting for prominent characters appearing in it.

    One thing I hopefully see coming is tax guides that hold your hand and submit the forms for you; we already have some self-calculating forms in interactive PDF.

    A way around the rights vetting for included media might leverage the EU's recent First Sale decision to create a pool of repurchased "used" digital works that already contain the licensed media you want to use for the dynamic e-content to pull from.

    A non-connected dynamic content idea: you can control what readers see/hear and for how long, so you can include fragmentary media in ways that the prevent the incompletion from nerfing the reader's experience. Similarly, caricatured or otherwise exaggerated images that can stand up for a few frames may be produced more quickly and cheaply than something that needs to withstand a more leisurely, Kubrickesque meditation.

    145:

    "Seriously, I don't do the Hero with a Thousand Faces. Because I don't believe in heroes -- "

    In this way you're also playing a game of neatly avoiding the dialectic. It stands out a lot more when you pitch in the sexy girls.

    146:

    I'm surprised you missed the comment @68 ...

    147:

    I completely get what you're saying about Joseph Campbell. But at the same time, I find it fascinating to see the knots people tie themselves into when trying to hack and chop and jam real-life events into their cultural narrative. The gap between observation and explanation... A child dies in a senseless tragedy. The atheist says "Damn, that's awful. What can we do to prevent a recurrence?" The believer says "It's all part of God's plan and he just called one of his angels home early." And the pedant points out angels and humans are not the same in any of the Abrahamic religions.

    I do find it funny how literary critics will on one hand condemn cliche and then on the other lambaste someone for not adhering to a classic, mythic form. Isn't that just a cliche by another name?

    148:

    Mythic forms exist and persist because they address something deep in the Human psyche. Star Wars is a classic example of such forms being used.

    149:

    Facebook hosts, among its 900 Billion+ users, many authors and editors, some of whom beta-test their fiction on the social network platform. LinkedIn groups include ones for novelists and editors who openly tweak each others; 20-word "elevator pitches" for their books. E-Book industries are revolutionary, and I follow the revolution on social networks. The fight is still (refereed by the iron laws of Economics) between:
    * Hackers Ethic: Information Wants to Be Free; and
    * Writers Ethic: Authors Want to Be Paid!

    150:

    @20:
    Have you ever asked yourself why you don't already see (static) ads in print books? ... A battle that was fought and won before I was born.
    --
    Signet and (if I remember right) Pinnacle had heavy cardboard ad inserts bound in until the late 1970s in the US market. Trying to remove them usually broke the spine of the book.

    I recently read two action-adventure novels by Brad Thor. They were adequately written, but they have some repetitive descriptions of products that straddle the divide between "authorial boilerplate" and "looks like paid inline advertising."


    @134:
    but over time cinemas have faded away

    What? Figures have been roughly static for the last two decades,
    --
    Cinemas are probably unevenly distributed, and likely concentrated on high-density urban areas. In the last 20 years, my local market has gone from six or seven to zero within about a 30 mile radius.

    They were a long time dying, even after most of them went to showing the same movie for a month at a time...

    We still a few bookstores left, in their "video store that has a few bestsellers" and "used romance exchange" incarnations.

    151:

    The Primer as presented required a human actor but part of that demand comes from the need for making her a real character who interacts with other charters across the world.

    The question comes back to how well an AI can simulate human interaction. And it doesn't have to fool 100% of the people 100% of the time. Right now the only way we can do it is with prerecording live actors, either in full-motion video or with recorded audio and motion capture to be animated within the game engine.

    Even if the responses are canned and prerecorded, people are primed to humanize things that they see, feel empathy. Voice synthesis has gotten good but we would need to model an emotion engine to go with it as well as a natural language interpreter.

    With something like this, you can have the characters leading a reader through a story and soliciting interaction. We know it can be done, it's just a question of cost.

    The current state of the art for computer RPG's is something like Skyrim, a solo play game. Despite how wonderful the world is, you still bang your head into the constraints of game design where everything is just prerecorded dialogue running on rails. It takes a lot of imaginative work on your part to sustain the illusion.

    MMORPG's are worse because they're just nasty time sinks that hand out fetch quests and force you to team up with groups to do it.

    An interesting new development is Day Z, a persistent world RPG zombie mod for ARMA2. No leveling, no grinding, no needing to play for a year before you can keep up with the big boys. You're dropped into a survival horror scenario. Your character has to eat and drink and avoid getting killed. You have to keep moving to look for food, medical supplies, weapons and ammunition. Your enemies are zombies, of course, and potentially other players, or you can partner up and work as a team.

    So rather than playing canned scenarios, the stories arise naturally. You need teamwork to hit the urban areas, weapons remain lethal, there are no saves so you have to keep on your toes. You die and you respawn practically naked.

    Now imagine a cooperative, persistent world game where the players are actually learning something as they play. D&D has been used as a way to make teaching math interesting since those skills otherwise feel pretty irrelevant to kids.

    Still, I find teaching games work best when the teacher and kids are in the same room. Teaching tech can often devolve into "Can I just sit the kid in front of it so I don't have to spend time interacting with him?" People have been throwing books at kids expecting magic long before they were throwing computers.

    152:

    There are still space for ads on the inside covers that would not be too obtrusive

    153:

    One thing is, I expect it to rescue what's left of the magazine business. A copy of the Economist that's in a dedicated e-reader but sells for the same price as the current paper magazine won't displace all the e-sales to people who current buy the mag to read on their phone or their Kindle or whatever; but it will create an assortment of value-added opportunities that make it an easier sales proposition than the paper magazine is.

    But people won't carry five dedicated e-readers - they want to read the magazine on their current ebook.

    My Economist subscription gets me a paper copy mailed to me every week; and free access to a full e-copy on my iPad / iPhone. It started as a website; then became a dedicated app; but since iOS5 it appears under the Newsstand app. The subscription comes in at an average cost of about half that of individually-bought magazines. I read a mix of ebook and dead tree depending on circumstance, but increasingly I read the e-copy.

    What will rescue the magazine industry is decent journalism. That's what I pay the money for - it doesn't cost the cover price of £4.20 to print the magazine, I'm paying to employ the journalists and prepare the content.

    154:

    I note that today's news is that Google's Nexus 7 will not be shipped with magazine subscriptions in the UK. They claim it is too difficult legally. Another segment of the old information industry employing lawyers to cut their throats for them.

    155:

    Yep. In rural places the cinema has vanished, sucked into the urban centres. This town (15K people and still growing gently) used to have a cinema, but that went some years ago. But that's similar to the way that village shops have been disappearing over the years - they too are being sucked out to the larger towns.

    But if you go look for figures for how many people go to the cinema each week, you'll find the results pretty stable. What has happened is that they're going to the multiplexes, where you need (for example) three people on the popcorn counter, 1 on the ticket desk, 3 clearing out auditoria and taking tickets, and 1 looking after the projectors, for a total of a dozen screens. Less than one person per screen, a staffing ratio that a single screen cinema cannot match.

    156:

    There's things that work because they are universal. People want love, they fear abandonment. Men will often resent their fathers. Fathers will despair of unworthy sons. Everyone fears aging and death. Everyone wonders if this is all there is, if there's anything more. We've all felt joy, sorrow, anger, love, lust, betrayal, etc. These are all quite human.

    But if you slavishly adhere to the monomyth, you end up in a straight-jacket. Departure, initiation, return, everything larded up with stock symbolism, etc. Even if you don't directly invoke the supernatural in the story with gods and goddesses, there's a formula you fall into that just becomes so boringly predictable. Our protagonist gets royally dicked over and wants revenge? That's human, that's relatable. But for the love of plot, please don't have him pick up a wise-cracking sidekick and the requisite love interest and then he and his opponent will invariably engage in single combat with the hero emerging victorious. But if you throw in a destiny-entanglement protocol and run the cliches through a wringer, that's fun.

    My personal definition: drama is where the writer is manipulating the hell out of you using every trick in the book but it's done so well that you aren't even aware of the craft, you are swept up in the story. Melodrama is where you see through the illusion and it all becomes crude puppetry with strings and seams showing, all forced and obvious.

    Of course, other definitions will differ. "Stephen Donaldson said that melodrama is when the role of hero, villain and victim remain static, and drama is when they don't." I like that.

    Other definitions say drama has realistic emotions and conflicts and melodrama just provides caricatures of emotions, everything turned up to 11, a thousand shades of gray posterized into black and white.

    157:

    I have paper books - recent ones - with adverts on the inside of the cover. But only for other books by the same author, which is a very different kettle of fish to general advertising.

    158:

    People telling variation on the story is how such mythology evolves. The variations that are not appealing get forgotten and the rest become the new cliche.

    On the downside, I remember a George Lucas interview about the upcoming Star Wars movie featuring the life of Darth Vader. He said he wanted to do a study in how someone is corrupted to evil. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) Schildler's List with Jarjar Binks does not work. In fact, those films are a study in how the corruption of excessive commercialism can ruin a serious intent.

    159:

    "a study in how someone is corrupted to evil" -- Harry Potter novels in Coruscant (originally called Notron, also known as Imperial Center or the Queen of the Core), meet Paradise Lost (the epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton). The latter was originally published in 1667 in ten e-books, with a total of over ten thousand individual lines of verse. A second edition followed in 1674, changed into twelve books (in the manner of the division of Virgil's Aeneid) with minor revisions throughout, a note on the versification, and more hotlinks. That Milton was a cyber-sophistcated time traveler is hinted at here:
    Paradise Lost, Book I, Lines 221-270 .... "Access denied; and overhead up-grew..."

    160:

    Interestingly, virtually all of modern mythology concerning Lucifer/Satan comes from Milton and Dante - not the bible. Which is probably news for a lot of Christians who think they know all about Satan.

    161:

    A chunk of it comes from Zoroastrianism's Angra Mainyu, too - the idea that Satan is a powerful evil which opposes god, as opposed to the "loyal opposition" of the Bible.

    162:

    What do you think "Fifty shades of grey" is?

    I thought it was the Scottish weather forecast.

    163:

    Dirk and Matthew are correct. Dante, full name Dante Alighieri (1265-1321): major poet of Italy
    One could claim that Dante Alighieri was the greatest science fiction/fantasy poet of all time (Divina Commedia), whose influence extends far beyond his country and his genre. This masterpiece was begun in 1307.
    Dante's e-book was originally simply titled Comedìa and was later christened Divina by Giovanni Boccaccio. The first printed edition to add the word divine to the title was that of the Venetian humanist Lodovico Dolce, published on a Vellum Kindle in 1555 by Gabriele Giolito de' Ferrari.
    The "seven circles of Hell" obviously refer to the Internet giant Google's first tablet model, the Nexus 7, compared to Amazon's Kindle Fire, or Windows 7, the current release of Microsoft Windows, a series of operating systems produced by Microsoft for use on personal computers. Or something.

    164:

    You win the internet

    165:

    And for bonus evil conspiracy points, a quote from my new book The Praxis:

    "The word (Transhumanism), or its close relative, the Italian verb “transumanare” or “transumanar” was used for the first time by Dante Alighieri (1265CE-1321CE) in the Divine Comedy. It means “go outside the human condition and perception” and in English could be “to Transhumanate” or “to Transhumanize”. "

    166:

    I think the Russian term "Thermorectal Cryptanalysis" sounds better. More professional.

    Also probably faster. :-)

    167:

    There are several areas in which a shift to e-books would cut a publisher's costs. Warehousing is expensive, and delivering an electronic file is far cheaper than shipping an order. An electronic delivery system imposes most of the burden on the purchaser, who has to fill in the order form and supply the credit card information. Once the purchaser has supplied the billing data, computers exchange information and, once the data are verified, charge the purchaser's account and credit the publisher. In a matter of seconds, the sale is approved and the electronic file is delivered to the customer. Once the file for an e-book is in the system and available for purchase, the publisher's fulfillment expenses drop considerably--no more order clerks, no more warehouse workers, no accountants. And if 'all sales are final', no more returns, which at least in the United States involve a sizable percentage of books sent from the warehouse and a considerable amount of personnel time.

    Many states in the US have an inventory tax, which imposes a cost on unsold books and encourages publishers to declare a title out of print and dispose of unsold inventory.

    The savings in printing and binding costs, although minimal per copy, would be substantial in the aggregate.

    And further, the publisher can reach the purchaser directly and use information on past purchases to notify a customer of new titles of interest. No more bookstores, no sales force, ads delivered directly to likely customers. Even libraries could be circumvented by making a title available for rent for a limited amount a time, with perhaps an option to buy built in.

    In terms of a publisher's bottom line, the question must be Why physical books still exist?

    168:

    What's the difference between a book, a movie, or a TV show? Partly content, but also largely distribution means and methods. If fairly arbitrary media can be embedded in a book (and it can, see Apple's iBooks Author, I'm sure others will follow suit sooner or later), then the lines of content types soften quite a bit between different media.

    The format of a book is historically determined by technology (printing and binding methods) and economics (size, distribution means, marketability, etc). If you change the tech then the other has to adjust to fit. Through fits and starts, company failures, and new company starts too. The usual creative destruction in other words.

    What we call a book in a decade will be very different from a bound pages of static text. Automatic updates, video, animations, and many other active elements will be present. The long-term result might be something like in Stephenson's "Diamond Age".

    169:

    Or a movie with subtitles

    170:

    ...thereby depriving their friends of the hot tip.

    If you know what I mean... *wink wink nudge nudge*

    (sorry, I am a bad person)

    171:

    Every book can be a large-type book.

    Why couldn't you use a simple magnifying lens?

    172:

    Or two of them, one over each eye, maybe attached by the nose and ears. I think I'll patent the idea.

    173:

    One major difference between the two formats that I didn't see addressed in comments yet: Gifting.

    You can wrap an ebook and give it to someone as a gift. It's a lot harder to wrap up an electronic file in pretty paper. And for many of those who like to give and receive gifts, the act of unwrapping the physical object is a very important part of the experience.

    And a sizable chunk of book sales happen around the holidays, so book giving is a significant part of the market.

    Although I'm sure Apple/Amazon will someday roll out a feature where you can have a customized gift card mailed to you that has an unlock code inside for the ebook you've bought, but for some people, that's never going to be quite the same thing.

    174:

    "In terms of a publisher's bottom line, the question must be Why physical books still exist?"

    Because they're still profitable. Yes, dealing with paper objects is more inconvenient and expensive, but there's still a large demand for them, and there's already a fully evolved system for dealing with the expenses and inconveniences of paper.

    As to why they're still profitable, well, first, and most obviously, there's a still-large population of book buyers who are not comfortable with technology, who are resisting transitioning to ebooks with all their might.

    Second, there are all kinds of readers who prefer paper books to e-books for all kinds of reasons. Many people like to *see* their possessions; if they read, they like to have bookshelves full of the books they've bought and read. Other readers are strongly touch-oriented, and find the physical sensations of reading a paper book vastly preferable to those of reading words on a screen. As I mentioned in my previous comment, ebooks make lousy gifts because you can't wrap them.

    And finally, while e-readers are the size they are, paper books can be any physical size desired, from the tiny editions of Beatrix Potter that are sized for a child's hands, to giant coffee table books that are too big to lift. A paper book of infographics can be big enough to read the fine print without pinch-zooming, and a paper child's book can be small enough for a five year old to cradle in her palm.

    In short, almost all of the reasons for paper books continuing to exist have to do with their physicality. The tech-oriented online community tends to see that physicality as a bug, but it's actually a feature.

    175:

    Unfortunately Rx's change and it can be very expensive to keeping getting new specs, especially bifocals. If you only need cheap $2 reading glasses, then that is different. But even reading glasses may not help. If they were sufficient who would buy magnifying lenses to do delicate work on small objects..like fly tying...or reading small print books. ;)

    176:

    On a similar note, I just ran through the Apocalypse Codex (to cite a random book) on my iPhone, and it had a couple of good, or perhaps bad, features.

    The good part was that I could fiddle with the font, contrast, and color. When I was having a bit of trouble with the glare, I decreased the contrast, and then finally changed it to white words on a black screen (which, incidentally, is a really cool way to read Bob Howard's adventures--very 80s). Then, when my eyes got tired, I bumped the font size up until they weren't bothered anymore.

    Now, this wasn't all good. In a paper book, when I'm reading late at night and my eyes start watering, I put the book down and go to sleep. With the iPhone, I just kept fiddling with it until I finished the story, sometime in the small hours of the morning. Thanks for ruining my sleep, Charlie!

    177:

    My eyes are +1 and -1.
    However, for close up electronics work I actually buy cheapo +4 glasses just to use as magnifying glasses

    178:

    or a movie with subtitles

    Or several generations of subtitles. I have had the misfortune of watching Japanese manga that had been dubbed into English, with decent subtitles in Japanese (possibly a transcription of the original). Then Chinese subtitles added by someone who nearly understood Japanese. Then someone who more or less understood Chinese added Vietnamese subtitles, and possibly the same person added English subtitles. Either way, we had ~1/2 of the screen covered in four rows of subtitles that changed at different times. And the "english" subtitles did not match the english dialog. Although since I was the only watcher (out of 3 english speakers) who noticed that the dialog was in english perhaps that's not surprising.

    My expectation is that it will take some time to go beyond the two main physical formats we currently have - writing and talkies. I expect to see photorealistic animation/CGI long before I see a new format, and would not be at all surprised to find that the next "new" format is actually a computer game engine presenting an interactive fiction experience not based on crime. Perhaps taking "the Sims" or "Myst" and extending it using a "story generating engine". Doing that well will be a novel art form.

    The one thing I think we might get soonish is augmented reality games based on a working version of the google glass idea. But expect to see some "funny" hacks of those games used to get players to do frankly insane things. The more immersive the game is the easier it will be to get players to walk off cliffs or punch policemen. It's easy enough now to use a GPS unit to do those things, wait until there's a more inviting target and I'm sure my ideas will be the polite end of the spectrum.

    179:

    There was (IIRC) an Asimov story about a future where everything was onscreen, and an inventor had to be suppressed to stop his clever idea from becoming popular. His scheme was to photograph the screens and tie all the prints together thereby circumventing all rights.

    180:

    Moz @178: "But expect to see some "funny" hacks of those games used to get players to do frankly insane things. The more immersive the game is the easier it will be to get players to walk off cliffs or punch policemen."

    While otherwise a somewhat unremarkable movie "Eagle Eye" tries to show that reality can already be manipulated by low latency systems in a crude way. The AI depicted might seem a little ridiculous, given the way that current "AIs" fail to meet minimum context awareness requirements.

    BUT: Just take a look at how enslaved stock traders have become to their high frequency trading systems. No AIs to be sure (unless you consider heuristic combined with highly optimized but still primitive genetic algorithms AI), but each company would be crazy to turn off their own, unless the others all did the same (and no cheating) the same usecond.

    These systems are not science fiction. They have been around for years, and they do a lot of damage in the "real" world.

    181:

    Oh, and no, highly optimized genetic algorithms isn't an oxymoron.

    182:

    I think most of the fundamental changes from a publisher's perspective will be in two areas: content and marketing

    Since ebooks are cheap portable computers with capabilities that are quickly landing somewhere between Bova's CYBERBOOKS and Stephenson's A YOUNG LADY'S ILLUSTRATED PRIMER, publisher's will have the ability to offer some truly innovative interactive-media "books". As tools to build these mixed-media books get cheaper the cost should stabilize to some greater than 1X multiplier of the cost of a text-only book. So we can expect to still see lots of traditional text only novels. Mixed-media books will likely invade several "high value" book areas: education, "coffee table" books, non-fiction of all kinds (imagine what you could do with a biography or a science fact book), pop-culture books, and the like. The mixed media stuff will be all over the map in terms of formats and platform requirements until it finally stabilizes into a few "winning" formats/platforms. Apple has already pointed the way with both their extended iBook formats and Apps-as-encapsulated-media approach.

    So some content is going to look very much like we see today with the rest looking like interactive web-ish hypermedia. Basically, it means the Publishers will need more people to edit/review/beta-test their multi-books, with the result being higher overhead on those types of books.

    Marketing is the one I'm having a hard time envisioning. What will replace wandering the stacks in a bookstore? More emphasis on word of mouth? Free samples? Algorithmic matching ala Amazon's "if you liked that, then you will probably like this" suggestive selling? Social media campaigns?

    I see various publishers/destributors trying all these things and more with both physical books and ebooks. I just don't see that it has stabilized yet. It all seems very ad-hoc at this point. The marketing model for ebooks hasn't emerged yet. I'm not sure how long it will take ebook marketing to settle into a standard approach.

    183:

    There are a few things you might like to do with hypertext in ebooks that are awkward in print. One is more gracefully providing a way to have extended sidebars on various topics without disrupting the narrative (for fiction) or argument (for non-). Or conversely, for long works (like the Baroque cycle) making some of the less essential digressions easier to skip. Non-fiction could also easily find a use for bundled source materials, interactive graphics, etc.

    (This is a minor hot-button for me because some of my favorite recent reads were edited down for length to meet production requirements, and I would have liked to read more. The published version of Gene Kranz's memoir --- he being the real guy in the white vest from Apollo 13, flight director behind the desk for the Apollo 11 landing, etc., etc. --- was apparently cut down from a rather longer submitted ms., which in turn was derived from multiple interviews Kranz did of his old colleagues from back in the day. I'm perfectly prepapred to believe that almost all of this is technical and mostly of interest to moderately hardcore space geeks --- but being one of those, I'd kind of like to see it.)

    184:

    at the minute Im playingg the secret world, its fairly pretty
    but its not all kill stuff, there are investigation missions, where you have to use the games inbuilt browser to look for clues,
    and it seems to be set CNG as well

    185:

    Roughly on the subject of auto-generated books - DARPA's funding a Wikipedia-writing machine.

    186:

    One other thing you could do with hyperlinked text is have multiple story streams depending on choices the characters make.

    187:

    As someone who works in (mainly academic) library supply I have to say - things are a lot more complicated than that. Libraries are increasingly buying e-books but the rights issues are fiendish, especially if you're selling them cross-border and there are often multiple formats - I've seen as many as six I think, usually various multiple user - and in a sense the libraries lease these books rather than own them. That said, academic libraries are still very conservative. Lots of them will buy both print & e-books. This may change in the future but I think libraries, whose raison d'etre is essentially the conservation of information, are still a little suspicious of not having a physical copy of the book.

    188:

    One drawback of current ereader implementations (or possibly ebook standard) is the loss of back cover. I have a library of about 300 ebooks (bought a lot at once when I found Baen ebookstore) and it's hard to decide what book to read next.
    With paper books I can easily read and compare back covers - something that's difficult to do with ebooks I already own.

    189:

    And finally, while e-readers are the size they are, paper books can be any physical size desired, from the tiny editions of Beatrix Potter that are sized for a child's hands, to giant coffee table books that are too big to lift. A paper book of infographics can be big enough to read the fine print without pinch-zooming, and a paper child's book can be small enough for a five year old to cradle in her palm.

    And, related to the children issue, paper books are expendable. If they get dropped into the bath, covered in food, hurled across the room, left on a bus etc, then at worst you lose one book worth a few pounds, not an e-reader worth fifteen or twenty times as much.

    190:

    Moz: I seem to recall reading a book about such games called, oh, what was it, something like "Halting State" ...

    191:

    My big cousin (I only have one who fits that description in height or age) and her husband are both qualified opthalmologists (USianism used advisedly). Sight corrective spectacles and contact lenses can do much more than just magnify. For example, they can correct each eye by a different magnification, correct squint, correct astigmatism, correct barrel distortion, correct pincushioning, and even do 2, 3 or all 4 of these at once.

    Of course, this doesn't address the base idea of using a magnifier on vector printed media. It won't work nearly as well matric printed, even if the matrix is several hundred dops per linear inch.

    192:

    I've got a notion of having read a book like that too, possibly by someone called "Char Les Stross" or something similar.

    193:

    All these extras go counter to the trend of reducing human costs, all these bells and whistles cost money because it takes human effort to add these features, but people are less willing to pay in electronic formats, so expect to see only the things that can be crowdsourced or externalized by the producer actually come to fruition.

    194:

    Charlie: Seriously, I don't do the Hero with a Thousand Faces.

    I read that and tried to count up the number of times you've sent Bob Howard into an Underworld to confront the villain. Depends on how you count, but it seems to happen pretty often. You try to avoid the "divine right of kings" stuff, but you use the formulas when they suit you (which is not an insult).

    You do tend to cast Bob in the damsel role as often as the hero role at the climax, though.

    Warning: The next paragraph is may contain spoilers for anyone who hasn't read the file for GOD GAME RAINBOW, which leaked to the commercial press as "The Apocalypse Codex".

    Bob's new assignment, and new magic, suggest that in any further adventures he'll behave in a more traditionally heroic manner. Less bureaucracy, which is to say less compromising with other people's interests, and more superpowered monster fighting.

    195:

    Multiple commentators have brought up hypertext branching narratives -- how do you handle those psychologically? I don't know how many readers would be like me, but I get agitated by all the branches existing out there and feel compelled to take all of them -- agitation might be too strong a word, but the wrong user interface would acerbate it. User interfaces are hard. really hard. If those types of stories are implanted in anything with a mouse where I have to click blue links I will go ape-shit.

    being as I am not small furry creature from Alpha Centauri I'm willing to bet that my reactions might generalize to a lot of users.

    ok back to user interface obsession and other comments... footnotes, errata, etc. Those will be more awesome when the user experience is improved. How much do you like the state of the art in web sites that do that? needs work. the ajaxy window pop up of images, for example, is not so bad. anything where I have to click and it takes me to a different page is teeth grinding.

    kindle is yay, but I don't have a touch screen one, maybe those are better, but the footnote interface sucks. I like reading paper Pratchetts more than ebook ones because the footnotes are easier.

    Maybe I sound really nit-picky but this is important stuff when you are designing peak reading experience. book footprint aside, the perfect reading chair doesn't exist yet. much less ereader hardware and software.

    sometimes people go make these things just because they wish they existed to use. I am a programmer and I keep thinking in the back of my head how I would make the perfect ebook browsing experience -- but that stuff is really hard to do right. I don't know that I'd ever get it. I really really really wish someone would do that so that I can use it. I'm lazy.

    196:

    Paras 1 and 2 - I'm not sure about in a "normal book", but yes you would sometimes try deliberately making different decisions in the Fighting Fantasy books, just to see how different branches worked out.

    197:

    I see that John Scalzi is releasing an episodic series of e-books, a format that would probably work poorly in print.

    198:

    That may be true now; I suspect that Charles Dickens would disagree with the base premise.

    199:

    Dickens was writing in a world without quality paperbacks, so the serialized novel was a sensible market category. Now, not so much.

    Also, what Scalzi is writing isn't a novel.

    200:

    I used to enjoy writing poetry and putting it online, and when gopher game out I thought it was amazing and I wanted to make experiments with linked text going everywhere and then slowly came to realize how annoying it could be.

    I think I like the idea of doing it more than actually doing it.

    201:

    One of the things that turns me off ebooks (besides reading ragged Times New Roman as the default) is the way they handle, or don't handle, footnotes. When I published the ebook version of my first novel, I had to edit out the footnotes because of the way most ereaders chew them up. If our shinny techno book can't figure out a way to integrate a typographic innovation invented 1000 years ago by a bunch of drunk Irish monks, it isn't all that futuristic, now is it?

    I look at ebooks and see the potential for what they could be, but at this point they're mostly just gussied up WYSIWYG displays for text files. Technologically speaking, they're at the level of parchment scrolls. And clearly there's a market for selling scrolls far and wide. That hasn't changed since ancient times.

    But wake me when we get the illuminated Manuscript stage, then they'll be interesting.

    202:

    A point that was raised in a comment on another blog (can't remember now where I found it): when I was a kid, I could buy books on my own; all I had to do was go into a bookstore with cash. Today, as we still have some local bookstores, my kids can do the same with pbooks, but if they want an ebook, I have to buy it for them. They don't have credit cards; they're not old enough to legally agree to terms of use; it's questionable whether they can have their own account at an ebookstore even if I'm paying for the books or buying them gift certificates. And if the book is on my account, is it even legal for me to transfer it over to them when they turn 18 and want to have access to their childhood favorites?

    Does this change how publishers market children's and YA books, or did publishers in these markets already assume that the book purchases were parent-driven?

    203:

    Oh crap. I hadn't thought about the parental audit trail. It seems so obvious now that you mention it. When I was a kid I was afraid of getting in trouble for reading A Brief History of Time, so I hid it from my parents. A kid who reads ebooks would have a lot more trouble doing that...

    unless I'm underestimating kids. I guess it might be easier than I think for someone growing up these days to find skills to hide files from their parents.

    204:

    Ps. I grew up in a pentecostal-type denomination.

    205:

    FWIW it's been over 5 years since the credit card companies openly declared they could not be used as age verification services, prompting the death or rebranding of the multiple online adult networks that used the line "we need to be sure you're an adult" to persuade credit card details from it's users. The reason, of course was that they wanted to release card lines directed towards minors. Not being a parent, I know little more about that endeavour but I imagine they're out there.

    206:

    An analogy: Dickens is to magazine serials as Stephen King is to Riding the Bullet -- his e-book novella.

    207:

    You are inadvertently "teaching a granny to suck eggs". My father was an optician (UK) and I have different corrections for each eye on my specs.

    My point was that these corrections keep changing, even at my age. In the US, each new pair of specs costs upward of $300 (at least that is what I buy), so I try to minimize changes to every few years. However, the result is that my reading gets more difficult until I get new ones.

    In practice, the real difficultly I have is reading small print of materials for DIY projects, seeing exactly where a screw is, etc, etc. I find that I increasingly need strong light to illuminate work (and books) and sometimes a lens to magnify details to see what I am doing. I sometimes wonder if I shouldn't get those magnifying lenses for specs that jewelers still use.

    208:

    I always wondered about the type of person who would hand over their credit card details to a porn company. Handing over someone else's I can understand.

    209:

    One possibility for ebooks would be to arrange narrative tracks for all the characters, not just whoever is Point of View for the scene, so you could follow your favorite character (except that Rowling would _still_ botch every scene with Snape, grr. Ahem).

    As for other tracks, my son was addicted to Choose Your Own Adventure paperbacks (which wore out rather quickly due to the turning of pages back and forth trying to follow the decision points). I tried my hand at an interactive Regency romance (which can be viewed at www.gameoflove1.com - please don't laugh at the webpage itself, we all start somewhere...). I began with a huge piece of butcher paper to flowchart it, wrote all the scene summaries on index cards suitably numbered, and with previous/next scene indicator so I wouldn't become totally lost, and then just whaled away at the narration. I set up a donation page and Paypal menu, for people who never came, alas. But interactive fiction can be for more than just fantasy.

    210:
    Multiple commentators have brought up hypertext branching narratives -- how do you handle those psychologically? I don't know how many readers would be like me, but I get agitated by all the branches existing out there and feel compelled to take all of them -- agitation might be too strong a word, but the wrong user interface would acerbate it.

    I get that kind of agitation from "choose-your-own ..." type narratives, in which the choice of text you read determines what end to the story you see. I don't get it nearly so much if the piece is structured so that there are multiple narratives, each offering one perspective on a single series of events, and you can choose which to read, and in which order, without the odd sense that you might be making "the wrong choice".

    (A few examples: "An Instance of the Fingerpost", by Iain Pears, with four narrators describing the same crime; "The Last Colony" and "Zoe's Tale", by Scalzi, which describe the same events from very different points of view; also "The Thorn and the Blossom", by Theodora Goss, which is a romance in two parts, one from each character's POV. All published in paper, BTW, though the packaging of the Goss is... unusual. But hypertext allows more scope for these sorts of experiments.)

    211:
    I always wondered about the type of person who would hand over their credit card details to a porn company. Handing over someone else's I can understand.

    Tend to agree but I am given to understand that there are such things as anonymous credit cards albeit pre-pay ones and as long as you only ever load them using cash in say a random petrol station, you'll remain reasonably anonymous unless you become a, ah, target, erm, person of interest.

    That said, years ago I worked for a porn company who where running 0898 phone lines. The owner started with 6 answer machines in a garage in Saffron Walden and when I left in 1998 his company was worth 340 million. In the UK at least premium rate services are a licence to print money in as much as BT pays you whether or not the subscriber can pay his phone bill or not. In other countries that's not always the case.

    Doing the maintance & backups in the live chat area was something of an experience though.

    212:

    Tip jars - I can see having a button at the bottom of each page that tips the author 5 cents every time you tap it and confirm. If you really liked that page, you throw the author a nickle. Perhaps this is an alternative to buying the book, or a suppliment, or something in between. This would have the dual function of showing support for the author, while also giving the author data on which parts of the book performed the best. This kind of micro data would allow authors to understand their audences. The consequences for the artistic integrity of the process could go either way, I suppose.

    And of course there would be security problems to deal with and the general hassle of micropayments, but I think it could be possible in the long run.

    213:

    The notion of hypertext narrative and branching plotlines have been explored rather a lot over the last couple of decades; it's usually called "interactive fiction" (that makes a good google search for the topic). One of its ancestors is Zork and similar adventure games, another is the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, and another is experimental drama, in which branch points and character attributes can change from one performance to another.

    There's now a standard software tool for creating Zork-like interactive fictions called Inform. Last year I spent some time experimenting with it to see if I could create an interactive exploration of basic geometry. It was partly successful; the downside was the work I would have had to do to let it connect with a geometry environment so the user could see the graphical view of the geometry being explored.

    My point is that hypertext and branching are much more powerful and flexible tools than they may seem at first, and allow the creation of more than one kind of dynamism in more than one kind of text (i.e., many different kinds of fiction, non-fiction, presentation, etc.).

    214:

    That one is very important. A gaming company I patronize has very sensible ebook policy, but if you pay for a book it has to go to your account and your email address. Similarly, if you don't have a credit card you are SOL for buying electronic products (they may have added PayPal recently, and PayPal may allow you to connect an account to a bank account without first providing a credit card, but I am not sure of either). Not to mention that tangible gifts, or experiences, feel more fun to this writer ...

    215:

    Yes, PayPal will let you connect to a bank account without a credit card, though you have to do a bit of bureaucratting to do it--for a long time, I had mine connect to my personal checking, because then I had to _think_ about what I was going to buy on Ebay (probably a good idea anyway, considering some of the little gems that pop up in Rare Books).

    216:

    Um, no, I don't think so. I don't think preparing color illos for pre-ebook is more expensive than B&W. It's certainly not harder to prepare color illustrations for the web than B&W -- perhaps it's easier (B&W requiring an additional conversion step for most photos these days).

    Having a lot of illustrations at all potentially costs more to prepare. But it depends on the topic and the author; the fact that it doesn't cost more to publish seems potentially significant still.

    217:

    Um, $1 is more than one mostly makes from an MMPB, last I checked.

    I don't think much more than $3 cover price is viable for mass market; much above that and piracy is more attractive, and the prices of legal free-market books are in the $1 to $5 range (not through traditional publishers).

    218:

    I currently participate in all forms of legal ebook lending (library and kindle/nook), and right now they all come with option to buy when the loan is over (or, to be honest, even before the loan is over).

    219:

    Some of these are already there in some form, but I think they need to be more specific. Some of these were probably there but I missed them.

    The cost of keeping backlist in print goes way down. The lack of need for physical stock means everything is really available. Which, between them, mean the "can't find book 1 of the series" problem goes away.

    I think a lot of sales, especially of "bestsellers", are to people who find them adequate and need to kill some time. I think ebooks will (gradually) move the market towards people reading more stuff they really like and less stuff they find adequate.

    Sizes can vary more (though prices need to seem fair to readers). Big books don't overflow the wire rack pockets. Small books don't look skinny.

    Cover art will matter a lot less, as far fewer books are bought because they "caught your eye" (instead they have to catch your mind). This could result in cost savings.

    Returns become a non-issue. Sell-through stops being a vital statistic.

    Unfilled demand becomes a non-issue.

    Venues to host book-related events in cities will go away as brick-and-mortar retail locations die off. (There are still libraries, though, and perhaps coffee shops and bars could pick up the business.)

    220:

    One example of multiple unreliable/inconsistent narrative is In A Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, which was filmed by Akira Kurosawa as Rashōmon.

    I'm not sure that all the ebook trickery would add anything to the story.

    221:

    Um, $1 is more than one mostly makes from an MMPB, last I checked.

    Yes, but one used to sell a metric fuckton of them, in a market where there was no competition from $0.99 self-published fanfic.

    There are only so many book-buying-and-reading members of the public and they only have so many hours a week for reading. I reckon it's very hard to grow the fiction market in absolute terms because reading is a rivalrous use of your time -- you can't easily do other things while reading a book.

    So: cheaper ebooks and more titles on the market means less moneyper author overall. Of course, we've got a non-normal distribution of popularity/income so it'll still be okay for those at the top. But if you're not at the top of the curve, but somewhere in the shoulder, it's going to hurt ...

    222:

    Change the shape of the whole game? Well, extrapolating from Nick Carr's book "The Shallows", ebooks represent The End Of Civilisation As We Know It.

    That's not the "end of civilisation" full stop, just the current dominant Western civilisation which tries to be (note that: not is, tries to be) one of scientific inquiry, rational discourse, and written laws and values. And "we" is everyone whose habits were formed before the Internet and especially the Web, so predominantly middle aged and older.

    Carr's thesis (massively simplifying) is that brains change, even in adulthood, and the nature of our information tools changes both the way we think and how are brains are wired. Since Gutenberg the brains of the leaders of western culture/civilisation have been formed by reading books: long books, complex books, books read without interruption. These ways of thinking predominate at the top and trickled down as books became widespread.

    Change to ebooks and Internet style reading, and the brains and way of thinking of the entire population change.

    223:
    Cover art will matter a lot less, as far fewer books are bought because they "caught your eye" (instead they have to catch your mind). This could result in cost savings.

    Cover art as it currently exists will change - but it's still going to matter.

    I spend a chunk of my time in the e-commerce world helping folk optimise their stores. I can tell you that those little photo next to products *really* matter in converting folk. I don't see why ebooks are going to be different from any other product.

    224:

    The ebook cover illo change has already happened. Look for shorter titles and larger, more prominent text on book covers, so that titles and author names are legible on a small iconified cover.

    225:
    I don't think much more than $3 cover price is viable for mass market; much above that and piracy is more attractive, and the prices of legal free-market books are in the $1 to $5 range (not through traditional publishers).

    I think piracy being more attractive is a bit of a red herring.

    For example the software world has been making a profit despite massive piracy over a very wide price range for many years. Just because some people will pirate at some price points doesn't mean there isn't a profit to be made.

    If I was a betting man I'd say that what we'll see in a few years is a much wider pricing range as more people switch mental models from "Paying X for a book - no matter what the book" to paying for perceived value received.

    For example a couple of days back I happily paid about £9 for OGH's latest via jumping through the magic hoops to make a US Kindle purchase because I wanted it now. I could have saved a fiver by waiting a couple of weeks for the UK release (indeed - I have a preorder still waiting). I could have saved £9 by spending sufficient time with some torrent sites.

    But it was more than worth the money to get a book that I knew I would enjoy in my hands right this second to offset the remarkably shitty mood I was in at the time. I wouldn't have felt hard done by if it had been £15.

    For some author I'd never heard of, whose quality of work I wasn't 95% sure of, that would not have happened.

    I'm guessing the amount of money I spend on books is going to vary a lot more in a few years time. From a few pence to free for some author my social network has never heard of, to my £15 monthly subscription my four author bundle full-book+early-manuscript-release feed from Orbit (which is discounted from the original £20 due to the number of people who've subscribed via my affiliate link), right up to the £90 limited release paper folio set that I've been saving up for.

    That is, I imagine, going to make life suck even more for new authors - but it might make the midlist life a little easier... dunno.

    226:

    I reckon it's very hard to grow the fiction market in absolute terms because reading is a rivalrous use of your time -- you can't easily do other things while reading a book.

    Might be worth considering revisions to the model to change that. Audio books, shorter volumes, commuter friendly chunking, etc. - because I doubt that the market is going to be viable without an expansion in 'reader' numbers. eBooks are going to push down unit prices (whatever authors and publishers might like), prices are settling at sub-paperback levels. Given that people are getting disenchanted with TV there IS the potential, but I doubt it will be pure text based.

    227:

    Audio books are likely to be an increasingly large market. However, the real revolution will start when an ebook is bundled with a text to speech app almost as good as a voice actor (or several of them). This will probably require eBooks to be rewritten more like a radio script.

    228:

    Totally agree on the footnotes. EPUB 3 offers the ability, implemented on the new Apple iBooks app, to display footnotes as pop-up boxes. However, that depends on complicated HTML coding that InDesign doesn't yet emit. The real footnote problem is that on non-touch ereaders, such as previous models of Kindle, navigating to the footnote marker is a ridiculous inconvenience with the little joystick.

    229:

    Here's something publishers (and authors) need to think about: There's an incredible amount of branding in a p-book that is totally lost on an e-book.

    Whenever you look at a pbook, you see the cover. With the title. And the author's name. And whenever you put down or pick up the pbook, you look at it.

    Contrast that to your Kindle, which bears an advertisement on the cover for a local massage emporium, and when you power on turns directly to the page you're reading.

    On every page of a p-book, you'll find either the title or the author's name. On an ebook page: nada. A friend just recommended a book she is reading on her Kindle -- but she couldn't remember the title or the author. Major branding fail!

    What to do? For the next e-book I'm publishing, I'm experimenting with creating a graphic to go above each chapter heading, which will be basically be the book cover, featuring the author and the title. The result will be a slight increase in production time, and a slight increase in file size (and resulting slight increase in the percentage of sales price that Amazon keeps), but I'm hoping the result will be better branding. And not be too obtrusive.

    230:

    My first job was as audio equipment maintenance engineer for a company that created teaching tapes. I've spent a lot of time watching voice artists in the studio. Voice work is another one of those skills that is much harder than it appears to the casual observer.

    Even one person reading a text is much more work than you would expect. There is a reason they use skilled actors to do voice work for animated films. Don't expect the creation of audio books to be automated anytime soon.

    231:

    Yes, the book's metadata and it placement on the cover and on the spine is the result of centuries of refinement by publishers in the Commonwealth and the US.

    You notice this when you look at books published in other languages, in "their" countries. Their visible metadata is less consistent than those from the Anglo-saxon universe.

    The biggest upcoming ebook change I see (and I hope it will be sooner than later) has to do with giving the equivalent to a book's spine. You're doing it by repeating nearly all of the metadata in chapter headings. I hope some will try repeating portions of it on each page while others will force the e-stores to carry virtual spines.

    232:

    By "anytime soon" I assume you mean the next 5 years. However, it was once said that computers would never be able to sing convincingly. Now we have Hatsune Miku and friends.

    233:

    True, but my own experience (and that of other regular readers - defining such as people who read more than 10 books per year) is that they tend to buy books to add to their 'to-read' pile. And sometimes books sit in that to-read pile for years (the Waterstones 3-for-2 was my Achilles Heel, as I could only ever find 2 books at any one time that I wanted to get, and invariably picked a 3rd because it 'looked interesting'...).

    Arguably, cheap e-books make this impulse-buy behaviour even easier than before. It is certainly true in my own case, even where we are talking about situations where a paperback is €12 and equivalent Kindle is €8. I've picked up a number of €2 books on the 'give-it-a-shot' principle. The now-common practice of offering free samples of the first few chapters has only reinforced this behaviour, for me.

    Our reading time isn't elastic, but our choice selection (and purchasing volume) arguably increasingly is as price-points come down.

    234:

    I've been looking into Vocaloid lately. My impression at this point is that it takes a lot of skill and effort to produce a convincing performance.

    Once a suitably talented person has made the effort to become a skilled singer they can perform a wider range of musical effects on demand in response to a musical score. In just the same way I've seen skilled actors give different readings of a scene so as to produce a very different emotional reaction from an audience.

    Whether we are dealing with music, reading a story, writing a story, or whatever, I view the human in the feedback loop as the essential ingredient. That is as true of someone using Vocaloid as any other way of producing a vocal track.

    235:

    (?private) National lending library

    236:

    True, but I have just been listening to a speech to text app that is *almost* good enough to read a story to me. I would say that the best TTS programs are 95% there. That other 5% will be difficult but passing a Turing Test for speech is rather close IMHO.

    238:

    The future is not what they said it would be. Before anybody said E-BOOK, it was said that books on computers would be so cheap that the cost of them would drop, a lot. No paper or ink cost, no printing cost, no shipping cost and no publishing or recall of books that did not sell. Book stores would download books and even print them in the store for those who wanted something to hold. Books would be so cheap, so many would sell that everybody would be be much better off.
    How did so many people get it wrong about simple costs? I wonder, back then the word business was made up of small companies. Now its folded into a few big corporations. That also make dumb movies and records. Maybe that is the difference somehow.
    Prices were once the cost plus %10. Not long ago it went to free market pricing. Prices were raised till sales dropped. Then everything jumped in price. Maybe that’s at work here.

    239:

    It's early days, and the future is not clear.
    For example, nobody knows where the optimum prices points for paper and eBooks lie, especially with respect to piracy, print on demand and self publishing. Even the idea of an eBook is perhaps a temporary aberration, like the idea of the mobile phone merely being a mobile phone.

    240:

    Take a look at the Top 100 paid Kindle books. In particular the prices.

    The rise of the E. L. James's points out what's happening. New authors are positioning their price points below £5 and are getting sales - sometimes lots of sales. If you accept that 'total available reader hours' is currently capped, that drives out readers (and purchases) of the higher priced books.

    It's akin to the latest movie blockbuster DVD being priced at £10, whilst the arthouse film is at £30 - we know what happens, arthouse doesn't pay the bills.

    Frankly, it's moving faster than I thought it would. Despite the publishers trying to push prices for new ebooks to £10-15 the market is saying the price is £5 and down. If your current workflow model can't work at that level, the time to change it is now.

    241:

    I'm thinking that a startup that can do 'good enough' audio book creation using T2S, maybe with some tweaking of emotional content by SE slave labour, can make some real money (until the T2S is perfected and sold to all).

    All it needs to be is 'good enough' - and I've heard some pretty good examples.

    242:

    Books would be so cheap, so many would sell that everybody would be be much better off. How did so many people get it wrong about simple costs?

    Because they had no idea what they were talking about. The word "book" refers to two different things: a physical artefact (printed sheets of paper stitched or glued between card covers) and a large structured document. The production costs of the physical artefact are already far lower than most people imagine; the production costs of the latter (the information content) are very hard to reduce without also sacrificing quality. Finally, the cost structure of the book trade is dominated by the distribution chain for the physical artefacts, which sucks up around 75% of the money the customer pays ... but the distribution chain is where the customers go to find new content!

    It turns out to be harder than anyone imagined to market ebooks direct to the public and achieve any degree of market penetration. Small specialist publishers (Baen, O'Reilly, etc) do this very well, but a big general publisher that tries to do this will find itself competing with its existing supply chain, and things will turn very nasty indeed. (This is why you can't buy ebooks direct from the Big Six: they're terrified that if they start selling direct, B&N, Amazon, WalMart and so on will cut them off at the knees.)

    243:

    Note that the UK Kindle price for "The Apocalypse Codex" will be £4.49. For a release from a Big Six publisher, that's really aggressive pricing. (Yes, there is DRM on it -- it's from Orbit, who haven't yet dropped the DRM habit -- but it's still cheap.)

    ...

    Incidentally, my editors told me to keep a lid on this particular piece of news until tomorrow, but in view of the fact that it's already visible on amazon.co.uk if you go there:

    The release date for the UK ebook of "The Apocalypse Codex" has been brought forward to July 9th, i.e. tomorrow.

    Happy reading!

    244:
    The release date for the UK ebook of "The Apocalypse Codex" has been brought forward to July 9th, i.e. tomorrow.


    Hurrah!!

    245:

    Book ordered.

    246:

    Finally, the cost structure of the book trade is dominated by the distribution chain for the physical artefacts, which sucks up around 75% of the money the customer pays ... but the distribution chain is where the customers go to find new content!
    ---------
    Then clearly the cost savings come from distribution. No transportation costs, no bricks and mortar to support,... The $10 book becomes $2.50 and the makers of the creative content take no hit at all.
    So how then does one market/find new content? Facebook (for the right book), reviews, web site with book discussions, recommended lists - it does not need to be on Amazon, libraries. And likely venues not yet imagined.

    247:

    Assume a spherical free market of unit size and density...

    248:

    Hmm, not connected with the deal Hachette agreed with the DoJ to not set pricing constraints on Amazon, is it?

    They aren't trying to demonstrate they they are now good little boys, are they? Or maybe I'm just too cynical.

    Talking about money is not polite, but hypothetically, would you have to eat lower royalties if the unit price it were sold for was lower?

    249:

    1. It's Hachett'es UK subsidiary. The DoJ deal simply doesn't apply -- wrong country!

    2. The bastard fucking DoJ went after the good guys rather than the bad guys. And they mostly caved rather than try and fight the DoJ, because the "big six" are 1-2 orders of magnitude smaller than the likes of AT&T, IBM, and Microsoft; they simply can't afford to pump double-digit millions a year into a lawsuit lasting decades.

    3. Yes, I get less money if the books are sold for a lower cover price -- I'm on a percentage cut of the gross price, with various crude snakes-and-ladders to adjust it to echo the net profits in event of deep discounting.

    I am hoping to make it up on volume. Fingers crossed ...

    250:

    "I am hoping to make it up on volume. Fingers crossed ..."

    On that point, is it reasonable to ask how Rule 34 sold? I can think of several reasons why it wouldn't be, but I guess I just want a picture of how a mid-selling author is doing in this climate with a latest-ish release. Feel free to tell me to fuck off :)

    251:

    Despite not having a clue about these things, I would guess 50,000

    252:

    Short answer: I don't know!

    Long answer:

    1. The market is changing incredibly fast. I do know that in its first two months, 40% of the copies of R34 sold were sold as ebooks, even though the DRM'd ebook cost 80% of the price of the discounted hardcover!

    2. Because of the shift to ebooks and the collapse of Borders, the old rules of thumb about what constituted good sales simply don't apply any more. Bluntly, nobody really knows. The situation is additionally complicated by returns of unsold stock after 90 or 120 days -- until the returns come home nobody knows exactly home many copies have been sold (at least in the US -- Bookscan in the UK actually tracks all retail sales in real time, so I'm told).

    3. On the other hand, the UK trade paperback of R34 went into reprint. Not a huge reprint run, but any reprint run of a trade edition is heartening because it means the publisher underestimated demand.

    I will know more in a couple of months when the royalty statements for the first 12 months' sales come through.

    253:

    I asked an intrusive question and received an illuminating answer. Thank you!

    254:

    FWIW, I noted a copy of Rule 34 on the shelves of the house whose warming I attended last night. It was the only Stross title visible, in a household noted for being Pratchett fans.

    So there's some extra penetration happening there.

    255:

    To day price has little to do with cost. In "free market" pricing, price is raised till sales drop off to much. If there is still a real free market, it matters little to us.

    256:

    Bookscan in the UK actually tracks all retail sales in real time, so I'm told

    I'm guessing that Amazon, WalMart, and B&N keep these numbers close to the vest in the US. I'm sure they know and can track their sales in real time.

    257:

    So how then does one market/find new content? Facebook (for the right book), reviews, web site with book discussions, recommended lists - it does not need to be on Amazon, libraries. And likely venues not yet imagined.

    Then problem is how to authors eat until someone figures out the new distribution channels and getting the word out?

    I have a friend who things the traditional publishers need to die as the Amazon model is the way forward. Who needs editors and such. We didn't agree on much during this conversation.

    258:

    The bastard fucking DoJ went after the good guys rather than the bad guys.

    Hmm, well the evidence seemed pretty damning that they were breaking the law and engaging in price fixing. You might consider Amazon to be the bigger threat, but unfortunately law!=justice and besides, they should have got slapped down for such uncompetitive behaviour.

    Yes, I get less money if the books are sold for a lower cover price...I am hoping to make it up on volume. Fingers crossed ...

    Wouldn't be connected with reissuing earlier volumes as a compendium, would it? That seems quite prevalent at the moment.

    BTW I don't think you answered before, who owns the IP rights to the 'universe' you build to set particular stories in?

    259:

    @191,207

    I feel your pain, I'm starting to suffer this problem with my poor, old eyesight and e-books have been a relief. I don't know if the idea is feasible, but it would be great if the e-reader itself could adapt to our eyes... You would tell it, right eye myopia -4.5, astigmatism 0.5, left eye myopia -3.0, astigmatism -1.0 and the display would distort itself in such a way, it would look crisp and clear to you.

    260:

    Duly noted - Your OP did read as "Why can't you use a magnifier instead of using corrective lenses?" though. I do precision work as well, and find the simplest way of getting the magnification I want is actually to take my glasses off!

    261:

    #200

    'fess up time. I've never tried to produce this sort of branching structure. It just struck me that game books were almost tailor-made for it, not least because of the reduced chances of "cheating".

    #203

    As for the other point, I know some Christians who say that "ABHoT" is an explanation of how God made the Universe, rather than a denial of the Bible.

    262:

    Kudos for having a go at all. The "Regency" bit would put me off, but the "romance" bit wouldn't.

    I actually like romances as long as I find the main leads likeable. There's no guarantee either way on that one though.

    263:

    I'm fairly sure that can't be done. You're trying to make the source form 2 different shapes at once, according to which of 2 objects about 3 to 4 inches apart it's sending to, when it's sending to both of them at once.

    264:

    Tap on an ebook page in Aldiko, and it brings up title, author, and a progress bar showing how far into the book you are. This preserves access to most of the metadata p-books give the reader for free.

    265:

    The way around parental control of bookbuying is the Pirate Bay. Which teaches a generation to pirate rather than buy, perhaps. But then, I grew up in second hand bookshops, so I can't preach on Kids Should Learn to Pay Authors Their Due.

    266:

    Wouldn't be connected with reissuing earlier volumes as a compendium, would it? That seems quite prevalent at the moment.

    No comment at this point in time.

    (I have an announcement to make about this subject in the next few months, but can say no more for now.)

    267:

    I do precision work as well, and find the simplest way of getting the magnification I want is actually to take my glasses off!

    Yep. And many times there will be the question asked, "Why don't you just get glasses that allow you to wear them all the time." Not understanding just how flexible, and hard to replicate, a good set of real eyeballs really are.

    I do miss the days when I could read something on the order of microdots without my glasses. Or so it seemed. Now I'm just good at seeing small things without them. :)

    268:

    As for the other point, I know some Christians who say that "ABHoT" is an explanation of how God made the Universe, rather than a denial of the Bible.

    That book is an interesting read but tends to wander a bit / take a long time to make a point which allows it to have many interpretations.

    I suspect that when you have to take hours to compose sentences that most take minutes to do, your perspective on how to make a point in prose tends to be a bit off from most of us humans.

    269:

    Your previous posts about the overhead of traditional book publishing have opened my eyes a bit. Still, there are amateur authors self-publishing on Kindle with very little overhead. They've probably got worse odds than the small town, high school beauty queen heading off to Hollywood to get discovered but interest is bubbling up.

    It seems like a lot of entertainment has gotten into a Fisherian runaway process, the sexual selection feedback loop that gives us spectacular but impractical peacocks. Everything gets so gargantuan and blockbuster-oriented that a single failure risks the entire company and yet nobody is willing to back down. We see this with books, movies, music, video games, television shows, everything.

    As you've pointed out, there's a lot of overhead involved with producing a book the traditional way but many Kindle writers are one-man shops.

    Even as the top AAA video game titles are pulling in a half billion a pop, the ideas have become so incestuous and homogenized that many older gamers are opting out and sticking with cheap indie titles. While AAA game budgets start at $30 million and can easily triple that, indie titles are going back to the days of old with low budgets and small teams.

    I have no idea where it's going but it'll only get stranger, not simpler.

    270:

    " Still, there are amateur authors self-publishing on Kindle with very little overhead"

    And I am one of them, for non-fiction.
    However, the Kindle formats are a real bastard compared to ePub.

    271:

    from Charlie: the cost structure of the book trade is dominated by the distribution chain for the physical artefacts, which sucks up around 75% of the money the customer pays ... but the distribution chain is where the customers go to find new content!

    It sounds like what publishers should be working on is a way to conveniently browse large numbers of bookd online in a manner that replaces the bookstore shelf.

    Are they coming up with anything?

    272:

    A major change affecting publishing--but not yet noticed by most publishers--is the lack of impact of book covers. They know that the covers are now mostly viewed in thumbnail on browsing sites, rather than viewed at high-res on a book, but they haven't followed that detail through to the consequences.

    When I'm reading an ebook, I pick up my reader, turn it on, and return to the page I left at. I don't see the cover. I'm not reminded of the title or author of the book each time I continue reading it. There's no header showing the title & author on every page on most readers, either.

    I've read ebooks that I loved, that I can't remember who wrote them or what they were called. (There's that sci-fi thing with the nanobot-ish aliens and the mindlinked former-couple sharing two bodies. It was Book 1 of something.) I've read books I disliked, and I have even less chance of remembering them. This *might* lead to accidentally buying a second book by an author I didn't care for, but instead, it serves as a warning: just because I recognize the author's name while browsing by genre, doesn't mean I want their books. Better hold off on buying until I have time to check.

    Brand identity is no longer contained in the cover, which is barely seen after purchase. And since there's no "browse through your friend's bookshelf looking for something to borrow," there's no sense of "oh, I've seen that book at four people's houses, so since all of my friends like it, I guess I'll try it."

    The visually-striking cover is still an advertisement to convince people to buy, but it's no longer an aid to remembering what we liked. In some cases, it's never seen after purchase--there's no cover inside the ebook, and the ereader doesn't show thumbnails of a bookshelf.

    273:

    I refer the honorable commenter to Larry's solution at #229, or my explanation of Aldiko's solution at #264.

    274:

    I read on an e-ink reader with no wifi. A picture at each chapter start might help me remember the title and author--if it's legible in black & white. (And I'm still only going to see it for a second before I click past it.) I don't read with Aldiko at all; any memory-help that's based on specific hardware or software is going to be of limited use. (And "tap on page to see this info" is pointless. The issue is that there's no automatic reminder, not that the metadata isn't available.)

    I've been thinking that a note at the end of the main book might help... "author [name] hopes you have enjoyed [title of book] and would be pleased if you took a moment to review it at the site where you acquired it." Something unobtrusive that serves to put the author's name & story title back in the reader's head, just at the point when she's planning to step away from the book.

    (I'd say, "site where you purchased it," except if you got it as part of the Kindle lending library or a publisher's free promotion, you didn't "purchase" it at all.)

    275:

    I was thinking about how to browse ebooks, and it occurs to me that it would be nice to have an option to view a random assortment with some boolean filters. For example, I might like to see 20 random titles in SF&F with average reviews of 3.5 stars and higher. Something like that would allow us to sample the backlist in a manner that's very difficult with current e-readers.

    Does anyone else like this idea, and if so how do we make it actually happen?

    276:

    Quantum computers might make the e-book problem undecidable.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-07-classical-problem-undecidable-quantum.html

    277:

    Why, thank you--the Regency portions aren't terribly obviously except when the heroine unexpectedly runs into her Uncle Etienne, who is smuggling brandy and lace, I think. But I do introduce a number of conventions familiar to those who read Regencies, but with any luck should not put you off.

    278:

    I see where you're coming from, but I still think you'd get issues with AMZN shill reviews by $Author's parents, siblings, cats and goldfish (not that OGH would ever resort to these techniques). Of course, if the filters would allow you to add the parameter "by reviewers have have published at least $positive reviews" to the parameter set, you might have a goer.

    279:

    I was talking generally in saying that the fact of a work being a romance won't necessarily put me off, that likeable characterisation is something I actively look for in any fiction genre, and that the mention of "Regency" would put me off.

    The reason(s) for Regency putting me off are nothing to do with you, and everything to do with BBC costume dramas causing me to associate the period with "Empire line" dresses, sexist males, and women who are somewhat wetter than the Pacific ocean.

    280:

    You might like to look into getting a Kobo reader then.

    Every time you lock the screen and the device goes into sleep mode or is powered off, the screen changes to show the cover of the book you are currently reading.
    At the top is a small bar showing % read and device state. On reactivating from sleep, you go back into where you left off, and (page number of how many) is displayed at the bottom.
    If you reactivate from powered off, the device comes back up to the home screen, with your four last loaded books displayed on the front, and whatever you are reading currently as the biggest cover shortcut on the left.

    I'm not sure what reader you are using, but with the Kobo, the book cover is one of the *most* important characteristics, as that is the way you identify your book 90% of the time. And there needs to be two versions of the cover, one a full screen version that looks good while the device is off, and one a thumbnail that is legible while browsing. I've noticed scaling one to suit the other seldom works well in practice.

    281:

    ... and Oxbridge homosexuals named Rupert:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKCAGb6Pzcg

    282:

    We could tweak the algorithm to, for example, allow searching for a random set of books that have at least 20 ratings and average 3.5. I don't see how we could eliminate self-interested ratings entirely.

    If the selection of books is random, within set parameters, of course a lot of crap will be seen, but that's kind of the point. With Amazon now I can easily find books by authors I remember to track (about 20), and books that are near the top of their genre in sales (the top 100-200 before I get bored and wander off), and books that Amazon recommends for me (picked clean a long time ago). I'd like to find the books that match a few Boolean criteria (no cookbooks when I'm looking for escapism or vice versa) but that otherwise are so far down in the rankings that if I didn't think to search for them specifically I'd never find them.

    More to the point, I suspect that I'm not alone, and that a publisher could drive meaningful numbers of sales this way.

    283:

    I'm mostly using a Sony PRS-505, and sometimes a Pocket EZ-Reader. I don't want a Kobo; it doesn't support RTF like the Sony nor mobi like the PEZ. (I didn't get the PEZ for mobi; I got it for folders. But the battery's dying and the model isn't produced anymore, so I've mostly retired it.) I have no interest in wifi; I read a lot of self-formatted books and documents that don't have covers. I also don't do DRM, so my priorities in an ebook reader are very different from most people's.

    I don't, for the most part, notice the lack of covers; I only realized it was an issue when I remembered a book I enjoyed and couldn't recall title or author. And then I realized that even for the books I remember clearly, I have no cover-picture in my head.

    I wouldn't want a reader that shows the cover of the book I'm currently reading while it's shut down--I read a lot of erotica, and I consider it one of the advantages of ereaders that that *doesn't* mean my coworkers see lurid covers at my desk. And I read a lot of fanfic ebooks that have no covers. Besides, almost nobody designs covers that look good in B&W.

    My personal preferences aren't directly important; the issue here is that publishers (and indie authors) can't count on readers seeing their bookcover after the point of purchase. Some readers have ways to display them; people reading on iPhones aren't going to see them; people reading on Kindle-for-PC can browse their bookshelf but don't have to. (And the bookshelf is tiny-thumbnail, not the kind of display that helps affix the author's name in the reader's head.)

    284:

    Take this to an extreme, and you get the visual novel -- a thing that already exists and is typically classified as a video game, but is essentially an offshoot of the 'nonlinear hypertext narrative' boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s (remember that one? Neither do I). The VN, at its most linear, is something like a very low framerate movie that occasionally makes you press a key to continue, and at its least linear resembles a regular video game.

    VNs are, unfortunately, nearly unknown in the west except to weeaboo types, and I suspect they aren't very popular in Japan (where most of them are made) either, on account of the association with porn.

    Side note: from what I gather from the commentary at the end of my edition of Snow Crash and from some passages in In The Beginning... Was The Command Line, Snow Crash was originally intended to be a VN before Apple made major unannounced changes to the QuickDraw API and broke backwards compatibility, forcing Stephenson to just edit his notes into a form more conducive to dead tree distribution and ditch the 400+ pages of source and whatever images he happened to have at that stage. There are worse authors to emulate than Neal Stephenson, if Charlie feels like writing lots of code again and the publisher agrees, but I'm not convinced my Nook will like rendering potentially np-complete epubs...

    285:

    Bob/Angleton slashfics?! Do they tear their skins off at one point and tentacle-bang in the astral plane? Someone needs to write this stuff.

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    This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 4, 2012 11:35 AM.

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