The Shatzkin Files

A baker’s dozen predictions for 2010

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It is customary for those of us who do crystal-ball gazing to make some calls about the year ahead at around the time the celebrants head for Times Square. I am not a man to flout custom. Here are some of the things I expect we’ll see in 2010.

1. At least one major book will have several different enhanced ebook editions. This will result from a combination of circumstances: the different capabilities of ebook hardware and reader platforms, the desire of publishers and authors to justify print-like prices for ebooks, the sheer ability of authors and their fans to do new things electronically, and the dawning awareness that there are at least two distinctly different ebook markets: one just wants to read the print book on an electronic screen and the other wants links and videos and other enhancements that really change the print book experience. (Corrolary prediction: the idea of an enhanced ebook that is only sold “temporarily” in the first window when the book comes out, which has been floated by at least one publisher, will be short-lived. Whatever is made for sale in electronic form will remain available approximately forever. Or, put another way, if you have a product that requires no inventory investment that has a market, you’ll keep satisfying it.)

2. Here come some new retail book outlets, but can publishers afford the risk of selling to them? The growing incidence of bookstore-less cities will provoke the mass merchants to explore a greatly increased title selection inside their stores as a magnet to attract disenfranchised bookstore customers. The early emphasis will be on children’s books and illustrated how-to: books for which there is high value to seeing them before buying them. They might even see this expansion as a margin-booster because if they’re responding to scarcity (as they would be), then discounting might not be as necessary as it is with their bestseller-only strategy now. Publishers will be wary of this new initiative, knowing that it could fail and lead to large returns but it will be on the drawing boards by the end of 2010.

3. Thanks to digital, there is no minimum length for a book anymore. Ebooks that are too short to be print books will become a real factor in ebook sales, opening up new opportunities for publishers but even more for authors. Short fiction is already well established in the romance genre and some major publishers have broken out stories from anthologies as separate items to be sold on Kindle. In 2010, authors and agents will discover that shorter-than-a-book works can be the subject of useful experimentation and learning through electronic publishing and, by the end of the year, it will become a frequently-employed device. Periodical media (newspapers and magazines) will also see this paid delivery mechanism as an alternative worth experimentation for them as well. After all, if a big publisher can unbundle a short story anthology to sell the individual stories as Kindle editons, why couldn’t The New Yorker sell the short fiction it publishes that way as well? This concept has been tipped by the announcement in 2009 than the web site Daily Beast will be delivering shorter books in a timely manner through electronic distribution.

4. Ebooks will require a new industry directory (and it won’t be printed.) Driven by new entrants in the field, self-publishing, and unbundled aggregations of print books, the gap between the items listed in “Books in Print” and the items that should be listed in a directory of “Ebooks Available” will continue to grow. There has been a robust conversation in a corner of the book community about whether all ebook editions need ISBNs, but that’s really only one part of a much larger metadata problem. In 2010 we are likely to see at least one serious effort to deliver a new online directory for ebooks.

5. Big publishers start to match their offerings to their marketing capability. The rearrangement of the big publishers’ IP portfolios will begin in 2010 as they emphasize what they do best: deliver narrative-writing and children’s books to multiple outlets in large quantities. This reshuffle will only begin to be evident in 2010, but we will see small slices of big publishers’ lists sold or licensed to specialist small publishers and we will see the beginnings of genre consolidation among the big publishers, with some publishers beefing up and others exiting romance, science fiction, and mystery. In 2010 the latter will take the form of list growth or cutbacks, not the sale of whole lists to a competitor. We’ll see that in 2011 or 2012.

6. Ebooks become significant revenue contributors for many titles. By the end of 2010, ebook sales will routinely constitute at least 20% of the units moved for midlist and the lower tier of bestsellers and at least 10% of the units for really big bestsellers. (These are predictions for narrative writing; illustrated books and kids’ picture books will lag considerably.)

7. Circumstances will outrun the ebook “windowing” strategy. By the end of 2010, the experiment with “windowing” ebooks — withholding them from release when the hardcover comes out — will end as increasing evidence persuades publishers and agents that ebook sales (at any price) spur print book sales (at any price), not cannibalize or discourage them and, furthermore, that this withholding effort does nothing to restrain Amazon’s proclivity for discounting. (Amazon can’t quit with so many competitors joining them; see number 11 below.) There will also be steadily increasing evidence that most readers distinctly prefer either digital books or paper for their narrative reading and the real minority is the people who routinely read both.

8. In the digital world, geographical territories will be found not to make much sense. The problem of managing territorial rights for ebooks will be a growing problem the industry will have to deal with. As ebook platforms are increasingly separated from dedicated readers (a move even Amazon encourages with its Kindle software working on PCs and iPhones by the beginning of 2010 with more to come throughout the year), people all over the world express their frustration about books they are blocked from obtaining by obsolete rights regimes. With the number of ebook platforms and outlets increasing, it becomes almost impossible to police these rights effectively. Authors with global audiences become increasingly sensitive to the frustration of their fans and, through their agents, lobby for “open markets” for ebooks to solve the problem. US publishers back the idea and smaller market publishers hate it, but by the end of 2010 it is obvious that territorial rights will be relegated to print books only, meaning the end could be in sight for the entire concept of territoriality (but, because of old contracts and lots of national laws, it will be a very long sunset.) Pushing back against this concept might be publishers in countries with large English-language populations (Israel comes to mind, but I know publishers getting offers from Nigeria) who want to carve out a national monopoly for their own local editions in English. But that would be print-only.

9. Authors with clout start looking more like publishers. Some authors who have developed huge followings on Facebook and Twitter and their own blogs start to demonstrate that they can have a serious positive impact on the books of other authors they favor. This leads to a variation on the time-honored practice of getting blurbs and jacket quote-lines as savvy editors and agents suss who the new author-megaphones are and line up to get their support. The prediction for 2010 is that this will start to become obvious. The likely prediction for 2011 will be that this leads to authors becoming quasi-publishers or, perhaps, getting “imprint” deals from established houses to select and promote other people’s writing.

10. The “shakeout” in ebook delivery mechanisms won’t start this year; proliferation rules in 2010. With the arrival of Google Editions in the first or second quarter of 2010, there will be multiple channels to the ebook market through a variety of players: Google, Amazon, Apple, Baker & Taylor’s Blio, Kobo (formerly Shortcovers, the ebook operation begun by Indigo of Canada), and Sony will not be alone! During the course of 2010, the industry will become aware that there are three moving parts here: the device ebooks are viewed on, the ebook “reader” software the device employs, and the retailing and merchandising experience for the consumer shopping (or searching) for a particular book. As it becomes clear that ebook readers employ multiple devices and can accept a variety of platforms, the shopping experience will become appreciated as the most important determinant of consumer loyalty for most books. This is a moving target; everybody will be working on it. But as we enter 2010, it looks like Kobo has figured this out better (so far) than anybody else.

11. Retailers will demonstrate that they have more at stake with each file they sell than the revenue from that sale. Because there are so many players fighting for a foothold in ebooks, discounting them deeply will be the “new normal.” This will enable publishers to keep their “established” retail price (and their revenue per unit sold) high, but consumers will increasingly see ebooks as the less expensive alternative.

12. We will see greater integration of ebook offerings with other products and services. The merchandising challenge for ebooks will ultimately be met web page by web page over the entire Internet. This future paradigm will be tipped in 2010 when we start to see ebook stores on more and more non-book web sites, each trying to deliver some sort of value-add with curation or follow-on products.

13. Book publishers will have to admit to real confusion about what the product is that they produce. The big meme coming out of 2010 will be “what is a book?” Publishers will increasingly be releasing productions that contain video, audio, animation, slide shows, and interactive game elements. Movie, TV, and game producers will see an alternate marketing and revenue channel available through “ebookifying” content they have and moving it through book channels like a “tie-in.” Where one stops and the other begins will become increasingly difficult to see (and increasingly irrelevant).

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  • Isn't Number 9 already obvious, at least in some cases? Articles have been written all around the internet about the sales power of Stephen Fry's twitter account.

    • John, I figure most of these will be obvious to SOMEbody. They don't come
      out of thin air. I'm okay with it if most people only find the occasional
      obvious one.


  • Mike, I only recently discovered your blog, and have been enjoying it greatly. I went back and read most of your old posts on publishing too. As a self-published author, I've worked with Lulu, LSI, and CreateSpace and have had a limited success selling my suspense novels in paperback.

    I began writing my first novel as a serial on my website in 2006, and went on to write two more novels, two novellas, and more than a dozen short stories. My site has 3,000-5,000 unique visitors per month. But my paperback sales remained low. (Although, my books can be read for free on my site, so…)

    I was about to give up hope. But then the Kindle came along, and in July I signed up. My Kindle ebooks began to sell. And I began to see a glimmer of hope.

    So, I've decided to write a series of suspense novellas that will not be posted on my site for free. I will sell them via Amazon, and thanks to the recent Smashwords distribution deal, also sell via B&N, Sony, and Kobo. I've discovered that the shorter form of the novella is the ideal length for most of my stories. And as you said in this post, when it comes to digital, selling shorter books, or even short stories, can work.

    And if your prediction of 20% of midlist narrative being sold as ebooks becomes a reality this year, I may be on my way to success. (Not that I'm a midlister yet.)

    It's easy these days to publish ebooks and get distribution. Getting readers to find your books and give them a try, though, is a huge challenge. But I believe I have an advantage over most newbies by having an established website with a fair volume of traffic.

    And speaking of traffic…many of the self-published author websites I've seen are offering nothing but information about their books. I would recommend that they give away some of their writing. It doesn't have to be a whole novel. Perhaps a novella or a few short stories. If you offer something of value for free, other sites will link to you and send you traffic. If they enjoy your writing, they just might buy some of it. But first you've got to get them to your site.

    Thanks again, Mike, for this eye-opening post. Happy New Year! I hope everything you've predicted here will come true.

    • Robert, thanks both for the praise and for your personal story. You're quite
      right that if you own some eyeballs, you're way ahead of the game. Keep
      doing what you're doing and a publisher or agent will find you before long.
      Then you'll have to decide if they can add anything worth partnering with
      them for.


  • Pingback: Mike Shatzkin’s predictions for 2010 | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home()

  • 14. The DIY ethic will continue to grow among increasingly marginalized authors of serious literary fiction. It won't quite become the final passage of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451–yet–but we're on the way.

    • Jaymee Lee

      I dont think it's just among serious (but marginalized) literary authors you're going to see more do it yourself from!!!

      And Mike, great article. I'm still waiting for one big New York published author to do something independent of New York. If or when they do, I think we'll see something really amazing (and hopefully see other authors follow suit, so that more and more authors can maybe, finally, take control of something we've had far too little control of to date).

      • Jaymee Lee, I think I'd look for the “big author” doing something really
        independent of big publishing to appear on the predictions list for 2011.
        Ebooks have to progress a bit more yet, I think.


    • Ed, not an unreasonable prediction at all, if a bit hard to quantify (or


  • FlyingPenPress

    I am the publisher of Flying Pen Press, and we are reinventing the company for 2010 as we predict many of the same things. Here are my observations on your list:

    1: Actually, this has been done for about 30 years now, since books started coming out on 3.5″ floppies. The textbook and directory publishers (especially the directory publishers) have long found that people will pay a variety of prices for different levels of functionality. But not all books are adaptive to “DVD-like” extras.

    2: I disagree. This seems more like a pressure to move more readers to their computer screens and to Amazon and In large stores, space is the premium, and it is unlikely that Target and Wal-Mart are going to make any increases to the size of their book sections by sacrificing another department. I also think that with the connection between author and reader becoming that much closer, there is a pressure to stop offering books to retailers as returnable. This archaic distribution feature no longer serves publishers or readers.

    3. There is a caveat. If the ebook remains profitable, then whatever length the reader needs is the length that should be published. Readers seem more interested in the 30,000-50,000 word novella when reading fiction on a screen. But if the book is dependent on its print sales—as is often going to be the case—then the print edition’s minimum length will override the ebook’s requirements. And as readers are being weaned on novel-length ebooks, that could very well become the readers’ preference.

    4. I suspect that the iTunes method of including catalog information in the file will become the standard among ebook retailers. It is already used for podcasts and is easily adapted.

    5. This is a symptom of the pressure for publishers to become more “platform centric” and less “author centric.” The success of Quirk Books is an example of this new business model. Flying Pen Press is moving towards the “platform centric” model, working more to manage markets of readers than in managing authors. We see a great deal of potential, and it means that we no longer have to worry about competition from self-published authors.

    6. I disagree in both directions. I think your prediction of units moved being 20% ebooks is very low. I also disagree that the prediction that these units will be major revenue generators. The readers pressure ebook prices ever lower, assuming that less work physical production should require less profit margin (not just a lower price). For instance, we have to sell about eight ebooks to see the same profit as on print book.

    7. “Windowing” is a useless practice, I agree. The first one to get a book to print on a controversial topic gets the market, and ebooks beat print books to press every time. The next monumental celebrity death will break the habit of windowing.

    8. Our company looks at language rights rather than geographical rights. WE routinely use English-Language Rights and sell those all over the world through Lightning Source’s network of print facilities and associate POD printers, including the Espresso Book Machine. As print books now ship electronically to remote print shops, geographical rights have become completely irrelevant.

    9. I have been advising authors to build their platforms by publishing free stories to their e-newsletter lists and blogs, to build an initial fanbase. I also recommend that authors worry about finding readers instead of worrying about finding an agent or publisher. It is so easy to self-publish a high-quality book and receive distribution to the trade that it no longer makes sense to go through a traditional publisher to get your book out. This Christmas, we saw how a self-published book can dominate the market (“Elf on a Shelf”) and those authors that choose to self-publish will beat other authors to market. Again, the next big celebrity death will show how valuable time-to-market can be.

    10. As the concept of the “Data Cloud” gains momentum in the next few months, “Cloud Books” will become the next big book thing. This will eliminate the three legs of your ebook proliferation stool. There is no need for specific software for any application, as the cloud will automatically provide the right software. The file format matches whatever device the reader is using to access the cloud. And the author directly controls the marketing aspects, as portals can't restrict the dataflow to the end user.

    11. You are acting on the assumption that retailers will control the sale of the book to readers in the first place. But readers have no reason to visit retailers to buy ebooks. They are more comfortable buying directly from the publisher, and even more comfortable buying directly from the author. The explosion of ebooks written and distributed as marketing tools by the PR and Marketing industry offer proof that ebooks flow effortlessly without retailer impediment. Every single blogger on the Internet will undercut retailers, and it will be futile to try to gain market share with a price war.

    12. This is another idea that is older than the Internet itself. And in fact, the Internet's original purpose is for cross-referencing documents via hypertext. If there is a blogger out there without an Amazon Associates account, I am not aware of it, and websites have been selling various ebooks for years, either directly or through links.

    13. While many publishers may be confused, Flying Pen Press isn’t. We don’t sell books, we don’t sell authors, we don’t sell “content.” The only thing we have to sell anymore is a platform, much as magazines that are succeeding still do. Ebooks are not the agent of change in this industry. The agent of change has been the simplicity of self-publishing and distributing one’s own book, combined with the growth of literacy and a general desire by so many to be published. After all, we have had ebooks since the late 1970s, and they have been commercially viable since the mid 1980s.

    Thanks for your thoughtful predictions. I hope I have added something to the discussion without being too contrary. This is an important subject to discuss for publishing today.

    David A. Rozansky, Publisher
    Flying Pen Press

    • This was a very thoughtful comment, but easily the longest one I have had in
      10 months of writing this blog. I don't have the attention span for a
      point-by-point reply.

      But, in general, I'd say where we agree it is because we are both in that
      case talking about the largest number of cases: most of the books. Where we
      disagree (such as on what the mass merchants might do or on how well
      publishers can hold their prices on ebooks or what retailers might do to
      discount), I'm talking about the top 50 books, or the top 500 books, or the
      top 5000 books, and, very occasionally the top 25,000 books and you're
      talking about everything else, which is a much bigger number of books but
      not the ones that drive the commercial market. Over time, there will be less
      and less mass market, but there will always be one. Right now, it's very big
      and different rules apply to it than apply to everything else. The Big Six
      publishers, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble play under different rules than the *
      entire* ebook market outside the Big Six. They also do most of the business.
      And, despite the reality of early adopters in ebook genres, particularly in
      romance, there's no doubt that the big authors and big publishers and big
      retailer (Amazon) are driving the explosive growth in the ebook market.


  • IWhoDaresWins

    Very interesting. I've been a midlist author for 20 years with 40 books published. I've hit all the bestseller lists, but that doesn't necessarily equate to numbers overall. I have the rights back to 16 of my books and have just published the first one via Kindle and Lulu today. My goal is to release my backlist with a new book every two weeks and market via social media and word of mouth.
    I've always been frustrated by traditional publishing's view of backlist: if you're not a mega-author they have no interest. I think these new venues will change this.
    I still am traditionally published with a major title coming out in March, but 2010 is the year I am establishing my electronic footprint in publishing and I'm looking forward to seeing how it works, especially since I have three manuscripts I have not marketed that I think are very good books.
    Also, I plan on self-pubbing two non-fiction books this year through these venues.
    A point no one has raised is this: will traditional publishers 'track' authors who are doing it themselves and see the potential? And then, what advantage would the traditional publisher bring to the table? Distribution? Placement? Publicity?
    Things are changing.

    • I really like your plan and your approach. What you're doing was anticipated
      (perhaps a bit too soon…) by the author Warren Adler at the beginning of
      the decade. He's written a ton of stories (including War of the Roses) and
      he got all his rights back and published in both electronic and POD form. He
      was perhaps too far ahead of the curve to make commercial sense but now I
      think what you're doing definitely does.

      I assume that on Kindle you're giving away free samples, as they do. You
      might want to package sample chapters right in the books as you sell them as
      well. It would be great if you could link right out of that to a purchase
      page, but that's a development we haven't quite made yet.

      Move to being sure you're on sale everywhere (Kobo, B&N, and the ebook
      stores like Diesel you can reach through Ingram), even though right now
      you'll find 80% of the sales are Kindle. It won't stay that way.

      You also ought to be blogging and letting your fans talk to you and
      introduce you to other people.

      The answer to what a publisher can do for you is that they can put you on
      sale in print in stores. That will sell many times the number of copies you
      will sell any other way this year and for a few years to come. And those
      sold copies will get you in front of more eyeballs who can then buy you
      online. So it's a lot of marketing; that's what they have to offer.


    • BillSeitz

      Eric Flint has been using online to increase the longevity of his work.

  • 1eleanorandrews


    #1 is already in the making . . .
    #2 is already in the making . . .
    #3 is already in the making . . .
    #4 will be attempted but . . .
    #5 No doubt.
    #6 I'm not so sure . . . From Galleycat: “Bloggers Question Amazon Sales” By Jason Boog on Dec 29, 2009 04:23 PM
    #7 I don't see it.
    #8 I see this happening . . .
    #9 is already in the making . . .
    #10 I agree.
    #11 I see this happening . . .
    #12 Agreed but most won't have a huge return on investment . . .
    #13 I agree.

    Eleanor Andrews

  • Steve

    Hi Mike,

    I'm new to your blog. Really appreciate the deep thinking you do about the impact of the information revolution.

    I'm not sure quite how the issue I'm going to raise fits in to the landscape of your predictions, but I sense it lurking as a factor relative to the trends you discuss. I'm referring to the process of end-user (reader) content discovry and evaluation. The problem of information overload (aka finite human bandwidth) has been long recognized in such phrases as “drinking from a firehose”, “needle in a needle stack” and “Everybody will be famous for 15 minutes”.

    I think the situation for books in particular may be even worse than the above quotes suggest. We are faced not simply with a problem of massive numbers of works, but the fact that the discovery tools that work in a brick-and-mortar setting are largely unusable electronically.

    I can only speak personally, but I doubt I'm alone. When I go to B & N, I go to my favorite section(s) and peruse the shelves. I also note the books diisplayed in premium high visibility locations. Being able to view a collection of full-size covers in immediately present space is unique to beick and mortar. Can't happen online for a number of reasons. And it has efficiencies that serial viewing of products online does not. In the language of computer architecture, it is true parallel processing. Pages of clickable thumbnails try to simulate this, but they are fairly lame in comparison.

    The second tier of discovery in a brick & mortar environment is to glance over a set of books shelved such as to present their spines.

    In either of those settings, the next thing that happens is that you can reach out and grasp the book in your hand. This is not simply an emotional preference, it's ergonomic. Bound paper has been optimized over several centuries to be manipulable and discoverable digitally (pun – meaning with the fingers 🙂 Electronic media cannot presently replicate the efficiences of the physical tactile environment. You can leaf through the book and quickly know if you are interested further.

    My point in all this is that the shelves at the B & N are *the* premium “eyeball space” of the literary world. Until a means is developed to present works in quantity for filtering and evaluation that approaches the efficiencies of the physical, this problem will be a serious bottleneck for electronic literature or electronic sales of physical literature.

    It's like, suppose there was unlimited free *physucal* production and distribution. And suppose all the product ended up in a huge basement at the local B & N with poorly accessible shelving and bad lighting. See the problem?

    The only answer that occurs to me offhand is maybe somebody could develop a mapping that would allow a quantity of literary product to map to a 2d or 3d electronic visual space that could be explored and traversed in a way similar to realistic electronic game spaces. This wouldn't solve the problem of not being able to handle the books, but it could still represent a *huge* improvement over (say) the Amazon site.

    What do you think?


    • Steve, first of all, let me say that I completely agree that the loss of the
      merchandising component of brick-and-mortar is the invisible dagger aimed at
      the heart of trade publishing. As bookstores go, sales are lost that will
      never be replaced.

      That said, I think there's potential for a much more robust online
      presentation than we've seen commercially. The Blio demo I saw suggests that
      this new Kurzweil-B&T technology might deliver a merchandising experience
      that imitates the store: covers, spines, the ability to “pull” the book off
      the shelf and “look” at it. A lot of this stuff is just about computer speed
      and bandwidth. After all, if virtual reality is going to put your hologram
      in the seat next to me for a conversation in a few years time (and it will),
      we ought to be able to come closer to replicating the bookstore experience
      virtually too!


      • Hello, Mike. Thanks for your baker's dozen.
        I cannot be so optimistic about the replication of the bookstore experience. What Steve points out is that our attention-span –and thus our memory storage capacity– has been always been related to spaciality, even more since we made it objective it in the complex process that we call “literacy”. To replace that dependence from the spacial experience, we'll need a lot of changes not only in technology, but in the very organization of our brains. It will take some time, as evolution at large has shown.
        The thrilling paradox of the moment we are living through is that the change that will change the way we pay attention at things (particularly, books) and the way we manage our memory comes from the heart of the most literate society we've ever known.

      • Don't disagree at all. I think we can get a lot better with the online
        merchandising, but it will be pretty damn difficult to replace the marketing
        power of being in an enclosed space with 100,000 books to choose from.


      • Steve

        Hi Mike, and thanks for the response. I found your blog about the Blio and read it over. It definitely looks like a visionary leap in the right general direction.

        There are a couple of issues that I see, both of which would need to be addressed as hardware add-ons.

        First is the use of visual space in the retailing presentation. In physical space, the retailer has access to your entire visual field at full size and resolution. This could be simulated in hardware, and I suspect it may have been done, or be in the works somewhere within the VR development community. You would need wrapaeound goggles that could present you with a full-spatial visual experience, and software that would support traversing the virtual space with a controller. 50 pages or 50 covers laid out on a PC screen is a nice thought, but we're talking way too tiny to be useful, IMO

        The next issue is flippability. I really think that the ergonomics of manual page-flipping is profound and unparalled by anything in the digital world. But there might be options.

        I usually try to refrain from quoting myself. But a comment I posted on flippability on another blog is relevant to this. Here goes:

        But more seriously, the one thing I doubt any existing e-book reader gets right is page flipping. This operation, with bound paper, is a simple and physically intuitive way to quickly locate a passage whose position in the book is approximately known. [or to sample passages in a newly discovered work] The rate, direction, and “chunkiness” of the flipping action is completely controlled by pressure and small quick intuitive movements of the left and right thumbs.

        It might be possible to get this right, but I don't think it will come from within the community of those now designing [e-readers]. You would have to reach out to the folks who design specialized game controllers and say “do me a controller for this”. And THOSE folks could probably get it right, because that's what they do.


        You could almost imagine what it would look like. It would have a “clamshell” design which would open and show screens for left and right pages. But the backing behind each the screen would be thick, and the “edge” would be controller surface designed to page turn or to flip, in the manner of a paperbound book.

        I was envisioning here a stand-alone e-reader device. To work with the Blio software and compliment the goggles, you would want something physically similar that would be controller surface and driver/interface electronics only only.

        Just a thought,

      • The Blio platform might do “flippability” (can't quite remember) but it
        definitely gives you the ability to look at many pages of your book, laid
        out like a deck of cards, so you can zero in on what you want. A very useful


    • Steve, I see your point and cannot but agree. The problem is that a lot of middle and back-list books, as well as books published by small presses do actually go that huge basement, without even poorly accesible shelving and no merchandising at all. E-publishing may not be the answer for these books, but at least they are an answer.

      • Julieta, there is no doubt books benefit from being on sale both ways: in
        stores and online. The books that benefit most from stores are not the long
        tail, but the “midlist” and, of course, the bestsellers that are stacked
        high in mass merchant locations (which means those titles are very much a
        mixed blessing for bookstores.)


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  • rose marie branson

    I work in a national bookstore chain which had a successful year selling books (revenue vs. profit, I'm not sure), and want to add a couple of other observations. I agree traditional bookselling is going to have to make room for e-books. How the %'s will go, one way or the other, only time will tell. However, as someone who deals with customers of all types and ages, I find common denominators on why they want to carry their own book out of the store that can't be replicated by the computer e-books. It boils down to the personal… texture and feel of a book in their hand, the illustrated cover/dust jacket, the look on their bookshelf, being able to have and scan at a glance their own library that represents interests and touch points in my life, and the interaction with a knowledgeable booksellers for a few minutes. Plus, we are a culture of “shoppers.” Fortunately, or not, it's become one of the great leisure activities. At the same time, the publishers are going to have to literally clean up their act, ex: the green footprint, over producing certain titles…especially mass paperbacks that aren't allowed to be recycled, are stripped and designated for the scrap heap…what a waste. As for other retail competition, we are constantly adapting to the Walmart's of the world. What makes me upset with them is they are just price cutters, and have no interest in books. I'm just hoping in this new burst of technology we aren't throwing out the baby with the bath water.

    • Steve

      Hey rose marie,

      Just wanted to say I agree entirely. In a different discussion I dubbed the personal attachment to the feel of the book the “cuddle factor” (because I like to curl up in bed with a book) and gave it as my own strongest reason for not wanting to move toward e-books.


      • Steve, if you're married and your significant other wants to sleep and you
        want to read, you'd be amazed at how cuddleable a backlit iPhone screen can
        be. Actually, lying on your side, it is a MUCH better way to read in bed
        than a paper book. Try it sometime.


    • Unfortunately, although all the things you say about why people love printed
      books and the value of bookstores are true, it won't stop the inexorable
      slide away from both. And the problem with “green” as far as print
      publishers go is, I'm afraid, the product itself, not just the returns. I've
      often thought that the ultimate recycling — used books — is not something
      the industry wants to encourage. I think we'll see “green” as a stated
      motivation for the switchers to ereading more and more frequently in the
      years to come.


      • Dorrie

        Is the ebook greener than the printed book? There seems to be a broad assumption that it is, but I wonder whether it's true. Beyond the issue of the energy required by the device (supplied by batteries made of toxic components and recharged by electricity from, in the States anyway, very un-green coal-fired and nuclear-powered generating stations), there's the readers themselves. I suspect that they may follow the dismal trail of cellphones, with advances and improvements coming so fast that dedicated users will be tossing the old out in favour of the new every year or two. I doubt that the circuitry of ebook readers is any less toxic than it is in the millions of cell phones that are tossed each year (including arsenic, cadmium, mercury, beyrllium — all carcinogenic). Bound books can be printed in vegetable based inks on paper that's from a renewable resource (trees) that can be and likely is already recycled, and glued with nontoxic glues. The worst pollution books cause is from the trucks that carry them around.

        Just a thought.

      • First of all, none of this addresses the point that used print books are the
        greenest of all, and the industry sure won't promote this.

        On the larger point of paper versus these nasty devices, the jury is still
        out and there has been some learned debate on this question. But the facts
        are that most books are not made from nenewable wood papers or non-toxic
        glues and, in fact, the pollution involved in turning wood into paper is
        also significant. And, as you point out, we have to truck the stuff around.


      • rose marie branson

        Ditto to Dorrie. Re: the green-ness of all electronics, have you ever seen the PBS special on what happens to computers once they are dumped. A few years from now we will being doing more expose's on what happens to all the disposed electronic/computers. At least books have a WAY longer, usable shelf life than computer products which thrive on the newest, most improved “machine.” Plus, it's just another gadget to have to carry besides your computer, cellphone, blackberry. Which is the most expendable…possibly the Kindle? I think you will see a spike in e-book sales in the next couple of years, especially for news, then it will even out to a lower level once the novelty is gone of the “must have product of the year.” I do agree with you the publishers have been slow to turn green, improvise and be less wasteful. They've got to adapt and get smarter if they want to survive and still pay the Dan Brown's, Patterson's, Rowlings, Meyer's of the world. Big changes to come, but I hope in all the anxieties to be competitive and to be new-generation, not at the total expense of the hard copy book.

      • Rose Marie, as a guy who gave his Kindle to his wife because I can do all my
        reading on an iPhone, I can selfishly endorse the idea that we ought to
        minimize the number of electronic devices we have and carry (and
        thoughtfully recycle the ones we have.) For both print and electronic, we
        have the supply chain as it is and the supply chain as it could be. I think
        some people tend to compare the supply chain of print as it could be to the
        supply chain for electronic as it is. If it is any comfort to you, it is
        still true that most ebook reading seems to be done on multi-function
        devices, not on mostly ereaders. In that case, the environmental destruction
        is, depending on how you look at it, only partly attributable to the book or
        not at at all attributable (since I would have had my PC and my iPhone
        whether I could read books on them or not.)


      • Dorrie

        Is the ebook greener than the printed book? There seems to be a broad assumption that it is, but I wonder whether it's true. Beyond the issue of the energy required by the device (supplied by batteries made of toxic components and recharged by electricity from, in the States anyway, very un-green coal-fired and nuclear-powered generating stations), there's the readers themselves. I suspect that they may follow the dismal trail of cellphones, with advances and improvements coming so fast that dedicated users will be tossing the old out in favour of the new every year or two. I doubt that the circuitry of ebook readers is any less toxic than it is in the millions of cell phones that are tossed each year (including arsenic, cadmium, mercury, beyrllium — all carcinogenic). Bound books can be printed in vegetable based inks on paper that's from a renewable resource (trees) that can be and likely is already recycled, and glued with nontoxic glues. The worst pollution books cause is from the trucks that carry them around.

        Just a thought.

  • millipo10


    1. When I go in I might cause pain. I cause you to spit and ask you not to swallow. I can fill your hole. What am I?

    2. A finger goes in me. You fiddle with me when you're bored. The best man always has me first. What am I?

    3. I'm spread before I'm eaten. Your tongue gets me off. People sometimes like to lick my nuts. What am I?

    4. I go in hard. I come out soft. You blow me hard . What am I?

    5. All day long it's in and out. I discharge loads from my shaft. Both men and women go down on me. What am I?

    6. I come in many sizes. When I'm not well, I drip. When You blow me you feel good. What am I?

    7. If I miss, I hit your bush. It's my job to stuff your box. When I come, it's news. What am I?

    8. I offer protection. I get the finger ten times. You use your fingers to get me off. What am I?

    9. I assist an erection. Sometimes big balls hang from me. I'm called a big swinger. What am I?

    10. I'm at least 6 inches long. I leave foamy lubrication when engaged in my job. What am I?


    1. a dentist
    2. a wedding ring
    3. peanut butter
    4.chewing gum
    5. an elevator
    6. a nose
    7. a newspaper boy
    8. a glove
    9. a crane
    10. a toothbrush, of course!

    Now Really! Just what were you thinking?

    Photo to Painting | Portrait from photo | Photo to Pop Art

  • millipo11

    Here is this guy who really takes care of his body; he lifts weights and jogs five miles every day.

    One morning, he looks into the mirror and admires his body. He notices that he is really sun tanned all over except one part and he decides to do something about it.

    He goes to the beach, completely undresses and buries himself in the dand except for the one part sticking out.

    Two little old ladies are strolling along the beach and one looks down and says, “There really is no justice in this world.”

    The other little old lady says, “What do you mean?”

    The first little old lady says, “Look at that.”

    “When I was 10 years old, I was afraid of it.”

    “When I was 20 years old, I was curious about it.”

    “When I was 30 years old, I enjoyed it.”

    “When I was 40 years old, I asked for it.”

    “When I was 50 years old, I paid for it.”

    “When I was 60 years old, I prayed for it.”

    “When I was 70 years old, I forgot about it.”

    “And now that I'm 80, the damned things are growing wild!!”

    Have a nice day
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  • millipo12

    Dear Editor,

    I have two brothers, one works at Microsoft, the other was sentenced to death in the gas chamber.

    My mother died of insanity when I was three years old, my two sisters are prostitutes and my father sells drugs.

    Recently, I met a girl who was released from a reformatory where she served time for smothering her illegitimate child to death.

    I love this girl very much and want to marry her.

    My problem is this:

    Shall I tell her about my brother who works at Microsoft?


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  • jilldehnert

    This is such a refreshing post for a young person just coming into the publishing industry. It, of course, makes sense to me as my life is already immersed in all things online. I guess what I see in reading through this list most is opportunity rather than loss. For example, while foreign rights agents and divisions of publishing houses may become irrelevant as ebooks explode in the international market, these jobs will probably be replaced by SEO positions and other types of social media publicity positions within the publishing arena.

    Also, while authors will become more important in the promotion of their work, publishers and agents will never become irrelevant and will have to create new positions for people to track the successes and failures of ebook sales of the self-published. Perpahps this will become the new way of discovering star authors. For me, trying to break into this industry at a time like this is extremely exciting, because change is good and necessary and hopefully my skills as a web savvy and tech savvy person will benefit me in this growing portion of the industry.

    One thing, however, is certain. The brick-and-mortar publisher will never die for two reasons. 1) The bookstore is a staple of our society and will (hopefully) never go away. Imagine not being able to all those physical book covers, smell their unique odor, and sip coffee in peace? How tragic that would be. And 2) the charm of the printed book will never die. I would hate to see the day when everyone on the train has Kindle rather than the good old fashion book.

    Thanks for the article! Very enlightening!

    • This is a kind post and I appreciate it, but I think your conclusion might
      be based more on sentiment than logic. I liked record stores too,
      particularly the ones that let you listen to the records before you bought
      them. But not enough people did in the face of digital distribution to keep
      them alive. People lost travel agents and stockbrokers they still liked too,
      for their personal touch, but those service providers couldn't keep enough
      customers or enough profit margin to stay in business.

      As for the printed book, anybody who wants one will be able to have one
      forever. We have billions on the planet and anything can be delivered one
      unit at a time, print on demand. But I sure wouldn't plan on a long career
      that depended on printed books to see me to retirement.


      • jilldehnert

        Thanks for the response…I suppose you are right that my comment is based more on sentiment than logic. I appreciate your advice at the end. I suppose I should start looking for a job based more firmly in the digital publishing world. My husband (who is completely technology obsessed) and I have this argument as well. I guess it is just hard for me to give up my love of reading real pages. But, as for my career, I better get searching : ) Thanks again!

      • Sentiment's fine. You wouldn't want to deal with somebody who didn't have
        sentimental attachments. It's just important to recognize them for what they
        are if you're striving for an objective analysis.


      • jilldehnert

        I thought this article was interesting and was wondering if you had any particular thoughts…

      • I get the moral point — that publishers enable the creation so should share
        in the downstream results. But there is a contract point that trumps: did
        they negotiate for the ebook rights at the time or not? Galassi seems to
        ignore that.


      • rose marie branson

        How long before I should give up my day job? All kidding aside, lets pretend that you are THE consultant for publishers and bookstores, and it's up to you to put together a “Baker's Dozen” strategy for them to remain a major part of the landscape in the e-book world. For bookstores, could include a print on demand section, using the shelved stock as samples? I know our store uses gifts, greeting cards, bargain books and toys to supplement new book sales.

  • millipo12

    After three years of marriage, Kim was still questioning her husband about his lurid past.

    “C'mon, tell me,” she asked for the thousandth time, “how many women have you slept with?”

    “Baby,” he protested, “if I told you, you'd throw a fit”.

    Kim promised she wouldn't get angry, and convinced her hubby to tell her.

    “Okay,” he said, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven – then there's you – nine, ten, 11, 12, 13..”

    Have a nice day
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  • millipo12

    I was just having a conversation with someone who is about to buy a Mac.

    I was against it and an argument started.

    I said there were too few people supporting the Mac.

    He responded, “When was the last time you heard of a virus on a Mac?”

    And I said “See, even people who write viruses don't support Macs.”

    Have a nice day
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  • Matt

    Hi Mike, I totally enjoyed your post. But I have a few questions about e-books that no one's been able to answer.

    1) E-books don't make economic sense to me.

    I can locally buy copies of books that cost me between $7 – $16. And what do I have? A used book. It has intrinsic fiscal value.

    I can trade it, sell it, give it away, etc. Factor in my average resales on eBay and Half, and I get about $2 – $5 back per book bringing my real cost down to $5 – $11 per book – which is generally *less* than the Kindle… Well, unless everything goes e-book and we ultimately see prices rise greater than $9.99…

    Because you know that's how their model works, right?

    Conversely, what do you have on your Kindle? A collection of 0s and 1s worth nothing. Thanks for your tenner, boyo.

    2) Moving beyond my immediate finances, e-books have the ability to negatively impact local economies. In addition to doing the same to music retailers as we saw with iPods, e-books can put out of work delivery drivers, printers, binders, foresters, paper mills, librarians (think about it), etc, etc.

    3) The green question seems pretty clear. We're creating yet another widget with a 1 – 4 year lifespan that will end up in a mercury landfill. This widget will fail centuries before a book will… Sorry for the tumors, kids. But I *needed* Under the Dome for $9.99.

    4) I'm not comfortable with the exclusive proprietary platforms. You do know that each e-book you bought for your Kindle isn't really yours, yeah? You paid a flat fee to rent it from Amazon for storage on their Kindle. (Which ties back into the fiscal concern above about your PDF having no resale or trade value…)

    And to get slightly conspiratorial? 🙂 Amazon can at any time “edit” the book you bought. Everybody probably heard about the hilariously ironic example of how Orwell's 1984 was deleted from Kindles last year. But Amazon can also edit out parts of books that have been deemed offensive or problematic after reaching the public. Thank you, Daddy!

    5) Smaller writers are thinking they're going to see more money selling direct to their readers, but I don't think this is necessarily true. Just look at music…

    Initially, folks may make a few extra ducats. But if the majority of readers moves to the e-book format? The little guys will find themselves drowning in an ocean of product – just like we see today with music via iTunes, Myspace, etc. There's too much bandwidth.

    And to try to stand out, small writers give it away just in the hopes of drawing readers. But over time, this practice has shown to socialize consumers into believing that they don't have to pay for product. Same with music and porn right now. Porn is actually seeing a decline in revenues. (How do I know this? Uh, well. I, um…)

    And this doesn't even factor in pirating. Pirating is even worse. Conversely, every tried to pirate a hardback copy of Pynchon? It's much harder. 🙂

    Plus the masses already seem unwilling to put in the time to search out for the cream. So, with an even greater level of noise once everyone publishes an e-book, what will the masses continue to read? The same big names they see headlined in the media… Sarah Palin, Stephen King, etc.

    And the little guys continue to be swept away with the froth.

    I dunno, Mike…

    I guess I'm saying I'm just not convinced. Please feel free to correct me or provide additional data points that contradict any of the five concerns I have.

    I honestly wouldn't mind a bit… 🙂

    • Matt,

      I don't really want to quarrel with your summary point by point because a
      lot of what you say is true.

      But it isn't relevant. That is: it being true and $2.25 will get you a ride
      on the subway, but it won't change the future.

      The spread of ebooks will happen for a wide variety of reasons that are much
      bigger than the book business. When people are reading their newspapers and
      even watching their TV shows on their iPhone, are you going to tell them
      they *can't* read a book on the device? And in that case we turn the ecology
      argument on its ear, because the book's being read on a device that the
      person would have whether they could read books on it or not.

      You're right: you can't share it, lend it, or sell it used. You probably
      can't use it again on the next device you read on (although they're getting
      pretty good at including PCs and smart phones as choices the content will
      migrate to without a problem and doing that means that sharing capability is
      also built in.) But, speaking as a guy who has not read a paper book for two
      years and has read about 75% ebooks for ten years (on Palm Pilots in the
      good ole days…), I like the convenience of always having the book; I like
      the ability to search it (not universal in ebooks, but common), and,
      frankly, I like the smaller page size and the ability to read with one hand
      or after my wife's said lights out.

      You're right that publishers (and authors) will have an increasingly
      difficult time monetizing content at the prices they've been used to. But
      that's a big reality that applies to all publishers, not just book
      publishers; all content producers, not just authors; and many other
      professions as well (stockbrokers and travel agents come to mind) who have
      had their business models turned upside down by digital change.

      I try very hard to write what I *think will *happen, not what I *want* to


      • Steve

        The censorship issue really resonates for me. Real life example:

        When George II was running for President, a book came out titled Fortunate Son. There was an afterword, or simnilarly positioned text that raised some fairly solid speculation as to whether missing time in George II's resume was spent in a rehab center for cocaine. Legal threats were made, and the publisher pulled the book from the shelves. This is not a book I would normally have purchased. But when I heard on the news that it had been withdrawn I immediately drove to the nearest Borders and bought a copy, before the system had time to react. Were it not for the loss of a number of prized possessions during a move, I would still have the copy.

        Under the new scenario, the news item would be that the work had ALREADY disappeared from “buyers'” Kindles.

        “Oceana is at wae with Eastasia
        “Oceana has always been at war with Eastasia.”

        -George Orwell

        They might as well have left 1984 on the device. Very few people get the point anymore anyway, so perhaps availability of the work is irrelevant.



      • Steve, the point to the book was that a universal governmental Big Brother
        was all-controlling. Amazon isn't the government and they aren't
        all-controlling. Stroll down to your B&N and they'll sell you a Nook. Or a
        copy of 1984.

        What happened (I'm not sure you know…) is that somebody not authorized to
        do so uploaded 1984 as a Kindle book (it is very democratic there; anybody
        can sell whatever they want…) so Amazon was put in the position of having
        sold something the estate's owners had never granted the right to sell.
        (Hey, maybe they agreed with you and wanted to prevent ebooks from happening
        at all.)

        So Amazon sort-of panicked and used the ability they have to “call back” the
        files, reimbursing the people for their very nominal purchase. Of a book
        that is available in every bookstore in America, and by Fedex delivery from

        I know the irony is rich to the e-skeptics and the conspiracy-minded, and
        they couldn't have picked a better book to provoke a symbolic reaction, but
        this is definitely *not* what George Orwell was talking about and the
        chances of it happening again anytime soon (considering the widespread bad
        press Amazon got and their apologies afterwards) are pretty remote. The
        threat to free speech is nil. Kindle, and epublishing in general, very much
        promote free speech by making the tools of publishing much more widely


      • Steve


        I think the point you draw from 1984 is a bit too narrow. Yes, Orwell depicted a totalitarian government. Were he to have depicted a commercially based oligopoly having similar powers would that have changed the point? It is the reality of power relations which is important, not what we call them.

        In the (true) scenario I depicted, the publisher withdrew a book from circulation based on politically motivated legal threats. All the actors involved acted legally, AFAIK, under our existing legal framework. Does that make it right? Should the power to have censored that work have existed? Was it a good thing that it was done? Would it be a good thing or a bad thing to introduce technological innovations that would make such an action easier to accomplish? Today Amazon is just a poor little megacorp. In 50 years it might be part of the ruling council of a corporate state.

        When knowledge, money, and social relationships, etc. are all technically mediated, any force or constellation of forces that can capture the technological high ground can achieve a level of social control paralled by only a few instances in recorded history.

        Maybe you just trust these guys.

        My mileage varies.


      • Steve,

        First of all, the example from Fortunate Son was a print book, not an ebook.
        So whatever lessons there are to be learned from that, they don't have
        anything to do with ebooks.

        Second: I trust “these guys” to do what makes sense to make money. They are
        complex organisms with a lot of stakeholders they have to balance: their
        authors, their major accounts, their employees, and their stockholders being
        among them (not necessarily in that order; the order changes from time to
        time.) Amazon is not the least bit interested in controlling what people
        read and that's not what the 1984 brouhaha was about.

        The stuff about the “technological high ground” and the “social control”
        leaves me cold because I don't see much interest among the people who get
        that high ground to exercise social control. Not at Amazon, not at Google,
        and not at any big publishing house. They AREN'T governments. There are
        alternatives to them that anybody can use instead of them, no matter who you
        are or how you use them. I'm sorry, but taking a position on ebooks based on
        politics seems a bit overwrought to me.


      • Steve


        One or the other of us must be missing something. Of course Fortunate Son was a print book. That is far from a reason to assume that it has nothing to do with e-books. The Fortunate Son incident demonstrates that even under a legal framework which is intended to be supportive of free discourse and hostile to censorship, the publisher of a politically relevant book can and did censor that book in the context of a heated election campaign. This is the sort of thing the founding fathers crafted the First Amendment to prevent. AFAIK, there is no difference in the legal framework which would prevent such an incident from occurring an an electronic context. So the lesson applies equally to both venues. It simply happens to have happened in the print venue because that venue was dominant at that moment.

        The relevance of the 1984 deletion is that it demonstrates the technical capability for an e-book vendor to remove already purchased content from a user device. It surprises me that you don't see the relevance of this capability to the Fortunate Son scenario. It makes it technically easier to do this sort of thing in the electronic venue, and with more wide reaching effectiveness. That was my core point. I think this is a negative. Your mileage may vary.

        I do agree with you, in a broad sense that these guys will do what they think will make them money, WITH ALL THAT THAT IMPLIES.

        Let's look where some of the broader implications of profit motive can lead in other situations.

        Look, for example, at the history of media companies moving to shut down “fan sites” because they thought that user created content would dilute their brand and damage their control. The motivation was money. The outcome was arguably in the realm of social control.

        Another case: Take the software industry (please). Microsoft is in business to make money. How does this manifest at the product strategy level? A piece of software differs from a tangible product such as an automobile. It will not, left to itself, wear out. There is no intrinsic need to buy another one every <n> years. This creates a problem for a software developer who wants to maintain a consistent revenue stream. The intrinsic revenue stream would follow a saturation curve. But that's not enough for these guys. Operating under the rubric of “innovation” they crank out product updates containing “features” that are irrelevant to a majority of the user community. Often the “innovation” breaks what previously worked. In each case, the upgrade causes a burden from the point of view of end user learning curve. It often force expensive hardware upgrades. Microsoft has even formalized their policy of planned product obsolescence in its “End of Life Cycle” policies.

        But, you will argue, these guys aren't book publishers. That's a completely different business. Maybe, maybe not.

        Heres a scenario for you. Suppose publishers adopted a policy of versioning. Suppose they sold content licensed such that you subscribed to the content rather than purchasing it. Suppose the subscription included regular content updates. Suppose the terms of license allowed the content to turn into a pumpkin within a period of time after the subscription lapsed. This is a model which would arguably be a plus for the e-publisher's revenue. It also, arguably, screws the end-user.

        E-readers allow the technical capability to introduce such a model. Again, I think this is a negative. But it could go even further. let's look at a couple of not too-unreasonable scenarios.

        Let's envision an environment where local school texts are delivered via e-reader. Let's suppose that the publishers contract with state and local school authorities that their offerings will conform to mandated educational standards – which are always judgment calls by those who formulate them, and are occasionally political and/or controversial – as in the case of evolution versus intelligent design. If the educational authorities change the standards, will existing textbook content be automatically updated to comply? Would that be a good thing?

        Another scenario. A publisher of a book on health tips wishes to update the product to reflect the most current consensus of the medical community. But many areas of medicine are controversial, and a “consensus” can sometimes represent a political victory of one body of opinion over another. Recently a Federal panel recommended a change to long-standing guidelines as to when women should get mammograms. The old standard was every year starting at 40. The new recommendation is every two years starting at 50. Proponents of the new recommendation acknowledge that there would be an increase in deaths, but suggest this is justified by a corresponding decrease in false positives. This recommendation is controversial and has ignited something of a firestorm in the breast cancer community. Suppose the new recommendation prevails? Would our hypothetical publisher just send an update out altering the text to comply eith the new consensus? The technology makes it quite possible. Is this a negative? I would say yes.

        A third scenario. An English language political jurisdiction in a country not covered by the US First Amendment passes a law banning the “N word” in published works. An e-book vendor wishes to comply with local law. Purchased copies of Huckleberry Finn exist on e-readers within the jurisdiction in question. What happens?

        Look. Mutable content outside end-user control is an issue. I don't think it's going to go away any time soon.

        Going back to the Fortunate Son case. That publisher probably could care less whether George II was elected. But they did have a powerful incentive to avoid fighting a lawsuit. I'm more interested in results than motivation. What happened happened. In an electronic publishing environment it would have been even worse than it was in the actual event.

        I could go on, but I guess I don't understand why you don't wish to acknowledge this area of vulnerability as a negative with regard to this technology. After all, every technology has it's negatives.


      • Steve,

        Nice parade of imagined horribles (some of them not even “horrible.”)

        Where did you ever get the idea that I thought any technology did NOT have
        its “negatives”?


      • Steve


        I'm a little surprised that you would disagree with my contention that the capability of an e-book vendor to modify or delete content against the wishes of the purchaser is a negative. To me, it is too obvious to even need to be argued. But apparently it's not obvious to you.

        I'm not clear from your responses whether or not you understand why I would consider such a capability a bad thing.

        I certainly don't understand why you would NOT consider it a bad thing.

        The reason for my comment about all technologies having negatives
        was not made because I thought you didn't know that. It was a rhetorical device in which one reminds somebody of the obvious. My reason for employing it was that I was still trying to figure out why you would disagree with my core point. Finally I thought well, Mike is an advocate of this technology, perhaps he feels that by pointing out a negative, I am attacking the technology per se. My reminder that all technologies have negatives was an attempt to neutralize that assumption on your part, if in fact that was what you were assuming.

        But to clarify. Do you think the ability to modify content without the purchasers assent is good, bad or ambiguous? To the extent that you acknowledge that it might create problems, do you have any ideas as to how such problems might be addressed?

        And, a further note of curiosity, which of my “horrible” (your word, not mine) scenarios strike you as not being “horrible”? What is your take on them?


        P.S. For whatever it's worth, here's a link to commentary on this issue by Corynne McSherry, Staff Attorney for the Electronic Frontier. Although it was written in the specific context of the Kindle 1984 lawsuit, it gives a pretty decent discussion of the concerns involved.

      • Steve, I'm not sure what I said that made you think I don't think pulling
        content is a “bad thing”. What I said is that the reaction Amazon got was so
        negative that I doubt we'll see it happen again anytime soon. I said it was
        nothing to worry about in the grand scheme of things, but I didn't “approve”
        of it or see it as a virtue!


      • Steve


        I see I haven't made adequately clear what my point is. I was not trying to jump on Amazon for the 1984 incident. That has been adequately done by others. Nor am I suggesting that you thought they did the right thing. My concern is of a more general nature.

        I was intending to suggest that the 1984 incident and the earlier Fortunate Son incident, when viewed in mutual context, raise profound questions about whether content on an end-user device should be subject to modification by the vendor, and if so, to what extent and under what circumstances.

        We can start with the presumption implicit in print media which is that locally stored content has relative permanence. If you replace an older book with a new edition, that is an action you take knowingly. If content suffers physical loss or destruction, this is due to known hazards which you can take steps to mitigate.

        The default assumption for electronic media, based on the history of the personal computer is similar. The files I store on my personal computer are relatively permanent, barring known hazards which I can take steps to guard against. This assumption begins to break down with the advent of Internet-delivered automatic software updates. Depending on your Windows settings, changes may be made to your local operating system without your knowledge or explicit consent. (However, you can turn this off, if you choose, and if you have the know-how). This introduces uncertainty into the local computing environment. The user can no longer go to bed at night with confidence that their computer will operate the same in the morning. Although automatic updates are not deliberately malicious, they can and do break previously installed software, and the user is not informed of the risks before the update is installed. For somebody accustomed to the assumption of permanance, this is already a tad disconcerting.

        Now let's look at e-readers. Unlike the case of computer software, the assumption of permanence in book-content is strong and long-standing. Surely a novel may have an alternate ending. But you do not expect to wake up and find that the author and publisher have replaced the text in the book on your shelf because they decided the alternate ending was better after all. Once it's on your shelf, you expect that content to be under your control.

        The question of whether a purchaser ought to be able to retain a permanent copy of the text, video, audio, etc. which they have purchased is one which has never been addressed before, as the technical means have never existed to make it an issue. Now it clearly is an issue. Amazon just happened to be the first ones to step into this particular quagmire. It could have been anybody.

        The irony of the connection to 1984 is not particularly that 1984 is a cautionary tale about totalitarianism. Arguably, a stronger theme of 1984 is that of rewriting history. That, after all, was Winston's “day job” when he wasn't pursuing his avocation as a wannabe revolutionary.

        Although there will always be those who would like to rewrite history, and remote modification of locally stored content introduces a powerful new tool that can be turned to that use, one need not hypothesize a totalitarian cabal to have justified concern.

        Take something as everyday as a first aid handbook.What are the guidelines for applying a tourniquet? In my lifetime I have seen this recommendation flip back and forth between two major schools of thought. One holds that you put on a tourniquet and leave it in place until the victim can receive medical attention. The other holds that it should be relaxed briefly every 15 minutes or so. The trade-off is between blood loss and gangrene.

        Now, in the world of permanent content, I can go back to an old copy of the first aid book. I can discover “ah-ha” today they recommend this, but just 30 years ago they made a different recommendation. Depending on what policies are or are not put in place to protect locally stored electronic content, I might or might not be able to make that comparison in the world as it will exist 50 years hence.

        Think about all the shifts in “authoritative” professional opinion that have occurred in the last 50 years. (If you are younger than that, I suppose you could Google it). They have been deep and profound. Many of them have been the subject of political or cultural controversy. The old adage “History is written by the winners” can have deeper implications than the obvious.

        I for one, would like to know that whatever the current trends in authoritative opinion, the texts produced by previous generations on comparable subjects would remain available for comparison and contrast.

        So, here's what I'd like to ask you. Do you think permanence of locally stored content is an issue? If so, what are your ideas for addressing it?


      • Steve,

        I have tried to “hint” that your posts are of an excessive length that is
        unwelcome by answering you very concisely. The shorter my response, the
        longer becomes your next comment. Now I'm just going to tell you: if you
        want to write long posts, start your own blog!

        As for the one question you got around to asking at the end of the latest
        lengthy comment, *So, here's what I'd like to ask you. Do you think
        permanence of locally stored content is an issue? If so, what are your ideas
        for addressing it?*:

        I don't think that the permanence of any content that has more than 5,000
        printed and bound copies in circulation would be much at issue. Since the
        number of copies available of 1984 is probably 100 times that, if not more,
        I'd say there is nothing to address there.

        As for books with far fewer copies, many of those would never have existed
        in a “fixed” edition if it weren't for e-publishing. Requiring the existence
        of “fixed” copies would raise the cost of publishing so that many of those
        books would never exist in any form.

        So, at least for the next few years, I see no serious issue and I see no
        need to address it.

        You are welcome to disagree; just forward me the link to your
        contra-argument and I'll check it out!


      • Steve

        Well, that clarifies a lot. Yes, I have a tendency to be wordy in online discussions – goes back to my usenet days. I had no idea you might find this objectionable. One thing you might want to think about is establishing a comment policy like they have on some other blogs. If I see one, I always try to abide by it as a courtesy to the blog owner.

        So, I kept thinking you weren't getting my point, so I tried harder to explain. Amusing in a way I suppose. Well, I guess this issue has probably been “clarified” to death, so I'll let it lie. Most of what I wanted to say has been said multiple times by now.

        Let's just leave it that I think I see the issue as more serious than you do, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out, especially as the use of e-readers grows.

        My boss at my day job just told me that California has announced a move toward universal use of e-readers for school texts. Interesting, if accurate.


      • We'll see how it works out. The comment policy suggestion is a good one.


      • Matt

        Thank you very much for your time and response, Mike.

        I totally understand you're merely “predicting” and not necessarily thinking through or presenting all the ramifications of the e-book business model.

        (And, to be honest, most folks are equally limited in presenting the complete picture. But I'm always hopeful… 🙂

        That said, I'm not sure you're correct that e-books are a foregone conclusion. I know that's what the media and news commercials tell us in their “trends to follow”-styled reports. And paid consultants repeat it verbatim.

        But Consumers have the power. We're the majority. Where we spend? Businesses follow. If we don't buy into this plan because it's so half-baked economically and environmentally? Then we can help shape the future of books towards a better path.

        It's not like we need this. We don't *need* e-books. We already have a delivery device that works.

        And Mike, I also disagree with you regarding Steve's 1984 comment. I know, I know… I'm a pain in the tuchus today. On one hand, I do think the whole “Orwellian” Kindle event was a big prank put on by someone with a sense of humor… 🙂

        But Amazon is very clear on this point. Kindle readers own nuthin'.

        Amazon requires everyone who owns a Kindle to agree that *Amazon can “remove or edit” their books at any time.* It's in their Conditions of Use…

        So…in a way, Amazon is absolutely all-controlling. At least with regards to the books you “buy” from them. (cough, ahem…) You don't own them. You just paid a flat fee of $9.99 (for now) to rent 'em on the Kindle (that they sold you). And they can remove or edit them at any time.

        So if something is deemed “offensive” in the first edition? No problem, boyo. We'll just sanitize that for you…

        So in the end? To me? Seems we're left with e-book readers like the Kindle that are just another gadget with a 1 – 4 year lifespan. (Compared with a book that lasts centuries) And their real prices aren't even cheaper when we look at the intrinsic value of actual books versus PDF files.

        Not to mention the future pirating of books that we've already seen on the net with music and movies…

        And it's just one more thing in the landfill giving mercury to our kids while taking away American jobs at a time when we need them most. And if Americans don't work? They can't pay to read.

        (But…I got Under the Dome for $9.99 today!)

        Um…yeah. But was it worth it?

        Thanks again, Mike. This is your home on the web, and I appreciate you making it open.

        And I know you're not the king e-book advocate of the world or anything… 🙂 It's just illuminating to see what people in your position are looking at regarding e-books.

        As well as what you aren't looking at.


      • Matt,

        I am only an “advocate” for ebooks to the extent that they have something to
        offer me as a consumer. And that has been a lot for a long time since I've
        been reading them for 10 years and have not read a paper book for two
        (although I still read two paper newspapers every day and a few paper

        You're right that the prevailing model may well change from ownership to
        license. That's happening in the music business too.

        Most changes have their upsides and their downsides. The massive revolution
        taking place in digital content is no exception. But remember that, because
        of print-on-demand, there will be “fixed” copies of most things published —
        and certainly of most *significant* things published — for a very long
        time. And most of the things that don't get fixed copies wouldn't have been
        published at all in the pre-ebook era. Ebooks democratize publishing;
        there's a positive to balance against some of your negatives.

        I think all of us tend to look at some aspects of a phenomenon more than
        others. It's a condition called “human.”


      • Matt


        Actually, I referred to that, Mike. I referenced how the e-book model will “democratize publishing” (cough, ahem) and create an ocean-sized chasm of content to wade through. (Which…to be honest…we already have now. Without needing an e-book reader to access it.)

        It'll be just like music indeed.

        And as we've seen with bands, with this ever increasing noise, the average American who isn't willing to sort through this crazed overmass will continue to purchase the sponsored big names they see and hear repeatedly in the media. Sarah Palin, Stephen King, etc.

        But Consultants will keep telling the little guys to get out there and push their e-books on their family and friends and in their blogs to attract followers… Just because they can sell a few. And these pennies individually add up to dollars for the Amazons at a corporate level.

        And that's *totally* worth the real loss of local American jobs, the pollution, the lack of resale value thru buying PDFs instead of actual books, etc.

        Quite the “balanced value” to the Consumer. (Hey, stop laughing… 😉

        Speaking of, it's illuminating you told Steve above that Amazon, et al support e-books for “strictly business profit reasons” and me that it “helps the little guy.”

        Ah hah…

        In any event, Caveat Emptor. Readers will learn to pirate and steal e-book PDFs.

        Just like music indeed.

        As always, Mike, thank you very much for being our gracious host and for your honest responses. Your time is certainly valuable, and this has been highly educational.

        Now I'm going to stop trolling and read a book. I bought local copy of Chandler's Little Sister It even came with it's own soft cover “delivery device.” Used for $4 bucks.

        And it lasts forever…

      • I actually am flattered by the suggestion, but if you think the widespread
        takeup of ebooks is due to the power of consultants, you haven't been
        sitting next to me for the past ten years. I found ebook reading so
        convenient in 1999 and 2000 on my Palm Pilot that I figured everybody would
        be doing it before long. And I couldn't see any point to a “dedicated
        device” since, to me, the point to ebooks is that you have them with you
        “anyway” and avoid carrying something extra around to read books. (And, of
        course, there is also the eco-argument against creating all these
        immediately obsolete ebook readers.)

        So Amazon and Kindle forced me to revisit some of my prognostications and
        reorient my thinking. Perhaps some future event will do the same for you.
        We're talking past each other at the moment. I'm saying I think ebooks *will
        * become ubiquitous and essentially replace paper books. I do *not *make
        that prediction as a value judgment. You are saying ebooks *shouldn't* replace
        paper books but apparently you fear they will because of the power of
        consultants (among other things, I'm sure.) So it isn't really the same
        conversation. I hope the readers of the blog have found some value in both
        of them.

        Enjoy the book. It will work fine as long as you have the light's on. My
        iPhone doesn't require that.


      • nigeljayrobson

        Mike, you're obviously an avid iphone user, amongst other technological devices, and there's nothing wrong with personal preferences. Personally, I don't like reading anything more substantial than a text on a handheld device; I don't even like reading web pages. I much prefer the larger context of a computer screen, the bigger the better. I haven't held a Kindle or similar device yet. I might like it or I might not. I'll wait and see. I don't much like buying new paperback books because they don't have sufficient visual and tactile appeal to display on a bookshelf after they've been read. I like to buy, keep and display hardbacks. This might influence my attitude to e-readers. But I don't like the 'rent-a-book' aspect. I don't 'rent' programs for my PC, or 'rent' music for my hi-fi, or 'rent' TV and radio programs. I think the ownership arrogance of Amazon and others will have to change, quite apart from improving the e-reader experience. That improvement will take place; just as present-day electronic games bear no resemblance to 1980s 'tennis' on 8-bit computers.

        But I think a lot of the hot air being expended on the subject of e-books ignores what has actually happened in cultural precedent. Cinema was going to 'kill' live theatre; television was going to 'kill' cinema; television was going to 'kill' radio; computers are about to 'replace' TV sets; the internet is going to 'replace' television viewing; and, oh yes, e-readers will 'replace' books. Not to mention Online Shopping 'replacing' the high street.

        In each case, historically, the 'doomed' medium suffered an initial decline before two things happened: (1) the medium itself (theatre, then cinema, etc) improved both its product and its presentation environment; (2) it was rediscovered by an audience stimulated by the very rival which threatened to destroy it (successively, theatre, cinema and radio, to name three, emerged healthier, stonger and more popular). We are in the throes of the computer v television; and internet v TV viewing scenarios; while e-readers v books are just entering the battlefield.

        My own prediction, Mike, is a very conservative one: simply, human history tends to repeat itself. Unless you know otherwise.

        Regards, Nigel (a UK perspective; but are we so different?)

      • Nigel,

        In your chain of what would die when challenged by new technology, you made
        a good list of things that have been diminished but not killed. There *is* less
        theater than there was before movies. There *is *less film production than
        there was before TV. And there is a lot less money spent on TV programming
        than there was before the internet revolution.

        The difference with printed books is that they require an infrastructure
        (called bookstores) that depend on a certain volume to exist. You can close
        ten theaters and leave another ten running. If you close enough bookstores,
        you can't support a print industry.

        I think the model we'll see before too much longer (5 or 10 years?) is that
        you can buy the ebook for price X and you can buy a printed-and-bound book
        (printed on demand) for price X plus the cost of printing and binding. And
        people like you who really prefer the printed page will be able to get it.

        So the printed book won't be “killed”, but it will be diminished by more
        than other diminished media have been.


      • nigeljayrobson

        Well it will be interesting to see what actually happens. It's certainly true that in the UK cinema attendance is only about 10% of its peak in the 1940s, although it is now about double its low-point in the mid-1980s and seems to have settled there. Diminished but now thriving on a lower plateau. The theatre, similarly.

        I think you may be drawing an artificial distinction regarding 'infrastructure'. Close too many theatres and cinemas and you can no longer sustain the background skills of costume-making, film-editing, set-construction, and so on. In fact, enough theatres and cinemas have remained open to support that infrastructure (which itself, ironically, is part of the lifeblood of the television industry that theatened to destroy it). But, additionally, that same infrastructure has adapted to circumstances: many films now go straight to dvd, which helps keep the industry alive; film editors double as video editors, thus working to film, TV and video (dvd, web, etc). While cinema has re-energised itelf, first with the blockbuster and now with cgi, supporting both the traditional set-making and effects skills and those of the IT industry. Television is already adapting to the computer-age challenge, with view-on-demand, i-players, all kinds of select-to-view protocols and (soon) TV programmes broadcast direct to the internet.

        I doubt whether the book industry will contract sufficiently to kill off its own infrastructure. Some print companies will go to the wall (some have already) but those that remain will adapt and survive. Print-on-demand is not yet a true alternative. My novel (2009) would have cost double-per-copy P.O.D, compared with the traditional paperback printer (one of the top UK printers) I and my publisher chose. At the moment, P.O.D (Lightning and all the others) is impossible to combine with competitive retail pricing. (You know Amazon takes 60% don't you?)

        People will still buy books (from fewer bookshops) because enough (probably a majority) will still enjoy the combination of the bookshop experience and the physical book itself. Moreover, bookshops are already adapting. Some sell e-readers. Some have coffee shops and soft leather chairs. Some specialise. I was signing at a delightful country town bookshop a couple of weeks ago, thronged with parents and children, attracted by Father Christmas and cakes but buying all kinds of books whilst there.

        I suspect books, as well as publishers and authors will adapt, too. I'm already thinking about how to make my next book part of a mixed-media experience. And – who knows – you may open a book ,before long, which sports an interractive video screen on the inside cover, with links to background material, related topics, author profile, and so on.

        The book will remain. Not as a dinosaur but, like theatre, cinema, TV and radio, as part of a multi-faceted lifestyle. One day soon, we'll be able to go on virtual vacation: two weeks' experience of a holiday resort via a helmet on our head while we sit in an armchair at home. Very convenient but it won't empty the beaches.


      • We're sort of speculating up different trees, but I don't find much to
        disagree with in what you're saying. If you're making your “book” into a
        multimedia experience, that says all one needs to read about the future of
        print on paper.


      • Steve


        I have to correct one point. A paperback book will not last “forever”. I have now owned some long enough to have a sense of the failure mode, and they seem to fall apart after about 20-30 years with normal use. 🙁


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  • I totally agree with point 12 about integration of ebook offerings with other products and services from publishers. Publishers have so much great content in different formats but they have been sold as separate products so far.

    There appears to be a great opportunity for publishers to start creating experiences where they integrate these products so that customers can buy content once and access in different circumstances. For example, they might read the ebook on a train, and switch to the audio book version in the car which picks up where they finished reading on the train.

    • Will, what I was actually thinking about in that post was not additional
      content from the publisher, but other things: seeds sold with gardening
      books, tools sold with DIY books, etc. Publishers make consumers interested
      in things and could be benefiting from that interest in a direct-to-consumer


  • ellenhopkins

    I write novels in verse, some of which rely heavily on formatting for visual interest. One of my signature styles is pulling words to one side, creating “two-in-one” poems, with the smaller poem being the heart of the larger poem. In my book IDENTICAL (about identical twins), when I change voices, the small poems are the same (echoing what is the same about the girls) while the larger poems are different. So you really need to read the pages side-by-side. I don't see e-books being able to accomplish that very well, and that is something my readers care about and savor.

    Can I also say that there is a vast population in this world that will never have access to e-readers, and a very large population that will resist them even if they can afford them. Will they not be allowed to read new literature?

    We are continually told as authors to embrace the new technologies, and most of us do. However, it seems to me that this “all or nothing” push is rather elitist. “Hurry publishers. Do this or be left behind, you giant dinosaurs.” (Not to mention us dinosaur eggs known as traditionally published authors.) Is there truly not room (at least until we finally run out of trees on this planet) for e-books to coexist with paper?

    • Ellen, your work sounds very original and interesting. And I can see that
      you depend on the facing pages layout, which was created out of physical
      necessity in print but which you have made serve an additional purpose.

      My belief that the world is headed to ebook primacy is not based on what I
      think is best for society; it is based on my view of the economics. The
      print book system is expensive, and not just because we need to print and
      bind the books. Many more books can be published — *are* being published —
      without the requirement of inventory. And it is that greater choice of
      books, along with improvements in screens and displays and their more
      widespread distribution — that will drive the change.

      I am not sure whom you are accusing of conducting an “all or nothing” push.
      Speaking for myself, I'm not pushing anything; I'm trying to predict what I
      think will happen. Take comfort in the fact that I'm not always right. In
      fact, nobody who predicts the future is!


      • ellenhopkins

        Hey Mike, I wasn't trying to be accusatory. It's just that this discussion is popping up more and more lately, often in relationship to self-publishing and how it will usurp traditional publishing, and should. I agree with Matt that e-publishing is probably not going to grow a paid readership for unknown writers, especially those who aren't willing to work at the craft of writing. Too many believe they are the next Faulkner or Poe or Austen or whoever, when the fact is they have no idea how to craft a readable story, let alone a publishable one.

        Again, I'm all for technology, just not at the expense of something I love (and I'm not THAT old!) Perhaps in the future books will be regarded as an art form. Then I can be an artist as well as an author.

      • Ellen, the unknown writers need to work as hard on the marketing as they do
        on the writing, whether they're self-published or handled by a publisher!

        I think books *are* art to some people, and what you describe you do seems
        to really resonate with that paradigm.


      • Matt

        Wow! I dropped by to see if anyone had contributed a single substantive justification for e-books…and who's here but Ellen Hopkins! Referring to a comment I made! Pretty f*ckin' cool.

        Mike, you're a good guy to respond to everyone. Thank you very much. And I know you say you only “predict.” But since you've been totally transparent, it's no secret that your “predictions” dovetail nicely into your own personal taste as well as your consulting business which stands to financially benefit from a greater e-book market share.

        Thus it's in your own self-fulfilling interest to predict for more e-books. (Which isn't to say that's not what you truly believe or that you're wrong.)

        Unfortunately, e-books (just like the Atomic Bomb or Twinkies) are one of those “innovations” which beg the question… Sure, we *can* do it. But *should* we? Especially given the negative impact? The loss of jobs, piracy of e-files, destruction of local retail commerce, greater mercury pollution, increased noise destroying smaller and mid-level books like blogs killed newspapers, etc, etc?

        That's why I don't believe we're talking past each other so much as approaching the same topic from different but related vantage points.

        Personally, I know I'd feel horrible contributing to these negative outcomes. Especially since all we have to do is look at music to learn from our immediate history and see what will likely happen to us…

        p.s. Chandler's Little Sister? Totally awesome. And the reader before me left some fantastic pencil notes inside which hired me like Marlow to sleuth out another noir. Something I wouldn't have gotten from an e-book.

        p.p.s. But…you totally got me with your iPhone's ability to read in bed with the lights out. True, true. (well, so long as your battery doesn't run out… Books are pre-post-apocalyptic! 😉

        p.p.p.s. Per the note in my book, I'm now reading Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg. I got an ex-library copy for $2. Good thing, too, because there ain't no e-book version…

        p.p.p.p.s. Ellen, I'm looking forward to your next novel in the Crank serious. Beautiful and heartbreaking.

        p.p.p.p.p.s. Now this is just ridiculous.

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  • henrylow

    Having been a part of the Online Universal Work Marketing team for 4 months now, I’m thankful for my fellow team members who have patiently shown me the ropes along the way and made me feel welcome

  • Eeerr I want to write an ebook and a device to read it

  • vheenix


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