Wednesday, May 6, 2009

E-book breakthrough?

There is e-book news from several fronts this week. First, the Texas legislature has passed a bill that allows school districts to use their textbook money for e-readers. Second, news leaks tell that Amazon will unveil a new, larger size Kindle for reading newspapers and textbooks. The unveiling is set for tomorrow (as I write this) or today (as you read this.).

The textbook news out of Texas should cheer all e-book lovers. Texas is the second largest purchaser of textbooks. Now, school kids in Texas may get their books electronically. The savings will be felt by the districts who won't have to store textbooks, who will be able to replace them easier and cheaper when they wear out or become outdated. Children will feel the weight of all those books removed from their bookbags. I have always believed the spear point of the e-book revolution is in textbooks. The generation that goes to school on e-books will be the e-book market of the future.

The Kindle news is also exciting in this regard. The large format of the new Kindle is intended for textbooks, which are printed in a larger format than trade books. The larger screen will allow for presentation of graphs and other illustrations. It's also rumored to have the ability to make annotations to the text—to write in the margins, in other words. The large format will make reading newspapers easier, too.

Is this the breakthrough e-book authors have been waiting for? Perhaps. It's certainly a significant step. However, I believe the biggest breakthroughs are yet to come and they are not in technology or legislation, but in marketing. The breakthrough will be in the selling of e-books, or more specifically, getting the book in front of a potential buyer's face.

The genius of the Kindle, in my opinion, is not in the electronic ink or other razzle-dazzle, nor in the ability to carry your entire library in your hand. No the genius of the Kindle is that you carry an entire bookstore in your hand. With a Kindle, you can buy a book whenever the mood strikes. Say you've just finished a Michael Connelly. You can immediately purchase the next one and within minutes plunge ahead into the series. No having to head to a bookstore, or start up your computer. A flip of the switch and you're connected. Another book purchased. Genius.

The shortcoming of the Kindle is that it connects to the Amazon store, which is not an inviting store. I like bookstores and drugstore racks and airport displays and newsstands as a means of selling books. A bookstore with shelf after shelf and tables piled with books and end displays with the covers facing out is a pleasure palace, full of temptations. The Amazon store, on the other hand, is like a bookstore with sheets over the shelves and tables. You can see what's inside only if you peek behind the sheets. Even then, you only see a small part of the stock. That's what the Amazon search engine feels like to me.

You sell a book by putting the cover in the reader's face. That's what a bookstore does. That's what a book signing does. Until publishers, booksellers and writers can figure out how to put the book cover in front of a reader's face, instead of at the end of a search function, we won't have a breakthrough in e-books.

What do you think?

Mark Troy


F. M. Meredith, author said...

This time I don't agree. I know so many people who read on some sort of e-book reader including iPhones.

I started out e-published eons ago, before anyone knew who to do this except to read on the computer.

Amazon has the covers up for e-books just like for regular books, it just says they are available as an e-book, same with other e-book outlets like and of course the publishers' websites.

E-books have come into their own.


Anonymous said...

I've given in to the ebook wave. I'll always buy print books myself, well ... long as they still offer 'em, anyway. I saw a video ad for the new Kindle book reader - it's got some cool features, like adjusting the font and pt size to fit your eyes, also it will read the book out loud for you - pretty cool.

Now I'm waiting for the publishers to get up off the money. They have next to no cost publishing an ebook, yet their royalty payouts are a ridiculously low percentage of the take. I don't know how authors will be able to make a buck selling their books as ebooks unless something gives - like the greedy publishing houses.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I'm just happy to see the ebook (multi format) industry soaring, along with POD machines in bookstores. Any advance in technology that leads to more book sales can't be all bad.


Morgan Mandel said...

I'm all for anything that encourages reading in either ebook or print form. I have a vested interest, since my books, Two Wrongs and Girl of My Dreams, come in both formats.

Morgan Mandel

Ben Small said...

I use my Kindle all the time, and am glad to see the ebook revolution. It may help curb the returns nightmare faced with traditional bookstores, which order too many books and return what's not sold.

Chester Campbell said...

I don't have an ebook reader but I have four (soon five) books available for the Kindle. I get regular royalties from the sales. I think the ebook market will continue to grow as the technology improves. People will look for my books as readily in the Kindle Store as in a Barnes & Noble.

Mark Troy said...

I agree with you all that the e-book market will continue to grow and that e-books and e-readers are here to stay. I've been a champion of the technology myself since I discovered Project Gutenberg and e-books on Hypercard years ago. My first book came out as an e-book and is still earning royalties, though small, on Amazon.

I love the technology. But, I don't sell the technology. I sell books. My opinion is that Amazon and Sony can sell the technology. As writers, we have to sell the books and I don't see anything in the e-book world that is comparable to putting bound books in a bookstore. The bound copies of my books have sold better than the e-books.

As writers, we need to focus on selling books and figuring out how to get them into people's hands or onto their readers. The breakthrough will come when we can do that..

Pam Ripling said...

This is fabulous news (re: Texas and e-textbooks) and I wholeheartedly agree that while this does not affect us ebook authors directly, it is another inroad into getting people used to the idea and making ebooks more commonplace. I've been saying for many years that the publication of textbooks is where ebooks can really shine.

Regarding the Kindle... I agree with most of what y'all have said. My feeling is and has always been that until they get a snazzy, easy to use reader down to about $99.99, it won't be the huge seller we want it to be. And I also agree that royalty structures need to be overhauled. Royalties should not be based on format. The story is the same regardless of whether it is printed or downloaded.