The price of reading an ebook

I have enjoyed reading books on my iPhone, using Stanza, but recently I decided an ereader would be a good thing to get.
Using Stanza I’ve browsed for books from US or UK sources, but as I considered the device itself I started to check the range of titles offered here in Sweden.

Now, one of the big things with ebooks is that you only need to work on the original – writing, editing, cover design, formatting, marketing – yes, for sure, but doing copies are painless. You don’t need to calculate print runs, or pay for printing, or for delivery to physical shops, or for handling of returns; nor is there a host of in-beweens who add to the final price you the reader pay for the actual book.

Despite this ebooks in Sweden cost me, the reader, just as much as an ordinary hardcover book.
In some cases perhaps a bit less but still considerably more than what buys me a paperback.

As an example, let’s use the book Svensk maffia, by Lasse Wierup. The online dealer wants me to pay

189 SEK or US$25.56 for the downloadable audiobook
41 SEK or US$5.55 for the paperback (mass market size)
154 SEK or US$20.85 for the ebook (epub, mobi or pdf)

Add to this that the device itself is between 1995 and 2995 SEK (US$270-405), as sold from Swedish retailers.

I have to ask myself – does this mean authors suddenly get paid better? Or do this only mean that the publisher OR the (online) retailer gets a bigger profit?

My bet is on the last.

My guess is also that present situation is due to the publishers being clueless about what to do with this e-ification. Maybe they just don’t understand the format and the media, and are afraid that ebook sales will eat away the sale of Dead Tree Books (DTB’s).
Of course they will. Of course!!! It’s like who needs steady deliveries of ice now when we have fridges? But if they play their cards right they will still be in the publishing business, so there’s nothing to fear.

The alternative is that the publishers really think we readers are idiots waiting to get ripped off, that we’ll silently pay hard back prices for something that costs monumentally less to produce than a paperback…

No wonder ereaders aren’t a big hit here.


The Future is Now: Books in a digital age

In today’s paper edition of Dagens Nyheter there’s yet another news item about a smallish book publisher in crisis. Last year was all time low for the book business in Sweden, with a record low turn-over in bookshops all around.

So, let’s look at bookshops. Do they sell books? Well, yes, but not mainly. The people owning the large chains, like Akademibokhandeln, have decided people don’t buy books… so instead they have turned into miscellanea shops. Things like paper and pens – that’s no big leap. Same with magazines. DVD’s? Chocolates, olive oil?!?! An instore Apple store?!

Well, I can actually see the justification for the Apple store BUT if you’re really committed to the digital age, perhaps you should have other brands as well… But no.

Space isn’t infinite, and these new things has pushed actual books to the back of the shops. And as someone has made the (insane) decision that people shop based on book covers covers should be exposed, not spines, which results in even less books per available shelf. And with little space you have to restrict yourself to a few best selling titles… and suddenly the difference between the book rack at the line to the check out counter at the supermarket and the bookshop has diminished beyond recognition.
And I don’t go there, because I can’t find the titles I’m interested in.

Talk about digging one’s own grave.

At the same time lots of people are talking about ebooks. I’ll hereby state that I love paper books. I love my shelves and the atmosphere the lend our flat. I love the touch and smell of books, of pulp and printers ink. I also enjoy ebooks, for their portability and for sheer reasons of space – my shelving space, like that of the bookshops, is not infinite. Those books that I own in an electronic format are actually e-editions of books that I already own, in paper format. This, to the publishing business, is actually a chance to larger sales. But the people up there doesn’t read books, apparently, and don’t socialise with people who do it either, not beyond the supermarket trash/flash. So they don’t know about patterns and opportunities like these.

On another level ebooks are considerably easier to make – yes, some manual work if the original file doesn’t use correct mark up, but beyond editing and proofing it’s just straight to the desired medium – no stock except the digital file, no costs for printing, no costs for shipping, no costs for handling unsold copies…
Marketing and editing still will be very much needed, but at the same time the possible audience has grown to encompass the whole globe and just not a specific country or region.

The possibilities are overwhelming. An online acquaintance, situated in Australia, complained yesterday that getting his hands on a certain graphic novel because the shipping, from France, would equal a week’s salary. So the publisher won’t do that sale.

Some of them publishes some books in e-format. But often just odd books, or best sellers.

In reality book sales would benefit hugely if all back catalogues were reissued as ebooks – especially for genre writers, like crime, mystery, science fiction… the back catalogue is essential, because they tend to write more than one book featuring a special character, be it officially labelled as series or not. Not to mention that niche writers would be cheaper to publish, and would more efficiently find their way to their readers.

But we all know why the publishing houses won’t rise to this. They would have to scrap most of their present infrastructure, including the knowledge of how to write contracts. Hugely impopular, especially with leaders, owners and managers that are clueless in the digital landscape.

So they sit there, with their financial losses, watching sales decline and blaming it all on the “financial crisis”, while we, the readers, lose our access to good books.


Copyright – the right to copy?

The last couple of days I have been trying to write a piece about copyright.

Why all these false starts? I’m sure it’s because it’s a complex set of topics. Also, the debate is fairly infected, with trenches well dug and fortified. Even at my workplace, which shouldn’t had come as a surprise, but people have been vehement in a way that is totally out of character.

So, the ramble begins –

The issue of who owns the rights to publish what is nothing new, and has as it’s source the fact that post-web very few had the means to print, press or otherwise mass-produce, and distribute, what they wrote or recorded or filmed.

This meant that printing houses, agents, and others, found a niche as brokers and for making money, which in their case is a kind of primal urge and, in many cases, their sole reason for being. This also meant that people creating that kind of content, or whatever you like to call it, had to roll over and pay the price, or not be published, or read, or viewed, at all.

Now some people think it evil of those authors (I won’t lie, I primarily think of authors – I’m a book person, right?) if they get angry when people steal their source of income – ie. transcribing or scanning the pages and putting them out in the net, for anyone to read, without a single cent going to the originator. These people seem to think that authors should write in the time the rest of us use to sleep, or maybe they should get themselves a rich patron, or maybe they should live on things collected from other’s garbage, so they can write. These people think the bitch is the copyright laws. The thinking seems to be something like “big megacorps own the rights, so owning the rights must be wrong”.

I don’t think the copyright laws are that evil. The trouble is the media industry – who owns the copyrights that should properly belong to the originators – and increasingly the pseudo-democratic transnational pseudo-governments like the EU, who legislate to keep a dying industry on life support.

In an earlier age publishers justified their being with functioning as sieves, sifting the bad stuff from the good, publishing the good stuff. This hasn’t, of course, been entirely true, ever. But these last decades has seen an escalating trend towards pure trash, were the entertainment value haven’t been the quality of the piece but the promise of scandalous gossip about famous people, or their physical attributes, and the like.

An author I read a lot of books by recently told on her blog that ta one occasion her editor was transferred from cookbooks into science fiction. I can only imagine how that can affect editing, and the final product – the editor reduced to proofreader, no genre skills or insights needed.

So possibly authors and musicians, at least, don’t need the publishing houses any more, except in the cases were those publishers still own a certain copyright. The rest are free to publish however they want, retaining their rights to their works.

This is a possibility right now, without any changes in the copyright laws. Said authors could publish themselves in an e-format, getting their own revenues straight in pocket, and with the added possibility of the buyer of the one copy having permission to print it, if for personal use. There are places like Lulu out there who would print that one copy for you, in book format, shelf ready, and ship it to you.

A plus would be authors could write other things than what their publishers commission them to write. The same fave author I mentioned some paragraphs earlier is thinking about continuing series no publisher wants her to continue because a new instalment means they have to reprint previous instalments, and that costs money. This would be great, of course, for those of us who loves her books.

With bricks and mortar music and book shops turning belly up in the onslaught of on-line shopping this is one of the very few possible near future scenarios. No further need for the media industry! It comes as no surprise that they fight to retain their position, and being big corporations the have plenty of muscle. Especially now when the legislative bodies around the world jump to support them in their doomed business models.

What is surprising is that a lot of people think authors’ and musicians’ right to earn a living should be buried in the same grave.

For me the core principle is that the originator should be recognised, as in getting part or all of the revenue generated by people wanting to read or listen to their creations. What is wrong with that? I’m all for cutting out the middlemen. Don’t cut the one way an author can protect his or her source of income, though. Because most books don’t get written in stray evenings between dinner and bedtime – authors need to pay their bills, just like you and me.

So. Therefore I support the idea of copyright laws. They need to be changed, but not overmuch. Just stop protecting the megacorps and start protect the originators instead.

And. Theft is theft, any way you cut it.