Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I Have Seen the Future...

...and it is palm-sized.

The husband done good for Christmas: an iPod Touch (aka iTouch). And it is fun. But it's also a little dangerous. See, you can download applications directly onto the iTouch. A checkers game? Done. More music? Downloaded. An e-reader? Done and done.

There's been a lot of noise about Kindle and how it will take over the electronic reading market. But Kindle costs $500 a pop, [ETA: they're now $359...recession?] they're relatively big, and they only do one thing: download and show books. iTouch is the future. iTouch costs between $280 (16gig) and $215 (8gig), fits in your pocket, and does everything: music, video, interwebs, picture viewing, etc. In other words: the kids will want one.

And you can download a program called Stanza that is an effective e-reader for iTouch. Many books (all classics, read: all mostly boring) are available for free through Stanza. [For a comparison between Kindle and iTouch+Stanza, check out this article]

This, not Kindle, is the future for e-readers. Portability, versatility, cost effectiveness. The iTouch with Stanza will have the same effect on books that the iPod did with music. This is the future, ladies and gentlemen, this is where electronic text is going.

But let's be honest--a complete free copy of Shakespeare's plays ain't gonna do much for most people. They want, say, Twilight.

And here's where my problem begins.

While the (boring) classics are free, the new, popular books are not. And they are rather pricey. An electronic copy of Twilight costs almost as much as a hard copy. In general, electronic copies aren't more than a buck or two cheaper (if that). And check out this article: the Amazon hardcover price of a book was actually cheaper than the electronic version!

And that ain't right.

I'm not the only one who thinks so: a recent Galley Cat article pointed out that readers tend to reject overpriced e-books.

Diatribe over, here's what I think the future really holds for e-books to be profitable and a success:
  • e-readers must be versatile and affordable (such as iTouch)
  • e-books should never cost more than $5
  • free e-book downloads should be included with the purchase price of a book (after all, I can rip music into my mp3 player after I buy a CD)
I know that I've ranted on this subject before, but...*sigh*. I'm a techie and a reader, and feel like we're this close to really making a breakthrough with electronic books. But things like overpriced readers (Kindle, I'm looking at you) and overpriced e-books (grrr...) just hold back the development of this market.

What do you think?


Gottawrite Girl said...

Ok, I really, really appreciate this post. So true... an e-book costing as much as a hardback, that SO ain't right! Not fair-alert, not fair-alert! I gotta concede that e-readers might be the future of books, however much that pains me, but they have gotta get on board with cost efficiency if they want to hurry along the process... you know? For now, I'll happily pay for my pricey and tangible papered friends...

Always, thanks Beth.

: )


Anonymous said...

I am getting a Kindle. My husband has an iPhone and I borrowed it to read a book hoping it would work for me and quell my Kindle lust. I know that I'll be getting an iPhone when my contract with Verizon is up in August. However, the iTouch did not work all that well for me. There were two main reasons. First of all, I read in bed a lot. One of the wonderful things about the iPhone and iPod Touch is that they are aware of where they are in space and so the screen changes as you move around. Not great when you want to lie in bed and read, as I'd roll over, the "book" would suddenly switch from portrait to landscape mid-sentence. This would always require finding my place again -- it was a real irritation to me. The second big issue for me was screen size. It's a tiny screen which is necessary for making the iPhone and iPod Touch work but not so great for reading a long work on it.

Stanza will convert PDFs to Kindle format and into audiobooks (although I need to hear what that voice sounds like before seeing that as a feature myself). It is fantastic software, no doubt. But, for me, a Kindle is going to be better for actually reading and enjoying books.

The Kindle is expensive at $359 but cutting edge technology always is. Kindle's main competitor the Sony e-Reader is in the same price range ($280 - 380). An iPod Touch starts at $229.

Kindle versions of books vary in price. The Twilight series runs from $11ish for Breaking Dawn to $6.04 for older books in the series. Still, Breaking Dawn is $12ish in hardcover and then you have a big book to store and know that trees died for your pleasure! :)

Anyway, I think there will be lots of different needs that will need to be sorted out on this topic. For me, having a reader that meets my needs is important. My biggest complaint on the Kindle is the wait . . .

PJ Hoover said...

I was thinking about your post - this part:
"free e-book downloads should be included with the purchase price of a book"

It seems like it should, but then I tried to compare it to other stuff out there.

First, and does this fit with anything, I feel like if a CD I own gets scratched, I should be able to get a replacement CD. That said, If my husband drops one of my Waterford wind glasses (which he did the other night), I don't get a replacement.
But the glass and the CD are not the same. Or are they?

But anyway, what does that have to do with anything. What is a good comparison? If I owned an LP in the past or an 8-track, should I be able to get a free DVD for it? Some people may think so, but the problem is companies would spend everything just giving people these other versions.

Maybe there should be more "combo" buys. Buy the hardback and get the e-book for an extra $4.

I guess the biggest problem comes down to places trying to make money despite piracy.

OK, that was a ton of rambling. Feel free to ignore it all!

Shannon Morgan said...

I use eReader and Mobipocket on a Motorola phone because I didn't want dedicated hardware. I agree about the audacity of high ebook prices, especially since some publishers have recently *lowered* author royalties for digital sales (grr). But I keep a wish list at Fictionwise.com and sort it by price. Then I buy from the cheap end.

Yay, ebooks!

Angela said...

I like audible. Though I think the cost may be obscured becasue you buy credits for downloads and some books are 2 credits and other times they have these big sales. We buy a bunch of credits for a year period and I love the ease of access...the books I want are only a click away.

Unknown said...

Susan: While I do think that e-books are the future, I also think that there will always be a place for paper books, too. Just think of it this way: mp3s are the future of music, but tangible forms of music (such as CDs) will never be replaced. I have always looked at mp3s and ebooks as I look at the radio: a free (or cheap) preview of something that I'd like to purchase.

Egretsnest: I am so jealous! I want a Kindle--the iTouch will work for now, but the ultimate goal would be a Kindle! :)

PJ: I totally see your point. I was thinking of some recent ads I've seen with DVDs: buy the movie, get the soundtrack free from iTunes. And one of the video houses (I think Disney??) was doing a buy-back program with DVDs to Blu Ray. I think. I'm pretty vague on this, and had the idea for free downloads way early in the morning, so...

But also, I was thinking of Cory Doctorow. His free download of Little Brother had a HUGE effect on me and how I look at the entire situation. First, I really believe in the power of free distribution and the creative commons license. I think offering a book for free is the best thing you can do to actually sell more copies--as Doctorow said, the dangerous thing isn't theft, it's obscurity. Whichever publishing house embraces electronic media with sales will have an advantage over the other ones. Take, for instance, you in a book store. There are two books you're considering buying. The one with FREE! labeled on it is more likely to attract you--so you buy that book. Then, if you like it, the publishing house has built a fan base for the author's next book--with or without the free. Although I'd be more than amenable with a combo deal (buy the book, get a download cheaper), I think there's more market to the free download--even if you only associate the free download to the hardcover version (i.e. if you buy the hardcover, you get the download, but if you buy the cheaper paper back, no download for you). In the end, I'm not concerned about piracy at all: I hope that our society gets to a point where electronic books are gateways to paper book purchases, which means the more e-books out there (pirated or not) leads directly to more paper books (and sales for authors!).

Nomadshan: There are certainly limits to dedicated hardware. Given the choice to have one or the other, I'd opt for the one with more options...but if I could afford it, I'd totally want both!!

Angela: I am a fan of audible as well! Can't afford it now, but I do like the concept!