Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: paper books

But can your Kindle or Nook do this?

Second of two parts

A memory-filled meander through an airport bookstore last week prompted some comparisons between e-books and the real thing.  I also discovered that English provides few ways to distinguish a book that’s printed on paper versus one that’s contained in a digital file.  Are they both simply books?  More about that in a later entry.  For now, here are a few other shortcomings of reading electronically:

Buying or making bookmarks  Gift shops, bookstores, tourist attractions and other places still sell bookmarks.  They’re not nearly as efficient as their automated counterparts that let you stop reading an e-book in your e-reader and pick it up in the same spot, days later, on your computer or tablet.   But then electronic bookmarks are not tangible.

My small collection of bookmarks includes one with a reproduction of Ecstasy (a painting by American artist Maxfield Parrish), another containing a brief history of San Francisco’s Ferry Building and one courtesy of my alma mater, UNLV.  Ribbons are good bookmarks, but my favorites are ones I’ve made by laminating cartoon strips.   They’re just the right size for paperbacks or larger books, and they make me smile.

(One of my favorite cartoon bookmarks is from the Wizard of Id.  The wizard complains to his wife that as he gets older he keeps repeating himself.  His wife tells him not to worry because no one listens to old people anyway.)

Airline boarding passes, before they became electronic, made dandy bookmarks and I have often simply used bookstore cash register receipts to save my place in a book.   Recently I read a book I’d purchased some years before.  Inside, I found the receipt–dated 2002.  Obviously that book had been sitting on my shelf longer than I realized.

Sometimes to make a bookmark I will reach for whatever’s handy, a torn strip from a magazine, a corner of a newspaper page, a pencil or even a sheet of toilet paper.

A final form of bookmark, popular in years past–now often associated only with scripture or with fancy leather editions of classics–is the bound-in ribbon.  I recently bought a faux leather-bound collection of mystery short stories (to be reviewed in an upcoming blog entry) with a long, slender ribbon attached.  Handy.

Dog-ears  In addition to the often-heard prohibition regarding writing in a book, dog-earing a page is another bibliographic sin.  And perhaps it should be.  Pages in books printed on inexpensive paper or in ancient paperbacks may break off if they’re folded.  Better quality paper can withstand folding and straightening.

Dog-earing is useful, however, to identify locations within a book, sometimes a page on which you’ve highlighted or annotated (thus compounding your sin). To save the corners of pages, I used to tear Post-it notes into strips to create crude tabs in a book, then someone invented the convenient little self-adhesive plastic tabs you can stick on.

The latest generation Kindle automatically saves your place when you turn off the reader, but also allows you to make bookmarks–or more accurately place savers–throughout an e-book simply by touching the upper right corner of the screen.   A tiny electronic symbol, looking like a book page folded over, appears in the corner.  So, in a sense, you can dog-ear a page in an e-book.

One characteristic of some books–that thankfully has not been synthesized in e-books–is the deckle edge.  More than a century ago this uneven, textured edge of pages used to be a common byproduct of papermaking.  Now it’s used to give a book literary airs.  Put a deckle edge and a thicker than normal cover on a trade paperback and voila, you have classic in the making, a $20+ pricetag and a book that’s far less accessible or useful because you can’t riffle it.

Finally, a row of e-readers is not very decorative on a bookshelf, and you can’t press flowers in a Kindle.

Ebooks and book prices – changes        to come, but what and when?

In the weeks since the announcement of patents by Apple and Amazon for systems to sell “used” ebooks, online writers weighed in decrying the development or criticizing the predictors of gloom.

Writing in Magellan Media, Brian O’Leary takes exception to comments by authors who said writers’ incomes would plummet as ebook prices nosed down.  He asserts that ebooks would become more valuable–and higher priced–if buyers knew they could resell them and recoup some of the original sales price.   He also says that like their paper cousins, individual ebooks would not last forever.  As operating systems and ereader software change, various forms of ebooks could become obsolete and not a bargain on the used marketplace.

Suzie Welker, writing in the Orangeberry Book Tours website, says of a used ebook market: “expect it to happen sometime.”

According to Welker, lower priced ebooks–as a result of a used ebook market, I presume–could, for two reasons, have the effect of reducing sales of stolen ebooks on pirate sites.   First, many people would be willing to pay a reasonable price to avoid dealing with shady book sellers and second, she reminds us that if your Kindle or Nook dies or is stolen, your legal ebooks, unlike the pirated versions, are recoverable.

The topic of used ebooks aside, Leslie Kaufman, writing in the New York Times, discusses how some big literary agencies are offering their own “self-publishing” ebook options for writers.   According to the story, author and playwright David Mamet is using a self-publishing option from his literary agency, ICM Literary Partners as a way to gain more control over his book’s marketing.

Kaufman’s article, which describes book publishing today as “digital disruption,”  explains the rationale behind agents’ decision to get into self-publishing.   It also provides a summary of different forms of  self-publishing available to authors today and explains present royalty structures, of interest to readers (in addition to writers) in order to see where book publishing is going.

What do authors have to gain by paying an agent to “self-publish” for them?   Robert Gottlieb, chairman of the Trident Media Group, told the Times that authors benefit from his agency’s experience in marketing and jacket design and his firm can give clients access to plum placement on book sellers’ websites.

What does all this mean for readers, book buyers? Ultimately you will dictate the success of all forms of ebooks as you browse Amazon or Barnes and Noble deciding which title to download.  Prices may be lower, one influence on buying decisions.  Well-known author names also figure in.  But quality?  In this expanding, digitally disrupted business be sure to read samples first.


Notes / hyperlinks

Ebooks could become more valuable says O’Leary

Suzie Welker says a used marketplace will happen

A look at self-publishing today

Authors, publishers get a reprieve;            What will happen next?

Third in the series.

So, readers and writers are in for a change.  But it may not happen as soon as has been predicted.  Plans for the resale of “used” ebooks were set back last week as a federal judge in New York ruled in favor of Capitol Records and against a company selling previously purchased digital music files.

Businessweek reported that Redigi relied on the Copyright Act’s first sale doctrine.  That principle says that someone who owns a copy of a copyrighted work is free to resell it.  Redigi reportedly asserted that the doctrine applies to digital media as well and a ruling in favor of the online seller could have opened the doors for the sale of used ebooks as well.

As reported earlier, Amazon and Apple also have drafted plans to sell used ebooks online.  Authors reacted with alarm figuring that used sales will replace new sales, and used prices will eventually tumble.

Some of the proposals and, at this point, industry rumors, have it that publishers and authors could receive compensation from the sale of used ebooks.  All remains to be seen, especially in light of the recent court ruling.

Sunday in the New York Times, author and president of the Authors Guild, Scott Turow, wrote that America’s “literary culture” was at risk.  He cited not only the proposals for the sale of used ebooks, but a court decision authorizing the importation of foreign editions of American works, often cheaper than domestic editions.

He earlier sounded an alarm after Apple and Amazon patents for used ebook sales were announced, and he said Sunday that used ebook sales will be found to be illegal.

What is going to happen to the spread of ideas, the entertainment, the inspiration that books bring us?  Change is inevitable.  Some thoughts:

— Writers will still write.   We have to.   Several authors, including best-selling sci fi writer John Scalzi, recently have said that as royalties dry up readers may be surprised to see authors finding new forms of employment.  Sadly, in most cases that will not happen.  I say sadly, because writers, if they’ve been at this any time at all, know the rules.  You write because you must.  You write books because you receive satisfaction from it (when you like what you produce) and not because you see it as a way to make a decent living.  Writers need second jobs and working spouses/partners.  Or to put it the way a writer friend of mine explained, “Writers have always gotten the short end of the stick and we’re used to it.”

In the Sunday New York Times piece Turow rightly noted that mid-list authors–not the best-sellers–will  be most hurt by plummeting book prices.   The workaday scribes who eke by cranking out books will have it tough.

–Book prices–for all formats–will come down.  A little reduction would not necessarily be a bad idea for all parties.

–Unlikely this year, a used ebook marketplace, in some form, will happen.  Publishers and/or corporate online sellers may restrict the number of times an ebook may be resold.  Legal hurdles will be higher than some expect.   It will take time, but unless some unexpected technological development or legislative change alters our present concept of books and ebooks, a used marketplace will happen.

–Copyright protection, world-wide, will continue to erode.

-The big, traditional publishers still control much of the book market and thus will influence any future used ebook marketplace.  Although Amazon, Smashwords and others are both publishers and sellers,  the big-money authors–and aspirants–will be found at Random House, HarperCollins, etc.  (According to Publisher’s Weekly, Random House income for 2011 was $2.2 billion.)

–The authors who may fare best are established writers who switch from big New York publishers to ebook self-publishing.  If authors already have a sizeable following based on paper book sales, they can bring their readers with them to the ebook marketplace.  Amazon presently gives 70% of ebook sales to publishers.  If the author is also the publisher, that beats the standard author royalty many times over.   Authors who do not yet have enough of a following to sustain ebook sales also will be successful if they become adept at social media marketing and other avenues to attract readers.   Some best-selling authors will decide to remain sheltered by their agents and one of the big-six publishing houses.

–As book sales that produce royalities decrease, many authors should focus on the contractual aspects of their advance.  It might be the only book income they ever see.

–Another author friend suggests that increased exposure via a used ebook market could be beneficial–provided the price of ebooks doesn’t tank.


Businessweek reports on Redigi decision

Scott Turow sounds off

Largest publishers in the world


This blog will continue to cover these developing issues while also providing samples of flash fiction, books reviews and articles about flash fiction writers and publishers.


Congratulations to flash fiction journal Vestal Review.  It just celebrated its 13th birthday.

 Vestal Review

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