Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: Kindle

Three shortcomings of e-books

For dedicated readers, nothing compares to spending a quiet afternoon browsing in a bookstore.

Last week I found myself in the San Jose, Calif., airport with time on my hands.  I had my Kindle and planned to get a cup of tea and settle in to read.  Once inside security, however, I noticed a bookstore so I strolled over.  Immediately, I was enveloped in the quiet, the smell of bindings and paper, and the thousands of titles calling to me from the shelves.

This was the first time I’d been in a bookstore in a month or two.  A pilgrimage to Barnes and Noble for tea, coffee and hours of browsing used to be a weekly ritual for my wife and I.   She’d head for mysteries, I’d start with new releases.  We’d meet up somewhere in general fiction after I’d toured the history, social science and philosophy shelves–not to mention the marked downs.

In the two and a half years since I’ve had an e-reader, our visits to bookstores have become more infrequent–though nonetheless cherished.  So my visit to the airport bookstore was all the more welcome.  In fact, the visit was a time of reflection, one of those moments to recall things that are slowly fading from our lives.   The transition to e-books–advancing perforce–has been so swift, readers of all ages are likely going through some form of literary withdrawal or suffering premature pangs of nostalgia for the hours we’ve spent with books.  My time browsing in the airport bookstore got me thinking about some of the other simple pleasures of books, pleasures being lost to the digital serpent.  Two more examples:

Watching what others are reading After my relaxing time at the bookstore, it was time to board my plane.   In the days before e-books I loved to see what other people were reading and airports and airplanes were good places to do it.  I’ve struck up many conversations with strangers–at airports and elsewhere–by making a comment about the books they were reading.   Sometimes I would see a title then wonder why that person was reading that book.  Sound familiar?  Of course today the person across the aisle holding an e-reader could be reading Fifty Shades of Gray or Tom Sawyer and you’d never know.

Writing in the margins  Someone may have told you never to write in a book because it defaces the pages.  That may be true for library books, but writing in your own book can only make it more valuable to you, nonfiction books especially.  When you skim back at a book when you’re finished or even when you’re in the middle of it, your annotations, underlinings or highlighting will lead you to the things you wanted to remember.   Even the act of underlining helps you remember.

When you disagree with an author, the margin is the perfect place to scribble a rejoinder or set the record straight.  You can write questions that may help you understand what the author is driving at.  Yes, you can highlight and make notes in e-books, but the interface often makes it impossible for you to see your annotation and the passage it refers to at the same time.   And since annotations are recorded as footnotes, your comments don’t get equal billing with the text.   You can’t skim through an e-book on most readers and see your annotations in margins.

One of my grad school professors used to tell us that if you were not using at least three colors for highlighting or annotations yours was not a rigorous form of study.  Some e-reader software now permits you to highlight in colors, but it’s not the same thing.  And you can’t absently chew on the end of an e-book highlighter when you’re enraptured by a particular passage.

Next: More shortcomings- bookmarks and dog ears

Style notes

This blog conforms to the 2012 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook; however, in some previous entries I’ve incorrectly referred to electronic books and electronic readers as ebooks and ereaders, respectively.  I was in error.

The AP, not unlike some dictionary publishers, is not an early adopter of popular slang and jargon.  It takes a longer view.  For example, website only recently replaced Web site as the AP’s accepted way to refer to a location on the World Wide Web.

As this day’s post indicates, e-book and e-reader are the acceptable forms.

Will a fire sale for ebook buyers        become the authors’ pyre?

Ramifications, realizations spread in wake of used marketplace news

Second in a series

From the first, ebooks promised to transform the publishing business.  Ebooks joined music and movies as a popular item to be hijacked and distributed by torrent websites.  Now the possibility of a marketplace where “used” or previously owned ebooks can be resold  has authors, publishers and book lovers wondering what will happen as Amazon and Apple proceed with patents for such a system.  Authors’ biggest fear is that a used marketplace will cause new ebook prices to deflate faster than the Hindenburg.

Amazon’s patent was granted two months ago; Apple’s is pending.  The two giant online retailers have not said what they plan to do with the patents.  In contrast to websites such as Pirate Bay, run by thieves who ignore copyright, new ebook marketplaces outlined in the patents promise controls that will reduce unauthorized duplication of ebooks.  A relatively new online “used” music seller,  Redigi, has already set up a resale system the company says is similar to a conventional used book or record store.  The system for used ebook sales will get rolling, pending the outcome of a lawsuit.

According to news reports, the Redigi system will permit people who have purchased ebooks to offer them for sale online.   Like the Amazon and Apple proposals, an ebook will only be sold once and then it disappears from the previous owner’s files.  Redigi CEO John Ossenmacher told Time Magazine the company has validation tools that let them determine if digital material has been legitimately purchased, if it has been transferred between computers and other information.  Pirated digital merchandise will not be sold, according to Ossenmacher.

The company designed the tools to protect copyrights, Ossenmacher told Time.  He said Redigi will suspend the accounts of people who don’t follow the rules.

One side benefit of a used marketplace like Redigi’s or Apple’s is that it might reduce piracy. “By enforcing old-fashioned rules of physical ownership onto modern, non-physical objects, Apple’s patent might support the company’s goal of combating piracy,” Charles Pulliam-Moore wrote recently in Slate.  “In creating a used digital store, Apple would provide an easier, safer, quicker alternative to pirating media…,” he said.readers  b&w  3578

Perhaps the biggest (encouraging) surprise in the Redigi plan is that, unlike in the sale of used paper books, publishers and authors can receive compensation.  Trade magazine Publishers Weekly recently reported that Ossenmacher appeared at a roundtable discussion with publishers and told them income from the resale of ebooks “represents billions of dollars on the table.”

Billions of dollars into publishers pockets likely will not assuage the doubts of authors as to any potential benefits from a used ebook marketplace.   But then, contrary to popular opinion, most writers get paid very little for their books.

“The vast majority of writers are not like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins,” said best-selling sci fi author John Scalzi.  “The average author makes a four-figure salary a year from their writing,” Scalzi told Jenny Shank, writing in NPR/Mediashift.

“People don’t see creative people as they are in reality,” Scalzi told Shank.   “Ninety-nine percent of everybody in a creative field is barely eking by. Also, when it comes right down to it, people like getting bargains. They’re not following the product chain back to the initial starting point.”

Scalzi said part of the job today is to remind readers that books are created by human beings who have to pay rent and feed their children.

To be sure, writers do not get rich.  The most successful book I’ve written sold about 60,000 copies in all editions over several years.  That was enough for my publisher at the time to call me a “mid-list author.”  What I made from that at 10-15% royalty plus advance was certainly not enough for my family to live on, even at poverty level.  And many authors never even make mid-list, let alone best seller status.  Most authors have day jobs and working spouses–or should.  (Fortunately for me, my day jobs have always been in writing: commercials, direct mail, journalism.)

So, as a used ebook marketplace threatens to remake the book business and further erode authors’ income, questions remain.  Several conclusions–perhaps at odds with public perception–seem clear however.   We’ll look at those next time.


Redigi’s tools to protect copyright   

Apple’s system might reduce piracy

Authors have doubts

Publishers could profit from “used” sales

Psst.  Wanna buy a used ebook?

New digital marketplace could upend publishing, threaten authors

First in a series

Amazon and Apple have applied for patents on systems that will permit them to create marketplaces for the sale of used, or perhaps more accurately previously owned, ebooks and music.  Amazon’s patent was approved in late January, Apple’s is pending.  This could snuff creativity and bring an end to the publishing industry.

Or not.

Authors and others have issued dismal predictions based on reasonable assumptions about how a “used” ebook market might work.

Best-selling author Scott Turow, president of the Author’s Guild, told the New York Times,  “The resale of ebooks would send the price of new books crashing.”

Author and essayist Ayelet Waldman told Jenny Shank, at, that the idea of used ebook sales gave her “a chill of foreboding.”

Here’s the issue:  If a bargain-basement priced preowned ebook, identical in every respect to the new ebook, is on sale simultaneously with the original, who would buy the more expensive product?  (Hint: no one except the author’s mother.)  This may sound like a boon for buyers, but it could be the epitaph for writers of flash fiction books and all other forms of written expression as well.

Of course, as a writer friend of mine pointed out, someone would have to buy an original for there to be a  “used” ebook.  How that notion equates to numbers of “new” ebooks that would be sold remains to be seen, as does a long list of possibilities that depend on the way a used ebook marketplace is administered.

In addition to myriad possibilities for a future resale marketplace, are the larger, darker issues of contemporary ethics, the future of copyright laws plus the influence of evolving technology on the latter two subjects.  This article, however, will be limited to looking at some of the ways a used ebook marketplace might operate.ereaders 2 sml

When you buy an ebook today for your iPad, Kindle, Nook or whatever, you’re really just obtaining a license to read it yourself, period.  The book exists in your ereader or in the cloud, but it’s not really your property.  When someone buys an ebook from most legitimate online sellers, the publisher and ultimately the author receives compensation (such as it is).  The proposed ebook systems would permit buyers to resell an ebook, just as they might resell a paper book to a used book store or via eBay or Craigslist.   When a used paper book is sold, the transaction is strictly between buyer and seller.  If ebook resale transactions are conducted similarly, writers and publishers would be out of luck.   And obviously,  the sale of new ebooks would be seriously compromised.

Apple and Amazon are mum on the details of the proposed marketplace systems–or whether they will be implemented at all–but news reports about the patents in the New York Times and elsewhere provide a little information about how ebook sales might be handled.  Both systems, according to David Streitfeld, writing in the Times, would limit resellers to one transaction per book.  That is, someone could not duplicate a book or otherwise sell it more than once.  Once a book was sold, it would disappear from the seller’s ereader account.

This restriction would probably not allay Turow’s fear of crashing prices.  How low would the price of books sink if a used marketplace sprang up?  Hard to predict as this hasn’t happened in the book market before.  But consider one analogy: prescription drugs.  According to the U.S. Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli, quoted in an Associated Press report Mar.25, when a generic drug begins to compete with a brand-name drug, “the price drops 85 percent.”

One element in the Apple and Amazon patents could limit the damage.  Tech writer and author David Pogue reported in the New York Times that publishers and bookstores could,  according to the patents, impose minimum prices for used ebooks, although those prices could be reduced over time.

Jeremy Greenfield, writing in Forbes, offers a possible used ebook sale scenario which would see publishers and authors compensated, online bookstores getting a piece of the action and buyers getting cut-priced ebooks.  (One new online company, Redigi, says it will compensate publishers for “used” ebook sales.)  Greenfield’s glimpse  into the future assumes a used ebook would go for 50% of the retail price.  But if prices drop lower–much lower–what would be left to compensate the people who created the work?

One New York Times reader, commenting on a story about the sale of used ebooks, wrote that he has stopped creating language CDs due to piracy.  His lengthy comment makes fascinating reading.  It took him years to write a Chinese language course, he says, and pirate copies can now be obtained online for next to nothing.  What does this say about the effects of a future cut-rate ebook market?  Certainly Amazon and Apple are not Pirate Bay (a popular site offering hijacked digital property), but would writers stop writing if the price of ebooks (and royalties) drops to pennies?   Could publishers impose strict limitations on resales or simply refuse to deal with online bookstores that offer “used” ebooks?

The subject is, at present, mired in questions.


Next time: The Redigi formula, authors and the brave new book world


Further questions

Will Amazon and Apple return a portion of the proceeds from the sale of used ebooks back to the publishers as Redigi says it will do?   Will the publishers then give authors a cut?

If Amazon, et. al. sell ebooks for lower prices overall, would profits decline or would a lively resale market actually be a boost for Amazon?

Would people be inclined to buy more ebooks if they knew they could resell them?

What conditions will publishers require in the new, used marketplace?

How do you set the price of a used ebook?  Is there a comparison with the cost of a used paper book in excellent condition?

Will people choose to keep ebook libraries like many people maintain for their paper books?  If so, will that reduce the number of used ebooks available for resale?


Reminder on my use of Hyperlinks:   Hyperlinks can be annoying.   A few months back I wrote about  how reading on the Internet is contributing to our shorter attention spans and generally making dunderheads out of us.  Hyperlinks are a convenient way to find out more information about a topic, discover a new resource, etc., and of course they are an element of SEO, important to bloggers.  But hyperlinks in the middle of articles invite the reader to abandon his train of thought–weak though it may be–to virtually dash off in another direction, possibly never to return.  Therefore in this blog, all hyperlinks appear at the end of articles.  You are invited to visit the sites and sources I cite.

Publishers can impose minimum prices for used ebooks

Authors express trepidation

Overview of proposed used ebook systems

One price scenario for used ebooks

Writer to stop writing

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