A recent survey put out by Gartner looked at portable device usage among five hundred or so participants to see how things like tablet computing were changing the way we live. One of the more notable results that they came up with was an indication that over 50% of those involved said that they prefer reading on a screen to reading on paper. This includes newspapers, magazines, and books.
They didn’t specify whether or not the participants logged any of this data based on using a Kindle or other dedicated eReading device, but that matters surprisingly little in this case. The reading experience on portable devices is becoming comparable to, and sometimes superior to, that of reading on paper. Who would have thought?
It would be somewhat foolish to claim that this was the result of the Kindle’s impact of consumer impressions. We’ve been heading toward digital text distribution since the first computers were capable of storing enough text to be useful. It was only a matter of time for it to reach the reading public. It was what the Kindle signaled that accelerated the transition.
Sony already had a better eReader on the market when Amazon released the first Kindle. What they didn’t have was the Kindle Store. Amazon made it easy for their customers to buy popular books. They even went the extra mile and made sure that purchasing could be accomplished right from the device itself. With no more need to find USB cables or memory cards, eReading was finally more convenient than picking up a book from the store. It was sometimes even easier that picking up a book off the shelf.
Over time, adding devices as they went, Amazon brought their selection to practically any device with a screen. The Kindle itself was and is still important for many people, but just about anybody who is interested will always have a device within arm’s reach that can load a book for them now. Convenience has reached an extreme.
Convenience is what the Gartner survey attributes the move away from paper to. Their participants indicated that they were willing to pick up whichever device lay closest to hand for practically any reading situation, even to the point of excluding print at times. Since all participants were required to have a media tablet and at least two other similar devices, being out of touch would have been a stretch.
None of this says that the printed book is really going to disappear. We know that won’t happen any time soon, despite the fact that the death of print has been declared regularly since at least 1984 (extra points for catching the obvious movie reference). What this means is that print is likely to lose its primary position in the reading world, even for magazine and newspaper readers, before too much time is up. Tablets used to be toys, now they are becoming household tools. Prices are dropping, exposure to options like the $79 Kindle is up, and it seems like every day readers get more to choose from. Publishers can’t even entertain the notion of maintaining their old model unaffected at this point.
Jonathan Franzen, author of such wildly popular titles as The Corrections and Freedom has recently made a bit of an impact on the eReading community by coming out against electronic media. Apparently the Kindle is ushering in the end of the book, which normally we would agree is a bad thing that we need to be aware of. Sadly, rather than leading us all to a new understanding of the book as a format that happens to rule out safe transition to digital forms, his arguments against eReading are somewhat misleading and represent a person more interested in rationalizing a knee-jerk reaction to new technology than in understanding what he’s talking about.
Probably the biggest, and certainly the most publicized, aspect of Franzen’s argument centers on his perception of the supposed permanence of the printed word. This makes sense, as after all once something has made it to print it can never be altered. Of course it also completely ignores the facts of multiple book editions, author revisions, and abominations like the 2011 release of censored copies of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
His assertion that “A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around” and therefore “for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough” is entirely based on the obvious misperception that digital copies are somehow fluid. If you are talking about your personal copy of a book, it is far easier to drop, rip, stain, or otherwise destroy a paper copy than it is to break open the Kindle Edition and make your own changes. Assuming he is talking about the master copy of each book, as in the one that is stored centrally by Amazon, then it would be hard to argue that the printed edition is significantly different in that regard as there have historically been scores of authors with a tendency to re-write later editions of their books. One of Franzen’s own books involved a recall to accomplish exactly this, in fact. I’m fairly hopeful that he didn’t mean to imply that anybody besides the author was likely to go in there and start playing around with the text on a wide scale, but even if that were the case it is not worth addressing here.
It is one thing to claim that you have a strong preference for paper books. There is nothing wrong with that and any number of people would agree with you (myself included depending on the situation). To try to talk others into agreeing with you through groundless arguments is a shame though, especially from somebody in a position to reach such a large number of readers.
Maybe this was all a publicity stunt meant to draw attention to the smaller point he made regarding the dangers of a society obsessed with instant gratification, but if so then he strongly undermined his own credibility by opening with such ridiculous assertions. I won’t even go into the irony of these comments having been made by somebody who has done extremely well in terms of Kindle book sales, but even without that you have to wonder what he was thinking.
When it comes to publishing an indie book, the Kindle Direct Publishing program has done wonders for new authors all over the place. Some, like John Locke and Amanda Hocking, have manages to hit it big as a result. In spite of these examples though, it is impossible to deny that for the most part people don’t take most self published works too seriously at first glance. There are a few big factors that I believe play into this.
The first would be, as sad as it is, poorly designed cover art. Even if you are writing for the Kindle, the first thing people are going to see will be the cover you have chosen to represent your work. A piece of clip art or quick Photoshop-ed photo will only serve to indicate that you couldn’t be bothered with quality control. Nobody will deny that marketing is the most important of making an indie book take off and your cover is the most basic piece of marketing.
Second, and somewhat more intuitive, is editing. If you get comments in reviews about having a poorly edited book, that will work against you. Nobody really likes to read badly written prose even when it tells an amazing story. It can completely destroy immersion at key moments. Now, obviously nobody is perfect and even the best books slip through to print with errors, but that doesn’t mean there is any excuse for failing to triple-check your work and find somebody else to look over it for you too. You’re expecting people to pay money for this in the end, so it should be worth a little extra effort.
Third and finally, is the quick release schedule. While it has become almost commonplace to hear the advice that Kindle publishing requires you to release a book every 6-12 months to retain reader interest, this should be considered very carefully. While you will definitely start making money faster the more of a back catalogue you have going for you, it is more important to make sure that the best possible product is going out. Five poorly reviewed books will not only earn you less money than two well reviewed books in the same time period, they will pull you down even if later works improve dramatically. When you write you are building your name into a brand. Keep in mind how you want that brand to be perceived.
Naturally this is all fairly general and there are a few reasons that all of these points, especially the last one, can be less important for certain projects. There is significant potential in self publishing these days thanks to the Kindle though, and it is painful to see potentially great authors being ignored thanks to missteps made in the rush to get a piece of the readership. Just remember that readers are going to keep reading. The Kindle is more popular all the time and unlikely to fall away as the most widely used eReader in the world any time soon. Take your time and make something you can be proud of.
The iPad and the Kindle have always had a curious love/hate relationship that can be enough to drive many users nuts. While they were expected to compete for users from the moment they were both on the market, the iPad depended on the Kindle for iOS app to deliver a great reading experience to potential adopters while the Kindle just didn’t even try to offer the same kind of tablet versatility. The iPad does lots of things quite well, the Kindle does one thing really well, and users of both devices like to read. Of course it’s at that point of overlap that problems arose.
Amazon was making money, Apple wanted that money for themselves, and now there’s nobody really making much money. You can’t buy books through the Kindle app, the iBooks app is still not really something most people have any particular desire to adopt, and getting the Kindle Cloud Reader set up requires users to look outside of the Apple App Store. eBook acquisition is still perfectly doable, but it is a bit more of a hassle and that means some people just won’t bother.
Enter Inkstone Software with what they hope will be the solution to many peoples’ eBook problems. The company has claimed that this is their way to help out the community that they have benefited so much from. Their new free iPhone and iPad app, called simply “eBook Search”, will allow users to peruse over 2 million free titles from all around the internet. Not only that, the app will allow users to select their reading app of choice and will then acquire their books in a compatible format, ending the hassle of maintaining multiple collections in multiple apps or converting hard to find titles to your preferred format.
The attraction of such an application goes beyond convenience in acquisition of out of copyright “classics”. The developer claims to have allowed for discovery of free eBooks being offered by indie authors, and even popular fan fiction. They hope that this will allow readers who do not have a sufficient budget to allow for prolific reading in an environment where eBooks cost as much or more than physical books to indulge with less hesitation.
If this is at all up your alley, it is definitely worth checking out. Not only will you be getting great literature that can be read on your iPad, Kindle, or whatever else you happen to have, but the more people take advantage of these types of offers the better things start looking for the future of eBooks. If authors are successful in gaining exposure through free eBook offers, more authors will be inclined to try similar campaigns. If readers are loathe to purchase high priced eBooks in the Kindle Store because they can find equally good titles without spending the money, maybe publishers will start getting the message. If nothing else, the worst that can happen from giving it a chance is the loss of a few moments of your time.
It’s that time of year again and students new and old are heading back to college for the fall. Now, more than ever, having an eReader just makes sense for anybody serious about their education. That said, with so many options on the market it can be hard to choose. Kindle or Nook? eReader or Tablet? Skip it all and just get a laptop, since there are eReading apps anyway? When trying to decide, there are a few factors that are really important.
First, determine what your eBook needs will be. Students new to college can expect significant introductory coursework. This often means older, more widely read works of literature and basic textbooks. Generally this means extended reading of the literature and textbooks only pulled out to work through assignments. For that combination, I recommend an eReader like the Kindle or Nook combined with a PC app for textbook reading (They’re only going to be opened for a few minutes at a time anyway). As always, check the list of required texts to make sure this is feasible before buying. This combination has the added advantage of paying for itself in savings very quickly since a Kindle will only cost you $114 and many commonly used books can be found for free.
In terms of more advanced students, the individual needs will determine whether use of an eReader is feasible. Many technical texts require both extended study and full color diagrams to make sense. The current monochrome limitations of the Kindle would make it less than useful for this. If the program in question requires extensive illustrated textbook reference, you probably don’t need one. If you will be spending much time using academic text references like JSTOR, or focusing on purely text-based studies, the Kindle makes perfect sense.
Assuming you have an idea what kind of product you need, the next step is choosing the particular model. Availability is not really a concern with the Amazon Kindle always including free shipping and the Barnes & Noble Nook available in all of their local stores and many of the college book stores they service. For the most part, this is a matter of personal preference. Both devices accomplish everything you would expect from a reading device and neither has a clear advantage over the other. For a hands-on comparison, many Best Buy stores will have both devices side by side.
I do not recommend using nothing but a laptop PC if the goal is to focus on eBooks. Extended reading on LCD screens can be uncomfortable at best, and the potential for distraction is far higher than on an eReader.
Similarly, there are no circumstances under which I would consider an iPad a valid substitute for either a laptop or an eReader. In terms of reading, they fall short due to the short battery life and a back-lit display that can be hard on the eyes during long study sessions. In classes, the potential for distraction is far higher than on something like a Kindle, which has led to many instructors being uncomfortable even having the devices present in the classroom. They also certainly do not manage to work as well as a laptop for composition or presentation preparation. Students will be forced to perform necessary tasks elsewhere.
Whatever the needs, make sure to keep in mind both the Kindle eText rental service and public domain titles available through the Kindle Store (or just Project Gutenberg) for free. Making use of eBooks will save you money, if you are careful, even accounting for the costs of the reading device.
One of the biggest flaws in the idea of a Kindle purchase for a lot of people has been the complete lack of library lending support. This isn’t a new problem. It stems from Amazon’s refusal to open up compatibility with the industry standard EPUB format. While Amazon may not have been willing to concede on that point, however, library lending is a must have for customers so they have worked with OverDrive Library, the most popular library lending management tool available today, to bring the capability to the Kindle. Several months back we heard that it was due before the end of the year and little has come up since then, until now.
Toward the end of OverDrive’s Digipalooze conference, one of the biggest unanswered questions was that of Kindle support. When would it be coming, what would it include, how hard would it be to use, and all the other little details. Though many of the specifics are still up in the air, the major points of the final presentation’s focus tell us a lot. Specifically, the final summary:
Streamlining (both downloading and ordering)
Explosion (we have gone from two reading devices to 85 and more are coming)
Premium (the library catalog as the most premium, value-added site on the Web)
Traffic (enormous growth coming by year’s end)
Naturally no specific dates were given, but I’m catching a rather obvious hint hidden in there as to when we can expect results.
This software update will not just include Kindle support. It will also mean an improvement to the experience for all library patrons. The acquisition process will be simplified significantly, for example. While the Kindle will be the only device that maintains persistent notes (meaning that anything you annotate in your library rental will still be there next time you rent or buy the text) , everybody will benefit in some way. There will also be an emphasis on allowing readers to express their preferences when it comes to library ownership. Not every library can keep every title in stock, especially with some publishers disliking the idea of eBook rentals enough to force libraries to keep repurchasing their books constantly, but now users will be able to point out their desired titles to the library or even go directly from the library rentals page to a purchasing option if they don’t feel like waiting.
From the sound of things, this is going to be the biggest thing to hit libraries in a long time. OverDrive is reportedly putting systems in place to handle demand a hundred times more intense than this past year. Kindle support will certainly do a lot to contribute to those numbers, but this may end up being the beginning of a whole new way to view libraries. If everything goes as planned and September is indeed the month of release, it is going to be a big one. Having a library card has never been such a good investment for the eReading enthusiast.
As most of you will almost certainly be aware by now, the ever popular Harry Potter series is on its way to the Kindle. The author, J.K. Rowling, is keeping control over the distribution of the books by attaching her sales platform to the Pottermore companion web site that will be opening this coming October. While the combination of extra content and fan loyalty will certainly make the site and eBook sales even more of a success than we expect, in the meantime the anticipation building around the site has left over-zealous fans open to scams built around the pre-release proceedings.
You see, a lucky few have managed to secure invitations to experience the Pottermore site well ahead of time. There was a contest of sorts that allowed the truly interested to get their names in, but it was arranged in such a way as to technically allow somebody to get multiple invites. This, of course, opens to door to eBay sales even if they are technically against the site’s Terms & Conditions. Sadly as we all know by now, I hope, where there are electronic invitation sales, there are scams.
Harry Potter fans hoping to get in have been singled out for everything from hundred dollar fake early access accounts to total identity theft from some fairly convincing dummy sites asking people for far too much information in order to gain entry. Pottermore admins have, naturally, warned people against falling for these scams and have pointed out that even if people do manage to find a legitimate account transfer they will still be banned for breaking the rules, but when people are trying this desperately to get around existing restrictions and rules there is little chance of such advise from the people creating the barriers being heeded.
If you are one of the millions looking forward to the Pottermore site, whether for access to Kindle versions of the books or to enjoy the content, your best bet is to just wait it out. The only worthwhile avenues at this point are the official ones, so if you don’t see what seems to be your way in written about on the Pottermore placeholder like ‘The Magical Quill’ contest has been then you are inviting trouble by pursuing them.
When the site does open up, Pottermore will be completely free to the public. Users will be able to access it in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, with more options coming within the year. There will be over 18,000 words of new material for you to read through, a shop to purchase things like eBooks from, a number of simple games that go along with events in the books, and a generally social experience through which to share your enjoyment of the Harry Potter series.
There is a lot there to get excited about, and if you are a big enough fan to be interested in paying large amounts of money just to get into a soon-to-be-free site then you’re probably very excited indeed, but wait it out. Rowling, Harry Potter, and the Pottermore site will all come together in just a couple more months. No book is important enough to risk identity theft or large sums of wasted money.
With the announcement that the Harry Potter series will be offered in eBook for the first time through the author’s very own distribution system (via Kindle, Nook, and pretty much any other device you care to name) rather than through the normal channels or in partnership with any publishing company, J.K Rowling has almost certainly upset some people. More importantly, however, her decision to release the incredibly popular series free of DRM constraints, relying instead on digital watermarking that will identify the original purchaser should a copy be found being distributed, brings the question of Digital Rights Management back to the front of our minds.
The philosophy behind this move will make sense to many people. If you buy an eBook, why should it matter what device you decide to read it on? If you own both a Kindle and a Nook, shouldn’t it be possible to move between them as desired? Publishing companies, as well as eBook distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, have traditionally felt that to be wishful thinking. After all, if you can read the eBook on whatever you want, what is to stop you from giving a copy to your friends and family, or even throwing it onto the internet where anybody who wants to read it can get to it for free? They see the restrictions as worth the price if it means that authors and publishers will continue to get their cut for each reader who comes along.
I look at this release as an experiment. We will get a chance to see how an author fares when she takes an already established and well known collection of books and releases them digitally with very little control. Will Harry Potter fans show up in huge numbers to buy the series yet again just so that they can read it on their Kindles? Is it too late to catch the attention of most now that the series has already sold so well? Perhaps the majority will even feel entitled to pirate the series, having already spent as much as $150+ on a complete set of the hardcovers. This last point, in particular, holds certain weight for me since it gets to the heart of the DRM issue at hand.
If you buy for one medium, be it paper or Kindle, are you paying for the specific instance of that product, or are you paying for access to the information it contains. If the former, then the DRM scheme we have now should be fine. If anything, it is fairly lenient. You would be paying for the opportunity to read a book on one specific platform and anything else is extra. If, on the other hand, we are buying the information contained in the instance, then it makes sense to be able to access it via any device we have on hand. Maybe paper books make more sense as collectables in a system like that?
Regardless of what the truth is, or how the public will choose to interpret it given this opportunity, Rowling is going to make loads of money. Kindle owners are going to show up for this one. The difference between tens and hundreds of millions of dollars could be how we have to judge the outcome of this experiment in the end. It could easily become a point in favor of the abolishment of restrictive DRM, if people are honest.
Something that most early adopters of the Kindle were eager to see was the impressive price drops that eBooks promised to bring. Compared to the expense of creating, transporting, and retailing a paper book, how could the eBook not make large libraries an inexpensive pursuit? To a certain extent, of course, we did see this for a while. Even now, during the reign of the Agency Model of eBook pricing, there are still impressive discounts to be found. That’s not even taking into consideration the impressive selection of indie authors who have sprung up thanks to the Kindle Store. Something I think many people miss when talking about this topic is that the price rebound, even if it does involve artificial inflation from the “Big 6”, could not succeed without consumer cooperation.
The easy comparison when talking about eBooks is the print book. It’s almost too obvious to be worth stating. Something that people often forget when making that comparison, however, is that comparing and equating are two different things. A Kindle is not meant to be a cheap substitute for print. It provides benefits beyond any potential savings that have a chance to provide value equal to the paper copies for many people. When you buy from the Kindle Store you get instant access to a selection greater than any single physical bookstore could offer in person, faster delivery than any online retailer of paper copies could hope to achieve, portability between all of your Kindle-equipped devices, and a number of other benefits. The question tends to become what you value in your purchase.
For some people, it makes sense to shop for the lowest price available. If the eBook is cheaper, as most people expect it to be, then there is little problem. When the paperback is actually cheaper than the eBook, however, we see problems. It is certainly true that the paper book provides certain benefits that the eBook doesn’t. We’ve all been over them before. It also has any number of shortcomings of its own. I, personally, would rather have an eBook because my mass market paperbacks keep wearing out on me. So far, nothing I’ve bought on the Kindle Store has fallen apart.
I am not trying to make the point that eBook prices are right where they should be. I think everybody is still trying to figure out where things are going to settle with regard to that. The fact is, though, that the eBook as a format brings more to the table than price drops. If there weren’t people who would rather have their collections of bestsellers on a Kindle instead of a bookshelf, sales would drop off on those books to the point where even the most stubborn publishers would have to consider changing things around. Perhaps, rather than talking solely about the sacrifices that are necessary when choosing an eBook over a paper book, it would be more useful to think about what it is that brings you to the eBook as a choice in the first place. There is obviously something the average Kindle Store customer values beyond the savings.
The idea that print books and the Kindle were in opposition has been around pretty much as long as there’s been a Kindle. In fact, if you go back far enough, you can find people talking about the impending end of the written word pretty much since there was the option to view words on a screen. The Kindle just made it easy and enjoyable enough for people in general to take the “threat” seriously. The transition hasn’t been perfect, nor has it always been smooth. There are always problems with innovations. For the most part, however, it is clear to everybody that eBooks are thriving.
That is, at least, the impression I was under. A recent article by Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Movement, the GNU Project, and general digital freedoms activist, seems to insist not only that this turning point has yet to come, but that we should resist it on principal. His recent article, titled “The Danger of E-books” highlight the shortcomings of digital reading media by comparing point for point across a list of freedoms that can be associated with print books. Emphasis is placed on the value of anonymous purchasing, lack of required proprietary technology or software, resale capabilities, and the differences between ownership and licensing. He makes what could be considered some good points, but that depends on your point of view and priorities.
From what I know of Stallman, anonymity is a major issue for the guy. I can understand the urge for that kind of complete privacy, but at the same time it is increasingly proving more of a daily hassle than it is worth. I’m not claiming that as a good thing, just a fact of life. His argument that a book can be purchased anonymously, where a Kindle or Kindle eBook cannot, really only applies if you are the sort of person who makes no purchases online in the first place, who doesn’t use a credit card, and who avoids all non-cash transactions. This isn’t an eBook problem, it’s a modern commerce problem.
A similar problem applies to his objections to restricted reselling. Pulling an example from another industry, look at the problems that reselling have caused video game production companies. Not only are many consumers more likely to purchase used copies than new ones, but these used copies are a continual drain on their original creators who must maintain any server-side components in spite of the fact that purchasers after the first bring no money to the originating company. A similar problem would arise for a company like Amazon if they were to offer resale Kindle books. Customers come to the platform expecting to have their books available to them on all their devices when they want them. Should Amazon be providing this service to people who work around the system and grab a “used” license that provides no profit to either author or distributor? I suppose a rights-transfer fee might be possible, but that would have its own objectors, especially on already inexpensive eBooks.
Maybe it is a bit cynical but I think that if you leave people free to do what they please, there’s a good chance that they will. Is the current DRM scheme ridiculously restrictive? Yes. No Question. Is the answer to completely do away with DRM and move to a scheme such as the one Stallman suggests, where the only money authors can expect is from pleased readers wanting to anonymously donate to them? I sincerely hope not. It’s a pleasant vision that assumes the best of everybody, but in reality it would almost certainly mean the downfall of the Kindle platform and a move away from digital publishing by pretty much everybody wanting to make a career of writing.