Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Paper Earthworks and Digital Tides

Don't be misled by the self-serving narratives Amazon and Macmillan have advanced following their recent eBooks battle. Amazon's narrative is "We're Pro-Consumer;" Macmillan (and paper publishers in general) counter with "We're Anti-Monopoly." Neither of these narratives is untrue, but neither addresses the real cause of this war.

What's happening is this. Amazon is doing everything it can to speed the transition to eBooks because, in a digital world, Amazon's costs of shipping and storage essentially disappear. Paper publishers are doing everything they can to slow the transition to eBooks because, in a digital world, paper publishers' high hardback margins essentially disappear.

That's it. One side wants to improve its profits through lower costs; the other, through higher margins. Everything else is commentary, much of it misleading.

Paper publishing has been around a long time and hasn't changed much. Think of it as a castle, surrounded by earthworks built out of the high margins publishers enjoy on hardback books. Now imagine digital as a surging tide comprised of two elements: (1) increasingly low-cost, high-quality digital book readers; and (2) lower-priced digital books. Amazon has attacked publishing's fortifications first by introducing the Kindle, and second, by selling eBooks at a loss. Publishers can't counter the first strategy (and even if they could, it wouldn't matter -- Apple, B&N, Sony, and plenty of other players are constantly improving and lowering the costs of digital readers). They have found a way to temporarily counter the second, by forcing Amazon to price eBooks no lower than $15, which is what the battle with Macmillan was fought over.

But it was only a battle. In the wider war, digital readers will continue to get better, cheaper, and more widely adopted. As for the price of eBooks, publishers can only control the price of the what Amazon buys from them. If you were Amazon, therefore, and publishers had stymied one of the two prongs of your strategy for speeding the transition to digital, what would you do?

That's right. You'd speed your own transition to becoming a publisher. This has been happening anyway; all Macmillan has done is provide Amazon with an incentive to do it faster. In the coming months, therefore, expect to see Amazon announce that it's poached some combination of editors and writers from major paper publishers. It will then publish its own eBooks at whatever price it believes will most effectively speed the transition to digital. Drive the price of eBooks low enough, and consumers' perceptions of the value of all books will radically change. It's this changing perception publishers fear. Consumers will buy a $17 hardback if the eBook costs $15. Charge $5 for that same eBook, and $17 for a hardback becomes an impossible sell.

Earthworks are a static defense. Publishers can do a few things to make the walls marginally higher and thicker, but that's about it. Meanwhile, the force of the digital tide is always increasing. Eventually, a kinetic and ever stronger offense will overwhelm a static, finite defense. Either publishers don't know this, in which case they're deluded; or they do know it, in which case they're just playing for time while their employees update their resumes. Either way, their position is grim. If they want to survive, they can't just hunker down behind their crumbling walls. They need an offense.

What would that offense be? The only solution I can imagine is for the major paper publishers to stop selling digital rights to Amazon and other retailers and establish their own well branded and managed online store. It's probably too late for them to make such a move anyway, but even if it weren't, the chances that a media industry could do something so radical are vanishingly small. And even if they did manage to pull it off, they'd keep eBook prices high to shore up their paper profits -- which is of course what they're doing now. Piracy would increase, and Amazon would muscle in with its own line of low-cost eBooks. To make it work, publishers would have to radically lower eBook prices and cannibalize their high-margin hardback sales. I've never heard of a company managing such a bold move, and I don't think a publisher will be the first to pull it off. But in a land of zero-cost distribution, with their primary competitive advantage further eroding every day, publishers need to establish their own direct link to consumers. If they don't, they'll offer no significant value in the changing ecosystem in which they find themselves, at which point they will become extinct.

I hope I don't sound unsympathetic. I make a good living selling hardback books through paper publishers and I have many friends in the industry who will suffer as it changes, so on a personal level the transition to digital isn't something I welcome wholeheartedly. But when analyzing a trend, it pays to set aside sentiment.

I used the word "extinct" above. It's hard to avoid the imagery the word naturally conjures: dinosaurs, blinking in frightened confusion as they find themselves encircled by new, hungry-looking predators encroaching on the territory that was once exclusively theirs. Dinosaurs had famously small brains. If publishers have an advantage in this regard, they need to start exploiting it.


Bob said...

Exactly on target. I've likened many editor, publisher, agent blogs I've been reading to the bellowing of dinosaurs trapped in the tar pits. Change is coming. My experience in publishing is that publishers have always been techno-phobic. I don't see that changing tonight.
A military maxim is that a static defense can always be taken down. MacMillan's move was just a delaying tactic to throw more dirt on the wall.
Water defeats dirt all the time.

To take it a step further, though, the producer of the product is the author.
The consumer of the product is the reader.
That will remain. Everything in between is up in the air right now.
I think authors need to seriously consider stepping into that void, rather than wait on someone to come up with a solution.

Jane said...

I admit that I am surprised at how vehemently authors and aspiring authors hew to the traditional publishing business model when that model benefits such a tiny few.

I recall asking publishing folks why they aren't more aggressively selling direct and was told a) they don't have the technology for it and b) they don't want to piss off their customers who are not readers but resellers.

One thing that might limit Amazon's reach is if the digital distribution is fractured and not limited to a duopoly or triopoly (is that a word?). Of course, so long as Amazon has a presence on emerging devices like the iPad, it can still be a convincing market power.

Imp said...

Adore that last sentence. Adore. It.

Ann Marie Gamble said...

On the one hand, I think some of the anxiety is overwrought: radio wasn't killed by movies, which weren't killed by TV. I can see the huge print publishers going under in the short term, however, which does worry me. E-books are still a toy for the elite--technologically savvy and able to afford not just the books but the e-reader. And the way I'm interpreting the Apple/Amazon announcements, your choice of gizmo perhaps dictates which bookstore as well.

Who else will be useful in the coming days is librarians, to help us find, sort, and access what's out there.

JA Konrath said...

I was discussing this on another thread, and someone said something that resonated with me.

"Shouldn't the value of a book be the royalties it earns?"

I've shown that profit is higher with lower cost ebooks. My royalty for trunk novels I've put up on Amazon without NY Publishing behind them have earned more than the average advance a new print author gets.

Ebooks will go down in price, just like digital music did. Publishers can get in on the action, or get cut out of the action.

It shocks me how many authors are rejoicing Macmillan's victory, when they're going to sell fewer books as a result.

Crunch the numbers. A $14.99 Macmillan book ($10.50 cost to Amazon, the retailer) will earn an author 20% of that wholesale cost: $2.10.

A self published author, using the new Amazon royalty scheme, will earn $1.94 for each $2.99 ebook sold.

Paperbacks outsell hardcovers. Consumers want cheaper.

I bet I sell more $2.99 books than Macmillan authors sell $14.99 books.

And I bet other authors will realize the same thing eventually.

Why don't they realize it now?

Stockholm Syndrome.

JohnO said...

This shouldn't be all that surprising, since we've seen newspapers and magazines struggle to find a business model that works in the digital age.

As someone said about newspapers, their advantage wasn't newsgathering and expertise so much as a monopoly on printing and distribution -- exactly the advantage that the internet eliminates.

I agree that ebooks are going to exert a relentlessly downward pressure on publishers, and I can easily see the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest becoming a way for Amazon to bring writers into its own stable.

I'd also expect publishers to start fiddling with business models that we've seen in music. I'm thinking of subscription models where the content lives in the cloud ... after all, one thing you give up with an ebook is the ability to trade it, so why pay for a copy you can't do anything with?

Spy Scribbler said...

I know it's cool to hate Amazon right now, and I'm real sorry for MacMillan authors, I really am.

Both my publisher and I long, long, long ago passed the profit threshold from ebooks priced under $10. If NY can't do the same, then the problem is theirs, not the pricing and not Amazon.

For me, the bottom line is I can't read paper without an inhaler in hand and popping epinephrine. I don't watch TV, save two or three shows on the internet a week, and ebooks are it for me. I am willing and do spend 80% of my available entertainment money on ebooks.

As a reader, I've felt completely ignored in this situation. I don't care that Amazon is self-serving; I only care that I won't be able to feed my reading habit at $15 a pop. I've been sitting here this weekend, thinking of all the Macmillan books I will no longer be able to buy.

I don't admire their tactics at all, but I hope Amazon wins this war. In the long run, I think it serves authors better, so like Jane, I'm not understanding why everyone is so pro-MacMillan, except that it's the "cool" thing right now.

Jude Hardin said...

Traditional publishing will ultimately survive because people are willing to pay more for a product perceived to be of higher quality.

Higher quality=better value.

Professionally-produced novels from a major publisher=
Cadillacs and Mercedes.

Johnny B. Hack's self-published drivel=Pintos and Vegas.

Pintos and Vegas might sell like hotcakes for a while, until people discover what pieces of crap they are.

Texas Writer said...

"Perceived to be of higher quality."

Perceived to be . . .

Jude, in case you missed them, the tar pits are thattaway--right down your outdated, old-fashioned, no-longer-true, myopic "perceptions" path. Get along, little T-Rex.

Jude Hardin said...


If by "outdated, old-fashioned, no-longer-true, myopic..." you mean real, legitimate publishers, then that's the path I intend to stay on.

99.99999% of self-published fiction was rejected by industry pros for a good reason: it sucks.

Christopher said...

So, everybody's comfortable assuming that book technology based on a renewable resource like trees will give way to a technology totally dependent, for it's hardware, software, and distribution, on fossil fuels? Everybody's absolutely sure that electricity and communications technology will only grow cheaper and more widely available? Everybody's happy with their privileges, 'cause everybody shares them? Information wants to be confined to a plastic box most easily accessed by middle class white English speakers?

Unknown said...

Here are a few thoughts about electronic distribution from someone who consumes nearly everything electronically now.

I didn't buy a single song off of iTunes until they were DRM free. I now spend over $500 a year on music there. By contrast I have spent zero dollars on the DRM'd videos on iTunes. I will not spend a single dollar on a book that has DRM built in.

Despite already owning all of Barry's books in hardcover, I would buy all of them again in e-format if they were DRM free and $5 each. The convenience of being able to carry them on my iPod/iPad/Kindle etc where ever I go would be worth the cost of buying them again.

A recent trip to my local big-box book store revealed that you can't find all of Barry's books on the shelf. Barry has been publishing for less than a decade, and is reasonably successful. Imagine how difficult it is to find new copies of books from authors like Roger Zelazny, or Jack Vance who had books published 40 or 50 years ago. With e-publishing their work can be easier to get a hold of today as it was when it was first published. Is Barry's publisher still going to be printing copies of Rain Fall in 40 years time? How about 5 years from now? How much money do authors make off of a used book sale?

When buying e-books is a similar experience to buying from iTunes (DRM free, convenient, reasonably priced,) then I will start buying them. Until then, my library is already overflowing with dead tree editions, and I'm very selective about what I buy.

Chester Campbell said...

Excellent analysis, Barry. I think Jude Hardin is right on in her comparison of the major publishers with Cadillac and Mercedes. How many people buy Cadillac and Mercedes as compared to those who buy Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, Camry, Accord, Altima? Those who fail to adapt to the times are surely on a downhill slope.

Spy Scribbler said...

Jude, we're not talking self-publishing vs. New York publishers, we're talking New York publishers' ebooks and New York publishers' paper books.They're the same words, same quality. The only difference is which format the reader prefers to read them in.

Barry Eisler said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Maybe I should blog on subjects other than politics more often -- this is a fairly new crowd here.

AMG, you might be right. But a new technology doesn't have to extirpate an old one to wipe out an industry. For example, bows and arrows coexist with firearms, and you can still catch a horse and buggy ride around Central Park surrounded by cars. Nonetheless, the bow and arrow industry and horse and buggy industry aren't what they once were. More such thoughts here.

Joe, thanks for coming by. Folks, if you're interested in this subject (and you obviously are), I can't recommend Joe's blog highly enough.

Jude, I think the equation "Higher quality=better value" ignores an additional critical value: cost. Double the cost for a one percent increase in quality, and it's hard to argue you have achieved better value. There will always be some people who are willing to pay a premium for paper books (true for any product I can think of). In fact, even today, some people are willing to pay $4500 for GOAT. The question is whether the higher-priced product will remain a mass market. I don't think it will, but I could be wrong.

Roman Scribe, take a look at the way I just responded to Jude's argument. Do you see how I engaged him substantively and treated him with respect? Give it a try -- it'll make you sound more persuasive and less insecure about yourself. And, assuming you yourself wouldn't enjoy, or find persuasive, being called "myopic" or a "little T-Rex, " take a look at this, right on the front page of the blog you're using as a forum for embarrassing public self-gratification:

"A word on tone. At the risk of stating the obvious, no one's mind has ever been changed by an insult. Calling your political opponents "mentally diseased" or "treasonous" or distorting their statements to fit your diatribe is a great way to sell books, speeches, talk shows, and movies -- that is, to make money, which is the real intent of professional polemicists. But that kind of nonsense never enlightens and it never persuades. Let's not fall victim to it here."

Christopher, I'm not a scientist, but I expect fossil fuels will be around for some time after the transition to digital books. I could be wrong, though. I am indeed "comfortable assuming" this, but no, I'm not "absolutely sure." Of course, I can only speak for myself, not for the "everybody" you're addressing. Regardless, is absolute certainty a requirement for making an argument or a prediction?

The parts about being happy with privileges, and information wanting certain things, and middle class white English speakers... well, I have to admit, I wasn't able to understand what you were trying to argue there.

Chris, agreed on DRM etc and again, highly recommend Joe's blog.

Thanks again for your thoughts, everyone. Hope you'll drop by again.

Unknown said...

Another interesting thought about e-books, Barry: if they get cheap enough, a sales explosion might occur.

The reason I visit my public library with regularity is not the swell government decor, but because I cannot possibly afford all the books I read. Being an author, I want to buy all my author friends' books as soon as they hit the bookstore shelves. But I still gotta pay the mortage.

A $5 e-book, though, might convince me to skip the libs and just download everything. Much as I've downloaded hundreds of iTunes songs at 99 cents a crack, after I'd quit buying CDs altogether because they got too expensive.

Joe is most likely correct: authors would make more money, not less, with cheap e-books.

Then again, I would miss the smell of paper too much and probably print the book out to read, negating my hard-won price savings ...

ssas said...

So many of us are writers and are conditioned to think NY = Success. I think that's still true, to some degree, but that map is changing rapidly.

My eBook is selling at what I think is a good price point: 5.49. I haven't seen actual figures yet but I have anecdotal evidence that it's doing well. It's been interesting that readers equate paperback with "real book" but that's changing, too. Mostly it's my attitude about it. As soon as I act cool about it, my readers/friends/fans do too, I've noticed.

I think right now 1.99 is too cheap for a book. I compare eBooks to paperbacks, and I have this antiquated notion of about $5 for paperbacks stuck in my head. (I'm always unpleasantly surprised at the bookstore.) But more importantly is choice: in this economy, I've noticed ALL stores are not stocking as much, bookstores included. Yeah, they'll order it for me. But I just showered and drove to the mall. Sheesh. If I wanted to order it, I could have just done that in my jammies at home.

I think the eTrain has left the station and it's time for everyone to get on board. I do think there's a future in publishing, and it's a bright one. There will be a place for editors, too. We still need them! And I find it sad that the industry is so resistant to change, because I think both models can work together, actually. I have an extensive paper library, and I for one, plan to add to it. That said, the Kindle feels wicked cool for as much as I read.

Thanks for a non-inflammatory rundown on the situation, Barry.

Unknown said...

I admit that I am surprised at how vehemently authors and aspiring authors hew to the traditional publishing business model when that model benefits such a tiny few.

Well, since about 95% of my sales are still paper according to my most recent royalty statement, it’s quite logical that I "hew" to the trad model (and I’m guessing this is true for most of us who are with the large NY houses; it’s certainly true for all the published friends I’ve discussed it with). I see eBook sales inching up (they were like 2% on the last royalty statement), but I’m not ready to abandon my publisher (and having a physical print run) and rush into the cold, digital arms of Amazon just yet . . .

I certainly hope that the NY houses find a way to flourish in the coming digital age, because I think what editorial offers authors and readers (guidance and curation) is invaluable. And to be frank, I’m not sure that most readers (the ones who only buy a few books a year) are going to be moving to eBooks any time soon.

wolfshades said...

It's difficult to get a good handle on ebooks versus paper books - well except for the sales figures I suppose. My thought though is that, with the advent of the iPad (no groans please!), and Jobs' intent to effectively create a new medium for reading, which involves video and audio, to go hand in hand with the written word, we're looking at the ground floor of a new paradigm.

Those of us who are voracious readers have applauded the advent of the ebook: we can now carry our entire collections with us and can feed on words at a moment's notice. The momentum is there, and it's not going away. Which I believe means hard cover books will go the way of the music CDs. Sure, they'll still exists (as CDs do) but the demand will diminish over time.

There's an opportunity right now for publishers to get in on this in a big way. Look at libraries - with the increase in internet research, their books were getting dusty. Now though with ebooks, they're going back in vogue. You can "sign out" ebooks from your local library and keep them vibrant and relevant.

Jude's point about people still perceiving hard cover books as "quality" and therefore "high value" does not go unnoticed. There will be a parallel perception on the ebook side though: unless Kindle comes up with a better device, which provides colour and (cough) video, it will be perceived as the Chevette of ebooks while the iPad will reign as the Cadillac.

Sandy said...


What a great post. I think once the e-readers come down in price you'll see more readers going digital.

I agree with you about the publishers and Amazon.

Would you address the problem of piracy in your next blog? I would love to hear what you think on that topic.

Unknown said...

unless Kindle comes up with a better device, which provides colour and (cough) video, it will be perceived as the Chevette of ebooks while the iPad will reign as the Cadillac.

A few problems with the concept of the iPad as the “Cadilac” of eReaders:

1)Apple’s insistence on yet another form of DRM and their "you can only buy from us" system.

2)The iPad’s lack of an eInk option (eInk reduces/eliminates eye strain, allows you to read in full sunlight, and makes the battery last for ages).

3)The price.

If Apple tackles all of those in a way that pleases readers, then yes, they have a chance. As it stands now? It’s more like the DeLorean of eReaders.

VanMom said...

Amazon’s Kindle, other electronic readers, are a fraction of the picture. What is gadgetry and ‘moving type’ doing to literacy and reading? What are these constant distractions doing to our ability to form coherent thoughts, to read anything beyond a 500 word blog, to engineer something complex, to invent?

What does this mean to the writer and author?

One “Newsweek” article I read, indicated that technology is siphoning off the profits of the creators. Meaning, an electronic gadget and the people behind that gadget, are going to eat away the profits of the publisher and writer. “It’s like airing an HBO show on a Sony TV, and Sony realizing the majority of profits.”

Newspapers are dying out. They struggled to find a different business model, to adapt to technology. Rupert Murdoch is charging for online access to the WSJ, I hear the NYT will start charging next year. But it may be too late for many other papers. Instead, seasoned journalists are being replaced by “citizen journalists.” What used to be the editorial page is being mistaken for fact, online and on cable.

Watch Frontline’s intense news documentary, “Digital Nation,” to get a glimpse of the whole picture. Example: a twentysomething guy insisted he could multi-task, stated it with some arrogance. They tested him. He performed at a mediocre level trying to do three things at once. A computer cannot multi-task. The human brain cannot. We cannot text and drive at the same time.

The Frontline producers had a chat with several MIT students. You think – super bright kids. Yet they all struggled to write an essay. They could write one paragraph at a time… go to something else, return, write another paragraph. They could not guarantee continuity and ‘relatedness’ to those paragraphs, either.

A Scientific American article I found… indicates that reading online, and using a mouse to advance the type – is a vastly different neurological experience compared to reading a stationary book.

Bottom-line, the ones touting technology and gadgetry and the Internet dismiss the print dinosaurs, but I believe that’s where the quality still resides (print), because there is editorial oversight to ensure quality.

We’re more distractible. People are unable to read anything of length. Magazines consist of 75 word sidebars, large photos – resembling coloring books. Or, they resemble web pages. Major films are based on comic book characters and computer games.

Where does this leave the serious storyteller?

Read almost any posting by a high school or college student, and reel over the lack of articulate thought, lack of grammar, spelling, punctuation.

I saw an editorial cartoon: “Pulitzer Prize for Best Tweeting.”

Speaking of dinosaurs, I thought of a scene from “Jurassic Park,” where Dr. Malcolm cautions the “Park” promoters.

Malcolm: “I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here: it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility... for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now…you’re selling it.”

Malcolm: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.”

Substitute “engineers” or “technophiles” for scientists… because NONE of us know how this is affecting our brains.

The most troubling aspect of electronic readers and Internet addiction for me… is what it’s doing to literacy.

Jane said...


You do realize that most major publishing houses have moved to digital editing of manuscripts?

Anonymous said...

Amazon already has a company that allows authors to publish their own ebooks.


They expanded CreateSpace to distribute paperback books to retailers as well.

Esri Rose said...

"All Macmillan has done is provide Amazon with an incentive to do it faster."

You've summed up the situation masterfully. As for readers, I have an image of us shouting, "We'll buy more books if you give us more variety, instant downloads and a reasonable price point," while print publishers put their fingers in their ears and sing, "Lalalalala!"

Unknown said...

Nice post, Barry, thanks for addressing the issue.

A few things I'd like to note, though. One is that Harlequin seems to be making a success of their digital initiatives -- they are not, however, a publisher that does many hardcovers. My agent tells me that for all her clients, eBook revenue is trending up dramatically. She used to 50-60 eBook sales reported on royalty statements and now she's seeing 500-1000.

My own opinion is that the print publishers are simply mistaken that an eBook reader is the same person as a hardback buyer. While I am sure there is overlap, I don't believe it's true that someone who owns a reader and who purchases a 9.99 eBook would, if he/she did not own the reader, be buying the hardback.

Everything I've heard from readers suggests that's just not true. That 9.99 price represents a NEW market of people who decide not to wait for the MMP and instead pay more than the paperback price will be in order to read the book sooner. But they would never buy the hardback -- they'd get it from the library or wait for the paperback (at less than 9.99)

The decision to window releases or to price the eBook of a hardback release at a price designed to discourage the eBook purchase is, in my opinion, a troubling indication that publishers don't have any idea what they're doing -- because they don't understand readers.

Unknown said...

Wow, as most people have commented, thanks for the thought provoking post.

I can see which way the wind is blowing, and I can see the potential advantages of the electronic format, but I will never buy a book reader until major issues are addressed. Most have to do with the licensing of the content.

If I can't pass a book on to a fellow reader, it is worth pennies on the dollar compared to print format books, period. Titles that cost $1.99 or such are fine under such restriction, but to equate an ephemeral digital file with a hardback book (and charge accordingly) is ridiculous.

The coverage of this issue which compares it to the lament coming from the music industry is spot on. No, cassette tapes didn't "kill the music", nor would a DRM free format kill publishing.

Oh, yes, the industry might have a bit of a shake-up. But then, that happens from time to time. The music industry has tried to get puppet lawmakers to shore up their eroding position - hopefully publishing doesn't go down that road any further.

Would you really take your expensive Kindle to the beach?

mentpay said...

I love ebooks but hate the little readers so I use a small PC as a reader with 5 different formats and lots of storage. When a book is really good then I buy it in hardback if possible, paper if not. That way I'm not running out of storage and my husbands not bitching about thousands of more books in the floor, but just encase we run out of electricity , I can still reread the good stuff while setting in the sun.

Anonymous said...

I'm just a reader. I like ebooks. I used to have many shelves of books, but they were a pain to move and I didn't typically re-read them. Ebooks let me take everything with me and I read more once I started using a Kindle. Now I use an iPad. Last night I was wanting something to read. Didn't find anything in the iBooks store that looked interesting. Started searching the Kindle store and found a book called Rain Fall by some guy named Eisler. After finishing it up this afternoon I bought the next in the series. Now I'm on his blog, adding it to my google reader.

Tech is awesome. Change is painful, but I think good.

Sandy said...

Barry Eisler is a great author. You'll love all of his books. I met him on MySpace and I follow him Twitter.

Anonymous said...

Great Post!

The industry shake up is coming whether anyone likes it or not!

Athours are already releasing their e-books prior to theior paper run.

Unknown said...

Part 1 -----
I got started "consuming" eBooks when I bought one of the very first Pocket PCs back around 1998 or 99. I was working as a software engineer and needed a more portable way to keep my contacts, technical notes and reference material handy and I thought I could make that machine function in that role. Prior to the Pocket PC, I was carrying a leather gym bag around in the trunk of my car and a 3-inch attache everywhere I went.

Within a month or so, I was scanning and OCRing chapters from those books and many others and I spent a lot of time typing my notes into html files which I indexed using yet another html file. This had the added benefit of allowing me to put the files onto a www site so that I could reference them from anyplace that had Internet access. But my goal was to have that machine earn its space in my pocket, and in my life. Once I realized how truly portable my reference material was, I started looking at the, literally, thousands of technical, reference, nonfiction and fiction books in our house and thinking about how great it would be to have all those in my pocket as well.

Within a couple of years, I had upgraded that machine several times and several ereaders had begun to show up (remember the Rocket ebook reader, Microsoft Reader, etc.?) along with programs to convert between the various formats. I could buy a book in just about any format, convert it to .lit and have it on my (now color) Pocket PC. And, of course, the pesky DRM fell out along the wayside during the conversion process. A factor which eliminated a somewhat major concern that plagued me - I could *make* backups, but couldn't read them on unlicensed machines.

It was at about this point in time, sometime around 2000 or 2001, that I stumbled across widespread ebook piracy on the 'net. People were actually scanning books that weren't available as ebooks to feed their insatiable craving for more intellectual fodder. Then, not to waste that fairly significant effort, they were sharing the fruits of their labors online with other, similarly driven, readers. This was the music industry fiasco all over again - authors, like John Grisham, who were strongly opposed to ebooks were very well represented in these underworld "libraries". And, the works of many SF authors were being reproduced in their entirety. And the only author to fight back was Harlan Ellison - and he was so vicious in his pursuit of these offenders that, eventually, they simply stopped posting his work.
Continued on Part 2 -----

Unknown said...

Part 2 -----
Needless to say, I love books, always have. This fever began back when my second grade teacher started letting me take books home from the shelf next to her desk and it has only gotten worse over the years. So, this new trend was becoming very disturbing to me. I wanted to see more authors in print not fewer and piracy was definitely not going to further that eventuality.

Recently, the problem has actually gotten worse, not better. At least in the early days, there was a degree of justification in that the publishers weren't feeding the market, so the market went underground to feed itself. And, there was a "code of honor" - if you liked what you downloaded, buy the original to support the author. But now, books that hit the stores, hit the piracy venues almost simultaneously. Literally every DRM format is cracked days after it is deployed and, if you know where to look, you can get the titles quicker from the black market than you can buy it even with a Nook or Kindle. So this asinine pricing structure of Macmillans is only going to fuel the piracy problem if it prevails in the marketplace. On the other hand, Amazon's model will probably have a considerable dampening effect and instant purchase schemes such as the ones deployed on Kindle and Nook will probably help, as well. Publishers like Macmillan will need to lead, follow or get out of the way, otherwise they will surely get ground under the wheels of real progress.

I think the end scene from James Cameron's SF masterpiece The Terminator, which is surprisingly fitting to any number of situations, also applies here:
Sarah Connors is sitting in an open jeep with her large dog (German Shepherd) in the passenger seat while the old Mexican station attendant fills the tank.
Small Mexican boy somewhat excitedly, while pointing to the sky: " Viene la tormenta!"
Sarah Connors, to old man: "What did he say?"
Old Man: "He said there's a storm coming."
Sarah, wistfully: "I know."

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