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Tuesday, November 19 Front Page >> Random Rants >> Paper vs. eBooks
PAPER VS. EBOOKS

Oct 16, 2002, 12:10am

You know, I haven't read a paper book in about 1 year now.

Man, do I love the concept of eBooks. I just don't like the stingy implementation of it.

See, I think in the last 24 months, I've read about 75 novels, and I own probably 70 of them either in paperback or hardcover format. But about 60 of those books I've read (or reread) in electronic format, either on my old Palm Vx, on my Compaq iPaq, or currently, on my Sony Clie T615 (did I mention to you all that I was given a Sony Clie by a very cool person recently?)

I haven't bought a single eBook. It's not that I don't want to, or that I want to pirate per se; I don' buy eBooks because publishers have their heads in the sand.

I've argued this in the past - make eBook pricing realistic, and I'll happily pay. Right now it's a joke - you can find some popular best seller novels in eBook format, but you're expected to pay $20, $30, $40 for the electronic format, then only to find it's locked down, limited use, and in some cases, expires after a period.

Because of this one sided, unrealistic system that is currently in place, I have no personal moral dillema about downloading, via various pirate channels (usually newsgroups), books that I already have paid $10 for in paperback format, or $25 or more in hardcover format. I own every Tom Clancy book ever written, but I've also downloaded every Tom Clancy book in ebook format (people scan and process the books through a word recognition program, then convert to a text file, then post). If all of Tom Clancy's books were available for say $3 or $4 for an electronic download, I'd happily buy them. But I'm not paying $30, like one price I saw for Clear and Present Danger. I feel that is morally corrupt on the publisher's part, so I access the pirate versions.

If publishers were more in tune with the times, I think they could make a mint. For years, the hardcover / paperback modus worked  very well for publishers and writers, and continues to do so - bring out a book in hardcover, charge $20, $30 or more for it, and reap in the dough. Then six months, nine months, or a year later, release the paperback version for $10 or less, and reap in more dough. It works well for publishers, and even if the books get passed around, resold to used book stores, or donated to libraries, the publishers and writers were generally happy.

Then the digital age came upon us, and publishers were slow to the take. Then (unfortunately) major publishers had RIAA (mp3s) and MPAA (mpg movies) to look at, and think, hey, we can be greedy too. Digital Rights Management of books became paramount. It also became a big limiting factor in the sales and popularity of legitimate, legal eBooks. It's weird too: Publishers weren't worried about joe consumer buying a hard cover, reading it, and giving it to his wife to read, then his brother, then his friend. But they were absolutely paranoid that they'd be losing millions if they put the book out in eBook format, and everyone would copy it.

Hogwash.

Follow the hardcover / paperback route. Add another step: hardcover / paperback / ebook. Price the hardcover at a reasonable price (say $30), then release the paperback six to twelve months later, and price the paperback at 1/3 that cost (say $10). Then release the eBook version three to six months after the paperback, and price it at half to 1/3 the paperback cost ($3 to $5). There's almost NO cost associated with eBooks as compared to physical paperbacks or hardcovers. Pass the savings onto the consumer, but still reap in more profits per sale than the paperback. DON'T put major restrictions on the ebooks, make them "open source", easy to use on any device (or make it a package including Microsoft .lit format and Palm .doc format).

And we, the buying public benefit. And we'd spend our dough, filling their coffers.

I know I'd much rather pay a $3 to $5 price for a perfectly formatted, perfect spelling, nicely laid out eBook by a publisher than the choc-full of spelling mistakes, layout errors and grunge feel of a "free book". Almost everyone I know who's into eBooks feels EXACTLY the same way. Hell, I'd probably drop $50 to $100 a month on Amazon for easy to use, almost no restrictions eBooks. That's $600 to $1200 a YEAR, you publisher dinks!

But publishers don't get it. They see RIAA's stand and follow. Blah.

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