The Eternal Return: used hard covers verses the ephemeral e-book

Hard copies can be resold and resold without the author benefiting from these transactions, but the e-book assures the author a royalty check for every single sale. There is no such thing as a used e-book.  If you don’t think many people are willing to read a whole novel on a lit screen, think again.  People spend hours a day staring at their phones and computers. Things change, and people adapt.  Remember those who said they would never give up their typewriters? They succeeded those who swore long-hand was the only way to write. Out of habit I still continue to buy print books, but I own a Kindle and eventually I’ll get used to using it.

Almost all e-readers use energy efficient black-and-white E Ink displays, which use reflected light so they’re much easier on the eyes than backlit LCD screens. There are a number of e-readers out there: Amazon’s Kindle, Sony Reader, Cool-er, eSlick and Barnes and Noble’s Nook. Kindle uses a proprietary AZW format that only supports book available on Amazon. Almost all other e-books use  the open source EPUB. All e-book readers will allow you to read PDF, HTML, text, MP3 and JPEG files, some readers are better at it than others.

I am only familiar with Kindle, but I think their proprietary software may make them more interesting to authors.  Kindle books are now available on iPod, iPhone, PCs and pretty soon on Macs too, so readers won’t have to own a Kindle device to read a Kindle book. Kindle books can’t be copied, like PDF or Word files, and emailed to friends. You have to register your Kindle-reading device with Amazon to access your library.

The Open Source version e-books aren’t copyright protected in the same way.  An authorized user is not strictly prevented from sharing e-books with friends, but there is a “social disincentive” to do so. The Open Source version requires a type of password that a user would be reluctant to share because it contains his/her credit card number.  As an author, I’m slightly more comfortable with the Kindle procedure. As long as Kindle books are available to anyone with a PC or a Mac, I think it’s the smarter choice for authors to release on Kindle rather than Open Source. There are those who are warning writers that the ebook will cut profits in half as digitized music cut the music industry profits in half.  But a Kindle book isn’t like an mp3, which I know how to copy and send to friends.  Despite these warnings I am optimistic about ebooks. I don’t use Napster any more, but iTunes. You too, huh?

Whatever the format, however, e-books will be good for literary fiction. Getting literature in your pocket, purse or computer–which are with you most of the time when library is not–is one way to get people reading more. Your e-book does not come by truck to you. No gas is spent delivering it to you door.  The expenses involved in producing quality hardcover copies leave an author with a royalty cut of about $2 per book. Even if an author wants to bring the e-book price down low enough to compete with a used book $4-$7, they can still get a 37% or more cut with e-book editions, with just the e-book publisher and the author splitting the profits. Authors no longer have to share the spoils of their labors with the post office or UPS or printing companies or distribution companies, etc and etc.

Fattening up the middleman was the American way for a very long time, but cutting the fat is now the way.

Lately, the government has been heard encouraging people to go out and shop in order to bring the economy back. I think we Americans already have too many things and what we really need to be doing is getting by with all the stuff we already own until it wears out.  This would help keep garbage dumps from experiencing too much growth. But, if we take the advice of advocates of green such as I, our economy won’t grow.  Well, let me suggest this, fellow Americans. Buy an e-book.  You will be stimulating skilled labor in this country without adding to the dumps.

These posts, by the way, are reverse dated because people tend to read top down rather than bottom up.

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