Booksellers Discuss the Value of E-books and Print Books

From Shelf-Awareness, a discussion of e-books and print books from booksellers.

From Rachel Whang of Atomic Books, Baltimore, MD: I don't understand why anyone would go to a bookstore to download e-books, as some have proposed. Do people go to record stores to download music? No. People don't go to places to download anything. That's why they like it. And that's why music-selling stores are going away.

From Jodi Kaplan who runs Squidoo lens: For print and bookstores to survive, they have to add value. Bring authors in, host book groups, have authors blog on their sites (or connect to the authors' blogs). Send e-mails to loyal customers informing them of new books they might like to read. Invite people into the store to form connections with the store, the authors and other readers.

Michael Herrmann of Gibson's Bookstore, Concord, NH: As not only a bookseller but a booklover, I can see why e-books would be priced lower than real books. Not only do you not have printing, storing and distribution costs at the producer's end, but you also do not have a permanent artifact at the consumer's end. That is to say, e-books are not collectible. They are ephemeral. There is no guarantee that they will be readable or retrievable in two, 10, 50 years. They have less value than a real book. So perhaps they should cost less.

On the issue of Amazon dictating price, Amazon is not releasing sales figures for the Kindle or for downloads. They are bullying suppliers into accepting ridiculously low prices in the name of a consumer demand that they are trying to invent out of the whole cloth. It is more of a religious phenomenon than a business discussion.


At Squidoo there is a list of Seven Reasons Printed Books are Better Than Digital Books

Here are the reasons with my comments:

1. You can take a book on vacation, to the beach, or to the park (and leave it behind without guilt).

You can take an ebook reader to any of these places. Why would I want to leave my book behind? I can delete the book off of an ereader if I want to get rid of it.

2. Printed books are available everywhere. There are books in bookstores, airports, supermarkets, libraries, and yard sales.

ebooks can be anywhere. In regards to yard sales putting books on the secondary market provides no money to the author.

3. They're versatile and re-usable. You can share them. When you're finished reading a book, you can put in on a shelf (and remember the story when you look at it). You can share it with a friend, or you can sell it used on Amazon and get some of your money back.

There are more than six billion people on the planet do we really need to take up room so you you can put your book on a shelf so you can remember the story when you look at it? I am all for libraries. If there is going to be a place to wander through a book collection let it be at the library.

Sharing books with friends is taking a sale away from an author. Selling the book on Amazon also does nothing for the author. In regards to getting money back why don't we just have a fair price for the initial sale and they we don't have to worry about getting money back?

4. There are millions and millions of book titles in print. Books in Print offers a database of 7.5 million titles in the US alone.

Libraries as a global group should collect and protect these books.

Only thing I think of in regards to ebooks with point 4 is that more books should be available as an ebook.

5. You never have to upgrade your software, or buy a new reader to use your printed books. Digital data degrades over time and software becomes obsolete. Books can last for centuries.

Digital data does not degrade over time.

Software and hardware systems do become obsolete. Important books should be in a format that has the ability for long term survival. Important books should probably be in paper and in an archival electronic format.

6. No batteries required. You don't need a computer, an Internet connection, or special tools to read a printed bound book.

Point 6 I agree with but just because this is true doesn't mean that ebooks are bad. I have a Kindle that has an e-ink screen that uses less power. Reading more than an hour a night I only charge my Kindle once a week. I could probably even go longer but once a week when I get done reading at night I plug it in and it is all set.

7. They're cheap. Used books on Amazon cost as little as 1 cent.

The distribution system for paper books is extremely wasteful. Tons of books are shipped to bookstores and then shipped back to publishers. Many of these returns get on the remainder book market where they earn no money for the author.

You cannot get a book from Amazon for 1 cent. You can get a book for 1 cent a $3.99 shipping. Amazon pockets a dollar of that and the seller ships the book for something under $2.99 if they want to make any money. So if you want a book on Amazon you have to pay $4. Still cheap but the whole book for a penny idea is a misnomer.

I ran into this a lot when dvds were taking over from vhs. I spoke to people who didn't want to buy a dvd player "because then they'd have to rebuy their whole collection." I always responded with, "No one is going to make you throw away your vhs machine." I find a lot of the ebook arguments are the same. It's like we're not allowed to buy both.

I bought a Sony reader before Christmas and I love it. It's saving me a lot of space on my shelves, but I still plan on buying my favorite authors in paper (I find paper books are still easier to reread and flip through).

My only quibble is price. There aren't any Canadian ebook stores that I could find so I'm stuck buying through the Sony bookstore or publishers. The fantasy books I've been interested in buying are $17 US when they come out, but I could buy them for $17 Cdn on Amazon. I'm not sure why I'd want to pay more for an ecopy. I have to wait a few weeks for the prices to drop to $11 US.


The Atomic Books com mentor says:
I'm surprised that publishers haven't paid more attention to the music industry!

And if they look at the music industry they will see an industry that is going digital and people don't have owning a physical artifact as their major priority.

OverDrive ebooks at our Boston Public Library use a mechanism, a player that isn't compatible across a wide variety of computers over many years. 3-5 year old operating systems have to be updated at a cost of hundreds of dollars thus leaving out households that haven't the budget to upgrade to the newest and latest operating system. It's bad planning by BPL's applications specialists who routinely deflect feedback from BPLusers instead of solving problems of access. We need librarians interested in solving problems of access to services not the apparatchik types unwilling to question how things are done. We need BPLer librarians advocating for more access for our BPLusers.

Ok, OverDrive is bad. (For sake of argument)

What do you suggest it be replaced with?

The problem with Kindle is that the same company makes the machine and sells the product. You can't download from the library or another dealer the e-books prepared for Kindle.

What is needed is an universal machine, perhaps one that operates on ASCII, that allows the individual machine to determine font size, appearance, etc. This will allow libraries and other places to offer e-books that are not available for Kindle, and allow for the easy exchange of data.

This is one of the reasons I like Project Gutenberg, UPenn e-library, and other open resources. Their books can be downloaded into my computer or PDA, and read at leisure with no software problems.

Like the music industry, is trying to control the market. Like the music industry, they will find is it an impossible project.

There are plenty of good arguments here I personally am all for ebooks, although I see both traditional and ebook formats as co-existing, as I find them easy to use and very portable but agree that the format has a few issues at the present, which was illustrated by Bibliofuture above, that are inhibiting its growth and success. Two of the largest issues are diversification of titles and the mix of formats available, these issues I've expanded upon in one of my own articles on fantasy ebooks , have a read if your interested.

There is great need for conducting more Information Literacy programs by the librarians for students, faculty and staff for proper utilisation of e-books
Dr. Harish Chandra