E-readers Aplenty


I’m losing track of the number of ebook readers now available to consumers. Help! I make this observation hot on the heels of bookseller W. H. Smith’s announcement that they too will be a vendor for the Kobo reader. Now the Kobo is a really nice device. It’s light, compact and its e-ink technology is fantastic. But then so are other ebook readers. (I have a three year old Sony PRS 505 which works dandily IMHO)  So, because I’m a fanatic about these kinds of things, here’s a HUGE chart of currently available e-readers that I found on Wikipedia.

I should mention that W.H. Smith is joining a growing group of brick and mortar booksellers that are selling e-readers. I suspect the reasons for this have to do with ebook sales now accounting for about 20% of total book sales in the industry according various sources compared to less than 5% three short years ago. Now I’m no economist, but from where I sit, a 15% increase in sales to me at least, represents staggering growth! Clearly 2011 is the year that e-readers finally hit critical mass as I’d mentioned in a previous blog post, so it makes sense that brick and mortar stores are going to try to tap into the lucrative online bookselling market though I have my doubts that Sony’s book store or the Kobo book store are even in the same universe as Amazon were we to compare their sales figures. I attribute much of the growth in e-reader sales to Amazon who’ve clearly been first out the gate on a consistent basis in terms of innovation not to mention an attractive price point.

Which brings me to a question that’s been tugging at me: will there be any consensus as to what an appropriately *fair* price for a new book should be if it’s an e-book? Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to isn’t prepared to shell out forty bucks of an electronic version of a printed book when the printed book is forty bucks at the local book store and it’s an actual *thing* that you’re holding in your hands. You see, I love ebooks. I love my Sony PRS 505, but when someone else is controlling the technological means by which your eyeballs actually get to read the printed word, then aren’t e-readers just a gateway to controlling the aforementioned printed word? Yes, I know that e-books are here to stay. but when you buy a printed book, it’s yours! Once you read it you can use it to hold up a chair that isn’t level or you could place it on your beautiful bookshelf and it becomes a decorative feature for your home. You bought the book, it’s yours. Do with it as you please. You buy an e-book, you’re only going to get to read it if you have access to an electronic device.

There are ethical issues in the debate over e-books versus print. People smarter than me are going to hash out what this new, unpredictable world of book publishing is going to look like. But as an author, I can’t help but think that those who will be hardest hit by the pace of change will be the very people who write the words that a reading public wishes to purchase.

Let me be very clear: I don’t know any rich authors. None. I know some pretty well-known authors and most still have a day job. We aren’t writing to get rich, by the way, we are writing because it’s what we are passionate about. At the same time, the era of the e-book has also ushered in the era of e-book piracy and authors who aren’t exactly swimming in wealth now face a further assault on their meager royalty income because some jerk was too cheap to cough up the ten bucks to download the book legitimately at an online book store.

So in a nutshell, this is what the publishing world looks like to me on October 13, 2011:

  1. Big box booksellers are going bankrupt (Borders)
  2. Indie booksellers are closing every day
  3. Fewer and fewer people are reading
  4. Amazon drives the pace of change in the e-reader market not to mention online book sales.
  5. There’s massive debate about how much to charge for an ebook versus a print book
  6. Author royalties (and advances) are declining at the same time as online book sales have jumped to 20% of total book sales
  7. We can now buy ebook readers for under a hundred dollars
  8. Self-publishing is booming thanks to Kindle Self Publishing so now the market is flooded with dreck versus, you know, properly edited books.
  9. A literary agency just opened it’s own publishing arm (Thank you Trident Media Group)
  10. I might be an enabler because I happen to love my e-reader. (Yes, I suck. I know)

Have I missed anything because I’m just wondering how authors are actually going to make any money in this brave new world of publishing.


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