It seems like we’ve been talking a lot about ebooks in the last few months here at Futurismic, which is surely a sign of the times. The thing that’s been bothering me about ebooks for a while (and the principle reason I’ve not really started buying them myself as of yet) is that the pricing has seemed a little… unreasonable. [image by shimgray]
It’s not just me, it would appear. Yesterday, Kassia Krozser of Booksquare laid the boot into publishers trying to gouge the same price from their ebook customers as from their dead-tree buyers:
Let’s go through this one more time: ebooks are a new, different market. You, dear publishers, have been given that rarest of gifts: a new revenue stream (think: home video for the motion picture business). These books are not competition. While there are more than a few readers who would love the luxury of choice of format/style/device when it comes to purchasing and reading books (you’re reading one), the ebook customer is different than the print book customer. Even if your ebook sales are growing by leaps and bounds each quarter, they’re nowhere near the volume that print achieves.
You’re dealing with a different animal, and — wahoo! — you now have the opportunity to change how you do business. Let’s start with smarter pricing. No, let’s start with the idea that you, publishers, are not the only game in town.
Tough love indeed. However, hot on the heels of Ms Krozser’s screed (and far too close to have been a response to it, I might add) came an announcement at SF Signal: genre fiction publishers Orbit are now offering a different ebook from their backlist each month for just US$1.
Now, this is still far from ideal; it’s just a handful of titles in a handful of formats, and the inevitable and much-loathed DRM is involved. But it’s a start. I suspect as the tough times dig in over the next year, we’ll see the start of a race for the bottom in ebook pricing… especially in the genre scene, which seems to tend toward a more tech-savvy readership.
Looks like it’s not only the iPhone alpha geeks who’ll be able to feed their reading jones with their favourite piece of portable tech; Nintendo have teamed up with publishers HarperCollins to provide a collection of classic books for reading on the little DS handheld games console. [image by catatronic]
While it’s interesting to see more of these partnerships emerging, this one looks to be half win and half fail. On the plus side, getting affordable reading content onto a low-priced device with good penetration into the youth market and no additional fees for regular usage (in other words, the complete opposite of the iPhone) is a brilliant move; that’s exactly the demographic space publishers need to colonise.
But bundling up crusty old classics like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens? Where’s the kid appeal there? Plus most of those titles are so cheaply available in book form it seems pointless charging for them in electronic form.
HarperCollins might have been wiser to initially push out YA, chick lit and graphic novels; I expect those DS users who read fiction would be more likely to part with some money for something a bit more modern than anything by the Brontë sisters or Shakespeare. No amount of marketing speak about “broadening the user base for the device” is going to convince me otherwise, either.
We’ve had years of foot-dragging and protests that ‘no-one wants to read from a screen, anyway‘, but all of a sudden (thanks partly to a Zeitgeist gizmo and an economic slump, perhaps), publishers are looking afresh at the ebook. [image by henribergius]
I mentioned Pan Macmillan’s new iPhone offer the other week, but it looks as if they’re not the only publishing house realising that, actually, people will pay for accessibility and convenience after all. Who knew?
Hey, you – yeah, you with the iPhone. Wanna do something more interesting than pretend to check your mail while you’re on the bus? Genre publishers Pan Macmillan obviously think you do, and have taken the remarkably forward-looking choice of making some of their science fiction and fantasy ebook selection available for the Stanza reader software. [image by William Hook]
At the moment you still have to download the original ebook to your Stanza desktop app and transfer it across, and you can only get an excerpt rather than the whole thing, but apparently the ability to buy direct from your iPhone is in the pipeline. I’ve been waiting to see how the big houses would respond to Oprah’s backing of the Kindle – maybe we’re seeing the first shot in a hardware war yet to come?
New corporate spinoff Liquavista are beginning work to develop practical epaper:
The technology is based on a process called electrowetting, which uses electricity to manipulate a thin layer of liquid so that it changes colour. It uses far less power than a traditional liquid crystal display (LCD) and, crucially, the individual cells change fast enough to run video.
Newspaper editors, grappling with declining circulation and the migration of advertising spending to the internet, have been hoping for years that e-paper will move beyond the drawing board into reality. The dream is for a device allowing readers to upload the newspaper in the morning, then update editorial content and ads as the day goes on, perhaps using a mobile phone or wireless connection.
I wonder if epaper-newspapers will be one of those technologies, like videophones or vitamin-pill-meals, that become technically feasible but never really take off commercially?
Think about it: you get a free paper-paper on the bus every morning and free news content on the web at work or on your laptop.
Also if devices like Microsoft’s Surface (corporate video) become ubiquitous then why bother carrying around a sheet of plasticky stuff when every table, wall, and counter has an interactive Internet-linked display?
I think it will be around as a technology, but I don’t think it will “save the newspaper” any more than wireless laptops or mobile phones will.
The issue is how you monetise content creation – rather than how it is displayed and delivered to the consumer.
[story in Guardian Unlimited][image from eriwst on flickr]