Ebook Pricing Wisdom vs The Humble Bundle

Periodically I have posted about ebook pricing, the most linked to and discussed post being the one where I analyzed JA Konrath’s sales data to determine optimum price to maximize revenue. The take home lesson I try to impress over and over is that the number I arrived at in that analysis is unimportant and not applicable to a general data set – it’s the method I used to arrive at the number that matters. I think anyone involved in the sale of digital goods should do the same kind of experimentation in order to determine their own optimum price.

I still see defenses of higher ebook prices. In practically every case, the person presenting the argument has some kind of investment in the way business has always been done. They have done their time in legacy paper publishing and present this experience as a reason why their opinion is informed. In reality, I think this mindset probably blinds them to realities and frames their thinking in ways that makes it difficult or impossible to think outside that frame. In other words, that lifetime of experience and all that hard won knowledge is probalby doing them harm, which is not something anyone wants to consider. “Hey, all that stuff you’ve learned your entire adult life, throw it out and start over.” I blame no one for having a hard time reframing their thoughts.

The first and most harmful bit of the frame is what I call the “Unit Price Fallacy.” The classic justification of ebook prices takes a unit, and breaks down the costs. Printing is $1-$2 per book, so the conclusion is that ebook prices should be a few dollars cheaper but not radically cheaper. I’ve argued against this many ways, but here is where I am at now: you don’t get to discuss unit prices and unit costs for units you don’t handle. Publishers effectively sell a single unit to Amazon, where black retailing magic occurs and then money is shuttled back the other way. There is no unit cost at all involved in any sell from the publisher end. Using the accounting methods derived from shipping boxes of books back and forth to B. Dalton’s does not apply in this situation.

The other giant portion of the frame that does harm is the “Inelastic Demand Fallacy.” The publishing world seems to feel that they are doing a holy mission by bringing out this literature, that they are a hedge against the darkness of ignorance. In a sense that is true. Coupled in all this is a belief that when a book comes out from an author, readers want *that book from that author* and will pay what it costs. That is undoubtedly true for very specific authorial brands in the bestseller category, but for the vast majority of books available to be purchased, that isn’t true. The books are a commodity. People want to find a book to read, and if book X looks interesting but is priced too high, they’ll move on to book Y which also looks interesting but is priced more reasonably. No author wants to think they spent a year or three writing a novel that is a replaceable commodity in the eyes of purchasers, but that’s exactly where we are at. Fighting the fact won’t change it, accepting it makes it something you can work with.

Recently long time agent Richard Curtis wrote a two part article on Digital Book World defending ebook prices – Part One and Part Two. In Part One he explained that it would cost approximately $1600 to get the final copyedited book into clean digital form. I hope he is talking about books from before, say 1990. My reaction to this was one of horror. “WTF? No one has a digital copy of the final text of the published book? This isn’t standard practice for every publisher?” This is one of the reasons publisher cost justifications are so unconvincing. They are full of costs that make any outsider scratch their head and say “Why would anyone do business like that?” His Part Two is absolutely full of the Inelastic Demand Fallacy. He compares how many copies it would take to recoup the fixed upfront costs but with no mention whatsoever of what that change in price does to the demand for the book.

Compare this to the recent experiences of the inaugural Humble Ebook Bundle. There were an initial six books being bundled, with two additional added on for above average contributions and then another five. You can purchase the bundle by naming your own price and even determine what fraction goes to the authors, the charities and to the Humble organization to keep the site running. At the time of this writing, just under $970,000 has been paid in by just over 70,000 purchasers paying an average of $13.76. Breaking these numbers down, if everyone left their division of money at default and we assume $1,000,000 in final amount (it will be higher but that makes the math clean) that would mean Humble brings in $150,000, the charities divide $200,000 and the books get $650,000 or $50,000 apiece. The per book price is ridiculously low – just over a dollar a book with each book clearing just over $0.65 per book per sale.

According to Richard Curtis and the unit price thinking, this is terrible. People should be paying more per book, because a dollar a book is too low. It is low, very low. However, despite being low each author is bringing home a $50,000 bucket of cash per book. Note that Kelly Link, Zach Weiner and the Penny Arcade guys have two books apiece in there. You could apply a unit price thinking and decide that this is a terrible deal, or you could look at it as $50,000 in sales that didn’t exist for these books a month ago. The latter mode is more productive. I’m not saying Humble scales to all writers, particularly self-published ones. It is its own thing with its own built-in publicity machine and branding. I’m using it as an example why unit price thinking is harmful. Think instead about the bucket of money that comes out the other end of any given decision and sales process of a digital good. Don’t think about it as if you had to pack each envelope and drive them to the mailbox because that doesn’t happen. Margins are abstract concepts, not some kind of money that is coming out of your pocket directly. You’ve already incurred all your costs by the time you deliver the book to the etailer, so it’s all 100% margin after that point.

I’m still working on my first novel, which I will self-publish electronically. (I’m writing this instead of proofing it, bad author!) My initial price will probably be $4.95 for an ~100,000 word book. I will also be experimenting to the extent I have possible with changing the price periodically and seeing what that does to sales. Writing this post notwithstanding, I’ve stopped being an evangelist for ebook pricing. I’m no longer much concerned with convincing anyone to change their business practices. In fact, I’ve come to believe that I don’t want them changed by the big publishers. When my book comes out, priced in the low single digits I’ll be competing with those novels from the big publishers. I will get the best looking cover and best written copy I can in the stores, and then I’ll be fighting for the same entertainment dollars from the same readers. Go ahead, price your ebooks at $14.99. Those ones from Stephen King will of course get sold for that. All the rest, when the readers say “Naaaaw” to them, my book will also be in the store, priced at 1/2 or 1/3 the cost and will also be a pleasant way to kill a rainy afternoon. I’m not bothered by writing a commodity novel, I’m quite fine with it.

And with that, I’m spending the rest of my lunch hour reading over Chapter 25 of my novel, Replaceable Commodity Entertainment You Could Easily Live Without But I Hope You Don’t *. By Dave Slusher.

* title subject to change

Paper Books Deprecated in My House

This was originally a post on Google+.

Ebook detractors say “I want the [feel | smell | ability to read in the bath] of a paper book.” Example from my life earlier today:

I was walking past Books-A-Million and they had the sales racks rolled out in front of the store. These books are priced at $3.97 and they are buy 2 get 1 free. I browsed them for a bit and realized that even if all these books were free, I would not bring any of them home. That’s because the stop energy on paper book purchases doesn’t come from the sale price, it comes from my willingness to bring One More Book into my life. For the kind of bullshit on the clearance rack, that willingness was zero.

Conversely, my stop energy in buying an ebook is completely based on price to value ratio. If the book is priced above my impulse buy trigger for that work, I’ll think about it. If the decision is no, that book is done. If it is below the impulse buy trigger, it’s bought without a second thought. In between, it’s a maybe (but usually no.)

It’s just the way my buy finger goes nowadays. If the book is in paper, it better be special. If it’s electronic, it better be reasonably priced. I have thousands of books in my to-be-read queue and every one of those is a reason not to buy your book. You can overcome that but you need to do the right thing.

Rejected Arguments in Ebook Pricing Debates

I discuss ebook pricing and publisher adoption/non-adoption of ebooks on this blogs. There are a few anti-patterns in the comments I get, so I’m posting this as documented and published ground rules for these debates. If you make one of these points, you’ve already lost.

Arguments Rejected Out of Hand

Argument 1: “Just check it out from the library”

Anytime I ever discuss an overpriced ebook, someone says this to me. 100% of the time, I have already checked my local library prior to blogging about it. If the book was anywhere in my county’s system, I would have already placed a hold on it instead of making the blog post. Sorry, you aren’t helpful but thanks for the implication that I’m too stupid to use a library.

Argument 2: “If the ebook is priced higher than the paper book, just buy the paper book”

I don’t want any more paper books in my house. Every single bookshelf in my house is full, and many have books stacked horizontally on top of the books on the shelf. My cases with paperbacks are stacked three deep so that finding a specific book can be a challenge in search management. At this point, it is a rare book I’m willing to allow into my house in paper. I want many fewer books in paper, not more. If this book scanner were on the market today, I’d be scanning books off my shelves and donating them to my local library as fast as I could move them through.

Both of these arguments bother me in that they are presumptions from people who don’t know me or my situation about how I should make decisions. Is it so much to ask for you to respect that I know what I want better than you do?

What a Long Podcast Queue Means To Me

Obsessive podcast dork post warning – if you are uninterested in the deep miscellany of how one listener handles his podcasts, this post may not be for you.

Some time ago Garrick van Buren asked me about what a long podcast queue means to me. I had posted about the fact that my listening queue was over a month long. Out of curiousity around that time I wrote a ruby script to figure out how long my queue is in listening hours. When it was a month deep, I had around 9 days worth of audio files in my repository. Since the birth of the baby, my listening time dropped way down and the queue got longer and longer. At this point, it is right at a cool 10 weeks long. That means that in early March 2011, I’m listening to the shows from the week before Xmas 2010. Added together, this queue has a runtime that just blipped over 15 days long.

On top of the continuing subscriptions, I have been adding shows this whole time. I don’t get too upset about the long queue and have never found that to be a reason to not subscribe to new shows. Recently I added eBook Ninjas (heard about on The Kindle Chronicles) and Jackie Kashian’s The Dork Forest (heard about on Marc Maron’s WTF). In both cases, the shows had between 15 and 20 episodes that came down the feed on first subscription. For these shows I want to actually listen to the back shows, so I’m now in a situation where the first 25 shows in my list are those two podcasts. Each time I sync, I listen to one episode of each and then skip past the rest. It will probably take me at least a month to clear the queue of just those episodes at the front.

I’ve done this many times with shows I begin and want to listen to a number of older shows. When I first subscribed to WTF a year ago, it was on episode #33 and I did listen from the very beginning. For that show, because he puts it out twice a week like a machine, in the time it took to listen to the first 33 episodes, another 18 had been published. It can be a Sysiphean task to catch up on frequently updated feeds.

But to the real question that Garrick asked, what does it mean to me when the queue gets long? For me particularly, it doesn’t mean that much. I’ve been very far behind like now, and I’ve been so completely caught up that each night I was downloading fewer shows than a typical day’s listening. When the queue is long, the main thing that happens is that my patience and tolerance drops to near zero. When I’ve got 300 files waiting to be listened to, my willingness to listen to shows not cutting for me is drastically reduced. If I try out a new show based on a recommendation and the first five minutes are in-jokes and really boring banter, I hit skip and never come back to that show.

This leads to another more general point – I have come to believe that the first 3 minutes of podcasts are the most crucial bit of the whole thing. If your theme song is five minutes long, you’ve already lost me. If the beginning of your show is a long description of why it’s been so long since the last episode (which I and practically every other podcaster is guilty of doing at least once), I don’t want to listen to that. I especially don’t want to listen if the lateness being discussed in the episode is months or years old at the time I’m listening, which now is highly common. This has come back around to myself. When I record Evil Genius Chronicles episodes, I’m trying very hard to get things rolling fast and coming back to things like sponsorships or long explanations. The other end of this is things like SModcast, where the episodes I’m listening to begin with 12 minutes of promos for SModcastle plus the Adam and Eve and Fleshlight sponsor messages. I’m this close to dropping SModcast because of this. For sure, I begin the show with my finger on the fast forward button. I only wish the Sansa Clip had an audible fast forward so I could hear when the theme song begins.

The main thing that drives whether my queue builds up or gets cleared is how many meetings I have in my day job. Most of my team is in other physical locations so at times much of my day is spent with headphones on. When we changed to a new mode of working that had more phone meetings, my queue size and length began creeping up. I’m not that agitated by it. I’m not disturbed when it climbs. It is a slight bummer as I’m listening to ever older shows with things like offers and contests that are long over before I ever heard them, but overall I don’t care. The one show I make exceptions to my strict chronological listening is Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. I artificially goose the timestamps to make them the oldest shows in my list, so they are always at the head because these are the most timely shows I listen to.

Beyond that, Mr. van Buren, a long queue doesn’t mean that much to me. It lowers my tolerance, increases my impatience and makes my skip finger itchy. It doesn’t make me loathe so subscribe to new shows. In fact, the last few months I’ve added more new shows than in years. If it takes me years to catch up or it never happens, I can live with that. The queue works for me, I don’t work for it. As long as my ears stay full of interesting listening, I don’t care how much unlistened there exists. I don’t have to be a completist on this, just amused at all the times I want to be.

Weightless Books Sitewide Sale

Indie ebook retailer Weightless Books ran a 25% off sale for the week between Xmas and New Years Day. However, they still have the sale banner up and I made a purchase yesterday and was still able to use the coupon code, which is “25off” . There is some good stuff in here, particularly for fans of fantasy, science fiction and romance genres. If you like ebooks yet decry the Amazon hegemony, there is no better way to fight the power than doing a little business with the little guys.

For most books, you can choose to download in ePub, Mobi, Lit or PDF formats, and they are all DRM free. Even though I have a Kindle I download in ePub and put them in Calibre to let it convert them. Thus far, it has turned out great every time.

Publishing 2010: The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?

This post is my attempt to distill together many different threads into a common tapestry. There is a lot of turbidity in the publishing, podcasting, music, film, television worlds right now. I have these feeling that every bit of this is all part of a larger whole and I’m going to take a stab at defining it. This post will either be awesome because it succeeds or a miserable failure. There is no middle ground. Off in to it. This will be long, you have been warned.

First, let me inventory the raw materials that got me thinking this way. Recently JC Hutchins posted that he had been dropped as an author by St. Martins Press and that they would not be publishing the 7th Son sequels. The post lives between a gut-check and a crisis of faith from one of the pioneering new media creator/ novelist hybrid guys. He also posted about monetary realities of writers pubishing via ebooks. Not that long before this, I had listened to JC’s Hey Everybody interview with Pablo Defendini and Ami Greko from The New Sleekness blog. It’s a really interesting discussion about the future of book publishing by industry professionals young enough in their careers to be less invested in the status quo and more willing to help a new future emerge. (Side note 1: I met Pablo and Ami at last year’s Dragon*Con in the classic SF con fashion – I wanted to meet them, saw them in a hotel bar, asked if I could sit with them, introduced myself and hung out for an hour. Try it, it works! ) Much in my thinking was informed over the last month by the Amazon/Macmillan ebook pricing wars of far too large a trail to link to anything. In that debate I did first run across Joe Konrath, his fiction and some of his posts with amazingly open and detailed statistics of what he sells and what he makes from digital publishing. (Side note 2: I bought, read and enjoyed his book Whiskey Sour as fallout from the debate).

There are many other bits of thought in the mix, such as my feelings about beginning my own novel during NaNoWriMo and thinking about hiring my friends at Sterling Editing to work on it and what I might choose to do with such a book when)it is finished. That’s enough of a prelude, though. Time to hit it.

JC Hutchins struck a nerve when he basically waved the white flag on his current way of working.

Creating podcast fiction does does not generate direct revenue for me. Based on anecdotal and statistical data, very few people are willing to pay for general podcast content, much less podcast fiction. Since my goal is to make a living wage with my words, the current monetization models — including in-show advertisements — will not deliver this. Dedicating time and effort to my non-fiction podcast projects will deliver equally underwhelming monetary results.

It is also apparent to me that using the Free model to promote a tangible product, such as I did with 7th Son: Descent and Personal Effects: Dark Art, does not deliver sustainable sales results. I have friends — some of whom are my best friends, the most talented people I’ve had the privilege to know and work with – who have absolute faith in this model. I treasure their trailblazing efforts and enthusiasm. My faith, however, has been fundamentally rattled.

Put simply: The new media model viably supports only the most blessed and talented of authors. The time, effort and money I invest in entertaining you for free pulls my attention and talent away from projects that can generate revenue. While podcasting, podcast fiction, and — most importantly — your support and evangelism has positively impacted my life and career in ways I’ll never be able to fully express, I cannot continue to release free audiofiction if I wish to make a living wage with my words.

This is pretty big stuff in the world of podcast fiction. Hutch was one of the pioneers of the form and his getting picked up by St. Martins was considered a watershed and a validation for the medium. So if he can’t make it in this world, what does that say about all the other podcast novelists who are less engaged, have less of a fan base, less sheer horsepower? Does it mean this medium is screwed?

I am positing that Hutch had a terrible misfortune of timing, that he arose as a viable author at exactly the wrong moment in publishing history. As he started down his path it seemed like the end game was to get a book deal with a major publisher. For writers of the last 100 years, this was the reasonable career success path for authors, and practically the only one. In the last few years though a sea change has happened so rapidly and thoroughly to flip that Hutch got his boat capsized in the process and he will be far from the only one. As crazy as it may sound, for a certain kind of author at this point I think a major publishing contract may seem like winning the game but is in fact losing it.

The red flags I got from the JC Hutchins post started here:

Examining the lead up to, and release of, the novel, I cannot see how I could have promoted it any better than I did. I literally went broke promoting this book and Personal Effects: Dark Art (another novel that will not have a sequel; it also underperformed). I conceived numerous brand-new online marketing campaigns that dazzled you and others. I asked you to purchase the novel, and many of you did.

If JC is literally going broke promoting 7th Son and Personal Effects book, I think a reasonable question to ask is “What is St. Martins Press’ role in this?” If JC is willing and able to put so much of his own time and money into the promotion of the books, what value is he getting from the big publisher that is worth giving away 90% of the sale of the book to them? 50 years ago, and 20 years ago and 2 years ago, this made sense. It was pretty much impossible to get a book published and into the hands of the world in any significant way – especially in a way that a writer could make a full-time living – without a major publisher contract, especially one paying advances at a level to be a livable wage. Nowadays, especially due to the markeplace enabled by the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader et al, that’s a different equation.

Joe Konrath’s post about the money he makes from the Kindle store shows a really clear pattern that he summarizes with:

My five Hyperion ebooks (the sixth one came out in July so no royalties yet) each earn an average of $803 per year on Kindle.

My four self-pubbed Kindle novels each earn an average of $3430 per year.

If I had the rights to all six of my Hyperion books, and sold them on Kindle for $1.99, I’d be making $20,580 per year off of them, total, rather than $4818 a year off of them, total.

So, in other words, because Hyperion has my ebook rights, I’m losing $15,762 per year.

For a writer with an engaged audience, like JA Konrath has and like JC Hutchins has, there may well be more money in their books self-published primarily through the Kindle and other ebook stores. An interesting bit from the Konrath numbers above, that’s from making 35% of the sales price for his direct books. When it changes to 70%, he’ll be making twice as much per book as he posted above for the self-published ones.

Let me say it again: for a writer who is engaged with their audience and reasonably prolific (because you need new books to keep this engine turning), we may be at the turning point where a better living is available through self-publishing than a big New York publisher book deal.

There are certainly authors that this model will not work for. During my preparation for last year’s “Podcasting for Working Writers” panel at Dragon*Con I talked to both James Patrick Kelly and Kelley Eskridge on this topic and they both raised the point that for a number of old school writers, the idea of engaging at the level of podcasting and doing large parts of their own publicity is anathema. A reasonable chunk of authors don’t want to get out in the limelight and picked this career specifically so they don’t have to engage. They write their books, maybe do a few conventions a year, do some bookstore events and that’s it. Back to the keyboard where the serious work happens. That’s fair enough and those writers will always need a publisher to do the parts of this business that would make them unhappy to pursue.

I think of the classic big publisher and big record label model as basically serving the function of the bank or maybe as VC. The manufacturing and distribution of the creative work was too capital intensive for an individual so this company would lend that money to the process, make the books or records show up in the store, do some publicity and keep most of the money. They insulate the creator from the process and from the retailers and fans. What publicity efforts exist, the big media company acts as a semi-permeable membrane to let a little of the public through, but not a lot. Ultimately in this model, the relationship with the fans of the buying public is owned mostly by the retailer and the publisher or label, very little by the writer or musician. For the author that doesn’t want to feed and water that relationship, that’s perfect.

For the other kind of author, a JC Hutchins or Mur Lafferty or Scott Sigler, going with a major publisher outsources to a third party a relationship with their fans that these writers are really really good at maintaining. When Hutch is paying his own money to publicize his books and his his own direct line into his own fanbase, what can the big publishers do for him? They could give him large enough advances to keep his bills paid while future books are written, but obviously they aren’t willing to do that because sales aren’t high enough. JC’s books earn money, but not enough money to keep him in that system. For me, the real question is “Did St. Martins Press do 9 times the work than JC did to get the work promoted?” If not, what did they do to deserve a 90/10 split?

Last November for NaNoWriMo I began a novel that I have literally been thinking about since 1991 when I was 23. While I came nowhere near finishing it that month and am nowhere near finished now, I have a goal to finish this novel in 2010. I’ve already been thinking about what happens when I finish the book. Do I try to find an agent and then try to have them place it with a major publisher? Since I don’t have any plans beyond that one book and thus don’t necessarily have a writing career in mind, how does that affect my decision making? At the moment I’m leaning towards not bothering to place the book with any publisher at all. I’ll pay Nicola and Kelley at Sterling Editing to work with me to get it publishable and hire a book designer and/or artist to hone the final product and then publish it to the Kindle store, Smashwords, the Nook store and whatever else seems reasonable at the time. I’ll probably release it via Podiobooks.com at the the same time, do my publicity via that and the other usual online suspects and let it ride. The key point to me is that the energy I could spend in placing my book at a big publisher could be spent selling the book to readers and I’ll probably make more money that way in the long run. This isn’t the way things worked for the 19th and 20th century and it may not be the way it works in the future, but March 2010 it is the way it looks to me now. The validation of having a “major publisher” decide I’m their sort of writer doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t need the book contract to pay my living, I’d end up doing mostly my own publicity anyway so what the hell does the publisher have to offer me anymore? Rather than have them put out a $15 Kindle book that I see a buck or two from and no one buys with a print version that is on and off the shelves in head-swimming time on a death march to the warehouse remainder store, I’d rather put out a $5.99 ebook version that I see $4 from each one and more people buy. I have a whole rant on how the true function of ebook platforms is to enable impulse buys, but this current post is already too long. That must come later.

When I interviewed Cory Doctorow in 2006, one of the things he said is that the generation coming of age now is the first one to arise “without a stigma attached to self-publication.” Since I’ve been paying attention to the world of science fiction and writers in general, a giant shift has happened. When I joined GEnie in 1992, the notion of self-publishing your work meant that it was unreadable tripe and the very thought of it was risible to any serious author. Nowadays, it might well be the most rational economic choice available. If you aren’t already in the system and earning livable wages from advances on your books, and you are the sort of writer and person with that drive – a JC Hutchins, a Scott Sigler, a Tee Morris, a Mur Lafferty, an Alec Longstreth, someone willing to do more than thrown the manuscript over the wall and wait for finished copies to return – it might be time to take the reins yourself and just do this. The costs are low which means the cost of failing is low. The traditional publishers aren’t paying that much anyway so the opportunity costs are low. Just do it. Lynne Abbey, CJ Cherryh and Jane Fancher did. The writers at Book View Cafe did. I will. Don’t pin your hopes on a big publisher with economic drivers that are different than yours. Just do it yourself, work the people yourself and keep as much of the money as you can.

A Decade of Ebook Arguments

In 1998, I left my job at Intel for a job with an ebook startup called JStream. It was in many ways my dream job, and of every one I’ve held it was the one I’d get excited on Sunday night because I got to go back in on Monday morning. It was a good fit for me because I’m a software developer and also a very avid bibliophile. At the time I took that job, I was in the final few months of producing the original Reality Break radio show. It was also at the point where a number of science fiction publishers were sending me every book they published every month, which sounds fantastic at first until you have to find a place to put them all. Ultimately, I realized there was no way to possibly keep them all, so a number of them were sold back to the Powells Books in Beaverton OR. It was around this time that I noticed that the arguments were confused by conflating two points – the love of reading and the fetishization of physical books. I split the difference in that I loved the reading but I also really love having and touching and owning physical books. Remember that point, we’ll come back to it.

Early on in my JStream days, I had to have the argument over and over and over about how impossible ebooks were to read. If you think back to the state of the art then in handheld devices, were were in the first few years of Palm dominance. The primary argument was screen size and resolution. Back then, I argued against that even when we were talking about 160X160 pixel 2.5″ screens. I read a number of full novels on my Handspring Visor and I found the experience completely pleasant. That was a full decade ago.

Now, I’m in the market for a Kindle in the near future. I’ve been reading up on reviews and criticisms of the device and it’s amusing to me how much of the pushback on the device is basically a retread on all the arguments that weren’t correct 10 years ago and are far less compelling today. “The screen is too small”, for a device with a viewable window that is about the size of a paperback book. “I can’t read it in the bathtub”, which was perhaps the single most common counter argument I heard in the 90s while also being the most nonsensical. You’d think from the fervor this came up that there was no dry reading happening in America. I can’t understand the bathtub use case that would ruin an electronic device but not ruin a paper book. Do people regularly dunk their paperbacks in the bath water?

I ran across this article with the advertising manager of DC Comics warning dire consequences for comcis if mindshare shifts to reading on the Kindle. What amuses me about that is that it’s cast in a “threat or menace” style fear-mongering way with zero mention of getting out in front of this parade. I see no downside in any comics company offering black and white versions of their comics to the Kindle for a reduced price. For any comic that is already in black and white (these tend to be indie books) there is no problem whatsoever. DC could easily take every book they currently publish, create an electronic copy from the inked pages before they are colored and just publish them. Of course they will not be as good an experience as buying the paper copies, but for some audience that is enough. You’d make money from a market that currently does not exist and which you already fear will eat away at sales. Modern day comic sales are already off 50% from mid 90’s. Did it occur to anyone that this might actually be a mechanism for rebuilding the audience that has mostly drifted away? Consider the electronic versions loss leaders in getting kids reading comics once again, and maybe they’ll come back again. Either way, it would cost a few hours of some staffers time per published issue to create an electronic version. The costs of this gamble are so freakishly low, I see no reason why any sensible business wouldn’t just go for it.

As I said up top, I’m a reading lover and I’m a book lover. I have far more books in my house than anyone needs and I’m willing to admit that I’ll probably go to my grave with some of these unread. And yet, I still want a Kindle. I have no problem reconciling the notion of “reading copies” with “collecting copies”, and realizing this Venn diagram is of two non-identical sets. I have hardback copies of all of George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” novels. No way am I buying the final volume in the series in Kindle only. This is clearly a book that I want to own going forward.

However, any book that I would read and then consider releasing via BookCrossing or giving away to my local library sale, that’s a book I could have easily read via the Kindle without a paper copy to deal with later. I enjoy reading Max Allan Collins’ mystery novels and I own many but in general I’m not a collector of them. I’d buy them for the Kindle. I picked up a copy of Mike Grell’s novelization of his Jon Sable character at a dollar store and read it as my beach reading last year. That could have been a Kindle book. At last year’s Dragon*Con, I had interviews for Reality Break scheduled with Mur Lafferty and Tobias Buckell and electronic copies of both of their books. That meant either carrying the laptop or printing them out, which is what I opted to do and was a very large pain in the butt. I’d much rather have had both on a Kindle.

I have over 150 different stories, novels and magazines that I’ve already purchased via Fictionwise, including several years where that’s how I subscribed to both Asimov’s and Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Again, I found that an entirely pleasant experience. When I get my Kindle, one of my first actions will be to redownload that entire library of books I’ve bought in Mobipocket format, which can be read by the Kindle natively. Right out of the gate, I’ll have that library to draw on. Between those, the books I am going to download from Project Gutenberg and the electronic review copies people send me, I’ll have a lot of reading on there before I pay the first cent to Amazon to buy a book. I will not cease to buy paper copies of books, I’ll just refine the choices to the ones I know I want to keep continuing to own for a long time.

I love books and I always will. I love reading and I always will. I don’t understand why more people can’t understand the difference between the two and discuss the pros and cons of electronic books more sensibly. The Kindle is a reading device, not a collecting device, and if your counterarguments against it are from the book fetishization perspective, they are not applicable and will be ignored by me. Yes, I wish the Kindle was in color. Yes, I wish it was cheaper. I’m going to buy one as my vote of confidence in this direction. One day in the future I’d love to have the color e-ink device that can read comics and books comfortably. For now, I’m going with what we have and helping to underwrite the future I want.