Posts Tagged Amazon

New York Times covers reader reactions to Amazon price increase

The New York Times has an article covering the implications of the impending agency pricing model for book sales. It mentions the one-star ratings that have shown up when e-book editions have been delayed or perceived as too expensive, and warns that publishers may be in for more than they bargain for with the increase in price.

Many of the arguments that we have covered in detail over the last couple of weeks make their appearance here: the cost of printing and shipping a paper book versus price of e-book, the sense of “entitlement” displayed by consumers, and the risk of increased price leading to increased piracy.

There are a few notes that might come off as ironic to those who have been following along. In particular:

“There are people who don’t always understand what goes into an author writing and an editor editing and a publishing house with hundreds of men and women working on these books,” said Mark Gompertz, executive vice president of digital publishing at Simon & Schuster. “If you want something that has no quality to it, fine, but we’re out to bring out things of quality, regardless of what type of book it is.”

As many mistakes as readers have been finding in Kindle editions (springing, apparently, from automated conversion without subsequent proofreading), this declaration is laughable. If they want to increase their prices, they had darned sure better start paying attention to the sort of “quality” they are putting out.

The publishers seem to be hoping that the Americans who have not bought Kindles or Nooks so far, and are not used to the $9.99 price for best sellers, will find $12.99 to $14.99 a reasonable price to pay for the electronic version of a more expensive hardcover book.

A number of consumers interviewed for the article had other opinions, however. Author Douglas Preston expressed astonishment at reader “entitlement,” calling it “the Wal-Mart mentality”.

Amazon commenters attacked Mr. Preston after his publisher delayed the e-book version of his novel [Impact] by four months to protect hardcover sales. Mr. Preston said he was not sure whether the protests were denting his sales. But, he said, “It gives me pause when I get 50 e-mails saying ‘I’m never buying one of your books ever again. I’m moving on, you greedy, greedy author.’”

This is the sort of experience a number of authors are having lately. Certainly judging from a recent post on Whatever, John Scalzi has been getting a number of that kind of e-mail in the wake of his series of posts on the Amazon/Macmillan affair, but he doesn’t let it bother him.

If the article has a flaw, it is that it simplifies e-book readers’ complaints to the price increase and release windowing, which does make readers seem a little “entitled.” On the other hand, as Ficbot and I have made clear, some of we early adopters do have a few more issues than just those. (But then again, most of the people complaining will probably be relatively new Kindle users who may well have a simpler outlook.)

In any event, the article also quotes publishers saying they can take advantage of the opportunity to experiment with different prices and find out what the best prices are for their content. And if the publishers’ track record on pricing so far has led to the sort of frustration Ficbot and I expressed, we can at least be hopeful that this is a chance for them to make a fresh start.

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Susan Piver: Publishing industry repeating mistakes of music industry

spiver[1] Found via TechDirt: Ex-music-industry-exec Susan Piver, who I covered a few days ago for her comparison of Macmillan’s pricing change to the way the music industry went down the tubes around the turn of the century, has made another post comparing the two industries.

This is actually an article she wrote after being badly shaken by what she saw at 2009’s O’Reilly Tools of Change conference. She reposted it in preparation for 2010’s TOC conference coming up at the end of this month.

Piver sees history repeating itself: publishers, she says, are reacting to e-books and file-sharing in much the same ways as the music industry reacted to digital music ten years earlier.

In particular, she casts blame on the way both industries were or are focusing on finding big sellers (hit records, bestselling books) at the expense of lesser-selling but more diverse talent.

Rather than developing artists, exploiting regional marketplaces, and building financial models that can easily support a mid-range list, both industries focus on entertainment at the expense of art and expression. (Difference between selling entertainment vs art? Entertainment starts with the customer and works back to the product. Art begins with the product and works forward to find/create an audience.)

Piver also remarks on how a number of people at the conference parroted the assumption that peer-to-peer downloading “killed the music business” and might do the same for publishing.

Downloads did not kill the music business. Shortsightedness and turf-protection on the part of music business executives did. Piracy and changing distribution schema will not kill the publishing industry. Shortsighted infrastructure-protection on the part of publishing houses will.

And this put me in mind of something I saw spring up in the wake of the Amazon/Macmillan dispute and John Sargent’s letter to publishing-industry staff. I wrote in my “Appeal for Understanding” of e-book fans upset by the way Sargent referred to Amazon as Macmillan’s “customer” without ever mentioning them.

Piver writes:

At Tools of Change, Sara Lloyd of Pan-MacMillan nailed it when she said, "Publishers understand markets, but not customers." As anyone in the music business could have told you years ago, the customer is now a human being, and publishers–who still see retail as their customers–don’t know how to build products for individuals who might want to discuss, interact with, congregate around, or add their own $0.02 to the content. The customer has stepped out of the bookstore and into the foyer of the publishing houses, they are knocking on the doors of authors, and asking to be addressed as individuals.

This is exactly right, and I am sure Ficbot would agree.

At present (or at least, at the 2009 Tools of Change conference), Piver says, she sees a lot of people in the industry uncertain what direction to take—hoping someone else does something that works so they can copy it. (Perhaps the Macmillan pricing change was such a “something”, though Piver does not say so.)

As I wrote yesterday, media executives such as Elisabeth Murdoch are starting to recognize the importance of social media and interactivity in promoting their products. Perhaps it is time publishers took a page from that book.

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More Amazon/Macmillan feud fallout, conversations, and conspiracy theories

TechCrunch’s M.G. Siegler reports that another “winner” in the Amazon vs. Macmillan feud is Barnes & Noble, who is getting a lot of new purchase traffic for books Amazon is currently unwilling to carry.

I would add, from the time I have spent reading various discussion forums about it, that a good many of the people who comment in discussion threads at Scalzi’s Whatever, Charlie Stross’s blog, and Making Light have said they are shifting all their purchases over to Barnes & Noble—and some have said they are going ahead and buying Nooks, too.

Furthermore, the SFWA today announced it is removing all links to from its website. If Amazon keeps this up much longer, it is going to exhaust much of the goodwill that authors and publishers have previously had toward it—and after some of the other disputes publishers and author-advocacy groups have had with Amazon already (the pricing issue, the Kindle text-to-speech issue, the listing-used-books-with-new issue) there may not have been much of that left to begin with.

Different Sites, Different Discussions

I find it interesting how different the conversations are at the blogs I mention above from discussion here and on MobileRead. At the aforementioned blogs, more people by far are taking Macmillan’s side and feel Amazon acted reprehensibly, while here and at MobileRead (as well as Kindle users’ communities, I understand, though I have not been reading them) it is largely the other way around.

(By the way, I would like to call out for sticky-posting Sargent’s open letter at the top of the blog, but disabling reader comments on it. Very classy, guys. I know you’re part of Tor, which is part of Macmillan, but still, this one-way barrage of corporate-speak seems quite at odds with the notion of community you’ve worked so hard to build up. Someone get them a copy of The Cluetrain Manifesto.)

I suppose it is that Whatever, Stross, and Making Light serve communities made up of Macmillan writers, editors, and their friends, while more readers and small-press folks hang out here and on MobileRead. And needless to say, none of these discussions may represent the opinions of the great silent majority of readers who have not bothered to take part in any of them.

E-books’ “Grassy Knoll”?

Over the last few days, we have seen a number of posts here espousing the opinion that publishers have a not-so-secret agenda to destroy or delay the market for e-books.

This is not exactly a new idea, of course—it has had ten or fifteen years of publisher mismanagement of e-books to take root. Still, with Macmillan’s actions in attempting to raise e-book prices, it is finding newly receptive audiences.

I’m still looking for someone to write a guest column from an opposing viewpoint; LiveJournal user “barbarienne” has posted a (slightly blue) screed against this “conspiracy paranoia”, but it is not something I could reprint on the front page.

On a related note, writer Sean P. Fodera has made an LJ post concerning the “misconception” that e-books should cost significantly less than printed books—and unlike many others, he actually had a fairly reasonable response when I brought up the counter-example of Baen.

John Siracusa: “People don’t get e-books”

And from the point of view that it might be better not to ascribe malice to something that can be more readily explained by incompetence, this Ars Technica editorial by John Siracusa that I covered here a year ago suggests that most people, including publishers, have simply never “gotten” e-books.

If you’ve forgotten about or not read it, it is worth going through again—it’s still as true now as it was then (and interesting as well for the way it essentially predicts the iPad a year ahead of schedule).

Siracusa suggests that the industry’s “sabotage” of e-books could be laid at the feet not of some overarching plan, but the exact opposite—general cluelessness about e-books and the market in general, born of fear of what happened to the music industry with Napster and, yes, fear of e-books cutting into their hardcover margins.

Though even so, Siracusa does note:

All of this is to say that the publishers effectively sabotaged the e-book market from day one. The DRM, the pricing, the general treatment as second-class citizens, it all added up to an insurmountable drag on a budding industry. Without some minimum level of buy-in from content owners, there was simply no way to break through to the mainstream, no way to ever sell enough copies of those popular novels to recoup a large up-front fee, and no way to persuade content owners to allow the most desirable best-sellers to be sold in e-book form.

So whether there was or is any sort of overarching plan may not make much difference in the end if the results are the same.

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Amazon purchases touch-screen startup; on e-ink, LCD, and eyestrain

touchco One fairly big news item to hit today involves Amazon’s purchase of Touchco, a 6-person startup company with a new multitouch-capable, completely transparent touch-screen overlay technology.

A number of the blogs and news sources linking this story remark on how this technology is capable of use with the current multi-color LCD technology that drives the iPhone, iPad, and other forthcoming tablet PCs. They speculate that Amazon may be planning to go head-to-head vs. the iPad and deliver a multimedia experience with its next iteration of Kindle.

However, it is worth noting there is no reason this overlay technology couldn’t still be used with e-ink displays, too, producing a touch-sensitive e-ink display much more readable than the glare-haunted Sony PRS-700 I reviewed last year. I have to question whether Amazon would have any interest in leaping from its core mission of providing a superior reading experience into realms where Apple is much more accomplished.

Speaking of touch-sensitive displays, Slashdot has a link to an Engadget story about Displax Interactive Systems, a company that has developed a film that can be applied to any surface to turn it into a touchscreen. Suddenly those Star Trek: The Next Generation control panels are looking a lot more plausible.

E-ink vs. Backlit LCD: The Eyestrain Factor

Meanwhile, a discussion over on the Yahoo E-Book Community Mailing List has been talking about the question of e-ink vs. backlit displays and eyestrain. A number of people have complained about backlit displays causing more eyestrain than e-ink, and whether or not that was really true.

Bill Janssen wrote:

[As] far as I can tell, there’s no medical or scientific evidence to support this frequently heard urban legend. Light is light, and your eyes can’t tell the difference between photons emitted from the screen and photons reflected from the screen.

I’d be happy to be informed that I’m wrong, if anyone has pointers to real studies on the subject.

And Brenna Lyons replied:

According to ophthalmologists, backlighting is not bad for the eyes UNLESS you are in a darkened room. With an appreciable amount of ambient light, they say it’s no worse than any other reading. In a darkened room, the single area of light is not good. They also highly suggest reading from a screen for vision impaired patients, since they say it’s EASIER on the eyes than the printed page. Just what I’ve heard from them. If they have studies to back it, I don’t have them.

On the other hand, I have seen a number of people claim to have tried reading from backlit-screen devices and experience eyestrain that they did not get from e-ink—but the glare from the touch-sensitive layer on the PRS-700 sometimes caused me more eyestrain than reading off my iPod Touch did!

And, of course, we all “read from backlit screens” a lot every day: our computer monitors. Maybe we don’t read novels on them, but we read e-mail, Facebook, websites, news, and otherwise spend a considerable amount of time in front of the screen—especially those of us who write as a hobby or for a living.

I suspect that to a certain extent it may be subjective. Just as some people are able to enjoy the 3D effects in movies such as Avatar while others get a blinding headache, some people may be more prone to eyestrain from LCDs than others. On the other hand, it might be they simply have the brightness adjusted incorrectly.

Regardless, this bodes well for the effectiveness of the iPad as an e-book reader, at least for those who do not find backlighting induces eyestrain. And of course, there are a number of non-backlit color display technologies on the way for those who do.

I’m still skeptical Jeff Bezos is going to want to throw e-ink over for that same kind of LCD just yet, however.

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The Case for the Kindle by John Miedema

Kindle case.jpgThe Case for Books is the title of Robert Darnton’s new book. I am reading the hardcover print edition, my other Christmas gift after a Kindle. The physical casing of books seems in question in the digital age. Will ereaders replace print books? The book too is a technology. A better reading device must both preserve the best features of the print book for long form reading, and then enhance them. In this second post of my Kindle shakedown series, I give my personal take on the Kindle’s hardware and physical features.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, says that the essential design element of the Kindle is “bookishness”. My first impression was that the 6″ display of the Kindle 2 was not much bigger than my old PDA on which I had tried reading without satisfaction. I had second thoughts about whether I should have waited for the Kindle DX with its 9″ display and smaller keyboard. Perhaps I just needed time to adjust. I have grown content with the screen size. At first I felt the keyboard should have been touch screen, called up as needed then hidden, but there is a physical satisfaction to working the round keys. When I first flipped between pages I disliked the blinking screen but now I hardly notice it. The two week battery life makes me forget the reader is a device that needs charging.

As for enhancements over the print book, the wireless connectivity is reliably available, though surfing Wikipedia is a bit slow. It is sweet to find my morning newspaper delivered each morning, but I would be just as happy to use my own home wireless, especially if it gave the extra wireless features not currently available in Canada. Long form reading does not require a persistent connection. The 1.5 GB disk space is plenty for storing multiple books, a commonly cited advantage of ereaders. Personally, I only read one or two books at a time. The Kindle only claims support for Windows and Mac but plugging the USB into Ubuntu works fine. The Kindle has a variety of menu and page navigation controls that I find usable, except for the five-way toggle button, a cruelty to a ten-thumbed soul like me.

Wrap the Kindle in a leather cover and it feels and smells bookish indeed. I do not think that ereaders will replace print books entirely. As I argued in my book, Slow Reading, deep reading often requires turning off all the bells and whistles of technology. Still the Kindle is more bookish than any laptop and overall I give its physical features a B+, with an expectation of better things to come. In my next post, I will review the Kindle’s software and licensing.

Editor’s Note: This article, the second in a series, is reprinted, with permission, from John Miedema’s blog. John is a graduate of the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program at the University of Western Ontario. In October, he presented at the Library of Congress on his recently published book, Slow Reading. He also developed open source software which links bibliographic data from Open Library to web pages and library catalogues. Articles on the software were published in Information Standards Quarterly and the Code4Lib journal. PB

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