Category Archives: ebooks

Fool on the Hill, Matt Ruff’s first novel, now an ebook

Fool on the Hill, Matt‘s beloved first novel, is finally available as an ebook. You can now buy it for Kindle or Nook, and it should soon be available for iTunes and Google Books as well.

UPDATE, 9/24/12: It’s now available on iTunes and Kobo.

The Mirage is here!

Today is publication day for The Mirage, Matt Ruff’s new novel, which is available as a gorgeous hardcover and as an ebook.

You can read a PDF excerpt on The Mirage page of Matt’s website.

The book is on the February Indie Next list, and Matt has been posting the early reviews on his blog. This morning Cory Doctorow posted his review on BoingBoing:

I’m a huge fan of Matt Ruff’s novels, so when friends in the know started to spontaneously tell me about how fantastic the advance manuscript they’d just read for his next novel, The Mirage, was, I just assumed, yeah, it’d be more great Matt Ruff.

But this isn’t just more Matt Ruff. This is Matt Ruff with the awesome turned up to 11. To 12. To 100….

This is one of those books that you read while walking down the street and long after your bedtime, a book you stop strangers to tell about.

You can read his full review here. (Thanks, Cory!)

Over the next few weeks, Matt will be doing readings/signings at independent bookstores all over the Seattle area, as well as in San Francisco, Bellingham, Portland (Oregon), and Vancouver (Canada). The first event is Thursday, February 9th, at Elliott Bay Book Company, where Matt will be in conversation with Paul Constant, The Stranger’s book editor. If you’d like a signed book but can’t attend a reading, you can order a signed copy from one of the bookstores he’ll be visiting, as most will ship books upon request.

Breaking news: Judge Chin rejects the Google Books Settlement

James Grimmelmann has just reported that Judge Denny Chin has rejected the Google Books Settlement. (For background, see my previous posts on the Google Books case or The Public Index website.) The full opinion is here (PDF). I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but below are a couple of excerpts from the beginning and the end of the opinion:

The question presented is whether the ASA [Amended Settlement Agreement] is fair, adequate, and reasonable. I conclude that it is not.

While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the ASA would simply go too far. It would permit this class action– which was brought against defendant Google Inc. to challenge its scanning of books and display of “snippets” for on-line searching– to implement a forward-looking business arrangement that would grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners. Indeed, the ASA would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case.

Accordingly, and for the reasons more fully discussed below, the motion for final approval of the ASA is denied….

In the end, I conclude that the ASA is not fair, adequate, and reasonable. As the United States and other objectors have noted, many of the concerns raised in the objections would be ameliorated if the ASA were converted from an “opt-out” settlement to an “opt-in” settlement…. I urge the parties to consider revising the ASA accordingly.

I recommend checking Grimmelmann’s blog (The Laboratorium) for his analysis and information about the case.

Update: Here’s the link to Grimmelmann’s new post, “Inside Judge Chin’s Opinion.” More links at The Public Index Blog and TeleRead. Publishers Weekly has an interesting article about what could happen next and the obstacles in the way of revising the settlement.

The Mongoliad iPad and iPhone apps are now available

The Mongoliad apps for iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch are now available in the iTunes store. (For more information about The Mongoliad, the collaborative storytelling project headed by Neal Stephenson, see my earlier post or go to The Mongoliad website.)

The apps are free, but to read the serialized novel and view the extras you’ll have to buy a subscription ($5.99 for six months or $9.99 for one year). If you’ve already subscribed through the website, you should be able to log in to the app using your existing account.

Chapters 1 through 9 of the novel have been released, and new chapters appear every Wednesday.


The Mongoliad begins…

The Mongoliad launched this morning. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, see my earlier post, “The Mongoliad, a “sekrit project” from Neal Stephenson and friends,” or these articles from Fast Company or VentureBeat.

You can explore The Mongoliad website and read the free preview content, but you’ll need a subscription to read the novel, which will be published in serialized weekly chapters over the course of a year. (The first chapter of the story was released today.) Subscription rates start at $5.99 for six months or $9.99 for one year. Subscribers will also have access to the Forum and other goodies (art, video, music, etc.) as they are released.

If you’d prefer to read The Mongoliad on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, the apps will be available soon (once they receive the Apple stamp of approval). Apps for other devices will follow in time.

And yes, Matt and I are minor members of The Cabal, but you won’t get any spoilers out of us.

Update: New chapters of the serialized novel will be posted every Wednesday. (The first chapter was posted on September 1st, and the second chapter will be posted on September 8th.)

New Update, 10/31/10: The Mongoliad apps for iPad and iPhone are now available. See my new post for more information.

E-books and the future of publishing, with puppets

This video, “Opposing Voices in Digital Publishing,” was created by the digital publishing team at Tyndale House Publishers, and I found it through this TeleRead post.

Amazon threatens publishers again

This morning brings news (from an article in the New York Times and a blog post in MobyLives) that Amazon “has threatened to stop directly selling the books of some publishers online unless they agree to a detailed list of concessions regarding the sale of electronic books” (NYT).

Amazon is trying to prevent publishers from making deals with Apple to sell their ebooks on the iPad using the agency model. Amazon is apparently refusing to negotiate an agency model with any publishers other than the five majors who’ve already made deals with Apple. According to the MobyLives post, independent publishers are being told that “if they switched to an agency model for ebooks, Amazon would stop selling their entire list, in print and digital form.”

Amazon and Apple are each requiring publishers to agree to restrictive terms, which may in effect force publishers to choose between Amazon and Apple. From the Times article:

Five of the country’s six largest publishers — Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins and Penguin — have already reached deals with Apple to sell their books through its iBookstore, which will be featured on the iPad. (The holdout is Random House.)

Under those agreements, the publishers will set consumer prices for each book, and Apple will serve as an agent and take a 30 percent commission. E-book editions of most newly released adult general fiction and nonfiction will cost $12.99 to $14.99.

Amazon has agreed in principle that the major publishers would be able to set prices in its Kindle store as well. But it is also demanding that they lock into three-year contracts and guarantee that no other competitor will get lower prices or better terms.

Apple, for its part, is requiring that publishers not permit other retailers to sell any e-books for less than what is listed in the iBookstore. So the publishers have sought to renegotiate agreements they have with Amazon under which they sold books to it at wholesale, allowing Amazon to set the consumer price….

According to three people briefed on the discussions, publishers are reluctant to sign three-year contracts because the digital book world is changing so rapidly and they want room to adjust as it takes shape.

Amazon has also begun talking with smaller publishers that have not yet signed contracts with Apple. In those conversations, according to one person briefed on the discussions, Amazon has said it prefers to retain its wholesale pricing model, as opposed to Apple’s so-called agency model.

But some of these smaller publishers have begun talking with Apple, which has effectively said that any publisher that wishes to sell its books on the iPad must offer the same terms to all booksellers. In other words, to do business with Apple, publishers must export Apple’s business model to all retailers. Amazon, by contrast, has not promised to adopt the agency approach for any but the largest publishers.

Amazon appears to be responding to the Apple threat by waging a publisher-by-publisher battle, trying to keep as many books as possible out of Apple’s hands, while preserving as much flexibility as it can to set its own prices.

But if Amazon tries to enforce its demands by removing “buy” buttons from some pages again, some believe it could harm its reputation in the eyes of customers and the publishing industry….

Amazon may have more leverage with smaller publishers, which typically sell their books in fewer outlets and thus tend to rely more on Amazon for sales. Amazon may believe that if it can keep those publishers from moving to an agency model, Apple will choose not to sell their e-books, and Amazon will be seen as having a broader selection.

For those of you who want a reminder of the Amazon/Macmillan boycott battle and the ebook agency vs. wholesale sales model controversy, here are links to a two of my blog posts about it from late January and early February:

Breaking news: Hachette joins Macmillan, Justice Dept. still doesn’t like the Google Book Settlement

Two pieces of breaking news tonight:

Hachette joins Macmillan

David Young, the CEO of Hachette Book Group, announced that Hachette is adopting the agency model for ebook pricing. Here’s the GalleyCat article, which includes the text of Young’s letter.

For those keeping score, there are six major U.S. publishers: Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Random House. Five of the six (all except Random House) made a deal with Apple to sell their ebooks on the iPad using the agency model. So now that Macmillan and Hachette have publicly committed to adopting the agency model for all of their ebooks (and with HarperCollins likely to as well, based on statements Rupert Murdoch made yesterday), it’s probably only a matter of time before the rest join in. But when will Amazon stop boycotting Macmillan books?

The Justice Department doesn’t like the amended Google Book Settlement, says “class certification, copyright and antitrust issues remain”

The Department of Justice submitted its views to the court on the amended Google Book Settlement. (The fairness hearing is on February 18th.)

James Grimmelmann summarizes:

The United States has filed a new Statement of Interest. The tone is balanced, but the conclusion is clear: the Department of Justice thinks the settlement is beyond the court’s authority and still problematic on antitrust grounds. It’s a careful, detailed brief, that raises fundamental objections to the settlement. These issues will not be resolved with quick patches, even if the parties were in the mood to revise and resubmit a second time.

The battle has been truly joined.

Here’s an excerpt from the press release issued by the Department of Justice:

The Department of Justice today advised the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that despite the substantial progress reflected in the proposed amended settlement agreement in The Authors Guild Inc. et al. v. Google Inc., class certification, copyright and antitrust issues remain. The department also said that the United States remains committed to working with the parties on issues concerning the scope and content of the settlement…

In its statement of interest filed with the court today, the department stated, “Although the United States believes the parties have approached this effort in good faith and the amended settlement agreement is more circumscribed in its sweep than the original proposed settlement, the amended settlement agreement suffers from the same core problem as the original agreement: it is an attempt to use the class action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the court in this litigation.”

Here’s the link to the Justice Department’s full “Statement of Interest of the United States of America.”

Here’s the New York Times article about it, noting: “While the Justice Department did not explicitly urge the court to reject the deal, as it had the previous version, its opposition on copyright, class action and antitrust grounds represented a further setback for Google and the other parties to the deal.”

For more on the Google Book Settlement, see my earlier posts.

And now for something completely different…

Today is day 7 of Amazon’s boycott of Macmillan print books and ebooks. John Scalzi summarizes the current state of affairs in a very entertaining way in his new blog post, “A Quick Interview of Me, By Me, To Catch Up With Everything Amazon.” And Matt and I spotted this today in a full-page ad in the New York Times for Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto:  “Available at booksellers everywhere except Amazon.”

I realize that not all of my readers are as obsessed with this subject as I am, so I will give you a break and blog about some other things today:

Google Book Settlement

The Google Book Settlement fairness hearing will finally be held on February 18th, and the deadline to opt out or object passed on January 28th. James Grimmelmann has been posting lots of great links about the GBS on his Laboratorium blog:

Clarion and Clarion West Writers Workshop deadlines approaching

Applications are due by March 1st for the 2010 Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, “an intensive six-week workshop for writers preparing for professional careers in science fiction and fantasy.” The 2010 workshop will run from June 20th to July 30th, and the instructors are Michael Bishop, Maureen McHugh, Nnedi Okorafor, Graham Joyce, Ellen Datlow, and Ian McDonald. See the Clarion West website for more information.

Also due by March 1st are applications for the 2010 Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UC San Diego, which runs from June 27th to August 7th. The 2010 instructors are Delia Sherman, George R.R. Martin, Dale Bailey, Samuel R. Delany, Jeff VanderMeer, and Ann VanderMeer.

Library budget cuts

Small Beer Press

Kelly Link and Gavin Grant’s Small Beer Press will bring back into print two books by writers Matt and I really like– Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life in October 2010, and Kelley Eskridge’s Solitaire in January 2011. They are joining a fine group of other writers published by Small Beer Press, including John Crowley, Elizabeth Hand, Geoff Ryman, Sean Stewart, and Kelly Link, among others.

And finally…

Introducing the iCodex:

Today, St. Stephen of Jobs announced the newest creation from the monks at Abbey Apple: the iCodex, which he believes will revolutionize the way people work and play…

With the iCodex, people can now store multiple items in one, easy-to-use package. A user could, for example, enjoy both cooking recipes and psalms, or mappa mundi and instructions on marital relations. Since the iCodex’s pages are bound together in an easy-to-turn format, things stored at the end of an iCodex are as easy to access as the beginning…

Excitement for the product could be felt all over the literate world. At the Library of Google, scribes were busy transferring hundreds of years of scrolls onto codices. “We hope to copy the entire history of human writing into codex form within the next few decades,” said Larry the Page, Google’s founder….

Go read the whole thing on Tom Elrod’s Wordism blog.

Will Amazon boycott HarperCollins’ books next?

According to this Galleycat report, Rupert Murdoch today “hinted that HarperCollins will join Macmillan in negotiating higher eBook prices.  All Things Digital reporter Peter Kafka has been liveblogging an interview with Rupert Murdoch about News Corp.’s fourth quarter earnings this afternoon. The company owns HarperCollins, so talk turned to eBook pricing.”

Here’s Kafka’s “on-the-fly transcription and paraphrasing of Murdoch’s comments re: Amazon, Apple and e-book pricing”:

We don’t like the Amazon model of $9.99….we think it really devalues books and hurts all the retailers of hardcover books. We’re not against electronic books, on the contrary, we like them very much,” because they cost us less to distribute, “but we want some room to maneuver.” The Apple deal…”does allow some flexibility and higher prices” though they will still be lower than print. And now Amazon is willing to sit down with us again and renegotiate.

Well, that didn’t take long. Anyone want to place bets on how long it will take the other big publishers to join them?

I wonder whether Amazon will also “temporarily” boycott HarperCollins’ print and ebooks for leverage in the negotiation process. HarperCollins‘ imprints include  HarperPerennial, William Morrow, Eos, and Ecco, to name a few.

Disclosure: HarperCollins is the publisher of Matt’s two most recent novels (Bad Monkeys and Set This House in Order) and his current novel-in-progress (The Mirage).

Day 5 of Amazon’s boycott of Macmillan books (and authors)

This is day 5 of Amazon’s boycott of Macmillan print books and ebooks. (See my two previous blog posts if you are still catching up.) There has been no statement from Amazon other than Sunday’s unsigned post on the Kindle forum, and the “Buy” buttons have still not been restored.

John Scalzi’s new post, “A Call for Author Support,” highlights the damage this is doing to authors and notes that the best way to support authors is to buy their books. You have lots of choices as to how/where to do this.

Dennis Johnson at MobyLives has a good roundup of the latest reactions to the ebook war.

Kassia Kroszer at Booksquare continues to post new links of interest.

K Tempest Bradford has a post about “ebooks, eReaders, and why you need to keep up with the tech.”

And be sure to read Laura Miller’s excellent Salon piece on some of the less-understood elements of all this.

Update 1: The New York Times “Bits” blog has a new post titled “Macmillan Books Still Mostly Absent from Amazon.com,” which notes that “the battle is still raging… ‘We are talking,’ said John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, of discussions with Amazon. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment. Amazon is most likely withholding the books to maintain its leverage in negotiations, trying to get the best possible terms under the new agency model. Stay tuned.”

Update 2: Nicola Griffith has commented below that “Amazon wins, no matter what,” and she has linked to an interesting paidContent.org article by James McQuivey titled “In Amazon vs. Macmillan, Amazon is the Winner.

Agent Nathan Bransford’s new post, “What Should an E-Book Cost?“, discusses in detail the costs of producing ebooks and print books and various pricing issues.

Update 3: Tech writer Glenn Fleishman’s article, “Is the iPad a Kindle Killer?“, directly compares the Kindle and the iPad. Here’s his take on the Amazon/Macmillan ebook war:

For major publishers, Amazon pays 50 percent of the list price of the current cheapest print format book. If a book is only in hardcover – a new release like a Dan Brown blockbuster – the cover price might be $30 and Amazon pays $15. When that book goes into paperback format and sells for $12, Amazon pays just $6.

However, Amazon wants ebooks to be cheap, and thus charges $10 for books still available only in hardcover. It subsidizes the price of these books to set the overall price low, and reaps its profit margins from cheaper books for which it makes its full 100-percent markup – or even more. Since Amazon is the dominant ebook seller, it may be marking up books higher that are cheaper for it to license…

As I write this, Amazon is fighting a public battle with Macmillan… Macmillan wants to set a higher list price for newly published books as they appear in electronic form (that $13 to $15 mentioned earlier) and give Amazon 30 percent of that list price. If Amazon doesn’t want the new terms, Macmillan would offer a far smaller catalog than it currently provides when it starts its new ebook pricing system in March 2010…

Macmillan is in part trying to prevent the erosion of revenue from the big push for new big books in hardcover. If Amazon can sell such titles for $10, even at a loss, even if Macmillan makes $15 from Amazon selling at that price, it sets the wrong expectation, and overturns some of the economics for both blockbusters and mid-range books. (The blockbusters’ margins make possible more interesting books that sell vastly fewer copies.)

Amazon balked, and not only pulled Macmillan’s ebook titles, but also stopped selling all Macmillan print books temporarily. That’s the biggest hissy fit I’ve ever seen a company pull…

On the face of it, this seems like a bad deal for consumers. Wouldn’t you rather pay $10 than $15 for a book? Absolutely. But in the long run, Amazon would achieve a de facto control over book pricing, which would hurt small and large publishers.

But it’s not that Macmillan wants to sell books for $13 to $15 forever; rather, “Pricing will be dynamic over time.” That is, Macmillan can price books in response to demand, instead of being stuck either in whatever pricing system Amazon wants to impose, or the heavily discounting books off cover price in print.

With more control on the supply side, Macmillan can reduce prices as demand lessens. Those who desperately want a book immediately might pay $15 at its launch; Macmillan would also guarantee print and ebook editions would be issued at the same time. If you can wait, you might pay less and less…

This is good for readers, writers, and publishers, as well as the ebook distributors including Amazon and Apple. More books will be sold this way, and more revenue directed at the creators, not the middlemen….

The morning after

Amazon has still not restored the Macmillan print books or ebooks to their inventory, so though it is being widely reported that Amazon has conceded, their boycott of Macmillan books and authors continues. (For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, see my previous blog post or this New York Times article, “Publisher Wins Fight With Amazon Over E-Books.”)

According to this Shelf Awareness article, “The Macmillan ban went beyond Amazon’s website: reportedly without notice to Kindle owners, Amazon went into the devices and removed Macmillan titles from wish lists and removed sample chapters of Macmillan titles. This move was reminiscent of the retailer’s quiet pulling last year of some e-titles whose copyrights were in question.”

Here are links to some new and interesting blog posts, analysis, and commentary about all this:

Amazon declares war on Friday, concedes on Sunday (updated)

Well, this has been an unusually interesting weekend. For those who haven’t been glued to the interwebs, on Friday Amazon stopped selling all print books and ebooks published by Macmillan and their many imprints, including Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Tor, Henry Holt, and St. Martin’s Press.

This is the first shot with real bullets in the war over the future of ebook pricing. It can’t be a coincidence that it happened this week, after Apple announced the iPad and the iBooks app/bookstore and its deal with five of the six major U.S. publishers–of which Macmillan is one. Amazon has gained ebook market domination by selling many new ebooks for its Kindle at a loss. (Under the wholesale model, for new books (print or ebook) big retailers like Amazon pay the publisher 50% of the hardcover list price but can sell it for whatever price they want.) Amazon set the retail price for many ebooks at $9.99 even though it often had to pay the publishers more than that in order to drive sales of its Kindle and the Kindle-only formatted ebooks. Most other ebook retailers can’t afford to take a loss, so their prices are higher than Amazon’s, which convinced more people to buy the Kindle and increased Amazon’s market share. (This is the same thing that happened with print book pricing in the Amazon vs. independent booksellers battle.) But publishers feared that once Amazon completely dominated the ebook market, it would start putting pressure on them to lower their wholesale prices so that they could continue to sell ebooks at $9.99 and make a profit, but push the losses onto the publishers and authors. To try to regain a bit of control, some publishers began to withhold their ebooks from Amazon or delay them until a few months after the release of the hardcover.

Then Apple comes along and makes a deal with the publishers to sell their ebooks on the iPad. Publishers could set their own prices (ebooks would be priced individually, according to a formula tied to the print price, with most new ebooks between $12 and $15 and lower prices for backlist titles) and Apple would take 30% (this is the agency model, to be explained below). To the publishers, this seemed like a much better (more sustainable and profitable) idea, especially since Apple is one of the few companies that could take on Amazon and open up the ebook market to some real competition. If publishers could sell their ebooks profitably through Apple’s ebook store, they could resist Amazon’s push to lower their prices to a level that publishers believe would be disastrous to the industry.

So now that publishers have found an ebook pricing model they can live with, they want Amazon to agree to it as well. It would allow everyone (including Amazon) to make a profit, ebooks will still be priced significantly lower than print books so the ebook market would continue to grow, ebooks would be available simultaneously with the hardcover publication, and the price of ebooks will drop throughout the life-cycle just like print books do. Amazon, however, might lose their market advantage if they can’t significantly undercut everyone else on price. If Amazon chooses to stay with the current wholesale model and set their prices below everyone else to gain market share, publishers can accordingly choose to withhold or delay the release of the Kindle ebooks. As my husband commented this morning, it’s the clash of the monopolists, and he’s strangely unsure who to root for in this fight.

Apparently Amazon has decided to make an example out of the first publisher to try to renegotiate ebook terms. As recounted by John Sargent, the CEO of Macmillan, in a letter released yesterday:

This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on Amazon.com through third parties.

I regret that we have reached this impasse. Amazon has been a valuable customer for a long time, and it is my great hope that they will continue to be in the very near future. They have been a great innovator in our industry, and I suspect they will continue to be for decades to come.

It is those decades that concern me now, as I am sure they concern you. In the ink-on-paper world we sell books to retailers far and wide on a business model that provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably. Looking to the future and to a growing digital business, we need to establish the same sort of business model, one that encourages new devices and new stores. One that encourages healthy competition. One that is stable and rational. It also needs to insure that intellectual property can be widely available digitally at a price that is both fair to the consumer and allows those who create it and publish it to be fairly compensated.

Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time.

The agency model would allow Amazon to make more money selling our books, not less. We would make less money in our dealings with Amazon under the new model. Our disagreement is not about short-term profitability but rather about the long-term viability and stability of the digital book market.

So, Amazon is punishing Macmillan by refusing to sell its ebooks or printed books and is sending a message to the other publishers as well. (Yes, you can buy Macmillan books and ebooks elsewhere, but considering Amazon’s market dominance, this will still hurt the publisher and the authors.) Right now, Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla, so they are acting now before the iPad comes out to try to shut down this publisher rebellion before it gains traction. But if the publishers hold firm and rally together behind this new 30% commission/agency model, Amazon is faced with a problem. Are they really going to banish all of the major publishers from their site? By refusing to sell books their customers want, Amazon’s revenue will suffer and customers will be forced to shop elsewhere. As my grandmother would say, they are cutting off their nose to spite their face. With Apple looming on the horizon, it seems like an act of desperation.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere over ebook pricing, which I won’t rehash here (see the TeleRead blog or the various publishing/book blogs in my sidebar for background). However, I do think a dynamic pricing scheme for ebooks makes sense. In most cases, a book is published first in hardcover at a higher price (usually between $24 and $28, though Amazon and the other big discounters sell them at 30 to 50% off that price). About a year later, the book is published in trade paperback at a lower price (usually between $12 and $16, with fewer/smaller discounts). If you want to read a book when it first comes out, you have to pay a premium for it, as you would when a movie is first released. If you don’t want to pay this premium, you have to wait to buy it at a lower price or borrow it from your local library. As most ebooks are priced below the price of a trade paperback or discounted hardcover, you can see why some publishers don’t want to make them available until after the hardcover has run its course. (It’s the hardcover sales to the public and libraries that allow publishers to recoup much of their costs, and authors receive far more per book from hardcovers than they do from paperbacks.) But in the same way you release the book twice–first in hardcover at a higher price, later in paperback at a lower price–why not release an ebook at the same time as the hardcover at a lower price than the hardcover (for example, the price of a trade paperback, to account for lower production/distribution costs and the fact that unlike a paper book, you don’t really own it because of DRM and can’t resell it)– say $12 to $15– and then lower the price of the ebook to $10 or less when the trade paperback comes out.

With a dynamic pricing model, consumer behavior will eventually set pricing levels. If consumers are willing to pay more for immediate access or are willing to wait in order to pay less (like with print books), then that will become the standard. If consumers demand immediate access to ebooks but will only pay $10 or less, publishers may have to reconsider their entire model–perhaps abandon the hardcover and release new books in trade paperback to keep the prices between print books and ebooks more in line with each other. Consumers would love this, as it would lower book prices, but the publishing industry would have to change significantly, much as the music industry was forced to.

Authors, of course, are the collateral damage in this fight. Here are some blog posts of note, some by authors whose books are no longer for sale on Amazon:

Update 1IndieBound, the collective website of U.S. independent bookstores, has posted a reminder that “Macmillan books available here – and at thousands of independent bookstores across the country!” You can search for your local independent bookstores on the IndieBound website. If you are looking for an online bookstore, check out Powells.com, which sells new, used, and out of print books and ships worldwide.  By the way, Powells and IndieBound also have affiliate programs, in case you are thinking about switching your book links away from Amazon.

Update 1.5: Another option for those looking for online booksellers who have affiliate programs and will ship internationally is The Book Depository, recommended by Cheryl Morgan. The Book Depository (.com for the U.S. or .co.uk for the rest of the world) offers free worldwide shipping.

Update 2: This just in from Nick Mamatas’ blog. The following announcement about Macmillan was posted on Amazon’s Kindle community board at 2:22pm (PST) today, signed by the Amazon Kindle team:

The Amazon Kindle team says:

Dear Customers:

Macmillan, one of the “big six” publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!

Thank you for being a customer.

I just checked, and Macmillan books are still not available for sale on Amazon. I wonder how long this “temporary” boycott of Macmillan books and ebooks will continue.

The news of the announcement is racing throughout the blogosphere and Twitter. Here’s the New York Times blog post, titled “Amazon Concedes on Electronic Book Prices.”

I’ll give John Scalzi the last word:

Dear Amazon,

Now that you’ve admitted that you’re going to accept Macmillan’s pricing proposal on ebooks, would you mind turning the “Buy Now” button back on for all my Tor books? Pretty please? The longer you wait, the more I’ll have to think you’re just being petulant and foot-stompy about it.

Kthxbye,

JS

P.S.: Come here, have a hug. Let’s never fight again, okay?

No, seriously. Let’s never fight again.

Thanks.

Link salad

Sorry for the lack of blogging, but I’ve been unusually busy of late. Here’s a round-up of some of the links I’ve collected over the past week or two.

Sergey Brin’s op-ed in the New York Times defending the Google Books settlement, “A Library to Last Forever”:

Today, if you want to access a typical out-of-print book, you have only one choice — fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks.

I laughed out loud when I read this. As far as I know, all libraries have online catalogues so you can check their holdings remotely, and many have interlibrary loan programs. And has this man never heard of a used bookstore? You can even search for millions of out-of-print books on sites like Bookfinder, buy them online and have them mailed to your home.

Here’s Pamela Samuelson’s response in The Huffington Post, “Google Books in Not a Library.”

And Chris Thompson’s response in Slate, “Sergey Brin Blows Smoke Up Your Ass.”

And the Open Book Alliance’s response.

Chris Thompson’s East Bay Express article “The Case Against Google Books,” about Peter Brantley, Pamela Samuelson, and Geoff Nunberg and their opposition to the Google Books settlement.

Lewis Hyde’s New York Times Book Review essay on orphan works: “There are millions of them out there, and they are gumming up the world of publishing…. [When] Carnegie Mellon University tried to digitize a collection of out-of-print books, one of every five turned out to be orphaned. When Cornell tried to post a collection of agricultural monographs online, half were orphans. The United States Holocaust Museum owns millions of pages of archival documents that it can neither publish nor digitize.”

Sam Roberts’ New York Times article about the Leon Levy Foundation’s grants to institutions to “preserve and digitize their archival collections and to make them available online to scholars and to the public.” This could uncover many historical treasures that have been locked away in uncatalogued archives.

Michael Ruane’s Washington Post article, “WWII GI Returns Books Taken from Germany Six Decades Ago,” with “anti-Nazi librarians hiding their books.”

Motoko Rich’s New York Times article about library ebooks, in which “some publishers worry that the convenience of borrowing books electronically could ultimately cut into sales of print editions.”

Survival of the Book’s post on the Entertainment Weekly Q&A with Dacre Stoker about the Dracula sequel: “We grew up thinking, Isn’t it too bad that the copyright was lost in the 1930s?… When [the vampire craze] was just beginning to pick up, we said, ‘You know what? We better get this thing done.'”

From Letters of Note, a 1777 Revolutionary War “masked letter.”

And yes, I know I missed Banned Books Week, but you can still read my post from last year, “Girls lean back everywhere….”

Someone other than Google is digitizing and selling public domain library books

Last month I blogged about Google partnering with the makers of the Espresso Book Machine to print 2 million public domain works on demand. Yesterday DigitalKoans reported that the New York Public Library has joined the Kirtas Technologies Digitize-on-Demand program to digitize and sell public domain works. Here’s an excerpt from the Kirtas press release:

Readers and researchers looking for hard-to-find books now have the opportunity to dip into the collections of one of the world’s most comprehensive libraries to purchase digitized copies of public domain titles. Through their Digitize-on-Demand program, Kirtas Technologies has partnered with The New York Public Library to make 500,000 public domain works from the Library’s collections available (to anyone in the world).

“New technology has allowed the Library to greatly expand access to its collections,” said Paul LeClerc, President of The New York Public Library. “Now, for the first time, library users are able to order copies of specific items from our vast public domain collections that are useful to them. Additionally the program creates a digital legacy for future users of the same item and a revenue stream to support our operations. We are very pleased to participate in a program that is so beneficial to everyone involved.”

Using existing information from NYPL’s catalog records, Kirtas will make the library’s public domain books available for sale through its retail site before they are ever digitized. Customers can search for a desired title on http://www.kirtasbooks.com and place an order for that book. When the order is placed, only then is it pulled from the shelf, digitized and made available as a high-quality reprint or digital file.

What makes this approach to digitization unique is that NYPL incurs no up-front printing, production or storage costs. It also provides the library with a self-funding, commercial model helping it to sustain its digitization programs in the future. Unlike other free or low-cost digitization programs, the library retains the rights and ownership to their own digitized content…

Kirtas currently has 13 partnerships with universities and public libraries to make special collections available for sale online. Virtually any library with a modern records database and valuable collections can participate in the Digitize on Demand program.

This is an interesting model, as books don’t have to be scanned until someone requests a copy, unlike Google’s random and expensive “scan first” method. But the Kirtas Books website (www.kirtasbooks.com) is surprisingly clunky, unattractive, and awkward to use, and it looks like it takes 3 to 4 weeks to have a book scanned (books that have already been scanned are available for instant download). For the titles I’ve browsed, digital files are $1.95, paperbacks are an additional $8.05, and hardcovers are an additional $18.05. The powerful and easy to use Google Book Search (and its free digital files of public domain works) wins hands down, so I don’t see myself using Kirtas Books unless I want a copy of a work that Google hasn’t yet scanned.

Update: A commenter has noted that the book scans done by Kirtas Books are much better than those done by Google. If that’s true, then I may have been too quick to assume that I wouldn’t order from Kirtas unless I couldn’t get something from Google. I should order some books from both Kirtas and the Espresso Book Machine and compare them. (I stand by my criticisms of the Kirtas Books website, and its limited search capabilities don’t compare to Google Book Search. The long wait to have a book scanned is still a problem, as I’m usually under time pressure when doing research for others.)

Unlike Jeff Bezos, I love the physical book

I live my life surrounded by books. My husband and I have thousands of them, old and new, in bookcases covering the walls of nearly every room of our house.

Our books are more than just texts. They are artifacts that express who we are and what’s important to us. They are time capsules that can take us back to a particular memory or moment in time. They are symbols of our relationships– with each other, with friends, and with the authors who inscribed their books to us. They are unique, collaborative works of art, a marriage of ideas, language, typography, illustration, and design.

Yes, physical books are heavy and sometimes awkward to handle in bed, but they do have certain advantages over ebooks. They can be read anywhere, anytime, without a special device– no worries about breaking or losing your reader or the batteries dying. There are no problems with formatting, DRM, technological obsolescence, or preservation for future generations. When I am finished reading a book, I can give it to my husband to read, donate it to my local library, or sell it and use the money to buy more books. When doing research, I can have multiple books open in front of me at the same time and easily browse through them.  (Browsing is very different from searching, and it often leads to unexpected and valuable discoveries. Format has an influence on the reading experience and the way we find and process information.)

I am not anti-ebook– I would love to have a Kindle DX if I could afford one. It would be a pleasure to travel with a Kindle instead of bag full of books, or to be able to download digital books instantly. But ebooks could never completely replace all of my physical books. I can’t replicate on a digital reader the experience of browsing through a facsimile of Shakespeare’s First Folio or a book with beautiful illustrations or photographs, or reading a colorful children’s picture book with my niece and nephew. I wouldn’t be able to share books I love or useful reference works with Matt unless we both have readers and there aren’t DRM restrictions on the works. And I just can’t imagine not having a bookcase filled with every different edition and translation of my husband’s novels, with their colorful and wildly different dust jackets, or the books inscribed to us by our author friends.

There are books you just want to read, and there are books you want to collect. Physical books and ebooks have different advantages and disadvantages, so there shouldn’t be a fight to the death between the two formats– there’s room for both. It would be great to always have both available and be able to choose each book in whichever format would be best for the individual reader. And I can see a lot of situations where I’d want both. I love the beautifully designed and illustrated first edition of Quicksilver that Neal Stephenson inscribed to me and Matt, but it would be great to also have a digital copy of the text to read on vacation, as his books weigh a ton. If I had a Kindle, the first things I’d download would be my favorite public domain works, like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre and the works of Shakespeare, but they wouldn’t replace my physical copies. The real danger to someone like me is that the instant access Kindle gives me to thousands of books, old and new, would be hard to resist.

Why do Jeff Bezos and others who have fully embraced the ebook feel it necessary to dismiss or trash the physical book? Given the state of publishing and the rising influence of digital natives, I can’t help but worry about the future of not only the physical book, but also bookstores and author readings/signings, which help connect authors with readers, and readers with authors.