Will the iPad kill the Kindle? Could competition among e-readers lift the book world, leading to better
profit margins and better deals for authors? Media critic Ken Auletta
tackles these questions and more in this week's New Yorker. The book industry, of course, is
changing. Publishers may talk up hopes of the iPad as a savior of publishing, but Auletta notes that there are a lot of wrinkles yet to iron
out regarding how Amazon, publishers, authors, brick-and-mortar bookstores, and customers interact.
- Changing the Publishing World Auletta writes that while the book
industry regarded the iPad as a possible "savior," he points out that
the problems facing publishing aren't going to evaporate overnight. Selling directly to readers through e-readers sounds appealing,
but publishing companies lack experience in retail, and customers are attracted to books for the author, not publishing houses. So "to attract consumers, publishers would have to build a
single, collaborative Web site to sell e-books ... such a site would
face problems of protocol worthy of the U.N. Security Council--if
Amazon didn’t accuse publishers of price-fixing first." That's not to
say he doesn't appreciate publishers:
Good publishers find and
cultivate writers, some of whom do not initially have much commercial
promise. They also give advances on royalties, without which most
writers of nonfiction could not afford to research new books ...
Although critics argue that traditional book publishing takes too much
money from authors, in reality the profits earned by the relatively
small percentage of authors whose books make money essentially go to
subsidizing less commercially successful writers. The system is
inefficient, but it supports a class of professional writers, which
might not otherwise exist.
- e-Readers Could Lead to Rise of the Novella Blogger Jason Kottke
looks at Auletta's point that e-readers may not take off quite like
iTunes: people buy individual songs in an album, but they don't usually
buy individual chapters in a book. Responds Kottke: "while people may
not want to buy single chapters of books, they do want to read things
that aren't book length. I think we'll see more literature in the
novella/short-story/long magazine article range as publishers and
authors attempt to fill that gap."
- Auletta Does Not Understand
Arithmetic "Auletta paints an unrealistically dismal vision of how
little publishers make per book sale," says Erik Sherman
at BNet. "He also bases everything on hardbacks, when paperbacks are a
big part of the business." He goes through a lot of numbers. Why does
it all matter?
Auletta's misinformed explanation shows the
fundamental problem that book publishers face with e-books. Everyone
assumes that higher prices of printed books are due to tangible costs
of production. It's not. The real costs of publishing are the labor to
create the intellectual property. But because so many consumers think
that the physical object is the real cost, they assume that e-books
should sell for next to nothing, because there are no printing or
- He's Too Nice to Publishers, agrees Jim Naureckas at FAIR. "Author-oriented culture" or no, "they give themselves a much better deal than they give writers on e-book sales."
- The Rise of the E-Textbook Auletta
makes this other prediction in a New Yorker live chat with readers.
"Textbooks will move swiftly to e-book formats, I think. Cheaper.
Lighter. Easier to mark up. In many parts of the developing world where
people can't afford textbooks, they do have mobile phones and use
Google search as their e-textbooks." He is afraid, though, of another
possibility in the general book world: that e-books will kill off
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