Monday, October 11, 2010

E-book killed the bookstore star?

There are plenty of articles to read on this subject (read a great summary of the e-book situation here, and about e-books and kidlit here).

However, despite the myriad of opinions and resources available, the subject still comes up in every single panel and conference I've attended. And the biggest reason for this is: no one REALLY knows what’s going to happen.

Oh sure, there are plenty of very true facts, both pro and con, to add weight to the speculation.

For example:

The epic novel might make a comeback due to cost of productivity going down. Smaller presses are blossoming. Unknown authors have a chance to build audience. The invention of the mass market was supposed to end the hardcover (or video killed the radio star, whichever you prefer), and it didn’t – different genres simply boomed. Kindles really suck for research – you can’t underline and highlight. Backlist or out of print titles are now brought back to life. People become more impulsive when it comes to buying books when available at the tip of their fingers – and at the same time, physical book sales are down, which means advances are down, and authors are making less money – but maybe that’s just the economy?

It is undeniable that the book industry is changing. Personally, I don’t see that as a bad thing. I like the fact that a smaller press will take a chance on a novel in e-book or trade paper that a Big Six won’t publish in hardcover, and, from our agency’s best-selling authors, I haven’t seen royalties decrease in the slightest due to e-books: they’ve only gone up.

But really, my personal take from my personal experience is: this is exciting – and depressing, all at the same time.

What really struck home for me this weekend was this:

I found it in a "free books" pile at my local library. I thought it was funny. I picked it up, but, instead of putting it back down, I took it home because of this page (which changes all the "he" pronouns to "she"):

I ADORE used books. The smell of them, the feel of them, the footprints left behind. I love to follow along and try and imagine the stories that go with the scribblings. And you can’t do that with a Kindle.

Libraries are closing; so are bookstores. I would be devastated by the loss of physical books. But maybe I’m just in the cassette generation of publishing; maybe it’s just time to move on. After all, there are clear advantages!


And so it goes on.


  1. I'm not sure how familiar you are with Kindles, but I have one. I can use it to highlight text, add notes and bookmarks, and share highlighted text on Facebook and Twitter. But I can see your point about how used paper books provide a different experience than e-books do.

  2. What version of Kindle do you have? I'm NOT personally familiar with it (I'm still debating on iPad or Kindle), but I've heard both, that some can highlight and take notes and others can't (or that it's just a major pain in the butt to do so).

  3. Agree in every way. Not going to lie, I'm scared e-books will take over and all real books will be gone. Yeah, yeah, I see it's simpler, less money, less trees. Like you said, but, but...but we'll miss those pages! And the smell :) I don't want to see real books go. I think a book being a physical book adds so much that shouldn't be taken away with digital stuff. Plus, it would drive me crazy to read on that dang screen and not physically turn pages. But that's just me ;)

  4. This might sound gross, but I personally love the rhythm of lick finger, turn page, read, read, lick finger, turn page. And while I love used books, the smell of a new book is the BEST.

  5. Natalie, I have the latest generation Kindle. I just looked at the Amazon page for it, and surprisingly, it doesn't say much about the ability to highlight and annotate e-books. (The way the page is written, it sounds as if you can only do that in PDF files.) It's a pretty simple process; you just click where you want to start highlighting, move the cursor to the end of the text, and click again.

    I'll be honest; since getting my Kindle, I've purchased a lot more e-books than paper books. Since I can put the Kindle in my purse more easily than I can a paperback, I'm finding more opportunities to read than I did before. But I still love my paper book collection, even if it is overrunning my bookshelves. Just handling them brings back memories of the stories. To me, a book is a book, no matter if it's paper or electronic. Each format has its own advantages. I personally think it's more important to encourage people to read than to worry about what format they use.

  6. I'm kinda on the fence about the whole e-reader thing too. Being a software engineer (and a major geek) I love anything electronic, but at the same time I do admit that I love the smell of old books as well as holding the next page between my fingers as I'm finishing up one page and getting ready to turn to the next. I don't get that with the e-readers. I don't think that paper books will ever go away completely, but I do think they will publish fewer each year, which in turn will make the price of those that are printed go up thereby causing the slippery slope pushing people more and more to electronic versions. Which leads me to a question, Natalie. Do publishing houses get the rights to electronic media? Is it becoming more common for authors to retain electronic media rights?(or rather does that ever happen?) If so, then I feel for publishing companies. If publishers are smart about getting electronic rights, then this could be a good thing for them. Lower costs on their side means a bigger profit, right?

    Ray aka Lucas George :)

  7. I just returned from the Novelists, Inc conference and the excitement there re: e-books was electric! No one thinks paper books are going away anytime soon, but the new opportunities opening up for authors are exciting. Many are already making SIGNIFICANT money releasing their reverted backlist titles as e-books. (J.A. Konrath was there, among others.) The "Future of Publishing" day had lots of industry heavy-hitters and nearly everyone came away with a new way of looking at things--editors, publicists, agents, booksellers, literary attorneys and, of course, authors. Things are changing SO quickly right now, no one's sure where we'll be in a year, but I think everyone agreed that publishing will NEVER go back to the way it was. Interesting times...

  8. I've been wondering about this same thing lately. My friend has a Nook and swears by it. Honestly, there really isn't anything that can truly replace the smell and feel of a book, and the same applies to bookstores and libraries too! Are they really closing? And is that due to the e-market or something else? Sad day. I must be the VHS of the movie industry :(

  9. I couldn't agree more. There is just something about holding a book in your hand, especially a used book. The history, the smell, knowing others have shared the adventure within. That can't be replaced by technology. As long as I live I will seek out paperbound books. But are we becoming the minority? I fear we may be.

  10. I am totally old school when it comes to books. A Kindle cannot replace the feel, smell, or the history that comes with a well worn, beloved book.

    Sometimes I just stare at my bookshelf and smile because of the memories each novel holds for me. A hundred adventures in such a small space.

  11. To quote Ray:
    Do publishing houses get the rights to electronic media? Is it becoming more common for authors to retain electronic media rights?(or rather does that ever happen?)

    It is nearly impossible to retain electronic rights these days, and even harder to negotiate electronic royalty rights with the Bix Six (smaller presses have better electronic royalty rates - Big Six 25% of net, SP's above that, up to 40% a lot of the time). What it IS possible to retain are the interactive media rights, which are used for iPhone/iPad apps. The biggest issue going on now is for all the backlist titles where electronic rights were never specified in the contract; we're getting amendments by the truckload for older titles for electronic royalties! And for many, granting e-rights allows them to go back on the market.

  12. Libraries are closing? The Nashville library has really advanced with the times. I can order books online from any library in the county and have them transferred to a library of my choice. I can renew online up to 3 times before taking the book back. I can download mp3s (5 free a week) and they have songs out there people actually LIKE. (Shock of all shockers!) They have Audiodrive books, which is a unit that you check out with headphones (still puzzling over what that is!) as well as audiobooks I can download to my iPod and eBooks I can download to my laptop. I think if more libraries go toward that sort of thing, they'll survive through the changes. Who WOULDN'T sign up for 5 free mp3s a week of their choosing?

    I started to comment on e-publishing but my comment was too long so I'm going to write a blog and link to your blog in mine.

  13. Hi Steph - sadly, some libraries are closing yes, though others are adapting. :)

  14. I really enjoyed reading this post - especially the part about the used book you found.

    For me, the question of "To 'e' or not to 'e'" is answered mostly by how my brain works. I have a visuo-spatial memory. If I have held it and put it somewhere, I will remember that specific place forever, even if it's in the middle of a disorganized-looking heap of papers, until I move it to a new place. If someone moves something - anything - away from where I last put it, I notice it immediately. If I read something that strikes me, I will always be able to pick up that book and quickly find that passage again, without needing to mark it. It's a great strength for me, and it is lost with an e-reader.

  15. I love how optimistic this post is! I have to say that I love buying used books where people have put in their own ideas. It just adds to the text overall. But you are right that there are so many advantages to the e-book trend :-)

  16. Well, I hope you do find good advice on how to be happy though married! I might've even read that book years ago--hey, maybe that's mine! :) I'm happy though married, so it must've worked.

  17. I see how e-books could be useful in certain situations … like if you're going on a trip it would be convenient, I guess. Personally, I agree with you: I love having a physical book in my hands. There's something so satisfying about the feel of turning the pages, the weight of the book, the way it smells, etc. I'm also in love with used book stores. Whenever I go to the used book store I come back with sooo many books, and I always wonder who they used to belong to and where they've been, etc. And you can't have that with virtual books. I think there are enough people who love physical books that they won't become obsolete, but the e-reader will certainly grow in popularity …

  18. It is amazing how e-Books have grown in the last year.

    Being in a rural area, I have not seen any of the libraries in our area closing--I have seen them offer audiobooks though.

    I am with you: I have no idea where it all is going, but am ready to embrace the unexpected.

  19. I love used books and love wandering around a used book store and coming out with priceless treasures. Nothing will take me from treebooks. I do like my ereader for my transit but mostly I read my treebooks.

  20. I just hope that there is room enough for both e-books and physical books. I also love and collect used books and you can't really duplicate the aging smell, feel, and look of that type of book. Plus I love seeing the spines of all of my books, used or not, on my bookshelves! They are a part of my house, my decor, my life. I am not a clutter-free person. I WANT to see the books! Can't do that with an e-book.

    Thanks so much for the post.

  21. I love this post. I always like to hear all the different views on e-publishing.

    A while back I posted a blog on my blogspot about:An Unpublished Writer’s View on E Publishing

    Here are a couple ideas from it:
    Truth be told, I like books. I like to hold paper, read paper, smell paper. I like to write more than type, although the latter is more practical in the end. I don’t want to read off a screen, although I admit that I do an abnormal amount of my reading on my iPod.
    But that is all about my personal preference. That is me, the consumer.
    What about me the querying writer awaiting the call that will take my books off of this computer and place then into the hands of actual paying readers? How does the idea of E Books affect my world?
    To be honest, I wouldn’t care if my book was printed on paper, a soda can, a billboard, a chalkboard, or yes, an electronic screen…

    Thanks for the great blogs!