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The joy of real books

Oh wow, something amazing has just happened. We have hit the Amazon Kindle top 10 bestseller list for the very first time. Our author Crissy Rock appeared on ITV1's "This Morning" show and, by the afternoon, her autobiography, This Heart within Me Burns, was at number two on the list.

It feels a bit like someone in the pony and trap business a century ago must have felt when they took their first ride in a car. However, after discussing the whole electronic book scene with countless people from all over the world at the London Book Fair, I can't help feeling that we publishers are going about it the wrong way.

The idea of simultaneously publishing an exciting new title both as a hardback and as an e-book seems totally crazy. If only publishers could publish the book as a hardback initially, then put out the e-book some months later, bookshops would be given a sporting chance to stay in business, and the dizzying decline of book sales could almost certainly be slowed.

I was fascinated to discover that serious readers—people who buy more than 12 books a year—are fast becoming the keenest e-book customers. These, surely, are the very people who would wish to purchase hardbacks rather than waiting months for an e-book edition.

Peter Mayer, the man who created the modern Penguin Books, is already successfully following this model with his company Overlook Press in the US. He says keen readers are happy to buy hardbacks, while the less enthusiastic wait until the e-book becomes available.

It might be even more sensible to publish the e-book simultaneously with the paperback edition.

Interestingly, friends who were passionate advocates of e-books when they first purchased the readers last year—you know the kind of thing: "They are amazing I can carry a whole suitcase worth of books in my pocket, and you can get the entire works of Trollope for a quid . . . blah, blah"—are now sheepishly returning to buying physical books.

After the initial novelty of downloading free books no one wants to read has worn off, customers really do seem to miss the feel and joy of real books.

People also enjoy the simple pleasure of browsing for exciting new titles in bookshops. E-books are fine if you know exactly the book you want, but they are not so good if you are looking for new -writers and inspiration.

Whatever comes down the line, I believe rumours of the death of conventional books have been hugely exaggerated. I was fascinated by an excellent piece about the music business in the Guardian the other week. This revealed that, after 10 years of music downloads, 75% of all music is still bought on CD. Gives us all hope, doesn't it?

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"I was fascinated to discover that serious readers—people who buy more than 12 books a year—are fast becoming the keenest e-book customers. These, surely, are the very people who would wish to purchase hardbacks rather than waiting months for an e-book edition."

Sorry, but this makes absolutely no sense at all. 'The people who are keenest on ebooks are also the ones who would be keenest to not buy ebooks!' What? If those people wanted to buy hardbacks instead of ebooks, wouldn't they be doing so right now, when the editions are published simultaneously?

Expecting your customer to wait months for an electronic edition purely because you hope to force a few of them to buy a format they didn't really want is madness.

I am a book-buying addict. I bought my first Sony Reader a year and a half ago and then moved to ipad 9 months later (books on the iPad were a joyful experience).

I bought loads of e-books for both but have since reverted to buying real books again. My buying habits are now as follows: I book p-books when possible as a first choice but e-books if I want something on a whim or because it is an obscure title.

I am not an anti-ebook reader, with no vested interest either way, but my experience has been to first be amazed by e-books and then go back to physical books.

One caveat to this is e-books with MM content. For example, I want to buy the new Rich Dad book, Unfair Advantage, but wanted to get the iPad version because it features videos etc. I waited, and it is out now, but not available through iTunes in the UK. The question is: why not?

As a techer, I find it fascinating to watch the younger generation instinctively finding their way through the electronic thicket. It is a bit more difficult for us older folks. BUT, as a writer, also, I have to say I love the e-books. I released last August my first book, a true crime story, Hunted in the Heartland: A Memoir of Murder,and Amazon had both the printed and e-book versions available by September. Barnes and Noble just released it on their Nook reader this past month. The e-book version far outsells the printed version, or has so far. It actually was an afterthought to release in e-book format, but I am glad I did. I have reached so many more people, even have a few fans, and have met some wonderful people! A worthwhile endeavor!

Long live the printed word, and readers!

Bonney Hogue Patterson

I respect Mr. Blake's views and in an ideal world I would hope people would buy both, one for reading when you're at home and comfortable and one for when you're on the go. But I do feel that readers should have the option from day one to buy in the format they want to read in, I think they are mature enough in most cases to know what suits their needs best.

Well said John. The e-book hype has been absolutely relentless, mostly emanating from shallow people who can't bear diversity - they must have either/or. Aided of course by gadget freaks who have probably never read a book of any merit in their lives, but see in technology and its promised take over of books some sort of crude vindication of their illiteracy.

People are all individuals. Surely what is important is to maintain choice. For my part (I'm simply a customer, not part of the book trade, so please bear with me) I'd never touch an ebook and I am concerned that publishers will phase out printed books, reducing my choice.

But equally I can see why those who prefer e are frustrated at having to wait for their preferred format. There must be some mix of availability and price that satisfies customers and serves the needs of publishers, authors and booksellers - mustn't there?

I'm sympathetic to the plight of bookstores, but I think maybe the ship has sailed on this one. I know lots of people with ereaders and none of them has gone back to buying print books. In fact, I compare it to email. Once email was available, people wrote a lot fewer letters. It's true that an email is nowhere near as nice to receive as a hand-written letter, but on the other hand, it is quick and convenient. Good enough for all but the most special occasions.

I think instead of windowing, publishers have opted to simply price their books so that they make almost as much profit on the ebook sale as they do on the hardcover sale. And I think one reason they do that is that if they don't, people who buy ebooks will forget about the book if they have to wait for it. No one publishes reviews because a book has come out in a new format. They only review it when it first comes out. Windowing would mean giving up ebook revenue, and publishers aren't willing to do that.

On the other hand, there are folks who simply don't like ereaders; they would rather read a print book. That's going to be true for a while, but the market is bound to be smaller, in the long run.

As a reader of well over 100 books per year, I can tell that this is not the case for me. I was an avid library user prior to getting my Kindle (followed by my Nook, Sony and iPad), and in the years that I've been an ebook purchaser, I have purchased more ebooks in these last three years than I did regular books in my previous 30+ years of being an avid reader. Certainly more than in the prior ten years, when I used the library exclusively, rather than ever purchasing a novel. More quantifiably, in the last three years I have spent more than $2000 on ebooks, where in the prior ten years I spent $0 on books for myself.

I can only speak for myself: for the most paart, I buy eBooks. Not a hype, reality. The only books I buy as paper books are cookbooks or art books.
As a student, I would buy often-used text books as paper and ebook versions - both have their advantages: note taking vs searchability. When you study and have several books open, paperbooks are better to work with. When you sit in the part and want to read up a chapter, the ebook is better.

John Blake's intentions might be pure (well, at least to bricks 'n' mortar booksellers), but they are incredibly naive. By windowing ebooks, the biggest impact will be to drive piracy. As a digital publisher, experience shows me that not releasing (or delaying the release) of an ebook edition serves only to drive people to scan and share the print version. Technology has progressed to make home scanning extremely easy and high quality, and there are plenty of pirates who would be motivated to thumb their noses at publishers who would deliberately delay a digital publication.

Two words John: 'Harry' and 'Potter'. Google them and see how JK Rowling's decision to delay digitisation has led to widespread piracy. And ask any textbook publisher whether holding back an ebook title has protected revenue -- I think you'll find their experience is the opposite!

If this is the sum total of creative thinking that the bookselling industry has for its future, then I can't see their current path diverting at all.

Sorry, but no way. I've been reading ebooks for more than a decade, and I don't buy and read paper books. Ever. Delaying an e-version will not make me buy paper. It will just stop me from buying books by that author or from that publisher.

The Bat says: My customer's rich mother-in-law bought her, her husband and their 3 teenage sons an eReader each for Christmas at £165 a pop! My customer is yet to use hers; her husband reads his daily newspaper on his; her youngest son says he can't find his, which apparently means he's probably broken it and hidden it in his bedroom somewhere; the middle boy is racing his best friend at school to see which of them can "fill-up" their eReader first with freebies/cheapies etc; and her eldest son who is going through an "I'm French" phase has downloaded a French phrase book and flicks through it while watching television...occasionally yelling out, "You'll never guess what the french word for artichoke is!" she's threatened to take it off him.
(Well that was £825 well-spent).

"I was fascinated to discover that serious readers—people who buy more than 12 books a year—are fast becoming the keenest e-book customers. These, surely, are the very people who would wish to purchase hardbacks rather than waiting months for an e-book edition."

Well, duh. "Fascinated"? Really?

I have no interest in hardcover books at all--zero, nada, zip, no way, nope, ain't gonna happen. Window if you want to, but there still won't be any hardcover purchasing going on here.

Why would a serious reader, like myself, who purchases 8-10 books every month want to drive to a bookstore and then lug home several heavy book bags when I can purchase the same 8-10 books with a push of a button and from the comfort of my own living room? Besides, what bookstore is open at 2:00AM when I run out of reading material and am looking to shop for my next book?

If Mr. Blake had an ounce of sense, he would also realize that, with the A6 now charging higher and higher prices for their e-editions, they better make them available on the same day as the hardcover or they will have very little chance of catching the interest of the voracious reader that is their bread and butter.

Windowing an e-edition into a 6 month delay won't save a bookstore--it will, however, let that windowed book fall off my radar into complete oblivion thus eliminating any chance that I will have any interest in it or even remember it half a year later.

If Mr. Blake were anymore clueless, his face would be next to the word in the dictionary.

As I've pointed out here (with a number of commenters chiming in their agreement), this is really an unrealistic idea.

If you delay the format in which people want to buy their books, you'll lose sales as the books fall off their personal radar by the time they become available in that format. (You'll also look like exactly the sort of greedy corporate fatcat that people turn to piracy just to spite.)

In fact, some people have been arguing that paperbacks should be released simultaneously with hardcover books for that very reason: people who won't buy hardcover but will buy paperback tend to have forgotten all about the book by the time it gets to paperback.

Sorry, John, but as both an author and an avid reader, I think you missed the bus on this one. The sales figures show that hardcover sales were steadily declining before ebook readers even came out. Here's some harsh realities:

1. With the economy such that it is, entertainment purchases are the first to go. Print hardcovers are just too expensive. Before ebook readers, readers flocked to libraries or used book stores, or they waited for the paperback edition.

2. The publishing pool has become too shallow. Publishers are unwilling to take a chance on anything but sure moneymakers -- i.e. reprints of bestsellers, or new books by bestselling authors, making it very difficult for a new author to publish and inject some fresh blood. The ebook market has done what was desperately, desperately needed -- opened up the market to independent and second-tier authors, giving the reader unprecedented variety and allowing new authors to break into the market. It's also allowed independent authors to compete on an equal playing field with big publishing houses. I may not be willing to shell out $25 on an author I've never read before, but $2.99? I'll take a chance. This is INCREASING overall book sales and has created a resurgence in interest in reading.

3. It's just as easy, if not easier, to browse in an online bookstore than it is in a brick and mortar bookstore. For example, most bookstores have completely eliminated their horror section, so if I want to browse horror, I'm expected to comb the entire general fiction section, whereas in an online bookstore I can narrow or broaden the parameters as I choose. Then, of course, there's the fact that large percentages of the US don't happen to live within easy driving distance of a brick and mortar bookstore.

4. There are some people who insist that the "look and feel" of a paper book is a deal breaker. Not me. As a visually challenged person, I *love* that I can now read *any* book whatsoever in large print. My paper book can easily be damaged or ruined, but my ebook is backed up and safe. My paper books were crowding me out of my house -- my ebooks are virtually limitless. My paper books are laborious to catalog, sort and keep in order; my ebooks? Flick of a finger.

Ebooks. It's the Coming Thing. You can jump on the train or get run over by it.

I love books in all shapes and forms. I own almost 10,000 of them (in paper) so I can back that up! But I almost never bought new books because I don't like hardcovers--I find them uncomfortable to read and with thousands of books in a NYC apartment....well, you can see why I'd stick with smaller paperbacks. One of the things I love about ebooks is that I can now often get a new book I want without waiting endlessly for the paperback to come out.

Book stores may still be able to save themselves since publishers have moved to the agency model. Sell e-books alongside DTBs (dead tree books). Swipe your credit/debit card, plug in and download. I haven't been in a book store since getting my Kindle, but I think I'd happily browse a bookstore if I could make an electronic purchase while there. It might even be that for certain books with illustrations, color plates, or other things not included in the e-version by copyright restrictions, that a customer may buy both e- and tree versions.

Well, it's a thought, and maybe not a bad one :)

Book stores may still be able to save themselves since publishers have moved to the agency model. Sell e-books alongside DTBs (dead tree books). Swipe your credit/debit card, plug in and download. I haven't been in a book store since getting my Kindle, but I think I'd happily browse a bookstore if I could make an electronic purchase while there. It might even be that for certain books with illustrations, color plates, or other things not included in the e-version by copyright restrictions, that a customer may buy both e- and tree versions.

Well, it's a thought, and maybe not a bad one :)

Sorry, but you don't seem to understand those who've moved to eBooks. I've averaged reading a book a week since I got my first eReader in August 2008. Of those, 5 were paper books. I no longer buy paper books - I just don't enjoy reading them now. Publishers and authors get a LOT more of my book dollars these days, because when I was reading paper books I bought them used or got them from the library. Hold back a paper book and you risk my either (1) forgetting your book by the time it's out in digital form or (2) reading enough bad reviews that I lose interest in reading it at all. What I can guarantee is that I won't be buying the hardback.
As a side note, I don't quite understand why you'd be surprised that "serious" readers buy eBooks - why would anyone BUT a serious reader spend that kind of money on a reader, then buy the books on top of that? Sounds you haven't really thought any of this through....

I'm not sure if spending the huge amount of extra money on a reader to get a product that is inferior to the paper version necessarily means you're a serious reader. You clearly are, but you could just be someone who likes their gadgets. Or reads enough articles commissioned by electronics companies to convince you that electronic reading is The Way Forward.

This is all liable to change the moment they develop computer screen design that *perfectly* mimics the feel and durability of paper, and, most importantly is cheaper than paper. Conservative estimates reckon this technology is 10 to 20 years away. I'll place my money on paper books for the moment, and not waste it on electronics and not have the option of second hand (or near-free) books.

"I was fascinated to discover that serious readers—people who buy more than 12 books a year—are fast becoming the keenest e-book customers. These, surely, are the very people who would wish to purchase hardbacks rather than waiting months for an e-book edition."

Sorry, but this makes absolutely no sense at all. 'The people who are keenest on ebooks are also the ones who would be keenest to not buy ebooks!' What? If those people wanted to buy hardbacks instead of ebooks, wouldn't they be doing so right now, when the editions are published simultaneously?

Expecting your customer to wait months for an electronic edition purely because you hope to force a few of them to buy a format they didn't really want is madness.

I am a book-buying addict. I bought my first Sony Reader a year and a half ago and then moved to ipad 9 months later (books on the iPad were a joyful experience).

I bought loads of e-books for both but have since reverted to buying real books again. My buying habits are now as follows: I book p-books when possible as a first choice but e-books if I want something on a whim or because it is an obscure title.

I am not an anti-ebook reader, with no vested interest either way, but my experience has been to first be amazed by e-books and then go back to physical books.

One caveat to this is e-books with MM content. For example, I want to buy the new Rich Dad book, Unfair Advantage, but wanted to get the iPad version because it features videos etc. I waited, and it is out now, but not available through iTunes in the UK. The question is: why not?

As a techer, I find it fascinating to watch the younger generation instinctively finding their way through the electronic thicket. It is a bit more difficult for us older folks. BUT, as a writer, also, I have to say I love the e-books. I released last August my first book, a true crime story, Hunted in the Heartland: A Memoir of Murder,and Amazon had both the printed and e-book versions available by September. Barnes and Noble just released it on their Nook reader this past month. The e-book version far outsells the printed version, or has so far. It actually was an afterthought to release in e-book format, but I am glad I did. I have reached so many more people, even have a few fans, and have met some wonderful people! A worthwhile endeavor!

Long live the printed word, and readers!

Bonney Hogue Patterson

I respect Mr. Blake's views and in an ideal world I would hope people would buy both, one for reading when you're at home and comfortable and one for when you're on the go. But I do feel that readers should have the option from day one to buy in the format they want to read in, I think they are mature enough in most cases to know what suits their needs best.

Well said John. The e-book hype has been absolutely relentless, mostly emanating from shallow people who can't bear diversity - they must have either/or. Aided of course by gadget freaks who have probably never read a book of any merit in their lives, but see in technology and its promised take over of books some sort of crude vindication of their illiteracy.

People are all individuals. Surely what is important is to maintain choice. For my part (I'm simply a customer, not part of the book trade, so please bear with me) I'd never touch an ebook and I am concerned that publishers will phase out printed books, reducing my choice.

But equally I can see why those who prefer e are frustrated at having to wait for their preferred format. There must be some mix of availability and price that satisfies customers and serves the needs of publishers, authors and booksellers - mustn't there?

I'm sympathetic to the plight of bookstores, but I think maybe the ship has sailed on this one. I know lots of people with ereaders and none of them has gone back to buying print books. In fact, I compare it to email. Once email was available, people wrote a lot fewer letters. It's true that an email is nowhere near as nice to receive as a hand-written letter, but on the other hand, it is quick and convenient. Good enough for all but the most special occasions.

I think instead of windowing, publishers have opted to simply price their books so that they make almost as much profit on the ebook sale as they do on the hardcover sale. And I think one reason they do that is that if they don't, people who buy ebooks will forget about the book if they have to wait for it. No one publishes reviews because a book has come out in a new format. They only review it when it first comes out. Windowing would mean giving up ebook revenue, and publishers aren't willing to do that.

On the other hand, there are folks who simply don't like ereaders; they would rather read a print book. That's going to be true for a while, but the market is bound to be smaller, in the long run.

"I know lots of people with ereaders and none of them has gone back to buying print books."

Buxton, may I introduce you to JK, in the comments bellow. JK, Buxton.

Pardon, I meant "below". Though referring to bellowing and comments does seem appropriate at at times.

As a reader of well over 100 books per year, I can tell that this is not the case for me. I was an avid library user prior to getting my Kindle (followed by my Nook, Sony and iPad), and in the years that I've been an ebook purchaser, I have purchased more ebooks in these last three years than I did regular books in my previous 30+ years of being an avid reader. Certainly more than in the prior ten years, when I used the library exclusively, rather than ever purchasing a novel. More quantifiably, in the last three years I have spent more than $2000 on ebooks, where in the prior ten years I spent $0 on books for myself.

I can only speak for myself: for the most paart, I buy eBooks. Not a hype, reality. The only books I buy as paper books are cookbooks or art books.
As a student, I would buy often-used text books as paper and ebook versions - both have their advantages: note taking vs searchability. When you study and have several books open, paperbooks are better to work with. When you sit in the part and want to read up a chapter, the ebook is better.

John Blake's intentions might be pure (well, at least to bricks 'n' mortar booksellers), but they are incredibly naive. By windowing ebooks, the biggest impact will be to drive piracy. As a digital publisher, experience shows me that not releasing (or delaying the release) of an ebook edition serves only to drive people to scan and share the print version. Technology has progressed to make home scanning extremely easy and high quality, and there are plenty of pirates who would be motivated to thumb their noses at publishers who would deliberately delay a digital publication.

Two words John: 'Harry' and 'Potter'. Google them and see how JK Rowling's decision to delay digitisation has led to widespread piracy. And ask any textbook publisher whether holding back an ebook title has protected revenue -- I think you'll find their experience is the opposite!

If this is the sum total of creative thinking that the bookselling industry has for its future, then I can't see their current path diverting at all.

One of the interesting things about technology is they create new problems nearly as often as they give us new abilities.

However, it is interesting you neglect to note that one way piracy is handled in print is to allow the buyer to sell his or her copy to someone else. But it seems digital publishers howl like Lon Chaney Jr. whenever someone suggests such an option.

Thus, piracy is in fact made much more attractive in the digital world, than in the print, even when many of the products are far cheaper.

Sorry, but no way. I've been reading ebooks for more than a decade, and I don't buy and read paper books. Ever. Delaying an e-version will not make me buy paper. It will just stop me from buying books by that author or from that publisher.

The Bat says: My customer's rich mother-in-law bought her, her husband and their 3 teenage sons an eReader each for Christmas at £165 a pop! My customer is yet to use hers; her husband reads his daily newspaper on his; her youngest son says he can't find his, which apparently means he's probably broken it and hidden it in his bedroom somewhere; the middle boy is racing his best friend at school to see which of them can "fill-up" their eReader first with freebies/cheapies etc; and her eldest son who is going through an "I'm French" phase has downloaded a French phrase book and flicks through it while watching television...occasionally yelling out, "You'll never guess what the french word for artichoke is!" she's threatened to take it off him.
(Well that was £825 well-spent).

Thank you BookBat
In a world full of serious people wondering where books are going, you just caused me to giggle uncontrollably. Whether books stay in print or go digital or we have the best of both worlds, we will hopefully never lose the subtle wit that only avid readers or writers can produce. :)

"I was fascinated to discover that serious readers—people who buy more than 12 books a year—are fast becoming the keenest e-book customers. These, surely, are the very people who would wish to purchase hardbacks rather than waiting months for an e-book edition."

Well, duh. "Fascinated"? Really?

I have no interest in hardcover books at all--zero, nada, zip, no way, nope, ain't gonna happen. Window if you want to, but there still won't be any hardcover purchasing going on here.

Why would a serious reader, like myself, who purchases 8-10 books every month want to drive to a bookstore and then lug home several heavy book bags when I can purchase the same 8-10 books with a push of a button and from the comfort of my own living room? Besides, what bookstore is open at 2:00AM when I run out of reading material and am looking to shop for my next book?

If Mr. Blake had an ounce of sense, he would also realize that, with the A6 now charging higher and higher prices for their e-editions, they better make them available on the same day as the hardcover or they will have very little chance of catching the interest of the voracious reader that is their bread and butter.

Windowing an e-edition into a 6 month delay won't save a bookstore--it will, however, let that windowed book fall off my radar into complete oblivion thus eliminating any chance that I will have any interest in it or even remember it half a year later.

If Mr. Blake were anymore clueless, his face would be next to the word in the dictionary.

Why go for hardcover books?

1. Durability. The hardcover books I buy will be with me the rest of my life. I am selective about what I buy to keep, and hardcovers hold up to years of use.

2. They retain their value longer than paperbacks, and tons more than e-books, which you can't sell at all. Hardcover books I bought for 20 USD each less than 5 years ago I recently resold for over $60USD each. How? I choose small press and university press fiction and non fiction hardcovers that were focused and cut new ground, not the stuff printed in feedlot quantities in paperback or ebook.

3. Some editions never come out in paperback or ebook, and won't. Ever. Zip. Zero. Nada. They just won't. At some mythical 100 year date hence they might if they ever enter public domain, but until then...

4. They are attractive. Yes, they are. They are well designed, well bound, and well illustrated in many cases. True, it is an artifact, but if you know *anything* about reading, you must realize that how the text is presented affects the reader impressions, retention, and yes, even enjoyment.

5. They are often not much more expensive than the ebook equivalent, unless you are just reading popular fiction and bestseller non-fiction.

In your response, Lenne, you sound like too many other clueless e-readers who think the way they read is the way every "smart" person reads and should read. And I average a good deal more books bought a month than you. Thankfully, you are far wide of the mark, and doubly clueless in not fully understanding the usefulness and attractiveness of the format you are attacking. I shan't suggest what word to which your picture might be attached.

For God's sake. I'm now going to shout:

PEOPLE BUY FORMATS THAT SUIT THEIR NEEDS.

Ebooks are not better or worse formats than hardback books, they are *different* formats. I buy hardbacks if I really definitely want to keep the book for ages. I buy ebooks if I want to read it now/on the move. Shouting about how one format is morally superior to the other (which is the clear implication of Fleetstreet's comments, if not Lenne's) is frankly absurd.

Although not as absurd as the assumption of this article that the format is unimportant. I think the spat above makes it abundantly clear that committed hardback buyers and committed ebook buyers are not a homogenous group, and delaying release in one format is unlikely to drive people to purchase the other.

These are all great reasons to buy a collector's hardcover edition of the ebooks I particularly enjoyed.

My guess is that the standard system will change. It's the hardcovers that should come out later: perhaps limited editions, signed by the author, and only for ebooks that warrant it.

As I've pointed out here (with a number of commenters chiming in their agreement), this is really an unrealistic idea.

If you delay the format in which people want to buy their books, you'll lose sales as the books fall off their personal radar by the time they become available in that format. (You'll also look like exactly the sort of greedy corporate fatcat that people turn to piracy just to spite.)

In fact, some people have been arguing that paperbacks should be released simultaneously with hardcover books for that very reason: people who won't buy hardcover but will buy paperback tend to have forgotten all about the book by the time it gets to paperback.

Sorry, John, but as both an author and an avid reader, I think you missed the bus on this one. The sales figures show that hardcover sales were steadily declining before ebook readers even came out. Here's some harsh realities:

1. With the economy such that it is, entertainment purchases are the first to go. Print hardcovers are just too expensive. Before ebook readers, readers flocked to libraries or used book stores, or they waited for the paperback edition.

2. The publishing pool has become too shallow. Publishers are unwilling to take a chance on anything but sure moneymakers -- i.e. reprints of bestsellers, or new books by bestselling authors, making it very difficult for a new author to publish and inject some fresh blood. The ebook market has done what was desperately, desperately needed -- opened up the market to independent and second-tier authors, giving the reader unprecedented variety and allowing new authors to break into the market. It's also allowed independent authors to compete on an equal playing field with big publishing houses. I may not be willing to shell out $25 on an author I've never read before, but $2.99? I'll take a chance. This is INCREASING overall book sales and has created a resurgence in interest in reading.

3. It's just as easy, if not easier, to browse in an online bookstore than it is in a brick and mortar bookstore. For example, most bookstores have completely eliminated their horror section, so if I want to browse horror, I'm expected to comb the entire general fiction section, whereas in an online bookstore I can narrow or broaden the parameters as I choose. Then, of course, there's the fact that large percentages of the US don't happen to live within easy driving distance of a brick and mortar bookstore.

4. There are some people who insist that the "look and feel" of a paper book is a deal breaker. Not me. As a visually challenged person, I *love* that I can now read *any* book whatsoever in large print. My paper book can easily be damaged or ruined, but my ebook is backed up and safe. My paper books were crowding me out of my house -- my ebooks are virtually limitless. My paper books are laborious to catalog, sort and keep in order; my ebooks? Flick of a finger.

Ebooks. It's the Coming Thing. You can jump on the train or get run over by it.

I love books in all shapes and forms. I own almost 10,000 of them (in paper) so I can back that up! But I almost never bought new books because I don't like hardcovers--I find them uncomfortable to read and with thousands of books in a NYC apartment....well, you can see why I'd stick with smaller paperbacks. One of the things I love about ebooks is that I can now often get a new book I want without waiting endlessly for the paperback to come out.

Book stores may still be able to save themselves since publishers have moved to the agency model. Sell e-books alongside DTBs (dead tree books). Swipe your credit/debit card, plug in and download. I haven't been in a book store since getting my Kindle, but I think I'd happily browse a bookstore if I could make an electronic purchase while there. It might even be that for certain books with illustrations, color plates, or other things not included in the e-version by copyright restrictions, that a customer may buy both e- and tree versions.

Well, it's a thought, and maybe not a bad one :)

Book stores may still be able to save themselves since publishers have moved to the agency model. Sell e-books alongside DTBs (dead tree books). Swipe your credit/debit card, plug in and download. I haven't been in a book store since getting my Kindle, but I think I'd happily browse a bookstore if I could make an electronic purchase while there. It might even be that for certain books with illustrations, color plates, or other things not included in the e-version by copyright restrictions, that a customer may buy both e- and tree versions.

Well, it's a thought, and maybe not a bad one :)

Would it not be quicker and make more sense to wright paper books than DTBs (dead tree books)? When describing electronic books should we call them DVMBs (decayed vegetation matter books)?

Sorry, but you don't seem to understand those who've moved to eBooks. I've averaged reading a book a week since I got my first eReader in August 2008. Of those, 5 were paper books. I no longer buy paper books - I just don't enjoy reading them now. Publishers and authors get a LOT more of my book dollars these days, because when I was reading paper books I bought them used or got them from the library. Hold back a paper book and you risk my either (1) forgetting your book by the time it's out in digital form or (2) reading enough bad reviews that I lose interest in reading it at all. What I can guarantee is that I won't be buying the hardback.
As a side note, I don't quite understand why you'd be surprised that "serious" readers buy eBooks - why would anyone BUT a serious reader spend that kind of money on a reader, then buy the books on top of that? Sounds you haven't really thought any of this through....

I'm not sure if spending the huge amount of extra money on a reader to get a product that is inferior to the paper version necessarily means you're a serious reader. You clearly are, but you could just be someone who likes their gadgets. Or reads enough articles commissioned by electronics companies to convince you that electronic reading is The Way Forward.

This is all liable to change the moment they develop computer screen design that *perfectly* mimics the feel and durability of paper, and, most importantly is cheaper than paper. Conservative estimates reckon this technology is 10 to 20 years away. I'll place my money on paper books for the moment, and not waste it on electronics and not have the option of second hand (or near-free) books.

Ah, but "inferior" is in the eye of the beholder - a digital version isn't inferior for me - it's superior. I can change the font size when my eyes get tired before my brain does. I can lay the reader in my lap instead of trying to hold open a paperback or even some hardbacks. I can pop even the biggest of books (say "Pillars of the Earth") in my purse and carry it around for reading in those odd found moments waiting for appointments, etc.

Clearly I'm not Every Reader - there are folks who split their reading between digital and paper books. I thought I'd be one of those - but I've come to realize I just don't enjoy reading paper books nearly as much as I do digital versions. My main point is that for folks like me, holding back a digital version won't "drive me" towards the new paper version, nor will pricing the eBook as high as a paper version. And even if it does, it'll drive me back to used bookstores and the library. And it will most definitely turn me towards more reasonable publishers and indie authors.

Fair enough. I understand there are some benefits, although speaking as a guy who is definitely below average in terms of strength, I've never had a huge problem holding open a book, even one with a 1,000 plus pages (any more than that and the book itself tends to be released in two volumes). I also have eyesight which I've been told is technically blind, and never have a problem with tired eyes (I do get this when reading electronically, although it must be said, this is reading it on a computer screen, which I understand is very different from reading it on a dedicated eReader device).

Obviously, you're a different kind of eReader type person: one who has intelligently weighed up the pros and cons of the devices versus the paper editions and decided this is the right choice for you. My problem lies with companies with obvious agendas trying to persuade everyone that the technology is better for everyone. And my ire is directed at the hipsters on the bus and trams who seem more interested in looking around to make sure people are noticing that they are reading an electronic reading device rather than actually reading the thing.

I think that John Blake is confused about what should be the purpose of publishers. They should be thinking about selling the written word - not what format it is in. I realize the publishers believe that their customer is the bookseller, not the reader, so they are very resistant to the idea that readers don't necessarily need or want to own a hard cover book.

My house has filled floor to ceiling book shelves in all of the rooms except the kitchen. For the past several years, I have only bought e-books. Since the "agency model" was put in place, I choose to borrow library books instead of paying inflated prices.

I am sorry but I don't agree with some of John Blake's comments. I have a Sony e-reader which I hardly ever use. I prefer to feel a book in my hand whether it is a hardback or a paperback. As a reviewer I am constantly reading and whilst I appreciate the usefulness of ebooks, they don't interest me as much as holding a proper book in my hand. Ebooks suit some people and not others. I am one of those people that will use an ebook on the odd occasion but I would rather hold a proper book in my hand no matter how heavy it may be. But it is also about personal choice and mine is that I prefer a book over an ereader.

"I was fascinated by an excellent piece about the music business in the Guardian the other week. This revealed that, after 10 years of music downloads, 75% of all music is still bought on CD."

Sorry, I seem to be genuinely missing something here. Why are HMV in such a mess ?

Sorry, managed to post three times, but I am genuinely interested to know why HMV is in a mess when, we are told, 75% of music sales are CD's

Sounds like John Blake is trying to kid himself with this nonsensical reasoning.

I am an avid reader, owner of a Kindle and I have bought only a handful of hardback titles in my life. I simply don't like reading that format.

Why see the e-book market as a threat? Surely it's an opportunity? Give the readers of e-books what they want and you will make money. Manipulating and forcing them into doing what you feel is best for your business isn't the way to deal with the digital revolution.

The Bat says:Don't give up! We are in the middle of the biggest global recession/depression for 80 years. Folk are buying necessities not luxuries - books, DVDs and CDs are luxury items - and fewer sales mean smaller profits, so retailers are struggling to survive or closing completely.
On the brighter side, all downturns have an upswing and future sales, for those that survive the crunch, will go through the roof....75% of the entertainment leisure market is a massive slice of a very big pie...hang on in there everyone...I know we can make it:-]

I don't have enough room in my house for all the books I want to read. If I go to the library to get my books - no one makes any money. So it's e-books or no books in my house these days.

As more authors bring out their backlist I'm going to get rid of the dust catchers cluttering up my house. I'm allergic to dust, I've run out of space for the old backlisted titles that I loved - so e-books make more sense to me than DTB (Dead Tree Books).

If one person says "but I love the smell of a book." I'm going to throw up. Trees smell better.

How do you feel about the smell of ebook readers (smelting copper and oil)?

And actually authors do make money from library borrowing.

I couldn't agree with you more about the stupid 'smell' comment. Of all the damn fool reasons to push a reading format. Expensive books might smell OK but paperbacks stink of dust and warehouses.

I just got a copy of Diana Wynne Jones' A Sudden Wild Magic second hand (because it's not available on ebook - so I paid a reseller instead of the author's estate, and the agent and publisher didn't make any money). It stinks of patchouli and sandalwood. Mmm, the smell of real books pre-owned by a hippy.

Really Appreciate this blog post, can you make it so I get an update sent in an email when there is a new article?

London's South Bank recently displayed a maze made from 250,000 books and it unintentionally showed up just how much carbon is actually being tied up disseminating the printed word. Having just joined the ranks of authors now flooding Amazon’s Kindle, I imagined the volume of extra trees required if we all went into print. My erotic thriller, ‘Deadly Prediction’ is fiction but I have another deadly prediction - not just the demise of the paperback but the entire publishing industry. Lets face it publishers never did much to promote their authors and once you get a hit and your name is out there, who needs a publisher? The best I can say about a paperback is you wouldn't leave your Kindle on a towel on the beach.

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