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Amazon, Sony, and Google: Digital Revolution or E-Books War?

August 30, 2009

Tags: digital publishing, e-books

Farhad Manjoo admires the Kindle 2 but fears its implications: "Amazon's reader is a brilliant device that shanghais book buyers and the book industry into accepting a radically diminished marketplace for published works. If the Kindle succeeds on its current terms, and all signs suggest it'll be a blockbuster (thanks Oprah!), Amazon will make a bundle. But everyone else with a stake in a vibrant book industry — authors, publishers, libraries, chain bookstores, indie bookstores, and, not least, readers — stands to lose out." In Fear the Kindle, Manjoo takes an honest look at the 800-pound gorilla that endangers the publishing industry: Amazon.com. As the following stories suggest, it's hard to tell which is more interesting: the digital revolution and what it will do to our reading habits, or the e-book wars, and who will come out on top (and who, besides devotees of paper books, will lose)? Especially good comments in The Once and Future E-Book (Ars Technica); don't miss the Comments!

Amazon lets publishers and writers disable Kindle 2's read-aloud feature (Alana Semuels, Business, Los Angeles Times 2-28-09: The Authors Guild objected to device's text-to-speech function, saying Amazon doesn't have the right to essentially turn e-books into audio books)

Amazon settles lawsuit over deleted Kindle copy of '1984' (Eric Engleman, TechFlash, 9-30-09)

Bend me, shape me, any way you want me: Flexible display screens (The Economist, 1-22-09, reports that electronic screens as thin as paper are coming soon)

Can e-publishing overcome copyright concerns? by David Pogue (New York Times 5-22-08)

"Debut pricing" for ebooks: a better idea than withholding them (Mike Shatzkin, The Shatzkin Files, 8-23-09) and Debut pricing: my idea, great idea, unfortunately can’t work (Shatzkin's follow-up entry)

Digital Text Platform (lets you upload and format your books for sale in Kindle Platform

The digital transition really IS harder for trade publishers than for other publishers (The Shatzkin Files 7-3-09)

Dual display e-book reader (story on NewScientist blog 6-25-08)

E-book complexity: good news for publishers (Mike Shatzkin, The Shatzkin Files, 6-3-09)

Ebook growth explosive; serious disruptions around the corner Mike Shatzkin, 8-12-09

eBookGuru(digital magazine devoted to eBooks)

The e-book revolution favours the agile (but deep pockets help), Dan,The Casual Optimist (books, publishing, ideas)--like their quote: "The basis for optimism is sheer terror." ~Oscar Wilde

E-books: Not so fast! (Bryan Rosner on what publishers have to fear, IBPA)

The e-Book Test: Do Electronic Versions Deter Piracy? by David Pogue (New York Times, Personal Tech 6-19-08)

ebrary (a content platform)

Fear the Kindle: Amazon's amazing e-book reader is bad news for the publishing industry (Farhad Manjoo, Slate, 2-26-09), admires the Kindle 2 but fears its implications: "Amazon's reader is a brilliant device that shanghais book buyers and the book industry into accepting a radically diminished marketplace for published works. If the Kindle succeeds on its current terms, and all signs suggest it'll be a blockbuster (thanks Oprah!), Amazon will make a bundle. But everyone else with a stake in a vibrant book industry — authors, publishers, libraries, chain bookstores, indie bookstores, and, not least, readers — stands to lose out." An honest look at the 800-pound gorilla that endangers the publishing industry: Amazon.com.

Flexible display screens: Bend me, shape me, any way you want me (The Economist, 1-22-09, reports that electronic screens as thin as paper are coming soon)
The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age (John Siracusa, ars technica, 2-1-09 — check out the comments after reading the article)

Google sides against Amazon in e-book format wars (Brennon Slattery, PCWorld, 8-27-09)

How much should an e-book cost? (Motoko Rich, "Steal this book, for $9.99," NYTimes, 5-16-09)

How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write (Steven Johnson, Wall Street Journal, 4-20-09)

In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History (Tamar Lewis, NYTimes, 8-8-09) Mind you, participants on one discussion list questioned that printing and shipping would add up to only 12.5 percent of costs--that figure, it was felt, was too low, especially with postage rates going up.

Is This the Future of the Digital Book?
Are books too one-dimensional for readers in the digital age, as Vook's Bradley Inman tells Brad Stone (NY Times 8-4-09) Will readers be expecting video in their novels?

Kindle and the future of reading (Nicholson Baker, The New Yorker, 8-3-09)

The Kindle Swindle (Roy Blount Jr., Op Ed, NY Times, 2-24-09, on the Authors Guild's objections to the Kindle in terms of authors' rights)

**The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age (John Siracusa, ars technica -- check out the comments after reading the article

Smashwords (your ebook, your way--a digital self-publishing platform and online bookstore)

Some Fear Google’s Power in Digital Books (Noam Cohen, New York Times, Link by Link, 2-1-09)

TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home (a blog with news & views on e-books, libraries, publishing etc.—including recommended free reads)

A Walk Through a Crop of Readers (Danielle Belopotosky, NY Times, Personal Tech, 2-25-09), compares Amazon’s Kindle 2 to Kindle 1 and the Sony Reader.

There's a fuller round-up of links to stories on e-book markets, rights, and audiences under
Publishing and e-publishing on Writers and Editors

Comments

  1. September 3, 2009 11:18 AM EDT
    "Debut pricing" for ebooks: a better idea than withholding them (Mike Shatzkin, The Shatzkin Files, 8-23-09) and Debut pricing: my idea, great idea, unfortunately can’t work (Shatzkin's follow-up entry). In a follow-up story, also on ebook pricing, Shatzkin writes, about the race for market domination:"Epub is probably the publishers’ best defense against Amazon and the Kindle. With all other device manufacturers able to coalesce around a non-Amazon standard, we have a situation analogous to the VHS-Beta conflict of the 1980s and the Mac-Windows duke-out of the late 80s and early 90s. On one side, we have a standard that remains closed to enable “control” (Beta, Mac, Kindle.) On the other side, we have a wide-open standard to enable multi-player use (VHS, Windows, Epub.) In the two cases we know about because they are historical, the consensus was that the “loser” of the numbers race (Beta and Mac) provided a superior technological performance. Kindle does not seem to have even that element in its favor. Whether you use something larger that does e-ink (Kindle, Sony Reader) or something you’re carrying anyway that is backlit (the iPhone or any other smartphone) is a matter of personal preference. But does anybody doubt that a world full of hardware creators will soon make a device that is similar but demonstrably better than the Kindle?" Read this if you're trying to figure out which device to buy, or whether to wait.
    - PM
  2. November 12, 2009 10:59 AM EST
    Amazon Kindle for PC E-Book Software. "Amazon's Kindle family gained a new member today with the arrival of the free Amazon Kindle for PC reader app," writes Yardena Arar, of PC World, in the Washington Post (11-12-09). "And while I'm not a big fan of reading books on computer displays, I have to admit that Kindle for PC handles the basics of its job well. But it lacks a few features--most significantly the ability to create your own notes--found not just in Kindle hardware but also in the Kindle for iPhone app." A helpful review of the pros and cons of using Kindle software on your computer.
    - Pat McNees
  3. January 10, 2010 6:30 PM EST
    Apparently the two places to find out what's really going on in the e-book world are TeleRead (news and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics), which has a good blog, and MobileRead (excellent forums "for mobile geeks seeking information and advice for keeping their gadgets happy"). Thanks to Rich Adin for that (and check out his new blog, An American Editor
    - PM (thanks to Rich Adin)
  4. October 23, 2010 1:33 PM EDT
    Insights about the current state of the ebook market (Mike Shatzkin, 10-21-10, discussing the "agency model, wholesale model, and what is being called the 'hybrid' model, but which I would simply call 'a mess that won’t be sustained.'" He discusses why publishers are fighting to keep ebook prices high and what publishers (and Amazon) can't say, and why the survival of bookstores is threatened.
    - PM