Monday, April 13, 2009

Where Is Technology Taking Books?

I usually talk about the craft of writing on Mondays, but today I’m going to talk about different forms of books, such as audio books and digital books. Which, I think, have excellent uses. So, forgive me as I ramble on here...

I recenly drove to my mom’s house and back, and listened to the audio version of THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN while the kids watched WALL-E in the back seat. I loved the entire experience, and it made the drive so much better. Time passed quickly, and I was actually sad when we reached our destination because it meant I had to turn the story off. Then, after the kids were in bed, I finished listening to it while I folded laundry – a chore I absolutely hate, but was made palatable by this great story playing in the background. That right there makes audio books worth it for me.

As for digital books, I also think this has excellent uses. You can carry 100 books in a paperback-sized device, which makes traveling much lighter. You could read a book on your computer, if you’re so inclined, or even on your iPhone. ePublishing makes it easy to carry around your books and read whenever you like, rather than when it’s convenient to have the book with you. I tend to carry a book wherever I go, just in case I get a spare minute to read. For now, it works fine because I have to carry a huge bag for kid stuff as well as my own. But when I no longer need to carry kid stuff, I really want to go back to an actual handbag. And not all books will fit in that. So it would be nice to have a small device that fit nicely inside.

I’m technically savvy. I’ve got a bachelor’s degree in Math and Computer Science, and worked in the computer field for nearly ten years. I like gadgets and internet and wireless connections and all that fun stuff. But, I don’t read ebooks. Even if I didn't have to carry around a huge bag, I still wouldn't have an electronic reader. It obviously has nothing to do with the technology, since I like it. So, what's my problem? Quite plainly, it’s the price.

For those of you who don’t like math, I apologize right now because there’s plenty below. : )

I looked up the list prices of several editions of THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, which contains 336 pages:
Hardback list price: $23.95
Paperback list price: $14.99
Audio CDs: $34.95

These prices are all fine and dandy, since there’s production and print costs for each. Plus, the publishing house needs to make money, and the author needs to make money, so I’m willing to pay for these things (or get them from the library).

Next, I looked at the cost of the digital edition. According to both Amazon and Sony, the suggested retail price is $18.95. Um, that costs more than the paperback version, yet there’s no print cost. *scratching head*

Granted, $18.95 isn’t what either Amazon or Sony charge. They offer a discount:
Sony eReader price: $13.26
Amazon’s Kindle price: $9.99

These prices are less than the list price of the paperback edition, but by how much? For Sony, it’s $1.73. For Amazon, it’s $5.00. So Amazon is the better deal, right? Nope. Amazon offers pretty deep discounts on its printed books, and their price for the paperback edition is $10.19. Which means the real savings between the Kindle and paperback is $1.18.

So, you’re saving either $1.18 or $1.73, depending on which eReader you own. But for what? A digital book is not tangible, and people like to see what they’ve just bought (especially when they’ve just paid nearly the same as the tangible edition). In fact, your digital book is at higher risk because it could be lost if your computer decides it’s done with life, or if your device is damaged or stolen. Sure, you could lose all your books if your house catches fire, but, let’s face it, it’s far more likely for an electronic device to quit on you than for your house to go up in flames. :)

In my research, there was only one digital version that I thought was fairly priced: the audio download on Amazon, which is $18.35. It costs money to make the audio edition of a book because you have to hire a reader, record him/her in a studio, and edit the recording. Then, you can either put it on CDs, or sell it as a download. The CDs cost $34.95, but the download is nearly half that. Which makes sense, since there was still some cost in creating the audio version.

But for digital books, converting files is easy. You don’t need to create anything new, you’re just taking the existing text and making it available for different digital readers. There are computer programs that do this conversion for you, so you don’t even need to hire someone. The only cost is to make it available for download in a secure environment. But there is certainly not $18.95 worth of work involved. If there is, I'm skeptical of the process being used.

For me to willingly purchase digital books (and I would love to do this), the price would need to be half the price of the print versions. Which ultimately means it would need to be half the price of the paperback edition – not the hardback edition. I think that if ebooks were priced this way, there would be a lot more people interested in digital. Not enough to make the printed book obsolete or anything, but enough to maybe bring down the price of the digital readers.

Anyway, I have gone on far too long, and all of this is just my opinion based on my limited view of the publishing world. But thanks for listening. :)


Unknown said...

Ugh. Don't get me started. This is an issue that as driven me MAD. And actually--I take it further than you. I still think $10 for an audio download is too much money--because the profit from that is not going to the author or the voice actors or the production--it's going to the seller. The markups on digital downloads, either in audio or e-book form, is RIDICULOUS. I refuse to buy them for that very purpose--despite the fact that I'd love to own a Kindle and would pay for the Kindle....just not the e-books.

Tabitha said...

Knowing what I know about technology and file download, this makes me mad too. There's just no basis for ebooks to cost so much, except huge profit margins. I'm sorry, but I can't operate with that kind of mentality.

Years ago, my husband got an early version of Sony's eReader. He used it a bit, then forgot about it. Then I picked it up to give it a try, all excited about being able to carry around a zillion books at once, then put it right back down when I saw the prices of ebooks. Ridiculous. I'd rather go to my library.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Nice new look to your blog! I like the new technology of books, but you have a good point about the cost issues. I hope things change over time with this.

If you're interested in reading some work for free, I'll put a shameless plug here for the new blog I've begun for those who wish to share their short works and chapters in a small community.

You can read about it here

Tabitha said...

I hope things change with this, too. And glad you like the new look! It took awhile to set up.

I saw the posting on your blog about the site you're putting up, and I think it's great! :) Hope you gets lots of interested folks. I'd join, except I'm already in two critique groups. :)

PJ Hoover said...

Nice, nice blog layout, Tabitha! Wow!

Anyway, I'm big on audio, but haven't ventured to the eBook thing yet as it doesn't fit into my lifestyle. With kids, I don't see a vacation where I can read tons of books. If I'm able to read one book while on vacation with the kids, that is an accomplishment. I read mostly when the kids are asleep, a planned activity. And for this I use a normal book.
That said, for the people who actually get away from it all and read and read and read, eBooks would be a huge advantage. I can see times in my past when I would have eaten them up. But that time is not now for me.
Audio is limited to when I'm driving alone (though for a long car ride I would totally stick on the video for the kids and listen to something myself).

And nice blog layout :)

Matt said...

I've recently listened to a couple of different podcasts that talked about this and I really don't get it. Especially once you break it down to the true cost and effort it takes to turn a file into an ebook.

Storage, compared to actually hard-copy books, is minimal. No printing costs, no delivery cost, the stores don't get a cut (other than an virtual storefront). So what's the cost?

It is maddening, especially for the authors.

Mary Witzl said...

I'm a technically challenged, unfortunately. The whole idea of audio books leaves me cold, though I have to admit that if I were still lugging dictionaries around, I'd buy myself a Kindle and save myself the bursitis. But I'm even more of a cheapskate than a technophobe, and the idea of paying extra for something that only adds to the coffers of the merchandiser makes me seethe.

I won't be buying a Kindle anytime soon...

Kelly Polark said...

Great post, Tabitha. I don't see myself getting a kindle or something like that to read books. I enjoy the actual book (and I spend too much time staring at a computer screen anyway). BUT I love the idea of audio books. My hubby and I listened to the Green Mile years ago when we drove home from Colorado. It made the ride so much better. I've forgotten about them.We take lots of family road trips now and I now get carsick reading in the car. I never thought of audio books!!!!

Bish Denham said...

Nice new blog look!

I don't do well listening to audio books but I realize they have a place. As for ebooks...I hope the prices straighten themselves out, but as Sam Ewing said, "Computers will never take the place of books. You can't stand on a floppy disc to reach a high shelf."

Keri Mikulski said...

Interesting.. Love the knew blog layout. :)

Anne Spollen said...

I LOVE audio books when I teach -- the kids who aren't visual learners can still imagine a story. So that's great.

But I need to hold a book -- something about the feel of it I need to make it feel like reading.

Love your new layout!

Christina Farley said...

I love books in all forms. But I really like hardbacks best. Maybe it's the feel of them. But paperbacks are great for traveling and audio are great for my kids in the car. They LOVE to listen to books there or if I'm busy making dinner and can't read to them, they'll pop in a tape or CD and listen to a story.

Kelly H-Y said...

Fantastic research, points, and post!!! I agree with you. I love audio ... perfect to make a long trip pass by quickly (you are so right about not wanting the trip to end when you're right in the middle of a book!! :-)). But - while I'm a big fan of technology - I'm not an e-book person. There's something about holding the book that makes the whole experience special. And, I read via a computer screen much too much anyway ... that's not how I want to view my books!

Tabitha said...

Forgive my silence. The next issue of The Prairie Wind Newsletter is coming out next month, and I had to turn in my column today...and it turned out to be HUGE.

PJ - thanks! I like the new layout too. I tried reading LITTLE BROTHER on the free pdf download that Cory Doctorow made available, but I just can't read a book on my computer screen. I tried to upload it to my husband's Sony eReader, but it didn't import well and the font was too small. I read so much that I would love to have an electronic reader, but geez. The market isn't feasible right now.

Matt - EXACTLY. It's very maddening, especially for those of us who *know* there's minimal cost. Makes no sense.

Mary - I won't be buying a Kindle anytime soon either, which saddens me. I read every chance I get - standing in line, waiting to pick up my son from school, etc. It would be much more convenient not to carry around those huge hardbacks from the library. :)

Kelly - audio books are fantastic for the car! Especially a road trip. It makes the time pass so much better. Definitely try it some time! :)

Bish - I totally agree that ebooks will never replace printed books. There's too much to that tactile experience for it to disappear. I could never do without my Favorites shelf. :)

Keri - thanks! :)

Anne - I'm a new lover of audio books, too. I listen to one when I exercise. Makes me feel like I'm getting something real done while I'm doing something good for my body. :) But I couldn't give up paper books either. Especially not my favorites. :)

Christina - same here! All the books on my Favorites shelf are hardbacks. I like the solid feeling of them, especially when I'm reading for pure enjoyment and not trying to learn about the craft of writing. :)

Kelly - totally agree, especially when I'm reading for pure enjoyment. Then I absolutely must have the book in my hands, preferably a hardback. But when I'm reading to learn about the craft of writing, which is most of the time, I would find an e-reader very handy. :)