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Friday, 27 August 2010

eBook value for money?????

The Wall Street Journal have an interesting article looking at the value for money of eBooks (thanks to Matt Mayo for bringing this one to my attention)  and they raise several interesting points, some I am in agreement with others than I'm not so sure about the main points raised below come from Brett Arends while the text in bold are my own particular thoughts on the relevant argument.


1. Casual readers probably shouldn't bother.
The median American book-buyer purchases just seven books a year, according to an AP-Ipsos poll in 2007.
An e-book reader right now typically costs about $150 (more on this below). Even if you save a couple of bucks per book by downloading them onto your e-book reader, the payback isn't going to be much for the casual reader. If you saved $5 a book, you'd have to buy 30 just to earn back your initial investment. If you only saved $2 a book, you'd have to buy 75.
I don't want to sound negative. I happen to think e-book readers are great. But that's because I read books avidly. (I've been known to take 10 books on a beach holiday.) If you are in my camp, e-book readers let you carry a library in your pocket or bag. But if you're a casual reader, they probably don't make much economic sense yet. (On the other hand, once you buy an e-book reader you will probably buy and read more books.) This is a major plus of eBooks - they should end up encouraging people to read more and may even help a lifelong reading habit develop. That makes all this worthwhile.

2. The books aren't as cheap as they should be.
E-books are far, far cheaper to produce, distribute and sell than paper ones. There is no paper, no printing, no trucking and no retail space.
So they should cost a lot less to buy, but the deal often isn't anywhere near as good as it should be. Amazon has tried to drive prices for best sellers down to $9.99, but the publishing industry has fought back. A lot of best sellers go for $12.99 instead. That may be cheaper than the hardbacks, but the gap should be wider.
As in the case of Elizabeth Gilbert's runaway success, you may sometimes find the traditional version cheaper. Looking for Stieg Larsson's "The Girl Who Played With Fire"? It's $7.99 on the Kindle. I bought it in Borders, with a coupon, for $5.68.
Books are cheaper in electronic format, but not all. This point I agree with entirely and publishers overcharging for eBook will give book pirates a valid moral argument. Why should people pay the same for an electronic book as a physical one? I do wish publishers would learn from the battering the music industry too over MP3's and charge accordingly. Besides cheaper book sell more copies and that is a fact.

3. Savvy readers read the classics anyway.
Why? Because they're free. From Aesop to "Zarathustra." From "Hamlet" to "Huckleberry Finn." They won't cost you a penny. These books are outside of copyright. Just go to Gutenberg.org and download them. Thousands of them. And they're better than most of the stuff published more recently anyway. Again a very good point - since owning an eReader I have read books I'd always intended to but never gotten around to. For instance Huckleberry Finn, received as a free download from Gutenberg, is one of my all time favourite books.

4. Be aware of the potential costs of buying a Kindle.
Amazon sells the best-selling e-book reader. It's a great product, very easy to use—much easier, I've found, than the competition. But Amazon has given the device a cellular connection and a keyboard so you can access its online bookstore any time, any place, to buy a book. Good for them. Not so good for you. The results are predictable: You may end up making lots of impulse purchases. Don't be surprised if you spend hundreds of dollars on books in your first year. (Amazon now sells a Kindle that only has a Wi-Fi connection instead of cellular. This may save you money, as the connection will only work in a Wi-Fi hot spot. By the time you've found one, you may have decided you don't want the book.) This does worry me about the Kindle - that you can only buy books from Amazon, though you can use PDF eBooks on the device but it doesn't support the ePub format which to me is a big problem. Personally I prefer the Sony eReader over the Kindle even if it is slightly more fiddly to get used to downloading books. Once you have mastered the system though it is easy to buy from various sites Barnes and Noble, W H Smiths, Border etc but not Amazon who only want their books read on a Kindle. Another good thing with the Sony is that the wonderful Pocket edition is now only £99.99 and once you've registered your item online you can download a hundred classic books in ePub format.

5. Be aware of the costs of the rivals.
The main ones are time and hassle. The many rivals to the Kindle generally use a software platform from Adobe, and it can be a pain. Even worse: Adobe provides only very basic help if things go wrong. In extremis, you may find yourself emailing India. I asked Adobe why this was. A spokesman explained that because Adobe Digital Editions was given away for free, the company only provides "a baseline level of support, which is web-based," he says. This includes "an active user forum"—in other words asking other customers how to solve your problems. Good luck with that.
If you can overcome that problem, rivals do offer benefits that may save you money. First, they let you shop around for e-books at different online bookstores, and many run promotions. Second, they will let you borrow some e-books online from your local library. Third, many of them come without any wireless connection whatsoever. That means fewer impulse purchases. Yes Adobe's system can be fiddly but in fairness this is only when using it for the first time. I bought three eBooks today from W H Smith's site - The Searchers, Apache Sundown by Jory Sherman and Terry Practchett's Making Money. And they all synched to my reader effortlessly. Another interesting point is that eBooks are good for genre fiction - for instance Jory Sherman is a great American western writer whom I've never seen in a British brick and mortar bookstore.

6. And if you're thinking of buying a book reader—wait!
At least, hold off for a month or two or maybe even a few weeks. Prices simply have to come down. They may do so fast.
Amazon's first Kindles went on sale three years ago for $399. Its latest versions, out this week, start at just $139. That's cheaper than rivals. They're going to have to respond.
There's an upgrade cycle going on as well. E Ink Corp., the company that makes most of the screens, has developed a newer version with somewhat sharper contrast. (Handy if you're reading fine print, but not so important for most books).
In a rational market, we should see big price cuts this fall, especially as the last of the old models go on sale. Of course, that's in a rational market. Let me know if you ever find one. This is always good advice when dealing with technology but I don't think eReaders will come down below the £99.99 mark for quite some time. Of course at that price they are excellent value for money.

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