April 15th, 2011

DX deal of the day

I realized I hadn't mocked ebook coverage for a while and went over to google news where I found out that Amazon's Gold Box Deal of the Day was the DX for $80 off.

Geez.

Yeah, I did that. I'm not entirely certain why, but I did do that. Maybe some of those tables will display a little better now.

Other People Mocking Ebook Coverage

http://www.businessinsider.com/barack-obama-amazon-kindle-washington-examiner-2011-4

The headline is amazing:

"Actually, Barack Obama Did Not Stop The Debut Of The Amazon Kindle"

Noah Davis' piece refers to an op-ed at the Washington Examiner (yeah, the Moonie paper that single-handedly provides well-paid journalism gigs to conservatives)

Here's the kindle related sentence:

"Other bizarre cases have come out of the Holder Civil Rights Division. DOJ stopped the debut of the Amazon Kindle because it was not in Braille."

One hesitates to call it "the" or even "an" offending sentence, given the rest of the piece.

But it's nice to see Real Journalists stepping up to do a little mocking of wrong-headed ebook coverage. Sort of.

Spam eBooks

Mike Essex at Impact Media seems concerned about content farmers and spam ebooks; he's been extensively quoted on other sites. A variety of commentators are suggesting that Amazon should do something about this. The problems include (but are not limited) to the following:

(1) People might buy these things and they're lame.
(2) Copyrights are being violated.
(3) "Real" authors will have trouble differentiating themselves from this "noise".

There are some yawn-inducing experiments mentioned (uploading the repeated lyrics to a song just to see if it'll go live on DTP), apparently with no awareness of any irony (dada, anyone? We're in a world in love with Lady Gaga, and no one sees the potential art of any of this but just thinks some corporation should proactively say, no you can't publish that? What, so you can commit a _different_ piece of performance art protesting that?).

Amazingly, a blogger at a library oriented blog suggested this might be a risk for librarians buying e-content. That strikes me as wildly improbable and here's why:

Librarians buy based on positive recommendations and reviews in sources they are familiar with and trust (or at least trust their capacity to interpret). They do not buy based on keyword searches. It's hard to imagine them getting suckered by any of these things. Yes, the people perpetrating this are also producing positive reviews for themselves, but anyone with any kind of experience reading reviews can probably detect that (for one thing, uniformity of positive reviews is a Red Flag all by itself at this point; when I'm trying to decide whether to pick up a book or not, I go as much by why people gave it a bad rating as by why they gave it a good rating). While some individuals will get suckered, I'd like to see some evidence that this is anything like a very successful scam before I get too excited about it. If it costs someone a buck or three before they learn not to buy random ebooks on the kindle platform, that's a really, really cheap lesson.

The copyrights being violated is a more serious issue, however, many of the proposed solutions strike me as onerous to the wrong people.

As for "real" authors differentiating themselves from this "noise? There's an easy enough solution for that. Spammers who are trying to make money off junk can't do that by giving it away for free to build a favorable audience; digital authors have machined that process down to a near science.

ETA: Weirdly, the primary person responsible for this echo chamber fear sent me e-mail. It was polite and requested a linkback to the original article. (NO! I am not going to do that. Mr. Essex is getting way too many linkbacks already.) I'm quoting this sentence from his email on the assumption a single sentence is "fair use": "The libraries problem was new to me so I'll look out for that in the future." I just don't know what to do with that. I AM SAYING THIS IS ALL A NON PROBLEM, PEOPLE! What do I have to do to convey that, anyway?

mockable eBook coverage is getting harder to find

But it's still out there!

http://features.techworld.com/features/personal-tech/3247209/top-10-problems-with-the-amazon-kindle/?intcmp=ros-md-acc-p-ft

by one "Keir Thomas"

When I first started making fun of ebook coverage, the standard commentary (oh-so-mockable) was of the form, "but I love the way books feel/smell/etc.". The next stage was, "I read a lot, but not enough to justify the price". After that came, "the iPad will kill the kindle". We seem to be in a minor carping phase.

I've been thinking recently about what happens to books when their owner dies. As long as the owner is alive, the owner is dealing with what to keep and what to get rid of. But when the owner dies, someone has to figure out what to do with the books. Typically, that turns into a disposal problem where really everyone wants them gone, but is kind of hoping they can get more money for them than is realistic, however occasionally you get spats about who gets to keep some fraction of the books.

A media library -- whether through iBooks or through Amazon -- presents an interesting problem. It's not at all obvious to me that you couldn't keep an account going after someone died, but if, for example, somebody died and I had to deal with their estate and that included a bunch of accounts including one at Amazon, I might want to be able to access both "their" books on my kindle(s) and "my" books on my kindle(s). The simplest solution is to just keep multiple kindles around, but perhaps Amazon could be convinced to merge libraries.

Thomas is envisioning a wildly different scenario: he wants to share his kindle with another person, without her using the device messing up his settings. "Yes, Kindles are dirt cheap, but not yet cheap enough for every family member to have one." On the one hand, I am sympathetic. On the other hand, given the number of iPads and kindles I have bought for other people, it's not just that you guys are too broke to afford two kindles. It's that no one is giving you presents, either. That makes me feel a little sad. But I'm pretty sure they'll get cheap enough for this to take care of itself.

Thomas has other complaints, many of which resolve to, hey, why isn't it also a: calculator, phrase dictionary, general purpose toy, calculator. He also wants more fonts and to be able to configure more things in general. He also whines about having to pay to have books bought other than on Amazon to the kindle. To which I respond, hey, I kinda like the defaults and/or who is going to pay for these things.

Still. It's just not as mockable as the book huffing of years ago. I'm feeling a little melancholy as a result.

eBook mockery at a Vancouver Sun blog

http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/parenting/archive/2011/04/06/should-you-wait-for-the-99-amazon-kindle-or-the-free-one.aspx

by Chad Skelton

The question at hand is not, should you buy an e-reader, should it be an iPad or a kindle or a nook or whatever. No, it's whether you should buy a kindle now or wait for a later model and/or cheaper price?

After observing the rapid fall in the price of a kindle since it's launch in 2007, Skelton has this explanation to offer:

"Amazon's reason for doing this is pretty clear: Kindle owners buy a lot of books. More than they bought before they had an Kindle and -- crucially -- they buy them all from Amazon."

There was a time in Mockable eBook Coverage (left this one out) when people were arguing that the only way Amazon was making money on the kindle was because the hardware was subsidizing the content AND because the content was subsidizing the hardware. Usually, they were not making this argument simultaneously (altho I wouldn't swear no one argued this simultaneously). But to encapsulate that argument in a brief sentence, breathlessly sweeping over any possibly economies of scale (described in detail in the contracts for the screens, the part of the kindle which dominates the cost of the device), is a little amazing.

Even better, "they buy them all from Amazon"! As if once someone owns a kindle, they stop buying paper books from any source at all. Apparently, I'm the lone exception. As if once someone owns a kindle, they won't, say, download Baen eBooks, or public domain works or move their old library from their mobi device, or whatever. Or, say, use some piece of software that lets you convert a book from one format to another.

"Kindle owners will likely stick with Amazon -- even when it comes time to upgrade their device -- so they don't lose their library of old ebooks."

Smart of him to include the word "likely". Altho I'm less convinced it's to avoid losing their old ebooks. An awful lot of consumers of media out there really do not care about their old stuff. It's really us nerds who are obsessed with curating our possessions who worry about our old stuff.

Skelton gets some points for putting this out _before_ the advertising-subsidized kindle was released.

Edited to correct a typo.

You Don't Have a Kindle Because You Don't Read

Not you, Dear Reader. Rob Pegoraro at WaPo. Here, he _claims_ it's because of the DRM issue.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/e-book-business-should-take-a-page-from-music-industry-and-go-drm-free/2011/04/05/AFBRbG1C_story.html

After listing his electronics booty (flat screens up and down, smartphones, digital cameras, desktop and an iPad 2 on backorder), he notes that he does not own an eReader, and "that's not an accident".

What's really in-credible about this article is that he then describes "how the first good, mass-market music-download store worked", and by that, in case there was a question in your mind, he means Apple's iTunes store, and how that eventually led to the End of DRM for the industry as a whole, which continues to be led by iTunes, with Amazon in second place. Yet despite this, Pegoraro's objection to buying an eReader now is that he doesn't trust any of the contenders "to lead that category of hardware and software for as long as you’d want to reread that book".

It's hard to go on from that. After all, the analogy which demonstrates quite clearly that (a) the market leader is a safe bet and (b) both major players have demonstrated a strong dislike for DRM and an inclination to get rid of it when possible before is somehow supposed to convince us to fear the opposite -- that was _his_ analogy. Not mine.

Pegoraro then lists the limitations of ebooks: no meaningful lending, no reselling, difficult to cut-and-paste or even photocopy, following it up with the question:

"Why would I want to pay almost as much as for a paper book — in some cases more — and then have my purchase constrain its usefulness and therefore cut its value"

In pretty rare cases more (altho I have indeed paid more), but never mind that now. I can manufacture arguments against buying new books or hardcovers or whatever with that line of reasoning. How's this for a restraint: if I leave my book behind on public transport or decide to use it to start a fire, or drop it in the tub, it's gone. But if I do that with my kindle, I _still own the book_. Anyone who has lost a box or more of books in the course of a move knows just how reassuring this can really be. [ETA: Don't start fires with your kindle. You'll probably be violating some important clean air law, give yourself cancer, whatever. Don't do it.]

But I think this example is really a lot more compelling. If I buy a book that is _not_ acid free, how do I know it won't totally destroy itself and everything it touches over the course of the next 50 years? I don't. So why would I risk buying a copy?

Because I wanted to read it.

ebook market share

Yesterday's press release from AAP for Feb 2011 numbers can be found at:

http://www.publishers.org/press/30/

"For the year to date (January/February 2011 vs January/February 2010), which encompasses this heavy post-holiday buying period, e-Books grew 169.4% to $164.1M while the combined categories of print books fell 24.8% to $441.7M.*"

What is the relationship between 164 and 442? I'm getting that the first number is about 27% of the total of the two numbers. It is not completely clear to me whether the "combined categories" is print trade, or if it also includes religious, education and professional/scholarly categories. If the latter, whoa and like damn.

Why didn't I see coverage of this? My search terms on google must have been inadequate. I will attempt again.

ETA:

http://money.cnn.com/2011/04/15/technology/ebooks_beat_paperbacks/

The headline on that seems hopelessly inadequate. Also, by putting in a caveat that the data is from publishers, some of whom do not participate, it also fails to point out that some of those paper book sales will come undone when retailers return unsold books -- but none of the electronic sales will.

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/retailing/article/46870-e-book-sales-explode-in-february-as-other-segments-sink.html

That's a better headline.

There's a bunch of other coverage, mostly in bookseller/bookpublisher oriented sites and a few financial sites. They are generally just repeating the numbers and/or math and/or explanation from the press release. No one is doing the math I did above, so I can't tell if that's a wrong way to calculate share.

ETA: R. says that in the vinyl -> CD transition, there was a lot of media coverage from about 1980-1985, and then a big gap in coverage. It picked up again in the 1990s, when the "death of vinyl" really took off as a meme. His sense was that the adoption curve through the first 20% was covered, and after it hit 90%, and not much in between. He thinks the DVD adoption curve was too compressed to go through anything particularly comparable.

Are You Impressed Yet?

I've found a Christian Science Monitor article from today about this press release:

http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2011/0415/E-book-sales-overtake-paperbacks-in-February

And a Guardian article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/apr/15/ebook-sales-milestone

Here's what I don't understand. If I take _just the February numbers_ and _ebooks vs. combined trade_, I'm looking at eBooks being all but 30% of the total. I'm excluding religious, education and professional/scholarly. If I do the February numbers and ebooks, combined trade, religion and professional/scholarly (but not "education categories", which does not supply February only numbers in the release), I get 22ish%. I'm looking at Feb only (YTD 2011 gives "totals" without explaining categories that work out to 27%), on the premise that January would get the bulk of the Christmas Gift Card/new eReader effect, which AAP's release is worded in such a way as to suggest that this heavy fraction of ebooks is a time-of-year-dependent phenomenon.

From CSM:

"Some publishing experts now predict that within the next two to three years e-book sales will comprise up to 25 percent of all book sales."

Yeah, well, damn easy to predict it when it has already happened.

Over at the Guardian, Philip Jones, deputy editor of the Bookseller, sez:

"Ebooks have grown massively, but they do not yet match overall print books and nor is it predicted that they will. The most bullish predictions suggest that ebooks will account for 50% of the US market by 2014 or 2015, and then will probably plateau."

You keep telling yourself that if it helps you sleep at night.

Honestly, I'd seen a bit over at the HuffPo remarking that eBooks were 20% of trade sales and was surprised at how non-surprising this was treated in the piece. I was _looking_ for numbers and I cannot for the life of me figure out why there isn't a huge circus going on around What Does It All Mean.

ETA: FWIW, the CSM piece is quite decent -- I'm not mocking Marjorie Kehe in particular. However, I do think that what the AAP crafted in its press release was remarkable in how carefully it avoided giving anyone an opportunity to remark upon what it revealed. It put some truly shocking numbers right out in plain sight (because they release those numbers at regular intervals and _not_ releasing them was a non-starter), and then carefully did _not_ do a calculation that would have made the group they represent -- publishers -- completely lose the capacity for reasoned discourse. Unfortunately, the effect was to also obscure reality from media commentators, because apparently those people who do pay attention to numbers put out in press releases by AAP are not people who reflexively calculate percentages.

That's my guess, anyway.

NYT content ideas

From:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thecutline/20110323/ts_yblog_thecutline/are-ebooks-about-to-change-everything-in-the-long-form-media-world

"Jim Schachter, The Times' associate managing editor, "said the Times is "actively thinking about its next ebook," which will likely draw on the paper's lifestyle and service-oriented content."

"With the application of a certain amount of effort, we can take our content that tends to have a pretty short half life and give it lasting value," said Schachter. "That's the hypothesis we need to continue testing."

Hypothesis? Really? All right.

I said probably over a year ago now that the New Old Age Blogs comments threads were so awesome they could be cut and pasted into a book and I'd buy it happily.

Ebook Market Share: predicting the past, redux

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-pinter/andrew-wylie-sets-off-dig_b_655653.html

"Let's go back just a few weeks ago. At the ThrillerFest conference, Gina Centrello, President and Publisher of The Random House Publishing Group, said that she believes ebook sales will represent up to 50% of the market within just five years. Five years. Five years ago the Kindle did not even exist. Last year represented 3%. According to Centrello, this year it will make up 10%."

I'm wondering if this discussion is the source of the previously mentioned quote about reaching 50% and then plateauing.

a very minor update on the AAP numbers and discussion thereof

Honestly, I've been trying to find the tempest that I feel the AAP numbers deserve. I'm finding a few people trying to get it going (very, very few) and here's what I'm seeing in response:

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=6037211

Thread here about the numbers, most being carefully excited, one person saying, hey those numbers are bogus. The argument for bogosity is that not all publishers report, even fewer are reporting ebooks, Borders is in bankruptcy, etc. With the exception of the last, all of these would imply that the ebooks numbers are, if anything, low, but the argument concludes, bizarrely, the opposite of that.

On page two, someone references Dean Wesley Smith's blog. In that comments thread, someone ("Mark") mentions the AAP numbers:

"Ebooks in February were about 30% of all sales, minus textbooks."

To which Smith responds:

"Not true across the industry…yet. At the moment the number is 10% of all fiction sold is ebooks."

No sourcing, and apparently he went back and did a little checking and then produced this:

"14 is a very small number of companies that want to report. Not sure, but if Sourcebooks is one (because they do know the numbers) they would be tilting heavily the scale toward e-books. And if Harlequin reported, or any of their imprints reported, they also know how to track and are ahead of the game and thus would lean heavy toward eBooks. "

Essentially, Smith is arguing that if the 14 reporting included Sourcebooks and/or HQN, then they would be so _overwhelmingly_ digital, their fraction would swamp _all other print publishing by comparison_. Believe that? You're _fucking innumerate_.

Earlier, Smith references his wife Rusch's blog. While it is almost always painful to dig through Rusch's writing to find The Point, I did anyway.

http://kriswrites.com/2011/04/13/the-business-rusch-royalty-statements/

"Right now, some—and I must emphasize some, not all—traditional publishing houses are significantly underreporting e-book sales. In some cases these sales are off by a factor of 10 or more."

Again, how can _underreporting_ of e-book sales by some publishers result in an _overestimate_ of ebooks at the AAP level? Please? Explain? I'm sensing parity error in processing inequalities.

You can assert "10% of the market" until the cows wake you up where you're sleeping under the bridge in the 1930s with my great-aunt Abby. In 2011, it's just not true.

Meanwhile, the person on absolutewrite saying ain't gonna happen to the idea of ebooks becoming dominant in fiction, "shaldna" of "Belfast" is a Book Huffer:

"And part of that reason is that people like books. They like to hold them, they like the way they smell, they like the way they look lined up on a shelf."

ETA: Ah, finally a satisfying entry in which someone does math.

http://flythefalcon.blogspot.com/2011/04/digital-world.html