Are eBooks and Hardbacks the same product?

REMINDER: I’ll be posting the compiled story of “Baby You Just Got Slapped” on Friday at 12pm. That means you have less than 24 hours to make your continuation of the story. Don’t be shy, keep the story going. Thanks!

—————————–

The recent DOJ filing against Apple and five publishers is garnering a lot of negative reaction from the publishing community. Three of the five publishers involved chose to settle, others chose to fight, but the opponent they’re all talking about is not the DOJ, but Amazon.

As I discussed last month the Amazon pricing model of encouraging prices between $2.99 – $9.99 is seen by some as predatory pricing. Amazon sells eBooks at a loss in order to gain market share, then at some date when they have cornered the market they can set whatever price they want. Apple, on the other hand chose the agency models, which allowed publishers to set the price and prevented other places from selling the book at a discount. One of the comments on these stories said that this method uses eBooks to subsidize the print publishing industry, which I think speaks to a larger question.

Are eBooks and printed books the same product?

It’s obvious that eBooks have had an impact on print sales, the closing of Borders being one of many examples. But just because eBooks are taking market share away from their paper cousins, does that mean they are part of the same market?

When people talk about their love of the printed word it’s in the heirloom sense. I love the smell of the pages, the tactile feel of the object in my hands, writing notes in the margins, and even passing down treasured books. After all, a printed book is a thing that can last for hundreds of years. Even non-collectors probably have a book or two in their collection that is at least 50 years old, before eBooks were a twinkle in anyone’s eye.

eBooks, on the other hand, are a digital format. Some formats have persisted for decades, believe it or not the CD was first on the scene in 1982, and DVDs have been prevalent since 1997. Still, most technology becomes obsolete within a few years, and certainly within one’s lifetime. I have a fairly extensive digital library, and I take steps to update and convert it to new formats, but something in me doubts that a book I buy from Amazon will last my whole life. Additionally, eBooks have no resale value. A book on my shelf is worth something to me if I take it down to Half Price Books.

But the most important thing to understand about eBooks is that they are a different technology. The printed word has been a method of conveying knowledge and fantasy for centuries. eBooks are not the same thing. Some are just text, but at a minimum most Amazon Kindle books are also an audiobook with Text-to-speech technology. eBooks contain links which can take you out onto the web, or function as an app.

Take a pop-up book for example. You pull a tab, and something springs up from the page. eBooks can do that and more. Readers can interact with the story in ways that were never before possible. An eBook is a webpage, a CD, an app and a book all rolled into one. A printed book is something you can interact with wherever you are, without paying for data plans. It’s something you can pass on to your grandchildren, and it ages with you.

Maybe books and eBooks used to be the same thing, but they aren’t anymore. The publishing industry is evolving. eBooks provide a way for independent authors to get stories out directly, for people to carry entire libraries with them at a time, and for new ways of creating. Physical books need to evolve too. Maybe *gasp* not every author is worth having a persistent object made for them. I want to see my books in print, to have that heirloom for myself, but I don’t really care how people read me, as long as they read me.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Internal Debate 42, Trube On Tech

2 responses to “Are eBooks and Hardbacks the same product?

  1. It’s like you were perusing my brain while you were writing this. Your last sentence says it all. 😉

    • Thanks Mel! Definitely 5 years ago, or even 2 I would have been much more reluctant to give up the dream of a printed book. But in some ways, embracing the new offers me ways to interact with readers that were not possible before.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s