The future of the Book?

(Credit)

While I scoured my reader items for more news on the Amazon.com announcement being greatly anticipated tomorrow (September 28, 2011), I found an article written by Sam Harris, author of Letter to a Christian Nation and Lying. I can’t do justice to his article by attempting to summarize here, but early in the article he states that “audiences now expect their digital content to be free” and I take special issue with that statement.

The key word in that sentence would be “now”. I don’t necessarily agree that it is a new concept. I think the concept of “we want it free” has straddled many ages. I believe that what is now happening is that with the advent events such as price hikes for previously affordable content (read Netflix), the fall of big names in booksellers like Borders and other digital media providers like Blockbuster, added in with the new self-publishing era, the voices of the free-seekers have become louder.

The advent of the eBook

eBooks have created a larger proliferation of reading material for the average person. eBook self-publishing services such as those provided by Amazon.com, Lulu.com, Scribd.com and Wattpad.com provides a space for authors previously unpublished to get their work to the marketplace and for a far lower cost than through traditional publishing channels.

Since traditional publishers have been notoriously selective in their choices for publication, many really good writers have never been published – their work never been seen by the public. Hence, there are some really good authors emerging who self-publish at a fraction of the cost of traditional publishing.

Comparison shopping for book versions

It doesn’t help their cause when publishers charge MORE for eBook versions than print versions claiming that production of an eBook is more costly than print versions.

As a reader, I have to admit that when I go to the Amazon page for books such as 10th Anniversary (Women’s Murder Club) and note that the Kindle edition is a whole $4.80 more expensive than the paperback, I am stunned. I wonder what the publishers are thinking when they price their versions, I wonder how many people actually buy the Kindle edition at that price and I wonder what it is I am missing when I can start reading on my Kindle in under a minute or I can wait 2 −3 days and get a physical copy delivered to my front door.

Something seems wrong to me in that logic. Especially when I strongly suspect that they have to create a digital version first before sending it to be printed. How much more money does it really have to cost to produce that digital version for public consumption over and above the printing, storage and shipping costs for physical books?

Nevertheless, publishers continue to set the cost of eBook versions higher than the printed versions. And we continue to see more readers like me shying away from the “Buy now” button to wait until the book is listed on sale or on special sometime later, or it is lent to me either by my local library or a friend, shared with me via unscrupulous means or skip reading it altogether.

The real future of the book

I am one of those readers who will spend money for both the digital and printed version of a book if it has resonated with me deeply enough and I can see myself returning to read again and again.

My digital consumption of books is largely to satisfy the “must read book now” cravings and I am more likely to explore a new author or genre if the digital versions are affordable for large scale consumption. When I find that one or two gems amongst the throng that I simply MUST have, I am more likely to buy the print version if I haven’t already spent print version money (or more) on the eBook. I don’t expect to get all my eBooks for free – but at the same time, I don’t expect to be paying print costs for them either.

What do you think?

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