View Full Version : Fiction in the Age of E-Books


Nate the great
04-14-2010, 09:13 AM
crossposted from The Digital Reader (http://www.the-digital-reader.com/)

The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/) just posted an interview of Paul Theroux (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/08/fiction-in-the-age-of-ebooks/8041), and like most all of his work it’s worth reading at least twice. Here is the intro:

For better or for worse, the age of the e-book is upon us. Analysts estimate Americans will buy on the order of 6 million e-readers this year—and by 2014, an estimated 32 million people will own one. What does the proliferation of Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and other e-readers portend for the publishing industry? What does the e-reader mean for writers, for storytelling, for the place of fiction in the cultural landscape? We put these and other questions to Paul Theroux, who published his first Atlantic short story, “Two in the Bush,” in 1968 and his eighth, “Siamese Nights,” this past February, as part of The Atlantic’s Fiction for Kindle project. (These questions will also be the focus of a panel discussion featuring Theroux, Richard Bausch, and other writers at the Luminato festival in Toronto, on June 19.)

continued here (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/08/fiction-in-the-age-of-ebooks/8041)

asperger
04-14-2010, 10:31 AM
"Analysts estimate Americans will buy on the order of 6 million e-readers this year"

Flashback to 1975, Dahl sold over 5 million of his pet rocks in a six month period. :)

I don't think there is a significant market for dedicated devices, and doubt very much that "by 2014, an estimated 32 million people will own one"; 32 million world wide perhaps, but not 32 million Americans.

Also, if the analysts were talking about devices that have the functionality to read e-books, we're well past that mark already and it's passing has not been marked by 'an e-book age' of any significance.

jxh11215
04-14-2010, 11:35 AM
Well, that article was a ray of sunshine....

SensualPoet
04-14-2010, 07:48 PM
I loved the final tidbit of advice to young writers: "Leave home."

TallMomof2
04-14-2010, 08:14 PM
I still have my pet rock.

ChrisC333
04-14-2010, 10:16 PM
Well, that article was a ray of sunshine....
:D

I'd like Paul Theroux more if he could lose the snobby attitude and get over his apparent self-dislike. Still, he's made a career out of trying to run away from himself and writing somewhat gloomy accounts of the journeys, so I guess it works for him. :cool:


For better or for worse, the age of the e-book is upon us. Analysts estimate Americans will buy on the order of 6 million e-readers this year—and by 2014, an estimated 32 million people will own one. What does the proliferation of Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and other e-readers portend for the publishing industry? What does the e-reader mean for writers, for storytelling, for the place of fiction in the cultural landscape?

I think that most commentaries and predictions about e-reading take too narrow a view, and thereby miss the point - which is that “e-reading” is not just about fiction books.

Like many others, I’ve been reading electronically for well over 20 years. Reading is not just about novels and perceived literary merit, it’s about a very wide range of communications in written form. Both fiction and non-fiction reading come in a huge range of sizes and flavours and by far the most common overall e-reading method is still the computer. I’d suggest that it leads by a massive margin too.

The Nooks, Kindles, etc are fun devices, but compared to computers they’re dull grey-on-grey little plastic gizmos with annoying restrictions. Selling them as being a ‘book-like’ experience is quite a marketing triumph.

As netbooks and tablet style computers get even lighter and more powerful it seems reasonable to believe that they will simply consolidate the massive lead that regular computers already have on overall e-reading. I certainly want to have a comfortable book reading experience, but I also want to be able to read PDFs, illustrated books, blogs, forums, online newspapers and magazines, guides and manuals, as well as view material with audio and video content. Plus, I want to be able to write and generally interact using it. That’s my day to day world and I’m 63. To most young people it’s more or less a given that they expect that kind of versatility.

My guess is that if e-ink readers don’t massively lift their game in the next couple of years then they will be permanently sidelined into a small niche market of buyers who can’t hack backlit screens or who just want the cheapest thing available. The iPad may or may not rule the roost (although a claimed 500,000 in the first week or so sounds like a reasonable start) but tablet style computers in general surely will. I currently have a 10” netbook and a 12” HP tablet style computer and they already do a terrific job of covering all my reading needs at a size and weight that I find very comfortable.

I may well be wrong, but I don’t see literary style fiction being powerful enough to continue to drive a flourishing separate device market for much longer. Not when there’s a broader and more versatile option developing alongside which has already nibbled away most of the claimed size/weight advantages of the e-ink candidates.

Cheers,

Chris

Goshzilla
04-15-2010, 06:31 PM
I'd like to have seen some good stats in that article, at least a table showing yearly sales of ebook readers.

I went and checked the idpf.org site, and they have some statistics on yearly sales of ebooks, and from the time series model I fit on it, the predictions for 2010 quarterly sales are:
fit upr lwr
2010 Q1 65.11370 68.62323 61.60418
2010 Q2 74.26938 81.79566 66.74309
2010 Q3 83.27929 95.64092 70.91767
2010 Q4 92.69493 110.60125 74.78861

So being conservative, 2010 end of year sales would be at around 74.7 million u.s. dollars, and that is not including international sales b.t.w.

ChrisC333
04-15-2010, 09:02 PM
Interesting stats Goshzilla.

I'd be even more intrigued to know what the stats are for the devices that those books will be read on.

For instance, if the iPad has sold over half a million in a few days, at a minimum price of $499 then that's $250 million+ on its own for the hardware. I forget the figure they claim for book downloads already, but it's also substantial.

Some of the dedicated e-book readers currently on offer quite frankly seem like overpriced toys with annoying restrictions, limited functionality, and fairly low chance of long term success. Yet I'd guess there's a good chance that some will lift their game sufficiently to carve out a reasonable enough market share to survive. So it would be interesting to know what sort of figures the various candidates are getting now.

Would anybody care to hazard a guess as to what brands of e-reader will be still doing well in 5 years time, or how they will have changed? :D

Goshzilla
04-15-2010, 09:30 PM
If we can find quarterly sales data for dedicated ebook readers that goes from 2002 up to present, that would be a good start. The model I used was rather limited, it was missing many factors in it, which we might be able to improve by finding

1.) Quarterly info on the new ebook reading devices released.
2.) Quarterly info on the ebook reading devices sold.

I imagine those two variables are linked strongly to ebook sales, so it would be great to find such info. I just don't know how feasible it would be, since companies don't like to give away their sales info unless it makes good press, and it would have to be trackable each quarter of a year from 2002 to 2009.

Greenkeeper
04-16-2010, 11:58 AM
I can't see eReaders lasting too long if they don't substantially lower their price. A Nook or Kindle is still over $200. For that much I can easily get a smartphone or even a cheap netbook with much more functionality and features that will still let me read eBooks. Unless I just underestimate the market's love for their eReaders I see tablets and netbooks taking over in the not too distant future.

Fat Abe
04-16-2010, 03:51 PM
There is another statistic we need: Library pbook vs. ebook borrowing rates. It would not shock me to discover a 10 fold increase in the latter in the next two years, due to Sony, Kindle, Apple, Nook, and good old-fashioned PC usage. This is the cheapest way to discover modern fiction, without even stepping into a library or book store.

What's the magic ereader price point for mass market penetration? Maybe $99.

Goshzilla
04-16-2010, 04:10 PM
There is another statistic we need: Library pbook vs. ebook borrowing rates. It would not shock me to discover a 10 fold increase in the latter in the next two years, due to Sony, Kindle, Apple, Nook, and good old-fashioned PC usage. This is the cheapest way to discover modern fiction, without even stepping into a library or book store.

What's the magic ereader price point for mass market penetration? Maybe $99.

$99 might be a good start, but I think giving consumers an ability to transfer their paper books into digital format without having to repurchase at full cost, would really seal the fate of paper books. Copyright laws mixed with the interests of publishers and authors though would make this an impossibility.

GhostHawk
04-17-2010, 09:28 AM
Goshzilla, Jetbook lite recently hit the 99$ price point in a newegg special.

Granted to get the most out of that you would have to add an SD card, and rechargeable batterys. But still by far the lowest price of the readers. And reads an amazing variety of formats.

Elvira
04-17-2010, 10:13 AM
$99 would be so good!!! I couldn't wait and I had to have a Kindle...but I wish I was more patient so that I would have had a chance to see the less expensive versions that will be coming out. I've read that the Kobo reader will be relatively inexpensive as well:

http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2010/03/24/kobo-ebook-reader-indigo.html

ahavoc
04-20-2010, 02:22 PM
[QUOTE=ChrisC333;871584]:D

I'd like Paul Theroux more if he could lose the snobby attitude and get over his apparent self-dislike. Still, he's made a career out of trying to run away from himself and writing somewhat gloomy accounts of the journeys, so I guess it works for him. :cool:




Wow! There's a review for you. I totally disagree, in fact, I think Dark Star Safari is a must read book for everyone. I don't get any snobbish message, nor a self-dislike, more of an acceptance of his own humanity and non-self-importance while seeing the world through memory and actuality. But that's what's so great about books, no?

ChrisC333
04-20-2010, 08:06 PM
[QUOTE=ChrisC333;871584]:D

I'd like Paul Theroux more if he could lose the snobby attitude and get over his apparent self-dislike. Still, he's made a career out of trying to run away from himself and writing somewhat gloomy accounts of the journeys, so I guess it works for him. :cool:




Wow! There's a review for you. I totally disagree, in fact, I think Dark Star Safari is a must read book for everyone. I don't get any snobbish message, nor a self-dislike, more of an acceptance of his own humanity and non-self-importance while seeing the world through memory and actuality. But that's what's so great about books, no?

I agree with you that diversity of opinion is great. :)

In fact that's where my accusation of "snobbery" came from - not from reading his books, but from his blanket dismissal (in the linked article) of anybody who doesn't share his idea of what reading should be. For example he refers to the "philistinism" rampant in American cities. In my view, calling people philistines because they don't share your tastes is about as definitively snobby as it comes. ;) He seems to think that his "literary" attitude is the only one that counts and all else is trash. He describes reading fiction as something that is done only by a very small minority, which just isn't true. Thrillers and whodunnits are fiction, romances are fiction, so are comics - they just don't happen to be the sort of fiction written by those that he mentions in his literary name dropping in the interview.


The "self-dislike" idea is also taken straight from his own words in some of his books. The interviewer in the linked article says directly to Theroux that his writing is well known for "for its misanthropic view of the world". So I'm hardly alone in thinking that he has a gloomy side, and that he sometimes plays on his own self doubts, disappointments with own performance, etc. It's not at all uncommon in the world of writing, or comedy for that matter.

So when I said "I'd like Paul Theroux more if...." I mean exactly that. I don't mean I hate the guy, just that there are some parts of the package that I'm not that keen on. My guess is that he really wants to be thought of as a big deal 'literary name' (like the ones he drops) and it bugs him that a lot of people (if they know him at all) bracket him as 'Travel Writer', which doesn't quite have the same ring about it.

I admire his writing enough to have bought four of his books, and to still fondly quote some of his passages and anecdotes. But that underlying "misanthropic view of the world" was enough to make me stop at that. I mostly prefer my reading a bit more upbeat these days. :cool:

Cheers,

Chris