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Old 01-13-2008, 08:05 PM   #1
SpiderMatt
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Hardcover cheaper than the ebook. What's the role of ebooks?

NOTE: Sorry if this isn't where this post belongs, but it didn't really belong in any of the other categories.

After seeing the movie Juno twice (it's quite a good movie and I recommend you see it if you enjoy quirky humor and unique stories) I decided to get a closer look at Diablo Cody's story-telling ability by picking up her book Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. Right now I'm deployed to the Middle East with the navy and the only access I have to the internet is on a government computer. The base network blocks tons of sites and doesn't allow me to install any software. So it's difficult for me to purchase any ebook that I can ultimately reformat for my Sony Reader. As a result, I decided to check out Amazon and found a hardcover copy listed as “new” on Amazon Marketplace for only $5.89. After the $3.99 I paid for shipping, my total cost came to $9.88. Interested in what the Kindle copy was going for, I clicked on the Kindle link and found it listed for the “bestseller” price of $9.99. So I got the physical, hardcover copy for 11 cents cheaper than Amazon's digital copy. I also paid $1.32 less than the Connect store price and $2.02 cheaper than the Fictionwise price. This begs the question: what is the role of ebooks?

I see ebooks as having three major advantages to physical copies: price (they're cheaper to produce, thus they should be cheaper to purchase), expediency (get the book in “under a minute” as Amazon likes to advertise for the Kindle), and convenience (carry tons of books on a single device, a device that may even be lighter than the p-book—think Harry Potter). Now, were I not deployed right now, I would probably have procured myself a free digital copy of the book seeing as how I've already purchased it and it's not illegal for me to have a backup of something I own on my computer. So which of these three ebook advantages are actually relevant? I'd argue that price is not only the most important, but possibly the only relevant advantage to digital books.

If I can legally have a digital copy of the book I own, why would I only want the digital copy unless I could get it at the fraction of the price I pay for the physical book? I like having physical books because I like having a nice, physical collection that I will one day turn into a personal library. I don't always like carrying the books around with me, though. I like having tons of books a single device that is easy to bring with me anywhere, versus a large hardcover book (which is good to have with me here since I can't bring personal electronics into classified spaces—but that is the only reason to have a p-book on hand and only applies to me for as long as I'm in the military). So I get the expediency and convenience from a free digital backup* (unless you find it amoral to get the digital copy before your physical copy has arrived in the mail, in which case you still have the convenience).

Secondhand books will always be around and will usually be cheap. I'm willing to spend a buck to two more for a physical copy, as well. I'm not shunning the ebook market, though. I desperately desire a more competitive ebook market, but so far the only advantage they seem to have for someone like me is that brand new books will probably be cheaper until the secondhanders procure enough copies themselves. I realize I've raised some moral questions here because some people may not think they should download digital copies on the “darknet” to accompany their physical editions. Regardless, I have come to see ebooks as a counterpart to p-books. Some of you might not see any reason to have p-books at all, but personally, I love ‘em. Do any of you think publishers should treat ebooks not only as their own market, but as accompanying products to physical books? I can't even count all the times I have used digital editions of p-books I own for school work, other research, quote-finding, etc. I have found them to be quite useful and they would be a great resource, especially for students. I wish publishing companies weren't so paranoid and would supply digital copies with my p-books. It would be so easy with today's technology to tack in a tiny chip at the end of the book. Or maybe scan the barcode into the computer (which could be too easy to steal) or have a code on receipts. Even if it was only available for books ordered over the Internet, it would still be better than offering no digital copies at all with any p-book.

I guess I should sum up my view of the role of ebooks. I think ebooks should mostly be digital accompaniments to physical books. The ebook market should consist of cheap digital copies of books for anyone who is interested in making a quick read of a book but isn't too interested in keeping it for years to come (much like the dime novel industry of old). So what do you think? Chime in.

As a side note, how many of you would be interested in a subscription service for books similar to Napster or Real Rhapsody? You could read all the books you want so long as you keep up your subscription. It would be like a library that you paid to use. Why should this only work for movies (see Netflix and Blockbuster, which are the same idea except with physical copies) and music?


*I find little difference between scanning the book yourself and using other means (why waste my time if someone else has done the work).

Last edited by SpiderMatt; 01-14-2008 at 04:11 PM.
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Old 01-14-2008, 01:41 AM   #2
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I guess I should sum up my view of the role of ebooks. I think ebooks should mostly be digital accompaniments to physical books. The ebook market should consist of cheap digital copies of books for anyone who is interested in making a quick read of a book but isn't too interested in keeping it for years to come (much like the dime novel industry of old). So what do you think? Chime in.

As a side note, how many of you would be interested in a subscription service for books similar to Napster or Real Rhapsody? You could read all the books you want so long as you keep up your subscription. It would be like a library that you paid to use. Why should this only work for movies (see Netflix and Blockbuster, which are the same idea except with physical copies) and music?


*I find little difference between scanning the book yourself and using other means (why waste my time if someone else has done the work).

Regarding point one, I cannot say I have a definitive view; it depends on price, availability, format...; I sort of go with whatever works for me when I want to read a book; the only essential point is to have the ability to read whenever and wherever I want, so no (non-convertible) drm for me in e-books

Regarding point two, again it will depend on details (price, what's in, what terms regarding number of books, duration of availability, what format...); until then I could not really say
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Old 01-14-2008, 11:00 AM   #3
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You can look at the extra cost as a way to have instantaneous access to the book. How long will it take the shipped book to arrive? I would estimate it will be weeks since you are overseas, depending on mail volume.

I do agree with you that the cost of ebooks to the consumer should be less than the cost of pbooks, paper or hardcover.
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Old 01-14-2008, 12:16 PM   #4
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For me an eBook permits me to carry lots of books I would otherwise not have with me. This is a different reading experience and it unrelated to paper books. For example, this weekend I happened to have me eBook reader along on a visit with my family. I was using it to read my current eBook but my grandson climbed up on my lap and asked me to read him a story. I switched instantly to one of several children's books I had previously loaded and off we went. Try that with a paper book.

I also have a few reference books and other books loaded which allows easy use in the same small package for all sorts of contingencies. I have a Bible always and many other eBooks.

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Old 01-14-2008, 12:23 PM   #5
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I do agree with you that the cost of ebooks to the consumer should be less than the cost of pbooks, paper or hardcover.
I agree too, but this particular example isn't usual. The book in question was bought from a marketplace seller, meaning it's either used or a remainder copy. The Kindle edition is the same price Amazon sells the remainder book for & cheaper than the book in PB costs new & discounted from Amazon.

You'll probably always be able to buy a used or remainder copy for less than an ebook, which is going to have its price based on the current new paper version from the publisher in most cases.
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Old 01-14-2008, 01:31 PM   #6
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I've been suggesting a subscription book service ever since I joined this group. And the Kindle is uniquely positioned to operate this way (remote load/delete from a large distributer). But I don't see any indications of such a service incubating today.

And what role should local public libraries play in that? Should they pay for "x" active copies of an e-book to be loaned out to library members for a limited length of time, like a DIVX movie? They would be poised to economically ruin any commercial subscription scheme. Public libraries probably do need to play a role in e-book commerce, no?
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Old 01-14-2008, 01:40 PM   #7
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I've been suggesting a subscription book service ever since I joined this group. And the Kindle is uniquely positioned to operate this way (remote load/delete from a large distributer). But I don't see any indications of such a service incubating today.

And what role should local public libraries play in that? Should they pay for "x" active copies of an e-book to be loaned out to library members for a limited length of time, like a DIVX movie? They would be poised to economically ruin any commercial subscription scheme. Public libraries probably do need to play a role in e-book commerce, no?
Libraries do this already. At least some do.

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Old 01-14-2008, 05:00 PM   #8
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You can look at the extra cost as a way to have instantaneous access to the book.
I could understand adding on a price for this service, but buying the whole book a second time just to get it immediately? That's a steep price to pay. I would maybe pay a dollar or two for this service.

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You'll probably always be able to buy a used or remainder copy for less than an ebook, which is going to have its price based on the current new paper version from the publisher in most cases.
But is this right? Is a used p-book really worth less than an ebook? I don't think so. I'd almost always prefer to buy a used p-book provided it's not in terrible condition.

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Public libraries probably do need to play a role in e-book commerce, no?
As a libertarian, I don't agree with most public services, haha. As long as our tax dollars are paying for it, though, I definitely think that libraries should have a more extensive role in this area. DaleDe is right when he says some libraries offer this service already, but I haven't seen any with an extensive selection of ebooks. The only one I've actually had access to (a navy OverDrive account) has a paltry selection of ebooks at best (though it has quite a good selection of audio books). Plus, libraries only allow so many copies of a book to be active at any time, as you mentioned. A subscription service would probably have to let people get any book offered at any time if it were to stay competitive.
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Old 01-14-2008, 05:14 PM   #9
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But is this right? Is a used p-book really worth less than an ebook? I don't think so. I'd almost always prefer to buy a used p-book provided it's not in terrible condition.
That's up to the individual. The market will decide I suppose. For me I'm willing to pay PB price or less for ebooks even though I can sometimes get it cheaper as a used pbook. I simply have no more room for pbooks (over 2,000 on the shelves right now) and really need to lower the number of pbooks I have. When we get to the HC priced ebooks there are a few authors I'll buy depending on the actual price.
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Old 01-14-2008, 05:21 PM   #10
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I've been suggesting a subscription book service ever since I joined this group. And the Kindle is uniquely positioned to operate this way (remote load/delete from a large distributer). But I don't see any indications of such a service incubating today.
Subscription services start with very powerful disadvantages so there need to be strong incentives for them; also the e-book content is simply not there right now for Amazon; maybe when Google digitizes everything that will change...

Amazon is clearly positioning itself in the e-book space as is Sony, but I think that neither is willing to take major risks right now considering the history of commercial e-books
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Old 01-15-2008, 12:38 AM   #11
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To me it is the content that we pay for, the delivery method may be electronic, on paper, electronic on a disk, what ever. Having it in electronic form is an advantage. Is it worth more than the paper copy? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Most times it just depends.
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Old 01-15-2008, 01:20 AM   #12
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I would have to say that an electronic copy (without DRM), provided it's made with the same production values as a paper copy, is worth much more. It's far more useful, portable, durable, accessible and storage friendly.
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Old 01-15-2008, 06:58 AM   #13
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I would have to say that an electronic copy (without DRM), provided it's made with the same production values as a paper copy, is worth much more. It's far more useful, portable, durable, accessible and storage friendly.
I think it depends on what you want to do with the book. I would like to have a lot of books just to be able to search in them and not for reading or rereading them. But I am not willing to pay so much for just being able to search books.
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Old 01-16-2008, 07:51 AM   #14
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Subscription services start with very powerful disadvantages so there need to be strong incentives for them; also the e-book content is simply not there right now for Amazon; maybe when Google digitizes everything that will change...
Google would certainly be in a better position to offer such a service in the future (provided they figure out how to get their content to work with e-readers). But you don't think Amazon has enough content to lure in subscription customers? I'd say 97,359 ebooks and counting should be a good starting point. The only problem I see is that I don't think many people reread a large number of their books. So if people could get a subscription service, fewer people might actually be purchasing ebooks. That could certainly hurt profits (but I imagine the $9.99 price for new books isn't doing wonders for them at the moment, either).

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I would have to say that an electronic copy (without DRM), provided it's made with the same production values as a paper copy, is worth much more. It's far more useful, portable, durable, accessible and storage friendly.
It doesn't really cost anything to duplicate a digital copy, though. In that sense, a digital copy isn't worth more at all. Granted, the individual person needs to decide what it is worth to him, but if by owning a p-book I can make my own digital copy, there's little incentive to pay the full price of a p-book without a physical product to show for it. I think that's my main issue with where ebooks are right now. If I own a p-book, it's legal for me to get or make my own digital copy without purchasing it through a vendor. This might take some more effort on my part, but I still get the advantages of an ebook (without DRM, even) and have a physical product to show for the money I put into it. I think publishers should team up with Google Books and/or a similar project and find a way to offer people access to digital copies of books they already own. That would be phenomenal.

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I am not willing to pay so much for just being able to search books.
Ditto.
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Old 01-16-2008, 10:50 AM   #15
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I would have to say that an electronic copy (without DRM), provided it's made with the same production values as a paper copy, is worth much more. It's far more useful, portable, durable, accessible and storage friendly.
Kovid, you are correct for as far as you go. if the only value a book has to you is in the here and now, then you are correct. If, however, a book has value to you in other senses, then you are incorrect.

Consider this: would you rather own (and own is the key word here) an ebook version of the Gutenberg Bible or the pbook version? Or a signed first edition pbook of a Hemingway novel or the ebook version of the same book?

And forgetting the obvious collector's editions above, would you want your children to consider a book as a disposable item? After all, the foundation of knowledge and learning is the book (and I'm not discounting the value of the Internet in expanding it), and I want my children and grandchildren to understand the value of that foundation, even as they build on it and move toward the ephemeral version represented by the ebook.

In my house, I banned my children from only reading books online; they were required to make biweekly trips to the local bookstore with me to purchase books to read and for their library. This taught them several things, not the least of which was the value of books as learning tools and as reference material, lessons they were able to apply in their school years.

I would finally note that not all knowledge sources are available in ebook fashion (i.e., digitized in the broader sense, not just in relation to our readers) and for researchers -- historians, archaeologists, etc. -- there is no substitute for the original item. Consequently, knowing how to use pbooks is an important skill.

Consequently, as much as I think ebooks are great -- especially for fiction that will be long forgotten in a month -- I think pbooks have a value far greater than ebooks will ever attain. Besides, who ever heard of a collection of first edition ebooks being auction by Christies for millions of dollars?
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