Posted tagged ‘e-books’

The continuing story of e-books

December 27, 2009

According to the latest information released by online book retailer Amazon, this Christmas, for the first time, e-books out-sold hard copy (i.e. paper) books. The company’s e-book reader, the Kindle, is now more likely to contain a customer’s book collection than a bookcase or a set of shelves on the wall. This raises a number of questions, but perhaps some of the more interesting ones include what this will do to book prices, how writers and publishers will be affected, and what kind of ‘market’ this will turn into.

Take this example. If you would like to buy Colm Toibin’s latest book, Brooklyn, then on Amazon you can get the paper edition for $16.50. But if you go for the e-book (Kindle) version, you will have to pay $13.79. So you’ll get the electronic version at a lower price, but low enough? If you’ve just got the Kindle, and you are full of admiration for your new toy, maybe you won’t think that price too bad. But let us say you’ve had the device for six months, and you start wondering about what this money is paying for, and in particular that neither the publisher nor Amazon have to create and then ship anything of material value to you, then you may start thinking that the price is too high.

In fact, it appears that many customers regard $9.99 as the top price that would be acceptable for an e-book – and I’ll bet my first edition of Dickens’ Bleak House that in another two years or so that price elasticity will have slipped further and the limit will be $4.99. And between now and then you’ll have publishers and agents and Amazon itself arguing about copyright and older titles and heaven knows what else, and before you know it the whole publishing industry will be plagued by piracy and other such stuff.

There is also a rumour that Apple is about to enter this market – wait for an updated version of iTunes with book content for your iPodReader or whatever.

There will be interesting times ahead. E-book readers are here to stay. And e-books provide opportunities for publishing and distribution that could rattle the cages of the large publishing houses and open up some real competition. Let us hope that this is how it will develop.

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The Kindle in Ireland (and Europe) – a PS

March 5, 2009

Postscript, October 2009

As this post gets a lot of readers, it may be worth noting here that the position has changed since I wrote it, and that the Amazon Kindle is now available to Irish (and European) customers. You can see the details in my more recent post, here. Furthermore, in another more recent post I have also speculated on the arrival of Apple in the ebook reader market.

And January 2010

Amazon has just announced that the larger screen Kindle DX will be available from January 19, 2010, to non-US customers also. And Apple has unveiled its ‘iPad’ device, which will also be an e-book reader (amongst many other things – more details here).

The original post

Following on from my post of yesterday about the Amazon Kindle, it occurs to me that I should add a couple of words about using it in Ireland (a topic I have addressed before, but a while ago). The Kindle is sold on Amazon’s US website, and they will only deliver it to a US address. So in order to buy one, you need to have an American address which you can use for these purposes. There are commercial services that provide addresses and mail forwarding, for relatively little money.

Once you have the Kindle, you cannot in Ireland use the ‘whispernet’ wireless technology; this essentially uses mobile phone networks to provide direct access to Amazon’s online Kindle shop, and allows you to browse the shop and make purchases, which are then directly downloaded to your device. But not outside the US. The first generation Kindle used the standard US mobile network technology which doesn’t work outside North America at all. As far as I can tell, the new Kindle uses G3 access, but it does not appear to allow roaming, so again it doesn’t work here.

There is a workaround. As a Kindle customer, you can choose to download books from the Amazon store to your computer (and this you can do here), and then transfer the files (i.e. the e-books) to your Kindle via the USB cable. The only snag is that in order to do so you need to be using both a US address (but if you have the Kindle you’ve already got that, presumably) and US payment methods. Until recently I thought that required a US credit card, but a reader of this blog kindly drew my attention to the fact that an Amazon gift card will do the trick, and you can buy these online with your Irish (or whatever) credit card.

Phew! Seems like way too much trouble? Perhaps. Maybe the Sony device (which is somewhat more basic, but which does work in Ireland) is a better choice? Perhaps – but not if (like me) you’re a Macintosh user – it only works with Windows. And there is one other bright spot. Thousands and thousands of books, including pretty much anything out of copyright (i.e. all the classics) can be got free from various websites, in Amazon Kindle format. And you can also (although again this requires a workaround) transfer any pdf document to the Kindle.

In praise of small bookshops

August 14, 2008

As readers of this blog will know, I have recently purchased and am using an Amazon Kindle e-book reader – despite the difficulties facing those trying to do so from an address outside the United States. However, while on my recent visit to the US (now concluded) I also took the time to visit several bookshops. I browsed in the usual Borders and Barnes & Noble book superstores, but my favourite shop on this occasion was a small bookstore called Indigo Books, close to Kiawah Island in South Carolina. It is, when compared with Borders, a very small shop, but it has a wonderful range of interesting books, with fiction veering more towards the literary, and some interesting history books, and other books with a local dimension. The owners are extremely pleasant and helpful, and I hope my custom repaid their good service.

In fact, I have a particular liking for small bookshops. There is another such shop in Mullingar, for example, with a similarly interesting collection of books and very helpful service. I find that when visiting such shops I invariably walk out with several purchases, whereas I can go to Borders, or Waterstones, and buy nothing.In fact, if I want to buy a book from a source with huge resources and choices, I will usually now go online to Amazon – where in terms of bulk I now buy most of my books.

So what is it that attracts me to little bookshops? Not the small size per se – I am not a particular fan of small shops generally, and find myself attracted to the big stores with the mega choices. But it’s different with books. What we read is something quite personal, something that tells us something about ourselves and how we relate to the community. And a small bookshop, run by someone who has an obvious passion for reading, makes that link to the community in a particularly satisfying way.

So wherever I go, if I see a small bookshop and if I have a few minutes, you’ll find me in there. And I shall almost never leave bearing the same aggregate weight. And while I hope that internet retailing continues to thrive, I shall always do what I can to support the small bookseller, and I hope others will, too.

The Amazon Kindle – some first thoughts

August 6, 2008

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have recently taken possession of an Amazon Kindle e-book reader. Initially it arrived with me while I was still in Ireland, and so it is worth mentioning a significant limitation for all non-US users: its functionality is severely limited outside America. In particular, it cannot be used to download e-books from the Amazon Kindle store online; that can only be done in the US and if you are using a US credit card with a US address. Therefore if you have no access to such a payment method, the only e-books you will be able to instal on the device are free ones with an Amazon Kindle format, or with a compatible non-Kindle format (mainly non-secure Mobipocket). Or to be more precise, you will be downloading only the classics or similar books, which can be found easily enough for free. For example, I downloaded the complete works of Shakespeare and pretty much all of the novels by Charles Dickens.

As I am currently in the US for a few days, I have been able to expand the functionality significantly. Using my American credit card I have now been able to stock up the device with recent releases and other books of interest, so that I should have enough to read for quite some time. My downloads have included two novels by Anita Shreve and one by Sue Miller, a book on modern European history and another on science and religion.

As for using the Kindle to read, on the whole my experience is positive. On the plane I read about two hundred pages of a novel by Anthony Trollope (Phineas Finn), and didn’t find the method of reading too irritating. One small gripe: you ‘turn the pages’ by pressing a bar on the right of the screen, and I have found that it is easy to make a careless movement and move the page on before you are ready; you then have to turn back, which requires you to push a smaller bar on the left. But the ‘page’ looks good, and the print is easy to read.

But despite this on the whole positive experience, I cannot say that it altogether ‘feels’ the same as reading a book on paper. The aesthetic pleasure of holding the book, feeling its texture and turning its pages is still somehow special, and is not really replicated totally on the Kindle. I suspect that in future releases the device will become thinner, and more imaginative ways still will be found to create a ‘cover’ that gives it more of a book’s look and feel. But it is not a bad start all the same, and I don’t regret the purchase. Why the Kindle hasn’t been released in Europe beats me, or why European users of the current model released in America are so restricted; maybe that can be addressed soon by Amazon.

So would I recommend the Kindle? Yes, I think I would. But I would suggest that it is used as a back-up for situations where taking hard copy books is not an easy option, rather than as the primary method of reading. And of course, there are other e-book readers out there, some more easily available outside the US.

The future of books

July 22, 2008

I confess I am a gadget freak. If there’s a new gadget, I feel I absolutely need it. Put an iPhone on sale, and I’m in the line to get it. New and better satellite navigation? Let me have it! An electronic corkscrew? Absolutely! So for a while I have been eyeing up e-book readers, and oddly enough I still haven’t made a purchase, despite on the whole wanting to. How convenient to be able to bring the entire collection of Dickens novels, Shakespeare plays, books on university leadership and poetry anthologies on to the plane with me!

So I look at eBay offers, Amazon reviews of the Kindle (not yet for sale in these parts anyway), Sony devices and so forth. But I don’t buy. Even for me, there is something about books in their paper version that still attracts me. There is something satisfying about putting the paper bookmark in the pages as you close the book, that even the best electronic memory cannot match. And if you’re that way inclined, something beautiful and sensual about a leather cover of an antique book.

Sooner or later I know I shall buy an e-book reader. But I bet any amount of money that, in 10 years time, I shall still be buying paper-based books, admiring them, and reading them. Even in this age of fast-paced technology, some things will stay the same.