Journal: News & Comment

Tuesday, October 28, 2003
# 8:47:00 AM:

Resurrecting e-books

Permalinks to this entry: individual page or in monthly context. For more material from my journal, visit my home page or the archive.

Recently, TidBITS Electronic Publishing, which has put out a free weekly Mac-focused newsletter since 1990, started a new series of e-books called "Take Control." Its first two titles are relatively short (about 50 pages) and have sold more than 3000 copies in total, at $5 USD apiece, since Friday. While the initial download is a password-protected compressed archive, the unpacked file is a regular old PDF you can read on nearly any computer or handheld.

The success of the first two Take Control books demonstrates, I think, why major publishers' attempts at selling e-books are failing, and why, for instance, Barnes & Noble has stopped selling them in the States: until now, they've generally been too expensive and too restrictive.

I recall being astounded when first reading about mainstream books being available electronically, because the publishers were charging the same kind of money (maybe trivially less, sometimes more given bookstore or online discounts) as for printed versions. Although I understand that there are many fixed costs in the release of a major novel or non-fiction work, it just seemed spiteful not to pass the savings in printing, distributing, and remaindering all that paper on to purchasers—especially for technical books, whose lifespans are so short.

Plus many e-books required proprietary software that made it difficult to move them from one device to another, even for clearly fair-use reasons, such as buying an e-book on a desktop machine and moving it to a laptop or handheld for actual reading or printing out, or loaning it to a friend—something I've always done with paper books anyway. So I, despite being a techie early-adopter type who loves the idea in principle, have never bought a single e-book.

It's the same kind of bad business reasoning that crippled the record labels' first online purchasing systems. People won't generally pay the same amount of money (or more!) for an electronic download as for a physical product, especially if that download is less flexible than what they're used to with the older, proven style.

So I think TidBITS is taking the right approach: sell more e-books by making them inexpensive, worthwhile, and easy to read and move around on nearly any electronic device. It shows who's boss. (Hint: not the e-book publisher.)


Journal Archive »

Template BBEdited on 29-Apr-2010

Site problems? Gripes? Angst? - e-mail
Site contents © 1997–2007 by Derek K. Miller

You may use content from this site non-commercially if you give me credit, under the terms of my Creative Commons license.

eXTReMe Tracker