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The end of 'real' books?

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I came across a really good blog called 'A Newbie's Guide to Publishing'.

The Beginning of the End?

Dorchester just announced it is cutting its mass market paperback line and focusing on ebooks.

A few months ago, Medallion announced the same thing.

I've heard, through sources who asked not to be named, that sell-through for paperbacks is as bad as 20%. In other words, out of ten printed, only two sell.

Now what's going to happen if more publishers follow this business model?

Here's a possible scenario.

1. Fewer paperbacks are published. Publishers either eliminate their paperback lines, or begin publishing more selectively, in smaller numbers, to cut costs and losses.

2. Bookstores have fewer books on their shelves, and sell fewer books as a result. Which means less money to the publishers.

3. Publishers downsize, since the ebook market, though growing, doesn't bring in the same money as print does. In order to maintain positive cash flow, they bill their accounts to pay up.

4. Their accounts--bookstores and distributors--can't pay up. They don't have the money to pay for the books they've sold--which they bought on credit. So they begin returning other books on the shelves to get credit for those.

5. Now there are far fewer books on the shelves, which means far fewer sales.

So when publishers stop printing as many books as they are now, the delicate balance will shift.

What does this mean to you, the author?

Not only is the rest of the blog worth reading, but the upshot - so the author thinks - is that ebooks are, without a doubt, the future. Good for trees, good for all except those who like reading a real novel. I have a Sony E Reader, and wonderful though it is, there is something warm and comforting about reading a pukka book. :hehe:

What do you think?

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I find that reading books is infinitely easier than reading an electronic screen. So much so, in fact, that I often print out reams of paper instead of trying to read my iPhone at night. There are other minor inconveniences with ebook reading, and one of them is it crapping out due to lack of battery power when I'm on a reading roll. Another is an insane tendonitis problem from holding the small screen in position. If I turn sideways the stupid screen flips orientation instead of letting me lie on my side and reading it that way. If I touch the screen in the wrong way, which happens if I drowse a bit, the story goes careening over the screen in all directions creating a major challenge to locate my current 'read spot'. You can't dog ear it either, and the smell is putrid by comparison with the scent of a good book with good paper. God help you if you fall asleep while reading though, as the screen could smash in the fall to the floor, or even worse, you roll over onto it. And finally, if there is a long power outage you can't take pages from the ebook to make a small fire to warm up, or wipe your butt if you run out of toilet paper.

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Twenty years ago everyone was buzzing about the new paperless office.

Never happened.

Twenty years from now the printed page will still be here.

Although I've looked closely at e-book readers, I'm still not buying it.

I have a 500 Gbyte drive full of pirated ebooks I can read just fine on my PC or lap-top.

Why do I need some piece of crap for Borders or Amazon that CONTROLS what I can and can't read?

pirate.gif <ARGHH! Get lost ya barnacle-brain.

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People said the record business would never end, either. I knew it was the beginning of the end when both Tower Records and Virgin Records closed all their stores.

The weird thing about books is, people are reading more than ever... if you count online activity. But printed books are definitely an endangered species. My brother is in the printing business, and they've been devastated over the past five years. Nobody's making any money in the book business except for the really huge mass-market writers like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and a dozen others. And newspapers and magazines are dropping like flies.

I'd say it looks pretty damn bleak. It ain't gonna end overnight, but I think we're gonna see a slow fade over printed media over the next 10-15 years, maybe even sooner.

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I read on the computer. I love the ability to look up a word I am unfamiliar with, (I use Word Web -free version-) And I can make notes in a text file if I desire.

It's also great for writing as I can resource, or search directly in an article or book online.

I read stories online while I eat or just before bed.

Funny thing is, I still have a book for when I am in the library, (commonly known as the 'toilet' in Australia.)

I don't think print material will completely disappear, but neither do I think books will die out even if they do become just collectibles in paper form.

Initially I had to teach myself how to read online. Getting used to the technology requires effort for us oldies.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I am intentionally optimistic about the possibilities on the publishing horizon. My theory is that where authors go, readers will follow, and a larger number of authors making a modest living would have to mean readers are reading what they want, not what they got.

I dream of a world where there are no James Pattersons, where two people on the bus reading the same book actually means something.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Remember when CD's made vinyl records obsolete?

Funny thing though. Vinyl is making quite the comeback. More are being produced again, and people are buying turntables again.

Why? The experience. Vinyl offers something that CD's don't. For me, though I read a lot of stuff online, real paper books offer me something I just can't get with reading online. E-readers have a long, long way to go before they offer the kind of flexibility and portability of a book. Would you bring you e-reader into the tub to read? Nope, you might drop it and ruin it. A book, well, could happen, but whatever, just buy another copy.

Maybe the same thing is going to happen with books as it did with vinyl records. A quick fade and a slow but study resurgence, peaking at something less than the original.

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I would absolutely miss the opportunity to dog-ear a page to mark, say, a particular passage I like and want to be able to find again. I cannot imagine giving up the ability to write notes on a margin directly adjacent to a line I want to converse with. Books are meant to be used and reused and made a part of one's basis and baggage. Display devices can only be viewed and then shut off.


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I think books will always exist; the question is whether people below a certain age will read them.

I believe all forms of physical media -- books, movies, TV shows, music, photographs -- are all giving way to digital files and digital storage. Good or bad, this is where the world is headed. Unfortunately, it's caused gigantic paradigm shifts, witnessed by the collapse of Tower Records and Virgin Records stores around the world.

The book market isn't much better. Borders Books is doing very badly, and Bookstar and Doubleday stores have closed up (at least in LA). But people still read, they still listen to music, they still watch movies and TV shows... they just don't do it the same way they used to in years past. Times change.

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The Pecman is correct about media moving into the digital realm.

I feel the issue here isn't if some of these things will exist or not. They certainly will remain to some extent. Books won't completely vanish, neither will other forms of media. To even think so would be foolish, and overly simplistic.

There will always be a place for most all types of media as long as there's technology to support them. There are still artists producing art using old polaroid technology, vinyl records won't completely disappear (and as has been stated above are having a small resurgence), some film makers still use 8mm or super 8 in commercial indy productions. So if you want to use or buy an older technology you generally can (with some exceptions - I don't see large segments of society crying about the loss of 8-Track).

And just as we still have a need or desire to print the occasional email or some document for the purpose of making a hard copy, books too will not disappear. There will always be options in printing, buying, owning and storing books.

What Pecman referrs to quite correctly is a basic paradigm shift in ALL media.

Those of us who are a certain age will always find comfort in what we know. It's human nature. My 88 year old mother has never had an answering machine, nor has she ever opted to have a message service as part of her phone landline package. If it is part of the package she surely never uses it. When we bought her a machine for Xmas years ago, she had us return it. She either answers the phone or not PERIOD! Receiving or leaving messages is foreign to her, and I'm not going to alter her opinion. She will never change. Likewise writing a letter is right up her alley, but email... no way.

But just because one group of society won't embrace a technology doesn't mean another won't.

People who have never lived in a world without, computers, email, cell phones, the www, personal blogs, You Tube, Facebook and Twitter, can't imagine life without them. And often those are the people who create the numbers that drive an economic trend...and generate the $/?/?⁄? etc.

At the moment newspapers, book and magazine publishers, Hollywood and the major TV networks are struggling to understand this. So too are music companies. Even government postal agencies if they are quasi independent.

While it's true that the paperless society hasn't emerged as quickly as we thought, newer technologies have made carrying documents and using them much easier. I keep all my revenant documents on my flash drive and carry it with me. My copier at work not only copies, but scans them so I can digatally store them. Every office in the buildings I work in have meeting and conference rooms with large screens, or projectors and computers so all I need do is plug the flash in and viola... I can do a basic presentation. If someone wants or needs a copy it's as easy as jumping into my email and sending them an attachment of the document AND doing it right on the spot while we're still meeting face to face. Then can then immediately tell me by checking their Blackberry or iPhone if they've received it!

Sure things move slow. Governments still like things in triplicate and the idea of REAL paper, but as younger people move into positions of leadership they're going to find some of that ridiculous. I worked for a guy a few years ago who INSISTED that I put a double space after a period. He was 65 at the time and that was the way HE was taught using a typewriter. But that's no longer the standard given modern wordprocessing. If I would have done that for my dissertation, my committee members would have summerly returned it to me and not so politely have told me to correct my ERROR.

I for one am excited about this - at least on one level. As a writer I see the ability to get my work out there and published under less then conventional methods. Years ago even IF you decided to self-publish you had to order a minimum of books and the cost was expensive. Most self-publishing companies made money off the people paying to have their works published, while the people actually writing the books lost money. While not completely true, it was a bit of a scam and some self-publishing companies had more than a bit of a flam-flam reputation. More than a few people ended up with cartons of unwanted and unsellable books taking up space in their sheds or garages. But today on-demand or digital publishing allows more freedom. As a writer you don't have to commit to buying 500 books that UPS or FED-EX is going to deliver to your door.

You Tube has made people who never would have been famous well known... likewise with stores like iTunes or various Apps stores. You may or may not like them. You may use them or avoid them in protest, but various indy artists have gotten fame and recognition from them. Likewise independent Apps writers and software designers are making money, bypsssing traditional software companies. Something they would never have achieved through traditional publishing houses or music companies or softwear companies just a decade or two ago.

Even an outlet like AwesomeDude allows us to write and share things that 40 years ago we would never have had the opportunity to do.

That things are changing is a fact. That we love or hate them boils down to our own personal opinion, but the fact is we're not going to stop it. We can choose not to use it, buy it, support it, but we won't stop it.

This whole issue has led to great confusion on the part of some of the major players. It's only going to get worse. Look at some of the battles between Apple and the media at the moment. What do you charge for something you want to place on an iPad? Is .99 too little or too much to pay for a song or TV show? Is Apple TV the future or just a gimmick to make Steve and Co. richer? The market will sort these issues out. It usually does over time.

Newspapers have been closing and/or their revenues have been declining. Hollywood may have the occasional blockbuster, but they're not all that healthy these days. Music companies are batteling illegal downloading. We're no longer bound by what's "on TV" tonight since we can access, or download and play almost anything. A quick search of You Tube can get you just about anything... for FREE. Films are being watched online (illegally) weeks before they're released. And even conventional cinemas are rebelling over the price film producers are charging them. (E.g the battle a while back between cinema chains and the producer/distributor of Alice in Wonderland when they wanted to release the DVD far ahead of the usual conventional release dates set in the past.) And don't even start about countries like China who have a mega media black market that no one can seem to stop.

20 or even 10 years from now as a whole generation of first graders start school with electronic tablet devices in their back packs, what's going to be on them? Who's going to control it?

As an educator I for one have always had an axe to grind with textbook publishers who charge uni students $100 or 100? for a single text book (now days even more). The author of said book usually gets pennies from the publisher. I'd be more than happy to create my own material and "sell" it to my students for a reasonable fee thorough my uni. That's already happening some places.

So don't decry what's happening. It's coming. Your not going to stop it. You can choose to not support it, but that won't end the debate. What we need to do is not to try and stop the tide, but to see if we can control or work with it to some extent for the better good.

I for one would LOVE to see TSOI on every person's Kindle and ipad... I wouldn't shed too many tears over that.


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Excellent look at the situation Jamie.

However looking at your last point, one of the problems between generations and even between members of a single generation is that we are not always getting the need for definitions through to modern writers. Take your reference to TSOI, what does that mean? Presuming it is an acronym we can choose from the Google search:


.......: The Sound Of Indie

.......: Touch Screen Operator Interface (Google did not provide this, I made up the phrase, and then searched for it only to find it was a genuine term.)

.......: Thickness (of) Silicon On Insulator. (pieced together from a technical index of defined acronyms.)

.......: The Society Of Invisibles. (A hip/hop/rap band which seems to be in the transition stage of discovering harmony.)

There are various other people who have Tsoi as a surname, but I have eliminated those as a reference. The above list is not exhaustive by any means, but should be sufficient to show how central to communication is the need to define relatively recent acronyms. In my opinion any acronym should be explained on its first appearance in a text.

Older people do have a problem with technology, especially when there is no one to assist them assimilate it, or even just explain it to them.

Regardless of our personal preferences, and I side with your grandmother Jamie, but for different reasons, an effort must be made to adapt to the useful, the wonderfully useful new forms of reading and writing available on the Internet. Every person old or young can have a fabulous, fulfilling and frustrating experience on the Internet. :icon_geek:

The above TSOI is an excellent example as I still am unsure which, if any, of the ones I found is the acronym that Jamie had in mind, but at least I can ask him and that is wonderful.


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The Dude and I have been talking, for nearly a year, about starting an AD Bookstore with a publish on demand function for AD/CW writers. We saw this trend and are actively considering it. What's your opinion?


I vote Hell YES. I'm not a writer, but I am a minor influence on a couple. :icon_geek:


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The Dude and I have been talking, for nearly a year, about starting an AD Bookstore with a publish on demand function for AD/CW writers. We saw this trend and are actively considering it. What's your opinion?


This would be great. Having a paper book version of a story I'm reading, taking it with me, lending it out so people can see what the heck I'm talking about if it gets referenced in conversation...

Yes please.


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The Dude and I have been talking, for nearly a year, about starting an AD Bookstore with a publish on demand function for AD/CW writers. We saw this trend and are actively considering it. What's your opinion?


I'm all for it, though I'd like to know what plans are afoot.

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  • 1 year later...

I'm very late to this topic, but I can say a few things from work experience and from what pro published authors are saying.

My work life began with something called a Mac Plus, a LaserWriter Plus, and software that preceded and was outmoded by, the software standards now used. Back then, I was a college kid and an English major taking some computer classes and calculus, right along with French lit. Back then, publishing of any kind was done the old fashioned way. I learned some of that and still can do it. I also learned the computer version well. Picas, points, and so on. But the old fashioned way was king, and using a computer was akin to heresy. Begone, scurrilous knave, thou heathen! That contraption is infernal! It is not the One True Way! I kid you not, we lost a lot of work that way. Fast forward only five years, and the computer way was taking over. It was becoming the One True Way, and all others were swept clean by the wrath of ... Wait, that's Raiders of the Lost Ark. Another five years, and we were losing work because everybody and his dog was using some program to put out really gawdawful looking pages filled with writing and design mistakes. But the world did not end and people got the word out, more or less. my point is not to complain. It's to say that the big dinosaurs had to adapt or die out, and the little mammals had to adapt too, or they'd be phased out by the weird new life forms. (Yeah, the analogy needs work.)

Vinyl records and cassette tapes were outmoded by CD's, VHS by DVD's.

Along came something called the world wide web. And very early, there was Amazon. Then iTunes. Not to mention a bunch of quasi-legal file sharing sites. Record stores and music publishing went bust.

Seeing a trend yet?

The big publishers, everything from books to magazines to newspapers, are stuck. They are dinosaurs. They are not reacting fast enough. They don't yet see that things have radically changed. I'm not exaggerating, either. I kid you not, within one to five to ten years, most of them will be out of business if they don't adapt within one year from now. --this includes Barnes & Noble and most bookstores, small and large.

So, if the sky is falling and the end is nigh, what's my point?

Those little mammals, the small independent authors and designers and contractors, have a huge opportunity. So do unpublished authors. If you can master the new way of doing things, doing web pages and now ebooks and podcasts and new media, you have a chance to become the big dog that replaces that creaky old T-Rex. (But the band T-rex is still kinda cool.)

Very seriously, the little indie folks are most likely to adapt faster and become the new kids on the block. (Oops, old 80's ref there.)

That means the sky isn't really falling, it's just that it is a new sky, a brand new era. Be careful, there are going to be a few craters from falling asteroids and dying dinosaurs, before things quit shaking.

Printed books, printed matter of any kind, will still be around, but it will either be fancy collector's editions (new or antique) or el cheapo print it yourself stuff. Ebooks are going to be the thing, like it or not. They have lots of room to grow before all the kinks are worked out, and better standards take hold, but they are the next big thing.

By the way, I'd recommend an iPad2 or Kindle Fire or a laptop. You can read an ebook on an iPhone or other smart phone, but it will make you crazy. If you grow hair on your palms, it's not from the ebooks.

Please note, I am now struggling to catch up too. I am pretty good with the new HTML5 and CSS3 now, but I still have to learn the ebook formats from the inside. The old Macromedia Freehand I was using was done in by velociraptors, and learning Illustrator, which used to be very similar, is like learning to type with your toes. You keep saying, but I know how to do it like this. Why do I have to do it like that? It's insane! I need these for job skills. I am fighting this while swamped with other things, and it's driving me ape.

I've been so swamped, I wasn't available or ready to help with the AD/CW publishing efforts, but I'm hoping that will change. This little lizard-mammal monkey-boy needs a paying job in town, and that will keep my sky from falling.

I intend to be around in the new era of ebooks. I haven't been a volunteer web dude for nothing. Hoping to get where I can be again.

But to reiterate, yes, printed books and the whole print media publishing industry are in for a shakeup much worse than the switch from manual and machines to computers. This time is going to be very much like the death of the record and music industry. Those are still around, but they morphed into a new lifeform. The same is happening now for print media.

On the plus side, mammals have a lot more fun with mating options. Just saying.

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I don't know how to use the new format, so words in odd order or hanging out by themselves are the result of a keystroke I expected to do something else. I was going to say...this site has the potential to make a go of such a venture both interms of authors and audience, but I'd have said GO! no matter what. The future is becoming apparent reality before our eyes, the future we envisioned and the willingness to put a stake in it is something I would support in every way possible. And none to quietly either. Tracy Why can't I start a new paragraph? Those two words below were my first attempt at backspacing, I think.

You have

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