Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the tag “E-readers”

Reading format

ralph-and-chuck-cartoon

One pointlessly heated discussion that seems to occur with painful regularity in reading circles is which book format is superior. Do you prefer audio, or digital, or paper, or papyrus, or clay tablets? Personally I can’t see anyone topping the long-term data retention of carving stuff into stone cave walls. Bit time-consuming for authors though.

When this discussion starts everyone rolls out their usual banal reasoning for their preferred format. Without fail someone will talk about the smell of dead tree books (DTB), or the feel of eviscerated tree flesh in their fingers, or refer to some dodgy research that denigrates e-books. For some reason the reading world is filled with technophobic troglodytes intent on proving that their old-fashioned way of doing things is better.

Currently I read books in three different formats: DTB, e-book, audiobook. I like reading all three formats and they have various advantages and disadvantages. I have many fond memories of dead trees. The time I used one to level a table with an uneven leg. The time I threw one at the TV on election night. The time I used a bag full of them to prop open a door with a hydraulic hinge. Good times. I’m sure I have some fond memories of e-books and audiobooks…

Let’s run through a few pros and cons of the three formats.

DTB Pros:

  • They are a book.
  • You can read them.
  • They make you look smart/nerdy when you have lots of them on shelves.
  • Can turn to the end of the book to see if that character actually died.

DTB Cons:

  • Being a physical entity they have to be physically moved to your house.
  • Generally more expensive than an e-book.
  • Are heavy and awkward to hold.
  • Hate having tea spilt on them.
  • Can’t stop a .45 slug, despite claims to the contrary.

E-book Pros:

  • They are a book.
  • You can read them.
  • When you want another you just download it instantly.
  • Everyone thinks you are reading the latest political biography when you are really engrossed in the love triangle between a teenage girl, a 100-year-old pedophile, and a smelly dog (yes I got dragged to the Twilight films by my wife).
  • Text can be resized.

E-book Cons:

  • E-books can’t be used to start a fire in a life threatening situation.
  • E-book files won’t be forever, but the database will be, which means updating your collection.
  • E-readers cost money too.
    • Dedicated e-readers are the domain of avid readers, everyone else can just read on their phone or tablet.
  • Hate having tea spilt on them.
  • E-readers are even less likely to stop a .45 slug.

Audiobook Pros:

  • They are a book.
  • You can read them.*
  • Can be read when you’re doing something else.
    • Exercising and reading is a personal favourite.
    • Certainly a better way to read when driving.

Audiobook Cons:

  • Can be expensive.
    • Are becoming cheaper in digital versions.
  • Some voice actors don’t have great voices, nor acting.
  • Takes longer to read… unless you read by sounding out the vowels still.
  • Are probably the least likely to stop a .45 slug.

What is my key point out of all of this? If you like reading you will like reading regardless of the format. The medium isn’t the message.

The reality is that we have to stop with the snobbery of the format wars. Every format has benefits to enjoy. Every person I have met who has bravely tried e-books and audiobooks has commented that they were unsure until they made the leap. Then they fell in love with all the formats.

I love books in all their forms, you should too.

*Yeah, go ahead and try and argue that point. I dare you.

The continued war on e-books

Stupid meme is stupid.

Stupid meme is stupid.

Do you love the smell of books?
Do you prefer the feel of paper?
Do you feel slightly superior to others because you paid for the hardcover?
Do you grasp at any excuse to deride e-books and the people who read them?
Well, I have found the article for you!

Recently on Mental Floss an article entitled “5 Reasons Physical Books Might Be Better Than E-Books” sought to comfort snooty readers who wanted ammunition to fling at e-book readers. In the proud tradition of deriding any new technology as bad (see e-books, e-cars, driverless cars, etc), this article introduces us to some research that is wonderfully out of context for the intent of the article’s argument. Let’s dig in.

Though e-book readers have become a more common sight around town, traditional books still have their evangelists. According to The New York Times, e-book sales have been falling in 2015. Print definitely isn’t dead. In fact, according to some research, it may actually be a better choice for some readers. While scientists are still trying to tease out exactly how digital reading affects us differently, here are five ways e-books might be inferior to their dead-tree cousins.

When deriding things it is always best to reference another article that derides the same thing. In this case the article references the wonderfully misleading NYT piece on e-book sales slipping. Pity that the sales didn’t slip… That’s right, the NYT misrepresented a slowing in e-book sales growth as a drop in sales. And did they mention why readers were stating a preference for paper? Yes. Hidden in the article is a little quote about how publishers had been protecting their paper sales by inflating e-book prices. Now, my economics is a tad rusty, but I’m pretty sure making something more expensive when there are direct substitutes on offer results in a decrease in sales of that item and an increase in the sales of the substitution item. At least, that’s what I’ve heard…

1. E-BOOKS CAN REDUCE READING COMPREHENSION.
In a study of middle schoolers, West Chester University researchers found that students who read on iPads had lower reading comprehension than when they read traditional printed books. They discovered that the kids sometimes skipped text in favor of interactive features in the e-books, suggesting that certain multimedia in children’s e-books can be detrimental to the practice of reading itself. However, the researchers noted that some interactive features in e-books are designed to enhance comprehension, and that those might be more helpful than game-type interactive graphics.

This is a fantastic study in how multitasking is terrible for concentration and thus impacts reading comprehension. iPads have all sorts of cool stuff on them, including little notifications telling you that your friend just liked your latest picture of your meal. And building those distractions into the book being read: sounds like a great idea! What this study doesn’t do is support the idea that e-books reduce reading comprehension.

2. YOUNG KIDS CAN GET DISTRACTED BY E-BOOKS.
Similar results were found by a small study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center that consisted of 32 kids reading e-books and print books with their parents. It found that “enhanced” e-books might be distracting. Kids who read enhanced e-books—ones with interactive, multimedia experiences—were more engaged with them physically, but in the end they remembered fewer narrative details than those who read print books or basic e-books [PDF].

Don’t read the link. Don’t read the link. You read the link: didn’t you. Leaving aside the tiny study size for a moment (a point the study authors acknowledge), the study itself supports the points I made above about being distracted whilst reading. And if you look through the study you see a great little chart that showed the comparison of reading comprehension – expressed as story details recalled – was actually superior in basic e-books than in print books or enhanced e-books.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 10.13.19 am

The findings of the study were literally stated as:

The enhanced e-book was less effective than the print and basic e-book in supporting the benefits of co-reading because it prompted more non-content related interactions.

Odd that the “e-books are bad” article failed to highlight this finding…

3. YOU REMEMBER LESS ABOUT A BOOK’S TIMELINE.
Another study of adults also found that e-books can be hard to absorb. The researchers asked 25 people read a 28-page story on a Kindle and 25 to read the story in paperback, then asked the readers to put 14 events from the story in chronological order. Those who read the story on a Kindle performed worse on the chronology test than the book readers, though they performed about the same as print readers in other tests. Earlier research by the same scholars, from Stavanger University in Norway, found that Norwegian 10th graders also remembered more about texts if they read them in print rather than on a computer screen [PDF].

Finally we come to a study on actual e-books on an actual e-reader versus their dead tree counterparts. Of course I’m again blown away by the sample size of the study, a massive 50 people. That should easily extrapolate to the rest of humankind. The linked article doesn’t give us much information, but I found a better one, and it has this summary:

In most respects, there was no significant difference between the Kindle readers and the paper readers: the emotional measures were roughly the same, and both groups of readers responded almost equally to questions dealing with the setting of the story, the characters and other plot details. But, the Kindle readers scored significantly lower on questions about when events in the story occurred. They also performed almost twice as poorly when asked to arrange 14 plot points in the correct sequence.

I’d link to the original paper, but it is behind a paywall. Suffice to say that the error margins were pretty big (even the paper readers got 34% of the plot points in the wrong order). And this was a short story, something that shouldn’t be that difficult for any reader. So this probably says as much about the story as anything. They’d need far more stories and participants to get a good idea of what is going on. But I will concede that reading on paper vs e-reader vs screen is definitely a different experience and has an influence. What that influence is, positive, negative, or just different, needs more research.

Interestingly the study of reading PDF texts on a screen vs paper texts in high school students showed why scrolling is a terrible way to read anything. Scroll down to read more about PDFs sucking.

4. THEY’RE NOT GREAT AS TEXTBOOKS.
While e-book textbooks are often cheaper (and easier to carry) than traditional door-stop textbooks, college students often don’t prefer them. In some surveys of college kids, the majority of students have reported preferring print books. However, a 2012 study from the UK’s National Literacy Trust of kids ages 8 to 16 found that more than 50 percent of children reported preferring screen reading [PDF].

It is odd to start a point and then go on to disprove it. E-book textbooks being cheaper, easier to carry, and in some surveys preferred by the majority of respondents, seems to me to be the opposite of “not great”. The preference for paper textbooks claim comes from a survey of 527 students, yet is immediately refuted by the UK survey of 34,910 students. I wonder which one is more representative of how students feel about textbooks?

In the comments of the Mental Floss article, someone made a good point in regard to the format of textbooks. Oftentimes the textbooks are PDFs, which brings us back to the point about scrolling, and adds the problem with taking notes. Clearly the format of the e-book plays a big part in how people feel about them.

5. THEY’RE TIRING.
Staring at a lit screen can be tiring for the eyes and the brain. A 2005 study from Sweden found that reading digitally required a higher cognitive workload than reading on paper. Furthermore, staring at LED screens at night can disrupt sleep patterns. A 2014 Harvard study found that people who used e-readers with LED screens at night slept worse and were more tired the next day. So, if you’re going to go for an e-book, go for one without the backlight.

Now let us talk about how bad e-books are for your brain…. Sorry, did I say e-books when I meant LED screens like your iPad and computer? Silly me. Having bright light, especially from white background screens, shining in your eyes at night isn’t a good thing. But that is about as related to e-books as X-Factor is to talented singers. So the message about changing your screen setup for night viewing only really applies to readers if they utilise a backlit screen for reading.

And now that we are at the end of the article, let’s throw in some information for the pretence of balance in the hopes you will ignore the headline and main article points:

BUT DON’T THROW AWAY YOUR E-READER JUST YET.
However, all this may not mean that reading on a Kindle is really going to melt your brain. For instance, reading an e-book on a computer is a much different experience than reading on a Kindle, which is specifically designed for consuming books. So, too, is playing with an interactive e-book on an iPad, compared to using a simpler e-book device that only presents the text, with no opportunities to click away into digital distractions.

This really does appear to be information that would have been better presented in the context of the “e-books are evil” points above; doesn’t it. Throwing in this sort of context at the end rather than in the discussion of the study findings is a cheap tactic, a ploy that sees important information left until after you have already formed your opinion on a subject, or just plain stopped reading the article. This information has far less chance of being retained than the others points made earlier in the article, thus the article has created the bias they were after (deliberately or otherwise).

And some studies have found that part of the difference between the way people absorb information from e-books versus paper might be due to approaching e-books differently—in one test, participants didn’t regulate their study time with digital books like they did with paper texts, leading to worse performances. It’s possible that our expectations of e-book reading—as well as the different designs of the digital reading experience on a computer or iPad or Kindle—might affect how we approach the text and how much effort we put into studying them. As generations of e-book readers evolve, and people become more accustomed to the idea of sitting down with a digital textbook, these factors could change—for better or for worse.

These are all good points, again made at the end of the article rather than at least being hinted at throughout. And unlike the main points in the article, these are unreferenced. Are these points from the studies already referenced (some are) or some other studies that aren’t worth mentioning? In the former, you would expect these points to have been raised earlier in the article in the proper context, in the latter, this feels like an attempt to downplay the statements as less important than the referenced points above. Either way we are left with the sentiment “change is scary” rather than “change is change”.

Hopefully this breakdown of the Mental Floss article shows just how disingenuous many of these anti-technology articles are, especially the “e-books are evil” articles. I’m not trying to say that e-books are what everyone should be reading, or that our forests are now saved from Dan Brown. There is clear evidence that our changing technology is changing the way we read and absorb information, and this transition period is still a learning phase as to how and if we will change our reading preferences. But negative preconceived ideas about e-books (or technology) don’t help in communicating about the change that is happening.

Update: This study compared reading on paper and screens and found stark differences. The sample size was again small, but the study appears to have been better conducted than the others I’ve discussed above. The conclusions from the paper suggest, as I have, that we need to look at teaching/learning how to read e-books and utilise e-readers.

To sum up, the consistent screen inferiority in performance and overconfidence can be overcome by simple methods, such as experience with task and guidance for in-depth processing, to the extent of being as good as learning on paper.

Further reading – https://theconversation.com/do-students-lose-depth-in-digital-reading-61897

Can’t we all just get along: DTB vs E-book

Print vs ebook infographic
The big take home from this infographic is that readers are more interested in reading, not on the format it comes in. I also found it interesting that people read slower on an e-reader (which I’d guess is because the screen is smaller and requires more ‘page turns’ which breaks reading flow) yet those using e-readers read an average of 9 more books per year (24 vs 15).

In summary: reading is good, go and enjoy a good book.

More anti-Amazon nonsense

This morning I was browsing my various news feeds when I noticed someone had written an article about the arrival of the Amazon Kindle store in Australia. Clearly this article was going to feed my confirmation bias on how awesome it was to have an Aussie version of Amazon available, just like Canada, the UK, India, Germany, Spain, etc. No longer being locked out of some editions of books because of our region, an Aussie store is one step closer to Aussie writers not having all the publishing issues that currently exist, a .au suffix making us feel special: all good! Right?

Well, not according to the article Amazon’s Australian Kindle store: an unhappy ending for the book industry? by Ben Eltham. Rather than stream bile right here, I’ll dissect Ben’s opinion piece about the demise of the protected Aussie book market, and hopefully inject some much needed reality.

Amazon has been prising open the wallets of Australian consumers for years – but what will its local push on Kindle mean for readers, writers and publishers?

It is always good to start an article by using emotive language and by poisoning the well. The use of a logical fallacy so early in the article does not bode well for Ben’s opinion piece.

The local book industry is threatened by Kindle’s entry into the Australian market. When Amazon opened its Australian Kindle store last month, it was to feisty reaction from independent bookshops. Charismatic Sydney bookseller Jon Page of Pages & Pages Booksellers even relaunched his “Kindle amnesty” – a scheme that allows conscientious local readers to swap their Kindle for the Australian book sector’s preferred e-reader, the Kobo, and receive a $50 book voucher for their trouble.

This opening reference to a stand by one independent bookshop being representative of all bookshops is another example of polarizing the argument before raising any actual evidence, essentially further poisoning the well. You see we are set up to believe that the Kobo e-reader is somehow better for Australian bookshops, despite Kobo also being in direct competition with stores in the same way the Kindle is, as well as to love the “feisty” response to the big bully Amazon arriving.

“We’re calling it Kindle Amnesty 2.0,” jokes Page, who is spruiking for the Kobo Aura HD, which he argues is “equal to or better than the Kindle Paperwhite”. Those who read via tablets such as the iPad or Galaxy have access to Kobo reader apps. “We want to take the fight to Amazon because they are so dominant in this market, particularly with the Kindle device,” argues Page. Pointing to the Commonwealth’s 2011 Book Industry Strategy Group report, he claims that Kindle represents about 70% of dedicated e-reading devices. (This figure does not include tablets, phones or laptops). “That’s a problem, because the Kindle locks competition out and locks customers in.”

My idea of a joke is a thing that someone says to cause amusement or laughter, especially a story with a funny punchline. “We’re calling it Kindle Amnesty 2.0” doesn’t really make the grade as a joke, but this is all about, again, poisoning the well and polarizing the reader to the author’s opinion without needing to state facts or evidence.

The next point about the Kobo being as good or better than the Kindle is neither here nor there, it just doesn’t matter. I agree that the Kobo is a great e-reader, but most e-readers are pretty good, you are really choosing an e-reader based upon the stores and catalogue they offer access to. I’ve written before about hearing Kobo Australia’s chief seeming to have a very good idea of what is needed in the market place for readers and authors. But ultimately the raising of Kobo vs. Kindle in a discussion about Aussie bookstores is like raising a conversation about which is the tastier bacon at a vegetarian food store.

Finally we do get some actual data, showing that the Kindle is the biggest e-reading device. Well, d’uh. Amazon have the biggest store and have expanded into the most markets, have invested in technology early, have created new markets themselves, and have….. Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The point is that the argument raised is that Amazon and the Kindle have a monopoly. Which is true. What is false about this assertion is the idea that the monopoly isn’t one that can be supplanted by the next generation of technology, or better business models arriving, or the competition preying on Amazon’s weaknesses.

You see, the key weakness for Kindle is also it’s strength. If you lock readers into one store you allow the competition to usurp the market by doing the deals with many stores and libraries (hang on, that’s what Kobo is doing in Australia and Canada!). You also have to remember that the Kindle or any other e-reader is only really for avid readers. Tablets and phones are for the more casual readers, thus they aren’t locked into one device or one store. So we are only another generation of technology away from e-readers losing their advantage over tablets and phones, and the entire Kindle argument becomes moot.

Industry sentiment is divided over the impact of the entry of the tech giant into Australian online retailing. Some have been forecasting impending doom. Others are merely apprehensive about Jeff Bezos’ juggernaut. Amazon’s thin margins terrify competitors. Despite vast revenues, the parent company makes no profit. Amazon raked in US$17bn in net sales last quarter, for an operating loss of US$25m. Analysts and brokers are starting to wonder whether, eventually, Amazon’s gravity-defying stock price will tumble to earth.

This part is a doozy. Ben has framed a false dichotomy in how the industry perceives Amazon. Where is the mention of the people who love their Kindle and the Amazon store? Where is the mention of the people who like their Kindle and Amazon but want to be able to use other formats and borrow e-books from their local library? This is a common false dilemma fallacy used in arguments.

Next the argument goes to Amazon’s business model, providing some facts but leaving out others. Why? Why not mention what the “thin margins” are that terrify competitors? I’d sure like to know. The next point is about how Amazon makes heaps of money, yet doesn’t profit….. Remember above how I mentioned that Amazon had stayed ahead of the competition by expanding and investing? Well that’s where all that revenue is going, straight back into making their business better.

What I’ve always wondered was why an online bookstore was the first one to grab hold of the e-reader concept. E-books are not new, nor are e-readers. They have been waiting in the wings for a decade or more, waiting for a company to invest and make things happen. Why wasn’t this investor a publishing house? Why not a major bookstore chain? Surely they are meant to be knowledgable about their industry and future trends, so why weren’t they the ones creating the new digital marketplace instead of Amazon? The answer is obvious. Amazon had the balls to do it and had an eye on the future, instead of a protectionist view of old and antiquated business and media models. To the victor go the spoils.

But other industry observers have argued that an Australian Amazon presence will be good for consumers and readers. As Kobo’s Malcolm Neil told Melbourne’s Independent Publishing Conference recently: “Amazon is good because the customer likes them … We’re not going to win the argument by telling people they’re wrong.”

Didn’t I say above about Kobo’s boss being a bright guy that knew what the industry wanted? If you’ve heard Malcolm talk about the publishing industry before you know that he has a lot of good points that have been left out, can’t think why. Malcolm’s points are the first example in this article of a different viewpoint being offered. But we’ve already been setup to either disagree with it or ignore it.

Martin Shaw, books division manager at independent retailer Readings, argues that Amazon’s Australia venture may not be such big a deal. “It is only ebooks,” he says. “That market has got so many players in it now, who knows what sort of impact it will have? We will just have to see how the dust settles.” Shaw foresees a coming war of devices in which competitors try to lock customers into competing ecosystems. “I think there will be a lot of devices flooding the market trying to get people to enter the walled garden,” he says. “That will force other e-tailers like Kobo to become more aggressive.”

This speaks to my points above about Amazon and Kindle only being one technology change away from losing market share. I used the example of tablets and phones, but there are other examples in the online stores themselves. Both Kobo and Amazon have exclusive author deals happening. We’ll probably see more of this, which starts to sound like publishing houses and their favoured deals with stores.

Of course the irony is that, in our globalised world, Amazon is not really “starting up” in Australia at all. The retail behemoth has long been prising open the wallets of Australian consumers, who have been buying books and all manner of other things from Amazon in the US for years – estimates of how much that market is worth vary enormously. The move by Amazon to begin an “.au” store that trades in Australian dollars and sells Australian ebooks through Kindle merely makes that custom one step easier. “All that’s changed now is that it’s an Australian-facing site,” Page argues.

I think the irony with this paragraph is the use of the term irony when there appears to be none. But it does give the article a chance to move away from the viewpoints the author disagrees with and move back to more Amazon hate.

There are upsides for consumers. The Gordian knot of digital copyrights, based around various national boundaries, has meant that some US and Australian titles were not available as ebooks in Australia. The new Amazon.com.au store can now stock a much wider range of titles that have Australian-only digital licences.

Lower prices for consumers: Yay!

And prices will be forced lower. Shaw says that we may see “a race to the bottom”. Amazon’s deep pockets, he says, means “they can go there [to low prices] and stay there for as long as they want”. Australian book prices are still much higher than comparable titles internationally. In Amazon’s view, that margin can be returned to consumers in the form of lower prices.

Okay, Yay and Bullshit. Currently Australian e-book prices are ridiculously high. You cannot justify the high cost of an e-book when there are no distribution or printing costs. I have been meaning to post some figures taken from a few publishing houses and their presentation to the shareholder meetings, figures that show just how profitable e-books are for them thanks to the lower costs associated. There is actual irony here, because those same publishing houses are using e-books lower price to justify lower advances and smaller royalty percentages to authors. So Amazon making prices more competitive is a good thing, for readers and authors.

A quick look around the various sites for Australian ebooks revealed some savings. An ebook of Ross Garnaut’s Dog Days worth $9.99 on Kobo, was $9.49 on Amazon. Eleanor Catton’s Booker-winner The Luminaries was $10.68 on Kobo; on Amazon it was $9.35. (As a comparison, a paperback of Dog Days costs $15.29 from Bookworld, while The Luminaries costs $22.49). For other titles, owing to so-called “agency pricing”, Kobo and Amazon’s prices have converged: Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda was the same price on both.

Notice that this is the only time “agency pricing” is mentioned. It will not be discussed again. Despite the importance it plays in this entire argument about e-books, pricing, readers, authors, the industry and who is screwing whom.

The other potential winners of Amazon’s entry are successful authors and self-publishers. Amazon’s benefits to authors are controversial, but for the top tier they are real. The Australian publishing industry has been rather wary of embracing the digital world and while it’s hard to pinpoint precise figures, there’s a perception that many local authors have lagged well behind their US counterparts in ebook market penetration. Australian self-publishers will now get a 70% royalty for books sold to Amazon.com.au accounts. International experience has shown that a lucky few will reach big new audiences with bestselling self-published titles. Although on the other hand, mid-rank and lower authors may find themselves little better off.

Well, d’uh. Any new bookstore or way to buy books will favour already successful authors (NB: self-publishers are authors too), because, wait for it, people buy books by successful authors. What is not mentioned is that Amazon algorithms are more likely to expose readers/buyers to authors they haven’t heard of because of purchases they have made or books they have liked. I don’t know if Kobo have a similar system, but I do know that most bookstores do not have anything remotely similar to the promotional power of Amazon for new, emerging or midlist authors.

The statement about Australian self-publishers will “now” get 70% royalties is deliberately misleading. They already get a 70% royalty, that has been the policy from day one at Amazon, it is what all the other self-publishing platforms have come to adopt as well (correct me if I’m wrong on this, I haven’t checked them all).

Meanwhile, agents, publishers and booksellers still face real challenges from digital, Amazon or not. Digital is reshaping the industry and still threatens to cut middlemen out of the chain. Online-only retailers like Bookworld may be the most vulnerable, lacking the size and scale to adequately compete. When Amazon bought Book Depository, the UK retailer popular with Australian consumers, there was consternation in the book industry, despite the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission deciding not to oppose the move.

Yeah, who’d have thought an antiquated business model would be under threat by changes in the industry? And didn’t the article make the point that Amazon has already been in Australia to a large extent for years? So doesn’t this kinda negate any points made here?

As books blogger Patrick O’Duffy wrote recently in a long analysis of Amazon’s entry into the Australian market: “By starting this process of moving into Australia, Amazon is going to permanently affect the local writing, reading, publishing and bookselling world.” That much at least seems certain.

Um, no. This final statement and paragraph are about 10 years out of date. E-books and the ability of authors to manage their own careers without ‘gatekeepers’ is what has changed the industry. This has happened for quite a while now. To say that Amazon opening an Aussie store suddenly changes things completely negates the history and many of the points raised in this article.

Now that I’ve addressed the article by Ben Eltham, paragraph by paragraph, I think it is clear that this article is nonsense. It is just another in the long line of e-book, e-publishing, self-publishing, fear-mongering articles that have come to represent “informed” comment on the publishing industry over the last 5 to 10 years. I for one am sick of these articles, in fact I hate them. It isn’t just the continued “fear of change” mantra they all adhere to. The main reason I hate these sorts of articles is that they are trying to pretend that the publishing industry is hurt by changes that benefit readers and writers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Readers and writers are the publishing industry, everyone else is there at their behest. If those middlemen want to stay in the game then they have to offer something to the readers and writers that is beneficial to both. And the success of Amazon (Kobo, etc) and the various publishing houses (agents, editors, designers, etc) that have adopted/adapted to the new paradigms, only illustrates how out of touch these articles are with the industry. Instead of discussing the real issues, like the squeeze on authors, we get another stream of uninformed bile.

Reading stats for 2012

Hot off of the presses we have two new American reading surveys: Reading Habits in Different Communities and E-book Reading Jumps; Print Book Reading Declines

Actually, the phrase “hot off of the presses” is rather antiquated now. News stories that are breaking generally hit electronic mediums, or in some cases, such as celebrity gossip, they hit the TV and radio mediums. Interesting research or data is normally promoted virally via Twitter and the like. Should we have a new phrase like “just blogged” or “trending tweet” instead?

Back to the survey. While not all of us live in the USA, despite what some American congress-people might say, their trends in reading can be seen as indicative of what is happening elsewhere or is likely to happen elsewhere. The Pew Institute have done a pretty decent survey, it would be great if a few others were done for other countries.

What I found interesting was the growth in e-books and e-readers. There are further breakdowns in the full reports about why the change is happening, but suffice to say, e-books have many advantages over paper, despite paper books still being the most popular reading format.

Ereading-device-ownership

We can see a growth of 9% in people reading e-books during 2012, up from 21% to 30%. In terms of age demographics we can see that most age groups are taking up e-books, although the big growth is still in the middle age (30-49) group.

02-reading-and-ebooks

The next point of interest was who the readers were and how much they read. We can see that there is still a sizeable chunk of the community that don’t read and another chunk that pretend to read. I’d hazard a guess that light readers read non-fiction and the latest talked about bestseller only. Because they never really read good books it takes them ages to read one book and thus don’t read often.

22-reading-frequency

Among those ages 16 and older who had read a book in the past 12 months:

  • 8% read 1 book
  • 17% 2-3 books
  • 16% 4-5 books
  • 19% 6-10 books
  • 18% 11-20 books
  • 22% more than 20 books (this is my category)

Book-readers

And my final comment, women are still the readers. They make up a bigger proportion of book readers and they read more books. I have my own hypotheses as to why this is: boys are expected to like sport and reading is the opposite of sport; and reading doesn’t make you look as sexy as playing sport, so boys think you are less likely to get laid if you read. The big change I’d like to see, and this seems to be the case with e-readers and e-books, is for the average reader to read more books in a year, even if it is only so that people read the book before they make the movie of it.

E-book statistics for 2012

I seem to be finding a bunch of cool infographics recently, they are the future of communication (warning, sarcasm may be in affect here). It is always interesting to see what the status of sales, especially e-book sales. Personally, I see the e-book becoming the new paperback within a few years, and I also think that backlists will be all e-books. What will be really interesting is whether authors will be the one controlling their backlists or whether publishing houses will want to grab hold of those. Then it becomes a case of what rates are paid on backlist, because the sunk costs are a frontlist issue, so you would expect a greater author share of sales (although it could be argued that sunk costs are sunk, thus trying to recoup those costs as part of the sale price is bad economics).

ebook-market-2012-us-uk-canada-australia_50291c7f807a7_w594

What is a bookworm?

I’ve never really thought of myself as a bookworm, given the lack of exoskeleton, and my functioning vertebrae and CNS. There is no doubting that my wife and I are readers though, since we average at least a book a week, usually closer to two a week. We’re hoping our son will become a reader as well, but at the moment he is more entertained with pooping his diaper.

Anyway, in my internet trolling this week, I came across this infographic from a survey of a graphic design class. We all know that infographics must be accurate and representative, so let’s see what a Bookworm’s characteristics are.

windsore_infographic

Reading survey – Are you avid?

Raise your hand if you actually read more than one book a year. Ever wonder about every reader out there? Well, some good folks did a survey to find out about us readers.

http://www.versoadvertising.com/DBWsurvey2012/

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E-readers are filled with garbage?

An article in The Guardian on Sunday suggested that garbage, which they defined as genre fiction, was the big seller on Kindles and e-readers. See article here.

Prepare for the irony.

Okay, irony aside, The Guardian has published a number of articles extolling the inferiority of e-readers and e-books. For example, they deride romance and erotica as genres, yet they have always sold well. They deride horror, yet Steven King has been a bestselling author for 40 years. Excuse my cherry picking, but I can’t be bothered digging out my stats sheets to bury this argument further.

For years the literary fiction and biography markets have been kept afloat by the gift and commuter sales. Commuters can’t be seen to be reading anything other than high art or an intriguing insight into some mundane public figure, whose only claim to fame was being able to stand in front of a camera at the right moments. Similarly the books people received as gifts were always some intellectual boorish bunk posing as entertainment.

Now commuters don’t have to have the cover of their book on display and are free to read what they actually enjoy reading. Gift givers are wising up and going to wishlists and giving download vouchers. This isn’t just the end of snobbery, it is the start of truly great works of fiction.

E-Readers Are Cool

That’s right, E-readers were the gift of gifts this holidays. Now the Pew Institute have crunched the numbers to look at who was buying them and how this has changed over time. Report here.

The researchers performed phone interviews with 2,986 people and asked them, “Are you cool enough to own the greatest gadget since Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone?” With an error rate of 2.2%, the results were as follows:

  • E-readers and tablets were owned by 10% of people in December 2011.
    • This was 19% in January 2012.
  • The proportion of people owning at least one of these two increased from 18% to 29%.
  • Tablet owners are likely to be under 50 years old and have graduated college.
    • They are also likely to make enough money to buy lots of apps and books.
  • E-readers are more popular with women and the 30-49 age group.
    • E-readers are still pretty popular with anyone under 65.
  • College graduates and rich folks also love E-readers.
  • You should own an E-reader.

I have my E-reader, the new Kindle. I still love my pile of dead tree books, but I also love my Kindle.

My Kindle and a DTB

E-book Prediction: Buy Your E-reader Now!

Do you have an e-reader yet? Well best go out and buy one in the next year. Books are going digital!

Want proof? Well how about Mike Shatzkin’s speculations from his blog.

Here’s an assumption that is not documentable; it is my own speculation. I think we’re going to see a US market that is 80% digital for narrative text reading in the pretty near future: could be as soon as two years from now but almost certainly within five. We have talked about the cycle that leads to that on this blog before: more digital reading leads to a decline in print purchasing which further thins out the number of bookstores and drives more people to online book purchasing which further fuels digital reading. Repeat. Etcetera.
We’re already at the point where new narrative text units sold are well north of 25% digital (percent of publishers’ revenue is lower than that, of course) and we are still in a period that has lasted about five years (soon to end) where the penetration of digital has doubled or more annually. (I italicized that to emphasize that what I’m talking about doubling is the percentage of sales that are digital, not the absolute number of digital sales. Several people misinterpeted that when I made to it previously.)
Of course, penetration will slow down before it reaches 100%. I’d imagine we get to 80% in 2 to 5 years, then then to 90% in another couple of years, with the last 10% stretching out a long time. How long did it take after the invention of the car before the last person rode their horse to town? – Mike Shatzkin (Source)

Of course that is in the USA. In down-under land we like to be on the dull edge of technology and trends. I’m sure many of you are in a similar situation in your countries (UK, Germany, Canada, India, Netherlands, Russia, Malaysia, Philippines – who round out my top 10 visitor countries). So whilst we as individuals may be on the cutting edge, many of our compatriots are still wary of the idea of books that aren’t made of paper. Suffice to say we will probably need to add a few years to these predictions and subtract the price of milk (full cream, not that white water stuff).

What do you think of these predictions? I think most countries will be e-book dominant in 5 years, I’m not sure about 80% though.

Why E-books Will Win

A few books from our favourite book store – Busselton Books.

I love books. I’m not one of those e-book fans that has denied his love of old fashioned books – I recently sat down to read a good scroll. But lets face it, we live in an electronic age.

Just because we have great new toys technologies doesn’t mean we should be burning books like its 1933. There has to be a point, an advantage, in changing from paper to electronic books. Quite simply, this picture explains why.

NB: Picture explains nothing.

This is the photo of my latest book acquisition and my cute little dog-pie, Fox. I have pre-ordered 3 books in the last month, in order to receive them as they are released here in Australia. Matt’s Dead Men’s Harvest arrived in the post recently, several weeks after release, Fox was very possessive and wants to read it first. The approximate delivery dates for Matthew Reilly’s Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves and Lee Child’s The Affair are at least a week after their release.

Simply, I have to wait for my paper. I have to sit out in the pouring rain, waiting for the mail-non-gender-specific-person to bring my books. My imitation vampire skin (non-sparkly) will be burnt by our harsh Aussie sun waiting. I don’t want to wait, I want my books now.

I live on the corner of Middle and Nowhere, so my online book stores are actually closer than my physical stores. But still I wait. Given how popular book stores are at the moment with receivership’s I’m sure many of you will also be losing your physical stores too. You too will wait.

E-books just won.

E-reader screens: better than a paperback.

Have you ever wanted to know more about your e-reader? This is an interview with the vice president of E Ink, Sriram Peruvemba. E Ink is the company that makes the displays for all the leading e-book readers worldwide.
I found this interview on e-reader displays very interesting. Did you know that:
  • E ink Pearl display panels are only 200 microns thick.
  • The newer Triton displays are half as thick as the Pearl displays.
  • E ink expects to sell between 25 and 30 million e-reader displays this year.
    • That’s up 10 million from last year and 3 million the year before that.
  • Current displays are 167 dpi and they are hoping to increase that to 300 dpi soon.
  • Current displays actually have better contrast than a paperback book!
    • Older displays were only better than newspaper.

In case you didn’t know, E Ink also makes screens for a bunch of other things besides e-readers. They have E Ink watches, advertising signs, secondary displays on cellphones, USB sticks, and they are even moving onto credit cards. Essentially anything up to a kilometre long, they can make it!

Better than paperback contrast! Imagine the future of these displays.

E-books: Return of the Reader

Just like the previous two installments of this e-book saga there will be allusions to some non-existent struggle, my thoughts on the changing publishing industry, no Leia in a bikini, and definitely no Wookie. When we left our hero writers, they were diligently trying to decide whether they wanted to sign with a traditional publisher or self-publish like an indie rebel. Publishers had the track record, the self-publishing indies had the jump on the fastest growing segment in the industry: e-books.

Now hold on just a second. Traditional publishing is behind? As has already been stated in this blog, his mouth to my post, Michael Connelly is selling 45% e-books. His publishers are clearly on board of this new market place. James Rollins and Steve Berry have both released exclusive e-book short stories on Amazon and B&N as lead-ins to their next books (pity non-US people can’t buy them, not being close enough to the centre of the universe and all). I even noticed that Aussie authors like Tara Moss and Matthew Reilly are available on Kindle for under $10. Behind isn’t quite right.

On the other side of the great divide, all the cool kids authors are self-publishing. People like Konrath, Eisler, Mayer, some guy named John Locke, are doing well out of self-publishing and doing all the work themselves (or hire for service). Clearly all authors should be grabbing their manuscripts and uploading them now.

I’ll pause so you can upload your book now. Don’t forget to spell check first!

Well it seems that 10’s of thousands are doing just that. Given that 90% of everything published is probably crud, you have to question how wise it is to rush to publish. We also have to remember that e-books are still a minority share of the market place (this will change of course). Shouldn’t quality come first? Spend the time on crafting a fine book, see what industry professionals have to say about it, then publish? Preferably not the professionals that published Snooki. Basically writers will have to find the best publishing deal for them, even if it is swapping their novel for a packet of magic beans.

And here is a startling fact: readers don’t care if writers are traditionally published, indie published, self published, or published by a small Scottish Terrier named Rolf. Readers want to read something entertaining and well written. So writers shouldn’t care how they are published. To quote Nick Spalding:

“Writers on the traditional publishing side of this particular conflict want to be successful and earn a decent living as a writer, appealing to an audience with their work. On the other hand, writers on the self publishing side of this particular conflict want to be successful and earn a decent living as a writer, appealing to an audience with their work.”

What I love about e-books is that they are made for readers. Well Duh! Stick with me on this one. Lets say that it is August 2010 and I’ve just finished 61 Hours by Lee Child. Now Lee may or may not have finished with a cliffhanger in that particular book. Despite the fact that the next Reacher novel is finished and ready in boxes to go on shelves, I have to wait until the end of September to read Worth Dying For. With e-books there is no need to delay because of printing, shipping, and shop displays still being filled with James Paterson’s books. In fact, with e-books I can have the entire Reacher series downloaded the minute after I’ve finished 61 Hours to keep my spirits up while I wait.

Essentially the gap between writer and reader has been shortened. The reader is King.

So what about publishers? Well they sell books. Authors write those books for them. I don’t think that in the long run they will particularly care whether they are selling an e-book or a DTB. In fact e-books could really cut out a lot of their middle men costs.

A lot has changed in the past year or two, some of the big companies are behind to some extent, but are more likely to catchup. I still can’t believe that e-readers weren’t dreamt up by publishers and bookstores. But then again I can’t believe that Australia – lots of sun – has sent solar technology to Germany – no sun – and politicians are wanting to move from coal to gas.

As long as publishers are paying advances, advertising/promoting authors and fronting costs they will be who most authors will turn to in order to publish. And when the publisher rejects it, and the crying has finished, the author will release it, plot holes and all, on their own.

Bookshops look like the real loser here, despite their claims to the contrary. Apparently people love the smell of books. Solved. Apparently people like to browse in bookstores. Yes, nothing like spending hours in a store with your head at a funny angle to find the store doesn’t stock what you are looking for. Apparently people love the feel of books. Admittedly books are much better to throw at an intruder, although War & Peace is regarded as a lethal weapon.

Can I just point out that an e-book is a book. That you can read. Thanks for letting me clear that up.

Tenuous reasons for bookshops continued existence aside, I don’t see why there won’t be purveyors of fine literature, and the stuff I like reading, into the future. Online stores are often seen as more reputable when they have a physical storefront. Even if that storefront is never visited by anyone because it is located down a side street, off a back alley, near a crack den. Plus POD could make book buying like a trip to the deli counter for lunch.

“I’ll have the new best-seller and a long white to go thanks.”
“Did you want that signed or unsigned?”
“Hold the signing, but I will take the first chapter of the sequel at the back.”

As a reader and as a some-day published author, I think that the future is so much brighter for readers and writers. Readers will have access to more good books than ever. Writers will have greater access to an audience than ever. The future of books is very bright and may even step out of the shadow of DVD’s, when DVD’s become obsolete.

Observations from the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2011

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I’m safely home again after my trip to this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival. I really enjoyed the event and the people I spoke to also enjoyed it. While I was at the event I had an hour between sessions to have a beer and do a bit of writing. I made a few notes on the event that I thought I would share:
  • Writers’ festivals are predominately attended by middle aged women who dream of being an author.
  • Everyone fancies themselves as an intellectual (me included).
  • Actors have to dress eccentrically.
  • Publishers are continually being pitched books, especially by writers who haven’t actually finished a first draft. Publishers refer to random pitches from strangers as “another one”.
  • Writers are always being asked the same 3 questions.
  • Some writers love the crowds, others would clearly prefer to be at home writing. It sucks being a famous/successful introvert.
  • Sessions about writing are very popular, especially amongst those still working on their first book.
  • Sydney has an obsession with coffee culture.
  • Due to the coffee culture they have no idea what a cup of tea is meant to taste like.
  • The smallest population at the event is the male under 40 crowd. I’m sure I was meant to have a minority discount token as a result.
  • Apparently you have to be a feminist to be a female author, even if you write romantic fiction about finding the right man to take care of you.
  • Judging by the Sydney Dance Company’s posters I need to see more productions: all the female dancers are hot and naked.
  • Handing out promotional bottle openers at a writers’ festival is a poorly thought out strategy. It should have been a coffee mug, book mark, or cork screw.
  • Handing out promotional pens is a great idea, the lovely people at Pilot pens gave me a Frixion Clicker that isn’t even on the market yet.
  • Politics at the writers’ festival tends to be a more neutral topic than you would think. The older population and the education level tend to lean towards rational rather than partisan divisions.
  • Most people in the publishing industry are passionate about books, just like the readers. The least passionate people seem to be the ones who make the marketing and buying decisions.
  • People who like dead trees are a largely unaware of what is happening in e-books and the progressions they have made.
  • Readers at the festival were spotted reading on their phones, tablets, e-readers and of course DTB. DTB are still the most popular, but even e-readers are taking off among the older readers.
  • The sales of Michael Connelly’s latest book are apparently 45% e-books.
  • Julian Morrow (The Chaser) and his wife Lisa are really nice.
  • The Chaser, despite the best efforts of Channel 7, 9, BBC and the Queen, are still hugely popular.
  • Shamini Flint probably sold more books and garnered more fans from chairing a crime writers’ session than her advertising for the past year. Witty + Funny + Getting Michael Connelly telling jokes = Sales!
  • Gail Dines probably alienated more people with her polemic vitriol than she intended. Then again she is blind to facts and probably doesn’t care.
  • The people of Sydney were very friendly. They were just like Western Australian’s, except for their constant IV drip of coffee and lack of familiarity with sunny days.

More on the Sydney Writers’ Festival tomorrow; my dog – fur-kid, who am I kidding – needs more attention.

Some light reading

My ‘To Read’ dead tree pile.

I had a few books arrive today. If you don’t have regular arrivals then the pile pictured above dwindles suddenly and before you know it you don’t have anything to read. Suddenly you are desperate for another hit and turn towards the cereal box and the DVD instructions booklet. Fortunately I have 120 or so books to read on my e-reader as well. But after the books pictured above, and the books on my e-reader, I’ll have no books left to read!

Yes, despite being a fan of e-books, I am still a fan of dead trees. I have many fond memories of dead trees. The time I used one to level a table with an uneven leg. The time I threw one at the TV for showing “CSI: Miami” instead of “Burn Notice”. The time I used a bag full of them to prop open a door with a hydraulic hinge. Good times. For the people that haven’t gotten on board of the e-book I thought that I would run through the pros and cons of each.

Dead Tree Pros:

  • They are a book.
  • You can read them.
  • They make you look smart/nerdy when you have lots of shelves of them.

Dead Tree Cons:

  • Being a physical entity they have to be physically moved to your house.
  • Generally more expensive than an e-book.
  • Can’t stop a .45 slug, despite claims to the contrary.

E-book Pros:

  • They are a book.
  • You can read them.
  • When you want another you just download it.
  • Everyone thinks you are reading the latest political biography when you are really engrossed in the love triangle between a teenage girl, a 100 year old pedophile, and a smelly dog (yes I got dragged to the Twilight films by my wife).
  • Text can be resized.

E-book Cons:

  • E-books can’t be used to start a fire in a life threatening situation.
  • E-book files won’t be forever, but the database will be, which means updating your collection.
  • E-readers cost money too.
  • E-readers are even less likely to stop a .45 slug.

What is my key point out of all of this? Well if you like reading you will like both ebooks and dead trees. I can see ebooks replacing a large proportion of the book market in the near future, quite simply because buying (or borrowing) another book is quicker using your ereader. No longer will you have to wait for parcels to arrive in the mail. No longer will you have to travel to a store. No longer will you have to smell the vagrants that camp at the local library. No longer will you have to pray that the store or library actually has the book you are looking for in stock.

The cost of the e-reader is a point which needs considering. Eventually this cost will come down as the technology advances. E-readers are also a great platform and I don’t think that they can be a multi-task tool, unless the battery life and screens can provide a perfunctory reading experience. The marriage of the e-book and e-reader with e-stores may constitute polygamy, but it does result in a great convenience for readers all around the world.

Points to consider with ereaders:

  • LCD screens chew batteries and are just another computer screen.
  • E-ink is like normal dead tree text, has long battery life, even if page turns are a little slow.
  • Screen size has to be roughly book size, unless you enjoy squinting like Clint Eastwood.
  • Pdf’s are not a good format for reading, they are only really made in one size, screens are not.
  • Do you read a lot and want to have a separate e-reader or an all-in-one toy like a tablet?
  • Weight is a big deal. Anything more than a few hundred grams is going to feel heavy if you read for more than 10-20 minutes.

The basic summary of all these points is that the more you read the more you will want an exclusive e-reader. This is true even if you like dead trees. In fact, every person I have met who has made the change has commented that they were unsure until they got one, then they love e-readers and will never go without one again.

I love books in all their forms, you should too.

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