E-Reader Hysteria: A little common sense to correct the discussion – Part 2

Let’s take a look at electronic readers from the human reader’s perspective. I’m going to move away from the “but I like the feel of paper” argument, because – as the objections I addressed last time have shown –  many of those people haven’t ever tried an e-reader. Or tried one with an open mind.

The best news for human readers is that e-readers are becoming more accessible! According to Wired.com, Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader is expected to go on sale at Best Buy stores in the U.S. starting April 19, while Amazon’s Kindle might be seen at Target later this month. This is great news! Expanding the market must result in competitive pricing, especially considering today’s retail climate. I’m practically drooling.

And speaking of today’s retail market, here are some numbers you might find interesting:

The American Association of Publishers (AAP) reports that in 2009, U.S. print book sales fell 1.8% based on sales data from 86 publishers and data from the Bureau of the Census. BUT according to the 13 publishers that report figures to AAP, e-book sales shot up 176.6%!

The jump in e-book sales coupled with the decline in print books increased e-books’ market share from 1.2% in 2008 to 3.3% in 2009. Shall we ask why?

1. Price. Books are cheaper – or free. And you get to keep them.

2. Portability. Carry your entire library in your briefcase or your purse.

3. Accessibility. Finish that Twilight book and need the next one at 1:15am? No problem.

What else do you need?

I have a dear friend who hopes that she’ll be able to rent books someday like she rents movies: pay a monthly fee, have them downloaded to her reader for a period, then deleted by the supplier. I thought that made a lot of sense, until I started researching it. Here’s what I found:

If I want to rent “Citizen Kane” or “Avatar” I will pay the same rental fee for both movies, whether I do it in person at Blockbuster or online through Netflix. If I want to purchase a DVD of those two movies, they will cost about the same. Movie pricing is pretty stable. Rental fees are stable. Premium channel subscriptions are stable.

But I went to Amazon’s Kindle Store, selected fiction, and had the choices (all 179,446 of them) sorted by price – low to high. I stopped scrolling after I hit a thousand FREE titles. There were more, but my index finger got tired. (I’ll be going back to get some of those, though!)

Considering that e-books can be had for free, and many are priced under $5, what would the monthly fee for “renting” e-books be? What would make it viable? Considering that a movie can be watched in 2 hours, but a book may take 2 weeks to read, how can a monthly rental price be set that gives the consumer true value?

(After posting & talking to my friend, I am amending my comments!) It doesn’t seem that it can, UNLESS this service is offered for new releases only which sell for up to $14.99 apiece. A monthly charge of, say $8.99 per month – comparable to Netflix – with unlimited downloaded rentals might work, but only if the books were withdrawn after a set time period, such as 30 days. Any entrepreneurs out there want to tackle this one?

Factor in the upcoming generations and tight school board budgets. One e-reader costs less than 2 new textbooks. And those e-textbooks can be automatically updated wirelessly. The average high school student has 5 textbooks a year; double that for college. And those books are freakishly heavy. See where this is going?

I will concede that e-readers are prime for fiction – but that is also the largest share of book sales! Romance books claim 27% of the entire print market. Non-fiction that is read for personal gain is also well-served. Non-fiction read for instruction requires a device that allows for highlighting, annotating and bookmarking, and the heavy hitters do.

The book and print industry has gone largely unchanged since Johannes Guttenberg first pressed for profit back in 1450. While his invention inarguably changed the world, we are probably due for another change.

And this change is hugely beneficial for authors as well as readers! Come back Thursday and find out why!

10 Responses to “E-Reader Hysteria: A little common sense to correct the discussion – Part 2”

  1. 1 Julie Robinson 04/12/2010 at 10:39 PM

    Hi Kris,

    I love my print books, but my DH has read a lot more since we got an e-reader.
    Originally, he was hoping I would get rid of all my print books and have them on the e-reader instead. He’s come to realize the futility of that dream.
    Although I don’t mind romances on the ereader, I like to have non-fiction reference books in print. And I don’t see that changing.

  2. 2 kristualla 04/12/2010 at 11:12 PM

    I agree about the reference books – I said that last time. Hands-on is great for tasks and research. (But they are a very small percentage of overall book sales.) Yay for your DH! Mine won’t even read MY books! 🙂


  3. 3 Linda 04/13/2010 at 7:08 AM

    When my daughter started at ASU, the college bookstore offered etextbooks. They weren’t any cheaper than a used book and couldn’t be turned in at the end of the year for credit. Plus the license was only good for a semester so you’d have to buy it again if you had to retake the class. Where’s the benefit in that? I was disappointed that the school wasn’t more progressive.

    Since then I have read that traditional publishers want to charge 13 dollars for ebooks so they can make a profit and realized who really was to blame. Such price gouging won’t work on ebooks. After all there are so many available for free and most ebook publishers offer deep discounts. I love reading ebooks on my pda, storing them in cyberspace and I can even check them out via my computer from my library.

    Does this mean I don’t read paper books anymore? Nope. I read happily read both.

    • 4 kristualla 04/13/2010 at 1:46 PM

      Isn’t the greed sad? McMillan is to blame for the rise in e-book pricing. The industry is trying desperately to keep control and force the old model on the new technology. But my “Primer” e-book cost ZERO DOLLARS to publish, and the $2.95 price reflects that. (The marketer does take a share of each sale.)

      It’s an interesting transition time!
      Kris 🙂

  4. 5 amberscottproject 04/13/2010 at 10:42 AM

    Plus, with readers like Nook, you can listen to music, too. When I write, I have my iPod on hand to help me create mood and rhythm. How cool would it be to listen to the author’s soundtrack while reading a book like Twilight! I see a future in that.
    I love the accessibility point you make, too. I was that reader at 1:15!

  5. 6 Donna Hatch 04/13/2010 at 12:50 PM

    I want an ebook for a lot of reasons, many of which you touched on, but I don’t think I’ll ever totally give up print books. So, I guess my answer is…both!!!!

    • 7 kristualla 04/13/2010 at 1:49 PM

      I went into the Kindle world a skeptic. I was won over with the first book. Today I was reading outside at a restaurant and realized – no one knew WHAT book I was reading! Bodice-ripping romance? Or deep literary fiction?

      I realized the anonymity and LOVED it! Another plus!
      Kris 🙂

      PS – It was “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. Riveting.

  6. 8 amberscottproject 04/13/2010 at 3:12 PM

    I just logged onto Amazon to cash in my 2nd Place Columnist prize from 1st Turning Point and, front and center, are the various Kindle apps now available and for free. You can get Kindle on your PC, MAC, iPhone AND iPad now? Holy cow, here it comes.

  7. 9 kristualla 04/13/2010 at 9:43 PM

    WOW!!! Amazing.
    Kris 🙂

  8. 10 murphylee35 04/23/2010 at 12:24 PM

    Cool article, Im personally excited about the eTextbooks aspect of the new eReaders.

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