BEA 2009: A Bit of Deja Vu All Over Again

June 1st, 2009 · 43 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

It is perhaps telling that I left BookExpo America 2009 with the same feeling I had in 2006. And 2008. This time, however, there is also a layer of optimism, the product, actually, of the Publishing 3.0 presentation from the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It’s too big for a nutshell, so hang on for bit. I’m sure I’ll bring it all home.

Things that make sense in one bubble might not make sense in another.

This year’s theme was Big Ideas. I didn’t see any (unless forgoing a booth in favor of a meeting room is a Big Idea, and it just might be), but will take it as a given that some were shared. Part of the problem with Big Ideas is that you never know you have one until a few days, weeks, months, or years later. So here’s my Big Idea: let’s stop talking and start listening.

Item the first: Sherman Alexie, an author I admire, took on the role of John Updike, the fear mongerer of the 2006 show, at this year’s conference, proudly declaring:

…he refused to allow his novels to be made available in digital form. He called the expensive reading devices “elitist” and declared that when he saw a woman sitting on the plane with a Kindle on his flight to New York, “I wanted to hit her.”

Um, nice. Alexie, like many authors, declared war on something he doesn’t understand. eReading devices are a conduit, not a requirement. Most people who read digital books do so on more traditional computers, and many use outdated technology. Reading on cell phones is a growing habit for readers. Dedicated devices, something I’m still on the fence about even though I own one, are part of the digital mix.

It is elitism of the worst kind to dictate how people are to read your words. The egalitarian approach demands that every new book be made available in every practical format. You do not know the circumstances of your customers, but you can bet they lead lives as busy and hectic as yours. You want people to buy and read books? Make it easy for them.

In the CEO Roundtable, publishers repeated the “it’s 2006 all over again feeling” as they responded to questions about digital marketing and success. In a continued misuse of the “viral” marketing meme, one publisher declared it doesn’t work. I’d ask, “Did you have a call to action? Did you make it easy for the viewer of the video to move from engaged and interested to customer?” That’s what bookstores do best. Online marketing — of any kind — does not work if the customer cannot end the process with a book purchase.

Having a top video on YouTube is great and I’d surmise there were more books sold as a result than the speaker realized. The video was to build awareness, create one of the all-important seven impressions of a product. It’s part of the mix, not the solution.

Finally, as I am going to presume will be happening every year, there was the awkward book blogger panel. It’s not that the bloggers are awkward, it’s that the conversation that felt stale in 2006 (how can publishers work with bloggers) feels hallucinatory in 2009 (no really, how can publishers work with bloggers?). It’s time to start talking with each other.

Which leads me to my Big Idea (and I am not alone in having this idea). I’m not worried about the future of reading or writing. I’m not worried about the future of publishing. What worries me is the fact that publishers sit in front of audiences and declare that the $9.99 ebook price point must be killed. It cannot be sustained. No way, no how.

Yet that ship sailed over a year ago. Way out to sea. Nearing its destination. It’s not going to turn around. (No this is not another post about pricing.) It does the industry absolutely no good to have CEOs sitting in front of an audience, making declarations about how the world works, without providing appropriate counter-discussion from readers — the people who actually discover, buy, read, and talk about books.

Right now, as Yen Cheong of Penguin notes, the conversation is so critical, yet we’re not having it:

When it comes to discussing the future of publishing, publishers will admit that we’re at a crossroads but are, understandably, reluctant to issue more detailed public proclamations. It’s unfortunate because there are plenty of people interested in and knowledgeable about the publishing industry who would like to participate in these “future of publishing” discussions.

While I get the point behind Yen’s use of the word “understandably”, I’d counter with the idea that these important conversations require a bit of give and take on both sides. Things that make sense in the bubble that is a marketing meeting might not make sense in the bubble that is a reader. Or the bubble that is the bookseller.

The CEO conversation is one-way. Sherman Alexie’s proclamation about ebooks is one-way. How about asking real people about pricing? How about asking real readers, a nursing mother, for example, why she’s buying ebooks at 3 in the morning (I think Alexie would find his mind changed)? In the comments to Debbie Stier’s BEA wrap-up, there is an interesting response to the HarperCollins decision to give away egalleys (I like Debbie’s point and I like the comment, both are right):

Regarding e-galleys, a bookseller from San Diego spoke passionately about his feelings for them while we were waiting in line to see Dr. Ruth: “What good is a postcard with instructions on how to download the e-book when I’m looking for something to read on the plane ride home?” He also didn’t like that the format was incompatible with the Kindle.

The point here is that HarperCollins had a nifty idea, but maybe a little more discussion with the end customer (in this case, a bookseller) would have shifted that idea from nifty to great. While it is indeed understandable that publishers want to keep some things quiet, it’s also a good idea to open the lines of communication.

There was, getting back to the LA Times panel, a lot of conversation. I know of at least two dinners where publishing was saved. In many ways, this conversation is happening around big publishers, but — with some great exceptions — they’re not joining in as much as they should. I think there are valuable lessons to learn on both sides.

So my big takeaway, my Big Idea, from BookExpo 2009 is that the publishers who take the time to really listen to their constituency, from distributors to readers, will survive the ocean crossing into the future (and there will be some rough seas ahead!) while the publishers who don’t will be lost at sea.

Now off to see what kind of trouble Google’s started…

Note: As noted in the comments, the super fab Edward Champion interview Sherman Alexie about his comments. You can see the expanded comments here. Some points I agree with, some I don’t, and I appreciate him taking the time to respond.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

43 responses so far ↓

  • Debbie stier // Jun 1, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Great post. I agree with everything you say.

  • Gina Frangello // Jun 1, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    great points as always. yes, the Book Blogger panel was surreal all right. while i enjoyed BEA, there was in general a weird surrealism in the air, and a kind of panic as though no one expected BEA to even exist next year. one sales rep actually said as much to me. and while Twitter is interesting and all, i don’t think i attended a single panel all weekend where it wasn’t the buzz-word. Twitter was the new black of BEA. or, of course, not even new, the “no, really–you should consider black.”

  • Justin R // Jun 1, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    I regret not making the time to meet you at BEA. Will remedy in the future. Always a pleasure.

  • Erin McHugh // Jun 1, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    BoookSquare was there, and she was NOT wearing rose-colored glasses. I was standing behind her! (And she’s 100% right!)

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  • M.J. Rose // Jun 1, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Boy are you right on with everything you said. I’m about to link to your comments on my blog. In every other biz in the world the biggest mandate is listening to the customer. In advertising we spend millions of dollars in focus groups and research to find out the things that publishers are ignoring and not taking into account.

    We need a revolution.

  • Diana Hunter // Jun 1, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    One of the problems I have with BEA is that it’s just too darn BIG. Reminds me of the elephant and the blind men. Everyone can only see a small part of what’s going on because the animal is too large to get one’s mind around.

    That said, I spoke with one foreign publisher (sorry, don’t have my notes in front of me and can’t remember which one), who seemed almost disdainful of this paltry gathering of publishers. He spoke glowingly of Frankfurt’s bookfair and how wonderful an experience it was. And that begs the question: Just what is the point of these conferences, anyway?

    Seems to me that question might be getting lost in all those competing voices you speak of, Kassia. Sorry our ships passed in the night. We’ll meet up sooner or later! :)

    Diana

  • L.J. Sellers // Jun 1, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    You’re so right. People are buying e-books and they like the price! Publishers should be brainstorming ways to print and sell books for $9.99 if they want to compete. I’m with M.J. Rose. We need a revolution.

  • Diana Peterfreund // Jun 1, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    I was one of the authors in the HC e-ARCs, and I’ve gotten a ton of feedback from people who did find the book, who were able to go back to their hotel rooms and download it for the plane ride home, or who were happy that they weren’t breaking their backs with all the heavy books. Overall, the experience was pretty positive. I mean, with the dozens of ARCs the average BEA attendant brings home with them, it’s unlikely that YOURS is going to be the plane ride book, right?

    Can’t please all of the people all of the time.

  • Maya // Jun 1, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    In this age of conversations(twitter/blogs/socmed), I am amazed at how *away* publishers manage to stay. When conversations fail to happen, innovations fail to happen (by publishers). But guess what, other people will continue to innovate while the big publishers sit still. And then, some business class will talk about this new innovation as “disruptive media”…

    Do big publishers not do any qualitative market research? No hard to do it in today’s technological landscape at all.

    The thing is that NOBODY has an idea about what will work, but there are just such few people trying to find out what *might* work and THAT is the real pity. I am trying and it is rather hard for me to have any conversation with so called *insiders* in the publishing space. But I am having great conversations nevertheless :)

    I wish we all just sat around and spoke :)

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  • Carolyn Jewel // Jun 2, 2009 at 8:51 am

    I just wish that, as an author, I had more influence over what (and how) my publishers are willing to do with the e-rights they acquire from me.

    I imagine that an author of Sherman Alexie’s stature has more influence than mid-listers like me — that’s influence in terms of contract negotiations, by the way.

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  • Allison Brennan // Jun 2, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Hi Kassia . . . here by way of MJ Rose’s blog. I agree with so much of what you say, but there is something we all need to consider when we talk about the price of e-books and/or print books. It’s much harder to steal a print book. Mass markets are priced low enough for consumers ($6.99-7.99 on average) and the publisher gets roughly half that to pay for production, staff, paper, royalties, shipping, etc. They make their money on the quantity sold. There have been many attempts at lower priced hardcovers–Karen Rose is one off the top of my head who was priced at $17.99, I believe, for a big meaty book in h/c.

    But e-books are easy to buy one copy and mass distribute it without payment to the publisher or author. There IS a cost of producing that book, especially when they’re not making the money on the sales.

    24 hours after my first audio book went on sale, it was illegally available to download. usually the day my books go on sale, they are illegally available. Fighting that costs money.

    I think e-books should be cheaper to reflect the cost of no paper and shipping. But paper is still only part of the cost of the book, and there are other costs e-books incur.

    I don’t think there is a perfect solution, though I do agree that publishers should be more proactive in promoting and spreading the word on the different formats books are available. I want people to read my books–I honestly don’t care how they read: in print, electronically, or with their ears.

    And I’m ALL for focus groups and listening to consumers!

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 2, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Allison — Believe me, I know the costs of creating print and ebooks (in addition to the existing fixed costs such as editorial, a whole new range of cost are introduced). That being said — since this wasn’t a rant on pricing, I’ll be brief (ha!) — readers have created a long list of valid points regarding their feelings about pricing while publishers have not, shall we say?, made a good case for their position. Case in point: they have not addressed concerns about the fact that ebook purchases are often “leases”, in that service providers can pull the plug and readers lose their libraries (Bob from Books on Board actually started his company after this happened to him twice). Likewise, publishers have not responded to concerns about the inherent loss of reader rights associated with digital books (sharing, reselling).

    We need to have real conversation. The music business chose not to talk to its customers and we saw how that worked out (the ugly, the bad, and the good).

    I believe ebook prices need to reflect reader reality as much publisher reality. I’m going to paraphrase and transform something Richard Nash said at the LAT FoB (and probably destroy his original meaning in the process — my apologies, Richard): publishers cannot “re-educate” readers to spend more for ebooks because readers don’t really care about the business model; they want to buy and read books.

    Piracy is a huge issue and will continue to be a huge issue. I wish we didn’t live in a society where people behave this way, but, well, there have always been bad actors. Part of fighting piracy is eliminating some of the mitigating factors (it won’t stop thievery, but addressing some underlying reasons goes a long way). That being said, one thing that is coming clear that there are some positive aspects to this piracy: recent research has shown some positive effects. That’s not to say all piracy is good, but sometimes we need to look at the big picture impact. Another thing that is interesting — and overlooked, even by a recent NYT article — is the fact that piracy indicates demand (large demand, small demand, who knows?). The NYT piece called out a 1969 Ursula LeGuin book, a title not available in a legal digital format.

    (I just had a nutty side thought while typing this — for those authors who cannot afford to digitize their older rights reverted works, maybe they should engage in reverse piracy by grabbing these files and making them available through legal channels. Yeah, either too much coffee or too little sleep. Or both.)

  • katiebabs // Jun 2, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Makes you wonder where things will be 3 years from now. Even though I did find the Blogger panel a big awkward, at least it is a move in the right direction. It all depends if anything will come out of it. The Firebrand booth was nice also. Hopefully next year there will be more blogger orientated panels and perhaps more booths showing off blogs and what they can do to help publishers and authors.

  • Natasha @ Maw Books // Jun 2, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have conversations over again, ie: book blogger panel. People in the industry come and go. What I found really surprising was how many publishers I talked to while visiting the booths who had NO idea what a book blog was. I got a lot of empty stares and had a lot of explaining to do.

  • Doug // Jun 3, 2009 at 12:09 am

    though I doubt you’ll let this post, it must be said. You are talking about class issues in exactly the same way you insist the publishing industry engage with you: with a deaf ear.

    Alexie’s comments about the Kindle resonated with people who don’t live in houses with white picket fences.

    You claim to speak for the common reader or some such nonsense but your words are so patently elitist as to make me want to vomit.

    I don’t know you – except through your very visible and cultivated opinions on the Kindle. And though I will research you and get to know you better, at this time, you need to hear – if you can – why this Kindle discussion resonates far, far beyond the reaches of the bubble that is the BEA.

    @Kassia Krozser … this is where I stopped reading.
    There is such a disconnect between your glossy, capital driven values and what Alexie’s speaking about (and to whom.)
    I suspect you grew up in a safe, enclosed suburb; the sort of poverty Alexie references is dirt poor poverty. The sort that doesn’t “exist” in the great ole’ U S of A because it’s rendered invisible. A book – a physical book – becomes a lifeline that requires no electricity and can be taken anywhere.
    Vs. a “kindle” (WTF that is) or ereader which is plastic, easily broken and, as everyone knows, expensive. I’ve held one and, besides the dreadful screen element, one whack/drop/sneeze, they seem liable to break.
    So, while being “respectful” of your logical pretzel making, you are fairly clueless to the REALITY many POOR people (you may have read about the rise of tents cities in our great nation, in Fresno, outside Las Vegas and, oh, yeah, the fiasco that is still New Orleans) face on a daily basis. With wealthy people screaming – screaming! – about a 4% “increase,” the kindle is a joke, yet it’s not: it’s another way, as Alexie so correctly points out, cultural imperialism advances.
    Who appointed Jeff f’ing Bezos king of the word?
    Nobody.
    Writers, yeah, those people who deal in language are the monarchs in this world. Always have been, always will be. The kindle bearing Bezos is a TOOL: for a narrow and exclusive “right” (to another poster, the almighty dollar: really? that’s the sole reason for the US of A?) to determine what you read vis how you read.
    Till the day I die, I will not buy from Amazon, or its ilk.

    “Educate” myself? About digital tech? Cue, eyeroll. I can read – and have read enough of these puffed up techie responses (the same purveyors of, “Information wants to be ‘free’ whatever that meant: oh yeah, the same way code writers work for free, doctors, scientists, and every other professional?)

    Take your Kindle and, kindly, shove it.

  • Allison Brennan // Jun 3, 2009 at 7:15 am

    Kassia, great points, and the article is very interesting (I skimmed, have bookmarked.) I don’t think there is a perfect solution for everyone. But I DO think that anyone in the business of selling something should listen to their consumers. (I’ve never thought that piracy as it exists today in publishing equals a lost sale . . . yet.) Chao.

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 3, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Doug — You clearly *don’t* know me or the circumstances of my upbringing. They’re neither here nor there. But let’s put this out there: the Kindle is just one way people — real readers — can access digital books. The truth of the matter is that most readers of ebooks do so on computers. They want to read so much they willing scroll down long pages of text or page through PDF files. They sit and they stare at poorly lit screens. Increasingly, they are using cell phones for reading. And while many of these people *do* have access to libraries, the truth is that library budgets are being cut left and right. Hours are being cut. Services are being cut.

    To read digital books, you do not need a Kindle. However, people like me who own Kindles are investing in a technology that can be made better and cheaper over time. It might be elitist (and I have never disputed that role for myself), but it’s also how technology works in this world. Early adopters pave the way for future users. I find great utility in my Kindle, but you don’t have to buy one to read books. In a few years, we will look back at the Kindle, amazed at how primitive they are. (I note that Alexie did not call the iPod elitist, though many of his arguments could be applied to that device as well.)

    So ask yourself: how will the majority of people access good books in a time of shrinking availability — libraries, bookstores, selection? If authors withhold digital rights (as some do), that cuts off one avenue for reading. I do not believe it is appropriate for an author to assume the circumstances of the end reader. Make it easy for people to access and read books. Digital reading is *part* of the mix, not the mix.

    In this day and age, it is far more likely that low income (or no income) people will, at the very least, have access to a cell phone. That technology is improving thanks to those early adopters I mentioned above. Once upon a time, cell phones were very expensive (either by themselves or due to onerous service plans). That has changed. And that change has given many more people, both in the United States and around the world, access to new sources of information.

    You do not have to buy a Kindle. You do not have to shop at Amazon. You don’t have to read digital books. You are free to make your own choices. As am I.

    Yeah, if you are a professional writer, you’d better educate yourself about this market. It’s your career. If you don’t take care of your own business, nobody will. Alexie made an excellent point in his response to questions from Edward Champion (linked above in comments and end of post) regarding this issue.

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 3, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Natasha — your comment reminds me of a key point: polls over the years regarding blog reading have suggested that fewer people read blogs than it would seem. I’ve long theorized the reason is that most people don’t differentiate between a blog and a website. In fact, for many years, I resisted using the word blog (but have come to accept it) because it doesn’t fit what my site is — though I use WordPress, I don’t engage in the activities some define as blogging. I think that’s why we encounter so much confusion.

    I am, however, eagerly awaiting the day where we move beyond bloggers telling publishers how to work with them, and publishers telling bloggers they want to work with them, and nobody sitting down at a table to hammer out the issues of working together. I think bloggers will continue to work in their independent fashion, meaning publishers will lose due to the fact that they failed to cultivate necessary business relationships. Put another way: publishers need bloggers far more than the bloggers need the publishers.

  • Chris Hoopes // Jun 3, 2009 at 11:43 am

    What gets me about Serman Alexie’s statement is that five of his books are available in Kindle format on Amazon. One of his books is available on Fictionwise in eReader format.

    Permission had to have been granted somewhere for those books to be offered digitally. It just seems very hypocritical to have someone denounce digital formats, state he is refusing to allow his books to be offered digitally, when there are several of his books available in digital format. It clearly comes off as someone playing to the crowd before him.

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 3, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Chris — I think it’s helpful to read Sherman Alexie’s response to Ed Champion. I don’t wholly agree with him but do see his point, particularly as it relates to the current business and the future of the business. I think his statement below is a bit different than what he said initially:

    I have to make my books available electronically. I have held out on the matter for as long as possible, but I have no author allies in this fight, so I have to submit. I have to sign contracts for eBook rights. I’m doing this in the blind because none of us know what’s going to happen. The last screenwriters’ strike in Hollywood was largely the result of this same issue. The legal issues regarding the Internet and copyrights and revenue are still unclear. And I don’t think I’m so crazy to worry that large corporations may not have my best interests in mind when they are offering me deals.

  • Mike Shatzkin // Jun 3, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Kassia,
    Thanks for making that last Sherman Alexie comment so accessible. He bemoans the fact that he is being forced to make deals without knowing the ultimate consequences (as the writers in Hollywood were.) Well, welcome to the real world! That’s PRECISELY the problem the publishers are having deciding about ebook pricing, DRM, and what share of ebooks they can afford to give to authors. (Too bad they don’t think harder about what share they can afford to give to intermediaries.)

    We are in transitional times and we’re going to have to do a lot of guessing. Not to decide is to decide.

  • Doug // Jun 3, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    To your credit you let my post stand.

    Thank you.

    That said, I still ***TOTALLY*** disagree with your stance (btw, I found you via the edrants blog so I’m already familiar with Alexie’s response – my post below the first comments of my post, addressed to you, are up on that site.)

    It’s intesting to see how comments have shifted, tonally, and somewhat different in your recent posts. So, something is getting through.

    This is not the platform for a discussion of Marxist ideology nor is it fair to freight the (pathetic) kindle with that.

    HOWEVER, what this discussion does point to is a huge, huge, huge class divide in this country.

    You write, “It might be elitist (and I have never disputed that role for myself)” and I spit my coffee. Assuming you’re elitist by way of a university education, at some point you brushed up against history & last century’s Revolutions (the Bolsheviks, Maoism, et al.) All these revolutions began, essentially, in extreme class disparity, the sort you, apparently, and others endorse.

    This country is founded and functions, essentially because there is a vast middle class. I’ll make a wild leap and assume that, even from your elitist perch, you know people are being thrown out of their homes at unbelivable rates. Barely getting by is becoming tent city USA by the day. As a citizen, I am alarmed by this: the underlying (well, stated) about the kindle’s “inevitable” accessibility betray a callousness and a shortsighted that’s astonishing.

    This ongoing hallucination, pimped by a tech industry that doesn’t really care about content (the copyright issue would be much different were it the patent issue pertaining to machines) & that DRM / kindles/ et al are somehow going to save the book industry stubbornly ignores one very basic fact: the economy of scale ie., large numbers of people, that you’re implicitly counting on, ‘eventually’ buoying the book industry, etc. CAN’T AFFORD KINDLES.

    I understand though. After three decades of Reganism (remember the famous “trickle down” theory? mmm, didn’t work out, did it) and other brainwashing the identification with the ruling class is pervasive and, in that context, the belief in the kindle/DRM, etc. makes sense.

    Where this ends up, who knows. But when the brown shirts come for you – all inclusive of Kassia & Unapologetic Self-Styled Elitists and other Ralph Lauren buying Yahoos – bearing pitch forks and frothing at the mouth, don’t be surprised.

  • James // Jun 3, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Anybody who writes “I’m not worried about the future of reading or writing” is not to be taken seriously. The state of both in America is absolutely dismal, as should be obvious to anyone paying attention. This debate over technology obscures the real problem: not enough people read, not enough people write well, our educational system is a travesty.

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  • Chris Hoopes // Jun 3, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Thank you for posting his response. It makes it easier to see his stance.

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 4, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Doug — again, you are attributing characteristics to me that simply don’t exist. That said, I am not ashamed of my education, nor should I be. Nor should anyone who has worked hard to attain any level of learning. I’ve worked with adults who, for the first time in their lives, are learning to read, and once they achieve literacy, they are rightfully proud. Will that ability alone pull them out of poverty? No, but the determination they exhibit will go a long way toward achieving that goal.

    You are conflating the Kindle, a machine, with class warfare. It’s a thing. It’s not a necessary thing. It’s a thing. A tool. You do not need a Kindle to read books. You do not need an iPod to listen to music. I’d argue that the cell phone, especially for those living in poverty, is a necessity. As I said before, early investors in the technology have paved the way to make prices affordable today. For me, for the way I read, for my work, the Kindle is a good thing (and if I didn’t own this device, I’d own a Sony Reader — the device is a professional tool as much as a personal tool).

    The Kindle will not save the book industry. It’s a thing. But there are some very real problems facing large publishing corporations, and opening up new markets is essential if they want to reach new readers. Digital books are increasingly becoming part of the reading mix, and I believe this increased access is good for people who want to read. Because, well, I don’t try to dictate the circumstances under which people read (see: J.K. Rowling). Maybe it’s because I know the type of person who reads digital books. And the Kindle (and other digital readers) are not the primary way the average person reads ebooks. Nope, it’s still a basic computer, and often an older model at that. No Kindle is required. If you’re read anything I’ve written, you’ll see that I strongly advocate for openness (no DRM, which only serves to frustrate legitimate customers) and portability.

    I’m not sure what your issue is. You don’t like Amazon. You don’t like the Kindle. You accuse people like me (even though you have no idea what I’m about) of callousness without evidence. You focus on a single device rather than big picture issues surrounding getting books and readers together. You seem to define elitism very narrowly, especially since you seem to be practicing a form of it yourself.

    So, how much work have you done to ensure that the masses you speak for are getting access to books, learning to read, finding employment? I certainly put my money and time where my mouth is. Do you? Have you worked with literacy programs? Do you buy locally to ensure that jobs stay in your community? Do you patronize your local bookstore to help stave off urban blight? What are you doing to make sure libraries stay open and funded? Are you working in a soup kitchen? Are you helping put people together with jobs?

    The Kindle is not the problem. The Kindle is not the solution. I am not going to apologize for owning one.

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 4, 2009 at 10:41 am

    There was some confusion about my comment regarding “activities some define as blogging” — there are weblog purists who define blogging very specifically (classic, old school diary-esque daily entries), and I’ve been accused of not being a “real” blogger because I don’t follow that definition. I don’t believe there is a single definition of blogger, especially in this day and age. Sorry if that wasn’t clear in my response.

  • TonyA // Jun 4, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    The difference in production cost difference between e-books and new hardcovers: $1.50 per/book. That’s right, $1.50. Printing and shipping are VERY minor costs, relatively, given that the costs of marketing and acquiring don’t change (and, in fact, generally go up-authors demand a higher advance because they get lower royalties, and e-distribution has an entirely unappreciated cost).

    So, yes, $9.99 can’t be sustained. It’s not going to be killed because the big bad CEOs say so, it’s going to be killed because the only reason it makes sense in the first place is so Amazon can sell their $349 and $489 dollar e-reading devices and monopolize the market. When (not if, WHEN) Amazon is truly pushed by competitors (which they surely will be by fall at the latest, when Apple launches their larger screen ithingy) that price will go up because no one, not the publishers, distributors, booksellers, authors, etc. make any money off it. That’s life.

  • Doug // Jun 4, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Ugh, this is what I hate about blogs & comments sections: the ***infinite*** potential for back and forth’ness, misunderstandings, etc.

    So, to dial back.

    I was, initially, responding to your comments about Alexie’s comments. They have received a fair amount of attention. As I (underlined, underscored thrice) heard what he was saying, Kindle / random e-reader device is a) expensive and b) out of reach of many ***poor*** people (which I would define a little bit more expansively than the US government does but that’s splitting hairs.)

    Your comments, I’m thinking, the vibe of your blog – and this is your blog, you put it up, you run it, you invest time, energy all that – is pretty clear from the images. Fanciful. Maybe?

    I don’t “hate” Amazon or Kindle or any of that (or, you, just for the record: I think you’re actually very openminded and tolerant.)

    What bugs the BEEJESUZ out of me – and Alexie as I understood him – is the insatiable corporate devouring of everything in its path (publishing companies that are part of corporations with exacting demands for bottom line returns, etc.) These capitalist goals are oppositional to a sustainable book culture. I don’t know about you, but as fast as I read and as many books as I bu at local book stores AT FULL RETAIL (yes, I’m that fool) and give them to friends, and etc., I still cannot individually sustain book culture.

    So your comments maybe if you stepped back and reread them, they could be construed as off putting? I hate internet crack pots and, here, on post three, I have this horrible feeling I’ve just become one. However, I also hate where this country has gone, class wise. I, me, from where I sit and what I know and what I’ve lived through: the Kindle represents everything I hate about consumer culture.

    I see your point about reaching as many readers as possible but I don’t see the kindle/electronic devices as being the vehicle for that. This is subjective, too: you have a kindle (I don’t) and though I’ve tried one, I cannot stand the feel of it, the way the words look, all of that.

    So, about a machine, we disagree. About books, I suspect, we probably agree about a lot. If we didn’t, we’d just ignore one another.

    That said, it was very difficult, being the person I am, not to have read your ***provocative*** comments and withheld a response. So, while this is your blog (delete away!), it’s also public and, if people disagree, well, oh well.

    I write plays under a pseudonym and one was recently produced overseas. The reviews: a range. But – but – I found myself entirely focused on the negative, though there was one that could only be described as a love letter.

    I haven’t gone into your archives, but I cannot believe this isn’t the first time you’ve stirred the pot … :) (Yes, smiley faces are juvenile but I actually like you. So, there. I only wish you had a preview option.)

    @TonyA actually gives me the perfect off ramp from these comments. From what I know about advances & the cost of sustaining a publishing model that fits with an economy of scale, you’re right (if I’m reading you correctly), the $9.99 figure cannot sustain the acquisition & production (editorial, art, offices, all the basic stuff) and marketing that goes into producing a quality book. What you say about competition makes sense – these machines will come down in price. Whether they gather a demographic large enough to sustain them, that remains to be seen.

  • Amy @ My Friend Amy // Jun 4, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    I agree about the website vs. blog…people don’t often realize they are on a blog when on one, and Technorati did actually report this at some point.

    I do wonder about e-readers..I can’t get all worked up about them (maybe the difference between a litblogger and book blogger. ;) but when we had one of our weekly discussion questions about e-books our international bloggers were quick to point out they wouldn’t be an option for them anytime soon. And quite frankly, apart from my longing to save storage, I also don’t have a burning desire for one. So that’s all I really have to say on that topic!

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 4, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Amy — I’m glad you weighed in on the website vs blog thing. I recall the Technorati report, and can confirm it from real-life experience. I was fascinated by the differentiating between litbloggers and book bloggers. I’ve been under the (apparently wrong) impression that everyone was called a litblogger, but since I don’t write about individual books (mostly because I am sloooow!) and focus on industry stuff, I hadn’t realized there was a perceived divide until Yen’s post. I suppose I am an industry blogger.

    I’m not one who believes there will be an iPod moment for ebooks. I think it’s more likely we’ll look back in five years and see that ebooks (and ereaders) have become part of our reading mix (we’ll also see today’s technology as primitive). I prefer digital because I am in transit far more than I’d prefer. And since I’m generally in the middle of three or four books simultaneously, I like having them all with me. Oh sure, 9 times out of 10, I’ll choose the fun read over the work read, but still, it’s with me. (And the storage issue is a big one for me. It turns out there is no such thing as bookshelf fairy. I’ve checked.)

    The international question is huge, and I’m curious how it will be resolved. Territorial rights were a burning topic when I started BS, and they’re going to be a burning issue in the not-too-distant future. Today’s readers simply don’t wish to adhere to restrictions that (probably) made sense in decades past, especially when the conversation goes international immediately. I get that there are issues surrounding wireless access (telephony being one of those legacy businesses that seriously impacts distribution of information) in addition to existing territorial posturing, and I worry that these stances will lead to what I think of as piracy-by-frustration.

    I know publishers do consider readers as they make decisions, but I am not sure they have fully considered the long-term impact of current business decisions on a readership that recognizes different boundaries.

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 4, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Doug — Truce. I’m not disagreeing with you (nor do I disagree with Sherman Alexie on all points, particularly his comments about authors and compensation. There’s a drum I’ve been beating for years!). We have different perspectives, mine is a mix of reader-informed and industry-informed (meaning I get smacked down by both regularly…and I learn from both regularly). You and I, we buy books (I have not purchased a used book in over decade, unless that book is out of print and/or the author is deceased [Jane Austen]). But we cannot save a business that is dependent upon forces that sometimes have nothing to do with publishing.

    Unfortunately, with few exceptions, publishing is a business, and decisions are made with the bottom line in mind. Even if today’s big publishers fail (and I imagine there will be at least one huge implosion in our near future, though the optimistic side of me thinks things will turn around), the big business aspect of publishing will continue to be very much bottom-line oriented. Amazon is not fuzzy teddy bear (yeah, written about *that* for years as well). Neither is Google. The business is changing. Rapidly. I’ve predicted we’ll see great things from small publishers because they are better able to weather change in economics and consumer behavior.

    I’ve been accused of focusing too much on digital publishing, and it’s true (I plead the Fifth on stirring pots, but, yeah, getting people worked up is part of getting them to speak up). It’s something that fascinates me on many levels. Not only for the possibility it brings to readers (one particular fascination is the fact that devices and software make it easier for disabled persons to read books. You want fury from me? Ask about the boneheaded actions of the Authors Guild to turn off text-to-speech in the Kindle 2. That killed access for so many vision and mobility impaired readers.), but also because changes in technology — and by this I mean workflow — can create cost savings for publishers.

    I have a vested interest in this technology from the publisher perspective, but I have a far deeper interest as a reader. I am the child of a librarian. The child of a librarian who has, over the decades, seen budgets cut while demand for services has increased. My mother has paid for so much out of her own pocket and has worked long hours, again out of her own pocket, to make sure people can read. I am not starry-eyed about the Kindle technology (see: oh, rants against the proprietary system), but I am very hopeful that advances will help bring books to people who don’t have the kind of access I take for granted. And I do take it for granted.

    As for the focusing on the negative review over the love letter? Proof you’re a writer. Now to respond to TonyA…yeah, thoughts there too.

    (By the way, the blog delete policy is very simple: it’s cool to attack or argue with me, as long as said attacks are not person or egregiously offensive; it is not okay to insult other commenters. I’ve only banned one commenter since this site went online. I don’t mind dissent or debate — my mind or position can be shifted by compelling evidence — but I do mind when commenters do not offer other commenters the validity of their opinions. Given that only one person has violated this, I’d say my readers are pretty awesome.)

  • Richard Hargis // Jun 4, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Are we seeking a market or just chasing a vanishing culture? I wonder…

  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 4, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Tony — I’ve seen many (many!) P&L views of the cost savings on ebooks versus print. On one hand, you must factor print, shipping, warehousing, processing. On the other, you must add in digital storage, bandwidth, and other costs. Where the real savings occur, for traditional publishers, is when houses make the shift from current workflow to digital workflow. This is a long, complicated process, not in small part because it must happen (and it really must) while business as usual happens.

    As for the the $9.99 price point, there is absolutely new competition in the marketplace. Google is (according to them) serious this time. Apple will launch new devices better suited to reading. It’s questionable that they’ll enter the bookselling marketplace. I’m not the only one who half-jokes that they don’t want to deal with publishers. But the real factor in price points is the consumer. If they won’t spend more than ten dollars for an ebook (and in some ways publishing should thank Amazon for creating this mental barrier), then who loses? There seems to be a conviction that readers will accede to publisher pricing, when the truth is that readers have choice. There are very few books I *must* have. There are many books I *want*.

    And if the price I believe is reasonable coincided with the price the publisher sets, then that want will be fulfilled. I written a lot recently about the savviness of the ebook consumer. Readers are talking and making good points. Publishers aren’t listening. Not all of them anyway. Those who do, they’re responding to the people who buy and read books.

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