Advantages and Disadvantages of E-Books

The increasing popularity of e-book readers (Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s e-reader, Barnes &┬áNoble’s Nook, Apple’s iPad, and a host of others) has encouraged more and more authors to make their books available as e-books. Trying to read an e-book on a computer screen, even a laptop, can be a less-than-optimal reading experience, but the new e-reading devices are winning over people who never imagined they would enjoy reading a book on an electronic device. There are even apps that allow you to read the e-books you’ve bought on your cell phone, PDA, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

Readers are discovering the many advantages of e-books, including:

–E-readers can hold hundreds of books at once

–E-books are usually cheaper than paperbacks

–E-readers are lightweight and easy to hold

–The Kindle can download books wirelessly from Amazon.com

–Kindle apps for other devices allow you to read your Kindle books on your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android.

–The iPad can download books from Apple’s iBookstore via wifi

–E-books are never out of stock

–No waiting for books to be shipped, and no shipping charges

–E-readers can display more than just books (magazines, newspapers, blogs)

–E-books don’t overflow one’s bookshelves

–It is often possible to download a generous free sample of a book

Authors and publishers are discovering the advantages too

For the author or publisher, e-books may offer new opportunities. The lower price of e-books makes them affordable to more readers. Some reviewers are willing to accept e-books, eliminating the cost of printing and mailing review copies. Making e-books available at very low cost (or even free) can help authors build their readership, and some authors are beginning to offer free e-books of an earlier book when they are about to release a new one. Many e-bookstores will allow customers to download the first few chapters of a book for free, encouraging them to try new authors, and the free sample may well be enough to hook the customer on the story.

And the disadvantages?

There are some issues that trouble authors who are considering making their books available as e-books:

–What if e-books take sales away from the higher-priced paperbacks and/or hardcovers?

–What if people won’t pay enough for e-books to make selling them worthwhile?

–What if people make copies for all their friends or upload the book to a file-sharing site?

How much should e-books cost?

Readers of e-books believe, rightly or wrongly, that e-books should cost significantly less than DTB (dead-tree-books). They argue that the costs of printing, shipping, warehousing, and accepting returns make DTB books much more expensive to produce. Traditional publishers have costs that independent publishers don’t, such as the author’s advance, the salaries of copyeditors and proofreaders, marketing, and other pre-production costs. They argue that the actual cost of printing a book is only about $2 of the book’s cost, so by their logic, an e-book should cost $2 less than the $24.95 hard cover edition or possibly $2 less than the $14.95 paperback.

Readers of e-books, however, are reluctant to pay more than $9.99 for an e-book, largely because of the expectations created by Amazon’s marketing of their Kindle. Amazon.com sells most best-sellers for $9.99, and for them it is probably a loss leader, meant to encourage Kindle sales.

From the point of view of the reader, an e-book has less perceived value than a paperback. It can’t be resold, loaned to a friend, or donated to a library or hospital. Buying an e-book is more like buying a movie ticket, while buying a DTB is more like buying the DVD.

Most independent publishers can afford to make their e-books available for a retail price of $9.99, a price that most readers of e-books are willing to pay. This may be one important advantage independent publishers have over traditional publishers.

What about lost sales?

E-book sales may “steal” some hard copy sales, but many authors believe that those “lost” sales are more than made up for by sales of e-books to people who wouldn’t have bought the paperback or hardcover.

Do DVDs steal sales from movie theaters? Sure they do, because lots of people would rather watch the movie in the comfort of their home on their big-screen TV. But that doesn’t keep the studios from releasing the DVDs. Some bean counter must have figured out that the lost ticket sales are more than made up for by the people who will buy or rent a movie they wouldn’t go to the theater to see.

But what about pirates?

Most sellers of e-books provide some kind of DRM (digital rights management). Lightning Source adds DRM to the e-books it sells. Kindle has a proprietary format that makes the book unreadable on someone else’s Kindle.

DRM is controversial. It significantly degrades the user’s experience. Moving digital files between devices can be difficult or impossible. Users of dedicated devices like the Kindle don’t find it much of a nuisance, but someone who reads their e-books on their home computer, laptop, netbook, and cell phone may be quite aggravated by the limitations DRM imposes.

As the number of e-reading devices increases, portability of e-books between devices will become a real issue. What if you bought the first version of the Kindle in 2008 and now you want to switch to newer technology. Can you read your Kindle books on the new device?

Book publishing is in the position now that music publishing was a few years ago. Eventually recording companies realized that if they sold their goods for a reasonable price, honest people would willingly pay it. Book publishing should soon follow their example.