Archive for Bookselling

Kindle Smackdown

First, a few of updates.  I just finished a draft of a new preface for The Late Age of Print, which will be appearing in the (drum roll please!) NEW PAPERBACK EDITION due out in January, 2011.  The piece develops and extends some of the ideas from one of my favorite blog entries, “Books: An ‘Outdated Technology?’” which I posted to this site last September.  More good news about the paperback edition: Columbia University Press has decided to price it at just $18.50.  That’s a bargain as far as I’m concerned — at least, by academic book standards.

Now onto the business at hand: the Kindle smackdown.  A colleague of mine is considering buying an Amazon Kindle e-reader and posted a query to her Facebook site inviting friends to weigh in.  One of her respondents linked to a series of YouTube videos called “The Book vs. The Kindle,” which was produced by the good folks at San Francisco’s Green Apple Books — one of my favorite bookstores in the world.  From the moment I watched one of the videos (which happened to be installment five), I knew I’d have to share it here with you:

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Cute theme, eh? Paper books, it seems, are good for picking up your fellow literati in bookstores. E-books?  Not so much.  Who would have thought print and paper were so hot?

The video actually reminded me quite a bit of an article appearing in the March 31, 2010 edition of The New York Times, which had this to say about the conundrums of owing an e-reader: “Among other changes heralded by the e-book era, digital editions are bumping book covers off the subway, the coffee table and the beach.  That is a loss for publishers and authors, who enjoy some free advertising for their books in printed form.”

It’s intriguing, indeed, to hear just how “all-in” some publishers have become for e-books, now that there are some seemingly viable platforms floating around out there.  I just wonder if they’ve paused long enough to consider how the technology they’re so investing in may be thwarting one of the most prosaic ways in which the book industry goes about hocking its wares.


Update: one possible exception to the “no more covers” rule for e-readers may be something like the dual-display Toshiba Libretto W100, although with this particular device neither of the screens faces outward.  Maybe a triple- or quad-screen e-reader will one day do the trick.

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Cory Doctorow on the E-book Price Wars


I’ve been within Cory Doctorow’s “orbit” for awhile now, mostly as a follower of his personal blog, Craphound, and his collective endeavor, BoingBoing.  Only recently have I begun reading his novels and published non-fiction works.  (Little Brother was my go-to for the first few weeks of my infant son’s life, when I couldn’t fall back to sleep after late-night feedings and diaper changes.)

Well, anyway, this video came to my attention as something that Late Age of Print readers might be interested in.  It’s a recording of a talk Doctorow recently gave at Bloomsbury, the UK publisher of the Harry Potter novels, in which he discusses the vexed matter of e-book pricing.

What I admire about Doctorow is the fact that he’s a successful print author as well as someone who’s unafraid to experiment with publishing’s longstanding economic and technological paradigms. It’s hardly a stretch to say that his success in print owes a great deal to his willingness to push the bounds online.  I should acknowledge, moreover, that the free, Creative Commons-licensed PDF of Late Age wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for him and others who are similarly committed to the belief that book publishing is at its best when it refuses to rest on its laurels.

Anyway, enjoy the video.  I’d be curious to hear how you would weigh in on his proposals.

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It'll Be War!

By now most of you reading this blog probably know about the latest dust-up over ebook prices.  For those of you who haven’t been following the news, here’s a brief synopsis followed by some thoughts on the history of book pricing.

A couple of weeks ago officials at Macmillan, one of the largest global book publishing firms, decided to put the screws to Amazon.com.  For over two years now the retailer has insisted that $9.99 is the decisive threshold at which consumers will begin trading reading material composed of atoms for stuff made of bits.  Reportedly it’s managed to sell three million Kindles and who-knows-how-many e-books, but still Macmillan begs to differ on the matter of pricing.  Management there believes that a more flexible scale would be preferable to Amazon’s flat-rate, with new e-titles starting at $15 and older works listing for around $6.

Well, Amazon got so miffed by Macmillan’s proposal that it temporarily suspended sales of any new books published under its imprimatur, which includes such venerable labels as Farrar, Straus & Giroux; St. Martins Press; Henry Holt; Tor Books; and others.  Macmillan responded by calling Amazon’s bluff, knowing full-well that Amazon’s decision to de-list the publisher’s capacious catalog ultimately would hurt the retailer’s bottom line more than it would help its cause of ebook pricing.  With the door now open, other presses are jumping on the higher-priced ebook bandwagon.

This is a fraught issue, to be sure.  As a frequent book buyer, I’m grateful to Amazon for doing its part to keep ebook prices low for as long as it could.  The company clearly understands the psychology behind the pricing of digital goods.  Consumers intuitively grasp that the marginal costs of producing any given copy of an ebook is next to nil, and so we’re understandably reluctant to buy up e-titles and expensive hardware when paper books can be had for a comparable enough price.  On the other hand, I recognize that the promise of advances and royalties gives professional authors incentive to continue producing new work.  Accordingly, they have a compelling interest in maximizing their return through healthy (read: inflated) prices.

We could go around and around all day about who’s right and who’s wrong here.  As someone whose paycheck comes primarily from my work as a university professor and only secondarily from my publications, selfishly, I’m inclined to side with Amazon.com.  But really there are no clear-cut good guys and bad guys here.  The whole situation reminds me of a recent dispute between physicians at my local hospital and a major health care provider, each of whom accused the other of excessive greed and bullying.  In the end, the only party who suffered was the people who, for the duration of the quarrel, had to drive 50 miles to get the health care to which they were entitled.

Anyway, this may well be the first major conflict over the price tag for ebooks, but it’s surely not the first time the book industry has gone to war over book prices.  This has happened at least a couple of times before, first in the late 19th century and then again in the 1920s/30s.  In both instances, a bunch of young, brash publishers decided to slash their prices as a strategy to gain market share.  Older, more established firms responded by digging in their heels and waging a clever PR campaign designed to convince the public that it was in their best interest to pay more than they actually needed to for books.  (You can read more about this history in chapter 1 of The Late Age of Print and in volume III of John Tebbel’s magisterial A History of Book Publishing in the United States.)

What might these earlier price wars tell us about the present situation?  Anyone looking to establish themselves as leaders in digital publishing would do well to undersell their competitors by offering electronic editions at or below the $9.99 price-point.  The goal should be to sell as many copies as possible, by finding a price so attractive that no one can resist.  It’s funny: we hear all the time about how book reading is on the decline in the United States and elsewhere.  Could it be that the falloff is attributable not only to the usual scapegoats (electronic media, waning attention spans, etc.) but also and significantly to publishers’ greediness over book pricing, electronic or otherwise?

Indeed, if history teaches us anything, then it teaches us that publishers who’ve made their mark selling low can succeed in the long run.  Just ask Simon & Schuster and Farrar & Rinehart (yes, that’s the same Farrar of Macmillan’s Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux).  They were among the upstarts of the 1920s and 30s whose decision to sell books for a buck sent the old-timers into a tizzy.

Ringing any bells, Macmillan?

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"The Localized Appreciation of Books Is Gone"

Sherman Alexie
www.colbertnation.com


I love it when something that you think will be good turns out to be even better than you’d hoped.  Case in point: author Sherman Alexie’s visit to The Colbert Report last Tuesday night.  I expected Alexie to chat up his latest book, War Dances. I didn’t expect to be treated to such an intelligent commentary on the future of book culture in America.

Colbert starts out by affirming the author’s decision not to allow the digital distribution of his book.  Alexie cites concerns over piracy and privacy as his motivation for doing so.  I’ve noted here on the blog how certain e-book devices can expose book lovers to all sorts incursions into their intimate reading lives.  Alexie, for his part, ups the ante.  “I’m an Indian,” he states.  “I have plenty of reasons to be worried about the U.S. government” peering over his shoulder while he e-reads.  Colbert — ever the (alleged) enemy of literacy — chimes in with his objection to digital books. “You can’t burn a Kindle.”

Alexie then notes how the revenue structure of the music industry has changed in the digital era.  Here I believe he over-reaches somewhat, but in any case his claim is that the music is no longer what primarily makes money for top recording artists.  Now, touring and performances comprise their primary revenue stream.  He fears the same may one day hold true for book authors as well, suggesting a future in which the book-as-cultural-artifact will become incidental to paid-for author appearances.  And here Alexie echoes one of Kevin Kelley’s predictions from his 2006 bombshell published in The New York Times Magazine, “Scan This Book!“, from which the late John Updike recoiled in horror.

The rest of the interview offers something of a rejoinder to this vision for the future of the book.  In a word, it is unsustainable.  Alexie recounts how the experience of the book tour has changed for him over the last decade or so.  It used to be that he would engage all sorts of local media and indy bookstores while traipsing around the country to promote his latest work.  Today, Alexie complains, “the localized appreciation of books is gone.”  Book blogs notwithstanding, what little coverage books receive in the media today mostly occurs in the national press — in exclusive forums like The New York Times and, well, The Colbert Report.  Chain bookstores, meanwhile, now play host to the vast majority of author events.  The result, he notes, is not only a diminished conversation about books at the local level, but also the elimination of untold numbers of book-related jobs that are ancillary to, yet nonetheless sustain, the book industry proper.

I can’t say that I agree with everything Alexie had to say about the past, present, and future of books in America, but his insights were provocative enough for me to air them here.  I do agree with his final point wholeheartedly, though: “White folks should be ashamed that it’s taking an Indian to save part of their culture.”  Indeed.

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A Big Week for Books (Week in Review)

I’ve been racking my brain for the last several days trying to figure out what to post next here on The Late Age of Print. The problem isn’t there there’s a lack of material to write about.  If anything, there’s almost too much of it.  And the fact that there is so much reveals one simple truth about books today: however much they may be changing, they’re hardly a moribund medium.

Consider, for example, Wednesday’s debate in the New York Times, Does the Brain Like E-books?”  The forum brought together writers and academics from a variety of disciplines (English, Child Development, Religious Studies, Neuroscience), asking them to weigh in on the question.  Most intriguing to me is Professor Alan Liu’s contribution, in which he distinguishes between “focal” and “peripheral” attention.  E-books, it seems, dispose readers toward the latter type of engagement.

In some ways the distinction Liu draws harkens back to the difference between “intensive” and “extensive” reading.  The intensive mode refers to the deep reading of a small amount of texts, often multiple times, while the extensive mode designates a more cursory type of engagement with a significantly larger amount of texts.  The claim among book historians is that the coming of print ushered in a new age of extensive reading, which in turn  set in motion a mindful, but ultimately thinner, relationship to books and other types of printed artifacts.  Could it be that in emphasizing “peripheral” attention,  e-books are not breaking with but rather carrying on the legacy ushered in by print?

Next, Fast Company reports from the Frankfurt Book Fair on Google’s latest big announcement.  The search engine giant (it seems silly to even call the company that anymore) will be launching an online e-book store called Google Editions, beginning in early 2010.  What’s great about the service is that the e-titles won’t be device-specific, as in those created for the Amazon Kindle.  The initial launch will include a half-million e-books, and presumably more will be added as the months and years go by.

I’m still trying to determine whether the the texts that Google will make available via Editions will include those that the company has scanned for its Google Books project.  If that’s the case, then talk about the privatization of a public resource — practically all of the volumes having been housed originally in public libraries!  And even if that’s not the case, isn’t it strange that the company will essentially be subsidizing its book scanning efforts by hocking electronic texts published by the very same outfits who are suing them for scanning?

Finally, we have an intriguing post from Nigel Beale over at Nota Bene Books: Authors Claim Google’s Ability to Track Readers Puts Privacy at Risk.”  Evidently the Electronic Frontier Foundation is contesting the proposed Google Book settlement, on the grounds that the search engine giant cannot protect the privacy of individuals who choose to read e-books through its burgeoning service.

I’ve been raising similar concerns recently in my speech about the Amazon Kindle. The device automatically archives detailed, even intimate, information about what and more importantly how people read on the Amazon server cloud.  This kind of information is subject not 4th Amendment/search warrant protections but can instead be subpoenaed by prosecutors who are anxious to dig up dirt on suspects.  The question I raise in the speech, and the question that also seems to emerge in the case of Google Books and the coming Editions service, is, what happens to a society when privacy is no longer the default setting for reading?

Whew.  What a week for books indeed!

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Is the ISBN Still Necessary?

My inner distribution nerd was thrilled to discover (via José Afonso Furtado) Michael Carins’ recent reflections on the death of the international standard book number, or ISBN, over on his blog PersonaNondata.  The argument goes something like this.  Over the last several years there has been a noticeable movement away from the ISBN, particularly in the case of e-books.  Leading the way has been Amazon.com, which refuses to assign ISBNs to any of the Kindle books it sells.  With book digitization there has also tended to follow dis-aggregation, or the chopping up of books into smaller, component parts that can be sold separately.  How do you assign a single ISBN to what’s fast becoming an exploding whole?

Cairns clearly knows his stuff.  As a former President of Bowker, he was chin-deep in the trenches of the recent effort to rework the ISBN for the 21st century.  The result was the shift from a 10-digit to a 13-digit standard, which went into effect on January 1, 2007.  My question is this: is the ISBN still necessary?

Anyone who’s read The Late Age of Print will know that I do not ask this question lightly. I devote the better part of Chapter 3 to the ISBN’s history, and to tell you the truth, in the process of doing the research I developed something of a crush on this smart little product code.  Personally I’d be sad to see it go.  But as an historian of technology it seems clear that the ISBN has just about exhausted its usefulness.

It’s important to bear in mind what computing and online communications looked like when the ISBN was first conceived, back in the late 1960s.  Processing power was paltry by today’s standards.  Broadband was barely an inkling of an idea.  The ISBN was developed within the context of these technological constraints, as a concise and thus highly efficient way in which to convey extremely detailed information about the language, publisher, title, and edition of any given book.

Today computers are capable of processing much more complex data strings, which need not be limited to numerals or the occasional letter X.  Furthermore, broadband has resulted in much faster electronic communications and consequently obviates the need to “keep it simple” and to the point (Twitter notwithstanding).  In other words, the constraints under which the ISBN was created hardly apply today.

The ISBN was designed not only to facilitate “back-office” communications about books.  It was also designed to facilitate their distribution.  And in this respect Amazon’s move away from the ISBN with its Kindle editions is telling.  Time and again the company has shown that it, and only it, wants to control the distribution of Kindle books.  Indeed they are digitally rights managed so as to forestall their circulation beyond anyone besides the reader/customer/end-user/licensee (I’m not entirely sure what to call this person anymore).  Amazon is moving us away from an era of more or less unfettered book circulation, and its slow abandonment of the ISBN is a manifestation of this.

It’s also worth remembering that the ISBN grew up at a time when the book industry showed perhaps its sharpest division of labor.  There were authors, agents publishers, typesetters, printers, binders, distributors, booksellers, and certainly a whole host others all working in concert in disparate places on a single product.  Now consider Amazon. With Kindle the company effectively becomes an extension of the publisher, typesetter, printer, and binder, all while acting as book distributor and seller.  If Amazon has its way then we are likely to see a further breakdown in the book industry’s division of labor.  What’s the point of an industry Esperanto when centralization is fast becoming the order of the day?

Incidentally, this is precisely why the answer to my question, “Is the ISBN still necessary?” is still a “yes,” despite all that I have had to say about historical contexts and the like.  The ISBN was more than just a product code.  It was an accomplishment — a testament to an industry’s ability to achieve unity despite the pressures of competition, corporatization, and globalization.  Disturbingly, the waning of the ISBN signals the opposite trend: the growing hegemony of a single player who holds disproportionate sway over the industry as a whole.


with thanks to p.

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Late Age of Print @ the Village Voice

I spent the last week vacationing in Paris.  The trip was excellent in itself, but a felicitous discovery along the way made it even better.  A wrong turn while searching for the Pompidou Centre landed my travel companion and I at the Village Voice Bookshop, one of Paris’ best English-language bookstores. Here I am, standing outside the store on the Rue Princesse:

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There, while thumbing through the nicely-stocked “Books On Books” section, I was thrilled to discover a copy of…The Late Age of Print!

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Thereafter I proceeded to have a lovely conversation with the founder and owner of the Village Voice Bookshop, Odile Hellier, who gave me a crash course in Parisian book culture.  According to Hellier there’s been something of a falloff in bookselling and reading in Paris in recent years, which makes it all the more challenging for English-language shops like hers, whose inventories are not underwritten by the French government, to make ends meet.

That’s all the more reason why I’m thankful not only to have seen The Late Age of Print at the Village Voice but also to have had some good friends purchase the copy while I was there.

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Amazon Goes All 1984 on Kindle Owners

News broke over the weekend that Amazon.com decided to remove legally purchased but unlawfully licensed editions of books by George Orwell from the Kindles of some customers.  The company did so without asking, although at least it had the good sense of sending an email explaining the action and of issuing refunds for the transactions.

Ever since, Kindle customers and technology watchers alike have been aghast at how Amazon essentially reached into the Kindles of unsuspecting Orwell fans and deleted what they had mistakenly believed to be their private property.  Take Hugh D’Andre of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for instance, who wrote: “Can you imagine a brick-and-mortar bookstore chasing you home, entering your house, and pulling a book from your shelf after you paid good money for it?”

Others such as Jonathan Zittrain have rightly pointed out that you don’t actually own Kindle content.  Instead you basically lease it from Amazon.com, who as the custodian of your Kindle controls most of the rights to that material in the end.

Amazon, for its part, has promised never, EVER to take such drastic action again — sort of.  “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices,” notes a company spokesperson, adding, “in these circumstances.”  The devil, it seems, is in the details.  Thus I am inclined to agree with Cory Doctorow over at BoingBoing who states, “Amazon claims that they won’t do this again. But as every good novelist knows, ‘A gun on the mantlepiece in act one must go off by act three.'”

By now most everyone in the literary and tech worlds has chimed in on the scandal, and the consensus seems to be that Amazon overstepped its bounds.  Clearly.  But my question is this: why is anyone surprised at all by the company’s actions?  Did anyone actually believe that Amazon would act in good faith toward its Kindle customers and their Kindles, when it has a direct portal into the inner lives of each and every one of their e-readers?

The problem stems from a fundamental misrecognition of what Amazon is.  It started out as a bookseller, and with its recent foray into Kindle it’s continued to cultivate an air of bookishness.  But indeed this is little more than an air.  Despite what CEO Jeff Bezos and others might say, Amazon.com is totally and completely dispassionate about books.  What it is passionate about is making money, and it will sell anything — from books to toilet paper to excess server capacity or warehouse space — to earn a buck.

What that means, then, is that Amazon does not subscribe to the liberal sensibilities with which book culture has long been associated.  In other words, it holds little regard for the sanctity of property (other than its own), privacy, or free expression.  For Amazon these are values only insofar as they can contribute to the company’s value stream.  When they don’t, or when they prove too costly, those values are dispensed with algorithmically.

The other issue concerns the apparent irony that many of my fellow bloggers have already pointed out.  Amazon didn’t just delete any old books from people’s Kindles.  Among others it deleted George Orwell’s dystopic novel 1984, which dramatizes life in a futuristic totalitarian state.  The problem here, though, is that however “deliciously Orwellian” Amazon’s actions may seem, Amazon.com is not a state. It is a corporation, which is accountable not to “the people” but to its shareholders.

I understand the reasons for wanting to draw the comparison to 1984, but ultimately it’s an inappropriate one.  As Daniel J. Solove points out in his wonderful book on privacy The Digital Person, the more apt literary reference in circumstances such as this may be to Kafka’s Trial, in which people are prosecuted without ever fully knowing what if anything they’ve done wrong.

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Late Age of Print — the Video


After a series of delays (I hear this is how things go in Hollywood), I’m pleased to debut The Late Age of Print video at long last.  It’s no “Thriller,” admittedly, but hopefully you’ll get a kick out of it anyway.

Here’s a little back-story for those of you who may be interested.  Last fall my editor at Columbia informed me that the Press had begun promoting some of its books using short videos.  He then asked me if I’d be interested in shooting one for Late Age. Since I’m not someone who believes that electronic media are out to kill books — I’m quite confident in their ability to help books out, in fact — I decided I’d say yes.

I was a little daunted by the prospect of shooting the video, mostly because I’m a methodological writer who’s unaccustomed to speaking in sound bites.  I reflected on this a bit last December over on my other blog, Differences & Repetitions. In hindsight, that should have been the least of my worries.

In chapter 2 of Late Age I touch on how the campus bookstore at Indiana University (where I teach) was designed by Ken White, the architect who went on to create the big-box bookstore template.  What better location for the video shoot, I thought, than at ground-zero of the big-box bookstore phenomenon? 

Unfortunately, IU decided in 2007 that it would be a good idea to outsource campus bookstore operations to Barnes & Noble — about whom I write rather approvingly in Late Age. The long and the short of it is that Barnes & Noble denied my requests to shoot the video there.

I still find it difficult to fathom how a private sector company would — or even could — refuse the use of public property for a purpose such as this.  In any case, I’m sure I could have complained to the University, but by then so much time had elapsed that I just needed to get on with the shoot.

I settled on the IU Lilly Library, which houses rare books and manuscripts.  It’s a truly lovely location, though I fear that it may inadvertantly up the “book fetishist” quotient that I try so hard to mitigate in Late Age. The videographer also had me harp on the “books aren’t going away anytime soon” theme, which, though appropriate, doesn’t quite get at the substance of the book, which focuses on e-books, book superstores, online bookselling, Amazon.com, and Harry Potter.

Anyway, despite all the drama I’m still pretty pleased with the result.  I hope you like it, too.  Please share it, rate it, and comment on it.  I’d love to hear what you think!

Now that I’ve entered the video age, would it be asking too much for Colbert to call?

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Good Morning, Amazon…

First it was the cola wars.  Now, it’s the e-book wars.

At this past weekend’s book industry trade show, BookExpo America, Google announced that it will begin selling digital book content in the near future.  According to this article in today’s New York Times, the search engine giant has the backing of major players in the publishing field.

The move should come as a wake-up call for Amazon.com, which, since the introduction of Kindle in late 2007, has dominated the retail e-book market. Many questions remain, however, about whether Google’s latest foray into the book world ultimately will pan out.

Why it Will Work
First, there’s Google, whose power, prevalence, and brand recognition shouldn’t be underestimated.  But the success of its latest e-book initiative will stem from more than just the company’s shear Google-ness.  It will result from its growing recognition of itself as not merely a search engine company but indeed as a platform for online businesses.  This is, incidentally, exactly what Amazon.com has been doing of late — refashioning itself, a la Google, from a retailer to a business incubator; and in this respect it’s playing catch-up to Google.

Second, there’s the Kindle factor.  Google’s plan is to release digital editions of books which, though secure (read: DRM), will not be native to any particular e-reading device.  This is good news for those of us who’ve been less impressed with Kindle than we we ought to be; this is especially so where images are concerned.  Plus, it’s great news for readers who, in a time of economic downturn, are discomfited by the prospect of shelling out hundreds of dollars for the privilege of accessing and reading digital content via Kindle.

Third, did I mention Google?  Besides the technology, one of the major problems that has beset e-books thus far has been distribution.  Amazon has successfully addressed the issue by providing readers with a reliable, centralized hub from which to download e-titles.  There aren’t many companies out there who could compete with Amazon along these lines, but Google is surely one of them.  It’s already become a nodal point for people to access e-book content via Book Search and Google Library.  Becoming a nodal point for distribution of e-content shouldn’t take a great deal more than a hop, skip, and a jump.

Why it Won’t Work
Book publishers are greedy and do not understand how to sell their products in and to a digital world.  As the New York Times today reported, Google intends to allow its partner publishers to set their own e-book prices.  If recent history tells us anything, it tells us that the publishers likely will charge something close to print-on-paper prices for content whose material support has already in essence been outsourced to consumers (e.g., in the form of computers, netbooks, and other mobile e-readers). This is unacceptable and will only hinder e-book adoption.

Relatedly, there’s the Amazon factor.  The company has insisted that, where possible, Kindle e-book titles should be kept low.  Most bestsellers cost around $9.99, and although there are many Kindle books that cost more, Amazon should be commended for pressuring publishers to keep their e-book prices down.  If Amazon can continue to do so, purchasing a Kindle with the prospect of having access to cheaper e-book content won’t seem as off-putting as having to buy e-titles from Google at or near ridiculous print-on-paper prices.

Finally, there’s the question of form.  Will Google’s e-book content largely reproduce what would otherwise be available on paper?  If so, then Google e-books won’t have as much uptake as they otherwise could — that is, if they broke with what Gary Hall calls a “papercentric” model of electronic content.  Indeed, if the publishers want to charge near-paper prices for the e-books they sell/distribute via Google, then readers will expect additional types of features to make up for what is, essentially, lost value.

Bottom Line
Only time will tell what will become of Google’s latest venuture into e-books.  I see a great many downsides that would really spell disaster for an anxious contingent of publishers who have convinced themselves, as they do about every eight years or so, that e-books will “save” their industry.  More optimistically, it is my hope that Google will spur Amazon.com to move more quickly on developing cheaper, better Kindles and related e-reading systems that are even more user-friendly.

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