PDA247.com asks if book publishers should be forced into offering digital versions of their books?


Shaun McGill over at one of my favorite sites: PDA247, has just posted an interested editorial / survey piece on the subject of eBooks. He’s asking the question if publishers should be forced into offering digital versions in addition to paper editions of their books.

Personally, I would like to see this practice adopted asap. I don’t read books at all unless they are available in a format that I can read digitally. Right now I’m reading a very popular book on my Treo 680 that is not offered in eBook format. I do own the physical version of the book, but had to go “looking” for an eBook version so I could read it in a format that is much more convenient for me. What do all of you think?

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Tyler Puckett August 2, 2007, 11:51 am

    I think so. eBooks are much more convenient than paper books. They’re also much cheaper to distribute and publish, so they have the potential to be cheaper for the consumer. I find it maddening that you often have to wait a year or more for a book to be released in Paperback format. I think eBooks could fill the niche of people wanting to read a book, but don’t want to pay $35 for a hardback edition.

    The only big issue I see with eBooks is similar to digital music and movies: after you’re done reading it, you can’t re-sell it. With normal books, after I’m done reading, I dump them on Half.com or Amazon and normally sell it for half off what I paid. The same goes for DVDs I buy; unless it was an awesome movie, I probably won’t ever watch it again. So, I sell it on Amazon and make some of the money back.

  • obscurestooge August 2, 2007, 12:40 pm

    Depends on what you mean by “forced”.
    Forced, as in legally required? No. Forced by customer demand? Definitely!
    I think right now there is just not enough demand for e-books. The number of people who have a suitable device is relatively small, and the cost of such devices is still relatively high. As prices come down, and screens get better, I think more people will get into reading e-books, and publishers will respond by making more titles available as e-books.

  • Smitty August 2, 2007, 2:49 pm

    There are so many positive reasons for publishers to use digital editions, that only the lazy or bloated are not pursuing this. (I work for the largest distributor of digital textbooks, so I am very involved in the publishing world.) There is no governing body that can force producers of content to use one medium over another. Publishing is a global business that spans borders more pervasively than any other industry I can think of. Who’s going to police this bunch? INTERPOL? Good luck with that.

    What is happening and will continue with greater speed is that publishers are trying and deciding on how to maintain profit-making while still fulfilling customer need. If you want books in a certain format, you can do two things:

    1) Ask – all the time, of everyone. Ask nicely and frequently for the digital edition of the book. How/Who? Open the dead-tree edition at the news stand, and get the name and contact info of the publisher, as well as the ISBN (Internation Standard Book Number) of the volume. (Hard bound would be better. People who buy hard bound books spend more than those who buy paper backs.) Write a letter on paper asking the folks at this address for information on the digital edition of the book. Do this for every book you have an interest in.

    2) Don’t poison your own well. Don’t hassle the bookseller, unless you know there is a digital edition. Ask at the counter, and, if you have it, give the ISBN of the digital edition to the manager of the shop. (The ISBN changes for every type of media: paperback and hard bound editions with the same guts have different ISBNs.) The minimum-wage counter jockey will not care about this, but a live human walking in with accurate information on an available title will impress the socks off a manager. Make a good impression on this person, and they will want to get stuff for you, and will take your desires forward with buyers and (eventually) publishers. (You get better results with honey than vinegar.) If you don’t get a positive response from this person, be willing to cut off ties and go to another store. Those on a crusade have to make sacrifices. (There are cafes where I will not go because they charge for WiFi. I go where it’s free, along with the air conditioning. That’s my crusade.)

    3) Become a champion of digital editions. Buy the digital edition of any books you are remotely interested in. Give them as gifts to your non-Luddite reading friends. Offer them as door prizes at user groups or readers circles. Make people aware of their existence, convienence, and availability.

    Popular books will have a tough time getting into digital media. No one is going to tote their laptop out on the beach to plow through the latest Dan Brown romp. And know that this is going to absolutely kill the used book market. That has proven to be the largest factor in textbook publishers’ minds: they can kill the buy-back market with digital editions, because YOU CAN’T RESELL THEM!!! They are tied forever to the person or device that is used to redeem them initially. So, good-bye to the 99¢ stalls at airports, where you buy a book to read on your flight and sell it back for 25¢ when you land.

    Authors, too, will have to re-vamp their rights management contracts. As much as we love free content, someone has to pay for the author to write that book, and selling 5 copies that get distributed over BitTorrent the next day, stopping all further sales will not do it. Expect digital rights management (DRM) to get more common, not less. Books (and, to some extent, movies) are different than music in this regard. You listen to music over and over, but most books are read once and shelved. Giving away a few chapters may get you hooked enough to pay full price to see how the story ends. But those last chapters are going to have heavy DRM in order to guarantee profit for the content creators (author, editor, publisher, etc.)

    4) Let others know about what’s going on. If you blog, blog positively about every author, store, publisher, or news agent that does anything positive in this space. Post to newsgroups linking to stories that show publishers make more with lower costs by going digital. Visit publisher’s sites and send those links to their contact addresses. Use your real name, or a convincing alias. (I’d make a different email address for this persona, but you need to appear legitimate to rise above the sp@m fog.)

  • palmfox August 5, 2007, 10:58 am


    I agree with most of what you said, except for the death of the used book market. It should be easy for me to say, beam my book to you, and then you get to go on-line to get another registration code. You get a discount for getting a registration code only, and would not have to pay full price. The system would have a record that you did not download the original book. The amount of the discount would depend on the age of the book. Newer book, less discount.

    Granted, I keep my original book, which I paid full price for, but the publisher could still get more then 1/2 price for a beamed book. It would be a win for both. There could even be a time limit where there would be no discount given on a new ebook for say 60 days. I beam the book to you and you go online and pay full price.

    This would be an advantage to both the reader and publisher. You could even do it on-line on your mobile device. Whatever book reader you use could have a link in the menu to obtain a registration code immediately.

    It would also help spread the word about e-books. I travel constantly and see folks with Treos, Blackberrys and Windows mobile devices. Most of them don’t read books on them, they only check email. I’ve showed many people the books I read, and told them where to go to get them. I use both Fictionwise and Ereader, and probably have 200 books between both libraries.

    If the books could be standardized between platforms, it would actually be easier to spread the word. I can sitting at a coffee shop, and the shop having a list of books to e-read. Beam the book, enter a registration code, and you are up and running, on any platform. Heck, even the major book dealers could get in the loop. Put a booth in and let folks download and pay right there.

  • Joshua Wolf August 5, 2007, 3:50 pm

    It is a nasty Catch-22.

    Publishers won’t seriously adopt e-books until there is a sufficient demand.

    Reader won’t seriously adopt e-books until there is a sufficient library.

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