Are Paper Books Dead?

Newsweek has a story featuring the guy many consider equal parts literary pioneer and devil, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com and his new ebook reader, the Kindle. It’s worth a glance-through (but if you want an in-depth review of Amazon’s Kindle, I point you to Dear Author’s detailed opinion/review of the device.) There were a few things in the Newsweek article that stood out to me.

Jeff Bezos’ wife is a novelist. You’d think she’d influence him somewhat about those used book sales, but maybe she makes enough money to not care.

This also caught my eye:

Amazon has worked hard to get publishers to step up efforts to release digital versions of new books and backlists, and more than 88,000 will be on sale at the Kindle store on launch. (Though Bezos won’t get terribly specific, Amazon itself is also involved in scanning books, many of which it captured as part of its groundbreaking Search Inside the Book program. But most are done by the publishers themselves, at a cost of about $200 for each book converted to digital. New titles routinely go through the process, but many backlist titles are still waiting. “It’s a real chokepoint,” says Penguin CEO David Shanks.) Amazon prices Kindle editions of New York Times best sellers and new releases in hardback at $9.99.

This is important news to writers with backlists, especially if they have books out of print. Especially when you consider that Amazon’s goal is to make every book ever created available for it’s reader, even books out of print. Any writer who knows the struggle of trying to get their rights reverted back when their books go out of print should be concerned about this and check their contracts. When you hit a certain level in your career, your backlist becomes. Bottom line: check your contract for electronic format “and any format hereinafter invented” clauses and get them to be at least mutually beneficial, even if your publisher doesn’t do ebooks. Because you don’t know what will happen five years from now.

This is also important to readers. Who pays $10 for an ebook? Why would I, when I can get a hardcover through my bookclub for the same price? The majority of my fiction books, particularly new writers I’m trying, I buy in mass market or trade. I also don’t follow authors into hardcover–if I started a series in MM, I’m gonna wait for that book to be released in MM. In my pinion, an ebook should be comparable in price to a mass market.

One of the things they talked about was trying to figure out how to get advertising into electronic books. I have issues with this on multiple levels. One, would the author get a cut of that advertising dollar? It’s her story after all. Would she be able to approve who gets to advertise in her book? Two, as a consumer, I don’t like getting advertised to in something that I own, which is why I rarely buy DVDs, especially since you can’t skip through the ads to get to the start of the movie. Same with seeing movies in theaters. I pay my $9.50, show me previews, but don’t advertise golden arches.

The article wraps up with the future of ebooks, and it doesn’t sound all that beneficial to writers. One of the future visions is that the author becomes more of a “superuser” directing the creative process but no longer the sole progenitor of the work. I can see this in non-fiction, but fiction by its very nature, is the product of a person with the ability to visualize a concept and translate it into words for others to consume. I could imagine doing a “fan fest” book as a one-time event, especially if I had a beloved series with hundreds of thousands of fans. (Hey, I could dream.)

Finally, Newsweek’s Steven Levy had a live discussion on the state of the book on Tuesday. You can read the transcript here.