One book does not a reversal of policy make

I don’t share the optimism of Teleread and Kindle Nation, but it appears that Amazon has not entirely deserted free ebooks.

They do, however, remain committed to controlling virtually every aspect of the Kindle that they’ve leased you, which is not terribly consumer-friendly.

Still, at least it’s not as bad as it originally seemed.

Free ebooks back at Amazon- John Lutz Urge to Kill | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home.

Word count limits don’t have to happen

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while.

I would say that the absolute upper limit of OK is 100,000 for a debut novel, but you’ll find some people turned off to it if it’s anything above 80,000.

I’m not making these numbers up from my experience–I’ve read identical stats on a lot of agent blogs. It’s pretty much an industry standard.

There is effectively a hard cap on the number of words you can have in your debut novel.  More words equals more expensive to print, and a new author is too risky.

That sucks.

Let’s assume that we’re talking about a book that 1) would have a reasonable audience if it were published, and 2) would be significantly harmed by chopping words off until it got under the cap.  That is, this cap is the only thing keeping it from being published.  So how do we fix this?  How do we get these books out where the author can make some money, and people can experience a book from a new author?

Well, the simple answer is to remove the risk.

Luckily, digital distribution and print-on-demand makes it much easier to do just that.  The up front costs are much lower, which allows the non-traditional publisher to take risks that a traditional publisher couldn’t dream of.  There are no expensive print runs, or extra books to be pulped.

If you’re interested, let us know.  We’re still on track for a November launch of, and we’d love to talk to interested authors.

Using free to sell more

My last post got linked with a very flattering writeup on Techdirt, which is pretty awesome.  The conversation in the comments, however, is a bit disappointing.  A lot of people still think that giving away the infinite goods means you give away everything.  They think that by giving away the content, you make it impossible to make any money on anything related to the content.

This is completely untrue.  There many differences between scarce and non-scarce goods.  The important one here is that the marginal cost (the cost to make one additional unit) of a scarce good is greater than zero, while the marginal cost of a non-scarce good is either zero, or close enough to zero to no longer matter.

Cheap or free goods have always been used to increase the value of more expensive goods.  For example, I worked at Boater’s World in Annapolis in high school.  One of my managers used to tell the young associates, “Whenever someone drinks a soda or a beer on the Chesapeake Bay, I want it to be in a Boater’s World can coozie“.  He gave them away all the time to good customers, or to someone making a large purchase.  The can coozies are cheap – Boater’s World charges 99 cents, so I imagine they cost something like 25 cents.  But sometimes a free coozie is just the thing someone needs to decide to buy that expensive new fishfinder.  And it’s always good to have things out there advertising the name of your business.

Of course, Boater’s World loses some money by giving the coozies away.  But in return, they have a sale on a larger item, and a satisfied customer, and marketing materials out where people can see them.  Even if you make the false assumption that every coozie you give away is a lost sale, meaning the marginal cost to the store is 99 cents rather than 25, it doesn’t take many large purchases by happy customers to recoup the losses.

But does giving away the coozies prevent all sales of anything else?  Of course not.  It also doesn’t force Boater’s World and all of its suppliers out of business.  And this is a situation where the marginal cost of the giveaway item is greater than zero, so the store does take a real loss when it gives them away.  Imagine how much better it would be for Boater’s World if the coozies cost them nothing to produce?

How NOT to sell ebooks

Astak got a lot of press last year for promising an ebook reader in the $150 price range.  That never materialized, but they are now selling a rebranded Hanlin V3 for $270, putting them right alongside much of the competition.  Cheaper than Sony and Amazon, but not cheap enough to change anything.

So, they’ve launched Mobiebook, an ebook store to go along with their reader.  This makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is the giant disclaimer on the front of the site:

All eBooks on this website are powered by Mobipocket eBooks common library and you can read them on your PC, but not on the EZ Reader. This is because the EZ reader currently does not support DRM ebooks. We are working hard on supporting the DRM format, and we will notify EZ Reader users when a firmware update is available it will be displayed on this website.

Can you imagine if you bought an iPod and followed Apple’s instructions to head over to iTunes, and then were told you were welcome to buy songs, but you couldn’t play them on your new device?  iTunes would have lasted about a week with no sales before disappearing.

When you have two complementary products (MP3s and MP3 players, ebooks and ebook readers, whatever), sales of one are supposed to drive sales of the other.  Ideally, this even works both ways.  But here, because of the ongoing ebook format wars and the inclusion of anti-consumer DRM, we have a situation where the complementary goods aren’t even complementary.

They also have a really interesting “promotion” going on, where you can pay extra for things that are usually included in the price.  Maybe I’m missing something – the website is pretty awful – but I’m not sure where the deal part of this is.

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A small step forward, a giant step back

The  world’s  leading  provider  of  e‐reading  solutions,  Netherlands  based  iRex Technologies  (,  has  today  announced  that  it  has  reached  agreement  with  Adobe®  to license  the  Reader  Mobile  9  SDK  which  provides  support  for  the  PDF  and EPUB  file  formats  plus  support  for Adobe’s content protection technology which it will offer on its iRex DR1000 series.

It’s great that iRex is supporting EPUB.  The more support this format gets, the more likely it is we’ll have a standard format for ebooks across all platforms instead of all these competing formats.  Imagine if you needed a different web browser for different websites you visited (Beyond the terrible websites that only work in Internet Explorer).

And reflowable PDF support is fine – PDF isn’t an open standard, but it’s widespread enough that it doesn’t have the large drawbacks of some of the other formats.

Of course, no format support is complete without the inevitable DRM announcement.  It’s nice to call it “content protection”, but we all know it’s anti-consumer technology that doesn’t work.

An extra kudos to iRex for including this message on the email they sent me with the attached press release (a PDF) – “Please consider your environmental responsibility before printing this e-mail on paper.”  I not only considered my environmental responsibility, but also my convenience, and didn’t print a piece of paper for me to lose.

You can see the press release here.

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Ebooks on the iPhone

For someone who spends a lot of time thinking and writing about ebooks and ebook readers, I’ve spent a shamefully small amount of time actually reading ebooks and using ebook readers.  But today I got to take a look at an ebook on an iPhone for the first time.

It’s not terrible.  I should have asked if it was using Stanza or something else.  It was a plain white screen with some controls on the side that disappeared after a few moments, leaving me alone with the text.  I had a little trouble with the scrolling, but I suspect an experienced iPhone user wouldn’t.

The screen is a bit small.  This whole experience started while waiting for a meeting to begin.  My coworker was reading something on the phone that required both horizontal and vertical scrolling.  It looked pretty awkward.  But it started the conversation, and then he showed me an ebook he had on the phone.  He doesn’t read much on it, and unfortunately the meeting started before I could really grill him.

But I can see that some people would be perfectly happy to read books on an iPhone (or an iPod Touch, for which Stanza is also available).  It’s not paper, or even eInk, but it is something you’re likely to have with you all the time, so the extra convenience will make up for many of the shortcomings.

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Chris Andrews, the Executive Producer of, is particularly excited about bringing together people who read ebooks into a new network, where they can learn, discuss, and have some fun. “I think it’s important that we remember that reading is fun. It’s fun whether it’s in a printed book or an ebook. And people love to discuss books. Let’s not let the “computer syndrome” hit us, where we make everything complicated. Keep it simple, this is a book, everyone knows what a book is. It’s been around for over 500 years.”

A lovely sentiment, and it really gets to the heart of the problem with ebook readers.  It is not that people are sitting around wishing for a new device to allow them to buy their beloved books all over again.  People are thinking, “I live in a world where information is increasingly digital, and my books remain mostly unchanged in 500 years.”

If we focus on what is great about books, and what we can add to them now that internet connections are everywhere new things are possible,  the ebook readers will come.

The new is hoping to do that.  They have a social network built on Ning that they’d like you to be a part of.  They have a blog.  And if they’re lucky, they’ll ride the coattails of the Amazon announcement rather than get buried by it.

Press release: Officially Opens – Invites Ebook Lovers and Neophytes Worldwide to Become Part of Growing Ebook Community.

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It’s not clear that reading is really evolving

CBC said Shortcovers is like a bookstore in your pocket – no matter you are, in the back of a cab, at a Starbucks or Tim’s – you can find your next great read, click, buy and get it downloaded instantly. You only need your existing mobile device: like an iPhone, Blackberry, or a web browser. That’s a huge convenience for consumers, especially because you can use the mobile phone you already have vs some special ereader.

Perhaps it’s sour grapes because their PR people didn’t reply to my inquiry, but I don’t find very much exciting or innovative about Shortcovers.  Or maybe they’re just being secretive leading up to their big launch, promised sometime this month.

The idea seems to be very similar to what Amazon has done with the Kindle, except not restricted to a particular device.  While this is a fine service that’s sure to get some use, it’s hardly ground-breaking.

However, they hint at “surprises” when they launch, so we could still see something amazing.  At the very least, increased competition in the market should be good for consumers.

via Shortcovers — Leading the evolution of reading.

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Ebooks and strange bedfellows

If your lover is an erotica-lover, get him or her one of the incredibly sexy erotic ebooks available at Starting at $2.65, these ebooks can be downloaded and enjoyed with privacy on the computer, iphone or ipod touch. (Or, if you really want to splurge, pair the ebook up with an ebook reader, $265 and up.)

A nice ebook reader could do the same thing for erotic literature that the internet-connected computer did for erotic movies.  Never underestimate the power of the porn industry to drive technological innovation.

via Denver Sex and Romance Examiners: Unique, sexy gifts for Valentine’s Day.

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Fiction isn’t just going to disappear

If electronic publishing—and that includes the reality that it’s very easy to “pirate” electronic text—is a form of publishing that some authors and publishers have a hard time adapting to, then that’s just too damn bad for them. As my father liked to say whenever I’d whine about something as a boy, “things are tough all over.” If they can’t cut the mustard, then it’s just a fact that over time they will fade away.

A comment I left at Teleread prompted a contributor there to send me to an interesting article on the future of novels.  My first thought was, “that’s the biggest and most obnoxious tip jar I’ve ever seen on a website”.  That led me to think, “There’s no way the person who wrote this article has any concept of infinitely copyable digital content”.

But I was very wrong.  And the article comes from an author, someone who has experienced some of the changes in the world of publishing fiction, which puts him in a much more qualified position than many to speak about the industry.

He makes the point that some will be harmed by changes – the electronic revolution will mean that some won’t be able to make a living by writing any more.  That’s unfortunate – no one wants anyone to lose their livelihood.  Certainly when I say that you can’t charge for an ebook, I don’t mean that I think authors should work for nothing just so I don’t have to spend $9.99 at Amazon.

I do think that authors need to find new ways to make money, and it’s nice to see some authors agreeing with me.  People are thinking about new ways to publish fiction.  It’s not going to be the end of fiction, but it might be the beginning of the end of the way the publishing industry does business today.

Luckily, many authors will adapt, and many publishing companies will adapt, and people will still get to consume fiction.  But the way it gets paid for will probably be very different.  Not scary, but different.

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