Home » Big Publishing, Ebooks » Ebooks Will Devour the Mass Market Paperback

Ebooks Will Devour the Mass Market Paperback

24 May 2011

From Eric, who works in the sales department of a publishing house.


The mass market paperback offers the following:

· Low price point;
· Relative portability;
· Higher disposability (readers are more willing to chuck a mass market paperback than a trade paperback or hardcover);
· Wide availability (book stores, grocery stores, department stores, drug stores, &c).

The e-book offers the following:

· Low (on average) price point (and getting lower);
· High portability;
· High disposability (though you wouldn’t need to, since e-book files occupy no physical and very little digital space);
· Wide availability (at least in the United States).

. . . .

I think once the price of e-readers (specifically the Kindle) consistently drops below the $100 mark, mass market paperback sales will start taking a real beating. To my mind, the only barrier to the complete cannibalization of mass market paperback sales by electronic books—in the United States, anyway—is the price of the e-reading device; remove that, and there’s no reason to keep the mass market around. Print runs of any real quantity will rapidly become a waste of money, and I don’t think anyone would really want a POD mass market paperback when they could just as easily get a POD trade paperback.

Link to the rest at Pimp My Novel

Big Publishing, Ebooks

19 Comments to “Ebooks Will Devour the Mass Market Paperback”

  1. It’s all true what Eric said. It’s not a good thing; in fact, it’s a signpost of societal decay – but it is all true.

    The act of having to go through all the hoops of getting an agent, getting a publisher, getting a book edited, printed, and publicized – while it sure was a pain in the butt for writers – actually served an important purpose in providing a natural “survival of the fittest” set of checks and balances.

    Now that any teenager has access to better movie-making tools than Steven Spielberg had when he made Close Encounters, and now that anyone with a laptop can call themselves a recording studio, the quantity of indie-produced crap has flooded the market to the point that movies and music have become fundamentally devalued. And they get more and more devalued with each passing year.

    Francis Ford Coppola once said he dreamed of a future where even little kids could have access to the same technology as he had, and that would level the playing field for everyone. Wonder if he still feels the same way now that the film industry is on its last legs? Oh, it “levels the playing field”, alright – like a hydrogen bomb.

    I’m already seeing a flood of e-books that would never, never, ever have gotten a book deal in the old world, and for damn good reason. People who were typing whatever nonsense popped into their cabeza on a blog for free are suddenly refocusing that content and now calling what used to be blog posts “e-books”. Everyone from bored college freshmen to housewives from Iowa are churning out e-books simply because they can. And in so doing, the idea of the book itself is already becoming devalued.

    I’m glad I got in on the tail-end of print media before it all collapsed. It was nice to be able to say “look, my book’s in stores around the world”, and to say, “look, I write a column for this magazine sold in stores around the nation.” Our kids won’t have that thrill or those goals to pursue, because there’s nothing special about being published now. And when there’s nothing special about something, it is by definition in a state of decay.

    • As an avid reader I see this as being a good thing. I do not feel this marks an epoch of societal decay by any means. There are other factors in American society, at least, that shows societal decay, but I would disagree that ebooks and children publishing stories is one of them.

      When I go to the library or a bookstore to look for a book I look at several different factors. If the book is of fiction then I see if the author is able to pique my interest and entertain me by looking at the inside cover, or back of the book, and then reading a little of the prologue or first chapter. If the book is a reference manual then I look at it’s structure, and content a little closer to make sure that it is something of interest to me. There are certain requirements individuals have for their books and to state that the reader will read just anything is rather offensive.

      I see several benefits coming out of this. First, we will cut down on the amount of trees that we cut down. Second, we will encourage these indie authors to generate content that is either entertaining or informative, or be ignored. Third, those authors who are already established or are competent will be able to sell their works directly to their fans, and not have to pay such a cut to third party leaches. And fourth, the works that we learn to enjoy and appreciate will be based on merit and thus will be more valuable. And last but not least, we will encourage the creativity of the masses and hopefully this will encourage the development of both talent and art so that we will have a plethora of books that both delight and educate us.

      • Joe – Agreed.

        I think good books will be found in some of the same ways good blogs are found. Your definition of good and mine may vary, but the good books will rise to the top, the medium books will rise to the middle and some books won’t rise much at all.

        And, as you point out, a much larger share of the dollars or pennies readers pay will go the author who created the book.

    • JSH – All types of change have upsides and downsides.

      Consider the potential benefits of 99-cent ebooks. Plus, I don’t agree that legacy publishing was a true “survival of the fittest” as far as readers were concerned. I think “survival of the fittest that people who work in Manhattan approve of” is a better way of looking at it.

  2. Karen (Karen LeRosier)

    I read fiction, 1-3 books a week. I have boxes of books that I love and might read again, but I’ve given away twice that many. When my husband heard about ereaders he wanted to buy me one just to get rid of the piles of books–but I wasn’t sold. I thought I was in love with the “physical” book until I bought a Kindle in Feb 2011. Nope it’s the stories.

    I fell in love my ereader before I finished my first ebook.(BTW $12.99 instead of $25 yay.) I’m still swapping paperbacks in a club but find I don’t want to read the paperbacks. (And I hate that Publishers still want full paperback price for ebooks with no resale value, grrrr but that’s another story.)

    Yes JSH, there are a lot of poorly written books available Kindle. So what, that’s called FREE Market and it’s not an issue. Ebooks have free samples! You know within a page or two if it is written well and by the end of three chapters I know if I’m hooked and want to read more–hit delete sample. Gone. It lets ME decide what is worthy to read instead of the traditional publishing censors.

    Sorry JSH but I would have deleted many traditionally published novels if I had this option. And by the way, I find lousy writing on the book shelves from the big publishers often enough to chuckle at their so-called quality control.

    Besides I am not an English teacher, lightly scattered grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors don’t bother me, if it’s a compelling story. I see them, but subconsciously fix them and keep reading with barely a hesitation. I think most readers are not so anal as to stop reading for a misspelled word or two. Especially if they paid $2.99 instead of $7.99!

    There is only two things I’ve found paperbacks have over the ebook. 1-I miss cover art. Thumbnails don’t cut it but printed books online have the same issue. 2-I’m afraid to read my kindle in the hot tub. Both issues minor in face of all the advantages.

    • Karen – I have an enormous number of hardcopy books and experienced a physical-to-Kindle transition similar to yours. I have a perfectly-good NYT bestselling trade paperback by a good author sitting on a table next to my bed where it’s been for about six months. I still pick up my Kindle.

      However, I haven’t been able to persuade myself to buy the ebook version of the paperback sitting next to my bed yet.

    • Karen — I don’t guarantee this to be absolute protection against the ravages of an accidental drop into a hot tub, but a Kindle is perfectly readable/operable if it’s within a zip-lock or similar watertight plastic bag.

      Personally though I’ve only resorted to this when my accident-prone son wanted to read a couple of my stories at the kitchen table.

      • Alastair – Amazon offers some water-resistant Kindle cases, but they all seem to be unavailable at the moment (sounds ominous to me), so your zip-lock bag is the best available splash-proofing solution.

      • Karen (Karen LeRosier)

        What a great idea!

  3. People seem to be responding to aspects of my comment other than the basic point, which is that the fundamental concept of “the book” is being fundamentally devalued. To note that bad books existed before e-books is beside the point. To note that e-books save trees is so beside the point, it’s a non-sequitur.

    The free market existed before e-books, but financial constraints kept people from flooding that market with cruft like Books LLC’s endless repackaging of Wikipedia articles as “e-books”. Even self-indulgent “vanity press” books of your Aunt Gladys’ haikus about angels required Aunt Gladys to lay down big $$$$ to have it printed. Now that anyone – even a child – can publish a book, it renders the value of the idea of a book a little – strike that, a lot – more meaningless. And Gladys’ homemade chapbook didn’t show up in books-in-print databases, unlike thousands of new e-books that should have just been blog fodder.

    We’ve already seen what similar disruptive innovation has done to the music industry. Now that anyone can start their own virtual “record labels” that aren’t really record labels, and release mp3-only on-demand “albums” that aren’t really albums, interest in new music has plummeted. Yes it has. Even as recently as five years ago, an artist releasing a new album meant something; it held a certain amount of gravitas, because it represented a certain amount of effort. Now, almost no effort is required, and when you tell someone you have a new album coming out, their jaded, post-Youtube, desensitized reaction is often “Yeah, okay, so what? You and five million other people.” And I don’t blame them.

    Books will be next, and so is the very definition of what a “book” even is. It will be dissolved into the flattened-graph diffusion of a global population shuffling digital snippets of increasingly valueless code back and forth to one another, especially once we reach the generation who grows up knowing nothing but e-books.

    The lowest common denominator is about to get a whole lot lower.

    • JSH – A question to explore your opinions: Do you have a problem with ability of anyone to start a blog? If not, how is that different from the ability of anyone to publish a book?

      • What I’m talking about is the importance of books being diminished by bringing publishing’s former exclusivity down to blog-level status. Obviously, anyone can write anything they want and they are free to release it in whatever form they please. That populist sentiment doesn’t change anything I’ve said about the devaluation of the importance of “the book” per se.

    • You seemed to have missed (or intentionally sidestepped?) a couple of key responses to your initial comment. Let me expand on them here:

      First, the comparison with blogs. Since anyone can create a blog, by your logic, they would *all* have devolved into meaningless posts by random kids and housewives (as if those groups have nothing of value to say); mainstream journalism should have been destroyed by now. But, this is not the case. There are plenty of horrible blogs, but there are also a number of well-written ones as well with a wider readership, some of those maintained by mainstream media.

      Second, the ability to read samples of any ebook means that it is easy to tell what is worth reading *before* rewarding the author with money. The best already are rising to the top and get more readership. The fittest will survive, while the weakest will continue to drift to the bottom (as we’ve seen with blogs.)

      We’re talking about mass market stuff here. We aren’t talking about literary masterpieces. We’re talking popular fiction. Just because mass market novels move from print to ebooks, from New York to the midwest, doesn’t mean that those literary masterpieces will no longer be produced. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same attitude you show wasn’t expressed back in the old days of pulps.

      • Agreed, Erik.

        • I hadn’t realized this was an aggressively pro-ebook blog when I started commenting here. For someone such as myself who is adamantly anti-ebook, any repeated statements of my position would be tantamount to trolling, and trolling was not my intent. So, I recuse myself and wish you all many happy days ahead staring into an electronic doohickey.

  4. You are, of course, kidding.

    • JSH – Not really. A “book” is an elegant system for delivering information, refined over many hundreds of years. While I can appreciate the system, I am more interested in information, whether of the fictional or nonfictional variety, communicated via a book or ebook or blog.

      I also appreciate medieval cathedrals which were also, in part, an elegant system for delivering religious information to people who were largely illiterate. My appreciation of cathedrals does not prevent me from acknowledging that writing, whether delivered on dead trees or via LED, is an improvement over the cathedral as a method of communicating religious information.

      The words in a printed book are not inherently superior to the words in a blog. Shakespeare can exist in either medium. It’s about the words, not the delivery system.

  5. Karen (Karen LeRosier)

    I think this blog is a bad fit for JSH. I just reread the tittle and the last 5 words could be taken a different way then I did.

    I understand how emotionally charged a “book” is. I already knew it came with warm fuzzy feelings of being curled in a chair with a cup of coffee and escaping the into the story. I understand and experienced mourning and bemoaning change and possible loss of something treasured. WHEN I WAS READY, I examined the pros and cons and bought an ereader last Feb. The pros just out weighed the cons and the emotions.
    (And I realized the warm fuzzy comes from the story not the bound paper book.)

    Traditional Publishing Methods is emotionally charged for me. My writing has been derailed sometimes for months by the horrible odds of getting published. The opened options in self publishing ebooks makes me want to sing, “Ding Dong the Witch is dead!” about traditional publishing.

    I hope logic, facts and well considered thoughts far out weigh the emotions that leak into my comments. If not I apologize.

    • Karen – For an author, publishing – traditional or indie – is fraught with emotion. I think authors without emotion are bad authors.

      I know authors with 50 positive reviews on Amazon who agonize and obsess about the one three-star review they received.

      PG says the more emotion about stories, books, ebooks, etc., the better. If we ever come to a time when no one cares about stories any more, I’ll be very worried.

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