Home » Amazon, Apple, Books in General, Bookstores, Ebooks » The Battle for the Pile of Eyeballs

The Battle for the Pile of Eyeballs

13 June 2013

From Flaubert’s Pyramid:

There has been much talk about the relative merits of self-publishing (mostly through Amazon) and major print distribution through one of the big 5.5 publishers. Rabble-rousers like Scott Turow of the Author’s Guild (representing Establishmentarian Authors of Serious Books published by Serious Companies) and bloggers like J.A. Konrath, Barry Eisler, and David Gaughgran (representing the Nouveau-Riche Wildcat Pioneers of the New Digital Frontier) have taken to the internet to duke it out over who has the lock on the evolution of book culture in the digital age.

Rather than take up camps defending Amazon, or the Publishers, I think folks would do best if they decided to look out for themselves, and in doing so look out for society as a whole. When Turow warned last year that forcing the publishers to abandon agency pricing “…would be tragic for all of us who value books, and the culture they support,” I, for once, didn’t think he was being overly dramatic. Even Konrath can’t deny that price deflation in favor of electronic sales and distribution could wreak much havoc on physical publishing in a way that could alter the way people experience book culture irreparably.

. . . .

I think its important to put this current debate into a broader societal context, and to focus on the paradigmatic shifts that are taking place not just in publishing, but in media in general.  I don’t doubt the sincerity of Mr. Turow, Mr. Konrath, Mr. Eisler and Mr. Gaughgran, but I don’t believe they fully grasp how the fundamental changes taking place will affect them as authors and as readers . Deciding whether you’re team Amazon or team Publisher is largely irrelevant when it comes to determining the destiny of how information is going to be consumed in the future.  As a subset of all media, publishing is now subject to a multi-platform, worldwide, marketplace of attention.  The entire $25 Billion American publishing industry is just a minor actor caught up in the epic Battle for the Pile of Eyeballs.

. . . .

Like me, you are a person existing in the physical world.  You have to work, you have to eat, and you have to sleep (eventually). That means there is a limit to the amount of media you can consume.  Because you are an individual there is a limit to the amount of devices you can use (and/or afford) at a time .  That means there is a premium on your attention, and where you choose to direct it.  For companies selling media, this means their utmost priority is getting your attention, and engaging it long enough for a transaction (whether it’s paying $2.99 for an e-book, or watching a 30 second advertisement).

. . . .

If the Pile of Eyeballs is the prize, then who are the players?  In this instance it is not Amazon and the Publishers, but rather Apple and Amazon.  Apple started out primarily as a device manufacturer, and they developed a media delivery and distribution system (iTunes) whereas Amazon was a delivery and distribution company that developed a device (the Kindle) to better deliver their content to consumers.  Apple is by far the bigger company, in terms of raw profits, but Amazon is no punter either.  They both dwarf the entire publishing industry and the biggest of the bookstore chains in terms of money, and they are both at war with each other, primarily over devices, and secondarily over content delivery.  Their war over devices and content delivery, however, has several pitched battles, the most recent being over book territory.  The Publishers are not, in this instance, combatants in the war, but rather the unfortunate locals caught up in the colonial battle for media resources with both Apple and Amazon demanding its allegiance.

. . . .

I think everyone takes bookstores for granted.  You may never set foot in one, but I can assure a bookstore was the genesis of at least one word-of-mouth wave that eventually brought one of your favorite books to your attention.  Certainly recommendation engines online can augment the ways by which a book comes to your attention, but nothing can replace a bookstore as a repository of cultural meaning and discovery.  Amazon, Google and Apple can tell you what you might like based on what you do like, but they can’t tell what you should like based on what you feel like. In short, there isn’t an App for that.

Link to the rest at Flaubert’s Pyramid and thanks to Keith for the tip.

UPDATE: Bad link is fixed. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Amazon, Apple, Books in General, Bookstores, Ebooks

62 Comments to “The Battle for the Pile of Eyeballs”

  1. I don’t doubt the sincerity of Mr. Turow, Mr. Konrath, Mr. Eisler and Mr. Gaughgran, but I don’t believe they fully grasp how the fundamental changes taking place will affect them as authors and as readers.

    Translation: They’re big fat dopes.

    From Eisler’s Wikipedia page

    After graduating from Cornell Law School in 1989, Eisler joined the CIA, where he held a covert position with the Directorate of Operations.[1] He left the Agency in 1992 and thereafter worked as a technology lawyer and startup executive in Silicon Valley and Japan, earning his black belt at the Kodokan International Judo Center along the way.[citation needed] He started writing full time in 2002 when he sold the rights to his debut novel, Rain Fall, the first of his seven-book series featuring John Rain.

    The burden of proof is on you, Young Agent Flaubert Guy, to prove these men of accomplishment are as dumb as you wish them to be.

  2. This is why I’ve mostly avoided the publishing “wars” lately. Because we’re in the discoverability wars, which I’ve brought up several times but few want to discuss.

    I don’t believe he’s dissing those authors. The fact is I see too many authors wasting time and energy battling to “prove” their way of doing things is right. There is only one right way, and that is distinct for each author. Frankly I agree with Eisler and Konrath and shake my head when I see a successful indie author sign a trad contract, but then again, I’m not in their situation. Perhaps it is the best for them.

    I think what authors really need to grasp is that it is about getting readers, not authors and publishers to acknowledge they are “right”.

    • Yeah, I’m with you on this one. Discoverability is the biggest issue right now. And as more indie-pubs get out there the more we’ll need such methods. In fact that word of mouth is the best thing still (for me it’s one of the best… we all want trusted sources) for finding new books is sobering, But there must be some way to help facilitate that? We’ll see in due time, I suppose.

    • RE: “Frankly I agree with Eisler and Konrath and shake my head when I see a successful indie author sign a trad contract, but then again, I’m not in their situation.”

      To add to what you just said, Bob, I cringe whenever I read about a big publisher signing a successful indie writer whose work they previously rejected — for the very same book(s). Really? Either the book was good enough for the publisher to publish, or it wasn’t. To me, this reeks of hypocrisy and a quick money grab.

      This is just a hypothesis, but I do think that gaining visibility will become increasingly difficult as more writers enter self-publishing. Not because the cream won’t rise to the top, but because the platform PTB they use to get it there will do a covert about-face and implement filters that prevent indies from being discovered. Romance writers of the, ah, real “steamy” variety are already seeing their books take a hit in rankings because of Amazon and B&N are pulling shenanigans. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if one day Amazon starts vetting *all* self-published writers through some editing/vetting process.

      • “Either the book was good enough for the publisher to publish, or it wasn’t.”

        Well, no. Publishers publish books they think they can sell, with quality being a secondary quality. It can be the best book the editor ever read but if they don’t think they can sell it, they (probably) won’t pick it up.

        Of course it is a money grab. They aren’t charities.

  3. “A book without pages is not a book. It’s something else.”

    No. It’s still a book, it’s just packaged in a different delivery system, a system that does not rely on physical pages.

    “Arguably, what makes a book a book are its limitations.”

    No. Limitations are part and parcel of the universe we live in, not something unique to books.

    “It’s about building a monument to an idea and putting it down in a bound volume that has breadth and length, and that does not change. You can’t build the same sort of monument from the shifting sands of the digital media landscape.”

    Again, breadth and length are an integral part of all existence and not confined to any one set of objects such as paper books. Digital media also has a breadth and a length.
    Can their breadth and length change? Yes, but they can also change in the physical realm. I own two different versions of The Stand that are of differing lengths, despite the fact that they are both copies of the same book.

    “As a media property, the e-book is a version of a book, but it is not a book in itself.”

    The same could be said of the physical book.

    “Without the physical book as referent, it’s like a ringtone mimicking the rattling bells of an old rotary phone.”

    I often publish the digital version of a book before I release a paper book version, and both versions spring forth from my mind, from thought, which has no physical presence, therefore every version of a “book”, be it paper, digital or audio is a referent to the original thought book that spawned them all.

    Books don’t need paper to exist any more that music needs vinyl.
    It’s a digital world!
    Deal with it.

    • I was thinking some of the same things when reading the article. I am sure physical books will always exist, but they will be a smaller niche market eventually (as Konrath and others have said).

      I don’t think people who enjoy the many benefits of ebooks have any kind of vendetta against bookstores or physical books, they simply prefer the newer and more convenient format. I don’t think people hated horses and horse drawn carriages either, but when a better form of locomotion came along in the form of automobiles, was it their obligation to keep the horse carriage business afloat?

      I also think it is silly to say simply because something has been done a certain way for a long time then that should be kept as the way it is done. There are lots of things through history that have been done a certain way for a long time until civilization evolved and moved on. And stories were not always written down, they started with oral traditions, then cave paintings, clay tablets, scrolls, etc.

      There is also the argument of tangibility and permanence, and yet we live in a society where for most of us all our money exists as digital bits inside computers. Sure you can get cash out at an ATM – but that is still just another delivery system for trading value between people. It is easier to burn or lose physical money and books than it is to wipe out the many redundant digital repositories storing our digital content.

      As others have said – what matters most is the story itself, not the delivery system.

      • The story is all.
        And to extend your analogy of money, in finance, trust is all. No one cares what color or form the legal tender comes in, as long as it’s backed by the good faith and trust of an institution that can be relied on.
        So too, no one cares what form a book comes in as long as they have faith and trust that the author will deliver a great read, regardless of the delivery system used.

    • A few months after reading a book I may no longer remember (unless there’s some unrelated reason to) whether I read it on paper, on computer (like from the Baen Free Library) or on my Kindle. I’ll remember the story, though.

      Marshal McLuhan notwithstanding, ultimately the medium for books is “text”. Whether that text is on crushed and flattened trees or silicon and glass, — or even an audio file (read, not performed) — it’s still text, and still a book.

  4. “but nothing can replace a bookstore as a repository of cultural meaning and discovery.”

    Actually, you know who else does this job really well, better than bookstores in my opinion? Libraries.

    • That was my thought as well.

    • I can think of a handful of bookstores that are repositories of cultural meaning – the big Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford, Powell’s Books. I was about to name a couple of Chicago bookstores, but they’re gone.

      No Barnes & Noble I’ve ever visited has ever been such a repository for me. It’s just a formulaic chain, like Target. Most indie bookstores don’t qualify either, even if I could find one.

      The simple fact is that only a small percentage of Americans live anywhere close to a bookstore that qualifies as a repository of cultural meaning, at least for me.

      So more Americans buy books from Amazon than from anywhere else and manage to locate their cultural meaning somewhere other than a bookstore.

      • “It’s just a formulaic chain, like Target. ”

        Yes. The last time I was in a B&N it appeared to have more mugs and t-shirts than books.

      • that might PG be because a ton of ‘indie stories’ are actually owned by Books a Million — the mega-rich Anderson brothers– who began trying to force the formerly independent indies they bought up [allowing them to keep their original road names] to have the Anderson’s OWN bestseller list, keeping Louis Grizzard at the top far too much of the time. Youre right when you wrote ” Most indie bookstores don’t qualify either, even if I could find one.” Very astute point about ‘indie’ being lambskins in service of corporate wolf. Or woof, as one pleases

        • Hey!

          Keep Louis Grizzard out of this.

        • Sorry, tried to add:

          Besides, if he were around, he’d write something funny yet sad about the decreasing importance of paper books. His stories about what happened to the typesetters at newspapers (and why it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of a-holes) are quite evocative to those of us contemplating the current brouhaha.

          “What Doug did was pick up an empty tray and try to kill Boy-Boy [the typesetter] with it. Boy-Boy managed to duck Doug’s swing, however, and ran. Doug chased him. They disappeared out the back of the composing room, headed toward Spring Street.”

    • Sadly the big 5 haven’t been happy about selling digital content to libraries.

    • Yeah, I was thinking the same thing.

      I actually did have a great time in a bookstore recently with a friend: lots of interesting conversations around the books, and she recommended a book for me that the salesperson then found for me on the shelf. But that was a used bookstore. I rarely even go to new bookstores anymore–even if there were decent ones near me, I can’t afford the prices.

    • >>“but nothing can replace a bookstore as a repository of cultural meaning and discovery.”

      >Actually, you know who else does this job really well, better than bookstores in my opinion? Libraries.

      The Internet.

      I’ve learned far more from the Internet, and experienced far more culture, than I ever learned or experienced in a library or a bookstore.

      And I’m writing that as someone with mumblety thousand paper books and who knows how many e-titles.

  5. I get most of my book recommendations from:

    1. Web forums and social media sites
    2. Podcasts
    3. GoodReads
    4. Blogs/online news and reviews sites

    I find that those are sufficient to generate more than enough titles to add to my “to read” list. And I find that with that much of a mix of engagement, there is plenty of serendipity and diversity that happens in my discovery of titles and, what’s more, they come with additional context (as opposed to just the back cover copy) that helps me prioritize what I buy or check out from the library.

    It seems to me that those who bemoan the lack of serendipity in “running across titles” or the niche-ification of reading habits, don’t understand how online communities work.

    I do agree, however, that the biggest challenge authors face is the battle for eyeballs. But it’s a battle against other forms of attention grabbing (games, videos, podcasts, status updates, etc.). Which is exactly why artificial barriers (windowing, high ebook prices, DRM, poor ebook formatting, competing ebook formats) erected to keep the middlemen between authors and the reading public in order to preserve profit is an unsustainable strategy. It’s very easy for people to just choose something else.

    • I get mine from using long-tail keywords in Google searches, for example, say I’m looking for “dystopian novels set in Austin, Texas”. I am extremely exacting when it comes to what topics I like to read about (even in fiction), and I’ve found a lot of them this way, written by both traditional and self-published writers. 🙂

  6. “but nothing can replace a bookstore as a repository of cultural meaning and discovery”

    I bet someone said that about record stores and Blockbusters. I’ve been in a bookstore, it was 10 years ago, but from the best of my memory it was just a store that sold books. Didn’t see a lot of cultural meaning laying around. And discovery? One reason I stopped going to bookstores was because it was so damn hard to find anything. the Zon has EVERYTHING at my fingertips in a searchable database. A bookstore is an annoying waste of time and space. IMHO.

    • Here’s a another new strawman that I love.

      If “book culture” can’t survive without these oh-so crucial depositories, then why are books readership, sales and profits (for everyone!) up while bookstores (largely) have been in a massive decline the last several years?

      Print lovers are great at criticizing aspects of the digital revolution that they personally don’t care for. They roll out their knowledge of the industry, they mention some classics, they display a great vocab and they (usually) make comparisons between Joe First Time Indie and a print mega-seller or a lit legend but it’s funny how everyone avoids this giant road flare of an industry indicator; overall book sales health vs. bric & mortar store health.

      I love bookstores and libraries too but all this reverence given to them as some pinncale of book championing, in light of what social media is capable of today, is really a comparison between a garden trowel and a backhoe.

      If I manage to self- pub something that my first five readers like then I’ll take the backhoe approach to spreading work or mouth, thank you.

    • I have to agree.

      Maybe I’m unusual, but I’ve never been recommended a book by a shop assistant. I can only remember one time when they spoke to me before I got to the till. I was in the history section of a very large book shop. An assistant asked if they could help, and I (frankly glad for the help) asked if they had any books on the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. I got a blank look. On the other hand, if I ask Amazon the same question, I get plenty of suggestions.

  7. Ignoring all other points….he’s crying about bookstores closing and vanishing and woe, woe, WOE to the word-of-mouth it generated.

    Uh, didn’t we just get news that indie bookstores are growing?

  8. “I don’t doubt the sincerity of Mr. Turow…”

    I do.


  9. Surely the real issue here is not electronic versus physical publishing, or book pricing; the real issue is that Amazon is a monopoly and holds far too much power within the industry. It has almost complete control over the livelihoods of countless independent authors and publishers, and is already destroying countless independent bookstores who cannot compete (witness its pricing of Iain Banks’ final novel), and yet is accountable to no-one. Until a substantial competitor appears, this is not a healthy situation.

    • “is already destroying countless independent bookstores who cannot compete”

      Independent bookstores are increasing in number. Price is only one form of competition.

      That word “destroying”? I don’t think it means what you think it means.

      • The word “monopoly” doesn’t mean what he thinks it means, either.

        • What he means is monopsony, but Amazon doesn’t have one of those either. Or maybe he just means they’re too big and powerful, which is fine, but the m-words take it too far.

      • The situation in the US may be different, but here in the UK many news stories point to a decline in the number of independent bookstores. Certainly, here in Bristol there have been a number of closures, both of independents and of course Borders which had a big branch here. Waterstones is closing stores, although mercifully still has two in Bristol, while Foyles has actually opened a branch here. I frequently visit just to see what’s new, but usually end up buying on Amazon because it’s much cheaper. ‘Destroying’ may be a bit melodramatic but I don’t think it’s inaccurate.

        OK, technically Amazon is not a monopoly, but I would suggest that its situation in the book market is similar to that of IBM in the 1970-80s, or Microsoft in the 1990s, both of which faced anti-trust suits.

        • Not even close. Microsoft and IBM both had market shares above 90% in their respective fields. Amazon has about 30%.

        • For the benefit of US and other readers it should be noted Border UK disappeared long before Border US, and probably more due to mismanagement than competition from Amazon or any other store. Opening huge stores in places that were never going to get the footfall to sustain them was one reason why Borders UK vanished.

          Bristol was probably big enough to sustain a megastore, but many locations, like Lakeside in Essex, were simply crass business decisions. And selling Starbucks coffee didn’t help.

    • You know Amazon competes in a lot of other spaces, right? In every other area, they have competition. In general retail, Wal-Mart is a formidable competitor. In cloud computing, Microsoft, Google, VMware, and IBM are all serious competitors. Apple is pretty much crushing them in tablet sales and Microsoft is coming on strong.

      Why is it that it’s only in books that everyone throws up their hands and whines? What other industry would the big producers think that selling their products below cost be a problem. What other industry would come up with a solution that involved shoveling money at the object of their fear? The people who run the big publishers aren’t morons. Why did they do it?

      Here’s a hint. You know what exists in general retail, tablet sales and cloud computing? Real competition. Companies that understand their customers. Companies that care about meeting their customers’ needs.

      • This is the defence that Microsoft used to use when accused of monopolising the personal computer market. Yes, it faced substantial competition in the server market, the applications market and many other aspects of the computer market. However it did dominate the desktop GUI market and was accused of abusing its position when it, for example, integrated a Web browser into Windows.

        Amazon faces substantial and healthy competition in many markets, where it is up against companies of similar power and breadth. However I would suggest its position in the book market is not so healthy.

        • Matt, in the UK Amazon faces competition from Waterstone’s, Foyles, WH Smith and myriad independent stores, plus lots of ebooks stores. Waterstone’s own ebook store is being revamped this summer. The WH Smith Kobo store could do with revamping but is holding its own. Foyles is great. Sainsbury has a fantastic ebook store now and Tesco are revamping their (currently dire) site. The Apple GB store is blossoming and Sony’s new GB Readerstore is a vast improvement on the old version. Even ‘txtr is gaining ground in the UK.

          The advantage Amazon has is in exploiting a tax loophole and exporting ebooks from Luxembourg and getting away with charging 3% VAT while the other stores are obliged to charge nearer 20%.

    • Bookstores are not dying out.

      The chains are in trouble. Independent bookstores are increasing in numbers.


      Also: you do realize that Amazon’s control of indie author fortunes exists because it provides the very best discoverability for indie authors in the business?

      • Amazon does provide a great service to independent authors, and in the process has revealed just how complacent traditional publishers have become. It also provides a great service to readers (although my ‘recommendations’ list is still way off the mark). But I still relish time spent ambling around a bookshop, and I still find myself discovering gems that I would never otherwise have found.

        Incidentally, my local Waterstones (Bristol, UK) actually sells Kindles, and I was told by an assistant that it was working on an arrangement with Amazon that would give it a share of any sales made from within the shop itself (presumably hooking into its wifi somehow). Great idea, but it doesn’t seem to have got anywhere yet.

    • Amazon is not a monopoly. B&N, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and many other online stores sell books as well. To be a monopoly, you have to be in complete control of something. Just because Amazon has an overwhelming market share does not mean it is a monopoly. It simply means that for now, they are the best, and are doing it better than their competitors.

      It does not have complete control over the livelihoods of independent authors. I sell my books on iTunes and B&N and Kobo. I buy e-book from indie authors at all of those places as well as at Amazon. If they had complete control over my livelihood, I wouldn’t have published my books through them.

      Amazon is not destroying independent bookstores. Independent bookstores tend to rely more on trade/used books as a way to make their money (according to the indie bookstores I spent a lot of time in when I lived in Orlando and now that I live in Boise). Last I heard, indie bookstores are doing quite well.

      You claim indie bookstores are doing well and give props to traditional pubs as to the reason why. You claim indie bookstores are dying and give blame to Amazon. Choose which version of the news you want to use and stick with it please.

      You can’t even decide which version of reality you want to use in your own post. You start by saying Amazon is a monopoly and is bad. Then your very last sentence says that until they have a viable competitor, they will stay on top of the game. The fact that they have competitors and authors and publishers are free to choose where to publish…that can not be a monopoly.

  10. This is just another agent who is wrong about everything. And that’s only a slight exaggeration.

    • It’s a very elaborately written pile of rubbish making a lot of attempts at appearing fair.

      Sadly, he doesn’t even grasp the basics of the content war. Apple promotes content to sell devices, and Amazon promotes devices to sell content. I thought everyone understood that.

      And in raw profits Apple makes in a week or less what Amazon makes each quarter.

  11. The best thing about a physical book is that it has presence, whereas an e-book is ephemeral. A book takes up space; an e-book only takes up space on a server.

    This is why I love my e-reader. I’ve lost hundreds if not thousands of books in my different moves this past decade. I have always packed what could fit in my car and nothing else. A lot of those books were just quick, one-time reads but they took up a LOT of room. And gathered lots of dust. I still have books on my shelves but they are the special ones, the ones that delight me over and over again. There will always be a place on my shelves for those books. But 90% of my books are on my reader now and that makes me happy. I can be a digital hoarder, the weight of them won’t break my back, and it is far less of a fire hazard.

  12. Books, and “book culture”, existed long before the practice of paginating the text onto slices of ground-up dead tree came into vogue.

    Scrolls don’t have pages. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the same story on cuneiform and Kindle.

    • Whatever happened to the tree-huggers environmentalists? They should be embracing ebooks. And with all the wild weather across the midwest, the trees can go to rebuilding homes. Books are books, but pixels save trees.

  13. I own two books that I’d love to re-read and use for reference, Death In The Long Grass and Lightning Bird, but I cannot. You see, they’re still packed in a box somewhere in the pile of boxes of books from the last move, waiting for me to have the time and energy to figure out where I can build more bookshelves. (This will involve remodeling, or another move.)

    Do you think this young man could explain to me how a pile of boxes taller than I am, with no space to unpack them, is superior to being able to curl up with a cuppa and Capstick’s adventures? He may wax lyrical about bookstores, but I’d rather some tea and some lions on the kindle to no lions at all.

  14. I used to buy books in bookstores the same way I buy them now from Amazon: I browse through my preferred genre until I find something with a cover and a blurb that catches my interest (or I look for additional books by authors I already discovered this way). The difference is, at Borders when I took my sword ‘n’ wizard fantasy books up to the checkout counter, they would also try to sell me whatever lit-fic book club selection they were pushing that week. At Amazon, they show me other books like the ones I’m actually buying, that I actually like.

    I say Borders; I haven’t even been in Barnes&Noble since Borders closed. Towards the end, I was walking out of Borders empty-handed more often than not, and I get the feeling I wouldn’t have any better luck at B&N.

    So much for “discovery.”

  15. I’ll disagree with some people here that bookstores are useless. Of course it depends on the bookstore (BN and Borders were never that great unless you were looking for a book that was ‘pop’), but that’s a hit and miss. My favorite local bookstore has some great recommendations. Love it. And one of the bigger ways for me to pick up a book. I will say that choosing a new book (new author etc) seems very different than almost anything else. Perhaps it’s because of the time involved? Must be why I’ve been on a novella kick lately.

  16. I used to work a block away from a Barnes and Noble. A couple of times a week I would waste my lunch hour going over there and looking for books I couldn’t find. I finally got smart and searched Amazon, ordered the book(s) I wanted, and voila within two days (sometimes one), it was in my hands. After that, I stopped going to B&N and spent my lunch hour reading the books, not wasting my time.

  17. Anyone who thinks Konrath and Eisler are “Team Amazon” isn’t a regular reader of Joe’s blog. Yes, they love Amazon and work mainly with Amazon. In return, Amazon gets them the most sales with the best division of profit. It’s a business decision, not a black-white us-them stance.

  18. Never has so much been said that amounts to so little. All this seems to amount to ‘Wah! Books are special!’ No. No, they are not special, and this guy is being an idiot if he really believes that.

    Books are a medium of communicating cultural narratives. The stories they contain tell us what we are, what we were, what we could be, and what we will never be, but the stories are NOT the medium and it seems like everyone involved in the traditional publishing business is getting confused about that. This fetishizing of the book – the paper and ink object – is getting tiresome in the extreme, and it’s not good for business.

    The reality is that the world at large does not care one whit what a few handwringers think of the method in which it discovers and shares its stories. True enough, books were the most convenient medium for a long time, because they’re relatively cheap and very widespread, but that was then, this is now, and in the year 2013, we have a new medium which is vastly cheaper and more efficient at discovery and sharing.

    Narratives are important, and special. The medium that delivers them is not. If their business revolves around a medium that is swiftly being made obsolete, then the world at large will eventually put them out of business, and I for one will not cry any tears for them.

    • I agree totally! A ‘book’ is not a pile of paper or a stream of bits and bytes: it’s the text itself, in whatever form it comes. As a reader I want to be able to purchase a book and in doing so purchase the right to read it in any medium I like, whether on an electronic device like a Kindle, Nook or Kobo, or as a printed book. I want to be able to find it by browsing on Amazon, and download it to a Nook; I want to be able to purchase a paperback from my local bookshop, and be able to read the text on my Kindle.

      At the moment that’s not possible, partly because of incompatible file formats, and partly because new agreements would have to be thrashed out that give bookshops a viable business model. As the largest player in this market, Amazon is probably best placed to make this possible. At the moment, I see no moves in this direction.

  19. The Epic Battle for the Pile of Eyeballs

    Anyone write easy reader books for young school kids? This guy just handed you the perfect title!


    Or for your zombie novel.

  20. “If the Pile of Eyeballs is the prize, then who are the players? In this instance it is not Amazon and the Publishers, but rather Apple and Amazon.”

    This is what struck me. The main player in the competition for the pile of eyeballs is the web. It isn’t Amazon and the Publishers, or Amazon and Apple — it’s books and internet.

    Which means Google.

    For all that Amazon changed the world, Google changed it more, by making the web manageable. How we experienced text — the very definition of the word “page” — has been fundamentally changed.

    I really think that, to understand the kind of changes that are scaring the heck out of paper people, they’ve got to look far beyond ebooks.

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