Ebooks

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens

13 November 2017

Note: PG mentioned this article when it first appeared in 2013, but thought it worthy for a revisit.

From Scientific American:

In a viral YouTube video from October 2011 a one-year-old girl sweeps her fingers across an iPad’s touchscreen, shuffling groups of icons. In the following scenes she appears to pinch, swipe and prod the pages of paper magazines as though they too were screens. When nothing happens, she pushes against her leg, confirming that her finger works just fine—or so a title card would have us believe.

The girl’s father, Jean-Louis Constanza, presents “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work” as naturalistic observation—a Jane Goodall among the chimps moment—that reveals a generational transition. “Technology codes our minds,” he writes in the video’s description. “Magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives”—that is, for people who have been interacting with digital technologies from a very early age.

. . . .

How exactly does the technology we use to read change the way we read? How reading on screens differs from reading on paper is relevant not just to the youngest among us, but to just about everyone who reads—to anyone who routinely switches between working long hours in front of a computer at the office and leisurely reading paper magazines and books at home; to people who have embraced e-readers for their convenience and portability, but admit that for some reason they still prefer reading on paper; and to those who have already vowed to forgo tree pulp entirely. As digital texts and technologies become more prevalent, we gain new and more mobile ways of reading—but are we still reading as attentively and thoroughly? How do our brains respond differently to onscreen text than to words on paper? Should we be worried about dividing our attention between pixels and ink or is the validity of such concerns paper-thin?

. . . .

Before 1992 most studies concluded that people read slower, less accurately and less comprehensively on screens than on paper. Studies published since the early 1990s, however, have produced more inconsistent results: a slight majority has confirmed earlier conclusions, but almost as many have found few significant differences in reading speed or comprehension between paper and screens. And recent surveys suggest that although most people still prefer paper—especially when reading intensively—attitudes are changing as tablets and e-reading technology improve and reading digital books for facts and fun becomes more common. In the U.S., e-books currently make up between 15 and 20 percent of all trade book sales.

Even so, evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done. A parallel line of research focuses on people’s attitudes toward different kinds of media. Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.

“There is physicality in reading,” says developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, “maybe even more than we want to think about as we lurch into digital reading—as we move forward perhaps with too little reflection. I would like to preserve the absolute best of older forms, but know when to use the new.”

Link to the rest at Scientific American

Speaking of lurching into digital reading and preserving the “absolute best of older forms,” if you were to enter TPV Central, you would see a great deal of paper (assuming Mrs. PG didn’t demand a preparatory cleanup).

Despite Mrs. PG’s contentions, PG has a mental map of the various stacks and bits of paper, USB cords, dead mice (of the computer variety), backup hard drives, rechargeable batteries, etc., that cover his rather large corner desk. While PG admits to certain areas of terra incognita, generally speaking, he can lay a hand on what he is seeking with a surprising degree of accuracy.

That said, he conducts the vast majority of his reading via computer screens (three on his desk plus tablets, Kindles, iPhones, etc.). If PG read the equivalent amount of material on paper, his lair would be filled with file cabinets (if Mrs. PG had her way), Casa PG would require multiple weekly visits from one or more garbage trucks and Washington/Oregon would be devoid of forests.

While PG doesn’t have a mental map of his digital reading, he does have a search function on each of his devices. While mental maps of long-form paper publications can be useful, how many of such maps can a person retain in their memories for any length of time?

Casa PG still contains quite a number of bookshelves filled with paper books. While PG (mostly) recognizes titles he has read, his mental maps of the contents of those titles have disappeared into the mists of time.

PG is reminded of an old lawyer from a long time ago. (He was a real lawyer, not a player in a parable.) This lawyer was well-known for the huge piles of paper on his desk, on the floor of his office, etc., and also for his astounding ability to reach into the correct pile and the correct location in each pile to retrieve a needed document. While PG never witnessed the lawyer performing this feat, those who had pronounced themselves highly impressed by the lawyer’s organizational abilities.

A few years after this old lawyer met his reward, PG was talking with one of the lawyer’s partners. For some reason, the conversation turned to the old lawyer’s desk and his supernatural ability to remember where everything was.

The lawyer’s partner spoke of the arduous job of clearing the old lawyer’s desk. In the process, the partners discovered many thousands of dollars in uncashed client checks, some years old, that the lawyer had placed into his desktop filing system and forgotten about. If properly deposited, those checks would have substantially increased the firm’s income.

PG suggests that, like many other things residing in the human mind, mental maps have their drawbacks as information retrieval systems.

The Physical Landscape of Words

13 November 2017

From Medium:

I have always felt bothered by e-books. As an engineer and a technologist, as someone who owns a Google Home and studies computer science and knows how to solder, I should love e-books. But as a writer and a poet I kind of hate them.

I like the idea of e-books. I like the idea of not lugging around a huge novel. I like the idea of sharing a virtual library with my father, who does love e-books. I like the idea of having the definition of a word at the touch of my fingertip. I like the idea of minimizing my physical footprint.

. . . .

But I don’t like my inability to flip through the pages. The percentage-done indicator stresses me out, but when I turn it off I wonder how far along I am. I once bought Mark Strand’s Collected Poems to read on my Kindle while traveling and it was a terrible, empty experience.

. . . .

As writing was invented, we co-opted processes and places already in the brain to deal with these new and intricate symbols that, tied together, could create great and varied meaning. Our brains improvised: we used regions of the brain dedicated to spoken language, motor coordination, and visual object identification to read words on a page. The brain learned to treat words not as strings of symbols but as physical objects in space.

This explains why I can remember exactly where on a page I read something, even if I don’t remember what exactly I read.

Link to the rest at Medium

Amazon’s Kindle turns 10: have ebooks clicked with you yet?

13 November 2017

From The Guardian:

George W Bush was in the White House, Chris Brown was topping the Billboard chart and Jeff Bezos … well, on 19 November 2007, Jeff Bezos was doing “the most important thing we’ve ever done” and launching the Amazon Kindle.

The first Kindles were chunky things about the same size as a paperback, weighing a smidgeon less than 300g. They had wonky little keyboards and a little wheel for scrolling up and down a grey and black screen. But Bezos was never aiming for a flashy design. Speaking at the launch in New York, he said that all he wanted was a device that could “disappear”.

“All of us readers know that flow state when we read,” Bezos explained. “We don’t think about the glue, the paper, the stitching – all of that goes away. All that remains is the author’s world, and we flow right into that.”

. . . .

“Instead of shopping on your PC,” Bezos explained, “you shop on the device … And guess what? [Books] are all $9.99. And guess what? They all get delivered wirelessly in less than minute.”

. . . .

But the Kindle was never only a portable bookshop, it was also a publishing house. Strip away the expensive business of jackets, paper and physical distribution, and the words of a Booker winner or a Nobel laureate appear much like those of anyone else.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

A Story About Piracy

31 October 2017

From author Maggie Stiefvater:

I’ve decided to tell you guys a story about piracy.

I didn’t think I had much to add to the piracy commentary I made yesterday, but after seeing some of the replies to it, I decided it’s time for this story.

Here are a few things we should get clear before I go on:

1) This is a U.S. centered discussion. Not because I value my non U.S. readers any less, but because I am published with a U.S. publisher first, who then sells my rights elsewhere. This means that the fate of my books, good or bad, is largely decided on U.S. turf, through U.S. sales to readers and libraries.

2) This is not a conversation about whether or not artists deserve to get money for art, or whether or not you think I in particular, as a flawed human, deserve money. It is only about how piracy affects a book’s fate at the publishing house.

3) It is also not a conversation about book prices, or publishing costs, or what is a fair price for art, though it is worthwhile to remember that every copy of a blockbuster sold means that the publishing house can publish new and niche voices. Publishing can’t afford to publish the new and midlist voices without the James Pattersons selling well.

It is only about two statements that I saw go by:

1) piracy doesn’t hurt publishing.

2) someone who pirates the book was never going to buy it anyway, so it’s not a lost sale.

Now, with those statements in mind, here’s the story.

. . . .

It’s the story of a novel called The Raven King, the fourth installment in a planned four book series. All three of its predecessors hit the bestseller list. Book three, however, faltered in strange ways. The print copies sold just as well as before, landing it on the list, but the e-copies dropped precipitously.

. . . .

I expected to see a sales drop in book three, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, but as my readers are historically evenly split across the formats, I expected it to see the cut balanced across both formats. This was absolutely not true. Where were all the e-readers going? Articles online had headlines like PEOPLE NO LONGER ENJOY READING EBOOKS IT SEEMS.

Really?

There was another new phenomenon with Blue Lily, Lily Blue, too — one that started before it was published. Like many novels, it was available to early reviewers and booksellers in advanced form (ARCs: advanced reader copies). Traditionally these have been cheaply printed paperback versions of the book. Recently, e-ARCs have become common, available on locked sites from publishers.

BLLB’s e-arc escaped the site, made it to the internet, and began circulating busily among fans long before the book had even hit shelves. Piracy is a thing authors have been told to live with, it’s not hurting you, it’s like the mites in your pillow, and so I didn’t think too hard about it until I got that royalty statement with BLLB’s e-sales cut in half.

. . . .

Floating about in the forums and on Tumblr as a creator, it was not difficult to see fans sharing the pdfs of the books back and forth. For awhile, I paid for a service that went through piracy sites and took down illegal pdfs, but it was pointless. There were too many. And as long as even one was left up, that was all that was needed for sharing.

I asked my publisher to make sure there were no e-ARCs available of book four, the Raven King, explaining that I felt piracy was a real issue with this series in a way it hadn’t been for any of my others. They replied with the old adage that piracy didn’t really do anything, but yes, they’d make sure there was no e-ARCs if that made me happy.

Then they told me that they were cutting the print run of The Raven King to less than half of the print run for Blue Lily, Lily Blue. No hard feelings, understand, they told me, it’s just that the sales for Blue Lily didn’t justify printing any more copies.

. . . .

I was intent on proving that piracy had affected the Raven Cycle, and so I began to work with one of my brothers on a plan. It was impossible to take down every illegal pdf; I’d already seen that. So we were going to do the opposite. We created a pdf of the Raven King. It was the same length as the real book, but it was just the first four chapters over and over again. At the end, my brother wrote a small note about the ways piracy hurt your favorite books. I knew we wouldn’t be able to hold the fort for long — real versions would slowly get passed around by hand through forum messaging — but I told my brother: I want to hold the fort for one week. Enough to prove that a point. Enough to show everyone that this is no longer 2004. This is the smart phone generation, and a pirated book sometimes is a lost sale.

Then, on midnight of my book release, my brother put it up everywhere on every pirate site. He uploaded dozens and dozens and dozens of these pdfs of The Raven King. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting one of his pdfs. We sailed those epub seas with our own flag shredding the sky.

The effects were instant. The forums and sites exploded with bewildered activity. Fans asked if anyone had managed to find a link to a legit pdf. Dozens of posts appeared saying that since they hadn’t been able to find a pdf, they’d been forced to hit up Amazon and buy the book.

And we sold out of the first printing in two days.

Link to the rest at Maggie Stiefvater and thanks to Barb and others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Maggie Stiefvater’s books (hopefully all legit). If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

PG loved Maggie’s strategy. Since she’s the owner of the copyright in her books, she can put up legal versions of the first four chapters of her book.

Depending on the wording of her publishing contract, it’s probably not a violation of the contract. If it is a technical violation, PG doubts any publisher would complain about her use of a portion of the book for anti-piracy purposes, particularly since it proved to be an excellent sales promotion strategy.

PG wonders if there’s an anti-piracy/sales promotion business to be created out of this strategy. The basis for the business would be to flood fan forums with incomplete copies of a book in the manner described in the OP in order to boost legitimate sales. If a pirate uploaded a complete copy, the anti-piracy business could respond by posting warnings on the forum that the pirate copy was another defective one.

PG hasn’t thought through the legal implications of polluting the pools where pirates swim, but he’s in a mood today. As Maggie clearly demonstrates in the OP, piracy does steal ebook sales from from legitimate online stores and definitely harms authors.

PG doesn’t advise escalating the strategy further by implanting a harmless virus in an incomplete pdf copy of a book and uploading that to forums where illegal copies are circulated, however. However, a flurry of antivirus program warnings that were triggered when a pirated copy was downloaded might further discourage the use of illegal copies.

Or, perhaps, simply posting messages on the pirate forums warning that some illegal pdf copies on the forum contained a virus might serve the same purpose.

While he doesn’t claim to be a programmer, PG suspects writing a simple program to at least partially automate this anti-piracy strategy would not be terribly difficult.

For clarification, this is not the lawyer’s side of PG’s brain producing these thoughts. PG has an anarchist section of his brain that he keeps carefully separated from the attorney section.

The lawyer side of PG’s brain does say that filing suit against the operators of forums devoted to ebook piracy is another possible approach. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides some protection to owners of such forums, but PG suspects an inventive attorney could find some ways to make the lives of the organizers and hosts of such forums uncomfortable.

So, for a final warning, PG is not making recommendations here, only speculating about possible anti-piracy strategies and giving his anarchic self a bit of morning air. He’ll stop listening to the voices in his head for the rest of the day.

Amazon Kindle deserves some praise on its 10th birthday

30 October 2017

From The National:

The iPhone has received a good deal of hype this year as it celebrates its 10th anniversary, but another important device is just about to reach that same milestone.

The Kindle is set to turn 10 on November 19, and while not as revolutionary as Apple’s flagship product, Amazon’s e-book reader is responsible for its own share of change.

And, just like the iPhone, it has also been emblematic of Amazon’s approach to both innovation and customers. It’s a good example of why the two companies are currently positioned so differently in consumers’ minds.

Just as Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, the Kindle wasn’t the first electronic book reader. Amazon improved on predecessors such as the Sony Librie and the long forgotten Rocket eBook with a lightweight and portable device that used an innovative “electronic ink” display to take the pain out of reading books on a screen.

More importantly, it was affordable.

. . . .

If the iPhone unleashed the app economy, then the Kindle sparked a self-publishing revolution that changed how the long-form printed word is created, distributed and sold.

Kindle Direct Publishing, which launched in conjunction with the e-reader in 2007, allowed writers to skip publishers and sell their works straight to consumers. E-books could be sold for as low as 99 cents, with Amazon keeping just a small cut rather than the lion’s share, as publishers generally do.

. . . .

Amazon has never disclosed how many e-readers it has sold, but estimates have pegged the number in the multi-millions. E-books, meanwhile, have gobbled up as much as a quarter of the overall book market in a number of countries.

. . . .

Amazon and Apple’s biggest clash was over e-books. Publishers, fearing Amazon’s growing power, conspired with Apple to counter that influence by fixing e-book prices. In 2014, Apple settled with U.S. anti-trust authorities, giving Amazon customers credits for the over-payments they were forced to endure.

Link to the rest at The National and thanks to Dave for a second tip today.

Cash for Kindle ebooks – Amazon goes local down in Acapulco

29 October 2017

From The New Publishing Standard:

It’s been more than four years since Amazon launched in Mexico in 2013 with its spearhead Kindle ebook store, branching out into physical goods in 2015.

This week Amazon finally bowed to the inevitable next stage of glocalisation and started accepting cash payments to try hold its own against rival Walmex, as WalMart’s Mexico arm is known, and to try compete with the market leader, the Latin America e-commerce giant Mercado Libre,  which hails from Argentina.

. . . .

Mercado Libre has long understood that in Latin America cash is king, with few people owning a credit card and even fewer willing to risk using them online for fear of fraud. Mercado Libre accepts cash payments at convenience stores across the country which are credited to a Mercado Libre account so Mexicans can buy online. Now Amazon has finally followed suit.

While not especially aimed at the ebook buyer, the move will hopefully boost the sales of ebooks, too. Reliable data on ebook sales in Mexico is hard to come by, but anecdotal evidence suggests there are no clear front-runners, with Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Google Play all seeing steady but not exceptional sales.

The problem for all of them, aside from payment options, is localised content.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard and thanks to Paul for the tip.

iBooks Author Conference Highlights Worries about iBooks Ecosystem

26 October 2017

From Tidbits:

There has been a lot of talk lately about how dedicated Apple is to its professional users, the ones who use Apple hardware and software to make their livings.

. . . .

In a conference room tucked away in a library on the campus of Vanderbilt University, I spent a morning surrounded by professional Apple users who earn their living with one piece of Apple software: iBooks Author.

. . . .

Authors who choose iBooks Author do so because it’s free and it’s flexible, but the other reason I heard repeatedly was that it’s the “best in class.” iBooks Author can do things that no other publishing tool can do, making it easy to create multi-touch, multimedia-intensive experiences. Metrock said he is asked once a week about a Windows equivalent of iBooks Author. “It doesn’t exist,” he says.

Jason LaMar, an Apple Distinguished Educator and author of “Ohio: Pathway to the Presidency” mentioned that Apple hates the name iBooks Author because it undersells what the app can actually do. It’s the closest thing Apple has to a modern-day reincarnation of HyperCard, and it even has a built-in publishing conduit to the iBooks Store and a reading app, iBooks, that’s bundled with hundreds of millions of devices running iOS and macOS.

That might sound like a ticket to publishing fortune, but it’s sadly not the case. Denise Clifton of Tandemvines Publishing, who worked on the investigative reporting book “An Air That Still Kills,” said that the iBooks Author version was the best and most advanced, but sold fewer copies than any other.

Even giving an iBooks Author book away for free isn’t enough. Despite the fact that Jason LaMar’s book was promoted by Ohio’s Secretary of State, was recommended to every school superintendent in the state, and is the top education book in the iBooks Store, only 3000 copies have been downloaded from the iBooks Store.

It’s no secret that Apple doesn’t pay much attention to iBooks Author.

. . . .

iBooks Author was one of Steve Jobs’s final initiatives, and he had ambitions to conquer the textbook market, as detailed in Walter Isaacson’s biography, “Steve Jobs.”

“The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt. But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money,” Jobs told Isaacson.

It wasn’t until after Jobs’s death that Apple launched iBooks Author (see “Apple Goes Back to School with iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U,” 19 January 2012), but even so, it was a revelation to publishers, seemingly poised to change the industry. Michael Cohen’s “Why iBooks Author is a Big Deal” (21 January 2012) is a perfect encapsulation of that early optimism. Even initial concerns were optimistic because Michael was afraid Apple was about to take over publishing!

But as we now know, that didn’t happen. So what did?

Metrock and many others cite the 2013 antitrust ruling against Apple as the event that killed Apple’s enthusiasm for publishing. It was both expensive and led to years of cumbersome antitrust monitoring. If you want to understand the legalities there, you won’t find a better explanation than Adam Engst’s “Explaining the Apple Ebook Price Fixing Suit” (10 July 2013).

“Most people think it took Apple’s appetite away for innovating in the digital book space,” Metrock said.

. . . .

Metrock suggests that no one at Apple has the heart to kill it because it’s one of Jobs’s final legacies. “If this weren’t Apple’s, it would have been killed,” Metrock added.

. . . .

Apple seems content to let the entire iBooks Author ecosystem stagnate. Metrock highlighted how Apple remodeled the iOS App Store for iOS 11 while the iBooks Store remains unchanged, with poor discoverability. “If you’re a small or medium-size publisher counting on revenue, the iBooks Store is not for you, unless you can get on the front page, but good luck with that,” Metrock said.

Link to the rest at Tidbits and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG will reiterate his prior opinion from the time of the original antitrust litigation – Apple and its five co-conspirator publishers, the Price-Fix Six, were incredibly stupid in their illegal behavior which, at a minimum, should have raised a forest of red flags for managers and their attorneys.

From an antitrust legal perspective, the verdict of the trial court was pretty much a foregone conclusion. None of the participants were in the least bit intelligent in their actions. Many other price-fixing conspiracies have done a far better job at structuring and concealing activities in a way designed to avoid adverse legal consequences. Some of the intelligent conspiracies have been successful and others have not, but the Apple/Big Publisher conspiracy was doomed from the start.

Amazon Announces All-New Kindle App

24 October 2017

From the Amazon Press Room:

Today, Amazon announced an all-new Kindle app that makes it easier than ever to turn your phone or tablet into a book—so you can read anytime, anywhere. The Kindle app is designed for book lovers and provides easy access to the most popular Kindle features—you can effortlessly move between the pages of your book, your library, your personalized bookstore and more. Also, with the Goodreads community built into Kindle for iOS, you can easily discover and discuss books with friends. The all-new Kindle app is available now in the App Store and Google Play, and will be delivered as part of a free, over-the-air update starting this week.

. . . .

With the new Kindle app, it is easier to get to what you want. Whether it’s starting the next chapter in the book you’re reading or a quick search through your library, the all-new design makes switching back and forth seamless. Key updates include:

  • All-New Look—The Kindle app features a new look and feel inspired by books. Details include larger book covers, new fonts, a new app icon, and new light and dark background themes to choose from.
  • One-Tap Access—New bottom bar navigation automatically shows an icon of the book you’re currently reading, making it easier than ever to get back to reading at any moment. The bottom bar also provides quick access to Kindle’s most popular features allowing you to switch between the pages of your book, your library, your personal bookstore, and more.
  • Easy Search—The search bar is now always available throughout the app, so whether a book is in your library or among the millions of titles in the Kindle Store, it’s easier than ever to find it.

Discover and Discuss Books with Friends and the Goodreads Community on Kindle for iOS

The new Kindle for iOS app also helps customers discuss and get book recommendations from their friends, authors, and other readers with the Goodreads community now built right into the app. Goodreads, an Amazon subsidiary, is the world’s largest community of readers, with more than 65 million members.

Link to the rest at Amazon Press Room

A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens

24 October 2017

From Business Insider:

Today’s students see themselves as digital natives, the first generation to grow up surrounded by technology like smartphones, tablets and e-readers.

Teachers, parents and policymakers certainly acknowledge the growing influence of technology and have responded in kind. We’ve seen more investment in classroom technologies, with students now equipped with school-issued iPads and access to e-textbooks.

In 2009, California passed a law requiring that all college textbooks be available in electronic form by 2020; in 2011, Florida lawmakers passed legislation requiring public schools to convert their textbooks to digital versions.

Given this trend, teachers, students, parents and policymakers might assume that students’ familiarity and preference for technology translates into better learning outcomes. But we’ve found that’s not necessarily true.

As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it.

. . . .

Students said they preferred and performed better when reading on screens. But their actual performance tended to suffer.

For example, from our review of research done since 1992, we found that students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length. This appears to be related to the disruptive effect that scrolling has on comprehension. We were also surprised to learn that few researchers tested different levels of comprehension or documented reading time in their studies of printed and digital texts.

. . . .

Students first rated their medium preferences. After reading two passages, one online and one in print, these students then completed three tasks: Describe the main idea of the texts, list key points covered in the readings and provide any other relevant content they could recall. When they were done, we asked them to judge their comprehension performance.

Across the studies, the texts differed in length, and we collected varying data (e.g., reading time). Nonetheless, some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:

  • Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.
  • Reading was significantly faster online than in print.
  • Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.
  • Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.
  • The medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).
  • But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.

Link to the rest at Business Insider and thanks to Mercy for the tip.

Book Publishers Go Back to Basics

16 October 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Book publishers are giving an advance review of the industry’s future, and it looks a lot like the past.

After a decade of technological upheaval and lackluster growth, executives at the top four U.S. consumer book publishers say they are done relying on newfangled formats to boost growth.

It has been nearly 10 years since Amazon.com Inc. introduced its Kindle e-book reader amid the financial crisis, destabilizing publishers and challenging their well-honed business models.

Now, e-book sales are on the decline, making up a fraction of publishers’ revenue, and traditional book sales are rising. The consumer books industry is enjoying steady growth in the U.S., with total revenue increasing about 5% from 2013 to 2016, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Executives gathered in Frankfurt for the industry’s biggest trade fair said they are returning to fundamentals: buying and printing books that readers want to buy—and they are streamlining their businesses to get them out faster than ever before.

. . . .

The shift is a surprise reversal for an industry that experts just a decade ago predicted was facing radical change, if not a slow death, because of digitization and changing reading habits. Instead, e-book sales in the U.S. were down about 17% last year, according to the AAP industry group, while printed book revenue rose 4.5%.

Interviews at the Frankfurt Book Fair with the top four consumer book publishers in the U.S.—Penguin Random House, CBS Corporation’s Simon & Schuster Inc., Lagardère SCA’s Hachette Livre and News Corp ’sHarperCollins Publishers—showed the decade of seeking cover from outside threats is over, but the fight to overcome the lackluster growth it left behind has just begun.

One thing all agree on is the need for speed. Companies are reinvesting in printed books after years of cost-cutting, and they are building pipelines to bring author’s words into readers’ hands faster.

. . . .

Mr. Murray blamed flagging e-book sales on “screen fatigue,” and said HarperCollins was upping investment in printed books, “the value anchor” for the entire business.

Printed books are “more beautiful now,” he said. “You’ll see endpapers [and] a lot more design sensibility going into the print editions because we recognized that they can’t be throwaway.”

. . . .

And after years “spent taking pennies out of the cost of making a book,” the company is raising the quality of its print editions again, she said.

. . . .

Simon & Schuster’s Ms. Reidy said a young generation of internet natives has been turning to print books—a trend she noticed when her company signed a deal with Rupi Kaur, a poet based on Instagram, to sell and distribute her work in the U.S.

Her young fans “don’t want the e-book at all. They want the physical object,” Ms. Reidy said. “They want to own something that is connected to the person they like online and, number two, because they can share it.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Nothing but clear sailing ahead for traditional publishing according to the view from Frankfurt.

“Screen fatigue” again.

PG did a quick search and could not find any large organizations outside of publishing that are talking about screen fatigue. If it’s more than a figment of Big Publishing’s hopeful imagination, Apple, Facebook and Google should be desperately afraid. PG hasn’t seen any indication of that.

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