01 March 2009 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 11 comments

The Amazon Kindle 2Last week, Amazon released its Kindle 2 wireless reading device. The concept works like this: the device, which is 1/3 of an inch thick, is like a big IPod, only for books. The idea is that you download digital files of books onto the thing, and you then take it with you and not large, bulky books. According to Amazon, the Kindle can hold 1500 books on the device.

I have really mixed feelings about this. David Woodbury is excited about it because of its convenience and because it’s a nifty gadget perfect for travel. Rene Tyree bought one and really likes it. She also points out that there are a number of public domain books available for free or for minimal cost, all of which are useful to the researcher (Harry Smeltzer says he may buy one to use as a reader for public domain books downloaded for free from Google Book Search). The Author’s Guild has criticized it as being another variation of an audiobook which will threaten authors’ income streams.

The thing is not cheap. It retails for $359, which is nearly twice as much as an IPod Classic, and once you’ve bought the gadget, you still have to pay to download content to it. It’s a proprietary technology, and all files downloaded have to be converted to the proprietary format in order to read them. That sort of digital rights management ALWAYS irritates me; I’m a BIG believer that this stuff should be based on open source technology available to all (which, by the way, also applies to the IPod. Fortunately, Apple has decided to allow customers to pay more to download songs that do not include digital rights management). Amazon has been smart about one thing: it has elected to permit individual publishers to determine whether they want their books to be available in a text-to-speech format, which reflects some indication that Amazon is being somewhat sensitive to the concerns of authors and publishers and to the substantial audiobook market as well.

I love gadgets. I have my fair share. I have had a series of laptops dating back to 1995. I have a smart phone. I have an IPod. I have Bluetooth devices. However, I just cannot wrap my arms around the idea of buying one of these gadgets and actually reading a book on one. I love the feel and look of books. I like turning pages. I like dust jackets. I like illustrations and maps. I just love everything about books. I can’t get my arms around the thought that what I’m reading on this electronic gadget is a book.

At the same time, I have many more books than I do places to store them at this point, and I am very conscious of the fact that books take up a lot of space. You should see the piles of books all over the floor in my home office/library because I have nowhere else to put them. Relieving that problem would certainly be a Godsend, and one of these gizmos can help to do that to some extent.

I am also a publisher. As some of you may know, I’m the president and part owner of Ironclad Publishing. As the publisher of niche works, I’m always looking for means and opportunities to sell more books. These things may well change the way books are sold, and as someone who tends to be resistant to change, it worries me. At the same time, a downloadable electronic file has a much lower cost of good sold, so we can sell our products for a lower purchase price while bypassing our distributor altogether and still maintain or even increase our profit margin.

As an author, I am constantly left unhappy by the fact that unless I devote an inordinate amount of time to selling books by traveling and speaking and hoping somebody buys books (when my time bills at $225 per hour, I have to sell a LOT of books for it to be worth my while to be away from the office, and that is rarely the case), I don’t make dirt from selling books. We recently got the royalty statement for One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863, and even though the book has sold well, my share doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of having the maps drawn and the book indexed, let alone to make money on the book. Please believe me when I tell you that I make next to nothing on sales of books, typically less than $1.00 per book, when a distributor is involved and I have a co-author. It becomes a function of doing cost/benefit analysis, and in most instances, it simply doesn’t make economic sense for me to be out of the office making a small profit on a book vs. billing paying clients at $225 per hour. So, I am eager to maximize revenues and make some money, and the Kindle offers another opportunity to do so.

This all becomes relevant to me because I will very shortly be bringing my first book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, back into print after its being unavailable for a couple of years. I’ve decided to offer it both in its original softcover format as well as in Kindle format, as it would be really nice to make some money on this book again; it’s the only one I’ve ever done that brought about steady revenues. I also intend to discuss making a Kindle version of Scott Mingus’ new book, just published by Ironclad, with Scott to see if he’s interested in selling it this way too.

So, while I’m not keen on buying one of these gizmos, I understand that the publishing industry is in the midst of a sea change and that those who don’t get on board with new trends will be left at the train station. I have come to the conclusion that, in spite of my significant concerns with the copyright issues associated with the Kindle 2, it’s here to stay and that I need to avail myself of its benefits.

What say all of you?

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Scott Mingus
    Sun 01st Mar 2009 at 8:58 pm

    As some of you know, I am the global director of R&D for a billion dollar international paper company based here in York, PA. We have see a decline in book paper sales (we are #1 in the world for premium uncoated free sheet paper for books), and some of that is due to e-books. More of the decline is related to the overall reduction in the amount of books being read by the under 30 crowd.

    We believe the Kindle 2 is here to stay, although it will be a niche product for some time yet and will not be mainstream for awhile, despite Amazon’s push. That said, it is another example of why my team of scientists and researchers are actively developing new and innovative uses for environmentally friendly paper to replace traditional usages. Glatfelter embraces such technology changes, as they often lead to us finding new grades of paper and keeps us sharp in updating our skills and results.

    The bottom line is that Kindle will find a home, and as an author, I am pleased that Ironclad is considering Kindle 2 for another method of delivering Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition, June 1863 to a wider audience.

    Go for it, Eric!

  2. Sun 01st Mar 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Eric –

    Though I’ve heard of the Kindle for awhile, I actually saw one in the flesh for the first time just several weeks ago. It seems kinda nifty, however I agree wholeheartedly with you about loving the look, feel, (and even smell) of books. They provide a pleasureable experience that goes well beyond mere words on a page, or a screen.
    My initial thoughts were similar to David’s – it would certainly be convenient for travel, however I was not aware that public domain books (per Harry) can be downloaded for free. I occasionally have to be a bit of a road warrior for work purposes, and I often take writing projects with me to toil on in hotel rooms. Imagine the benefit of having a 1/3″ thick Kindle with close to a thousand public domain Civil War books on it. It would literally be a traveling library that could easily slip into a briefcase. If the public-domain-books-for-free thing is the case, I then see myself taking the plunge.

    Paul

  3. Sun 01st Mar 2009 at 11:04 pm

    The eternal contrarian, I much prefer the traditional hardcover book and always will. These things are so “impersonal.” Quite frankly, I hate them; though I admit, for purely research use, they are convenient.

    But there’s nothing like the feel, smell, and “personality” of a good book. And there’s nothing more beautiful and welcoming than a well-supplied gentleman’s library – somehow these techno-gadgets just don’t do the same thing for me as do real books. Kind of like comparing instant mashed potatoes to the real thing.

    Besides, books don’t crash.

  4. dan
    Mon 02nd Mar 2009 at 1:47 am

    As an historian who appreciates books, authors, and readers I fully understand that the kindle is a necessary evil that is not going away.

    Newspapers are disappearing for a number of reasons, not to mention their ridiculous leftist bias and shoddy quality choosing online delivery of content over paper. With this new national profound shift to the left and with global warming stupidity and extremism at the heart of it, it’s sure to be the case soon enough that an environmentalist argument will be made that will put book publishers under extreme pressure to limit their “abuse” of trees, and switch to electronic delivery of books.

    John Adams was a great marginal notes writer. Every single book in the library at the Adams National Historic Site in Quincy, Massachusetts contains marginalia on almost every page. This is a gold mine for historians and anyone interested in understanding someone who was such a serious reader as was Adams and his son JQ Adams. With the kindle those days are over forever, and I will miss them.

    I personally prefer paper in my hands, and a good book well bound. I spend enough time looking at a screen during work hours and when sending emails. Books offer an intellectual, visual, and tactile escape from the gizmos of technology that we’ve surrounded ourselves with. Also, when one walks into a home in the near or far future shall we see empty shelves and no books but a kindle laying about and say, oh! there’s a reader! No. Perusing book shelves is a great way to get to know people; absence of such shelves is always a sure giveaway to a tv watcher or a non-reader.

    I personally love books and never want to see them go away. As a neo-luddite, I very much appreciate the potential of the kindle but I also see it as a threat to something I dearly love, books. I don’t have a kindle and I plan on not getting one, ever.

  5. Scott Mingus
    Mon 02nd Mar 2009 at 7:34 am

    Keep in mind that the projections are for the Kindle system to be a niche project for the next few years, perhaps replacing 5% of the book market, maybe a little more.

    Ironclad is not going to make much money by offering these book as e-books, but it is a stream of revenue that cannot be ignored. Many leading Civil War authors already are on amazon’s Kindle 2 catalog.

    When I went to college to study papermaking as my undergrad, the “paperless” society was not a concept yet. Now, over the past 10 years, nearly 100,000 jobs have left our industry, and now 80% of the uncoated paper in the U.S. is made by 5 companies (in 1999, there were 15 on the list).

    That said, paper books and other paper products will survive, but Eric is correct to face the reality that statistics from the book industry indicate that, despite Harry Potter, fewer young people read or collect books, so to reach them, e-books are necessary.

  6. Dave Powell
    Mon 02nd Mar 2009 at 7:55 am

    I already carry a library around with me – about 100 public domain books (mostly regimental histories for units at Shiloh and Chickamauga) all saved on a flash drive.

    I don’t have a decent reader, though – just my laptop. Perhaps I need the Kindle 2.

    And I don’t really read e-books for pleasure, or “cover to cover” instead I will look up specific passages as needed. I wonder how I’d like it for more prolonged reading.

    I am excited not about the Kindle or devices like it as much as I am about digital access to the world’s great libraries from anywhere. Digital download of OOP/public domain stuff has been a godsend in tracking down obscure material without paying a fortune either buying hardcopies or travel and photocopy expenses.

    Dave Powell

  7. James F. Epperson
    Mon 02nd Mar 2009 at 9:13 am

    If I want to read a book, I want to *read a book*. I do see the
    advantage of this kind of digital device for research purposes.
    Moving cross-country would have been a damn sight easier
    if all my math books had been on a Kindle!

    I also don’t like the proprietary format issue.

  8. Mon 02nd Mar 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Eric,
    Some time back I decided that all my “tech books” purchased in the future should either be in PDF or other portable format; or the publisher had to offer the option for the download of such format, given the appropriate key code from the physical book.

    At the time I was dropping easily $700 to $800 a year on tech books. Mostly for the required certifications, but a good many for reference at job sites. Beyond the dollar figure (which often I was reimbursed by my employers), two realities set in. First it was rather unprofessional to cart around milk crates of books at the start of each new contract. Second, these books grow obsolete quickly. (Want a complete collection of Windows NT 3.51 manuals?)

    I’ve use a Kindle, but frown on the interface. Eventually I’ll get used to it and reconsider. But probably only for my tech books. There’s a difference in the presentation between a “real book” and the “virtual book.” What presents well in one format doesn’t always work for the user in the other format. It’s really just a “feel” I guess.

    Craig.

  9. Mon 02nd Mar 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Hi Eric – I’m not sure about the rights and permissions involved, but perhaps In addition to offering One Continuous Fight (which I’m enjoying) via the Kindle, you could spin out the maps or the auto tour into less-expensive downloads that e-book enthusiasts could use to supplement their battlefield touring. Someone who’s read the paper version in the comfort of their den might be willing to pay for electronic versions of the maps as they head out to explore.

  10. Mon 02nd Mar 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Dave,

    We’ve actually considered that. Thanks for validating that for me.

    Eric

  11. Gary Dombrowski
    Tue 03rd Mar 2009 at 9:53 am

    I’m old school. I love “paper” books and hope I do not have to settle for an electronic one in my lifetime. ~Gary

Add comment

*

Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress