(One of the many) Ebook Dilemmas.

January 25th, 2010

I'm going to need books, lots of books

How do I support and reward the excellent curation of the local bookstore if I want the ebook version of something I find? – Kellan

I am not a unsophisticated consumer of science fiction. And finding new material to feed the book addiction is something I spend a not inconsiderable number of cycles on. Yet, there I was standing in Borderlands last week, and books to buy were jumping off the shelves. 2-3 of “my authors” had new books out that I hadn’t heard about. (tho 2 of them are on low rotation right now, as they’ve disappointed me of late) A book multiple friends had mentioned but I’d failed to track was featured. And I found several other new promising options, none of which I had heard of, and several of which aren’t normally available in print in this country.

Low Paper Diet

And I was stuck. You see, I’m on a pretty strict dead tree diet right now. I simply don’t have to the space to store books. And while I’m at it I’d rather not incur the carbon debt of chopping down trees, mass printing on paper, warehousing and transporting a product which is statistically likely to be pulped before ever being purchased. Clearly I’m getting a huge amount of value out of Borderlands, but I didn’t really have a way to include them in the exchange. I wasn’t even sure I was really comfortable wandering next door to their newly opened cafe and settling in with my Kindle as I was inclined to do.

Micro-slicing the pie vs trickle down?

Charlie Stross wrote a really great post recently, The monetization paradox analyzing the value chain of content production right now, summed up as,

“Google could in principle afford to pay every novelist currently active in the English language out of the petty cash.” – Charles Stross

Amazon is doing something similar. Capturing greater value then they’re providing. (and I love Amazon) I visit Amazon.com, I visit the Amazon.com Kindle Store. And I walk away empty handed. Amazon captures the value when I buy a book for my Kindle, but aren’t providing sufficient tools for me to do this. Without Borderlands, Amazon would have gotten no $$ from me last week, as it is, they did all right.

So how do I cut my local bookstore/curator in? I asked on Twitter and the consensus emerged around “buy the book, steal the ebook”, or “tip the bookstore.” (thanks to waferbaby, dajobe, BOBTHEBUTCHER, benprincess, timoni, carlcoryell, bhyde, and rabble for feedback!)

One of the ways I know I’m getting old is most of the time stealing media isn’t worth it. This also is a product of consuming outside of the most mainstream troughs, and genuinely liking/respecting most of the players in my media supply chain. I’ve got sitting on my drive detailed specs for building a relatively high throughput personal book scanner, and in the moments when I’m honest with myself I’ll probably never build it.

Open Questions?

Which brings me around to, how do I tip bookstores? And if there exists a viable model of funding that allows me to express my generalized appreciation of the existence of these important curators while getting some specific value back, a Kickstarter inspired model if you will? Would anyone besides me use it I wonder? How does this interact with Charlie’s ideas of a subscription model for writers? Given a semi-hyphothetical open e-reader with a radio could we partially fund bookstores with a real world version of Amazon affiliate links?

Unfortunately I still don’t have the answers, but I wanted to write down the problem, am I’m going to keep looking into it. Meanwhile if you know of anyone experimenting with this, I’d love to hear about it.

(so concludes the latest in this week’s series of blog posts written by the simple expedient of scaling up a tweet by a 30x inflation factor)

(update: a few really interesting comments, thanks guy!)

7 responses to “(One of the many) Ebook Dilemmas.”

  1. Dan says:

    I am one of those small book store owners – and I really like your article because I am right in the middle of the dilemma.

    I don’t own a physical presence, with Amazon, Alibris, Ebay and their affiliates I don’t need to have a physical store. Looking at the numbers, sell through rates, and the authors I support (local home grown not discovered, back issues, and rare hard to find comics) – opening a retail store is a quick way to burn money.

    I know I need to do ebook comics – I know to grow my business I need to do this. I am trying to find folks that will let me license their IP (intellectual property) (comic or book) so I can check this out – and grow my business. So far no luck – and I have talked to a lot of people over the last six months – I am down to copyright expired comics – try getting that into the ebook channels or readers, good luck with that. This means I need to go into direct publishing – hire/support my own authors, get my own IP.

    I am also fortunate – the value of Superman Number 1 is not going to change downward because it is a dead tree product – it is a rare dead tree product – many of the comics we carry are collectors items – they will only get rarer as e-comics take off – can you imagine what is going to happen when comics have a limited run of 1000 copies – only the strongest are going to survive this market – and only the people with real money are going to be able to purchase dead tree product. Collectors are going to have to work with not only what the market will bear – but what the seller thinks it is worth.

    Ebay – Amazon third party sellers are DOA in this market – they will never get new product – the whole ecosystem of wholesalers – book sellers – third party sellers – ebay auctions – are dead – they just don’t know it yet.

    Imagine trying to get ebook licenses for a small book store – how much fun is that going to be to crawl the isles? Not much really – that whole eco system is gone as well. Small sellers – independent book stores – gone. If my experience trying to get IP as an independent seller and not a mega corp is any indication of what will happen to small sellers – I am gone too – along with everyone else. Unless I can come up with my own IP.

    This makes a compelling market for anyone in the book retail trade – we are all dead as we know it – I am just not sure how much folks know this yet.

    Sorry I know this looks like a blog entry – but dang – you hit a nerve with me – which is what good blogging is all about. Thank you. r/d

  2. Blaine Cook says:

    Now, maybe this is a long-shot, or maybe it’s been discussed before, but (correct me if I’m wrong) what you’re saying is that the value that the bookshop is providing you isn’t the physical book, it’s the curation, physical browsing interface, and human-level interaction that’s so much richer than anything that e.g., Amazon, provides.

    I know the technology isn’t quite there yet (maybe it is?), but what if the bookstore had a checkout where they were able to sell you the e-book, and take a referral payment on it? It could be something like “where do you want me to send the e-book,” or maybe they print out a receipt with an Amazon redemption code on it, or give you a referral code.

    That way, the bookstore could act kind of like a library, and just hold minimal copies of each book that they think is worth selling; you browse, they recommend, but at the checkout, more often than not, they just act as a friendly intermediary to the actual purchases. When customers come in looking for rare or special books, as Dan suggests, the bookstore fulfills its more traditional role.

    Is that totally insane?

  3. karl says:

    bookshop is providing you isn’t the physical book, it’s the curation, physical browsing interface, and human-level interaction that’s so much richer than anything that e.g., Amazon, provides.

    • The bookstore has to become a space for meeting (staying) not only browsing. The space might have to be reorganized around discussions opportunities, and maybe access to the books in electronic format, but…

    • The ebooks give the possibility of a second hand market with more distribution of the values. When I buy an ebook, I should be able to sell it again and part of the money goes to me, part to the author. Really the infrastructure is already here for this.

    • The bookstore is the books storage place. Ebooks only need a computer. Bookstore owners have their values in talking about the books (not how to keep them), then not the space. They will disappear exactly like the photography store of the past. People with knowledge of the books will meet elsewhere.

  4. Kellan says:

    @dan very interesting! Do you think independents can produce their own IP? Has the cost of production collapsed to that point?

    @Blaine I don’t think the problem is the technology, the issue is the copyright laws, and the deals the publishers and Amazon have struck. The technology would be straightforward. Either they could simply sell you PDFs of the books, or they could use GPS/Bluetooth to stamp your location for a referral sale.

    @karl What I hear you saying is that role of the bookstore owner will de-professionalize like so much other media in our times?

  5. karl says:

    @kellan, de-professionalize and/or change focus. New contexts, new mode of distributions, etc. some worlds disappear. Lamplighters have disappeared.

  6. Storm says:

    Blaine is onto something, even if it is not a perfect fit right out of the chute. Though I buy many books online (yeah the dead tree kind.. none of the readers are worth a damn in my opinion) I still go into book stores, particularly used book stores because they offer a way to discover books which never seem to come up in anything less than a very thorough search on e-sites.

    Sometimes the cover catches your eye.. sometimes a book is misplace.. some times you are moving it to look behind.. none of these methods of discovery are available for e-books or internet sellers.

    Maybe a subscription service or paid book club approach would work.. Honestly I have no solutions, but I know that if we lose these “dead tree” book stores, we are losing something of great importance.

  7. karl says:

    @storm, what you describe, aka the serendipity, exists. It’s called the Web. The paper books are one technological support for a kind of writing, which evolves in novels, etc. New forms have appeared with the Web, previous forms will slowly be transformed into something we do not know about yet.