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German Book Publishers Cool To E-Book Market

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the comes-after-eight dept.

Books 158

Now that the Kindle is being actively marketed in many countries outside the US, reader rsmiller510 sends in his piece up on DaniWeb about the skepticism in Germany about the whole e-book phenomenon. A major difference from the US book market is that in Germany, book prices are regulated in an effort to protect authors, publishers, and small booksellers. As a result, publishers don't issue electronic versions of their books until the paperback edition comes out, up to 2 years after the hardcover — and then they sell the e-book for the same price as the lowest-cost paperback. An article on e-books in Spiegel.de notes a survey taken recently for the Frankfurt Book Fair, which found that "only one in 12 Germans has a clear idea about what an e-book is, and seven out of 10 of them would prefer a printed version over a digital one." 65,000 e-books were sold in Germany in the first 6 months of 2009, vs. almost ten times that number bought per week in the US, in what is still a small niche of the overall book business.

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158 comments

are the US figures really that high? (2, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786309)

Ten times 65,000 e-books sold per week in the U.S. equates to about 34 million per year. Sales are really that high? Is this including magazines and newspaper, or just actual books?

Re:are the US figures really that high? (2, Interesting)

nacturation (646836) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786337)

Also when you figure per capita, the US has almost 4 times the population, which makes US sales roughly 2.5 times better.

Their sample is a bit skewed too. They took this survey at a book fair? Where people who love books go? It'd be less biased if it were a "reading fair", but that's like going to a classic car fair and asking people whether they'd give up their car for a new hybrid.

Re:are the US figures really that high? (4, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786401)

Also when you figure per capita, the US has almost 4 times the population, which makes US sales roughly 2.5 times better.

Umm, no. RTFA. 65,000 in six months in Germany versus 600,000 per week in the USA. Even accounting for population differences, the difference is about 120:1.

Re:are the US figures really that high? (2, Informative)

nacturation (646836) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787265)

Thanks... I completely missed the 6 month vs. 1 week distinction.

Re:are the US figures really that high? (3, Insightful)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787435)

Thanks... I completely missed the 6 month vs. 1 week distinction.

Hey ... close enough for government work.

Re:are the US figures really that high? (0, Troll)

tyrione (134248) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788215)

Also when you figure per capita, the US has almost 4 times the population, which makes US sales roughly 2.5 times better.

Umm, no. RTFA. 65,000 in six months in Germany versus 600,000 per week in the USA. Even accounting for population differences, the difference is about 120:1.

Hey, FU. How about a sense of Civility and just say, RTA? If you need the F for a book sales article you truly have issues.

Re:are the US figures really that high? (1)

Meski (774546) | more than 4 years ago | (#29789761)

You with the dirty mind, maybe he meant Read The First Article? (I doubt it, but maybe)

Re:are the US figures really that high? (1)

Rocketship Underpant (804162) | more than 4 years ago | (#29789007)

The blurb is unnecessarily confusing (thanks, Slashdot editors). I missed the "vs." the first five times I read it and thought it was saying Germany's six-month sales were ten times the US's weekly sales, and that made the US's numbers seen awfully low.

Re:are the US figures really that high? (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786435)

Also when you figure per capita, the US has almost 4 times the population, which makes US sales roughly 2.5 times better.

I think your math is off a little. According to the summary, sales are 65,000 in 6 months in Germany, vs 650,000 (10*65,000) per week in the US. That would make annual rates 130,000 for Germany, and 33,800,000 for the US. The per capita rate is then 65 times higher in the US than Germany.

Re:are the US figures really that high? (3, Informative)

Moridineas (213502) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787041)

That's not really the same thing at all.

The Frankfurt Book Fair (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurt_Book_Fair [wikipedia.org]) is an ancient and massive trade fair. Today it's largely a place where publishers get together to work out trade deals. For instance if a German author+publisher wants his book translated and sold in the states. Tons of business generated here.

Secondly, from the sound of the D.S. article, the survey was commissioned BY the Fair, not taken of random browsers AT the fair. Could still be biased, but I don't see what they would gain? The fair is about business.

Re:are the US figures really that high? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29786533)

Ten times 65,000 e-books sold per week in the U.S. equates to about 34 million per year.

If you think 65,000 * 52 is 34 million, you should buy some math e-books.

*I* am skeptical about E-books in America! (1)

WheelDweller (108946) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787121)

I keep hearing about these things...FROM WEBSITES. I don't see anyone carrying them; telling people how much they like them, or offering a preference of readers or something. In short, if E-books are skyrocketing in sales, I sure can't tell!

Most of the people I know love books BECAUSE of that low-quality paper feeling that feels like a friend. I'm the only geek around me that would prefer to have various texts spoken to me, and for that, I have Festival! :)

Remember how big a deal Bloggers were going to be? A few are great, the rest are just boring people being *precisely* as boring as the rest of us. And don't Twitter me your bowel movements, either: just not that useful.

I hate to sound like the old man I'm slowly becoming, but with all the tech and pronouncements of achievement, we still dig holes, and we still use shovels!

I don't think it's that much different, here (1)

piojo (995934) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786315)

In the U.S., books used to be expensive because they were expensive to print, bind, and ship (or so I was told by a published author that I used to know). You would think e-books would be a lot cheaper, but from what I've seen, they aren't.

I'm not sure why, but publishers seem to price e-books at only a few dollars below the same printed book's cost (from the little I've seen). This seems a very careful thing to do--there's no way e-book sales can cause any harm if they don't actually sell.

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29786361)

ya, i just can't bring myself to spend ANYTHING NEAR the print price for an E-book..

no printing, binding or shipping costs...

come on guy... give me a break...

maybe a buck a book... then i could jump on the band wagon

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (2, Interesting)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786467)

For large publishers, printing/binding/shipping/warehousing costs these days don't run more than $1-3 per book, so it's not too surprising that the e-books would only be discounted a few dollars.

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (1)

Moridineas (213502) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787111)

You're pretty much right for large publishers, but it absolutely depends on the book (length, size, color?, cover type, binding type) and print run size. For instance if you have a 200 page monograph, no color photos, 2-3 color cover, you can easily reach that $1-$3 (or less) unit price with even a small print run (1000 copies?).

On the other hand, an 900 page textbook--no color, plain cover, 2000 copy print run last year cost the publisher i work for upwards of $8/copy. That's just for the printing costs and does not include shipping, warehousing, or the production costs.

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787411)

On the other hand, an 900 page textbook--no color, plain cover, 2000 copy print run last year cost the publisher i work for upwards of $8/copy. That's just for the printing costs and does not include shipping, warehousing, or the production costs.

Well, they make up that extra $5 by charging $160 to students that have no choice but to purchase the book or flunk their class.

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (1)

Moridineas (213502) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787557)

Yes, and that's why many of the big publishers are stupid and self-defeating.

$160 textbooks are ludicrous and only make people all the more desperate for alternatives (ebooks, used books, etc).

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29787605)

Oftentimes you don't actually need the book very much. The school library should have some copies you can use when you are there. You might not be able to check them out, but just learn to do homework/study at the library.

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787643)

Which is why some teachers like my mother use open source books. The cost to produce is probably higher, but the books end up being sold to students for somewhat less than $30. Which when you consider that a really good deal usually is at least double that, it makes a lot of sense. Plus, there's far more control over when they go into a new edition and can make minor corrections for things as needed, without necessarily requiring a new printing.

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (1)

masmullin (1479239) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787251)

I've seen discounts of 63% on some ebooks (hardcover and the authors are NYT best sellers).

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (4, Insightful)

Fizzol (598030) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787359)

The funny thing is publishers complained for years about the physical cost of books, and used it as a base for low writer royalties. Once that was taken out the equation by ebooks, then suddenly it's all about the cost of editing and layout and so on. Someone along the line wasn't telling the truth, and I'm not inclined to start believing the publishers now.

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (4, Insightful)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787449)

The funny thing is publishers complained for years about the physical cost of books, and used it as a base for low writer royalties.

Hollywood accounting. If you believe the studio execs, no movie actually makes any money.

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (1)

Moridineas (213502) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787161)

You would think e-books would be a lot cheaper, but from what I've seen, they aren't.

You would, and I think ebook prices WILL fall. Part of the issue here is that when a publisher sells a book to a bookstore, a wholesaler, or Amazon, they sell the book at an average range of 10%-50% discount.

When Amazon sells an ebook, they typically give the publisher (or author) less than 50% of the sale price. Ebook is sold for $10, the publisher maybe gets $4.

Few books are sold as ebook ONLY, and publishers really don't make that much MORE (less?) off of ebooks, and don't want to cannibalize sales. Ultimately I think in many fields ebooks will become the primary sellers, but we're not there yet.

Not to undercut books (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788317)

If companies are keeping eBook prices around the same price as their printed counter part, it is probably because they don't want to risk undercutting the printed media. Also, while people accept to buy eBooks at the price offered, they have have no incentive to lower prices. Generally you you only want to lower prices if the target market is not buying.

From a consumer point of view, the printed version can work out to be cheaper, since you still have the possibility to sell it second hand or exchange it for another book. If you never lend or sell the book, then it probably works out to be the same price as the electronic version.

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788751)

You would think e-books would be a lot cheaper, but from what I've seen, they aren't.

You misunderstand how capitalism works. First of all, you seem to believe all that nonsense about how the "market" works magically to bring prices to logical levels.

The only markets that work as the theorists claim are Black Markets. At least there, the prices are based on factors that can be seen and measured, like risk, supply and demand. The so-called "free" markets are actually based on the illogic of desire, the effect of mind control (aka "advertising") and make-believe shortages enacted by companies that have power greater than the laws of the countries in which the corporations operate. And of course, "free" markets make use of good old-fashioned tyranny to make their products in places where the workers have all the social status of slaves. As collective bargaining continues to come under attack from the corporations, the US increasingly looks like one of these tyrannical countries. People have to work for below-market wages because if they don't their wives or kids can't see a doctor when they get sick without bringing financial ruin on the family. This causes a de facto slavery, or more accurately a "serfdom" where the powerful forces (corporations) conspire to keep a work force poor. The use of "EZ Credit" to make poor people feel like they're not really poor, is a 20th century innovation. The difficult part for the corporations in power is to strike a balance where the poor workers will continue to work against their best interests going deeper into debt (even to the point where the debt become generational) while still making sure that enough people are fooled into believing that they can "afford" to buy the overpriced products (ie big screen TVs) and services (ie cable television) that the corporations sell.

The skids for this neo-serfdom are greased by electoral systems that require huge but manageable sums of money to run for government office and electoral laws that allow for direct transfers of large sums of money directly from the corporations to the candidates for "public" office.

As long as they can keep the working population in debt, ill-informed (not a problem in the age of Fox News and Clear Channel) and desperate to buy stuff they don't need, the system continues to work to the great advantage of the corporations, while cementing the master-slave relationship with workers. Barring cataclysm or the spontaneous moral conversions of the very wealthy (think camels and eyes of needles) the end-game is larger numbers of incarcerated, more wars, suffering and profits, profits, profits.

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (1)

Just Another Poster (894286) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788845)

And of course, "free" markets make use of good old-fashioned tyranny to make their products in places where the workers have all the social status of slaves.

Slaves don't get paid for their work.

Back when places like China really were slave States, people like you cheered them on, and declared them to be wonderful examples of workers' participatory democracy and true freedom.

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (1)

tftp (111690) | more than 4 years ago | (#29789171)

Slaves don't get paid for their work.

Slaves always were paid for their work. Traditionally they were paid by letting them live, or in their daily food and shelter, or in some little privileges among slaves. Those slaves who didn't work well were sold, at loss, to another owner who would be more demanding and less nice. That was a serious incentive, nobody wanted to become a rower on a war galleon [artsales.com].

Today [wage] slaves are paid with money. It doesn't really matter to the owner; he can build barracks for his slaves and feed them, or he can just give them money so that they go and find their own barracks and their own food. Modern slaves are even permitted to move between slave owners because the owners figured out that one slave is not different from another, and all of them want to eat. The legal mechanism of ownership of slaves is abandoned in favor of voluntary service. It is voluntary because you have an option to work for someone (here is your choice) or to die - or to become a business owner if you can.

Re:I don't think it's that much different, here (1)

Meski (774546) | more than 4 years ago | (#29789775)

Sometimes, its equal or greater than the dead-tree price.

So the lesson is... (2, Insightful)

gregwbrooks (512319) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786357)

If you artificially prop up prices for the benefit of a few, then competition and innovation that would benefit the broader consumer market can suffer.

Re:So the lesson is... (1)

j-beda (85386) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786405)

There is an argument that the continued existence of a healthy ecosystem of independent local bookstores and multiple publishers is a benefit to the members of the society that outweighs the increased costs. In this particular case I do not know the details of how well that ecosystem has been protected and how much of a benefit it is (both quite difficult to quantify I would imagine) nor the details of the increased costs.

Re:So the lesson is... (3, Informative)

El Torico (732160) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786721)

There is an argument that the continued existence of a healthy ecosystem of independent local bookstores and multiple publishers is a benefit to the members of the society that outweighs the increased costs.

What about academic publishing? Textbooks are now ridiculously expensive, and I don't see any benefits to society from this particular healthy ecosystem of independent local bookstores. On the contrary, these excessive costs are making education more difficult to obtain, which is a detriment to society.
The plethora of small academic book stores (such as the local College or University bookstore) with no resulting bargaining power against the largest (or any other) academic publishers is a contributing factor to this problem.

Re:So the lesson is... (2, Insightful)

jipn4 (1367823) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787175)

There is an argument that the continued existence of a healthy ecosystem

What's "healthy" about a large number of small book stores with limited selection? And why do you need bookstores and publishers at all if there are electronic reading devices?

In this particular case I do not know the details of how well that ecosystem has been protected and how much of a benefit it is

I haven't been able to find any numbers on it either, and the people arguing for price controls don't cite any figures either. If they did, it would probably show that they aren't working.

Re:So the lesson is... (2, Insightful)

macshit (157376) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788295)

There is an argument that the continued existence of a healthy ecosystem

What's "healthy" about a large number of small book stores with limited selection?

Taken together, all the small (and of course, not all independent bookstores are small...) bookstores likely end up having a larger selection than the apparently-large-but-actually-kind-of-monotonous-and-generic selection of big chain bookstores. Moreover, because there's a lot more individual taste used in choosing books, there's better support for non-mainstream material; I imagine that's what the GP was referring to.

And why do you need bookstores and publishers at all if there are electronic reading devices?

I guess you're just trolling a bit, but like many people, I like bookstores, and am willing to pay more when buying a book in a nice environment. Amazon's nice too, in its own way, but ... not the same.

Remember back when there was a kind of meme that said "in the future, we won't need to prepare food, we'll just eat food pills!"?

Re:So the lesson is... (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788361)

Taken together, all the small (and of course, not all independent bookstores are small...) bookstores likely end up having a larger selection than the apparently-large-but-actually-kind-of-monotonous-and-generic selection of big chain bookstores. Moreover, because there's a lot more individual taste used in choosing books, there's better support for non-mainstream material; I imagine that's what the GP was referring to.

Where I live, the big chains have already killed-off all the mom-and-pop places. (Except used books.)

Germany's wrong, anyway, price isn't the reason... although it is a factor. The big chains have coffeeshops, live music on weekends and evenings, a children's area with dedicated staff, a vast database and knowledgeable staff. (And they're actually polite, unless many mom-and-pop staff.) They don't mind if you just sit down and read for an hour or two. Or if you connect to their wifi and just surf the web. You don't have to drive all over town to get your books, since the selection is huge.

Hell, where I live, the big chain bookstores are more social spaces than the libraries are.

I have trouble feeling any nostalgia for the mom-and-pop bookstores. The big chain ones are simply better.

Re:So the lesson is... (1)

jipn4 (1367823) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788603)

Taken together, all the small (and of course, not all independent bookstores are small...)

Oh, come on, what kind of bogus argument is that? When we're talking about the supposed importance of independent physical bookstores, what matters is not the selection of all bookstores "taken together", but the selection of my local bookstore, and, in my experience, that's even smaller at non-chain stores than in "generic" chain stores.

Online, I can get anything I want anywhere, and I really don't care whether it's from a big or a small seller, I just want the lowest price.

And, of course, those arguments fall completely apart for e-books anyway.

The only effect of price controls on books seems to be to make more money for a lobby group that holds on to old business models. I don't see how it benefits me as a reader, and I think it's harmful to literacy by keeping prices up.

I guess you're just trolling a bit,

No, I'm not, but you're being rude.

but like many people, I like bookstores, and am willing to pay more when buying a book in a nice environment. Amazon's nice too, in its own way, but ... not the same.

So you're saying that everybody should pay artificially high prices for books so that you get to hang out in a nice cafe with tasteful bookshelves. Sorry, I think that's bad public policy. I'd much rather see books be as affordable as possible and cut out inefficient middlemen and businesses as much as possible. That way, maybe you get deprived of our coffee house experience, but poorer people can actually afford more books.

Re:So the lesson is... (0)

LordVader717 (888547) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787587)

It's actually the big bookstores which benefit the most from price fixing. It guarantees them a high profit margin irrespective of the quality of their advive or service. This enables ludicrous profits by focusing on mass-markets, enabling them to rent huge building in the most prominent retail locations. Why would anybody bother pacing round town to smaller bookstores when the huge retailer on city square
1) has a better location
2) has a better selection
3) The prices are the same anyway

Re:So the lesson is... (2, Insightful)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786935)

> If you artificially prop up prices for the benefit of a few, then competition and innovation
> that would benefit the broader consumer market can suffer.

No, the lessons are bigger than that.

If you regulate prices you set the system at that moment into stone, the current winners and losers get fixed into law. Innovation becomes virtually illegal. It isn't just consumers who lose, everyone except the government blessed winners lose. And of course the government itself which gains power and can be assured the support of those who depend upon it for monopoly rents.

In short, government price fixing, regulation and government in general are BAD. Some government is a necessary evil at this point in our philosophical development but we must realize that it is always evil and thus to me kept carefully chained lest it destroy us. Worse than fire or even fissile material.

Germany will just have to change (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29786425)

The Kindle is selling the best in regions such as US, Japan, UK, Norway(I can't explain why), and Australia. France and Germany don't even make the top 10 on Kindle sales.

If customers aren't buying ebooks, it's the fault of the publishers, authors and the system in Germany. There is no cultural difference that makes people only want physical printed books, unless you have some religious grounds to not use technology. You can poll people all you want, and they will tell you that they enjoy physical books. They like holding them. They like the smell. They like turing the pages. Whatever. But when you give them a device that can hold all their favorite books. Keep track of their progress without losing a bookmark. Being able to increase the font size to reduce eyestrain or help those with poor vision. And the books are usually 10%-20% cheaper. Add in all this and many people change their attitude. They quickly realize their emotional attachment to physical books was mostly imaginary. And that what they like best about books is reading them.

Anything you can do to make reading easier, and more accessible makes ebooks look good in a customer's eye.

Re:Germany will just have to change (1)

usrusr (654450) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787213)

There is no cultural difference that makes people only want physical printed books, unless you have some religious grounds to not use technology.

You fail to recognize a massive case of "not invented here" ;-)

I do agree with your other points though. People don't need ebooks, therefore they won't develop a desire to get them.

Another e-book story... (5, Interesting)

Starker_Kull (896770) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786453)

...that hits all the same notes. E-books will take over the world, why are the German publishing houses sticking their heads in the sand, etc. I've thought about it quite a bit, since I have a strong personal preference for printed books, and have debated the topic with passionate advocates of e-books. I've come to a few conclusions:

1) The advantages that printed books have over e-books in terms of convenience will go away over the next 15 years. Limited resolution (200 ppi e-ink vs. 600+ ppi for print), limited battery life, bulk, storage capacity, etc., not to mention cost (not just direct, but transportation, storage, disposal, etc.), will all favor e-books in 15 years. Resolution (my particular nit) will probably take the longest, but it will happen.

2) I doubt a personal e-book 'reader' will last long in the marketplace. It's too big and bulky to be 'just' an e-book reader. Why not make it a web-browser? 95% percent of what you need to do that is there. E-mail? Terminal access? A cell phone with a bluetooth earbud? A movie watcher? It will become a general purpose computing device just like cell phones are becoming.

3) It won't succeed until an Apple-like company makes it so stunningly easy to use and manage that its advantages are clear. A cellphone and a smart cellphone are quite similar, so the idea of an iPhone/Treo (a general purpose computer that happens to be a cell phone) was not so hard to get accepted. A tablet-like device has no commonly existing parellel right now, and the existing examples are weak, to put it mildly. It will have to be wildly simple and pleasant to use...

4) Once most books are no longer printed, it remains an open question whether it will make censorship of ideas easier or harder. I haven't been able to come up with a convincing argument either way. DRM is also still an open question, although you can make a good argument that a DRMed device will fail in the marketplace. Maybe.

There will be a great e-book reader one day, but it won't be called that. It will be part of a package that can do far more.

That's a scary thought (3, Interesting)

AnotherUsername (966110) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787007)

I pray that you are wrong. I triy to imagine future anthropologists and historians trying to figure out what life was like during our time, and if your idea comes true, they will have nothing to base their studies on. Paper is valuable because, unlike a computer(which your hypothetical all-in-one e-book reader appears to be), it doesn't require electricity to read, file formats are a nonissue(as long as you can understand the language, you can read it), and as long as it is kept in good environmental conditions, it will last much longer in a usable form. If books ever completely go away, historical studies of our time are doomed before they begin.

Re:That's a scary thought (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787149)

When's the last time the internet went down? We store shit in multiple places spread across the world in a variety of formats. We are keeping more crap well documented and backed up than ever before. Journals of emo kids bowel routine, millions of pictures of cats, and singers that inexplicably barrel roll in their music videos. Trust me, in 50yrs people will just search: cult worship longcat 2002..2010
If they want to research history from our time. Or do you think books would last longer? One big advantage/reason for ebooks and google's uber scanning is to save old books from certain doom. Much like they saved usenet, our early internet history.

Re:That's a scary thought (2, Insightful)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787617)

Or do you think books would last longer?

Actually, yes. Well-preserved printed books can and do last for centuries. We have no idea if any of our current storage techniques will last anywhere near that long, manufacturers bombastic claims of extended lifetimes notwithstanding. What electronic storage (optical, magnetic, quantum, whatever) does do is allow for data to be more conveniently transferred to new media when the older stuff begins to wear out. But that requires a lot of maintenance and awareness ... Google seems to be doing well at it, so far, but then again Google is a private corporation that may or may not be here in ten years, or twenty or a hundred. NASA, for example, is losing tons of data from the early years of the space program because they can't find enough old equipment to restore the information. They waited too long, and such data loss scenarios play out pretty regularly.

A typical hard drive, such as that used by every server farm in existence, will become unreadable long before a paper book will. Solid-state memories may have greater lifetime ... or they may not. Flash memories self-discharge over time: plenty long enough for typical use but not for archival storage. Optical systems are probably the best bet to date, but they are also subject to degradation, and it doesn't take much to make a disc unreadable.

What it comes down to is that if we want to make sure critical information is kept around in case civilization crashes, we'd better keep the important stuff on paper. I always thought, heck, even if an apocalyptic Mad Max event occurs, there will plenty of knowledge stored in the world's libraries to help us rebuild. Knowledge that will help us skip the thousands of years it took our ancestors to go from playing with bits of stone to flying spacecraft. Nowadays ... I don't know. The trend towards purely electronic storage is well under way, and libraries full of printed books will soon be considered obsolete. The day may come when we start dismantling them. Would that be wise?

Put it like this: if things go all to Hell (and technic civilization is more fragile than you think, just ask Charlton Heston) we'll be unable to retrieve squat from Google's servers. We will, however, be able to read books. If we fall so far that we can't even do that, well, I don't suppose it would matter very much.

Re:That's a scary thought (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787895)

What it comes down to is that if we want to make sure critical information is kept around in case civilization crashes, we'd better keep the important stuff on paper.

That didn't help much the last time civilization fell. The classical world used papyrus and other kinds of paper extensively, yet the vast majority of what they wrote was lost by the time of the Renaissance. We'd know nothing of Aristotle without a few fortunate translations [wikipedia.org] that served as backups.

The classical texts [fourmilab.ch] we do have were preserved by repeated copying, not through the durability of a particular physical copy. The same applies to the digital world. You can't beat off-site backups.

Re:That's a scary thought (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788803)

The classical texts we do have were preserved by repeated copying, not through the durability of a particular physical copy.

True, and I made that point in my original post. What I'm trying to say is that if our technological base is lost, we'll need something that can be read without needing power or spare parts. Maybe not paper per se, but surely we can come up with a more durable form of printed matter.

Re:Another e-book story... (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787065)

  1. Resolution is my nit as well. But in 15 years, I'm not entirely sure it still will be, regardless of whether or not it improves...

    Also, Computer displays had been getting higher resolution for a while, but for some reason OSs seem to like to stick with the "assume an 'm' is fourteen pixels wide (or some other hard-coded number)" paradigm. I want sharper text on my screen, not more text. I don't want to have to sit twelve inches away from a twenty-six inch display just because I used to sit that distance away from a fifteen inch VGA monitor (13.5 inch viewable...) (some numbers exaggerated, but not by much.)

    So, I think your 15 year estimate may be a little optimistic.

  2. Kindle already does this. The wikipedia access and lifetime cellular connection have made many people compare it to the Hitchhiker's Guide, which similarly connected many small dumb devices to a centrally stored encyclopedia of dubious pedigree but surprising usefulness.
  3. Kindle. But I wish they'd do away with the keyboard and put in a PDA-style B&W touch interface. Something that's pretty good on power when it's on, but GUI and responsive enough for searching would be a nice feature until the redraw speed on eInk improves.
  4. I think the argument is that DRM will fail eventually. It's a loaded gun and some day someone is going to pull that trigger. At that point it'll fail in the marketplace as the word finally spreads that everyone's geek friend was right and "they'd never do that" once again turns out to be wishful thinking. The geek friend will get no cred for this, though.

    I suspect the publishing houses know this, so the question really is how long they can keep it going without actually using it.

Re:Another e-book story... (1)

masmullin (1479239) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787131)

As a sony 505 user I have to reply to your comments

1) resolution of 200dpi is good, and is not an issue. As a user I do not get eyestrain from my 505 (I get eyestrain from smartphones and monitors). Battery life is measured in weeks and is not an issue (505 lasts me a month considering that I plug into a computer to get a new book on the device). Cost is mitigated by lower ebook prices (I've only purchased 1 ebook, and it was $1. The next book I will purchase is $8 online and $30 in hardcover atm... I find a lot of the books I want "underground"... yarrr). 505 is about the size of a paperback, but thinner. Its certainly lighter than a hardcover, it is MOST DEFINATELY less bulky than carrying 3 books with you (I often have 3 books I carry around)

2) like I said, 505 is not bulky. There isn't a webbrowser because the refresh rate of eink isn't sufficient for the kind of things you want to do on the internet. Its perfectly acceptable to be only a book reader device, because its the same size as a book (although it would be nice to get emails on it).

3) Sony has made using the device stunningly easy, from what I read, Amazon has made their device very easy too

4) Censorship of ideas? have you been on the internet before?

The only argument you bring up that I agree with is DRM. I am wary to drop money on anything with DRM because I've had bad experiences before purchasing DRM music (I had to buy an album 2ce as I formatted my computer even though I "backed up" the songs to NAS). The one book I've bought so far was DRMed, but it was also only $1 so I didn't really care.

Re:Another e-book story... (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787789)

Eventually, our devices will differ only by form factor. They will all be general-purpose computers capable of running the same software.

Re:Another e-book story... (0, Offtopic)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788939)

Eventually, our devices will differ only by form factor. They will all be general-purpose computers capable of running the same software.

But who will be allowed to produce such software? Anyone, or just established companies?

Publishers don't like your freedoms in paper books (1)

jbn-o (555068) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788191)

There's no question about DRM -- DRM requires proprietary software which does subjugates a user's freedom to read by giving that freedom away to publishers and their agents. The fix is free software: a free software eBook reader would give users control over their electronic copies of works. This outweighs all the alleged advantages of eBook readers because it means the ability to control what we're allowed to read with that device.

Re:Another e-book story... (1)

Eighty7 (1130057) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788889)

4) Once most books are no longer printed, it remains an open question whether it will make censorship of ideas easier or harder.

The internet has been the greatest force for information dissemination since the printed press. Logically moving to electronic versions of books should increase rather than decrease propagation.

Why would I want a single-purpose ebook reader? (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786485)

This is something I do not understand. I am sure that the readers are easier to read than something smaller like, say, a smartphone or palm pilot. But, on the other hand, when I am at home I have my computer, and when I am mobile I don't want to carry something as large as an e-book reader around.

I have done just fine reading e-books on things like Palm and smartphone. And an additional benefit is that they tend to support many more formats, not just a single, proprietary, DRMed format.

All in all, I think for most people an e-book reader is simply not worth the money. Sure, some people use them heavily but until it is merged with my super-small laptop, or super-large smartphone, or (more likely) all 3 in one unit, I will just stay away from proprietary e-book readers. There is nothing there for me.

Re:Why would I want a single-purpose ebook reader? (1)

Branestawm (1558103) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786663)

I don't get the 'screen is too small' argument for existing iphone / ipod / treo /etc reading. I completely agree with you - when you get into the material you're reading, the format just 'goes away'. Why buy a big clunky device when you're existing one works fine?

Re:Why would I want a single-purpose ebook reader? (1)

masmullin (1479239) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787145)

eye strain from backlit screens. I cant stare at my smartphone for more than 5minutes at a time.

Re:Why would I want a single-purpose ebook reader? (1)

Fizzol (598030) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787429)

Having used both extensively I've found a dedicated e-ink device FAR superior to any mobile device I've been able to try. There really is no comparison. An iphone/ipod/treo whatever might be good enough, but it's definitely not as good.

Re:Why would I want a single-purpose ebook reader? (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787645)

I don't get the 'screen is too small' argument for existing iphone / ipod / treo /etc reading. I completely agree with you - when you get into the material you're reading, the format just 'goes away'. Why buy a big clunky device when you're existing one works fine?

On the other hand, if you're not into the material but simply have to read it whether you want to or not, or if you're just using the device for reference materials (like I do on my G1 all the time, I have it stuffed to the gills with PDFs on a variety of technical subjects) the display can and does become an issue. Not everyone is reading an edge-of-the-seat page-turner, you know.

Re:Why would I want a single-purpose ebook reader? (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786727)

I agree - I havr no real need for a portabe stand alone e-reader. I read (novels) at home, since I don't get a(n official) break at work, and I either walk to/from work or someone gives me a ride (less than 5 minutes. (BTW I work night shift.

For those people that have long mass transit commutes, and hour lunches an e-reader might be more useful.

I would (and in fact do) spend $5-6 on an e-book in HTML of PDF, compared with $7.99 plus tax or shipping for the cheapest dead tree version.

I might buy e-books from amazon if they came up with a reader program that ran on my computer.

Re:Why would I want a single-purpose ebook reader? (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787023)

I started reading ebooks on my Palm III and Visor Edge. It was great, I could read a little bit anywhere and not have to mess with waiting for the books to be mailed or have to go to the bookstore to find out they don't have it. Plus I'm a last minute sort of guy, I go to the bookstore at like 9pm because thats when I decide I need a new book. Now I own two Kindles (one per person in the household). A dedicated reading device suits my lifestyle better than a PDA.

I probably use my Kindle more than I use my mobile phone(I don't like making or receiving phone calls or any kind). But I don't use my Kindle as much as I use my laptop or netbook. I think a reader is worth the money, and they get cheaper every 6 months it seems. But I doubt that an e-book reader is appropriate for all people. The Kindle for example is terrible for textbooks and reference books. And their newspaper subscription service seems a little pricey, although reading the news on the device works out better for me than unfolding the giant sheets of newspaper. And I especially hate having to deal with a massive stack of old newspapers to leave for the recycler, but honestly going to a news website is almost always free and you can get videos and color photographs there which makes the webnews a far better experience than the Kindle.

Re:Why would I want a single-purpose ebook reader? (1)

masmullin (1479239) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787307)

If you dont want to carry something as large as an ebook, you also aren't interested in carrying a paper back book around with you either.

It isnt' the size of the screen that is an issue between ebooks and smartphones, its the backlighting causing eyestrain. I and many people find that staring at a cellphone for more than 5minutes makes me feel a bit tired, I cant imagine staring at one for 4hours.

So, my point? Ereaders are not for casual 15minute reads during your coffee break (although they certainly can be used for that, your cellphone is better because its more portable), Ereaders are competing against paperbooks for the people who like to read for 2+h at at time.

Re:Why would I want a single-purpose ebook reader? (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787545)

For me the overwhelming argument in favour of e-books is ease of reading.
I really like reading off a more or less paperback sized screen, as opposed to a small PDA screen. The e-paper is also a lot easier on the eyes if you're like me and read for hours on end. And unlike a computer screen or even a laptop, e-books are just as easy to read as regular books lying on the sofa, in bed, on the train, etc. A decent reader is about the size of a paperback and half as thick, so they are as easy to carry as a paper book.

Also, many e-book readers these days support multiple formats; open or DRM-less formats as well as the more prevalent DRM schemes such as Mobipocket. The notable exception is the Kindle and Amazon's e-books... I am really disappointed that one of the largest distributor of books decided to go with their own reader and their own closed DRM scheme, which really doesn't help, and which means I will not be buying e-books off Amazon. I like having one e-book reader, but I'd hate to have to own more than one just to beat the format wars.

The main problem with these e-readers is different formats, iffy DRM (the idiocy of that book being pulled off people's Kindles did nothing to increase e-book popularity), and the high price of e-books (people expect to pay a lot less for electronic books). People might like other functions on these devices, but I already have my phone on me, which is small enough to carry with me at all times, and fulfills all those functions you mention. If I want to read, I bring an e-book in addition to my phone. If I need a bigger screen or a real keyboard, I'll bring a laptop.

German market peculiarities (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29786497)

Here's the deal: Yes, Germany and Austria have a regulated market for books in German (only!), meaning no price-based competition as the publishers set a binding minimum retail price with only a few exceptions like going-out-of-business sales, damaged books and stuff, but the principle remains. Amazon may throw in free shipping, but apart from that must not undercut brick-and-mortar stores. Go figure...

That said: the prices are set by the publisher. There is nothing to prevent them from having different prices for different editions. Just as a hardcover costs more than a paperback, an ebook could be even cheaper. Their call.

Re:German market peculiarities (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29786949)

Aight. I wonder why they bring up the fixed book prices in every goddamn discussion about ebooks in Germany. As soon as I get my Sony Reader I will propably either buy books in US webshops or simply pirate them. No way I am paying 17,x € (over 25 dollars!) for an DRM infested piece of literature.

Other Issues (3, Insightful)

trydk (930014) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786547)

Today I had a nice, long bath with John Grisham.

Well, not the author in person, but his book, The Street Lawyer. Paperback version.

I would have been rather more reluctant to do the same with a Kindle (or equivalent) edition, as I am pretty sure a dip in the water would render it beyond repair.

I cannot be the only one who occasionally loses a paperback to whatever unfortunate events that pass me by. (Temporary insanity and such.) I have provided Dublin Airport with one (I got my camera back, which had been impounded by security guards), an assortment of hotels, planes and trains have got their share and for some odd reason I have never found my lost PDA. (The interesting stuff was encrypted, thank you very much.)

The thing for me (and quite a few other people, I am sure) is that the loss of a paperback may be unfortunate but not a major setback, whereas the loss of an eBook reader is more than just annoying.

Re:Other Issues (2, Insightful)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786973)

Try comparing the packing of a Kindle versus 3-4 paperbacks on a long journey. Some of us have to fly around quite a bit for our work.

If you are into serial novels, it is great that when I'm done reading book 3 I can immediately purchase and start reading book 4. I might not want to buy all the books ahead, because sometimes the series just isn't worth reading all the way through. And more often than not the bookstores quit stocking my series before I'm finished reading it.

I think the advantages of ebooks outweighs the disadvantages. There are disadvantages, and you pointed out one. Of course destroying a $300 reader in the bath tub is terrible. But on the other hand if your house floods and destroys 100 of your favorite books that is perhaps worse because it took you not just money but time to build up a collection. With ebooks, you can smash your reader and still have the ebooks available.

I think the last obstacle to ebooks being a real alternative to print books is when they let go of the DRM nonsense and start using a format that works on more than one or two devices.

Re:Other Issues (1)

masmullin (1479239) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787195)

you have valid points, but how important are the points to the mass market really? How many people really take baths rather than showers? As for your second point... just take better care not to lose your stuff... you sound like a serial forgetter.

Is America really all that different? (4, Insightful)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786573)

... only one in 12 Germans has a clear idea about what an e-book is, and seven out of 10 of them would prefer a printed version over a digital one.

Maybe a higher percentage of Americans than Germans know what an ebook is - maybe not. But my gut tells me that we probably match up similarly in terms of preferring a printed book over a digital book, since I hear that all the time (even from a fair number of techies).

I have no doubt the tech will continue to evolve until someone gets it right, and finally makes digital more convenient than paper. It's not there yet, except for the small number of people that use multiple books at the same time (e.g. students) - and even in those cases, DRM, non-availability of many titles, and other issues deleteriously affect their ebook experience.

Re:Is America really all that different? (2, Informative)

Virak (897071) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787255)

You seem to have completely missed the next sentence, which states that:

65,000 e-books were sold in Germany in the first 6 months of 2009, vs. almost ten times that number bought per week in the US, in what is still a small niche of the overall book business.

Sorry, but your gut is pretty severely contradicted by the actual facts. And "I hear that all the time" is not a reasonable basis for making conclusions, as people tend to surround themselves with similar people. About half the people I know use Linux, but it'd be absurd for me to thus conclude that Linux's marketshare in the general population is anywhere near that high.

Re:Is America really all that different? (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788527)

While I certainly agree with you regarding the fallibility of a gut reaction, I think it's pretty obvious the relative sales numbers don't really tell us much because, as the article states, the German ebook market is artificially constrained - much more so than the American ebook market (which I realize has its own set of constraints). Relative sales numbers would only provide a valid comparison if factors like availability and price were similar across both markets.

Yes, as a German publisher... (0, Troll)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786751)

..I have for years struggled with bringing ebooks to market. I have even written a book about my experience. I am simply calling it "Mein K%*^*(^$(&^(*&*($>>>NO CARRIER

Audiobooks seems to be the trend (2, Interesting)

jaclu (66513) | more than 4 years ago | (#29786757)

Whilst not suitable for reference material, audiobooks seems much more suitable for portable usage. No big screen device to carry arround, and you get to keep your eyes for other purposes - driving, cycling, looking where you are walking etc.

At least in Sweden, the audiobook scene have exploded the last couple of years, many books are released as audios at the same time as the first print hardcovers hit the bookstores.

We even have a few online streaming services for listening to audiobooks directly from the phone/computer without the hazzle of first downloading or copying CD discs to the desired listening device.

Not everybody likes to listen to books, and more odd titles propably wont be recorded, but for the titles available it's quite convenient.

Re:Audiobooks seems to be the trend (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29787123)

I think actually *reading* books has contributed a lot to my ability to read and write English (I like to think that reading LoTR when I was about 13 contributed a _lot_ to my English, if only I would have read it in French... also this sentence pretty much guarantees that my post will contain at least several errors). It has gotten to the point where I know and use words when reading/writing that I couldn't pronounce correctly if my life depended on it (this doesn't bother me much, my Dutch accent is a good reason to never let anyone hear me speak your beautiful language...:p ), and on rare occasions I won't recognize such words when I hear them for the first time.

Aren't you worried that using audiobooks a lot will screw up your ability to spell (especially when the book is in a foreign language that you rarely use in other situations)?

Re:Audiobooks seems to be the trend (1)

jaclu (66513) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787691)

My spelling has always been awfull regardless of language ;)

I see audiobooks as a compliment to paperbacks, when driving / walking it's hard to read, also when doing garden work and similar audio books comes handy, but I still like to read. I guess I spend about half my reading time using audios.

Re:Audiobooks seems to be the trend (2, Insightful)

masmullin (1479239) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787241)

This is also an audiobook vs real book issue. I think audiobooks totally have their place, but they are not w/o their flaws (you can stop paying attention and its hard to "reread the last paragraph" like a book).

Re:Audiobooks seems to be the trend (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29789503)

The cost of audiobooks in the US is insande. An audio book isn't like a hardcover; I'm goign to keep a dead tree for a long time. However, an audiobook isn't very readable, so I just want to listen to it and return it. nope, they don't have any enduring value to them. So, $30 for a book that I'll read once and throw away (donate to the library, but close enough for me) is not a good choice compared to a $12 paperback. And no, if it's worth buying promptly, I'll buy it in hardcover and read it well, as opposed to an audiobook.

No thanks (2, Insightful)

ISurfTooMuch (1010305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787057)

I just don't see e-books catching on. Even if the technology matures to make them just as legible as a printed book, that isn't the thing that will make them popular. It's a convenience thing. For example, my wife just bought a few books the other day. Yesterday, she loaned one to her mom, who read it and returned it. And today, she loaned it to her sister, who took it back home with her, which is several hundred miles away. Now, while this process COULD be easier with an e-book, since you could easily transfer the file over the Internet, the publishers will never allow this. Not only that, but good luck selling e-books you've already read to someone else.

Finally, there's the issue of longevity. Books can last for hundreds of years if they're printed on acid-free paper and properly cared for. With an e-book, while the file could be preserved, you run into the issue of making sure a reader manufactured, say, 200 years from now can still open it. I'm sure you could write data conversion software to keep the files current, but I think the publishers would resist, since they'd want you to buy new versions of the same work. And, unless you have multiple backups, one catastrophic media failure could wipe out your entire library.

Re:No thanks (3, Insightful)

Boomerang Fish (205215) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787481)

I agree that all of these are valid issues, and I do think the 15 year estimate someone above posited is optimistic, however none of these are insurmountable. I think we probably will see wide-spread acceptance of ebooks/readers but it's gonna take a generation or two of people for whom online services like facebook, etc. have been with them practically since birth.

My daughter can't believe my parents bought me an encyclopedia set when I was in high school... in her world, if it's not online, then it's gotta be somewhere "special" -- to her encyclopedias belong in a library.

As technology gets better and more pervasive, as publishers realize they can cut costs, perhaps after existing contracts for suppliers, etc. are up for renewal, they will migrate, though I doubt the printed word will disappear completely.

As to the issues with sharing a book, if an ebook cost me $1, I can easily see me buying it multiple times throughout my life if it's one I like or use a lot. And since I'm assuming that most of these services have a site where I can track and re-download stuff I've purchased, it's not that hard of a step to allow me to temporarily assign my rights to a given product to another user... after all, it's just data.

As to data recovery, I will admit we haven't done to well with that, what with tapes and floppies that can't even be read anymore, but we (the geeks) also know this is a concern... it CAN be dealt with, if planned for. I mean, how many DVD drives can't read CD-Roms? (I know, very similar tech in terms of physical characteristics, etc, but the point is newer methods don't HAVE to break older technologies unless it truly is a fundamental change in mechanism/methodology.

We'll get there, but when the next couple of generations expect it and think we're crazy for "reading asynchronous BBS postings at 300 baud" (Daddy, what's a "baud"?), not when you and I think it's ready.

--
I drank what?

Re:No thanks (1)

ISurfTooMuch (1010305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788165)

I agree with everything you said. I don't think any of this is insurmountable, but I think that there are certain things that might get in the way. Publishers are the big obstacle, mainly because they see DRM on the one hand preventing someone from making unlimited copies of a work and on the other hand allowing for all these interesting new revenue streams.

As for data longevity, this is something we've truly been horrible at. If I could find my Master's thesis from 1994, which was written in WordPerfect 5.1, I'm pretty sure I could open it, provided I can find a computer with a floppy drive, but I'm pretty sure the formatting would be pretty messed up, requiring lots of tweaking to get it to print in a format closely resembling my bound copy. And this is a file created in a program that was the king of word processors. Most of the stuff I did as an undergrad is pretty much lost, since I wrote it using Mass-11, which I could never get to output a file that could be opened in anything else with all its formatting intact.

Finally, I think that we need one and only one e-book standard. If e-books are to succeed, there needs to be the utmost assurance that any file can be opened on any reader, period. The only differences allowed should be add-ons, like Internet connectivity, the ability to directly beam a file from one reader to another, and maybe a monochrome vs. color screen.

You know, maybe this is an area where the OSS community can really come into its own. One body could develop a single yet flexible file format, and other groups, such as Project Gutenberg, could convert as many of their public domain works as possible into this format. Since many of these works are classics, the new format would immediately have a huge base of books that people would want to read, all available for free.

The standard could even be called OpenBook. :)

Funeral eulogy for the german book marker (4, Insightful)

mseeger (40923) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787059)

Hi,

since i am german and an ebook user for several years (iRexx Iliad), i would like to comment on that:

  • It is very hard to purchase german ebooks. Only a small percantage of all books is actually offered as an ebook. If they are published at all, the ebook version comes months or even years later.
  • The german book market is heavily regulated and publishers/authors are mostly happy with the status quo. The ebook is seen as "a disturbance of the force" and therefor not appreciated. Publishers already try to get lawmakers to extend the regulation to ebooks as well.
  • Germanys "Intelligenzija" (from which a lot of authors are recruited) is notorical hostile towards technology.
  • The primary clients for ebooks are geeks and technology friendly young adults. Those can read books in english. Since those are even a lot of cheaper, germanys ebook shoppers buy beyond the border (e.g. i have 200 ebooks from Baen [baen.com].
  • The trend of germans reading "english" literature is already demonstrated by Amazon Germany having an own category "English books". Patrick Rothfuss fulminant debut with "Name of the wind" costs 25 Euro as a german book or 7 Euro as an english one (both including S&H).
  • The early adopters of technology typically read a large share of Science Fiction & Fantasy... not a strength of german authors (few exceptions). SF&F is still frowned at, not considered to be "real literature" here. This also drives readers into exile.

Like the music industry the publishers are currently comitting sucide due to the fear of death. By trying to preserve the status quo, they are scaring away a big part of their future customers. Ebooks are only a symptom here.

I have purchased and read about 1.000+ books during the last 25 years. Due to a still progressing carreer, my budget is rising. But i am less and less inclined to spend it on the local market.

Sincerely yours, Martin

Re:Funeral eulogy for the german book marker (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29787741)

The trend of germans reading "english" literature is already demonstrated by Amazon Germany having an own category "English books". Patrick Rothfuss fulminant debut with "Name of the wind" costs 25 Euro as a german book or 7 Euro as an english one (both including S&H).

This. I have bought maybe one or two german books since Amazon DE started offering english ones, compared to tens of english ones. Even before, I often imported books from the UK because translations tend to suck and even including international shipping they were cheaper.

Same as in France alright (3, Interesting)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788375)

Same kind of stupidity here, esp. the part about the intellectual elite. Fucking douchebags hate the internet, and the internet hates them in turn.

I would point out that the US situation is not significantly different wrt ebooks. When you factor out the difference in book prices, US ebooks (and audiobooks) are still way overpriced, close to the hardcover price.

Well in fact it's the electronic delivery that's fucked up. I love audiobooks, so that I can "read" while on bicycle, and I wanted to buy Bob Woodward's "the War Within." It's $24 in hardcover, and $20 through Audible.com. But I can't buy through audible, because the sons of bitches insist on fucktarded DRM, and don't support Linux anyway. So instead I bought it in CD format from a third party, for $10 shipping included. It's a complete waste, since I'm just going to waste time ripping it.

Ebooks should be much cheaper than physical ones. Until they stop treating their customers like shit, they deserve all the piracy they get. Fucking fucktards.

how big is the German book market anyway? (1)

jipn4 (1367823) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787135)

I can't find any figures on it. How much do Germans read on average compared to Americans? To other nations? How much do they pay on average? Do price controls on books in Germany actually do anything other than make books more expensive and reduce the number of books Germans actually read?

Re:how big is the German book market anyway? (1)

VirginMary (123020) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788077)

I am German and live in the United States. Unfortunately I can't give you any numbers but I would guess that the percentage of avid readers is much higher in Germany than the US. Reading is extremely popular in Germany while it seems fairly rare in the US. I have only highly educated geeks as friends here and they tend to read a lot but as far as the general US population is concerned I don't think it is a very popular pastime. I only found that there are around 80,000 new titles being released every year in Germany and this [blogspot.com] very depressing article about US readership. I know that my experience is not necessarily statistically relevant, but I do go back to Germany every year and I see quite a few bookstores and people reading while using public transportation. My parents did not have college degrees, yet my mom strongly encouraged book reading through financial incentives when I was a kid growing up in Germany and virtually all my friends were reading. But, that was 30 years ago. From the articles that I did find through google.de it seems that reading is as popular as ever in Germany and making good money for German publishers. I had read well over 1,000 books by the time that I graduated from high school in Germany! Apart from leaving my human friends behind when I came to the US to study physics, leaving my book "friends" behind was the hardest! :)

what is this stuff? (1)

zogger (617870) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788661)

Those few quoted figures in the article are astounding to me. I question them. We live out in north cow flop redneck georgia and the local library is always packed, they have multiple librarians checking out the books and you have to wait in line. This is at various times of the week, we only go into town occasionally, and the days vary. The library has gone in a few years from three computers to about two dozen and again, most of the time you have to wait to get access, and there's always half a dozen to a dozen folks using their free wifi connections with laptops sitting around on the couches and chairs, all reading or researching or whatever. And a lot of local stores sell a lot of books, etc.

    I mean, this is *out in the sticks*, this is blue collars-ville, farming (that would be me) and a little manufacturing and construction and logging, in the larger cities the book scene is way more robust and extensive than that.

    I really doubt people check out books and buy books just to not read them. I also question this because the listed reference URL in the article you linked where they received this information is merely a spam link that has nothing more there that is on topic.

I mean it is great and all that ya'all read a lot in Germany, but I don't think you should assume people don't read a lot of books here either,(and magazines and newspapers and online), or that is it just people with advanced degrees or whatever, it is still a rather large industry and business across the demographic here. I mean, look back up in the article at the amount of ebooks being sold, and that is just a teeny tiny part of the overall market here so far.

Now to be fair, the age of the internet has probably changed a lot of reading habits, but text is text, on a screen or holding it in your hand and turning the pages. Today, I read a lot more on the internet than I did when I was a kid...and that's easy to do..the net didn't exist then ;)

books vs. ebooks (2, Interesting)

David Jao (2759) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787141)

The whole dichotomy over printed books vs. ebooks just seems strange. You don't have to choose one or the other, you can have both. And you don't need a special ebook device; most of the key benefits of electronic books are available on an ordinary laptop with a PDF reader.

This is, of course, assuming that the publishers and lobbyists get it right, and don't destroy the entire product category out of greed.

Advantages of ebooks that you will never get in a printed book:

  • Text search. This is especially important in academics and research. You want to find where a phrase is defined and you don't want to read the whole book to find it. An index is a far inferior alternative.
  • Did I mention search? Well, it's not limited to just one book. You can go online to google books and search for a phrase in every book ever published. This achievement is stunning when you think about it. The fact that publishers seem determined to kill this golden goose with their greed is pretty depressing.
  • Portability. Sure, if you have one single book vs. one Kindle, the comparison is pretty favorable towards the book. But a Kindle can hold several hundred books, and a laptop can hold tens of thousands. When traveling, it's not even a question of books vs. ebooks, since 10000 printed books are physically impossible to carry with you. Oh, and of course, you can perform text search across all those books too.
  • Ease of copying and backup. The publishers hate this one, and try to do everything they can to prevent it, but for the user it's a boon.

Of course, printed books have advantages too: higher resolution, low tech, can read in bathtub, doesn't matter as much if you lose one. So there is room for both formats in this world. What would make sense is for publishers to automatically supply the electronic rights to anyone who purchases a physical volume. That would greatly increase the value proposition in a book purchase, and (dare I say) expand their market and profits. It's frustrating that everyone except the publishers themselves seems to realize this.

Well, that last bit has an important and noteworthy exception. In academic publishing (journals and such), it is the norm rather than the exception for publishers to provide electronic rights to libraries and institutions that purchase the corresponding physical copy. So there is hope that the rest of the industry can come to their senses in time.

It's worth mentioning that technological progress (if not stymied by the copyright lobby) will eventually bring to ebooks all the advantages of printed books, whereas no amount of progress (short of replacing books with ebooks) will allow printed books to compete with the advantages of ebooks. The resolution of ebooks will improve, and it is at least conceivable that they can be engineered to last months on a single battery charge, or be waterproof, or become cheap enough that you wouldn't mind losing the hardware (the content will, of course, be easy to back up, once the DRM fetish subsides). So, for now, we have a choice of printed books vs. ebooks, but in the future I see ebooks taking over.

Re:books vs. ebooks (2, Interesting)

MrBigInThePants (624986) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787667)

The whole dichotomy over printed books vs. ebooks just seems strange

Some of the arguments here from people really come from those who have not actually tried the eink readers and really should not be commenting on them until they do. I mostly agree with your listed advantages and analysis but i think you missed the most important feature of ebook readers here and it has led to a very false premise.

1)The key benefit of ebook readers are NOT available on PDAs and laptops. Eink technology makes the screen look like paper. That means that us technology friendly people who stare at screens all day as part of our job will not get the serious eye strain associated with reading ebooks from back lighted monitors. (at least anymore than reading a printed book)
Any technology that does not have this is simply a non-starter for most people. This is the SINGLE feature has allowed the ebook revolution to begin, period.
Every other aspect of ebooks themselves existed before with little effect.
2) Amazon, public libraries and google's foray into ebooks is on the backs of eink (or similar) readers. Ebooks have no future with LCD alone. Most of the momentum that is building at the moment is speculative based on the future ebook reader. (e.g. projected sales this Christmas) Amazon sees it coming and wants to corner the market.
3) The resolution of e-ink is PERFECTLY FINE for the printed word. Pictures and high-res diagrams may struggle, but for the printed word it is PERFECTLY FINE.
This is a straw man argument based on some very erroneous assumptions are specs vs real life usability.
4)There are many book publishers out there NOT doing DRM or platform restricted books. Amazon has become the "slavering corporate dog" here by its recent DRM actions and restrictions, but it is easily circumvented at the moment via other distributors. They know this, hence their very early push into this market.
Personally I would stay right away from the kindle. They have already shown what they are all about with the "1984" saga, but their use of DRM is also a worry.

Re:books vs. ebooks (2, Informative)

David Jao (2759) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787811)

Any technology that does not have this [e-ink] is simply a non-starter for most people. This is the SINGLE feature has allowed the ebook revolution to begin, period.

It looks like we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I love e-ink as much as the next person but it is NOT the most important feature of e-books. It's not even fourth or fifth on the list. You can get all of the paper-friendly advantages of e-ink just by ... printing the book out on paper. Printers are old technology.

The ebook revolution coincides with e-ink in terms of timing, but that's just because it took computers this long to catch up to the point where ebooks are becoming useful. Before a couple of years ago, google books did not have every book, laptops were bulky and heavy, disk space was more expensive, and of course less content was available. I should also mention, though, that if you consider niche categories like academic publishing, rather than the mass market, electronic journals already became dominant several years ago, because PDFs are so vastly superior to paper for research work.

I've used both eink and LCDs. I have average eyes (neither great nor poor). I find backlit LCDs perfectly acceptable. Most of the eyestrain from LCDs comes from the low resolution of monitors, and from sitting upright at a desktop staring straight at a fixed location for hours on end. The low resolution is greatly mitigated by subpixel antialiasing (which some people apparently hate, although I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would hate it). Get a PDF reader that supports subpixel antialiasing for fonts. Couple that with a book-sized laptop (again, only recently available) and there's no great visual advantage to e-ink displays. E-ink of course wins on battery life, but backlighting has its advantages too; for example, it's easier to read in the dark, or in low light.

Re:books vs. ebooks (1)

MrBigInThePants (624986) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788273)

You totally missed the point. The reason ebooks have become popular in the market is because of this technology which removes the main reason people have not liked reading books electronically.
Prior to this, EVERY SINGLE ONE of the things you mentioned already existed for ebooks. And they did not take off. Why? Because reading novels on an LCD makes most people's eyes hurt. It really is that simple.

Your argument about academics is also missing the point. I am talking about mass market books here and not niche use. PDF has been around and used for all sorts of things for a very long time.
Academic articles can be downloaded/bought/printed per paper and that is why they are liked.
Besides, almost all students and researchers I knew (I taught at university for a while) printed the articles they liked/needed and referenced them that way.

"I find backlit LCDs perfectly acceptable. "
You would be the exception then. It also has nothing to do with the quality of your eye sight.

And perhaps that is it then? You are one of the few who can spend hours reading an LCD ebook after working a desk job doing the same without it effecting your eyes? I am pretty sure that is not the rule?

I have excellent LCD monitors at home and work and could not fathom it without getting bad migraines.

Re:books vs. ebooks (1)

David Jao (2759) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788595)

You totally missed the point. The reason ebooks have become popular in the market is because of this technology which removes the main reason people have not liked reading books electronically. Prior to this, EVERY SINGLE ONE of the things you mentioned already existed for ebooks.

No, I specifically addressed this point. Even ignoring e-ink, the technology for comfortable ebook display on laptops was not there until recently. Small cheap laptops, PDF software supporting subpixel antialiasing, and widespread availability of ebooks on the scale of google books are all recent developments that just happen to coincide temporally with the development of e-ink.

And perhaps that is it then? You are one of the few who can spend hours reading an LCD ebook after working a desk job doing the same without it effecting your eyes? I am pretty sure that is not the rule?

I have excellent LCD monitors at home and work and could not fathom it without getting bad migraines.

Almost everything I stated about LCDs being acceptable for ebooks was based on the use of small cheap LCDs, so for you to turn around and refer to "desk job", "LCD monitors", and other desk-bound devices is rather missing the point on your part.

Re:books vs. ebooks (1)

MrBigInThePants (624986) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788927)

Then I have to agree to disagree. People have had laptops and PDAs for some time and have used them for long periods for reading as part of work.

You are trying to say that the technology advances are a simple coincidence even thought the largest player in the market is hinging its whole strategy on its own version made at great expense. (with no LCD alternatives)

I think this is far fetched. Beg to differ and all that.

Still, interesting discussion.

Re:books vs. ebooks (1)

David Jao (2759) | more than 4 years ago | (#29789485)

Definitely agree to disagree, and yes, interesting discussion. The way I see it, if Amazon started selling instant PDF downloads of books, without tying them to the Kindle, I think the response would be tremendously positive, and the money they stand to gain would dwarf their profits from the Kindle. So, from the point view of what could have been, e-ink displays are not the largest driver of customer interest. (Right now, they are the largest market segment, but that's because Amazon only sells ebooks in Kindle format.)

What I described will never happen, but only because the publishers are deathly afraid of piracy. It's certainly not because of a lack of market demand for PDF format ebooks.

skip the lame blog link, read the Spiegel article (2, Interesting)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 4 years ago | (#29787193)

The first link is to a lame, short, not very interesting blog post. The second link is to the full article (in English) in Der Spiegel.

The Der Spiegel article criticizes the traditional publishing industry for price fixing (with some help from government), but it uncritically parrots the traditional music industry's party line about copyright violation, and then uncritically makes the analogy with books. It assumes that copyright-violating sharing of music is wholly to blame for the fact that the music industry isn't as profitable as it would like to be be, without mentioning the possibility that people were unhappy with the choices the music industry was putting out, and unhappy with being expected to pay $16 for a CD that only had 2 or 3 good tracks on it. It also never mentions DRM.

In general, I don't think it's a good idea to lump together all kinds of books as if they were the same. Selling a Dan Brown book in hardcover is different from selling it as a mass market paperback, which in turn is different from selling a used copy, which is also different from borrowing a copy from a friend or from the public library. Copyrighted e-books are different from public-domain e-books, and then there are copyrighted books whose authors have intentionally made them free online (see my sig). There is a huge difference between a college textbook and other types of books; prices of college textbooks have gone up much faster than inflation in recent decades, and that's happened because the people who made the textbook selection decisions were the professors, while the people who had to pay were the students.

Most published authors don't make much money from most kinds of books. Never have and never will. What the traditional publishers would like to see is a world in which that continues to be the case, but DRM on e-books makes it impossible for people to buy used books, share books with friends, or borrow books from the public library.

E-Books in Germany.. more. (0)

missioncreep (1486245) | more than 4 years ago | (#29788391)

The Spiegel article isn't the last word in the discussion. The Frankfurt Book Fair has been in full swing this week, and e-books have gotten a lot of quite decently balanced press as a result, expressed within the larger context of the current state of publishing in Germany.

The Germans do fix all prices, across the board, from apples to undies. Getting around that will be a big obstacle to releasing a 'critical mass' of material into the marketplace, which will in turn impede adoption of reader devices. The overall conservatism and lack of imagination of the average German is likely to be another. But authors who don't want to be jerked around by publishers are finding other outlets, like the admittedly itty-bitty Textunes.de, and libreka.de.

But I think the biggest problem may be that Amazon is not offering titles *in German* concurrent with its launch of the international version of the device. There are certainly sound business reasons behind that decision -- among them the likelihood that Amazon has not managed to complete negotiations with publishers in time for the launch. But it gives an appearance of corporate tone-deafness that could hurt the entire industry. But it might also give the Sony Touch a boost. Who knows.

mod w0p (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29789017)

appeared...saying number of FrreBSD

I don't know about the Germans, but (3, Interesting)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 4 years ago | (#29789099)

as a neighbour from France, which is culturally kinda close I guess, I don't grok the idea of buying content, but not really owning it, being at risk of losing it at any time, either short-term (Amazon pulling it, my reader getting stolen...) or medium/long term (Amazon going out of that business, their readers starting to suck...)

I'd like a Digital Ownership Law, clearly asserting
- resale rights
- loan rights
- transfer rights (to another reader)
- backup rights
- standardized DRM with a backup infrastructure in case the initial provider can no longer authenticate content/users.

Right now, Amazon's plan looks like MS's and Apple's: get user lock-in DRM / format / training / force of habit / DRM.

I think the next generation of readers, wich will probably be more geared towards replacing magazines, and hopefully integrating the magazines with an on-line community, will have more appeal over here.

PS: I am reading books an a Palm right now, so I'm not allergic to the concept. Buyers' rights just seem inexistant right now.

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