Are e-books a plot by the big publishers?

Or at least, the way they seem to love e-readers (through their support with the Nook and Kindle and such).

The way I see it (and I’ve mentioned this in past threads), it’s in the best interest of the publishers to push e-readers. After all, they have been long known to hate used bookstores and libraries. Encouraging e-readers are the perfect way to kill both by having people move to a format where they (with the proper DRM) have dominant control over what people do with the books the publishers sell them. After all, they make no profit from old books. Why shouldn’t they do everything possible to make sure all those unprofitable titles basically crumble to dust, leaving nothing but new titles that conveniently expire after a decade or two after the majority of people lose interest?

(Granted, libraries could be “replaced” by sites that download books into an e-reader, but who’s going to want to pay to scan that obscure 19th century book on Peruvian horticulture?)


There is a science fiction novella or short story from the 1980’s wherein a guy invents ebooks that cost about a nickel and the publishers have hired hit men to kill him.
Protecting them against copying and selling expensive readers is another deal, of course. The Microsoft Reader and Palm files are a nice alternative.

Do publishers like ereaders? Probably

Are they a plot? No.

Google or Project Gutenburg?

Big publishers hate ebooks and ereaders. Well, they probably don’t now, but they have for the past 5-10 years. Epublishers were scoffed at, and editors and agents claimed that ebook authors weren’t authors at all, and none of the sales “counted” as actual sales. Organizations for writers, publishers, editors, were all completely dismissive of ebooks, and agents and editors refused to take ebooks seriously up until 2009. Believe it or not, the big publishers have been very, very slow to embrace ebooks and ereaders, and even now they seem to be very stupid about how to take advantage of the shift in the market. Even more annoying, they seem intent on “reinventing the wheel” rather than taking advantage of the fact that there are dozens of very successful epublishers who have found a way to competitively price and successfully market books in this format. As a result of the NY publishers being ridiculously dense about ereaders and the market in general, the smaller publishers who have been flourishing might get shafted by greater forces they can’t resist.

I wish there was a plot. Because then maybe they wouldn’t be hellbent on mishandling everything.


While there are some benefits to the publishers in terms of lowering marginal costs and removing the used markets, ereaders aren’t a plot. Customers really want them.

Companies that sell music hated downloading songs until iTunes came along. Of course they still don’t like the downloads that people don’t pay for.

Pepperlandgirl has it completely correct. Leaper, not so much.

Leaper’s whole rant totally baffles me. Publishers have no control over e-book formats. Kindle is proprietary, but that’s Amazon. There are dozens of e-readers put out by dozens of firms of every kind, from a conglomerate, Sony, to a bookseller, Barnes & Noble, to a Google, Google. Some use proprietary formats, some don’t.

And there are also a gazillion e-books in a gazillion other formats which are downloadable and readable on any computer or PDA or tablet or whatever uses photons and electrons. How do publishers control any of that?

Publishers do, BTW, make huge amounts of money on older titles. That’s called backlist. Many publishers make as much money on backlist as on newly released books.

I suppose if people who knew absolutely nothing about a field stopped making pronouncements about that field the whole Internet would come to a shuddering halt, but this one is really over-the-top.

Plus most big libraries loan ebooks out as well.

Having read the responses so far, perhaps I am looking at everything the wrong way. I guess it was just my impulse to look at what’s happening these days with publishing and bookstores and magazines and such and ask myself “who benefits from trying to do away with paper books?” And that was the only answer I could come up with, no matter how out there it may actually be.

I guess it’s my version of the “buying up streetcars” conspiracy theory. :slight_smile: (Or did that actually happen? I can never keep track.)

Well, there are consumer benefits, instant delivery of books, being able to carry around dozens of books at once, cheaper than analog books.

A plot? Good grief. You make this whole idea sound so nefarious.

E-books have practical advantages, and some customers want them. Why ascribe villainous motives when simple market demand is sufficient to explain the whole phenomenon?

I suspect in the long run, ebooks will end up causing a whole lot more book-piracy then would otherwise exist. There are already a lot of pirated books on the internet, and as more and more people get used to reading electronic texts, the demand for these will increase. DRM hasn’t proven much of an obstacle in the past, and even if it is, unlike with video games, its pretty easy for a motivated pirate to make their own ebooks without DRM.

Cyberbooks, by Ben Bova. Currently available in the compliation book ‘Laugh Lines’ with Starcrossed, his commentary on, more or less, Star Trek, Harlan Ellison, and making sausage.

Yes. The e-book is trojan horse. :rolleyes:

Really? You didn’t think “Customers benefit, because digital books kick ass and paper ones suck”? 'Cause that’s really all it is.

I think it’s pretty easy to make the case that most publishers hate e-books. For one, they are much easier to copy and pirate than a real book. For the average person to try and pirate a real book they would need to own their own print shop, since doing it even on a laser printer would likely cost more than the book in terms of paper and toner.

Secondly, look at the pricing. E-books should be less than a real book. There is no material involved, no warehouse space needed, no shipping, etc…Yes, there is still some labor and whatnot involved in getting it into the formal and server space and all that other IT infrastructure needed for digital distribution, but I can’t imagine it compares at all to a real book. And yet…e-books are just as much, and often MORE, than a real book, which I think is the publishers’ way of saying,
“Fuck you for trying to use technology. We’re stuck in our dinosaur ways and refuse to change with new markets”

The music industry tried that and it failed, and they eventually did learn their lesson with iTunes (though the pricing on iTunes and most other download services is usually close to a real CD, but that’s a by-product of letting them only buy one or two songs from the album…no one is going to only download one or two chapters of a book, save a few non-fiction titles.)

The average person doesn’t want to pirate, but they will if there are no other options. Trying to find a book that’s not published anymore and all the used stores around you have had no luck? Well, you might try to see if there is a pirated PDF online as a last resort because what other choice do you have? Even if they do find a used copy, the publishers get mad because they don’t get any money out of the deal…even though they couldn’t anyway since it’s out of print.

It seems like it would be trivially easy for a publisher to be like “oh, yeah, we had an electronic copy of that floating around since we first made it, I guess we’ll convert it to an e-book format and charge you $2 for it.”

But they’d rather not publish it again in any format, but then at the same time get mad when you do either pirate it or find a used copy.

I’m not an author or publisher, but my understanding is that ebooks have a much lower barrier to entry than dead tree books. This take power away from the big publishers and puts it in the hands of small publishers. Ebooks still have to be formatted and distributed, but they are able to bypass massive printing runs required by major publishers. Print on demand mitigates the difference somewhat, but ebooks are another outlet for books that isn’t the big publishing companies.

Also, epub DRM is trivially easy to remove, so I don’t think any publisher worth it’s salt is going to rely on it.

Big publishers have done a much better job of dealing with the reality of digital distribution than the record labels. Rather than try to litigate a many-headed hydra out of existence, they’ve done their best to make their product as available and convenient as possible. That isn’t to say I’ve never run into a DRM issue, but it’s more convenient to use a Nook to purchase a book than to download an illegitimate copy, copy it over, and hope it will open properly.

It seems to me that it’s the big booksellers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble) who are really pushing e-books. They seem to me to be the ones who have the most to gain by supplanting paper books with e-books, so if it’s a plot by anyone, it’s a plot by them.

Currently, as far as I know, the major publishers aren’t releasing any titles solely in e-format (though the indies are); print books are still an option, and people can vote with their wallets for which format they prefer.

Personally, I am not willing to pay as much for an e-book as for a real, paper book, because when I buy a paper book, I am buying the ability not only to read it and to keep it for myself, but also to re-sell it, trade it, lend it, or give it away. On the other hand, I love cheap books, and buy lots of books that I wouldn’t if they were more expensive. If there are enough people like me out there, it would be in the publishers’ best interest to offer lots of e-books at low prices.

Not even close.

Take a look at your bookshelf. Estimate how many books have been published by small press publishers. If it’s more than 5%, I’d be shocked.

Now, there have been small press publishers for decades, if not centuries. But they’re small press for a reason: they publish titles that don’t interest very many readers.*

The entry barrier is not because of publishers manipulating the market. It’s there because 90% of all books are of no interest to readers. Everyone who writes a book is certain they’ve written a great book, but most are fooling themselves. The publisher publishes books because they determine the book will sell.

This won’t change no matter how ebooks grow. When you publish a book, you have to spend time and money editing, promoting, and marketing it. Publishers only take books that will make that time, effort, and money worthwhile.

People think that POD and eBooks will bring out many great books by unknown authors. There will be some, but, without a publisher to vet them, it will bring out many really crappy books by really crappy authors. Without a publisher, it means that readers will be paying to read slush. That’s a dismal fate for any reader, so even with POD and eBooks, there will have to be people who can guaranteed to the reader that the book has been vetted.

And user reviews are not going to do it.

The cost of a book reflects not just the cost of the paper. Half of it is markup for the bookstore. Part is distribution costs. Part is paying the author.

Let’s consider a $10 ebook. $5 of that goes to Amazon. Another $1 goes to the author (roughly, depending on the contract). That leaves about $4 for the publisher. Now you think of their overhead; salaries of the acquiring editor, copyeditor; formatting costs; payments for cover art; etc. Note, too, that the fixed costs to the publisher are the same whether the book is a best seller or sells no copies. A poorly selling book is subsidized by the best sellers. Thus part of that $4 goes to support good books that didn’t find their audience.

Now music has the advantage of live performances: it can be an income stream in addition to the sales of the music. People will pay $100 to see a live performance of their favorite music group, but would anyone pay that for an author? Of course not. Publishers need to sell books.

We’re already seeing how file downloads has devastated music. Not the record companies – they’re doing just fine. But there are fewer breakout acts, and those that break out are those that fit the current music mode and have some gimmick to get attention (e.g., Lady Gaga). Meanwhile musicians find it harder and harder to make any money from their music, and thus they make less music. I can think of several acts who 20 years ago would have been doing fairly well just releasing albums, but now are reduced to live touring and one CD every three or four years.

The same might (and quite probably will) occur to books once ebooks become the norm. But the fault is not the publishers; it’s the people who think they are somehow the root of the problem.

*Occasionally a small press does publish a book that becomes midlist popular or above, but that happens about once every five years or so>