Q's about Internet's effect on publishing + e-books

From 1998 to 2000, there were many rumors about how the Internet was affecting various things. Now in 2004 I’m curious about how various things have panned out. I’ll post my questions and guesses, and you tell me how close I am to the truth for each one. Thanks.

  1. T or F: The Internet greatly decreased the circulation of magazines and newspapers. Publishers of these are in danger!

My guess. The harder skin mags are truly in danger due to on-line pr0n, but crap like Maxim has filled a kind of void left by them. Women’s trash mags (Cosmopolitan, Vogue, etc.) have not really been hurt. Except for pr0n, magazines subscriptions are stagnant, but publishers are not in grave danger. Same thing for the papes. Small pubs were already not doing so great, and the Internet has not hurt them much either way.

  1. T or F: E-books are the new wave. E-books have already failed.

My guess. The medium has not taken off and will not for another 10 years or more.

  1. T or F: College kids are so hooked on the Net that they don’t even have TVs in their dorm rooms any more.

My guess. Baseless rumor. The same time is allotted to TV, while the Internet just sucks up more time that had been spent in studies.

  1. On-line adverstising has never really taken off.

My guess. Basically true. Sites that thought they could offer free services and just make money off advertising have mostly died off, with Yahoo and Google being two of the rare successes. Further, the concept of Web ad as on-line print ad remains in the ditch.

Thanks for your input!

I’m not going to way in on anything except the e-books… where I’ll say that you’re basically right, it’s too close to call. I’m quite an ebook nut myself… but I’ve noticed that the successful ebook concerns so far are setting themselves up as an ‘alternate printing method’ or alternate delivery system for traditional publishers. They’re not getting into the business of actually selecting and editing books, they look for a traditional, well-established publisher to do that and then buy rights to distribute the finished result electronically.

(Or in some cases, it is an ebooks division of the publisher itself that is selling the ebooks, in co-operation with an established software concern that supports the ebook reader and the ebooks from a technical standpoint, in exchange for a cut of some kind.)

Better to start slow and carefully in cases like this, I think. (I just love walking around carrying my pocket PC with the equivalent of about 250 paperbacks on it… occupying only a fraction of the memory of a postage-stamp sized secure digital card. :smiley: )

I’m with you except for 3. I don’t know about college students in particular, but there has been a measured drop in TV viewing for that demographic.

For e-books - they died when Stephen King couldn’t make it work. As an alternative publishing technique, it is a cheaper substitute for vanity presses. Barnes & Noble was involved in one of these for a while, to the extent that our store events manager was working on getting an ebook with stuff from our writing group published - then B&N dropped it and it went away. Basically it died because almost all the stuff published was crap, and people would rather buy from known sources. Someone in the NY Times tried to find good self-published books, and gave up, finally reviewing those the company recommended as the best.

e-books suck. You can’t read them in the loo, unless you have a tablet-pc or something similar.

Well, obviously print books still have some advantages. :wink: I have to say that I don’t think that the electronic equivalent will ever make them obsolete, for a variety of reasons. (Most of them aptly illustrated in an isaac asimov story, IIRC, in which someone receives the equivalent of the nobel prize for unknowingly re-inventing books in a world where microfilm readers had become the norm - not that microfilm readers are half as versatile as modern ebooks, but oh well.)

On the other hand, I would predict that somewhere in the next 75 years or so, electronic books will become as much a familiar household form of media as traditional books. That’s about how long it should take to get past the social inertia, and to come up with really convenient devices upon which to read them.

And if I should live to see that day… well, if it really is 75 years I’ll be a somewhat cranky 103-year old saying “back when I was a kid, we didn’t have no ebooks…”

(Just a bit of an odd aside that’s hit me about books in the bathroom, by the way. Is it any more or any less inherently unsanitary to read a book in the bathroom versus using a tablet PC or pda?? Paper would tend to absorb bacteria and you would never really be able to clean them away…)

I read ebooks constantly. In fact, I’m tracking my reading this year, just for fun, so I can tell you that so far, I’ve read 12 full length ebooks this year. I keep one on my Palm Pilot, which I carry with me everywhere, so anywhere I am, I can pull it out and have something to read. I couldn’t get by without them any more. Probably 90% of my Palm Pilot battery power goes to just reading them. Can’t beat 'em.

Thanks for the insights. Any further info on how the Internet has affected the publishing industry numberswise?

Newspapers have been showing a drop in reading numbers for quite some time now, whether this is due to the internet or cable tv news or a myriad other factors is hard to determine.

Well, like any new format of media, it takes several iterations to work all the kinks out. For-pay MP3 marketing has been attempted for maybe 5 years now but it really took the combined release of iTunes and the iPod to really bring them into the mainstream. Right now, ebooks are having lot’s of problems with standards, copy protection, hardware, distributors, models and the like but it’s very slowly moving into the mainstream. Don’t expect all the big names to all jump on the eBook bandwagon, what’s most likely to happen is that it’s going to start as a grassroots movement of amatuer and semi-professional writers putting content up for free in the hopes of generating a buzz and getting picked up by a larger distributor. This is already happening in the form of blogs, webcomics and other self-publishing ventures where several of the more succesful authors eventually get approached by publishing houses to put their blogs into book form.

Every demographic studied has shown decreased TV time for increased net time.

Again, it’s taking several iterations and it’s maturing at a nice but invisible pace. Indiscriminate banner ads is not what the internet public wants but targeted, useful ads coupled with well-designed and helpful web-pages along with the increased online purchasing means that real internet advertising should take off anywhere as soon as this christmas. Google, Amazon and ebay all have the right idea about how to intergrate advertising into their products in an unobtrusive and benificial manner.

I think ebooks will eventually have a great effect on book publishing but as yet it hasn’t. Everyone I know who has sold books to e publishers ( as opposed to vanity publishing on the web) has yet to realise any significant profits from it. I don’t know anyone who is offering a realistic advance for first rights for novels. I’m sure the day will come and it is something I watch closely because the idea of e publishing books and the speed with which it could be done is really attractive when compared to just how fecking long conventional publishing houses take to read and offer on books.

Publishers are publishing fewer books but why that is, is not something I feel competent to answer. Australian publishing of children’s books was really really slow in the last few years but seems to be picking up again in the last 6 months.

I think there is a big danger in acclimating people to e-books. Namely, once people get used to using a tablet or reading off their PAD/PC, file trading will become big and pernicious. It is just too easy to rip text–there are really no format or quality problems, as in music files. If you can read it, good.

Further, publishers have already rigged up a self-beneficial system wherein people pay a lot more for hardcover (released first), even though it does not cost much more to produce a hardcover than a paperback. Consumers are essentially paying to read the book quicker (and hardcovers do look better, which is what consumers think they are paying for). Consider the pricing problem (I am making these number up, but the principle is correct):

Hardcover–Price: $20.00; cost per unit: $4.00; GM: $17:00.
Paperback–Price: $10:00; cost per unit: $3:00; GM: $7:00.

How do you price the electronic release? Again people feel that they are paying for the nicer package when they buy hardcover. So they probably want a price lower than the paperback for an e-book.

E-books essentially require a new marketing system for the publishers, one that will not be beneficial to them, at least not at first.

Why not just be upfront about it and set it at a decaying price. Release a book at $15 for the first 3 months and then drop to $10 for the rest of the year and then drop it to $5.

Yeah that’s my beef with e-books: the cost! When I bought my iPaq a few years ago, the first thing I did was look for e-books… and boy was I disappointed! You can download lots of free e-books from education sites (UVa has an e-books program IIRC) but if you want anything “modern” you have to pay out the yingamayang for it. I’m sorry I’m not gonna pay $15.99 for a Tom Clancy e-book when I can buy the actual book from my local Books-A-Million for $14.78!

And yes, TV viewing is down all across the board - mainly due to the Internet I suppose, but I suspect that the 300 channels I get has something to do with it - my GF watches 3 hours of HGTV a day; does Neilsen ever ask us about that? - as well video games.

I think that’s good for the e-book price itself, but it still hurts the hardcover-paperback relationship, which at this time is not particularly “up front.”

I think publishers are going to hang onto those extra hardcover dollars until something really pushes them: competition from another major publisher or severe market pressure (somewhat like Yahoo finally caving and upgrading its e-mail package due to pressure from Google).

It will happen eventually, but it will require a major revolution. Perhaps in another 10 years or so!?

College student here - in my experience, my fellow students watch very little normal TV; maybe one or two shows a week. Now, they do have TVs in their rooms, but they mostly use them for playing console video games or watching DVDs. The vast bulk of leisure time is spent on the net/playing computer games. Of course, I was in an Engineering dorm last semester, which biases things a bit, but even the liberal arts majors I know spend a lot more time on the net than they do watching TV.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little naive here, but the makes of the ebook software I use seem to have a pretty good handle on using DRM technology and encryption to stop the file trading problem, and like with other things, any kinks can get worked out further. Microsoft reader and adobe’s ebook plugin both use some sort of passport thing, I’m not sure on the details. Ereader requires you to punch in the name and credit card number that you charged the book to – a bit annoying, but a fairly effective little device.

Also - you’re right that there’s no problem with sampling quality with electronic books, but the file format is definitely an issue. It leads to questions of what reader software you have to have available, what platforms the book can be read on, if you need to get an upgrade… and the different readers all have quite different interfaces, which lead to different ‘reader experiences.’ (For my money ereader is the best. :slight_smile: )

No, I think you are correct here: such incription devices can prevent people from ripping off the files themselves.

The problem is that, once people have been trained to read e-books on a regular basis, they won’t care if their text is in the right format or not. Rather, people will simply type hit books out if they have to, and this is already happening with the recent Harry Potter as an example. Text is different than music in that you can’t type a piece of music into a file. Text is child’s play to reproduce.

Moreover, text files are pretty small (you can fit dozens on one CD) and will be more easily tradeable than just about anything else. The technological genie is already out of the bottle. Only the training of the populace remains.

Right now, each and every copyright protection system can be defeated by the simple task of of printing out the pages and then scanning them in using OCR. For popular books like Harry Potter, A rough ebook was up 6 hours after the book was released in stores and a fully proofed version was out 36 hours, downloadable in PDF, txt or HTML format. All it took was the distributed effort of many interested voulenteers to scan/proof a chapter each. No sort of copy protection can withstand that sort of onslaught. Right now, the trend is moving towards less copy protection rather than more. If a book is popular enough to be cracked, then it will be cracked no matter what. If a book is not popular enough to be cracked, then why bother with copy protection?

Yep. And once the public’s habit of reading paper books is “cracked,” then publishing can kiss itself goodbye.