A sign of the apocalypse or an inevitability? Maybe a little of both.
As you've no doubt heard by now, Amazon reports that over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books it sells, it sells 143 Kindle books. In the past month, the Kindle books did even better: figures indicate Amazon sold 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcovers. And yes, free Kindle downloads were not counted when these statistics were compiled. The Kindle store now offers more than 630,000 books, with 510,000 priced at $9.99 or less.
Publisher's Weekly digs a bit deeper:
"Amazon e-book sales tripled in the first half of 2010 compared to 2009 and its growth rate in the first five months of 2010 was higher than the 207% increase reported by the AAP. Five authors - Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts - have each sold more than 500,000 Kindle books and Amazon said that of the 1.4 million e-books that Hachette said James Patterson has sold, 867,881 were for the Kindle."
You can tell yourself that these figures reflect our cravings for new gadgets if you want. Me, I'm going to hoard my hardcovers so I have something to read when they finally disappear.
Thanks, BBC, for bringing me down with this story about Dr. Bill Bell of the University of Edinburgh, who says traditional books are unlikely to survive the e-reader onslaught.
Bell's at a weekend conference that's looking at the way new devices - such as the iPad - change the way people read. Fair enough. He says that books are undergoing a "seismic shift" - cliche alert! - and he's not wrong.
"Dr Bell suggested they may need to become easier to navigate, with more information links to satisfy people who are used to flicking between different programmes on computer screens.
Readers may also be less inclined to read texts straight through from start to finish and instead be diverted by links on screen, he said.
Dr Bell added: "There's an older generation who might complain about shorter attention spans but there is a new literacy which has emerged among younger users and readers who are incredibly adept at multi-tasking. The older generation might want to read a book from beginning to end but it takes a different type of skill to multi-task and keep all of those things going simultaneously. It's about having a hybrid experience, it's no longer sitting and reading linearly from beginning to end, it's about developing new kinds of skill."
Now I know multilinear narratives can be creative in the right hands, but what's so bad about sitting and reading from beginning to end!? I don't want a bunch of links in my books, damn it! Wow, if I don't watch out, I'm going to start sounding like Friend of the Blog and noted blogger/reviewer/curmudgeon Chauncey Mabe, who has more or less declared war on electronic books. I think they have their place but dread the day that's all there is.
The latest: Amazon has just unveiled an updated version of its Kindle DX - the large format e-reader - that boasts sharper image quality (Amazon says 50 percent sharper) and a cheaper price ($379). With it you get free 3G that works globally, a 9.7 inch display and a graphite covering.
The devices will be released on July 7.
You're up, Nook.
That's what the website Pocketlint suggests in a story about Qualcomm Mirasol's new screen technology and a demo at the company's San Diego campus, at which it was strongly hinted that Amazon would soon adopt the technology. Or so says the writer.
Does a color e-reader influence your desire to buy one? Or are you already an e-reader owner and sorry you were an earlyish adapter?
What with Barnes & Noble dropping prices on its Nook ($199 and $149 for a basic Wi-Fi version) and Amazon following suit almost immediately by slashing prices on the Kindle (now $189), the competition for e-reader sales reaches a new level of competition.
But the price cuts, writes Rafi Mohammed in a great column over at the Huffington Post, also mean the future is set, and that future is e-books. Mohammed, author of The 1% Windfall: How Successful Companies Use Price to Profit and Grow, reminds us that new technology products are always costly at first - HDTVs, cell phones, hell, VCRs, for that matter - but when their prices drop they are rapidly adapted by consumers.
He writes: "Mass adoption typically results when one manufacturer concludes, "there is a big market for our product and a drop in price will lead to blockbuster sales." After this mass market discount is implemented, rival manufacturers have little choice but to lower their prices too."
He continues: "Instead of wishfully hoping that e-books will remain a niche product, publishers now have to realize that e-books are officially a game changer. If an increasing percentage of readers choose to read electronically, it's foolish to thwart e-book sales (which are more profitable due to cost efficiencies) with tactics such as delaying the digital release for months after the hardcover is in stores. Consumers aren't going to wait."
It would seem authors are getting the message, too. JK Rowling recently agreed to allow her books to be published in e-form, and so did Larry McMurtry. Nobody wants to be left behind, I suppose. Me, I'll wait til they're $50. It could happen, right?
Barnes & Noble has dropped the price of its 3G Nook from $259 to $199 and has confirmed its new Nook Wi-Fi will sell for $149. You can order either online at B&N or Best Buy, and the device should begin shipping this week.
B&N expects the devices to be available at select stores later this month and in all stores later this summer, reports TechCrunch, which also writes that B&N is also offering customers complimentary access to AT&T's Wi Fi network.
Much as it causes me deep physical and psychic pain to even consider reading a self-published manuscript, I have to say that I truly enjoyed writer Boyd Morrison's column over at the Huffington Post on how he self-published his thriller The Ark on Kindle - and, due to the book's popularity, ended up getting a four-book contract with Touchstone Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.
I can't tell you if The Ark - a DaVinci Code-style thriller about a search for Noah's Ark to prevent the end of the world - is a good read, but Morrison's column certainly is. And while his success is at this time the exception rather than the rule, you have to wonder how many other authors will catch a break this way.
Within a month of being available for download on Kindle, Morrison writes, "The Ark, which was getting excellent reviews from readers, reached number one on the Kindle store's technothriller bestseller list, higher than established authors like Tom Clancy and Brad Thor. In three months, my three books sold 7,500 copies and were selling at a rate of 4,000 books per month." Yep. Those figures will catch someone's eye.
"Apple said Tuesday that it was mistaken in restricting images for iPad apps for Robert Berry's comic book edition of Joyce's Ulysses, which contains nudity, and for panels showing two naked men kissing in Tom Bouden's graphic novel of Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
Spokeswoman Trudy Miller said developers had been allowed "to resubmit their original drawings'' and use the original artwork.
Ulysses, a landmark of modern fiction, was the subject of a 1930s court case that ended with a federal judge ruling the novel was not obscene. Wilde's mockery of Victorian morals made him a scandalous figure in late 19th-century England."
The New York Times reports that novelist Larry McMurtry, one of the most notable holdouts in the e-book revolution, has finally agreed to make his books available in the format.
That means you can start downloading such classics as Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment, The Last Picture Show and (one of my lesser-known favorites) Leaving Cheyenne.
“I hope the public will welcome my books to e-books, fresh fields and pastures new,” McMurtry said in a statement, according to the Times. Well, yes, you'd hope so. While I understand reader reluctance to buy a Kindle or a Nook or a Sony, I'm not sure why an author would resist a new way to sell books. We can still buy them in paper, at least for now. And isn't the point to get people to read whatever the format? Good move, Mr. McMurtry.