By Harley L. Sachs
The electronic book has finally come into its own, and chances are you
may even have received one under the Christmas tree this year, with an
estimated 6.6 million ebook readers sold in 2010.
If you are one of the electronically challenged, an ebook is read on
a screen instead of being printed on paper. An ebook, digital magazine
or newspaper can be downloaded off the Internet to your PC, Mac,
Kindle, Nook, iPad, or any number of screen gadgets, even in some
instances to your digital phone. Not everyone wants to read a novel on
a tiny cell phone screen, but times are a-changing.
Thanks to the mass marketing of ebook readers there has been explosive
growth in the digital book business. Amazon.com, which got its start
selling hard and soft cover books and branched out into marketing
almost everything, now sells more downloads of books to e-readers than
it does of books printed on paper. Its estimated that there will be
world-wide sales of 11 million ebook readers in 2011.
Black and white e-readers use electronic ink, which has a low power
demand, adding to the battery life. New this season are backlit color
e-readers which are following in the footsteps of the iPad.
This has been a long time coming. There have been many short-lived,
unsuccessful attempts at selling ebook readers, such as the Franklin
eBookMan which was sold between 1999-2002. I obtained an eBookMan on
sale for $50. It was about the size of a Blackberry and was powered by
a couple of AAA batteries.
The eBookman was cool. Besides being a gadget for reading ebooks, it
could act as a portable voice recorder and play music, but it had a
couple of flaws. Because it had a built-in clock that was always
running, it ate batteries. If you put it in the drawer for a couple of
weeks and came back to it, it would be dead. Not only would it be
dead, but it had no memory and when fired up again had to have the
operating system reinstalled from your computer.
The eBookman also worked with a stylus. To change pages you had to
poke the screen, and what if you lost the stylus? I finally installed
a memory stick to back up all the files and learned to pull out the
battery when I was done with it. If Franklin had put in memory and a
rechargeable battery they might still be in the ereader business. They
dropped the eBookman in favor of selling portable translators and
What really kicked off ebooks was Amazons release of the Kindle.
Initially costing about $300, it was pricey, but had several
advantages over the eBookman. The Kindle rechargeable battery (from
your computer or a wall socket adaptor) has a life of a couple of
weeks if the wireless browser is turned off.
The wireless feature means you can be sitting at a bus stop, turn it
on, browse the Kindle bookstore, download a sample of a book, buy the
bookcharge to your credit cardand read. The current third generation
Kindle can hold about 3,500 non-illustrated books. The type on the
screen can be adjusted to six different font sizes. The orientation of
the screen can also be changed. To turn the page, forward or backward,
no stylus is necessary. Just click the edge, left or right, to advance
or retreat. It remembers where you left off, even if you turn the unit
off. If you want to move to another part of the text, theres a
sliding bar at the bottom of the screen.
The price on the Kindle has come down to $139, with the ebook readers
now offered at big box retailers such as Target. You dont actually
need a Kindle to read digital books; with free Amazon software, you
can download ebooks to your PC. Also, early December saw the arrival
of Google Books, a cloud based digital bookstore offering millions
of books online that can be accessed over either your PC, Mac or ebook
reader via free software.
Barnes & Noble has their own ebook reader, the Nook, which looks like
the Kindle except its newest model is in color and is back lit for
reading in the dark. Theres no clicking on the edge of the unit to
change pages; just wipe your finger across the touch-sensitive screen.
But the Nooks capacity is much lower than the Kindle and the battery
life is only about eight hours, so it wont keep you reading on that
flight to Australia.
Apple has a super deluxe gadget in the iPad. It is larger and heavier
than the Kindle or the Nook and has a battery life of a few hours
because it, too, is in color and has all those battery-eating
features. The iPad can access the Kindle or Google books libraries.
Prices start around $440.
Not to be undone, Sony has a similar ebook reader, as does The Sharper
Image and a number of smaller companies. There is a scramble among the
big boys to glom onto the ebook market. Thanks to Google and other
internet libraries, literally millions of public domain books can be
downloaded to your ebook reader for free. You can have them all right
in your pocket and with a wireless connection just about anywhere a
cell phone signal can be picked up, you can download a book.
COSTS & ROYALTIES
The per download price? Its generally cheaper than a paperback. As an
author with books on the Kindle and the Nook, I set my own price for
the books I sell online. For the Kindle, its between $2.99 and $9.99.
There are more expensive books, but from this authors point of view,
thats the range.
Of that amount, the ebook author receives a royalty from the online
bookseller. Amazon.com pays either 30% or 70% for Kindle ebook sales,
which is deposited directly to the authors checking account. Compare:
if I had a book at a New York publisher that retailed for $25, the
royalty would be 8% or 10% of the wholesale price after returns.
Wholesale means as little as 40% of retail. You do the math. If I sell
a download for $5 on the Kindle list, I get $3.50. No New York
publisher is going to pay that.
What this means for the book business is desperate times for
bookstores. Sales of books printed on paper have fallen 40%, thanks to
ebooks. In Portland, Oregon, Borders Books just closed. Small
independents are struggling. Bookstores may go the way of farriers. If
you dont know what they are, its the people who put shoes on horses.
Is the book on paper dead? Lets hope not. You can read a real book
in the bathtub or on the beach. Theres nothing like the joy of
browsing a bookstore or opening a fresh hardback with the fragrance of
the paper, the cover, and the glue.
I always said that when an ebook reader gets down to $100 and is in
Walmart, digital books will take off big time. They already have with
the Kindle and the Nook.
Visit the Kindle, Nook and Google libraries to find Harley Sachs books.