Monday, February 8, 2010

Caveat venditor!

The wrestling match between the established print media and the new digital media is now a tag-team match: Macmillan/Apple vs. Amazon and everybody vs. Google. Publishers and agents and many authors have a strong vested interest in the match and have had a lot to say. But not much is being reported about what consumers think, and, as I see it, they are footing the bill.

I have been a voracious reader and purchaser of books all my life and currently spend about $2,500 a year on books. I'm the kind of customer publishers and authors need. In the last two years I have shifted from primarily reading print books to ebooks. I have four pieces of hardware that I read on, a Kindle DX, a nook, an iTouch, and my laptop, but my primary device is the Kindle DX. My wife and son also have Kindles (both have K2s). I will order an iPad the second the "Buy button" is activated. We can share books because all the devices are on the same account. Of course, given our diverse tastes, only about one in ten books is something two out of three of us want to read. We have yet to find a unanimous choice. I have 363 books on my ereader today, but that number goes up and down as I add books and manuscripts, read them, and delete them. They are backed up in the cloud and on a remote hard drive on my desk so I can access them whenever I want.

Of those, I paid for about 100. I am not a pirate (although that is my Halloween costume of choice), i.e. I don't download unauthorized free copies of books. I don't need to because so many good books are free. Project Gutenburg, ManyBooks, The Book Depository, and Feedbooks are a few established sites that offer tens of thousands of free books. There are many more sites out there as well, and more coming on-line. Moreover, I believe all of those books Google scanned, which are currently unavailable to most readers because they are out of print and not easily found in used book stores or libraries, will become available to the consumer one of these days, and the prices will be reasonable, however the proceeds end up being split.

All of this is to say that I find myself choosing between buying a new book or digging around in one of these sites to see what interests me. Some times I go one way, some times the other, but if I pay for a book I have to really want it, and I don't spend money on books I think are overpriced unless I really want them or I'm really desperate for something to read. These days I don't find myself desperate for something to read often, because I've got 50 or more unread books in my hand all the time now, and ready access to more.

The saying "So many books, so little time" has never been more true. The number of books is increasing and the amount of time is decreasing. In light of that, I say seller beware. Go ahead, fix the price of your new books at whatever level you feel is right, but consumers (aka readers) have yet to weigh in and this match is still in the early rounds.

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