Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Battle for the Pile of Eyeballs

An Introduction

There has been much talk about the relative merits of self-publishing (mostly through Amazon) and major print distribution through one of the big 5.5 publishers.  Rabble-rousers like Scott Turow of the Author's Guild  (representing Establishmentarian Authors of Serious Books published by Serious Companies) and bloggers like J.A. Konrath, Barry Eisler, and David Gaughgran (representing the Nouveau-Riche Wildcat Pioneers of the New Digital Frontier) have taken to the internet to duke it out over who has the lock on the evolution of book culture in the digital age.

Rather than take up camps defending Amazon, or the Publishers, I think folks would do best if they decided to look out for themselves, and in doing so look out for society as a whole.  When Turow warned last year that forcing the publishers to abandon agency pricing "...would be tragic for all of us who value books, and the culture they support," I, for once, didn't think he was being overly dramatic.  Even Konrath can't deny that price deflation in favor of electronic sales and distribution could wreak much havoc on physical publishing in a way that could alter the way people experience book culture irreparably.  

 Some may argue (as Konrath does) that the benefits to the average consumer of the physical bookstore are minimal as compared to the vast digital marketplace, and that the demise of the physical bookstore (and the publishers who rely on these markets) is thus unavoidable.  The problem with that is, not every book buyer is a digital book buyer, and many book buyers may not want to ever become digital book buyers.  Additionally, there are  digital book buyers who would also like to buy physical books on occasion, and of those who will buy physical books there will be a subset who prefer to do so from a physical store.  

The introduction of efficient online shopping does not change the value of bookstores, both as repositories of physical product, and as centers of cultural meaning.  Each individual should have a choice about whether they want to read a book as an e-book, to buy a book from an online distributor (such as Amazon), or to walk into their local bookstore and pluck it from the shelf. Each transaction has corresponding economic and cultural value.  If you subscribe to the sort of economic Darwinism that Konrath espouses, then the only thing to do is let Amazon, being the fiercest competitor, do as it pleases, and walk away with as much of the marketplace as it can claim. Of course if you subscribe to Turow's point-of-view, Amazon is a villain whose predatory pricing structures are a threat to the act of reading itself.  I don't believe that either of these perspectives is really helpful in understanding the paradigmatic shift that's occurring, or how to readers and writers should respond to these changes.

I think its important to put this current debate into a broader societal context, and to focus on the paradigmatic shifts that are taking place not just in publishing, but in media in general.  I don't doubt the sincerity of Mr. Turow, Mr. Konrath, Mr. Eisler and Mr. Gaughgran, but I don't believe they fully grasp how the fundamental changes taking place will affect them as authors and as readers . Deciding whether you're team Amazon or team Publisher is largely irrelevant when it comes to determining the destiny of how information is going to be consumed in the future.  As a subset of all media, publishing is now subject to a multi-platform, worldwide, marketplace of attention.  The entire $25 Billion American publishing industry is just a minor actor caught up in the epic Battle for the Pile of Eyeballs.

The Pile of Eyeballs

Audience, readership, followers, friends, subscribers, players, are all interchangeable terms for consumers of media.  If you're a savvy type like myself, you participate across several platforms, devices, methods of distribution and delivery to consume several forms of media. Like me, you are a person existing in the physical world.  You have to work, you have to eat, and you have to sleep (eventually). That means there is a limit to the amount of media you can consume.  Because you are an individual there is a limit to the amount of devices you can use (and/or afford) at a time .  That means there is a premium on your attention, and where you choose to direct it.  For companies selling media, this means their utmost priority is getting your attention, and engaging it long enough for a transaction (whether it’s paying $2.99 for an e-book, or watching a 30 second advertisement).  For companies selling dedicated devices, the economics is roughly the same, the more attention you pay to the device the better it is for device sales, and offering access to media (and in some circumstances tightly controlling that access) is the main way they achieve this.  For companies that own distribution and delivery systems their goal is to keep you engaged with their system for delivery exclusively. For companies that own both device and delivery components their ultimate prize is the Pile of Eyeballs (the most simultaneous consumers devoting attention to a media product through their distribution and delivery system, and on their device) and the battlefield in this case is textual (book) media.

Doing Battle

If the Pile of Eyeballs is the prize, then who are the players?  In this instance it is not Amazon and the Publishers, but rather Apple and Amazon.  Apple started out primarily as a device manufacturer, and they developed a media delivery and distribution system (iTunes) whereas Amazon was a delivery and distribution company that developed a device (the Kindle) to better deliver their content to consumers.  Apple is by far the bigger company, in terms of raw profits, but Amazon is no punter either.  They both dwarf the entire publishing industry and the biggest of the bookstore chains in terms of money, and they are both at war with each other, primarily over devices, and secondarily over content delivery.  Their war over devices and content delivery, however, has several pitched battles, the most recent being over book territory.  The Publishers are not, in this instance, combatants in the war, but rather the unfortunate locals caught up in the colonial battle for media resources with both Apple and Amazon demanding its allegiance.  

Amazon was squeezing publishers by undercutting the sales from bookstores that the publishers relied on for a huge portion of their revenues in a bid to drive publishers further into Amazon's thrall, and to attract more eyeballs to their Kindle devices through competitive pricing.  Meanwhile, Apple seeing an opportunity to win the allegiance of the publishers offered them a deal using a strategy that proved beneficial to them in the pitched media battle over music: the agency model.  Apple hoped to horn in on Amazon's grip on book media by ending Amazon's pricing advantage, and driving traffic to their competing iPad devices.  Neither Apple nor Amazon have as their primary interest publishing, books, or book culture.

The publishers, for all their inadequacies, are at the very least exclusively interested in producing books.  Not content, mind you, but books.  I think the distinction should be clear. Content can be anything, whether it's a novel, a TV show, or a hypnotic image.  So long as it can capture the Pile of Eyeballs, it will be utilized, and maybe even promoted.  A book is not merely content, and treating it thusly, is I believe, a dangerous proposition.  Especially if it means the elimination of book publishers along with the bookstores, or the transformation of book publishers into "content providers".  It is dangerous because books are important, and I will explain why.

The Importance of The Book as Physical Object

Don't get me wrong, I love my digital devices.  I love my e-reader.  I love the freedom of having stories, novels, articles on demand at my fingertips. I believe, whole-heartedly in transformative power of digital content delivery and display systems.  I think e-readers should be mass produced, granted access to endless libraries, and air-dropped over every continent so every man, woman, and child can have access to endless information.  I do, however, still believe in the utility of the book as a physical object.

Some people like to compare the shock currently being experienced by the book publishing industry with the upset visited upon music publishing industry nearly a decade ago, and to a certain extent there are some tenuous correlations.  However, books are not like CDs.

The first distinction one should note is that the compact disk is a piece of laser inscribed plastic which rose to prominence in the 1990s, it obviated the cassette tapes which rose to prominence in the 1970s and 80s, which obviated the vinyl record which came to prominence in the 1900s, which obviated the wax cylinder of the late 1800s. In this context, it is not entirely shocking to think that the CD might be obviated by some new means of transmitting the audio content it contained. Printed books, on the other hand, have been around since about 1400 A.D., and were predicated on the not entirely dissimilar hand-written volumes dating back to the 3rd century B.C.

The utility of the book as a physical object has been relatively unchanged since it's inception millenia ago. While there have been many upheavals in the design, manufacture, and price of books, a book is still, more or less, a book, in the same way that a wheel is, still more or less, a wheel. The books of today still operate with the same efficiency as the codices of Cicero. The pages turn, and text is indelibly inscribed in lines of script designed to be read in sequence. This technology is not so advanced, but neither is the technology of the wheel.

The second distinction one should note is that the book as physical object, unlike the CD, cassette, vinyl record, wax cylinder, and the e-book,  requires no additional equipment (i.e. phonograph, stereo, e-reader) in order to access.

A book still has value in the marketplace, and the main marketplace (the bookstore) still has a value to consumers.  People who don't want, or can't afford, the technology to access e-books, but who nonetheless would like to read something may find themselves without another alternative to the digital marketplace. If that happens then something essential about the way we consume media will be altered, for some tangibly, for others imperceptibly. For even committed digital readers rely somewhat on the physical bookstore as a means (sometimes indirectly) of discovering some of their prized content.

I think everyone takes bookstores for granted.  You may never set foot in one, but I can assure a bookstore was the genesis of at least one word-of-mouth wave that eventually brought one of your favorite books to your attention.  Certainly recommendation engines online can augment the ways by which a book comes to your attention, but nothing can replace a bookstore as a repository of cultural meaning and discovery.  Amazon, Google and Apple can tell you what you might like based on what you do like, but they can't tell what you should like based on what you feel like. In short, there isn't an App for that.

The problem with digital editions of books becoming the primary or dominant edition is not that a superior product is replacing an inferior one (physical book sales make up nearly 75% of the marketplace) but that an instantaneous online marketing and distribution platform is taking just enough market share to sink the already beleaguered physical distribution boat.

Amazon, Apple and Google are fantastic at what they do, their devices border on the magical, their search and distribution systems are amazing, but for all their wonder they are not capable of replacing human interaction, or transcending the physical experience of browsing.  Additionally, say what you will about the inflated price of hardcovers, but don't forget that the cost of an ebook includes the hefty initial investment in the e-reader itself.

This is where the music industry analogy falls apart entirely.  Buying an e-book may be exactly like buying an MP3, it's true, but buying a book is not like buying a CD. A CD is of little use as an object without a corresponding player.  This is not the case for books, because there's no difference between the book and the content.  The book is the content incarnate. A book doesn't require a device to read, it is already a device for reading.

The best thing about a physical book is that it has presence, whereas an e-book is ephemeral.  A book takes up space; an e-book only takes up space on a server. The presence of a book offers possibilities for discovery and transmission that are unavailable to the e-book. You have to have intent to find an e-book, you can't just happen up on it.  You have to buy a device specifically to access it, you have to search a marketplace to find one you wish to read, or respond to an advertisement directed at you. A physical book draws attention to itself merely by existing. If you can see it, and reach, and pick it up, you can read it.

I like to think of the book as a body, and its text as its spirit.  With its body it can engage with the world, without its body it is just essence.  You can take the essence and feed it through a machine, and make it accessible to everyone simultaneously, but it is still a ghost. If it passes out of collective memory, it may as well have never existed. An unread book on your coffee table is a constant reminder of your failure to have read it, an unread e-book on a server is not just invisible, it's debatable whether it exists at all.

That's why it troubles me to think that the primary edition of a book may become the e-book, with the print book a tertiary, or sometimes non-existent, counterpart.  If you remove accidental discovery from the picture, what kind of book culture do you create?  If most content must be accessed through a device, utilizing software, delivered by a digital distribution platform, to what extent are we yielding a part of the experience of discovery to the proprietary marketing algorithms of giant conglomerates?

To what extent does publishing also become invisible?  What happens when I ride the subway, and instead of seeing riders' faces hidden behind copies of Moby Dick, or the Hunger Games, I can only seek sleek pieces of plastic with logos for Kindle, or Apple, or Google on them?  What about readers and library patrons who can't afford a digital device and are excluded from this new evolution in book culture entirely?

In short, when you relegate the physical book to the backseat, you relegate physical book readers there as well, and not all physical book readers are going to make the jump to digital reading, some of them may make the jump to no reading at all (7% of readers report having read only one book last year).

The Importance of the "Book" as Concept

Because of the intentionally skeuomorphic design of the display of most e-readers, the radical act of divorcing the text from the book is hardly given much thought. A book is a book to most consumers, whether it's a bound volume or a .AZW file. The implications of liberating the text from a book are larger than I think readers and authors realize.

Why can't a book be a million words long?  Why can't a book be two words long?  Does a book have to be read sequentially, or can the reader choose a path through hyperlinks? Can a book include videos, games, and digital applications and still be considered a book?  Can a book change or update its content on the fly?  What makes a book a book?

A book without pages is not a book. It's something else. It's textual media that is plastic, not static. Arguably, what makes a book a book are its limitations.  The book, as concept, serves a distinct (and some might say antiquarian) purpose.  It is about the devotion of attention to a single subject for a substantial amount of time.  It's about building a monument to an idea and putting it down in a bound volume that has breadth and length, and that does not change.  You can't build the same sort of monument from the shifting sands of the digital media landscape.

As a media property, the e-book is a version of a book, but it is not a book in itself. Its intentions (to be static, to be permanent) are subverted by its form (the mutable digital text). Without the physical book as referent, it's like a ringtone mimicking the rattling bells of an old rotary phone.

The relegation of physical books to the dustbin of history will only serve to cleave textual media from its predecessor form.  The physical book, sold in the context of bookstore, is sold as book among other books.  Textual media, is sold in the digital marketplace as one sort of media among many.  Changing the context, informs the process of creation.

Put succinctly, writers who write books, write books for the book market.  Writing a text for the physical book marketplace necessitates that the text fit the criteria for a book as it has been traditionally understood . Writing a book for the digital marketplace requires one to make the choice to write a “book”, and that is one choice among many.

While there is overlap in the marketplace now between physical book readers and e-book readers, consider what happens a generation or two after the collapse of publishing as we know it, and the end of brick and mortar bookstores, when physical books become mere antiques and objets d'art. What happens when there's no longer a context for books and the digital marketplace shifts away from what we might traditionally consider a book to be. 

I imagine we will lose a vital continuity, common history, and understanding, that might otherwise have been preserved. 

Which is not to say we should stop all the clocks and halt progress, but merely that we ought to hold on to some of the old ways while we simultaneously explore the new.  Some of the old ways are still useful, are still important, and can still exist in harmony with and in conversation with the new.

A failure to preserve and build upon the traditions of publishing, I fear, will result in the unmooring of textual media from print media, and grant the Battle for the Pile of Eyeballs total and insuperable influence over book culture. 

In Conclusion

There are a lot of good reasons to wish for the continued success of bookstores, publishers, and physical books.  Not the least of which is that it provides an additional revenue stream for authors.  That's not to say that we should stand in the way of progress, but we shouldn't treat the future as a zero-sum game either.  The growth of e-books doesn't have to mean the death of bookstores.  In fact, were it not for the Battle for the Pile of Eyeballs growth in e-book sales could help spur growth in print sales.  Engaging more people in the act of reading only encourages the act of reading, provided that content is widely available in as many formats as possible in as many venues as possible.  The Battle for the Pile of Eyeballs ensures that content is channeled through proprietary systems of delivery and distribution (i.e. through iTunes on the iPad exclusively, through Amazon in Kindle format only) and that’s a dangerous paradigm which grants companies whose primary interest are not books enormous influence over what is available to readers.  There ought to be room for physical books, bookstores, and even independent e-book publishers and online stores.  A lush and diverse media marketplace benefits everyone, and as consumers we ought to be aware of how we consume media, and to what extent we are feeding systems of proprietary control. Book culture should be determined by people who read books, not by device manufacturers, or online retailing conglomerates, or anyone whose primary interest is separate from the interest of readers.


  1. I also using several different forms for reading, including an iPad with Kindle App, physical books, and also my iPhone with Audible app (which is an additional form and media consumption...although not necessarily vying for eyeballs (earholes?) I do not want the publishing industry to suffer because I like the physical book. I am currently reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2 on my iPad, and I am confident that it would be much scarier if I had the novel in my hand. Nevertheless, I think reality must set in for the publishing industry that the times they are a-changin'. They must adapt or I fear they will be crushed by Amazon/Apple.

    I could vent on the laziness of the publishing industry (i.e., more than 80% of books that are printed is schlock), but will not do so.

    I appreciate that you wrote this. Thank you.

    Cedrix E. Clarke

  2. Spoken like an agent. Which goes to my mantra: there are many roads to Oz and Oz means different things to different people. Agents have a different agenda than authors, no matter how much they claim otherwise.

    The product is story, not book. Sorry to disagree, but making my living as an author going into three decades, that's my take. Authors create story. Readers consume story. Those in between must provide value. Lately, many don't.

    While print sales would be nice, the reality is I make a much better living as an author via eBook sales and being indie than I did as a NY Times bestselling author via print sales. There were too many people in between taking a slice. Many added value-- to the book, not necessarily the story.

    What authors really need to wake up and understand is that we are no longer in the distribution war, but in the discoverability war.

    1. Agents do have a different agenda than authors, but there are significant ways in which our interests align. For entrepreneurs such as yourself, the utility of an agent is quite obviously of limited value, it's true.

      I wouldn't call story so much a product as raw material. There's a refinement process, and a packaging process. My argument is that books mostly have stories meant to fit the package (which is not to say there hasn't been plenty of variation within the parameters available). That package, for centuries, has been a bound volume. A book can't be less than a page, it can't be more than a few hundred pages without falling apart or becoming unwieldy. There aren't the same sort of issues with digital text. The choices you make with regard to the e-books you publish don't concern any sort of physical reality (true, the file size can't be too large, but with a text file you could easily transmit a million word document without too much lag time), they concern the way books are perceived and marketed as we understand them now.

      Absent that physical edition there's no constraint on form, besides the ones arbitrarily placed. That was my point. The question was, whether what shaped new media would be based upon the concerns of readers of books (as we understand them) or shaped by conglomerates with control over their customers information.

      I didn't mean to imply that e-books are inherently less valuable than physical books, that depends entirely, as you point out, on the story.

    2. There was another teacher among the commentators who, I think, will agree with me that the responsibility for creating readers largely rests with people like us--instructors. It is our daunting yet stimulating challenge to make students excited about books. Why blame industry or even economy? If books were considered wondrous, as good as any drug, people would buy them. If instructors show passion and excitement, students will be influenced.

  3. Books, and "book culture", existed long before the practice of paginating the text onto slices of ground-up dead tree came into vogue.

    "You have to have intent to find an e-book, you can't just happen up on it."

    I've found many ebooks through mentions online and word of mouth from friends. When my friends talk about a new book, they never mention what format they read it in. It's just not important to them (or me).

    "A book without pages is not a book."

    Scrolls don't have pages and they were the standard book distribution format for 3,000 years before the invention of the codex.

    "Writing a text for the physical book marketplace necessitates that the text fit the criteria for a book as it has been traditionally understood ."

    This is a good thing, in your opinion? The writers who have been able to sell their works of non-traditional length might disagree.

    "The Battle for the Pile of Eyeballs ensures that content is channeled through proprietary systems of delivery and distribution (i.e. through iTunes on the iPad exclusively, through Amazon in Kindle format only)"

    As of today, you can download 42,838 examples of "book culture" from Project Gutenberg without paying Amazon or Apple (or anyone) a dime, all the way back to the earliest example of book culture we have: the Epic of Gilgamesh. The story is just as compelling in Kindle format as it was in cuneiform.

    1. A scroll is not a book. It's a scroll. That's sort of my point. Form matters. The Epic of Gilgamesh, in cuneiform, as understood by an ancient Sumerian, is a different experience than the Epic of Gilgamesh, translated from the cuneiform into English in 1916. The creation of the Epic of Gilgamesh was probably not undertaken by a single individual, and it was probably a version of an oral story that had plenty of variation depending on the storyteller. The person who bankrolled that version of Gilgamesh on the stone tablets, probably had their own reasons and their own version.

      A book without pages, is indeed, not a book. I'm not saying it's invalid as a form of art, merely that it's not a book, in the same way a stone tablet is also not a book.

      I'm also not making a value judgement about traditional books as compared to non-traditional books, just saying that there are limitations on the physical world that don't exist in the digital world.

  4. Though I think you have aired some good concerns about the rise and fall of paper books, I disagree with several points you've made.

    First, a book is not defined by its format. Though dictionary definitions often take decades to change, encyclopedias tend to be updated annually. I offer this encyclopedia definition of "book" from Mirriam Webster's Concise Encyclopedia "Written (or printed) message of considerable length, meant for circulation and recorded on any of various materials that are durable and light enough to be easily portable." The encyclopedia entry goes on to reference the following types of materials: papyrus, parchment, codex, paper, and "In the late 1990s, downloadable electronic books became available over the Internet.”

    Second, I don't buy that the rise of ebooks is what has devastated big publishing or bookstores. What has devastated big publishing is hubris. That is the belief that they controlled the market and could therefore stop the rise of ebooks. What devastated bookstores (at least the big ones) was poor management. We all know that borders had severe economic difficulties long before ebooks started to take off. The B&N crisis is one of internal management disagreements, and thus not being able to efficiently move forward with a response to changing consumer behavior.

    A good example of businesses that have learned to adapt are smaller bookstores. In my area, my local independent bookstores three years ago saw the changing consumer buying habits and jumped on the Google Books partnerships. Though that didn't work out as they'd hoped, they saw the writing on the wall and investigated Kobo partnerships. Recently, in speaking with a local bookstore owner after my book signing, she indicated that her Kobo sales have doubled each month since January. She is now at the break even point for the investment in the technology to provide Kobo books. She anticipates making a profit in subsequent months. This is the sign of sound adaptation to change.

    Finally, I have to actually agree with a point you made. The argument that ebook distributors such as Amazon, Apple, Google don’t care about books is absolutely true. But it is also true of big publishing, which is owned by big corporations that have many other, more lucrative interests than book production (movies, music, TV, radio, Internet companies, and other media). All of these other interests make significantly more money than their book publishing interests. I would no more trust big publishing to have a great interest in the success of my book than I would trust Amazon. There are only three people I can be sure have an interest in the success of my book: my readers, my small local booksellers, and most of all me.

    Change is inevitable. Trying to stop it is wasted energy. Finding a way to make the change work for me as an individual and for businesses is the way to not only survive, but to thrive. Ignorance is not bliss.

    1. To your first point. Mirriam Webster doesn't have absolute authority on matters of opinion. An e-book, in my mind, is not merely a separate edition or format, it's an adaptation into another medium. We treat e-books as if they are another edition, because that's the way we prefer them to behave. Your ereader behaves like a book, but it is not, obviously, a book. Your ebook behaves like a book, but that doesn't make it a book either. I can behave like a duck, but it doesn't make me a duck.

      To your second: I don't believe I made the claim that the rise of e-books alone is what is imperiling publishers and booksellers. Global recession is hurting retailers of all sorts, and bookstores were vulnerable long before Amazon introduced the Kindle. However, as vulnerable as bookstores are, they are also fairly resilient, provided competition is fair. It's a low margin business, and getting undercut on prices by a conglomerate who is using your main product as a loss leader to sell televisions and hair dryers does cut into those margins. For some it may be the straw that breaks the camel's back. People still prefer to buy books, but if a significant enough portion of them walk away from bookstores entirely, the chains can tumble like dominoes, and the publishers can follow. The sad thing about that is it will leave a lot of people in the lurch (like the folks who had all their indie bookstores run out of town by Borders, only to watch the sole Borders in their town shutter).

      If the ground is shifting, I would prefer the transition to be smooth, rather than have the rug yanked out. All that takes is for consumers to be mindful. Sure, use your Kindle, your Nook, your iPad, but also buy a book from an indie, or a chain every now and again (studies by the AAP show that this is what a majority of readers do anyway).

      Also, it's true that some of the larger publishers are owned by a parent company, but they were institutions dedicated to books long before they got gobbled up by a larger media concern, and the each have an institutional memory and an institutional dedication to books exclusively.

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  5. Just read your comprehensible, gregarious post on querying at Advntrs in YA and Chldrn's Pblshng., and am pretty sure you're offering some interesting material here as well, but man this lay-out kills the wish to read on. I'm serious. For a moment I thought the "...Pile of Eyeballs" was a double entendre, and that you would continue after one paragraph with a narrower body of text. Please, please, narrow it all down, not your content, I'm pretty sure you've got that under control. No hard feelings, I hope.

  6. Okay. I had taken a hand in "designing" the website so as to discourage folks from reading. Since so many of you refuse to simply go away, I suppose I may as well give up and make it more comprehensible.

  7. Good piece. Many of my students have never been to a brick and mortar bookstore. The closest one to where I live is an hour away. One of my greatest fears is the demise of physical books and bookstores, but your comparison to books and wheels reassures me for books' future. However, if the technology in Blade Runner comes to fruition, wheels might also be at risk.

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  9. This is a great and thoughtful response to the pile of opinions on the subject.

    For a long time, I agreed with Konrath and the others about the "ebook revolution" and all that...

    But then I really started to look at the industry, and more importantly, the books.

    Yes, I love ebooks. I think they are great for readers and writers.

    However, the culture of ebooks, the one about produce as much as you can and keep going and going and just try to get the attention of everyone and don't spend time communicating ideas or theories or philosophy just keep going and writing and producing....I think loses what books are about for writers, and by connection, hurts readers.

    Your statement about a book being a specific "thing" demonstrates this, in a way. Books are precious things. Books are worlds of ideas and information bound together in an experience unlike most other mediums.

    I think ebooks lack in this area. Not because I think the content is changed (that would be insane and slightly moronic), but because the way the information is given is different.

    When a person is absorbed in a physical book, they are in a world. It becomes something more, somehow. I think publishers get this. Under the sheer money needing/wanting aspect, they get this and produce it very well.

    When a person is absorbed in an ebook, the feeling is different. It is only the world the words create, not a world held together in book form, if that makes any sense at all.

    I think when people cry for the downfall of publishers, they are simply vocalizing their own biases to the industry for one reason or another and it clouds the deeper issues that you have highlighted here.

    Above, Bob states that you are thinking like an agent and implies this is not good for writers. And while this can be argued, I think it misses the point entirely. The debate shouldn’t be what makes the most money or what is best for individuals…It should be about maintaining why books and stories are so powerful and relevant to a global society bent on consumerism, rather than the spread of ideas and metaphor and compassion.

    1. I don't really care if CBS loses market share, or if Berteslmaan's stock goes down, and NewsCorp has to lay off all it's executives. I care about authors, and I care about books, and the people who work for the Big 5.5, and for the mid-sized presses, and the small presses (certainly) care too. They certainly didn't get into publishing for the money. The world needs curators, it needs editors, it needs people who care about art to help champion art they believe people will care about. The world also needs a place to buy a cheaper refrigerator, along with the newest best-seller. There's no reason these things need be mutually exclusive. I've staked my livelihood on championing art I care about, and serving authors I think deserve to be read. My goal at the end of the day isn't to collect a fat commission (though I certainly wouldn't turn one down), it's to see that my clients are given the best counsel, and that their books are treasured by readers.

    2. THAT is exactly what I hear more industry people saying, and less and less indie/entrepreneur authors saying. There is more to books than money. I think the market knows this, but many proponents of murdering/writing off the industry (including small presses) forget.

      There is a lot of appeal to hating the big bad industry and going at it alone, because it tingles the need for rebellion in a lot of people…But as soon as you step back and really see what books are and what stories are and what idea sharing is, you realize that to hate on the industry is to hate on the very thing you are trying to keep alive for your own sake.

      A good way to sum up the argument (maybe, it could be a copout) is to say that the anti-publisher ideology is a fad. It generates buzz for those who need/want it.

      There is room for all kinds of businesses within the publishing community. Anti-this and anti-that is more of a distraction than anything. But hey, people enjoy drama.

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  11. What a fabulous post and discussion. I appreciate every participant's point of view, but I find Evan's stand supported by the empirical evidence I have gleaned as a college writing instructor. The same students who are surfing on their smartphones (allegedly looking up spelling, ahem) in class are given the choice of purchasing physical books or ebooks. The vast majority choose physical, and these are same young people who love using devices. There is something about the physical presence, as Evan states above, that cannot be ignored. I love my ebook reader, but I love it best for being able to download the first chapters of books I am considering, or to take conveniently on a trip instead of, say, books that together become bulky. Unless I see the three to five books I have a habit of reading in tandem at home (one for each mood), I often forget what is in my ebook library, which is very full. Some commentators may say a book is a book in any form, but it really is not--it is the story in that other form, audio, digital or filmed. Show me the author who whips out a Dvd and says, "Want to watch my book?" Books are like any other artistic or spiritual object obtained in life--special not just for the story they tell but the occasion upon which they were obtained and the memories they represent. In that way, they tell another story in a way that an ebook never will. There are some books, like shoes or clothing, that we cannot bear to part with.