Thursday, April 15, 2010

Minor Annoyance

Both Lauren and I love books. But we both realize that with a small house, having a multi-shelf whole-wall library just isn't in the cards for us. With both of us being techies and owning iPhones, we both decided to go with e-books and e-reader apps as a way to keep our reading habits fed.

That's worked great until the last few months, when the recent dispute between Amazon and the publishers over book pricing has now been fanned by Apple's foray into e-books with the iPad. It apparently comes down to the publishers wanting more control over e-book pricing (the agency vs. wholesale model dispute mentioned in the story below):

As a result, while prices and contracts are being renegotiated with suppliers, the e-bookstore I have used, Fictionwise, has suddenly found itself emptied of a lot of its mainstream titles, including a couple I've kept my eye on for a few months.

Needless to say, the whole thing has me rethinking the convenience of e-books, especially DRM-protected e-books. Part of the reason I buy e-books is so that I don't have to travel 40 miles round-trip to the nearest chain bookstore to pick up a book which might not be in stock yet. (I don't mind being in a bookstore for a long period of time. Lauren, by the way, fails to see the appeal.)

I also like the convenience; I can load 10+ titles on my phone and swap them out as necessary. If I find myself somewhere that I have a few minutes to kill (the doctor's office, for example), I just pull out the phone and choose from one. It also helps that the e-book app supports larger font sizes for easier reading, which really comes in handy with advancing age. Try doing that with a regular-print book.

I also like the appeal of not having to pay higher prices for hardbound books (which take up the aforementioned house space), and not having to wait for a year to get the book in trade paperback.

In short, it's a lot of convenience at a reduced price.

E-books aren't perfect; to be honest, I've seen quite a few cases where the conversion had left a couple of obvious typos or formatting problems introduced by the process. But those had been the only minor annoyances, which I live with for the sake of the above conveniences.

But there are larger questions.

Let's say that my e-book supplier (who was one of two online e-Book suppliers bought out by Barnes and Noble before Christmas), is subsumed completely into B&N. Can I continue to use the existing e-books that I've purchased? Will B&N provide a substitute way for me to continue to purchase e-books through their website?

On one hand, I can understand the publishers' argument. They want to maximize the earnings for the authors who publish for them at price points the publishers can live with. But by forcing the argument through the pricing dispute between Amazon first and now with the discussion of "enhanced" e-books provided through the Apple iPad, at higher prices, I think the publishers have lost sight of something: those of us who read the books they published have been mightily inconvenienced. And it's annoying.