Monday, December 20, 2010

iPad, and more on eBooks

I'm somewhat of a geek in terms of coveting new technology. But I'm also fairly conservative when it comes to actually spending money on big ticket items. I bought a Macbook many years after first seriously thinking about it, because I needed to suck all the life possible out of my ancient and virus-ridden Dell desktop, and also I needed to save the money for buying it before actually buying it. (Sounds like common sense, huh? After years of digging out of credit card debt, i had finally learned my lesson.)

I longed for the iPad as soon as its existence was rumored. But as a owner of both of Macbook AND an iPhone, I just couldn't justify the cost. I thought I'd seriously look into it once the 2nd generation was released (rumored to be in early 2011). But when I was given one for work last week (no, not everyone received one--right now one, maybe two people in editorial, marketing, and design have one), I was pretty darn excited. Yes, I'm spoiled.
my new iPad!

I immediately went out and bought two different cases, one to just carry the iPod itself for every day use, and a fancy one from Brookstone with a built-in keyboard. In fact, I drafted this blog post using my iPad and keyboard on the train up to CT to visit Libby, and then back again to NY. It basically looks like a much lighter, smaller laptop:
iPad in the Brookstone keyboard case

It won't replace my laptop by any means, though--the biggest disadvantage is that you can't run Microsoft Word, which is crucial for my job. I'm using the "Pages" application which can read Word docs, and it's adequate for reviewing and writing documents, but I won't be able to use the Track Changes function to edit. Darn. If I had that, I'd be set.

At another editor's recommendation, I'm trying out an app called iAnnotate PDF to edit, but I'll have to save my Word docs as a PDF in order for it to work, and then I'll have to most likely transfer my notes manually back into Word in order to send them to authors. But, it's more streamlined and neat than bringing hard copies of the paper manuscript around with me, or lugging my laptop around. I'll give it a shot and we'll see how it goes.

But overall, it's shiny and new and fun and I love my new toy.

The real reason I have the iPad is not necessarily to edit manuscripts on it, or to read submissions on it, although I will probably end up doing both on occasion. The main reason I was given an iPad is that my company wants to make sure in-house editors, designers, marketing folks, etc are up on the newest technology and are also aware of what is possible with the new technology. This is necessary in order to better know what we can be doing with our own books in terms of the new digital realm. We've also ordered in the new B&N Color Nook that Meghan posted about previously. It's pretty nice, too. We have a few of our books up for sale for both the Color Nook and the iBookstore for the iPad. In both cases, we've been pretty selective and careful both in terms of the quality of the final product, and the comfort level of the authors and illustrators.

In general, it's been pretty interesting to see that the large majority of authors and illustrators and agents we work with are really excited that their book is going to be available in a new format. There are a few agencies and authors and illustrators who are not open to having their books available as eBooks for various reasons (mainly royalty rates and quality of the format), but overall I think everyone (publishers included) are worried about being left behind, and feel that we need to forge ahead in order to test the market. Also, what we've done so far are straight eBooks--no bells or whistles, no movement, no games. So far, at least for picture books, we've tried to remain as faithful as possible to the original paper book reading experience.

Again, as I've said before, I don't think paper books will disappear in my lifetime, especially for children's books, but I can see people using picture book eBooks as a great tool for car trips, traveling, etc. My hope is that if people love a book, they'll buy it in multiple formats! :) One for home, one for the road. But overall, I do think eBooks will continue to grow in market share (right now I believe it's just under 10%)--as more and more people start owning iPads and Kindles and Nooks, this number is bound to increase.

I have to say, I love that a book still looks like a book on the iPad. It has a gutter, and a page turn, even. It's kinda silly and somewhat antiquated that I think that, I suppose--I mean, if I want the gutter and traditional page turn, why not just read a paper book? (which is probably why I still haven't read an eBook!) But because it tries to recreate the traditional book reading experience, I can see getting used to reading books on the iPad more than I can see getting used to reading books on my Sony Reader, which, as I've said before on this blog, I haven't been able to bring myself to do, mainly because it just doesn't seem like a book. On the iPad, you never forget that it's still a book:

Perhaps the iPad will be my gateway eBook reader. Perhaps it will get me addicted to eBooks. Perhaps not--the backlit screen might hurt my eyes. Anyway, I'll keep you posted.

I'm curious:
1) do you think print books will eventually disappear? If so, in how many years? If not, what percentage of market share will eBooks settle in as compared to print books?
2) What percentage of book sales will be eBook sales be in five years?

My answers:
1) No, print books will not disappear--at least not for a very long time. I think the market may eventually settle into a 80% eBooks to 20% print books in about 50 or so years. (this is a COMPLETE guess, mind you.)
2) In five years, my guess is 25%. But for children's books, I think it will be lower. Maybe 15%.

The eBook market is still a bit like the Wild West right now, but I've been trying to absorb all I can. I'm happy to try to answer any questions you all may have!

Also, check out this opinion piece about Dr. Seuss and children's eBooks in the Wall Street Journal:

Something is always lost as technology advances, and this will be true of the decline of print. But since technology can't be stopped, we should make the most of it. Or, as Dr. Seuss urged in his final book, "Oh, the Places You'll Go": "Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So . . . get on your way!"


Libby Koponen said...

Maybe novels and books that are mainly text will be FIRST published as ebooks, and then the ones that do well, or have staying power, will be printed.....sort of the way books come out in hardback and then go into paperback.

For picture books, and coffee table books, and others that come in such different dimensions are mainly visual, I'm not sure....

I really hope printed books don't disappear the way records and newspapers have, even though the ipad is as you say shiney and new and fun. I love being able to see the pages turn.

There IS something great about books-- I remember a designer at RISD once saying that the design of the chair as we know it has been perfected over hundreds and hundreds of years. I think it's kind of the same with books: paper and typefaces and inks have all been gradually improved. Plus I just love them!

But, as I said in my post, what matters is that people keep wanting stories.

Thanks for this post.

Sheila said...

Thanks for such interesting and varied posts!

I am not into technology at all. I avoided learning how to change channels with a remote because I wasn't even sure which one to use. Why do we have seven remotes anyhow?

But I am married to a computer geek (a retired librarian) who has so many electronic reading devices and is so enthusiastic that I've actually begun to read on a Kindle. It's truly amazing to order a book while sitting in your chair and have that book ready for reading in a few minutes.

With the new B&N color nook, I think the picture book world is going to be changing drastically. Illustrators will be excited to be free of the constraints of format (32 pages, gutters, etc.), and young readers who used to need a flashlight under the covers will appreciate the advantage of a back lit screen. Will picture books continue to be published on paper? I'd guess probably but mostly as print-on-demand.

I think in just a few years, as these e-readers become cheap, kids will trot off to school without books, pencils, notebooks -- with just a small, electronic device in their backpacks. Remember when only a few people had cell phones?

Amanda Hosch said...

I love the idea of having 20+ (or 200 or 1,000!) books waiting for me on an e-reader while I travel instead of the 3 or 4 paperbacks I usually cram into my carry-on. But there is no way I will hand over any e-reader to my two-year-old. You should see what she did to her first copy of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" (hint: there are teethmarks on the food page!).

Also, for picture books, how will publishers compensate for the tactile allure of books like "Pat the Bunny"?
Or the joy of open-the-flaps books?
Dragging one's finger across the screen doesn't seem the same for me.

(I am the reader who buys multiple copies of favorite books: one for home, one for travel, more to give to friends, etc.)

I'm not sure what percentage eBooks will be of the total market in the future, but I think it will be over 50% in ten years.

Totally unscientifically, I base this on my ten-year-old's pleas for an iPad. She and her friends are comfortable reading on-line. I can just imagine how much an enhanced eBook for something like "The Mysterious Benedict Society" would appeal to her with added puzzles and brain-teasers.

nerinedorman said...

I used to help at a big book retailer's sales in South Africa and it broke my heart when paperbacks had their covers torn off so that the store could get a refund for books that didn't sell.

These were books, I felt, that could have been donated to libaries or schools.

I embrace the change toward electronic publishing and a "print as you need" ethos, that won't result in warehouses full of books that are destined for pulping.

I will always try to own a hard copy of my favourite authors but prefer ebooks because they are so easy to store and read.

I am so totally lost without my netbook. I read, write and edit on it.

Elisa said...

I've had a love/hate relationship with e-books for the last few years, but I finally gave in and bought myself a NOOKcolor. I LOVE IT! It doesn't have the animated page turn, but why do we need to pretend it is a book? It isn't a book. It is, however, a pretty decent reading experience.

Downloading a book from the store or from the public library is super easy, and it is so light compared to all of the heavy books I usually haul around with me. I was surprised at how fantastic the images are on picture books like the Polar Express. I'm not a fan of the extra animations, but I know children love them.

I think that school-aged children are embracing this technology and a digital book seems like a no-brainer for chapter books. Picture books "work" on them, but I still think there is something magical about sitting with an excellently illustrated picture book in your lap.

I have noticed that there are almost no comics available in e-reader format. I think that in the future, many of the books that are known for their art will still be available as art, but at a higher cost. If we pay a lot of money for a print of someone's painting, why don't we pay more money for picture books? $18 is a lot for now, but I could see the price even going up for the actual object.

The big thing that scares me about all of this is that I know that as more books go into digital format, I will have less choices for what to buy in print. If I want to spend more money on a nice version of a beautiful book, I want that opportunity. Publishers are also going to be more important, because readers will need to trust somebody to sort through all of the garbage and select books that are of higher quality than what Jane Doe decides to self-publish.

Bianca Schulze said...

Are you still loving it? I'm considering ...

alvinaling said...

I am still loving it! Although I've been using it to play games more than read or edit...I'm currently reading a book on it, though, and liking it. Plus, I've downloaded all of these free classic books that I'm excited to have.