What about Ebooks?

On Twitter, someone asked “what do indies think about ebooks?” I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I’ve been thinking about it. My sense is many indies are a little terrified, but feel unable to say or do anything as the means of distribution is out of our hands. People are afraid of being bypassed, so are trying to ignore them. While I feel the fear, I’m also kind of intrigued and excited about the ease and speed of access they afford (and the anecdotal  suggestion that you can read faster on an ereader than a traditionally formatted book) even though I prefer a physical copy for myself. However, I don’t yet know how to make them work for the traditional indie bookstore.

I think there are two distinct groups of readers as far as regards ebooks (forgive the gross generalizations), and I find it helpful to look at the technology from both points of view.

A lot of us grew up to revere print. A lot of this category don’t ‘get’ blogs, regard the web as one-way communication and don’t pay for ebooks. If they’re computer savvy, they may dip into the odd ebook (but an online excerpt will likely satisfy them), but only until they decide to finish the story and go buy the pbook to read.

On the other hand, those who ‘came of age’ post-print (i.e. after the time that print was the only option), write blogs, regard the Internet as conversation and buy ebooks. Some will buy a pbook for ‘the archive’ if they really enjoyed the story. That would be a nice trend if it continued. But, maybe those folks are on the cusp between two generations, and pbooks will eventually lose appeal as more people grow familiar with ebooks?

This is where the opportunity lies for booksellers:
Opportunity A: Low-price ebooks as marketing for pbooks.
Opportunity B: Use ebooks to bring readers to authors (publishers and authors need to commit to a mid/long-term relationship — my sense is that this isn’t the norm in publishing now, where I see authors switch houses a lot) — because the marketing needs to sell the author as much as the book of the moment). Emphasize the body of work: encourage multiple sales, use the “stamp of quality” to encourage purchase of physical copies.


The print-worshipers currently buy more books and run most bookstores. Do not alienate current book buyers (on either side of the cash wrap).
The post-print generation, however, will determine if anyone buys pbooks in the near future. Do not lose these to other entertainment sources or digital delivery.

We need to involve the post-print generation in bookstore culture, or else they’ll eventually bypass the stores completely. This is not simply a problem for the stores, as without book(store) culture, the most meaningful point of differentiation is price, and nobody wins when it’s a race to the bottom.

[Over at Vromans Bookstore blog Patrick has a good meditation on both the ebook reading experience — he read Cory Doctorow’s Content, BTW, a book I found fascinating — and how ebooks are changing the book market.]

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  1. Patrick’s avatar


    Great post. Excellent ideas. One thing I’ve noticed in LA is that the people I see with Kindles, the people at our events asking about ebooks, are the print generation you’re talking about. 55+ people seem to be the early adopters on the ebook front, not the tech savvy youngsters. We’re a store with a huge base of 55+ customers, so I think it’s imperative that we figure out the ebook thing soon. It’s been my top priority for 2009.

    I think branding is important with regards to ebooks. Bookstores need to get into the mindset of providing opinions, guidance, and content. As we get greater and greater access to more and more texts, how do we know what to read? We can be the people to provide that info. Now how to monetize that, I’m not sure. Love to hear your thoughts on it.

    1. Rich’s avatar

      The “curatorial” aspect is interesting to me. I think many indies have been allowing our relatively small spaces to function as the de-facto filter for our customers. We can’t carry everything, so we allow our space to say ‘here are the books we consider worthy.’ The typical feedback many of us hear, “I always find such interesting books here…,” tells us that we’re succeeding in that regard. The problem is as customers become harder to bring into our stores we have to take our taste-making outside the walls, and that’s where many are on unfamiliar ground. As you say, the question is “How to monetize?” To paraphrase something @literaticat said during the Winter Institute, isn’t bringing customers in the door, or back again, the measure of success?

    2. Kash’s avatar

      This is a topic that I’m grappling with as a bookseller every day. How much will ebooks erode our business? Is there an upside?

      I think there will be a gradual erosion and at different points stores will decide that too much of their business is gone to continue. I don’t share your optimism about the marketing potential of ebooks to sell physical books. If people are on the computer, many will stay on an electronic device. They’ll get more and more comfortable reading that way.

      The question for me is how can bookstores survive as an ever bigger chunk of the reading public bypasses us? We must cater to the customers who crave the physical book, to the customers who don’t want to pay for an ereader and we must find new ways to get the post-print customers to spend money in our stores. How we do that is the difficult part.

    3. jeff’s avatar

      I’m still meeting the occasional young person (in the 15-25 age bracket) who loves literature and has a fondness for print books. Now, I wonder, maybe that always has been a small audience?

      Genre fiction and much non-fiction seems rapidly heading towards the e-book only fate. But maybe the books that remain in print will be a higher quality selection.

      As for independent booksellers & book(store) culture, I would love to see more of these figures take on the mantle of reviewing and recommending good reads, similar to how you’re doing with this blog which I’ve only recently come across. I gladly would order through this type of site rather than jumping over to Amazon.

    4. Pablo Defendini’s avatar

      Spot-on, dude. In the e-ecosystem, I see the indie bookseller as the ultimate social networking gadfly—hand-selling books to prospective buyers based on an intimate knowledge of the author and of the buyer, but online instead of in a brick and mortar store (hell, I’ve *seen* you do this on Twitter!).

      The value that an educated, involved, and savvy bookseller lends to the prospective buyer’s process of selecting, acquiring, and—most importantly—following up on authors that they enjoy is not going away anytime soon. As a matter of fact, as the digital floodgates open wide, and people are inundated with way more choices than they could possibly wade through, the bookseller-as-curator/advocate role becomes even more important, especially when the buyer is faced with competing marketing messages from different publishers. A marketer for Macmillan, for example, has a vested interest in selling a customer a copy of a Robert Jordan book—so in the customer’s eyes their message may be highly suspect; an independent bookseller is an independent broker: he gets the same reward out of a sale of a Jordan than the sale of, say, an R.A. Salvatore. The differentiating factor is the curatorial aspect, and the genuine suitability of a book or author to a reader’s taste.

      The missing piece here is how the indie bookseller makes his or her money from these social transactions. I have some definite ideas, but I’ll be keeping those to myself for the time being.

    5. trav’s avatar

      I like the way you’ve opened the discussion here. I’m curious about Opportunity A. How would digital offerings be moved into the store so pbook browsers would be exposed? Or are you thinking of just keeping Opportunity A as an online initiative only?

      1. Rich’s avatar


        Yes, I was really just thinking of low-priced ebooks as a “try online before you buy physically” kind of thing. Right now, it’s something that publishers offer (free ebooks) as an introduction to authors. Bookstores could simply link to these offers through their blogs as a service to their customers, but we tend to shy away and “protect our turf.”

        Going forward, if there was some way for bookstores to get a percentage for brokering the introduction of the ebook to the reader, I would imagine bookstores would be interested in adding whatever functionality necessary to our website or enabling a “download station” instore.

        I don’t know how to effectively move digital offerings instore, yet. There’s a company offering a card that you can buy at the store which you could then use to download the book to your reader — along the lines of a gift card. (I’ve forgotten the name of the company.) I’m not wild about that idea as bookstores are pushed for space as it is, but it seems like a step in the right direction.

        Another possibility is having a code that prints on your receipt when you buy the physical book which would allow you to download an inexpensive e-version as an add on sale.

        I don’t think anyone’s come up with the killer idea for combining the physical & digital worlds. All suggestions are welcome.

      2. Kassia Krozser’s avatar

        Good thoughts, Rich. I’ve been struggling with the “how” question for some time (Ann Kingman lodged it in my head, and I’ve been pondering ever since). I do think you might be a little off on the demographics — my own research (admittedly non-scientific) suggests that the heavy adopters are in the 30 – 50 range. They buy and read a lot, both print and electronic. For them, convenience and portability are key factors.

        I am puzzling over a way to make sure the electronic customer leaves the physical bookstore after making a purchase. I think booksellers will continue to serve a greater role in guiding readers toward the right books (also librarians are going to rock in the next generation), so it’s a matter of finding a way to fulfill the purchase (electronic, print-on-demand, even if it has to be printed offsite and mailed), or even rare book through another vendor) while you have the customer right there.

        1. Rich’s avatar

          Hi Kazzia,

          You’re right on with convenience (which I’ll translate as immediacy of gratification) being of primal import. I think portability is important for some, but isn’t it probably more a side effect of the use of ereaders rather than a reason for it for the majority?

          I think I need to clarify my distinction between print-worshipers & post-print. It’s not simply an age thing. It’s a sensibility. Many middle-aged people have read on computers long enough that ereaders aren’t a major step for them. I definitely need a better phrase than coming of age. Basically, some people are wedded to print books & rhapsodize about the feel, smell, etc. (they revere printed matter). Others are format agnostic & the content is key, the delivery device secondary (they’re past the fixation on printed matter).

          I’ll echo everyone comments (here & on twitter) that early adoption skews to the 45-55 age bracket.
          1. Ereaders are expensive.
          2. That’s the age group that spends the most on physical books (and has the most disposable income, period) so why wouldn’t they be the group that spends the most on ebooks also?

        2. Ann Kingman’s avatar

          I’ve got a bunch of disjointed thoughts that may not make sense in the morning, but if you dont mind half-baked ideas, I’ll share them here for you to heckle later 😉

          Much of this presuppose that there is a competitive device to the Kindle that includes wireless downloading of ebooks.

          – Subscription model. Indie bookstores are doing it now with First Editions Clubs, but the value is not in the book, but in the curation that the bookstores are doing for the customers. Subscribe to a club that will get you a “booksellers pick” monthly, maybe with a free book in month 13. Downside: unlike physical books, ebooks can’t be passed on to someone else, so there is increased risk in paying for something that you are not sure you will like.

          – What if we took the cell-phone company or audible.com approach, bundling a reader at a subsidized price (wholesale + a tiny bit) with the agreement to buy 12 or 15 books in the next year?

          – Advertising model – customer signs up in store or on store’s website to receive x number of book samples/excerpts in exchange for cheaper e-reading device. If they buy the full book, originating store gets the sale credit. This could be on a publisher level, or in a co-op type arrangement.

          Just a few ideas. None of them is going to change the world or save the bookstores, but do with these as you wish.

          1. Rich’s avatar

            “Much of this presuppose that there is a competitive device to the Kindle”

            Last time I saw stats, I think the iPhone outsells the Kindle 4-1. Also, the Sony eReader sounds comparable to Kindle, and had sold about the same # of units. Maybe ratios have changed?

          2. Ann Kingman’s avatar

            I think I did see that Sony Reader numbers were comparable to what was surmised about Kindle sales, but that was before the intro of Kindle 2. Also, Sony as it exists now does not have wireless downloading capability — you have to put the file on your computer and connect the reader to the computer via USB. What this does is limit the impulse buys, which is, I think, much of what has driven Kindle e-book sales. Hear about a book you like? Have it in less than 60 seconds. Who can resist? If you have to go home and download and connect, no thanks.

          3. Rich’s avatar

            Let’s talk devices for a minute. We’ve got the iPhone leading the way in terms of adoption, but indie booksellers are effectively cut out of the loop selling content for it because everything has to go through iTunes, right?

            The Kindle, as I understand it, allows you to view ebooks you format yourself. Can you purchase ebooks from any other source than Amazon?

            I believe the Sony Reader can view one of the formats indies can sell through the ABA ecommerce solution (just Microsoft ereader).

            That doesn’t leave us with much real estate to try for a piece of, does for?

            Is there an Adobe Digital Editions version for the iPhone yet? I find that a good user interface on my PC, but having the books on your mobile device seems to be the key to making sales.

          4. Ann Kingman’s avatar

            Others will know more than me about most of these questions, but books purchased for the iPhone do not have to go through iTunes. I use the Stanza reader on my phone and can read .doc and .pdf files. Stanza does require that you connect the iphone to the computer. I don’t know what other formats Stanza supports, but I will investigate.

            I think the SonyReader format that is available through the Booksense.com sites is Adobe Digital Editions. I wanted to buy one to try it out. Trouble is, the search engine for the sites is not good, and I couldn’t figure out a way to narrow the search to less than 27,000 results when I did an advanced search for Adobe Reader and Fiction/Literature. The results don’t seem to come up in any order. And every book I really want to read isn’t available in that format. So I keep giving up on purchasing one.

          5. Rich’s avatar

            Thanks, Ann.

            I had no idea that I could install a Stanza reader on a PC. Didn’t think Apple played with PCs outside the Hodgeman ads.

            So I’m going through the free ebooks (.pdfs) on my PC and copying them to the phone through Stanza. It works, although there’s a quality issue, as formatting seems to be lost when Stanza converts the .pdfs to eReader (or maybe I haven’t configured it correctly). So the reading experience isn’t as polished as the professional productions of Doctorow’s Content or some of free novels Stanza offer.

            I realize some of my questions are elementary, but this is really helpful because I’m trying to learn how much of my trepidation about ebooks is due to my ignorance of the ‘how to’ and how much is legitimate due to functionality or services indies are unable to offer (at this point).

            FYI, I tried to open an Adobe Digital Edition file of a book I bought through the ABA ecommerce solution (Seth Godin’s The Dip) and it can’t be opened in Stanza without a password. So I guess that’s an example of DRM biting the hand that paid for it…

          6. Patrick’s avatar


            I think, in the end, that we have to get away from thinking about “walls” of any kind. That’s where most of us are getting tripped up. Symtio, the company that makes gift cards for ebooks, might be a good first step for stores, but we’re still in the mindset of “They’ll come in the store and get a physical object and then…” I think this is old-mode thinking. How can getting a gift card compete with the instantaneous download that a Kindle provides? Gift cards might make good gifts around the holidays, but the rest of the year, I just don’t think they’re going to make back the ground lost (I’m basing this off of our sales of current Vroman’s GCs, which plummet after the holidays).

            We need a system where people can download, straight to their device, ebooks with our imprimatur or signature – maybe a bundle of ebooks about a specific topic with an essay by a bookseller, or a subscription service where a selection of ebooks goes straight to your device on the first of every month.

            In any event, I think the physical store is going to be less and less important in this world. I live less than 2 miles from what many people consider the best record (or CD) store in the country, Amoeba, and I almost never go there. I just really don’t want the physical CDs and that’s what they sell.

          7. Jessica’s avatar

            I’ve been following this conversation on your blog and Twitter — something I never thought I’d do, but I’m learning so much! — and I have to weigh in with one last thought re: platform. It seems that Amazon is trying to make Kindle the iPod of ebooks. And it seems the media coverage thinks that it already is: see the NY Times ecstatic coverage of Kindle 2. But if what folks are suggesting is correct, there are a lot more Sony Reader and iPhones out there than Kindles. And, at least potentially, INDIE BOOKSTORES CAN SELL BOOKS FOR THOSE PLATFORMS.

            So it seems like part of our task in staying in the ebook game is making the options for reading ebooks clear. Amazon doesn’t have a monopoly on ebooks — just on the Kindle. And our curatorial powers can be used on other kinds of ebook readers with great effect. Any ideas for pushing that idea?

          8. Patrick’s avatar


            You’re right that there are other options out there. I’m reading a book on my iPhone and I love it. The big advantage that Amazon has over Sony and even Apple is that people already think of Amazon when they think of books. I don’t have numbers on it, but I’m guessing Kindle owners were Amazon customers before they purchased a Kindle. Meaning that they were already familiar with the Amazon interface, they already understood how to navigate the Amazon site, knew which books Amazon would recommend and whether they should trust that recommendation. Most people I know buy their music from the iTunes store. Why? I’ve already detailed in my post why a site like Lala is better. The answer is that they are used to that interface, they trust it (an important factor in online shopping).

            All of that familiarity is going to be very difficult to overcome. Maybe we could launch a “read a book on your iPhone” week or something like that. Of course, everybody who has been part of the ABA’s Drupal migration doesn’t even sell ebooks anymore, so I’m not sure how we can, with a straight face, ask our customers to get into ebooks on their phones when we’re not going to provide them.

          9. Rich’s avatar

            “everybody who has been part of the ABA’s Drupal migration doesn’t even sell ebooks anymore”

            What? I didn’t know that. So what’s the ABA’s plan to reintroduce ebook sales? (or is there one?) Anyone from ABA following?

            I was looking at Overdrive today, and they seem like they’d be a good partner if you wanted them to run your ecommerce site, but I couldn’t see anything about being able to set up as an affiliate so we could get a cut on ebook sales they fulfill.

            Overdrive: http://www.overdrive.com/products/contentreserveretail.asp

            That’s troubling. I’d just begun to get a handle on how the ecommerce solution ebook sales worked.

          10. Patrick’s avatar


            Yes, part of the Drupal migration (at this point at least) means losing the capacity to sell ebooks. It says something about the indie bookselling community’s position on ebooks that this was considered acceptable (We decided it was worth it to move forward, for instance). Prior to the migration, we actually did an okay number of ebook sales, but I did notice that some of our best customers for ebooks were starting to ask why they couldn’t read our ebooks on their Kindle.

            I’ve made it known that I think ebooks should be the ABA’s #1 priority, and I think it is. But if we’re still in that mindset of selling them through the physical store, I think we’re on the wrong path.

          11. Patrick’s avatar

            And yeah, from what I can tell, Overdrive wouldn’t really work as an adjunct to the drupal e-commerce site. Too bad, as I’d be willing to do just about anything at this point that would get us back up and running with ebooks.

          12. Rich’s avatar

            Yeah, I think it’s fair to say dropping ebook functionality accurately reflects the general consensus about its usefulness in the mid part of 2008. I think there’s a growing awareness of the need and interest in being able to offer a practical means to sell ebooks to our customers at this early part of 2009, but I suspect it’s still a minority report in relation to the general ABA membership.

            Still, maybe that’s a good thing, because as booksellers thrash out the question of how we might meaningfully integrate ebook sales into the life of indie bookstores without hastening our own demise at least we won’t be saddled with a legacy system that might hinder future developments.

            So I guess we’re in the visioning stage of the process for eventual ebook sales.

          13. Patrick’s avatar

            That’s a great point about legacy systems. I look at the old Booksense ecommerce sites, which were rushed into being in response to the first era of ecommerce, and how long it’s taken to shake free of those. Maybe we should be patient and get it exactly right this time.

          14. Rich’s avatar

            Interesting discussions about ebooks going in unique directions over at Bluefire blog & Harper Studio. Both make me think ebooks could quickly morph into a true separate format, and not simply cannibalize sales from the current formats.

            Bluefire: http://blog.bluefire.tv/?p=59

            Harper Studio: http://theharperstudio.com/2009/02/are-we-having-the-wrong-conversation-about-ebook-pricing/

          15. Gina Marie Glenn’s avatar

            Great blog, Rich! Sorry I’m not really commenting on content at the moment. You’ll have to forgive me-too much red wine in my system to write anything intelligent. I will report back posthaste.

          16. Susan’s avatar

            Great post Rich. Some questions it brought to mind are:
            Are many readers choosing to use a laptop or netbook/mini laptop?
            Must it be a dedicated e reading device? (kindle, Sony, etc.)
            Is anyone polling ebook readers to learn what they want? Would the ABA do this?

            Love Ann’s ideas. Wishing we could have a big, couple hour brainstorm session. An author I once worked with said it takes roughly 650 ideas to come up with a viable one.

            I agree that having a curated forum by an indie bookseller would be a great service for readers and wonder what would people pay for this service? This sort of reminds me of the Doubleday Book Club, except it’s via bookstores and in eformat.

            Ebook readers will want wireless, instant download, from where ever they are (a la Kindle’s whispernet). Wonder if a vendor could offer that with sales going to the bookstore that the reader has selected as their “home store”.

            There’s been an effort among some publishers to move towards a universal format for e-books–.epub. If that does happen, ideally it be readable on any device (kindle, sony, iPhone, laptop, etc.) and that would solve one problem. This makes economic sense for publishers–only one format to work with in converting books, but I’m not convinced that all devices will get on board. Or more to the point, how to get all the device makers to get on board so their device can read epub. [BTW, we (U of Minnesota Press) have converted everything going back to our founding into pdf. It’d be really, really nice if that became the default format. 😉 ]

          17. Michael Cader’s avatar

            Great discussion. And since you’ve asked for ideas, let me throw in some additional creative heresy.

            More wireless devices are on the way. Hearst just announced one; Plastic Logic’s reader is beautiful and they’re working with Fictionwise and LibreDigital; Sony is adding wireless; and as production ramps up there will be many e-reading options. Different value propositions will come with different readers (Hearst is leaning towards Ann’s earlier suggestion: selling the units to content providers, like newspapers, and letting them sell/provide the units on different subscription/bundle plans.)

            Laying the groundwork for affiliate relationships and keeping pressure/incentives on for widespread adoption of epub are important, but they aren’t short-term solutions to the problems raised here. And effective selling of electronic goods is going to involve a successful web site and online value proposition where, as implied above, organizationally (via the ABA) and individually at the store level, many individual stores have not been successful with physical books.

            But you also need to work in the world that your customers live in. Most traditional booksellers have spent a decade not acknowledging the place Amazon has in everyone’s lives. You have to confront it, and deal with it creatively to win. (What’s with “special orders”? Why can’t you have Ingram ship the book right to my house, the same way they do for Amazon….?)

            I think there are lots of opportunities–and a lot more will arise. But the opportunities right now aren’t the ones that most traditional booksellers see, or define as their primary business. Booksellers need to be able to compete on service and value; and, like all who prosper, they need to identify customer problems in this new age that they can solve better than other people can. (Curation/recommendation of books isn’t nearly enough.)

            Some things to consider:

            * You should have a Kindle, a Sony Reader, an iPod Touch, and a computer in your store for customers to sample and play with. You should be the community reading, writing and publishing expert. You should be able to explain the pluses and minuses of all the available options so that your customers see you as their electronic reading expert. There will be more devices coming for you to explain, and some day sell. Trust and guidance here will be an important asset.

            * In the meantime, you actually can affiliate with Amazon. If your customers are going to buy Kindles, why shouldn’t you get the $35 commission.

            But also show them (in store, and on your site) all the *free* books they can get for Kindle–or the iPod, etc. Curate those for them. Show them which classics you still want to read (or have your kid read) in the best translation, or the paid edition with the right scholarly notes and annotations. There’s a lot of guidance and education to offer here.

            And follow aggressively all the publisher free giveaway book promotions. Make sure you offer those free books from your site. And aggressively promote the paid books that go along with those free book promotions.

            * Part of the bait and switch appeal of Kindle is that you get new books for $9.99. It works just as well as “free” shipping for $79/year and “all books” 40 percent off. Customers love these simple value offers, even when they turn out not to be true!

            So what if you let your customers, say, pay you a $200 member fee, and buy any new book priced $30 or less for $12.99. Or whatever–run the numbers and you can make it work, and hold on to customers instead of losing them.

            * But also, promote the heck out of good books that aren’t on Kindle. Nothing makes a Kindle owner angrier than wanting a book that isn’t available. There are about 10 NYT bestsellers a week (and many others, of course) that you can’t get on the Kindle. Leverage that.

            * Electronically, look at, and promote, the less obvious not-on-Kindle offers. O’Reilly deals with e-books their own way, for example. Again, be the expert for your customers.

            * Look at other areas where personal service, presence and expertise makes a difference. I’ve written in the past about how booksellers should seize on the multitude of print-on-demand options to be the “local storefront” on self-publishing. Help your customers publish their own books; build opportunities for other local businesses in print; broker agreements to distribute your customers self-published books to other indie stores; hold events around these new local authors, and do it for kids and schools, too. You’ll bring people in to your stores; you’ll do something no company from a distance can do; you’ll get gratitude from your customers, and you’ll be able to upsell the product at significant margins.

            * In the same vein, look at the better local alternative to anything someone big is trying to do in your space from far away. Simple case in point, back to Amazon’s “free shipping” for $79. Why doesn’t my local bookstore labor share a little with the Chinese restaurant or similar vendor in town to deliver books to my house with just a telephone call? My 11-year-old just asked for the new Wimpy Kid book, but the store’s about to close and I don’t want to drive to town right now. Two clicks and Amazon will have it here on Tuesday, which is fine. But he’d be happier if I could pick up the phone, get it in town, and know it would be here tonight, or tomorrow….

          18. Patrick’s avatar

            @Michael Cader

            “* You should have a Kindle, a Sony Reader, an iPod Touch, and a computer in your store for customers to sample and play with. You should be the community reading, writing and publishing expert. You should be able to explain the pluses and minuses of all the available options so that your customers see you as their electronic reading expert. There will be more devices coming for you to explain, and some day sell. Trust and guidance here will be an important asset.

            * In the meantime, you actually can affiliate with Amazon. If your customers are going to buy Kindles, why shouldn’t you get the $35 commission.

            But also show them (in store, and on your site) all the *free* books they can get for Kindle–or the iPod, etc. Curate those for them. Show them which classics you still want to read (or have your kid read) in the best translation, or the paid edition with the right scholarly notes and annotations. There’s a lot of guidance and education to offer here.”

            I’ve suggested these at our store in the past. We’re still weighing the alternatives here. Thanks for giving me some more ammo to bring to management. Great ideas throughout that comment.

          19. Rich’s avatar

            Regarding the in-store demo Kindle, iPhone, etc., which is a fascinating idea, AMZN, Lexcycle & Sony should be training booksellers how to use them. Maybe @ BEA?

          20. susan’s avatar

            affiliate with Amazon for the Kindle?? I didn’t think ‘we’ indies could sell the kindle?? I was just thinking that ebooks might be similiar to what photo shops did when digital cameras became the ‘norm’ – as I was digging through pics and seeing that they were all about 5yrs old – the photoshops started offering great deals and packages for printing/pkging your digital photos – just some random thoughts – I want to get onboard with whatever we need to do to accomodate the ebook customer – I don’t want to miss out-

          21. Tammy’s avatar

            I can think of one really good use for an e-reader — ARCs. Publishers could save a small fortune by distribiting galleys/ARCs via ebook format. No more postage. And my bookshelves would look prettier filled with final copies rather than ARCs waiting to be read.

          22. Hélène’s avatar

            Hello there,

            I follow this conversation from France. I work at an “ABA like” organization called SLF for french independant booksellers, in Paris. We do have the same problems around here. I would love to make a small translation of the article (so interesting) for them, since we have on facebook a discussion group on those topics …(Livre 2.0). Would you mind ?

            Here in France, we do have big discussions with the publishers (and the ministry of culture) about the price of the ebook since the “Loi Lang” (a law that puts the physical book at the same sell-price for each booksellers…) does not fit to the ebooks… The fear is the developpment of a discount process on that type of products by those who can afford losing money like Amazon…

            One question, what about Google selling the ebooks directly to the customers ? What is your position about that ?

            Have a nice day

          23. Rich’s avatar

            Hi Hélène,

            As a bookseller, I tend to forget that this is an international issue. I know many of our publishing colleagues get to go to Frankfurt and keep in touch with developments in Europe, but booksellers don’t get out as much.

            Please feel free to translate my blog post and circulate among your colleagues. Hopefully, it will help spur discussion among the front line booksellers.

            I hope the French government amend the Loi Lang to include ebooks. Not to do so would be to completely tilt the playing field.

            As for Google, I’m not up to speed on their ebook sales plans. I’ve looked at their book search program and noted that it includes many newer, in copyright, books by arrangement with the publishers. As some pages within the books are not included, I think the utility of Google book search for reading a complete book is marginal, and the interface is not as easy on the eyes as Adobe Digital Editions or some of the other ereader platforms.

            Perhaps somebody else can talk knowledgeably about Google’s ebook sales plans?

            I hope you’ll report back on any interesting discussion or ideas in European publishing & bookselling. I encourage you to join twitter (http://twitter.com/home) if you have not already done so, as there is a very active community of booksellers and publishers talking about these issues there, and it’s opened up the “future of publishing” discussion tremendously.


          24. linda’s avatar

            Great discussion, Rich.

            We have a few frustrations at our bookstore regarding ereaders. We would like to sell them, but have been unable to find a source for them. Contacts with Sony and other distributors have not worked out. Anyone have any contacts out there? In a recent email with the ABA it sounded like they were renewing contact with Sony to work out a deal for distribution to ABA booksellers, but I haven’t heard any news on that.

            As it is now, through ABA sites, ebooks receive a short discount for booksellers, and though costs are less for booksellers because there is no shipping and handling of books, this is not a good trend. If it becomes acceptable for publishers and distributors to offer short discounts on ebooks to keep the retail price down (and publishers are saying that the ebook format is not that much less expensive for them to produce than print books), it will threaten the ability of bookstores to stay in business, as the profit margin is already so slim. Because Amazon is offering ebooks for a cheap price, it will be hard for indie booksellers to be competitive (yet again.)

            As far as the Symtio card; I really don’t think that is a good solution for keeping booksellers in the loop. Wouldn’t most people prefer direct download and not messing with, or having to keep track of, a card?

          25. Tom’s avatar

            I’m the IT guy over at the UNC Press (on the other side of the state from Malaprops — a book store I make a point of visiting when we’re in Asheville, btw). We, like most publishers, are trying to wrap our heads around the ebook idea and seeking out ways of making them profitable for us as well as for distributors.

            Since most of the readers of this blog appear to be independent book sellers, you all have much more interaction with the book-buying public. Have any of you tried to ask them what kinds of content they’re looking for in e-format vs p-format? What kind of pricing they’re expecting? What types of sales models they would be willing to support/not support?

            (fwiw, we’ve starting an informal bit of questioning with our student interns. Sany of them have expressed a preference for text books in an e-format (i.e. iPhone). )

            — tom

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