Bits & Bytes: Battle rages over 'expensive' e-books
BY ROBERT EVATT World Staff Writer
Sunday, April 22, 2012
4/22/12 at 3:24 AM
Love curling up with a good book? Then you should definitely be paying attention to the wars over e-book prices, as they could affect you even if you'd much rather soak up literature without using a gizmo.
To recap, the Department of Justice filed a suit claiming Apple and five big publishing houses colluded to keep e-book prices high.
It really wasn't too hard to read between the lines and see what was happening. Apple lets publishers set the price of their books on its e-book store, so long as no other store undercuts that price. The publishers got money and exposure to Apple's popular platforms, Apple got its commission, and everyone was happy.
Well, a certain big bookseller named Amazon wasn't happy. Tech blogs have noted that Amazon had to raise its prices on e-books thanks to publisher pressure - coincidentally this happened after the release of the iPad and its heavy book focus.
Recently, e-book prices have gone down at Amazon - another coincidence, I'm sure. And at first blush, that's great for readers. Why should we have to pay the exact same price for an e-book we're paying for a new hardback, when we're not even getting the mass of ground tree pages with markings on them as part of the deal?
But as a person who writes, I can't help but worry. Sure, $12 sounds better than $27. Yet the difference between the two prices isn't completely due to book manufacturing. Author Robert Levine estimated that a hardback book costs only $3.50 to make.
So where does the rest of the money go? For the most part, to the author, and to the publisher. Suddenly these guys are making $11 less between them per book.
On top of that, book sales have been declining for years before e-books became popular. Authors weren't making as much money, and publishers weren't taking as many chances on publishing as many books. Digital books were supposed to help fix that, though it could be a lot harder if each e-book brings in less money.
I like to read, so I think it'll be a travesty if the publishers react to the fed suit by publishing fewer books, digital or otherwise.
Then again, I'm not a fan of price-fixing either. I just hope everyone involved finds a happy medium instead of starting up a race to the bottom.
App of the week: Stanza (iOS)
Sure, you can get loads of books through Apple's own iBooks, and the Kindle app works well on iOS, even though Apple removed its ability to purchase books in-app. But there are a few other reader options out there, and I think Stanza's one of the more interesting ones.
There's a fairly hefty selection of books you can buy for Stanza, but the real draw is the half-million classic books available for download absolutely free. On top of that, the reader supports a very broad range of text formats, including HTML, Word and RTF, so you can also use this reader to sort through your files.
Suggest an app for App of the Week at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pottermore open to public, but requires plenty of patience
One author who seems to be doing okay is J.K. Rowling, creator of the "Harry Potter" books. The website Pottermore ( tulsaworld.com/pottermore)was announced to great fanfare as a "unique online experience," and it's now open to the public.
I thought I'd take a look with an eye on how effectively it uses technology to create a new experience, rather than, say, a fan's curiosity to see which Hogwarts house the Sorting Hat would assign me.
Most of the experience involves moving a mouse over semi-animated backgrounds and hoping to find collectible items that don't do anything, as well as new details from Rowling. Users can also leave comments, make potions and cast spells to earn points for one's house, buy things at Diagon Alley, and so on.
What you won't find are the books. Sure, you can buy the e-books at the site, but the text is almost entirely missing from the experience. Also, you'll have to go through everything in order, and you're only allowed to read Rowling's new stuff at very specific points. To hear about the climax of book seven, you'll have to dig through the details of the first six books first.
It all reminds me of the strange point-and-click multimedia programs for computers that were en vogue in the mid-'90s, crossed with some basic social network elements. The visuals are nice, and Rowling's writing is as imaginative as always, but the progress can be excruciatingly slow.
Though I was happy to find out I'm a Ravenclaw.
Original Print Headline: Battle rages over 'expensive' e-books
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A digital book is displayed on an Apple iPad. The Department of Justice filed a suit claiming Apple and five big publishing houses colluded to keep e-book prices high. SCOTT EELLS / Bloomberg
The website Pottermore is displayed. KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH / AP
Author J.K. Rowling holds up one of her books. KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH / AP