back to article Behind the Kindle, under the iPad: an unholy alliance

If some of the speakers at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair are to be believed, your life — or at least the part of it that involves snuggling up in bed with a good book and mug of hot cocoa — is about to be turned upside down. Sure, we've heard plenty on books going electronic, but the coverage mostly focuses on the devices — …


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  1. Simon 4

    Prices, author and publisher's take?

    Since you were writing from the perspective of an upstart publisher, I had hoped you would cover prices and margins available through these alternatives to the Kindle and iBook stores.

    You raised the issue - "does anyone actually like paying £8 plus ($12 plus) for an e-novel? " and then you don't finish where you were going!

    Yes, it's outrageous to pay as much, if not more, for an electronic copy which comes with minimal reproduction and distribution costs, instead of a hard copy. Surely the ridiculous prices are putting off the uptake of electronic book readers.

    Can you get the price down to something appropriate for an electronic only copy of the book? What sort of cut do the author and the publisher take? How does this compare with both printed book publishing and the options available through Apple and Amazon?

    1. Bill B

      Cost of ebooks

      "Yes, it's outrageous to pay as much, if not more, for an electronic copy "

      OK, it's a small sample, but so far I've bought 8 Kindle books .. each time they were cheaper than their 'paper' equivalent .. and amazon tends to be cheaper than others as well.

      Admittedly, one did cost 8 quid .. but that was cheaper than the only other available hardback version. On the other hand, one cost me 2 quid .. an old book that had been (presumably) republished because a film had been made of it.

      The pricing logic on Amazon seems to be that the older the book, the cheaper it gets. A bit like the paper based stuff really.

      One final thing .. there is this myth that an ebook should be a *lot* cheaper than a paper book. The costs of publishing involve a lot more than just printing onto paper. In fact, I would suspect that is one of the minor costs. Editing, proof reading, layout are all people intensive tasks and likely to be the expensive bits.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        fixed costs vs "per book" costs

        "Editing, proof reading, layout are all people intensive tasks and likely to be the expensive bits".

        Editing, proof reading, and layout cost the same whether you're printing 1,000 copies, or 1,000,000 copies. But the actual cost of printing and delivering 1,000,000 copies of a book is significantly more than the cost of printing and delivering 1,000 copies. (Maybe not quite 1,000 times as expensive).

        So how much of the cost of a $10 mass market paperback goes on editing/proof reading/layout, and how much goes on advertising, and how much goes on actual paper and distribution (and wastage)? As long as the average punter feels that e-books should be considerably cheaper than what they currently pay for a paper book, e-books won't replace paper books, for the casual reader.

        If 80% of books are actually bought by 20% of the people, then paper books might fall into the same trap as the small book-stores - the people who spend a lot of money on books might migrate to ebooks for convenience, and the remaining great unwashed, who only buy books for birthdays and at Christmas might not be left with much choice in the matter.

        1. Bill B


          Having done a bit of reserach on this it looks like the conclusion is ...

          "For a large print run 10% of the cost of the book is the printing; 10% the distribution"

          So in your example $2 would be saved by skipping these steps

  2. Jon Double Nice

    Oh, how foolish of me...

    ... it's a Reeves and Mortimer product, yes, a Reeves and Mortimer product.

  3. Jimmy Floyd

    If I've paid for it, I want to own it.

    "There's nothing quite like being licensed a book, rather than being sold one."

    Precisely. Yet again the techie companies have gone off selling something that people neither want nor need; no-one except the people who buy the tripe that it's what they *should* have. Got a Kindle? Try lending a friend your book. Tough, isn't it? Supplier-driven technology is attempting to turn the basic market economics of customer-driven focus, and failing.

    Example: Amazon's Kindle can store "up to 3,500 books." Umm .... why?

    Henry Ford's quote ("If I'd asked my customers what they wanted they'd have asked for a faster horse") is smugly used by tech execs who who have managed to break into new markets.

    It usually isn't relevant.

    1. John Bailey

      Very simple solution..


      Smashwords, Baen, or any of the PD books from assorted sources.

      Not usually mainstream authors, but they will eventually come on board.

    2. Trygve


      Example: Amazon's Kindle can store "up to 3,500 books." Umm .... why?

      Err... Because some people's reading tastes extend beyond the collected works of Dan Brown and a copy of Heat every now and again, and they like having a complete book collection available to pick and choose from when they are on holiday? For a hard-core bibliophile, 3,500 books is 'a fair few', not 'a lot'. A friend of mine had two garages full of paperbacks at one point, in addition to wall-to-wall shelves in his study (two books deep).

  4. DrXym

    FBReader seems better than Aldiko

    Aldiko is slick but it suffers from some very curious and annoying features. Chief amongst them is an extremely unpleasant flashing as you scroll across a book's cover, index and content. I suspect it's generating some temporary file for each and then struggling when it has to move to the next section. Anyway FBReader seems like a nicer option although you have to do without the bookshelf on the front.

    On the subject of ebooks in general, the sea change publishers have to grasp is that a single book format (putting aside "specialist" layouts like graphic novels which might need further consideration) is of fundamental importance to everyone. One already exists with EPUB and it needs to be the format of choice. And if DRM is necessary then a single DRM format over the top of the single book format. Then, and this is crucial, sellers should sell their books on fair terms to any seller who meets the distribution criteria with regards to DRM. No secret deals, no price matching clauses to the likes of Amazon. A fair and even playing field with an RRP and a profit margin for stores to compete.

    The alternative is Amazon and / or Apple will carve up the publishing world between them and publishers and customers will be Amazon's bitches. Is that what anyone really wants? Put the framework in place for a fair and level playing field based around a common format and optional DRM and people will flock to ebooks in their droves.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    New business model anyone?

    Indeed paying as much for an e-book as for a paper book is ludicrous, as is encumbering it with restrictive DRM making the whole thing less attractice to the consumer -why shouldn't I be able to loan a book to a friend as I can a paper book? Just because one suddenly has the ability to track (and therefore charge!) for such things does not make it a good idea.

    It should be faced that if e-books become mainstream that they become "infinite goods" with no cost to re-produce and trying to force consumers to buy e-books in basically the same way as they would buy a paper book is only going to have exactly the same effect it did in the music and film industries. New medium demands new business models - that needs to be faced and ideally considered right from the start instead of the total hash made by the afore-mentioned attempts.

    1. Kevin Reilly

      What about an old model

      why cant we have a borrowing service for e-books. just like you have for paper ones, you could call it err a Public Library maybe.

  6. Dave Murray
    Thumb Down

    Meaningful social community

    Ugh! The last thing I want when reading a book is to be interrupted by some twat telling me the ending by twatter. Someone needs to explain to these people that adding Farcebook and Twatter links to completely unrelated products does not make them better.

  7. A. Lewis


    Call me a luddite, but I much prefer a real book.

    Mine's the one with the paperback sticking out of the pocket.

  8. Richard Gadsden 1

    Successful e-book model: not new

    Baen's webscriptions site has been selling DRM-free ebooks since 1999.

    They get pirated, of course, but why bother, when a new book is $6 and the ARC (available 3-6 months before the paper copy) is $15. It still amazes me that one small publisher in the 'States has been literally a decade ahead of the market, and no-one has copied them.

    1. Andy Dent 2
      Thumb Up

      Baen are Best

      and most Baen books end up in monthly bundles a while after release where the effective price drops to about USD $3.

  9. RathanDog

    Liquid Paper? I'll stick to Paper Paper thanks...

    I just don't understand this current determination that it's only been the technology holding us back from the Nirvana that is an entirely digital life. As someone who lives in London, I can say with some confidence that no one seems particularly keen to put down the cheap paperback that they don't need to worry about and replace it with a much more expensive, delicate and desirable piece of kit like the Kindle.

    Even the Kindle advert shows people reclining on a beach with one, but frankly if I want to read at the beach I'd rather it was on a 'device' that doesn't break if it gets wet, can handle sand and that I can leave on my towel while I go for a quick dip. So a book then?

    Some things I can understand switching to digital - newspapers, some magazines etc, but in my (admittedly humble) opinion, the good old fashioned paperback is going to be around for some time yet (unless they start selling eBooks for 50p, in which case I may have to rethink all this!)

    1. Dan 10

      Have to agree

      ...and I can't help wondering what would happen to a Kindle/ipad etc if left on the beach towel in direct sunlight. Let's assume it doesn't get stolen, sandy or wet, but after an hour of direct sunlight in 35 degree heat in a summer holiday destination somewhere, will it still work when I switch it on again?

    2. JB


      I do agree with you to a point. In my opinion, ereaders should be regarded as a compliment to 'real' books.

      I'm partially-sighted and like the way you can increase the text size on ereaders. I do use a little hand-magnifier to read normal books and magazines, which is fine at home, but on the bus/train/plane it looks silly and I feel uncomfortable hunching over my read, so I love the idea of being able to hold an ebook at the same distance from my face as people with normal eyesight hold them. I've always envied the way they can just pick up a paper or book and read it, while I have to hunch over mine or flatten it out on a table.

      (As an aside, I was reading a book with my magnifier in the garden on a sunny day. I could smell a bonfire in one of the adjoining gardens...until I realised the sun was shining through the lens and burning a hole in the paper!)

      I would get my ebook reader out on a plane or train, but I don't think I'd risk it in central London - I feel nervous enough getting my phone out on the tube!

      Yes, books need no power, can stand a considerable amount of battering, and can be swapped/sold/given away, and I'm convinced that they will never go away. As long as the industry don't see ebooks as a replacement for paper and ink, I think it could be a rosier future for publishes and readers.

  10. David Jennings

    Unholy alliance?

    Sorry if I'm being thick, but what is the Unholy Alliance promised in the title? The headline seems to promise much, but the body of the piece just wanders around the same old haunts without ever really arriving anywhere.

    1. jbk
      Thumb Down


      It does, however, get in a nice free advert for the author's business.

  11. Kevin Reilly

    True potential of the Kindle.

    when I started reading e-books it was on a 2MB monochrome Palm (great in sunlight) & I tended to roll my own books by reflowing & converting the .TXT files from Project Gutenberg.This was great for the time but nowadays you can buy e-books or get loads of Public Domain stuff free gratis& for nowt.

    All you need is to get is the open source Calibre from & pretty much any flavour of e-book reader, even a DRM encumbered Kindle.

    Because Calibre will do all the conversion for you so seamlessly, it will also get & format loads of stuff from the web for you to read later on your e-reader.

    I have the Linux version of Calibre on a Ubuntu Netbook but you can also download a Windows version. You can then connect via to say a Kindle over USB & transfer your free books by the yard. As well as maybe occasionally buying the odd book. Amazon is truly not the only fruit for a kindle.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Calibre is great

      Gutenberg et al usually also offer a whole host of formats to download. Anyone thinking that they have to go BUY ebooks just needs to have a quick look at all the free ones available on Amazon, Gutenberg, Open Library, Internet Archive etc... I spent £180 on an ereader 18 months ago and it's easily been worth it.

      Of course you can also buy current best sellers but they need to bring the price of the digital format down before I go out and get them over just as good free ones.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Something strange going on here...

    You say you've written a number of books on software development, and recently started a publishing company, Fingerpress, and that you've signed up with Kobo.

    Kobo doesn't even have a category that software development books would fit into. I searched for "programming" on the site, and found 6 or 7 software development titles before the list moved on to yoga programs and "how to program your babies health".

    I searched for "Matt Stephens" and found "Sweet Sixteen #6: Sunny & Matt".

    I searched for "Fingerpress" and found nothing. I searched for "Finger Press" and found "Fingering: A story of seduction and abuse".

    If you feel that teen romance, seduction, sexual abuse and related child health issues form an important niche within software development that isn't adequately covered at the moment, maybe there's more to the "human interest" side of software development than I ever suspected.

    But... Are you *sure* you signed up with Kobo?

  13. Rebecca 1

    Market for ebooks

    I'd love to buy the books you publish as eBooks, for a discount compared to the "real book" price. But I'm not going to read the eBook then buy the paper book of a "read once" scifi novel.

    Put a charge (half price, quarter?) for the eBook, without DRM preferably. I have multiple computers, phones and an eReader, and don't want to rely on Amazon's servers working. Yes, it'll get pirated, but you'll get some money for it.

  14. kwnewton

    Books and eReaders are evolving together

    The article quotes Kobo's spokesman: "The next step," Cameron told us: "Is to form a meaningful social community around people's e-book browsing and purchasing habits — the ability to 'tweet', add notes, and share passages, for starters."

    It might be Kobo's next step, but the Kindle already has that ability. You can opt to see what passages others have highlighted, or tweet your own highlights. I find that it's really not something I want to do, though. I think nonfiction readers might be more interested in that kind of functionality. I just want to read the story.

    I agree that who will be the "middle man" is an important question. Another is, do ebooks need a middle? Tech savvy authors could really produce their own books. There might not be a uniform business model in the future. But I think the real potential for books morphing is seen on devices like the iPad where a book can be an app. I should hope novels would survive pretty much as they are, but nonfiction and children's books have the potential to evolve into something that's not really a book.

  15. Bill B

    Just a minor correction

    "The iPad by comparison is tied to a single closed platform, though some of their books are decidedly pretty — and the animations distracting."

    I think you meant iBooks. The iPad is agnostic about what books can be read on it .. apps for iBook, Kindle and Stanza for starters

  16. Bryan Anderson

    Book Lending?

    Forgive me if I am wrong, but one of the arguments against eBooks in the inability to lend the book a friend. Think that's unlawful anyway, as reading the fron of the first book I can grab here, it says that "it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated..."

    Guess that means the publishers LOVE the fact that eBooks enable them to actually enforce the non-lending of books. But agree with most that until the price of eBooks come down then there's no way I'll be buying them.

    Seven quid for the paperback, so no more than three quid for the eBook thank you very much.

    1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Book Lending?

      Keep reading.

      It's "must not be lent, resold" etc in a cover other than the one it comes with. Nothing to do with never lend the thing, or sell it - otherwise every charity shop in the land would be breaking the law.

      1. Bryan Anderson
        Coat're right, Tony

        I'll get my coat.

      2. Mike Powers

        Seems like a valid concern

        Seeing as how there were (and are) many court cases regarding First Sale Doctrine--and even that doctrine mostly exists because of nonenforceability--I'd say that "read it then lend it to a friend" is going to prove to be more of a *custom* than a *right*.

      3. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Book Lending?

        Spot on Tony. Indeed, every public library would be breaking the law too.

        I'd love to buy all my books in digital form (would save a massive amount of space), but only when I can pass a good book on to a friend. Until then they're worthless to me.

  17. Britt Johnston

    Frankfurt Book Fair

    <Frankfurt Book Fair - E-book software and services vs. literature>

    This is a fair summary of the goings-on at the Frankfurt book fair.

  18. Luther Blissett

    In the name of the rose

    Perhaps it's time for someone to do an update to Umberto Eco's book, so people (presuambly denizens of some eco-warrior encampment rather a monastery) get murdered by a Kindle.

    It's a book only if it looks like a book, smells like a book, and you can throw it across the room in disgust without thinking "Fsck, there goes another hundred quid".

  19. Mike Powers

    Feel and smell

    I always see people going on about how they love the "feel and smell" of a book.

    This sounds like someone in the early 20th century saying that those silly car things will never catch on because they can't reproduce the feel and smell of a horse.

    Indeed, cars are an instructive example. At first they were clunky, cranky, expensive things that needed specialist training and knowledge. And in about twenty years they became so common that the only people who rode horses for personal transport were either tremendously rich or shockingly poor; and twenty years after *that* even poor people had cars.

    @Matt Stephens: " I find it quite difficult to shell out that amount of money for something I don't really "own". "

    Well, you don't "really own" a print book, either. And if you're worried about losing the file, well, I've got all my Kindle "books" saved in at least two different places. And if my Kindle breaks, then (when I get a replacement) I can have my entire library back in about five minutes. Try *that* next time you drop your copy of Beauty's Punishment in the loo.

    1. Gwaptiva

      Not owning print book?

      "Well, you don't "really own" a print book, either."

      Care to explanify? Is Mr Bezos going to come to my house and take away my Penguin edition of _1984_ ?

      1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Not owning print book?

        You own the book, you don't own the text. But since the text is inherently part of the physical object, that doesn't matter very much unless you plan to scan or photocopy it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ...when I get a replacement

      @Mike Powers: "And if my Kindle breaks, then (when I get a replacement) I can have my entire library back in about five minutes. Try *that* next time you drop your copy of Beauty's Punishment in the loo."

      ...err, why would I need to replace my entire library if I drop 1 book in the loo, exactly?

      Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device, Free 3G + Wi-Fi, 6" Display, Graphite, 3G Works Globally - Latest Generation by Amazon (Electronics) - Buy new: £149.00

      Beauty's Punishment by A.N. Roquelaure (Paperback - 7 Feb 2008) - Buy new:£6.99

      I think I'll take the risk.

  20. Tron Silver badge


    So, the official spiel is that people are busier, so books should be e-books.

    Surely technology was supposed to make us less busy, giving us more free time to curl up with a good book?

  21. JaitcH
    Jobs Horns

    Kindle and the iPad ... the one thing they can't do ...

    is to borrow free e-books from the public library.

    Almost any other reader is able to. That tightening feeling in your groin area is Jobs getting ready to squeeze you dry. Again.

  22. Joe 35

    Lending books - a bizarre argument

    I often see this advanced (mentioned here a few times) as an argument against eBooks

    "Hah! Try lending your ebook to a friend"

    But why would anyone base their decision on what book format to buy, on the basis of whether you can lend them to a friend??

    "hmm, think I'll buy the hardback as the print is larger and Fred has difficulty with small type. Pity, I'd have preferred the cheap paperback or the even cheaper eBook."

    Let the cheapskates buy their own books, I'll buy what suits me thanks, not what might suit some unknown person at some indeterminate time;

    "Fred, do you want to borrrow "Stuck In the Past"?

    "No thanks, I had that on my Kindle already, and it was rubbish".

    1. Anonymous Coward

      But.. wait.. what?

      "Let the cheapskates buy their own books, I'll buy what suits me thanks, not what might suit some unknown person at some indeterminate time;"

      Uh... isn't the point people are trying to make, that if I buy a book, "e" or otherwise I should within reason be able to do what I like with it rather than have arbitary restictions thrust upon me? If I want to loan a book to someone i should be able to *if I choose*.

      If I'm daft enough to print the thing out and use it to wallpaper my toilet for on-throne reading, is that not "fair use" of a product I've bought? I could certainly rip a real book into component pages and use it this way. Why shoudl I have *less* use of a purchased product just because someone else thinks they can get away with charging me for that use too?

      1. Joe 35

        Isnt the point ...

        "Uh... isn't the point people are trying to make, that if I buy a book, "e" or otherwise I should within reason be able to do what I like with it "

        Nope that ISNT the point I am responding to. Thats a perfectly reasonable argument, perhaps you can make that, and I'll respond *(see below).

        The one I"m responding to is the pure and simple "cant lend it to a friend" argument.

        They dont say "it damages my inalianable right to wipe my arse with it", they say "I cant lend it to a friend".

        IME ,when you lend a book to a friend, you never see the bloody thing again anyway, so you are better off without that particular freedom.

        * as a starter, there are many things I cant do with real books, which I can with ebooks.

        For example, I acquire the practical freedom to reread a book, because the reality with paper books is, I give them away because of the room they take up, so I actually cant reread them. Thats a freedom I GAIN. (I recently took 4 bags of books to a charity shop). I did that every year.

        Another freedom I GAIN is the one to take 10 or 20 books on holiday with me, one that airline restrictions and practicality imposes on real books.

        As I don't wish to paper my walls or wipe my arse with books, I'm not bothered about losing those particular freedoms.

        The other right I DO NOT lose, which anti-ebook proponents sometimes talk as if I do, is the right to still buy actual paper books. Larger format textbooks for example, books with lots of illustrations or pictures, are IME better in paper and I continue to buy those. 'ordinary' format paperback format fiction and non-fiction,and textbooks with few illustrations, are better as eBooks. They are always cheaper compared to new books, and sometimes cheaper even than second hand ones.

  23. JWS

    Printing Costs

    Having been involved in the setup of a Publishing Company I agree that Printing Costs are actually quite minimal. The reason it costs so much for books is the stitch up the shops/online shops have made of the market.

    A 300 page Novel printed in B&W and say 10,000 copies costs around £1.50 once shipping is included, now if you went for a million it can drop to as little as 60p per copy. The issue is that Amazon etc.. want on average a whopping 55% of the Retail Price for themselves.

    So if your book is £8 it's £4.40 to Amazon then possibly £1.50 for printing and then if you are using a publisher they only give you 10% of the Retail Price so with all of that in place the Author gets really hammered.

    Using E-books should sort this out if people just self publish and cut out the huge fees to publishers and get it edited by an independent firm and use something like Lightning Source who can put work onto E-Book via Amazon at a mere 20% gouge of the Retail meaning the Author gets a lot more per book and can cut the price right down. But without a Publisher marketing a novel is very expensive, so the price goes back up.

  24. Dave Fox

    Kindle is the future of book!

    I'm a recent convert to Kindle as I never believed that an EBook experience could compare favourably to having a real paper book.

    That was until I wanted to go on holiday and take lots of IT books with me, but was unable to do so due to baggage restrictions on Ryanair.

    First of all, Kindle allowed me to pack in literally dozens of books that I wanted to peruse on holiday, yet consumed no more space and weight than a single paperback.

    Secondly, the actual reading experience on the device is fantastic. I can hold it "like a book" and read it anywhere, including the throne, and the whole experience felt much the same as having a real book.

    Just like CDs and MP3s, I can eventually see the day when practically all books are electronic, and that day can't come quite enough for me!

  25. Gilbert Wham
    Thumb Down


    I've always found using Aldiko to be a massive pain in the arse. Plus, both it and Wordplayer seem to have problems with some ebooks. FBReader's good, though.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "smell of a book" - no thanks

    I live in an extremely damp climate and paper books always end up musty and moldy-smelling in this climate (if you keep them long enough), even when running a dehumidifier occasionally. The paper just absorbs moisture and it never dries out enough to stop the mold spores from growing. It's my understanding that if the air's relative humidity is over 60 percent or so, which it almost always is around here, there isn't much you can do to stop mold unless you want to spray each and every page with Lysol or something; not exactly practical.

    *That* aspect of printed books I could do without - messes up my sinuses and allergies.

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