Re: How to Save the Book

March 8, 2012

Recently, I got a domain name, so the old does not work anymore, but the server remains, so that was the reason for the recent outage, except for what happened earlier today. Anyway, today, I read an article in the newspaper, though I do not normally read it, that I thought I would discuss.

The piece was an opinion piece in the Las Vegas Review Journal by Ted Rall, which was published on March 7, 2012. In the article, Ted claims, just like any other person involved in traditional publishing, that ebooks will cause authors to go unnoticed, with a few exceptions, and increase the rate of piracy. He further goes on to say that they will kill off the printed book by low prices and that price-fixing books, which is supposedly coming under great scrutiny in the US, will solve the issue.

To me, this guy does not come off as very knowledgeable about the digital realm. Yes, things are easy to copy on a computer. If I felt like it, I could view a website's source and copy each every little detail. However, I do not because that does not allow me to practice my knowledge of (X)HTML and CSS, nor does it maintain my writing ability. The thing he fails to realize though is that people are not inherently evil and not all ebooks are DRM-free, which they would have to be for people to be able to send the ebook to people. Now, there are ways of cracking ebook DRM, which I will not be linking to in this post, nor this blog, but only people that are tech savvy will even bother, since the average person does not care about DRM, unless they do find out how it hinders them personally. In fact, ebook piracy is just like software piracy in that the source is usually a physical copy. Unfortunately, OCR technology, which translates text into digital characters, is not perfect, but nothing man made is perfect. While things are easy to copy on a computer, DRM is a hurdle to accomplish such feats with ebooks that only those that are knowledgeable about tech will go through.

Ted also says that Borders was closed due to Amazon, and Barnes & Noble will fall because of ebooks. Okay, first, the US runs on something called capitalism and the free market, though I am not too sure for how much longer due to corrupt officials running the country, who do not understand technology, nor why the Founding Fathers created the nation. Businesses are free to set prices for whatever services or products they offer and bad or poorly ran businesses will go under, not deserving to get bailed out. After all, knowing failure is needed to know what it takes to be successful. Those that start a new business will probably become or are already familiar with the failure of its predecessors. People also like to find good deals, which usually means a cheaper price or more services for the same price than a competitor. That is how many people gained success in the country's history. Borders died due to the convenience of online shopping and location of its competitors. They were also late to the ebook game, but convenience and price do place a part. Supposedly though, it was just poorly managed, not sure which side is the real truth. The music industry, which Ted refers to also failed in the CD market because people did not like every single song on a CD that they were forced to to purchase, just to get what they wanted. Piracy made it clear that people wanted only certain songs and companies like Apple, Amazon, and, recently, Google took advantage of that desire. They let people buy songs individually or the whole album and put it on MP3 players or create their own mix CDs. That is the reason that the music industry, more correctly the CD market, went under. Yes, that does give Ted a point in his favor, but he did not get why digital files succeed, though he does kind of state, unknowingly. Capitalism and the free market, as long as it exists, is what makes businesses rise and fall.

Unlike Ted believes, outlets do not make consumers more aware of products. Harry Potter sure did not succeed because it was in a bookstore, from what I can remember from various sources, but do not remember exactly what they were. Harry Potter succeeded due to word-of-mouth. The word-of-mouth method usually starts with the author giving somebody a copy of their book or other product and branches from there. That word-of-mouth would then lead people to sources like online retailers or brick and mortar stores. Word-of-mouth also drives people away, also increasing recognition of products. I cannot count how many times I go through a store and not even look at something because it is not what I am looking for, or even makes me curious. People who go stores generally do not go and buy impulsively, even though it does happen sometimes. Libraries also encourage word-of-mouth because readers can read books without spending any money to do so. Word-of mouth brings product and service recognition, not the mere fact that it exists on a shelf.

Now, we will come back to piracy, this time in terms of prices. Ted believes that price-fixing books will save the industry, but it will not. If the price is too high, nobody is going to take advantage of a product or service. Has anyone ever wondered why stuff will not sell on eBay or other auction sites? I think I remember at least one time in Pawn Stars, one of the only regular shows I watch on television these days, where online asking prices are used to determine values and even they know that something priced too high will not bring profits. Likewise, very few people are going to purchase ebooks priced at $9.99 or higher. I only remember one ebook that I paid more than $11 for at Barnes & Noble, and this is under an agency pricing model, which is the concept that Ted brings up in the article. In fact, other than DRM and availability, price is what drives people to pirate stuff to begin with. As far as ebooks are concerned, they are just digital files that need virtual space, not physical space, and can be distributed freely. The publisher has technically already paid to have it edited, when working on the print edition, so only ebook formatting is the cost to account for, though technically anyone and their dog that is familiar with HTML and CSS can format an ebook, since most formats are based on already existing web standard and PDFs are generally used for print editions. They could even format it in Notepad (Windows) or gedit (commonly used in Linux) for simple plain text files, which rely mainly on whitespace for appealing and readable content. Each method costs absolutely nothing for those who do it themselves. That is why ebooks should not be more than $5. Many people recognize this and they go pirate it because they do not get what they paid to have. HTML is not even a programming language, nor is XML, which further makes it pointless to charge a lot of money for epub and other similar formats. Price-fixing does not take that into account because the price that is set by the distributor, be it the author or another party, will likely price the book too high and not see any profit.

Are books necessary or will they die? No, they will not die, nor are they necessary. While books make good archives for things like journal and such, their only purpose was originally to share stories. CDs were originally meant to listen to music without having to go to concerts, same as records, 8-tracks, and others. However, as I said before, people were essentially required to purchase things they did not want along with what they wanted. VHS, LPs, DVDs, and BDs were all meant to allow people to watch their favorite movie or television without cable of satellite, but streaming and downloading services are rendering them obsolete. With stories, it used to be that people just gathered around and told tales, such as what we call mythology of ancient times and people would put their own spin on things, which results in things like multiple origins of Beauty and the Beast. eBooks are bringing those days back, through use of the Internet. Not all stories were good in the old days, but they brought the same entertainment that we now enjoy in books. Likewise, not all ebooks are great, but it allows the expression of the imagination, which we seem to have devalued in society. As long as there is a story share, books in all variations will exist.

Even though ebooks may be taking over, it does not mean printed books are done for. Books will only cease when there are no stories to share. Price-fixing may result in more piracy, which usually relies on physical sources to get content, because of prices being higher than what it was worth for the reader. Borders and other business fell because of how capitalism works, which revolves around what customers expect and what they get, in other words, under promise and over deliver or vice versa. The mere existence of something does not do anything without word-of-mouth.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you agree or disagree with me Feel free to comment.

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