Flutterby™! : the end of books?

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the end of books?

2008-01-25 18:30:47.360144+00 by Dan Lyke 10 comments

In the context of Susie Bright's note on the end of the Best American Erotica series, Columbine had a little essay about the decline of the independent:

I think that small writers and small publishers and small editors desperately need to find a new way. It's not a question of whether we ever got screwed by the old way or whether we have contempt for the old way; these personal prejudices are no longer germane. What I'm saying, what Susie is saying, is that the old way is about to cease to exist.

Yeah. In the process of this last move I ditched a lot of books. Every new purchase nowadays is thought of in the context of $500 something per square foot (yeah, I know, that's not strictly true, but it's a good back of the envelope), which means that a good case can be made that the space to store a book starts at roughly twelve bucks (and goes up), The vast majority of what I've read for quite a while has been online. Frankly, right now there's such a glut of free (and in many cases not even advertiser supported, but truly free) content that I have trouble spending money on things like, for instance, Susie Bright's podcast.

The only reasons to buy the physical object rather than download it are user interface and something I can pass on to friends (thereby depriving the author of royalties). And even if you're not like me, willing to read on a laptop screen, the user interface problem is in the process of being solved.

I don't know what the answer to Susie's conundrum is, I'm just another person looking for ways to adapt to the changing landscape with my own skill set, but the net is changing our lives as profoundly as the automobile, the telephone and the television changed the lives of our grandparents and great grandparents. Physical objects as proxies for the actual content being purchased are going to go away. The struggle between exposure and revenue stream (that the "'sharing' music is good crowd" are willing to push all the way to the former) is only going to get rougher.

[ related topics: Books Music User Interface Sexual Culture Technology and Culture Invention and Design Writing Law Consumerism and advertising Television Automobiles ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2008-01-25 20:24:35.585451+00 by: ebradway

It's interesting to look at the history of things like books and music. Creative content used to be acquired directly from the creator: a musician played music for you or a poet wrote poems on a piece of paper. The industrial age allowed for mass duplication and consumption of creative content. The volume of sales meant that the cost of the medium and marketing became what drove costs of acquiring creative content.

Now we're moving to a place where the cost of the medium is become negligible. It's already happened with music. The music industry is built around selling little silver discs. The content was only the frosting that got you to buy the little silver disc.

Maybe the new model is to buy directly from the creator again... And places like Lulu.com make it possible to buy one-off books if you don't like the medium of an electronic book.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-01-25 20:43:12.458791+00 by: Dan Lyke

I didn't exactly know what my thesis was, but something else I wanted to throw in there was about how, and I don't know if this is because of a general cultural trend or just who I hang out with, furniture is looping back around, from the mass market of Ikea back to solid furniture, built to last, that are customized to individual needs, whether that's bathroom vanities built to human heights (rather than the 30" defaults) to chairs that fit.

I think this is part of a general trend back from mass market and mass production to individualized products, and I think that music may be one of the first places that happens solidly because it's already the case that, for the most part, record companies don't make the bands any money, musicians make their money from live performances and the record companies are just useful for publicity.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-01-25 21:01:15.477212+00 by: ebradway

That would be Post-Modern consumerism...

#Comment Re: made: 2008-01-25 21:15:25.737499+00 by: Dan Lyke

I'd have thought Post-Modern consumerism would be buying Ikea for ironic reasons.

And buying antiques by mail would be post post consumer consumerism.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-01-25 22:41:53.873049+00 by: ebradway

I'm speechless...

So Asha and I went to the Sofa Mega Mart and bought a new couch the other day. We weren't able to fit her old couch in the trailer when we moved (should have rented a larger vehicle), so it was left in 'Nooga. For the past 1.5 years, we've been using a hand-me-down couch that, when I took it by Habitat for Humanity this morning, they refused to take it.

The experience of buying a piece of furniture, one that we'll use for a number of years, in a big-box, mass-production oriented place had a rather empty feel to it. There was a great leather sofa at a custom shop further down the road, but it was over $2500. We opted for the cheaper sofa for about $750 with delivery. It was a rather empty experience. On the positive side, the couch was actually made in Denver, so at least they employed local illegal aliens...

I've made a personal decision to never buy music again unless I can buy it directly from the musician (via their website or something like CD-Baby). I currently have around 40 days of MP3s on my machine and there's also a closet full of yoga music that's never made it to MP3. I don't need any more mass market music.

I also find myself almost entirely reading technical, scientific books. Most of these are very limited prints. It would be nice if Blackwell/Synergy didn't have such a stranglehold on academic publishing. My advisor uses a self-published book that a friend made as the textbook for Intro to GIS. I think that model might become more common. It used to be more common for Universities to have their own printshops and publication houses. That's not a bad model either.

For more popular works, I can probably read second-hand books the rest of my life and never feel caught up. Heck, I've been trying for almost four years to work through the copy of Eco's Foucault's Pendulum that my mother passed on to me.

I think I'm a bit past mass marketed media...

#Comment Re: made: 2008-01-25 23:13:25.318841+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, what with the house we're making a bunch of cost/benefit decisions. The most prominent of which is a roof, we could buy a metal roof that'll be good for longer that we'll live, we can get various grades of asphalt shingles, but we may end up expanding the house within a decade or so, and that'd mean tearing up a good portion of the back roof.

And metal roofs have some down sides.

So do we buy something that's built to last, or something that'll last half that long for half the price that'll give us more flexibility?

And where do maintenance schedules and costs fit into all of this?

Sometimes the Ikea option doesn't seem like the worst choice...

#Comment Re: made: 2008-01-26 08:02:16.433905+00 by: meuon

In reading this discussion, I kept hearing the arguments of the Neo-Victorians in The Diamond Age.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-01-26 11:44:17.340601+00 by: DaveP

I'm headed some other direction, it seems.

I dropped an assload of money on custom-built bookcases that make me very happy. And I'm filling them up with my existing books, plus am still buying new dead trees on a regular basis.

Would I buy eBooks? Well, I was all ready to get a kindle (it sounds like the best electronic book reader available today), based on the buzz, until I looked at the price of the books. (I've published a book, I believe I have some understanding of the economics of dead-tree publishing), and I see two ways they could convince me to plunk down the $400 for the device and start buying books electronically.

One would be to bundle the ebook with the dead-tree version for 10-25% more (maybe as high as 50% if I'm buying a mass-market paperback, which is lowest margin). This still covers the production costs of the book for them, and gets me the paper copy I want (both because it's more pleasant to read, and because I don't entirely trust their backup policy yet).

The second is to increase the capacity of the reader to the point that it will hold my library, and give me a way to convert my existing books (or buy the electronic versions of those I've already bought from amazon at a discount?) to electronic format.

But I'm not going to pay the same retail price for an eBook that I paid for paper. I know that on a mass-market paperback, the cost of the paper is a majority of the cost of the book, and I'm not willing to pay the same amount for an electronic version that costs less to produce unless it offers better value in some other way. Indexing is one area where ebooks should r0xx0r my b0xx0rz, but everything I've read leads me to believe the kindle's implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Portability would be a huge selling point for electronic books, if only the device could carry more around. But for THAT to be useful, I'd need a way to get the books that aren't currently available electronically into it.

Maybe the next generation of electronic book readers will make the cut, but I just can't see it now.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-01-26 16:01:47.544933+00 by: Dan Lyke

Dave, I've been monstrously impressed by the form factor and display of the Kindle, but as I noted above, despite the lack of physical presence, ebooks have a lower value to me as a consumer (and should have a higher value to the author): I can only recommend them, not lend them.

I think that Sony's making something with a similar display, but until there's an open device with that sort of display I'm not interested.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-01-27 02:50:59.894412+00 by: ebradway

About 60% of what I read are PDFs of journal articles. I've wanted a Sony eReader to give me something better to read those on. The Kindle and the Sony are still light years away from matching the readability of paper.

As far as building and roofs go, I think you should like at the example of Agile/Extreme programming. Do invest too much in an uncertain future.

Custom bookshelves actually make a lot of sense because I can build custom for about the same as cheap store-bought and use better would (good 'ol white pine). I've also disassembled old bookshelves after a move and reused the wood for other projects. My biggest limitation is that I don't have a decent workspace.