Economics of Publishing – The Valley Floor?


I have been reading Peter Meyers’ Breaking The Page and find it fascinating to see some of the ideas of how books may be “improved” in the future.  I have my own ideas about what could and should happen with eBooks, but he has clearly put a great deal of thought into it, and his free preview book is well worth reading.

Something that I find interesting though, is the economics of the particular moment we are in right now.  Once upon a time, publishing looked like this: – a very time consuming and expensive process, to say the least. Self publishing back then was out of reach of anyone not independently wealthy.

In the future described by Meyers’ book, things will never be that expensive again, however, especially for certain kinds of books (reference books for instance), it may be possible to throw in all kinds of “extras” to make the books more useful and valuable for people.  That’s mostly a good thing, but it will likely cost more to produce those books. Even novels, which are currently the books that work the best on the Kindle and other dedicated eBook readers because of their nearly exclusive reliance on text, and linear structure, may have extras like timelines and character notes, even if they don’t go all in with videos, graphics, interactive charts and the like.

Compare that with Kindle formatting as it currently stands: at LiberWriter, we can format your book for just $50, and it will look as good as most books from the major publishers.  The open secret of eBook publishing right now is that there just isn’t that much leeway in what can be done with books, so the emphasis is mostly on making sure the important elements like a table of contents are in place, and not making any major mistakes.

That’s a pretty amazing state of affairs if you think about it.  Between formatting, a cover image, and some editing, it’s quite possible to put together a very professional looking book and publish it for several hundred dollars.  Put another way: given good writing, just several hundred dollars are the only thing between you and being pretty much indistinguishable from an eBook from a major publisher!  That’s very, very little, in the grand scheme of things.

The question is: will it last?  If it becomes possible to do more and more “fancy”  things with eBooks, production costs for the high end will go up, putting more distance between what the “pros” can afford, and what self-publishers can do without spending a lot of money.

What do you think?  Are we in a golden moment for self-publishers?

Kindle Fire Review


My Kindle Fire finally made its way over here to Italy.

First impression: it’s alright, as far as these things go, but not something I’d “fall in love with” like the regular old Kindle.

The Kindle is a single-purpose reading device.  Sure, you can view web pages with it in a pinch, but it’s not the most pleasant experience.  The advantages it gains by doing one thing really well, though, are impressive: very slim, lightweight, and an amazing battery life.  For whatever reason, I tend to get anxious over whether my devices are running out of battery life if they’ve been running at all (I don’t like the gas tank in the car to be below half full, either, for that matter), and the Kindle is really nice because it doesn’t stress me out that way!  Also, the eInk screen is vastly superior for reading compared to any LCD screen.

In contrast, the Fire has about 8 hours of battery life, which isn’t bad, it’s just not amazing, like the Kindle.  For an LCD screen device, I like the screen, resolution, and so on.  But it’s not eInk.  And it’s certainly a heftier package than the Kindle in terms of its weight.  So for reading, the Fire can’t really hold a candle to the Kindle, with one exception: color images.  For most of what I read, this isn’t that big a deal, but one area where I think the Fire is clearly superior to the Kindle is for children’s books.  Nice, color images, and a touch screen are a killer combo to make the device much more accessible for children’s stories, many of which simply would not work very well on a regular Kindle.

Naturally, all the extra weight, lower battery life and LCD screen are made up for by the fact that in many ways, the Fire is a much more capable device: web browsing is pleasant with it, you can watch videos, and listen to music.  Sure, you could listen to music on the regular Kindle too, but the interface is pretty raw.  So for “media consumption”, which is probably what Amazon wants you to do, the Fire is a pretty good device.  What with two small children, and a business to run, though, I don’t have much time for “media consumption” of the TV show or movie variety, and I can listen to music on my laptop or phone.

As someone who wants a device to use actively, rather than passively, though, my initial feeling is that the Fire is in something of a no-man’s land between my Android phone, and my laptop.  With the former, I can take pictures, quickly write emails in English and Italian, read email and web pages wherever I am via a data plan, and access any application in Google’s Android market.

Which is where another problem with the Fire puts in its appearance.  Amazon, rather than collaborate with Google, took the open source Android system and made their own modifications to it, and do not include any of the super-useful Google mobile applications on the device.  No gmail, no reader, no maps.  I knew that when I bought it, but the presence of those applications is sorely missed on the Fire.  Also, the app store that Amazon provides is fairly limited compared to the regular one available for my phone.  Ultimately, this leaves my mobile phone as a more useful “on the road” device.

With no camera, or even a microphone, I can’t take pictures, or, something that I personally would have loved to be able to do, use the Fire as a ‘skype device’ for video chats.  The device’s shape and size would have made it perfect for that.

Of course, I knew most of these things before I purchased one, and went ahead anyway, because I want to make sure our customers’ books look good on the Kindle Fire, especially when Kindle Format 8 finally rolls out.

However, I think otherwise I would have waited for version 2 to come out next year, which will doubtlessly be a big improvement.  For reading, I would continue to highly recommend a regular Kindle, with my preference being for either the basic one, or the one with a keyboard.  The Kindle Touch, with visions of grimy fingers swiped across the screen, sounds like something that would bother me.  For the price, the Kindle Fire is a nice bit of hardware, but the problem is that it just doesn’t fill a need I have.  It’s not as convenient as my mobile phone, and not nearly as efficient for doing anything useful as my laptop.