Who else wants to talk about something beyond the Kindle?

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Kindle, kindle, kindle! I don't know about the rest of you, but in the place where lit and tech intersect, it seems that no conversation can happen anymore without a label of some variety being placed upon the Kindle. Kindle as blamestorm centerpiece,
Kindle as savior, Kindle as tool of literary elite, Kindle as tool of Big Brother, Kindle as
eco-friendly (and not) book alternative, Kindle as a symbol of industrial efficiency, Kindle as symbol of intellectual laziness, Kindle as sign of the coming
apocalypse.... yadda yadda yadda.

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Forget the Kindle for a minute. Forget it. Turn it off, set it down,
click away, whatever. I want to talk about the big picture and I want
to turn this over, readers dear: What is
the single most important issue-- if you could boil it all down to one
item-- facing publishing today? Is it navigating the charted territory
in our digital era? Is it the Kindle? Is some other item a
symbol of class division?
Is it that the publication business model has changed so rapidly and
had to adapt so fast? Let's talk it out. Let's pull up some chairs and
see
what we can sort out, shall we?I'll admit that there are several entry
points into this conversation, and all are perfectly valid discussions
and ones we must hold. But if it all came down to one issue, what would
it be?

CHICAGO TRIBUNE VIDEO

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  • At $299 Kindle is a little too rich for my blood, but having said that, I don't see it as a tool as the literary elite or anything like that... or the savior of the publishing industry .... I think it's just another tool for readers and that can't be a bad thing, right?

  • I think the Kindle is a great tool, and soon could become even better for independent publishers or simply the authors themselves. Much like how iTunes opens it's doors to almost anyone who wants to sell there, I feel something similar could soon happen with the Kindle. And that's great. Hopefully soon, more companies will start creating more readers, and that will drive prices down as new competition arises. On that same note, I feel that companies may start creating these to only work with one file type, and I think if e-books (and e-book readers more specifically) are going to be successful, we need one, maybe two, platforms on which to build.

    I however, think the largest issue facing publishing is understanding the change, and not fighting it like we have seen so many in the journalism universe do. Everyone can write, create, publish now, and what we consider "traditional" is going to have to exist parallel to this for a while. It should be very interesting.

  • I see the Kindle as a toll that may make us come to some other realizations about how we live. I think we're in no danger of seeing the replacement of books and I'm not sure if the Kindle is worth sounding the alarm on book sales just yet either.

    It's certainly not bringing a literary mindset to those already lacking one so what is it actually doing other than being the next new device on the block?

    I think it's making people face our desire to own more stuff than we have room for. If we really considered what we paid for housing vs. actual value of said housing then we'd probably discover that we're just paying too much to a) live in the city and b) have a roof over our book collections.

    I love my books but honestly my next living space upgrade will be made with an eye towards downgrading space due to cost concerns. The Kindle would allow me to still get my book fix without bringing more paper into my house.

    Now I'm not going to ever become a Kindle owner, more than likely because I think I look like an idiot reading a simulated book on a device the size of most books I'd be reading anyway. I've not evolved enough to not look like an ass with one so I'll pass. I'm just saying that the major benefit I see is one in which more books aren't acquired when realistically I'm paying more than I should to store them as it is.

  • In reply to docmidnight:

    Terry, I only ask because the comic nerd in me feels you'd have an opinion on this:

    How do you feel about services like Marvel Digital? Do you think graphics are a medium that should be better served in print, or could they just as easily be "Kindlized"?

  • In reply to AndyHannon:

    I'm fine with comics in digital format since that appears to be a solid way of promoting print comics and up and coming creators. I don't think any large publisher will ever go all digital.

    I think the market itself demands print but there are small elements within the market that would appreciate digital comics or even a print on demand service.

    Does that help?

  • In reply to docmidnight:

    We want more people, from all social classes, to not only consume but produce literature. The internet holds properties in this regard. I think the challenge is, how do we organize digital and print publishing to be profitable horizontally rather than vertically (as it is now)? What the print industry is really crying about is that their insane profits are disappearing. They aren't worried about the fact that fewer writers are being paid to write. So we need to distribute content both digitally and...uh...analog. ically. in a way that allow the greatest number of voices delivering to the greatest number of consumers.

    So like with music: the big industry players decided who would get heard, and musicians got absurdly rich and executives insanely rich (where f(insane > absurd)). But that wasn't the "natural" way of things. When digital music made it basically impossible to really control distribution, musicians just had to accept the fact that their product had been over-valued, and they'd have to accept that revenue would come from elsewhere, and that what a major institution could provide for them (marketing) wasn't worth the enormous cut they were taking, either.

    Bla bla bla. My point is just that the challenge is removing the top that takes revenue way out of proportion to the value they add. People will pay for premium content or content reliably delivered, and advertisers will pay to reach audiences. Nobody will get rich writing or marketing writing, but people will still make a living doing it.

  • In reply to docmidnight:

    I think I can answer that for Terry, Andy. I don't know he's 100% agree, of course, but this is what I think:

    72 dpi absolutely kills the art in comics. Until an ePaper eBook reader has print-quality resolution (215 dpi or more) at full color and 100% size of a printed comic book, they'll have fairly limited appeal.

    If such a reader arrives (and the publishers support and the price is right), I can see monthly ("floppy") comics sales taking a bit of a dive, but just like with regular books, serious comic book lovers will always want to own their favorites in a bookshelf-quality, physical format. The books themselves are a work of art.

  • In reply to gmcalpin:

    Oh, I completely agree. I will always want real copies, but I was curious more about how many would easily be swayed to the other side.

  • In reply to gmcalpin:

    I am a great fan of the physical book, in fact I have a large collection of first editions because I enjoy the beauty of the bound book. However, I really feel that the future of literature is in Kindle and, eventually (perhaps in a more wide-spread format), phone apps that make classics and newer writers available to readers. Many libraries, like that which serves the Smithsonian (www.sil.si.edu) are building digital collections for scholars in response to this demand. The trend has begun, and I think it will continue, in order to make literature and images more accessible to the widest audience possible.

  • In reply to gmcalpin:

    I think the Kindle has great growth potential, at least in theory. I'm not sure if the technology is completely where it needs to be to become widespread, particularly between classes. I really think it will catch on with newspapers though, as they struggle to find ways to stay afloat and continue to make money. I think upcoming OLED technology could really push Ereaders to the forefront. www.wired.com has some great articles on Ereaders for those of you that are interested in the technology and the other Ereaders that are on the market besides the Kindle.

  • In reply to gmcalpin:

    As a writer, I can, must, will live, with the Kindle, the desperation to get work out there is too great, so the more platforms the better. But as a reader, I think it sucks, and I hate it, give me a book that I can taste and smell and feel. I am also assuming that falling asleep with a kindle on your face kind of blows, but maybe I'm wrong about that.

  • In reply to gmcalpin:

    I'm a bit weary of Kindle too. Even at BEA, Kindle and Twitter were all anyone would talk about. It's not the device people read books on--or the forum they use to discuss them--that strictly defines the literary community. These things are just distribution/marketing tools. They're important, but when they start to obscure the discussion of what is actually being PUBLISHED, the conversation veers towards really missing the main issues.
    Mainstream corporate publishing pretty much no longer publishes short story collections in any serious way, and literary fiction in general is a dying arena unless you already have a name like Margaret Atwood, etc. Independent presses have become the gate-keepers of serious, risk-taking fiction. Yet the indie publishing market/model is a very problematic one because such presses (I run one, so this is not a diss) are usually virtually broke, populated by people working for free, with no marketing dollars or full-time staff, and a broken, Depression-Era model of distribution (where bookstores can order willy-nilly and then return whatever doesn't sell at absolutely no cost to themselves, sometimes literally bankrupting a small press with returns.) As such, some (most?) of the best fiction being put out today has a hell of a hard time reaching a wide audience or getting wide-scale publicity. Print runs are tiny, and many indies don't have the time and staff-power (or money) to set up author tours, send out enough review copies, or get books visible store placement. In this light, ANY online tool that makes things cheaper and levels the playing field is "good"--however, you can still bet more people are buying Dan Brown on Kindle than are buying indie press writers, so the challenge remains how to get truly good work into readers' hands. I'm not sure Kindle or other electronic media radically changes that dilemma so much as just adding new dimensions--both of possibilities and difficulties.
    If there is a single faulty issue in the publishing industry, it has got to be the distribution model regarding returns. No other industry on earth operates with that kind of system, and it is the Everest that small presses have so much difficulty scaling.
    OV Books (my press) is lucky to be affiliated with Dzanc Books, a larger publisher with a reasonable budget, and some of the harshest issues are not ones we ourselves are grappling with. But I see other indies who do great things struggling with these issues, and sometimes dissolving, because it is so hard to get books into readers' hands, and to make any money or even break even. Is this because people truly don't care about literary fiction anymore, or is it because of the business model?
    Well, I do think more people in general want to read a celebrity memoir than a serious short story collection, sure. But there has always been a community of real avid readers out there and there still is--the model needs to work in such a way that those most committed to publishing this work can more reasonably, easily and sustainably reach the population that wants to read it.

  • In reply to gmcalpin:

    I think the most important issue is one that Gina touched on in her very-familiar description of small press economics: making digital printing and distribution inexpensive enough to the people who produce the books that it can be a viable business enterprise. Even when internet marketing and ordering has made digitally-printed books profitable by cutting out the retailers, it's still very cost-heavy on the front end to produce high-quality digitally printed books. I've found that it becomes a debate even to add indie publisher-friendly venues like independent bookstores into the distribution chain because their discounts are sometimes equal to the combined profits of both the author AND the publisher. I like to see my books on the shelves of stores as much as the next guy, but when I do I'm forced to confront the reality that the publisher and I (in the instance of those books), have become unpaid employees of both the printer and the bookstore. Fortunately, we've had no problems yet that I'm aware of with books being returned en masse, but again a more profitable business structure pre-retailer I think would mitigate some of this.

    I worked for Xerox briefly right after college in 2001, and I was responsible for communicating with the owners of the large, room-sized machines that print digital books for Universities and state and local governments, and their upkeep at that time was extremely expensive. This was back when POD was still very new, but even then there was some hushed talk that companies like Konica/Minolta, Canon, and others were poised to break in and compete for the large-machine market share.

    Fast forward to eight years later, and we're hearing rumors now of machine kiosks that can be placed in malls which will be able to print single copies of books on the spot from exhaustive remote digital libraries. Ideally, a person coming into this new breed of "bookstore" will never again leave without a copy of the book they came for. The implications are positive for us, I think. If these machines can become inexpensive enough to be distributed widely, it's only a matter of time before small publishers can consider cooperatively owning one in a fixed location and printing their own books more cheaply than a third party can do it. There will still be supply issues with paper/toner/parts/maintenance, etc, but if one more link can be cut out of the profit chain, we can at least start to work on developing a business model that isn't understandably gun-shy of retailers.

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