The Battle of the E-Books — Kim Harrison


Today we welcome out special guest, Kim Harrison. Kim has agreed to post here a few times a year, whenever she has something interesting  to offer about the business. Welcome Kim!

The battle of the e-books has spilled onto my desk.

I’m great at staying out of trouble most times.  You may have noticed that I’ve been very tight lipped lately about the recent drama concerning e-books, saying only that because of their increased popularity, many publishers have begun giving e-books their own release date, aligning them more closely to mass markets than hard covers, (since the price of many e-books are more inline with that format)

Things have been shifting radically in the last month, with shoving contests between retailers and publishers seeming to hurt only the authors and readers.  (For a more business slant, check out Richard Curtis’s blog.  It’s been hopping with industry news.)

The drama hit kind of close lately, and I’ve been trying to educate myself, learning a few things.  E-book is not a generic term (which I thought), but refers to more of a type of electronic book.  If you’ve ever bought an e-book, you know they don’t all work on all devices.  You buy a Kindle to access Amazon, or a Nook to access B&N’s shelves.  What we’re seeing now is Amazon trying to corner the market and everyone else fighting back.  You can guess what will happen to those nice low prices when someone comes out on top. I saw this with Beta and the VCR players when I was a kid, and I saw it again just a few years ago between Blue Ray and HD players.  It’s just the nature of the beast.

So until the battle is won by the way of the pocketbook, the state of e-books will be unsettled.  Please don’t take it out on your favorite authors by leaving bad reviews.  Us author types have little to no say, and no one really knows what’s going to happen any more than you do.

What does this mean to you, the consumer?  From what I’ve been told, the delayed release of the Black Magic Sanction  e-book is affecting Kindles, Fictionwise, Nooks, Soney e-readers, along with a handful of others. (April 6th  Go ahead, groan.  Amazon priced them as a mass market, so that’s where they are sliding.)  However . . . there are alternatives as I’ve been finding out.

Harpercollins/Eos was looking ahead, and though no one had a clue that the e-book situation was going to explode, they had someone out at my office with a camera about a month or so ago, gathering content for an enhanced e-book.  This enhanced e-book content was designed for Iphones and Itouch, and since everything went boom, they decided to release it the same day as the hard cover, February 23rd.  If you have a Iphone or Itouch and access to ITunes, you’re good to go.  And you should see where you’re going!  (grin)

So what’s the difference between the e-book (4/6) and enhanced e-book (2/23)? OMGosh, you’ve no idea how hard it’s been to keep quiet about this.  There are videos of me talking about the Hollows, how the books came together, and how I work.  There are several audio commentaries by me concerning key scenes and characters, and how things didn’t always go as I had planned.  One of the coolest things you will get with the enhanced e-book is the entire audio book synced to the text, which means you can listen in the car, then shift to the text when you get home without losing your place.  Ms. Gavin is reading, and she’s done her usual fabulous job.  There’s a book trailer in there, too, and a couple of cool bits and bobs revolving around the Hollows.  Lots of fun stuff.  And you get to see me in my natural habitat of my office and graveyard.  (grin)

I’m not taking sides.  I’m not a business person.  I’m a storyteller, and I just want to tell my stories, to see your eyes light up and live the dream with me if only for the span the pages are moving.

So there it is, citizens.  Nothing to see here, move along.  (grin)



19 comments to The Battle of the E-Books — Kim Harrison

  • Interesting and enticing stuff, Kim. Thanks so much. I wish I knew how long the on-going fight over format would last (and not only so I’ll know what reader to buy). Does anyone know how big a set back to Amazon’s move to monopolize was the recent struggle with Macmillan et al.?

  • Kim, First, I am sorry my pic is at the top. I’ve contacted the web-gurus to take it down. (Hides face. Compudunce, me.)

    There has been a running comentary here at MW about the constant changes in the book biz. Your post sheds light on other ways it is changing, and ways writers are affected. I wish I could see the enhanced e-book! It sounds fantastic!

  • Kim

    Hi, A.J. I’ve talked to NY last week several time, and literally no one knows anything. It’s a weird situation where there is no data to bring to the table. We’re walking in the dark with our eyes open and our hands outstretched. That’s usually when I run into the coffee table.

  • Kim

    Don’t worry about it, Faith! The less I see of my pic right now, the happier I am. -grin-

    My editor had to send me an ITouch for me to see it. I’m so tec challenged. But it’s majorly cool. I look like a real writer. -laugh- You know, professional and stuff? –Kim

  • Todd

    When the iPad launched recently I mentioned to Misty about the possibilities of authors or other artists in general to begin crossing media lines.

    Authors now, as Kim is experiencing, can begin to more easily include additional materials in their “book” that go beyond just the written word. An author can more easily include maps, character drawings etc. If the author has artistic talents that lay in other fields these can now be married into the book.

    Just as a DVD can include additional materials about the making of the movie or deleted scenes and other little goodies the author will no longer be bound by presenting just the finished and polished story. Visual puzzles that relate to the story, the possibilities are really endless.

    Visual display devices (e-readers/iPads) that can include graphics will begin to flex their muscle over the static page of words.

    The book moves closer to the visual medium of videos and movies.

  • Thanks for stopping by Kim! I didn’t know there were different types of e-books. Huh. Anyway, can’t wait for BMS. I have it pre-ordered.

  • Great to see you here, Kim. And great post as well. I was caught in the Amazon-MacMillan throw down. My books are put out by Tor and I had a new release that week. I’d like to think that Amazon took the worst of it from a PR standpoint, and also because Hatchett group went the same direction as MacMillan. But I really don’t have any facts to back up that vague impression. I do think, though, that Todd is right. The idea of a dedicated e-reader has, I believe, very little future. People are going to want a single device that will let them access music, movies, books, as well as the internet, phone contacts, GPS, etc. The Kindle and the Nook, I believe, will be gone in five years, whereas the iPad, or something similar with a name that doesn’t call to mind feminine hygiene, will have much greater staying power. And it will enable writers to do just the sort of thing you’ve done with the new release.

  • I think there’s likely to be an interesting split in terms of the “normal” and “enhanced” versions you describe, Kim. When I was just your average, avid fantasy reader, I would have much preferred the normal version of the book, because all that extra stuff really didn’t interest me. Same for DVDs.

    It’s only now that I’ve gotten interesting in writing my own stuff that the extras have become enticing. Of course, the earlier release date might be enough to convince the “average” reader to buy the enhanced version, if they have the hard/software to use it, but I’d be curious to see whether the extra materials result directly in increased sales.

  • Kim,
    Great post. I hope you enjoy your iTouch. They’re fairly easy once you play around a bit, and that’s half the fun.

    You’re right about Richard Curtis, he has been on top of the e-book piece right through over at: I love the idea of additional content included with books, and the ability to buy the enhanced version.

    I wonder if ebooks will ever have their own licensed musical score like games and movies. Fantasy video games like Gothic 3 and Dragon Age: Origins have wonderful scores that change depending on what you’re doing. With ebooks, I would love to have music to coincide with the displayed page. Perhaps more up-tempo during action scenes, and slower or more romantic when needed. It would bring reading entertainment closer to other mediums and help close the gap with movies and games. Maybe it would attract whole new groups of readers who prefer multi-layered stimulation.

  • Kim

    Hi, Todd. 😉 Mmmmm, a map. That gives me an idea for next year . . .

  • Kim

    April–I didn’t either, and believe me I was confused when I saw the Amazon release date, and yet my editor was saying it was coming out the Feb 23rd date.

    David — I was here watching what happened to you when Amazon pulled titles. Ugly. I have a feeling you’re right that someone who is not “invested” in books completely is going to win this. Someone who isn’t going to throw their weight around, but win over people with a versatile product. Time will tell.

  • Kim

    Hi, Atsiko. That’s a good question. I think the extras are going to be swaying factors, more than gotta-have items. Though if you’re going to buy the audio book, you may as well by the enhanced e-book and get text, too.

  • Kim

    Hi, Dave. I can see in two to three years music being created to go with text as you say, shifting as the reader shifts “pages” The machine could even learn your reading pace and think ahead, changing music as the mood of the scene does. Mmmmm, I want!!!!! I want now!!!!!

  • Mud

    To be honest, I’m not entirely thrilled with the idea of e-books on I-phones or other pricey electronics.

    I adore my MP for audio books when I’m driving or working. I love my paper books. But I work in a situation where expensive tech is not a good idea. Water and electronics tend to be diametrically opposed to each other.

    So if eventually we are forced into purchase Apple merchandise to hear as well as read our books, and the price of the tech remains high, it’s not going to be a good thing for author, publisher or reader.

    I’ve lived through Beta/VHS. Through records/CD. A gazillion different sizes of floppy discs. I assume that the tech will drop in price, but not if it is changed as often as Apple has been.

    I can purchase an MP3 for very little, load it up, and be on my way. It falls into a puddle, I buy a new one, and hope I still have my audible account 🙂

    Yes, I am a Luddite. But I collect books back to the 1600’s. I know that books and newspapers don’t last the way my acid free books do. But I also know my CD’s were supposedly immortal, and they aren’t.

    What happens to my books when the tech changes again? Unless I suddenly am immersed in a new language, I still have my paper books. And the current Audio books can be fairly inexpensive.

    Most of what I write is now published within the department I work, and sold as PDF documents. Advantages? Students don’t have to pay much.
    Disadvantages? Well, good thing I get an hourly rate and like what I do. (I work at a university and part of my responsibilities include developing new labs.)

    I wish I knew where this was going. Since I have no idea where I am going, I’ll just hold my breath and try to get someone to fix my Betamax

  • Kim

    Hi, Mud.

    That’s just it. Even the industry doesn’t know where things are going. There is no data. None. No guidelines. It’s going to be an interesting 12 months.

  • Susan S.

    I’m another who just doesn’t get the sudden wave of people declaring that books on paper are dead. The advanced tech we have here in the states and other industrial nations is not going to make its way in to the back woods of third world countries any time soon. They need clean drinking water, adequate food supplies and housing before they need electronic gadgets. (Heck, I can even see some of those conditions with a short drive from my house up into the Appalachian mountains.)

    I must respectfully disagree with David about people wanting everything all combined together. There are limits. For example, you still don’t see a mass market for television sets with integrated DVD players in them. I honestly don’t want a combined phone/mp3 player/e-reader/camera/etc. because those devices don’t tend to do any one thing really well. Plus, the device size/screen size isn’t usually appropriate for all of those activities.

    Don’t get me wrong, I own a so-called smart phone. Yes, I use it to search the web on occasion, take a picture, and even listen to music. It’s not my preferred device for any of those activities. I use it when I don’t have ready access to my preferred device. I also routinely move my media from device to device depending upon what I am planning to do. If I’m gardening and want to listen to music, my music gets put on a cheap mp3 player. If I don’t have the space to carry my beloved digital 35mm, I’ll use my small digital snap camera and if that’s too much, then use my cell phone. What’s funny is that no matter what I *always* have room to carry a book.

    However, the point I’m taking a long leisurely loop around the block to get to is that my jpgs cam be moved to any of my devices, as can my mp3s, pdfs, etc. Because of that I certainly have no intention of moving into the Apple world as I hate their proprietary formats for everything and the prices they slap onto things as a result.

    During my not too long ago acquisition of my smart phone, I ruled out the iPhone from day one not because it was from Apple but due to its touch screen. It’s way too fragile for me. I’ve seen what can happen from a small drop – it caused in a small crack in the corner of the screen and now it’s a ~$400 “too light to be truly effective” paperweight. Plus, having been a palm PDA user at work for years, I became overly familiar with the issues surrounding touch screens. Every one that was replaced was due to the screen losing its sensitivity. In case you’re curious, I ended up opting for a a blackberry tour.

    Honestly, I love books. I love the feel of them in my hands, the smell of them and the sight of them all lined up on the bookcases. *s* OTOH, being a true tech geek I could be tempted to buy an e-reader if it met some conditions. First and foremost would be the ability to download the books to a storage medium (aka my PC) for back up, be able to be used on my PC, and then uploaded again to (possibly) a different device of my choice. Until then, I’ll probably just stick to paper.

  • Susan, yeah, I could be TOTALLY wrong. Which is why I’m an author rather than a marketing guru. It just seemed to me that the iPad was definitely pointing toward an all-in-one device, and it seems to have caused quite a stir. But the flip side is that people like their gadgets and love having to buy a new thing for each purpose. So, yeah, wrong and I are well acquainted and certainly will be again.

    I agree strongly with your larger point about the death of traditional books being less imminent than people think. People often point to the digitalization of music as being the model for books, but it’s an imperfect analogy at best. Music is ubiquitous. EVERYONE listens to music, and while there are still those audiophiles out there who insist that LPs still deliver the best sound, their numbers are nothing next to the number of people who want the convenience of mp3 format songs. Books are different. The number of active readers in this country is actually quite small as a proportion of the population, and those people tend to like their books as they are. Yes, they’ll look at an e-reader and even buy one for convenience, but they won’t give up their traditional books without a fight. It would be like having those audiophiles I mentioned earlier be the majority of music customers. Had that been the case, digital music wouldn’t have gotten so far nearly so quickly.

  • Susan S.

    I love the music analogy David because did you know that LPs are making a bit of a comeback? *s* It also fits in with what I said about books. I have a lot of MP3s but they have all been ripped from CDs I own. If something happens to the electronic media (I’ve had enough devices and hard drives go bad over the years to be cautious), I can get my MP3s back with just some work on my part.

    It’s also amazing how many people have said on the various forums where I have been following this type of discussion that not only do they buy the electronic copy of the book, they also buy the paper copy. Most of them had said they’re buying habits of the paper has gone down a bit due to e formats but have not stopped. I suspect it’s akin to my internal debate when I buy a book – do I like this author enough to spend the money on the HC or wait for mass market PB? (Don’t worry David, you know you’re an HC for me. *g*)

    One last note about e-readers versus real books, from what I have seen of e-readers to date, they are all pretty big. I *always* have a book with me, usually a PB when “out and about”. PBs fit in my handbag, an e-reader won’t. *s*

  • Susan S.

    Okay, one last comment and I’ll shut my mouth. *s*

    Something I consider when it comes to electronics is the growing problem we are also having with electronics waste. Here’s a link to an article on ZDNet that is based on info taken from a UN report on the subject:

    And, there’s also some decent info on wikipedia about it: