In The First Few Months . . .

. . . that I owned a Kindle I would have told you I was done with the dead tree book. But the dew dried off that chandelier pretty quickly. I like to break the binding of a book, twist it, make highlights in it, to feel and touch the book and turn the page, not scroll. Apparently, I am not the only one:

Facing economic gloom and competition from cheap e-readers, brick-and-mortar booksellers entered this holiday season with the humblest of expectations. But the initial weeks of Christmas shopping, a boom time for the book business, have yielded surprisingly strong sales for many bookstores, which report that they have been lifted by an unusually vibrant selection; customers who seem undeterred by pricier titles; and new business from people who used to shop at Borders, the chain that went out of business this year.

Make no mistake: the e-readers are here to stay, but the dead tree book will be around for a while longer as well.

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Sean Paul Kelley

Traveler of the (real) Silk Road, scholar and historian, photographer and writer - founder of The Agonist.

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  • I have to limit myself when I visit them – left to my own devices I could walk out with a truckload. If I ever won the lottery, I’d build/stock a library the size of Madison Square Garden – and spend the next 30 years reading. 😀

    As a reader, I greatly prefer paper. I skip back and forth a lot, make notes, highlights, etc. – difficult to do on an eReader.
    As a writer, I’m about to publish a novelette to Kindle, then paperback. Depending on how it goes, will follow with a novel.
    Have some Western history and memoirs whose readership will likely prefer paper, so may do them later as eBooks.

    Libertarianism: MiracleGro for the feeble-minded.

  • What constantly amazes me when I’m reading histories about any civilization with a written documentation is the sheer durability of paper. Pick up a book about the medieval period and look in the bibliography and notes and see references to real books and ledgers which survived from the 800s CE. Given the constant OS changes the e-suppliers constantly force for “efficiency” sake, we can barely recover what was produced last year much less last decade. Those old dead-tree books offer a lot to any civilization.

  • …degree be about the perceived suitability of books vs. e-books specifically as gifts. There’s all sorts of baggage that goes with things when it’s gifting.

    As an aside, one related thing that I would absolutely love to see is comparison of what’s on people’s e-book readers vs. what’s on their shelves – kind of a literary equivalent of the guilty pleasures playlist. (One of the pretty nosy things that I love to do when in someone’s library alone is find their copy of A Brief History of Time and see if I can tell how far through they made it.)

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • Just ran across old 3.5″ disks and a few 5.25″ floppies – and there’s an 8″ floppy somewhere amidst my junk.

    Libertarianism: MiracleGro for the feeble-minded.

  • …an actual honest to god tape (not the 3/4 tape, one the narrower ones) from Canada Revenue Agency. Don’t know how I’m ever going to get that dataset off there…

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • which uses tape cartridges readable on more modern drives – but the tapes are no longer manufactured. I ordered enough to last until our system is deinstalled (which was supposed to happen June 2010 and will probably happen June 2012). We previously had an ancient drive using 11″ reels. I actually found old equipment on Ebay and I suspect that deep in the bowels of IBM is equipment to process tapes going back to the 1950s. One nice thing about IBM software is that it maintains backward compatibility – if I could get the old hardware, the latest software could drive it.

    Libertarianism: MiracleGro for the feeble-minded.

  • I have an iPad and realized that what I wanted for Christmas was the new Jobs’ biography, but it would be much harder for someone to buy me the e-book version, so I asked for the book. Giving the e-book would entail sticking an iTunes gift card in an envelope. Sticking a book under the tree seems more like a real gift. It is that tactile sensation that I think is driving book sales this year. People can’t think of what else to give that they can afford, and a book is always welcome in nearly every household.

  • by telling me how it ended.

    I hate it when people do that; it was the same damned thing with the Bible.

    “The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential.”

    – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • I got a Kobo last Christmas as a gift and now no longer buy hard cover books.

    Why? Unlike the Kindle, the Kobo uses an open format called ePub for ebooks as well as a restricted copy-protected version for squeamish publishers. The open format is essentially a zipped version of html and I have open source software to manage an e-library (calibre), including conversion between various formats including html–>ePub, and open source software (sigil) to create and manipulate ebooks. So I have been downloading Project Gutenberg ebooks and html files with books and sending them to my Kobo. I have also bought a few ebooks – but not too many.


  • I’m using my Kindle mostly for the free 3G function when I travel. I read lots books in PDF format on my Android tablet and some books in paper format. Overall, I find the Kindle screen a bit too small for too much reading. I mean, you got to turn page every 10 seconds! If they made a new and improved Kindle Dx perhaps…

  • of paper that will stick around for 100 years, let alone a thousand. I expect that a lot more acid-free archival stock is used to make coffee table books of no significant cultural value than to make books that would offer substantial insights to the people of the future.

    In the information age, our physical media have gotten less robust, but our ability to make and store copies of stuff everywhere (even inadvertently) makes the loss of important texts much less likely.

  • I’m never giving up my eBooks. My system is as follows: I buy my books online, catalog them with ‘Calibre’ and then in Calibre get rid of any DRM and convert those books into my format of choice, which happens to be the Kindle eReader for PC. My reading PC is an Asus ep121 Slate. The screen is nice and big and I use the stylus like a pen to highlight and take notes. Additionally, there are 100’s of thousands of public domain books. Another reason for the Kindle app is that all my books bought on Amazon sync to the cloud….notes and all. I’ll never lose a book again and I can lend not caring if I get it ‘back’. Sure, I love the smell and feel of a good book as much as the Neanderthal loved the smell of a fresh kill.

  • Last week, Canadian author Margaret Atwood thrilled her 285,000-plus Twitter followers by defending their kind as “dedicated readers” who are boldly exploring new frontiers in literacy. Calling the Internet in general “a great literacy driver,” she defended even the most minimal form of screen-based reading as an unalloyed good – “because reading is in fact extremely interactive from a neurological point of view,” she said. “Your brain lights up a lot.”

    But many of those who have studied what lights up when people read have come to sharply different conclusions. Basing their concern in part on graphic physical evidence of how brain cells adapt to meet new demands – and wither in the absence of such stimuli – a growing chorus of neuroscientists worry that the “expert reading brain” will soon be as obsolete as the paper and ink it once fed on. And the thing that replaces it (“the Twitter brain”) will be a completely different organ.

    In Britain, University of Oxford neuroscientist and former Royal Institution director Susan Greenfield revealed a far different vision – one that could have come straight out of an Atwoodian dystopia – when she warned that Internet-driven “mind change” was comparable with climate change as a threat to the species, “skewing the brain” to operate in an infantalized mode and creating “a world in which we are all required to become autistic.”

    Less dire but no less pointed warnings have come from Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “I do think something is going to be lost with the Twitter brain,” she said in an interview.

    Wolf first warned of the Internet’s threat to literacy in her book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “I was thunderstruck by what I saw and what I realized from a neuroscience viewpoint,” she said. “… The medium is really important in terms of its effects on a reading circuit [in the brain].”

    Both scientists back their assertions with detailed images showing physical differences between the brains of expert and non-expert readers, with the affected cells in the readers’ brains much more thickly branched and intricately interconnected than the same cells in non-reading brains. They emphasize what Wolf calls “the tabula rasa nature of the reading brain,” the fact that there is no genetic map for reading and that brain cells must physically adapt to make the new circuits that enable the mind to read – especially those that help it achieve knowledge from deep concentration in the pages of a non-networked book.

    The hyperlinked, text-messaging screen shapes the mind quite differently than the book, according to Wolf. “It pulls attention with such rapidity it doesn’t allow the kind of deep, focused attention that reading a book 10 years ago invited,” she says. “It invites constant change of attention, it invites multitasking. It invites, in other words, a kind of triage of attention.”

    Such a skill is certainly necessary in the 21st century, she adds. “But it does not have a place in the deepest kind of immersive thought.” More

    Sexual inequality is “The Mother of all Inequalities”.
    Liberate female sexuality and you will eliminate racism, homophobia, financial greed, and violence.

  • Maybe these neuroscientists are right that the reading brain branches out all over the place while the Twitter brain in action does not. I would like to know if the Twitter brain is responding in the same way as the brain when engaged in talking. Isn’t Twitter nothing more than a form of talking? It’s like stenography. We are taking millions of youth and turning them into stenographers, using Gregg shorthand (of a sort) to express themselves. By the way, as a former foreign exchange trader from the 1970s onward, I can tell you that Twitter abbreviations are not new. Many of them were used a long time ago by anyone who had to rely on cable communications to do business between the US and Europe. I’ll bet you can find a few of them on ship to shore telex messages from the 1920s.

    Another reason I’m not overly worried about the Twitter brain is that in America at least an enormous number of people read nothing at all – not a newspaper, not a book, and if they are forced to read anything it may be a popular magazine at the dentist. People don’t know how to read and they get what little news they have of the outer world from television or the internet. Most people I know who are not book passionate skim the Yahoo headlines to keep in touch with the world, and if they read anything it is to update themselves on some celebrity scandal. The shocking statistic is not what is happening to our brains on Twitter – it is what has already happened to whittle down the literate section of society to 10% or so of the adult population.

  • I’m curious how writers are coping with the shrinking prospects of professional publishing and the explosion of ebooks. How will you get people to hear about your novellete on Kindle? How will you price it? Is the eBook you refer to a paperback or hardback version of your proposed novel? How is publishing this different from sending your manuscript to old-line publishers? Do you have to fork out all the advance money?

  • We were never born to read ~ Maryanne Wolf

    The brain lacks a reading cente – the reading process involves multiple structures and mechanisms.

    I can see, though, how reading a book provides greater opportunity for deep thought and contemplation than Twitter. But I see no harm in using both.

    Sexual inequality is “The Mother of all Inequalities”.
    Liberate female sexuality and you will eliminate racism, homophobia, financial greed, and violence.

  • Traditional publishing takes forever and is inundated – more books written than ever, few are profitable. If you plan on a career as a full-time writer making a living on your books, it may be worth the agony of locating agents, publishers, rejections, etc. For me, it’s not worth that hassle.

    The novelette and novel (and in-progress novels) will go to ebook first, one probably to Kindle and the other to Smashwords, just to test the waters. Depending on feedback, I may do paperback, POD at my expense via Lightning Source or Createspace. The Western History and memoir will be paperback and will be POD, simply because I think their readership will prefer it.

    Pricing is an iffy thing. Jon Konrath prices at 99¢ and makes a lot of money but he posted a link the other day to an author whose sales jumped when she upped her prices from 2.99 to 3.99 and higher. There is a ‘perceived quality’ thing going on there – if it’s’ cheap, people assume it’s not worthwhile. I think Konrath succeeds a .99 because he already had a sizable readership, fans, name-recognition – a platform.

    I will probably price my ebook novelette at 2.99 and the novel at 4.99 and see what happens.
    The paperbacks of Western History will price at 14.95 or more – original is out of print and I’ve seen them on Ebay from $35 to $70.
    The memoirs probably around $9.95, since it’s short book.

    I may also print some copies myself and hand-bind them as ‘special editions’ either for sale or as gifts.

    Post on FB, email contacts, everyone I know. Will also resume regular blogging and try to get the blog more tailored to books and writing. The Western history & memoirs will be personally marketed in Colorado – they will never sell big quantity but will sell forever as local history by local writers.

    The fact is that if you want to make money writing, you have to treat it like a job. I’m not trying to make a living at it, but just want it to pay for itself and buy me an extra beer now and then.

    If you’re contemplating self-pub, POD or ebooks, suggest you check the following links and rummage around in earlier posts, particularly for the first link – he’s been around a long time.

    Very sharp guy, long in the business

    Guest post re pricing – on Konrath’s blog”

    You can publish free to Kindle. Of course you can sell from your own site or places like Booklocker or Smashwords, but you can’t undersell Amazon or they’ll drop you – and they are the dominant market. If you want to POD to them, consider doing it via their Createspace – I’ve heard that though they sell books POD’d by others, they let the inventory run out – books then show ‘2-3 week availability’ and some potential buyers will not bother, but will buy other in-stock books instead.

    Libertarianism: MiracleGro for the feeble-minded.

  • Self-publishing is upending the book industry. One woman’s unlikely road to a hit novel.


    This summer, Darcie Chan’s debut novel became an unexpected hit. It has sold more than 400,000 copies and landed on the best-seller lists alongside brand-name authors like Michael Connelly, James Patterson and Kathryn Stockett.

    It’s been a success by any measure, save one. Ms. Chan still hasn’t found a publisher.

    Five years ago, Ms. Chan’s novel, “The Mill River Recluse,” which tells the story of a wealthy Vermont widow who bestows her fortune on town residents who barely knew her, would have languished in a drawer. A dozen publishers and more than 100 literary agents rejected it.

    “Nobody was willing to take a chance,” says Ms. Chan, a 37-year-old lawyer who drafts environmental legislation for the U.S. Senate. “It was too much of a publishing risk.”

    Darcie Chan works full-time as a lawyer drafting environmental legislation. She writes at night after she puts her toddler son to bed.

    This past May, Ms. Chan decided to digitally publish it herself, hoping to gain a few readers and some feedback. She bought some ads on Web sites targeting e-book readers, paid for a review from Kirkus Reviews, and strategically priced her book at 99 cents to encourage readers to try it. She’s now attracting bids from foreign imprints, movie studios and audio-book publishers, without selling a single copy in print.

    The story of how Ms. Chan joined the ranks of best sellers is as much a tale of digital marketing savvy and strategic pricing as one of artistic triumph. Her breakout signals a monumental shift in the way books are packaged, priced and sold in the digital era. Just as music executives have been sidestepped by YouTube sensations and indie iTunes hits, book publishers are losing ground to independent authors and watching their powerful status as literary gatekeepers wither.


  • marketing. She did a good job and it paid off.
    The gatekeeper function of agent/publisher is pretty much down the tubes.
    What is needed is something to replace the editing, advising, coverart, marketing tasks that traditional publishers do (although they do less marketing than 20 years ago, simply because there are too many books being published – and advances are lower than before).
    Marketing methods are still in a try-to-see-what-works stage. I suspect eventually someone will have a ‘eureka moment’ and make a zillion dollars. There are for-pay editors and cover artists and there are ‘book packagers’ who do the mechanics.

    One big problem is that most writers only want to write. They really hate to sell, partly because they don’t know how and partly because selling seems to be crass commercialism. What is needed is to develop a mindset wherein marketing calls forth the same creativity and rewards as the writing did. I’m still working on that….

    Libertarianism: MiracleGro for the feeble-minded.

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