About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, February 5, 2010

customer in the middle

A few quick idle links on the whole e-book thing...

Timothy Egan is an excellent writer who worked for the NY Times for many many years as a reporter and now does an on-line opinion column for the Times. If I had more time for pleasure reading I'd love to read one of his books, but I settle for now to read his column for gems like this on the iPad: "it's a big iPhone, allowing people to carry all their movies, tunes, books, magazines, newspapers and the Web itself in something that still won't fit into a coat pocket, and will not withstand beach sand." Well, for the record, a Kindle could fit in some sufficiently big pockets if it wasn't covered, like the ones on my cargo pants. But please do read his whole column here.

My client Peter Brett has an interesting back-and-forth with a reader who's wondering how the e-book wars fit into the reader's own book-buying habits. It's a good question, and a good answer, and you'll find it here.

The reader, in his e-mail to the Peter, mentions LPs and MP3s, and I was thinking a little on the music business comparison earlier in the week when I was talking with another client about the 15% cover vs. 25% net question (earlier blog post here). Because I do worry a lot about file-sharing, and I worry about what will happen if publishing follows the music industry path, which would make the last week seem modest in comparison to the fun times ahead.

But there's one significant difference between the two. When the CD came around, the music industry kind of stopped supporting the idea of the 45 RPM single. Nobody had turntables for those, attempts to have CD singles were pretty half-hearted. When I was in high school, you really could spend $.99 or $1.49 to buy a single of something you really liked, even the good B side. I got Baker Street on a .45. Didn't buy an entire Gerry Rafferty album. When I was 35, you had to buy an entire album or not buy the one song you wanted. In publishing, people don't buy most novels because they like the 2nd chapter and the 8th chapter and don't care so much for the rest of them. There are some exceptions, like with travel guides for a big country where you just want to find out about one city. But big picture, people buy books. And the same book has been available at different price points at different times for 50 years, the hardcover branching to the remainder and the paperback, the library offering books for free, used books a more common thing than used records. Yes, some people having tasted the $9.99 e-book will say that it should always be thus. But how many people can say they were totally screwed to have to buy all of Dune when really all they wanted was the chapter with the sandworms.

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