Daily Archives: February 10, 2010

Rich versus Poor

From the tumblelog Brooklane

Why I don’t read books and why I might read ebooks but likely will not

I agree with Matthew Yglesias (and Henry Farrell): (Many) Books Are Too Long. Over the years I have slowly stopped reading books, though I read copiously on the Web.

 There are two reasons for this slowdown, depending on the book:

  1. for non-fiction, I side with Farrell: “They (the authors) make an interesting point, and then they make it again, and again, padding it out with some quasi-relevant examples, and tacking on a conclusion about What It All Means which the author clearly doesn’t believe herself. The length of the average book reflects the economics of the print trade and educated guesses as to what book-buyers will actually pay for, much more than it does the actual intellectual content of the book itself.” I don’t know how many books that I have picked up, read about 50-100 pages and then thought: well, it is clear that the author needed to pad this out to get it in the 200-400 page range and therefore chapters 4, 5, 6, etc. and revisions of chapters 1, 2 and 3. At that point, I put the book away. 
  2. With fiction, too often I pick it up and read the jacket to get a sense of it, and the sense I get is reading a synopsis of something that is ultimately aimed at becoming a film one day. (I can almost hear the movie trailer narrator as I read it: “In a time of trouble, John Doe rises up to deal with some difficulty or other”. Of course if it is really serious fiction, then John Doe will fail and suffer.) And it too will go on for 200-400 pages when it could easily be done really well in 100. So I put it back.

Of course that is not all books. I have read and loved great works of non-fiction, like Stalingrad and The Peacekeepers, that are 500-1000 pages long and loved them. Likewise, two of my favourite fictional works are The Satanic Verses and The Brothers Karamozov, neither of which is short (and in many cases, of varying quality). But alot of fiction and nonfiction that I read, or start to read, could easily be 99 pages and priced at $3.99.

Right now I am reading Seneca’s “The Shortness of Life”, part of Penguin’s Great Books series. Frankly, at $9.99 it feels overpriced. But I love the size and format, and appreciate the opportunity to read works like this. I would likely buy more if they were cheaper.

When eBooks started to take off, I was hopeful that writers and publishers would consider alternative forms and lengths of works. I think that would be very enticing. Instead, we can see from this, Amazon Caves To Macmillan’s eBook Pricing Demands, that nothing is going to change in the book publishing world. At least from inside the book publishing world. Instead, it will happen outside the book publishing world. If MacMillan and others think that they can price this way for an eBook, based on protecting their own margins, they are likely in for a bad surprise.

One more thing: I am surprised how much teen hardcover fiction is. I buy it for my 14 year old and most of it is $19.99. Why? Because teens won’t / can’t pay more than that. So why do the hardcover fiction aimed at adults cost almost twice the price. The quality of the book itself is the same.

Generally I find books today are poor value. I am afraid ebooks will be the same. And what the book publishing industry will find eventually is that they go the way of the music industry.