Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Meditation on My Ideal Book Format

It would be an unusual day if I didn't encounter a new article on ebooks, format wars, or a dire warning about the death of libraries, publishing, and print. As I've written here before, I prefer to read books on paper, but I do move around a lot and I want to be able to read everywhere all the time (yes, even the bathroom) so that I can squeeze as many books as possible into my life. I have been envisioning a comprehensive package that would allow me the tactile experience I love about print books, but also enable me to listen to same book in the car or read the ebook version in line at the grocery store, even if I haven't planned ahead to borrow the same book in three formats at the same time.

My first concept would probably be a nightmare to manufacture and would no doubt be immediately obsolete, but it made me giggle:

Drawn when I still had a car with a stick shift.
I have been idly contemplating this for a while, but what brought me back to it was a news item that Angry Robot will be giving away ebook versions of their items--at select stores--when customers purchase the print version. Why is this option not automatically made available for all newly published books? With both audio and electronic versions accessible (when they've been created) at the click of a button, having some kind of tiered pricing/package system for consumers like me should not be impossible.[1]

My pipe dream:

For a new hardback title, I would be happy to pay from $15-20 for the "base" book, which would be whatever edition I purchase first, whether print or electronic or audio. Let's say I bought a print version of Lois McMaster Bujold's upcoming book Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (hardback list price: $25.00), preordering it as I usually do through my local independent bookseller. On the eve of publication, I become so overwhelmed by desire to read the book that I pay an additional $5-$7 on top of the list price for the ebook version to be delivered immediately. I have to sleep sometime, though, and I don't finish the book before it's time to drive to work in the morning. I don't want to stop reading or call in sick, so I purchase the audio version for an additional $5-$7 on top of what I've already invested. I'm happy that I'll be picking up the print version, because I know this is a book I want to keep and re-read, but I'm willing to pay $10+ for a short-lived (format-wise) electronic and audio experience. I think it's pretty clear that my child will not be inheriting my ebooks.

Unlike a library, I don't have the money to spend on the print book and the ebook and the audiobook if they are all packaged and priced separately (around $75.00 minimum). Nor do I think that I should have to; they are the same intellectual property and the shelf-life of anything electronic is questionable at best. However, I do understand that artists should be compensated for their work, and I know that ebooks and audiobooks come with their own associated production costs. I am willing to contribute money to offset those costs and indicate that they are valuable to me.

In my vision, any of the three versions could serve as the "base" version . . . if I buy the audiobook at $15-20 and subsequently decide that I really want the print version as well, I should be able to "add it on" through my local bookstore or the publisher for a fractional cost.

I realize that I may a bit of an oddball, because I will not be buying anything from Amazon or a large retailer at a deep discount; I pretty much always pay list price unless I find something used. But I am very willing to pay that price to support both my favorite authors and local businesses, especially if I could have the format flexibility that would fit my peripatetic lifestyle. In the meantime, I'm happy patronizing the library and buying books that I've already read.

Am I completely insane? Obviously, the numbers would have to be adjusted for mass market books. I would love to have a discussion about this.

Meditation Index

[1] Entitled, internet-having, and willing to spend a chunk of cash on books.


Jessica Olin said...

I love the idea of the tiered pricing.

Robin said...

I would be behind that, completely. There are few books that I'd really want in paper format - but for those I do, I'd want them in either audio or e-book format, too. I like knitting while reading and that is much easier to do if I just have to swipe a finger to turn the page and not worry about pages blowing in the wind and losing my place while I'm in the middle of a stitch... ;)

Katherine C. James said...

Good idea! I love the idea of buying a "base version" of a book with the option of adding on other formats. I'm kind of surprised no one has done this yet. I read paper books, but I'm poised to add ebooks, for space reasons, and audio books, for mobile listening, to the mix.