E-books and E-readers: The beginners guide for people who prefer paperbacks

E-books and E-readers: The beginners guide for people who prefer paperbacks
is restricted information designed to benefit the members of Booksellers NZ.

Special thanks to Jason Darwin from meBooks and Tom Rennie from Bridget Williams Books, for donating their time and expertise, to help create this introductory e-reading guide.

Understanding e-books and e-readers
What’s an e-book?
What’s an e-reader?
Is an iPad an e-reader?
What’s the best e-reader?

Common customer questions about e-readers
 How do I charge it? 
 Is the e-reader backlit/do I need a reading light?
Can I read in other languages?
Can I read on this e-reader in Chinese?
What is the warranty?

Buying and finding e-books.
Where do I buy e-books?
Which NZ retailers are selling e-books online?
Where else are e-books available?
What’s the average price on an e-book?

Common questions from customers
What is DRM and why does it matter?
Can I share my e-book?
Where is my e-book stored?
What’s the best e-reader?
Why isn’t this print book available as an e-book?

Questions to ask your customer
How much they want to spend?

Sales tips
Sales tips from a Luddite navigating the world of e-reading

Technical questions and answers
What is DRM and why does it matter?
What is the cloud?
How are e-books like DVD’s?

Need more information?
Link to other resources online to deepen your knowledge.
 

What’s an e-book?
An e-book is an electronic version of a book. E-books come in different formats or files. The most common e-book formats being used in the market are ePub and PDF files.

The format an e-book comes in is important because there are a variety of e-readers on the market and not every e-reader accepts every format of e-book.

However, the most common e-readers currently in the NZ market, Kobo, Sony, etc do accept ePub and PDF formats.

While PDF simulates the appearance of a print book, ePub is a ‘reflowable’ format, meaning the text adjusts to meet the requirements of the e-reader device, thereby optimising the reading experience.

A useful flowchart to help you understand the relationships between devices and formats can be found online at Book Bee.

The industry is moving fast so keep checking for new versions!

It’s worth letting customers know that Amazon e-books use their own format  (Mobipocket or AZW). This means that Amazon’s e-books can only be read on the Kindle – their own e-reader – or using Kindle applications such as the Kindle app for Apple devices. Amazon, they’re crafty like that!

Unlike Amazon’s Kindle, ePub is an open format, which has been developed using industry-wide collaboration, and is very likely to become the definitive e-book standard for years to come.

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Where do I buy e-books?
It might sound stupid but every now and then a customer will ask! Right now e-books are purchased online.

Sure maybe there are some stores that can swivel their computer around and allow a customer to purchase an e-book then and there, but by and large it’s online either at home, in a wireless area, via a laptop or smart-phone etc , or via those ebook readers that have built in wireless connectivity, such as newer version of the Amazon Kindle, Kobo and  Sony Readers.

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Which NZ retailers are selling e-books online?
Several local brands and online retailers are selling e-books –  don’t forget to give your customer NZ alternatives to the online international giants. So far these sites (in alphabetical order) retail e-books.
They do stock varying ranges.

(Remember too, if your customer has a Kindle they can only purchase DRM-enabled titles through Amazon, though some sites such as meBooks make all of their titles available in non DRM versions.)

If you are reading this and thinking I sell e-books and I’m not on this list then email Megan.

Many more New Zealand stores are likely to have this capacity to retail e-books in the near future.

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Where else are e-books available?
Many out of copyright NZ works are already freely available as e-books in ePub and PDF format from the NZ Electronic Text Centre.

A broadly equivalent international site is Project Gutenberg.

It’s important to note that many New Zealand libraries, especially in the public and tertiary sectors, already provide access to e-books, with OverDrive and the NZ-owned Wheelers ePlatform widely used to service e-book lending.

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What’s an e-reader?
An e-reader is an electronic device that has been designed specifically for customers to read digital books on. They are made using e-ink technology which has been designed to make the screens easier on the eye than the typical computer screen and they generally have a longer battery life, typically around a month before needing recharging.

E-readers are often the size of a paperback book and you can frequently buy covers for them in handsome leather or pink velour which protect the e-reader and make it feel even more book-like!

Personal computers and some cell phones can also be used to read e-books. There is a variety of software for reading ebooks on personal computers, with some of the most common being Adobe Digital Editions and Calibre.

The list of e-readers is actually quite extensive although there are many e-readers that aren’t yet available in NZ stores.

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Is an iPad an e-reader?
Nope. An iPad is a tablet. With the appropriate software it can be used for reading ebooks. However, the iPad does not use e-ink technology. This means the battery life of an iPad is less than a standard e-reader (around about a day of continuous use). However the Ipad or tablet device has lots of other features unrelated to reading ebooks that customers like and therefore is very coveted!  

The American chain, Barnes and Noble, has a tablet device on the market called The Nook. This is not retailed in NZ.

The most common e-readers and devices used to read e-books in NZ are smartphones, iPads, Kobo and Sony, though a number of new tablet devices are being released throughout 2011, including tablets from Sony and Amazon.

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What is DRM and why does it matter?
DRM – or digital rights management – is a type of encoding that restricts the use of an e-book. Generally DRM is put in place by publishers who are trying to prevent piracy, or copying of the content and illegal sharing of it in the public domain.

It is another complex area to explain and unravel in layman’s terms.

Unfortunately DRM can also make the ebook experience harder for the customer, in that it becomes more difficult to copy ebooks between the different devices that a customer may own.

The worst case scenario from a retailer’s point of view is a customer returning to your store, after purchasing an e-book online, now confused and irate asking ‘Why can’t I open this on my device?’

Reasons why:

  • The  e-book comes with a number of restrictions, and even access to the purchase can be removed by a number of different parties involved, although this is not common. These include the publisher of the book, the provider of the DRM scheme, and the publisher of the reader software. As with digital rights management in other media, e-books are more like rental or leasing than purchase.
  • Often the reason is that the customer does not have the right software to open the e-book. For example, an ePub that uses Adobe®'s DRM wrapping won't be readable on any device that doesn't support Adobe® Digital Editions such as the Kindle.
  • A customer may also have purchased an ebook online and then not realized that they have to download the file, or possibly they have downloaded the ebook to their computer but are unsure of how to transfer it to their ebook reader.

As a result of some of the restrictions that DRM imposes, such as not being able to share your ebook with family and friends, many consumers are developing the perception that ebooks should cost less than the equivalent print book (which can easily be shared).

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Can I share my e-book?
The most-common answer is no … owing to DRM e-books are usually tied to one device and can’t be resold or used by someone with a different e-reader. There are small exceptions and variations to this rule but it’s quite complex to explain to customers who are often looking for simple answers.

Exceptions to the rule:

  • With some formats of DRM, the e-book is tied to a specific computer or device. In these cases the DRM will usually let the purchaser move the book a limited number of times after which they cannot use it on any additional devices. This means sometimes a customer can register their e-book to 2-3 devices under their control and therefore enabling families to share the e–book.
  • Not all e-books have DRM and these are much easier for the purchaser to move between devices.
  • Some retail platforms, notably the Kindle, are beginning to implement short-term lending (i.e. an e-book can be lent from one friend to another for up to 14 days) but this remains subject to publisher DRM and is not yet widely used.

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Where is my e-book stored?
Some e-readers such as those without any wireless connectivity require the e-book to be downloaded first onto your personal computer. The e-book can then be kept on both your computer and your e-reader. Your collection of e-books is maintained overtime in a ‘library’ on both your computer and your device.

E-books purchased from vendors like Amazon are stored in the ‘cloud’ on servers and ‘digital lockers’ and have the benefit of being easily retrieved if an e-reading device is lost. However not all e-booksellers are cloud based, if an e-book is stolen, accidentally lost, or deleted, in the absence of a backup it may have to be repurchased.

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What is the ‘cloud’?
Cloud computing is already very common.  Gmail and hotmail are both a couple of well known services that rely on cloud computing, where data—documents, music, photos, and movies—are stored on shared servers in large data centers, rather than on your own personal hard drive. The benefits of cloud computing are obvious: you are not limited by the size of your own hard drive, nor restricted to viewing your e-book on a single device. Once your e-book is in ‘the cloud’ the only thing standing between you and reading it is a (fast) internet connection.

But you do need that internet connection!

As well as storing your ebooks in the cloud, we are starting to see cloud-based ebook reading systems, which enable people to upload their (typically non-DRM) ebooks and then read them anywhere they have access to an Internet browser, including on tablet devices.

One local example is Melbourne-based Booki.sh whose technology powers the ebookstore for independent chain Readings.

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How are e-books like DVD’s?
Sometimes you’ll meet a customer who will have purchased an e-book from an international website and can not open it on their device. This may be because the title purchased is not available to this territory.

Yes, that’s right. Some e-books have DRM that mean they only be read in particular territories. This is similar to the encrypting of DVD’s into geographical regions.

It can be hard to establish if this is the exact problem in a conversation with a customer, especially if your store sold the device but not the e-book or vice versa.

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What’s the best e-reader?
If you work in a store that sells e-books (online!) or sells an e-reader you’ll already be asked this question.

There’s no fail-proof formula.   

Undoubtedly the e-reader with the most profile in a customers mind is the Kindle but it doesn’t mean it’s the best solution in the New Zealand market. Every sale of a Kindle means buying either through Amazon, which does have a bearing on the kiwi customer’s pocket, or, where Kindle titles can be made available without DRM, from ebook retailers that provide non-DRM Kindle titles.

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Why isn’t this print book available as an e-book?
It is important to note that e-book availability does not yet mirror print, with fiction titles often dominating e-book sales globally. This is partly due to most existing formats and e-reader devices being a better match for text-only titles with limited complexity. The new version of the ePub standard (ePub3.0), however, promises much better support for complex titles – such as heavily illustrated works like cookbooks and textbooks – meaning publishers are increasingly likely to release e-book versions of all titles.

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The questions to ask your customer.
How much they want to spend?

What features they are looking for? (e.g. whether they want to be able to annotate text, use the ebook reader to read large print etc).

Get a good feel for how and when your customer wants to use the e-reader… Sometimes e-readers are best for less complex works, like fiction, whereas tablet devices are best for e-books with heavy formatting and additional media.

Often customers are looking for portability, many are attracted to the fact that e-readers offer a variety of font sizes.

Some customers want all the glamour and money is no issue (iPad), others are just big readers who want something portable for sitting up in bed, or coming into work on the train. They may be completely satisfied with an e-reader like a Kobo or Sony Pocket.

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Sales tips from a Luddite navigating the world of e-reading
Don’t forget to offer your customer a cover when you’re selling an e-reader as they frequently do want to protect their new shiny purchase. It will up your ATV too.

Care. That’s all it takes. The customers buying these devices range from the totally techno proficient to those who would struggle to work a microwave. You really scale the heights selling these devices and when something goes wrong it doesn’t matter if you didn’t sell them the e-book, they want answers or at least an attempt to find an answer.

It ‘s crucial we keep our bookstores as the primary place where customers come to find out about books and e-readers and e-books are now part of that equation.

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Common Customer Questions about e-readers
How do I charge it?
Often through a USB connection through your personal computer. E-readers usually have a battery life of up to four weeks, depending on the voraciousness of the reader.

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What’s the average price on an e-book?
They do differ and yes there are out of print titles in e-book formats that are absolutely free. For example, all fiction from before the year 1900 is in the public domain. But generally - as a rough guide - an e-book is around half to a third of the price of a p-book. However, it’s important to note that pricing will continue to evolve with developments in technology and the industry generally. For example, there is a growing belief that we might ultimately be moving towards dynamic pricing, with book pricing adjusted on a ‘live’ basis like airplane tickets!

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Is the e-reader backlit/do I need a reading light?
Depends on the e-reader, my dear Watson. Most e-readers are actually not backlit and don’t mysteriously glow in the dark therefore the customer will need a reading light.

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Can I read in other languages?
Certain ebook readers such as the Kindle and Sony Reader support multiple languages, but others don’t. Because the English-speaking world was the earliest to adopt ebooks, the majority of ebooks are available in English. However, ebook use is now growing in non-English-speaking countries and it won’t be long before many titles are available in other languages. ePub3.0 also promises greater accessibility for languages beyond English.

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Can I read on this e-reader in Chinese?
Because certain ebook readers such as the Kindle do support a wide range of languages, they are able to display Chinese language ebooks, although there will still occasionally be problems, sometimes because the ebooks themselves are not always correctly formatted for all devices.

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What is the warranty?
If you’re retailing an e-reader check this, know it. Customers will ask.

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Need more information?
There’s lots of industry discussion going on out there and here a couple of the best blogs to follow:

 

Idealog blog
Mike Shatzkin is a very well connected industry veteran with  excellent coverage of the big changes in e-book retailing

Media Bistro
A good summary of industry news

Future Book
Another good source of industry news, with a UK perspective

E-book reader reviews

E-Report
A useful NZ-based blog by Martin Taylor

Kobo

mebooks

Wikipedia entry on e-books

Wikipedia comparison of e-books

Sony

Teleread

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