Sunday, October 16, 2011

E-Book Follies

Unless we are in the throws of a fad, book retailing is gradually, but perhaps inexorably, moving away from physical books and toward e-books. I doubt paper books will ever stop being sold; but they may eventually become like vinyl records, still sold for major albums but found only in high-end shops and second-hand shops.

The movement toward e-books has already claimed retailer victims, most notably the Borders Chain. Borders' delay in entering the e-book market was not the only factor that doomed the chain, but it was a significant one.

Here are some of the odder developments in this emerging trend:

-- DC Comics is producing electronic versions of 100 of its graphic novels and comics series compilation paperbacks. But it is producing them exclusive for's upcoming tablet computer, the Kindle Fire. In response, Barnes & Noble -- the only major book retailer chain with physical locations left -- is pulling those DC graphic novels from its locations' shelves. ( Considering that in the 1980s DC pioneered placing comics trade paperbacks in chain bookstores -- and thus got titles such as WATCHMEN and SANDMAN into the hands of many readers who would never set foot in a comics store -- DC's exile from the last chain's bookshelves is particularly poignant.

-- E-book versions of older books are popping up in unusual places. For instance, Joe Haldeman's SF classic THE FOREVER WAR has been released in e-book format -- but only at the online bookstore for the Kobo, the e-reader developed for the now-defunct Borders chain. ( Fortunately, Kobo makes an app for the iPad, so one does not need to buy a Kobo e-reader to read the novel.

-- Barnes & Noble recently marked the price for its first-edition Nook e-reader down to $89. ( Shortly afterward, Amazon announced the newest models of its Kindle e-reader. Except for the Kindle Fire, the new Kindles all retail for under $100. (

Not necessarily odd, but interesting: Amazon, like Barnes & Noble, not only sells books, but publishes them -- putting it into competition with the publishers whose work it sells. Its newest imprint, 47North (, will sell science fiction, fantasy, and horror fiction. Its first project is THE DEAD MAN, the horror-action series created by my cousin Lee Goldberg and his writing partner Bill Rabkin. ( Amazon's move isn't surprising, since fantasy novels (mostly series) dominate best-seller lists. But it is a vote of confidence in the science fiction genre of publishing, which appears to have become much less popular than fantasy -- particularly fantasy featuring child wizards, zombies, or sparkling vampires.

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