The Randomness Of eBooks

Reading & Writing

It’s hot in King’s Cross, Central London, where August has accidentally replaced February, and I’m sitting on my terrace with a book, having a late lunch. Idly I decide to download it, but no luck; Kindle does not have it. So I go in and flick through my library shelves looking for what Kindle does have, and I start to realise that either my tastes are astoundingly outrĂ© or the eBook policy is still as random as a throw of a dice at the moment.

So, no Ray Bradbury, no JG Ballard, no Evelyn Waugh (except ‘Brideshead Revisited’), no David Pownall, Agatha Christie short stories being sold for a quid apiece, then random costings that range from everything Dickens ever wrote for one pound to overpriced copies of long out-of-print books being flogged individually. I thought I might add my beloved Edmund Crispins to my Kindle, but each slim volume (there are eleven) of these sixty year-old books is a fiver. And Peake’s ‘Titus Groan’ is more expensive than ‘Gormenghast’ – why?

But an astonishing range of books by the wonderful David Nobbs – hats off to Harper Collins here for getting all of their backlist online so promptly – but then only ONE Keith Waterhouse book. Ronding out that particular trilogy of great Northern comic writers, we have a total no show for Peter Tinniswood. Luckily, I have all of his paperbacks. As for Michael Frayn, everything is available but at a higher price.

Everything recent, no matter how unreadably bad it is, is available. But go back a little to the recently-loved great writers and availability fragments into completely random pricing or non-existence. It seems we are still in the Wild West as far as ebooks go.

18 comments on “The Randomness Of eBooks”

  1. Nostalgia.Detected says:

    Have you seen yesterday’s Huffington Post article – Amazon Pulls 5,000 Kindle Books –

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/22/kindle-books_n_1294272.html?ref=tw

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Edmund Crispin, next to John Dickson Carr, is a favorite. Crispin is still only in book form as many of his books have been rereleased here in the past few years. Kindle does have one or two short stories for download, but they are a bit expensive. The Moving Toy Shop may move, but it doesn’t yet come down from the stars…yet.

  3. Cat Eldridge says:

    Until quite recently, Bradbury refused any release of his work as eBooks. He changed his mind a few months back and iTunes carries a few of his works with lts more due out ths summer.

  4. I.A.M. says:

    The principle reason you haven’t found some authors on the virtual shelves with eBook editions is because any7 contract which doesn’t specifically include eBook editions has to have a separate and entirely new one negotiated for that purpose. Additionally, the ones for people like Bradbury, Asimov, and Clarke have a vague reference to “electronic distribution” which is just enough to complicate the eBook option, yet actually refers to Radio Adaptation, and not even to a TV signal distribution. So, that’s fun.

    Meanwhile, the principle reason you find insane prices for the eBook edition of a title in the same vague price as a hardback copy is simple: the publishers know that Amazon will do a deep discount on the title, and any amount they get paid for the sale is based on the actual transaction, not the RRP. Additionally, the royalties for the author are based on a percentage of the RRP, not the transaction. Thus, the only way the publisher can typically guarantee some decent return on their product’s sale is to jack the price up as far as they can, cross their fingers the eventual charge will be somewhat acceptable, and then hope like hell they don’t drive readers away in droves. I’m considering playing this game to a tiny extent myself, but only with the printed editions.

  5. Gretta says:

    Just reading the link Nostalgia posted, or more’s the point, the comments, and someone has said:

    “You don’t own e-books..you own the rights to use them…”

    So you’re not so much buying a book, as renting it?

  6. admin says:

    I think this is just the start of renting, Gretta – Ultra Violet, the new cloud system all the major studios are signing to, is coming, whereby you rent everything and pay again every couple of years…

  7. Gretta says:

    In all honesty, that thought makes me shudder, admin. I don’t know what it is about the whole ‘cloud’ concept, but it gives me the willies. I’m overly attached to life’s tangibles, I guess. Whatever it is, it’s made me go over and kiss my collection of paperbacks, in solidarity with proper reading and real books.

  8. Steve says:

    “The Cloud” is just an airy-fairy term for a building full of servers. It’s electronics, not magic. Although these days it’s difficult to tell the difference, n’est-ce pas?

  9. Alan Morgan says:

    It will make for easy dressing in dystopian futures. How long will it be before adding in crowded bookshelves will be all it takes to paint a picture of someone old, cranky, a bit odd (and probably Michael Caine)?

    Amigo.

  10. Gretta says:

    I’m before my time on that count then, Alan.

  11. Dan Terrell says:

    My home sighs with the weight of books as well. Books in bookcases, on side and bed tables, on coffee tables, and in boxes off the floor. All the places a vacuum doesn’t have to go. None allowed in the dining room though. Curses. If we hadn’t had to greatly weed out our collection whenever we departed an overseas post – books are heavy – we’d have had to hire a part-time librarian; due miss many of them though. Don’t you think a room is warmer when there are books in it? My wife has a new Kindle Fire, but it doesn’t warm a room.
    Clearly you decorate with taste.

  12. Dan Terrell says:

    Gurr. “Due” above. I have a Kobolde living in this laptop, or I need to s l o w d o w n.

  13. Alan Morgan says:

    All our houses are made of more books than bricks, this is that sort of place*. This site is one where in his bunco-booth our host tempted us with stories before sweeping wide the curtain. Come for the tales, he says – stay for the curiosities!

    *Not from what we’ve seen of our host’s pad of course. There all is The Future. There you need to brush a certain point on a certain wall for a soft electric hum to reveal hidden a million paper wonders neatly bedded down. He does not live atop other flats, other dwellings. Those floors beneath are in fact his bookshelves.

  14. Dan Terrell says:

    Alan: You are probably right about our host’s flat. What a vision: books as high as the eye can see. As my mother used to say when she saw a child’s bedroom gone wild: “Be still my heart.” Those words sent fear deep into a child’s heart, because since she was a bit German such words said when you weren’t at home, and able to fly into emergency clean-up,… Burr. Too Poe to think about!
    Now, here as a painfully true suburban horror tale, such as our host might write for a children’s magazine. Are you ready to enter the Crypt of Horror? Come then my lambs.
    While I was overseas on my first assignment, my parents moved and she … she.. pitched out .. two sacred storage boxes that I’d so carefully packed and labeled – of plastic-wrapped… mint to near-mint comic book treasures. **Admin: read no further!** MAD magzines in near-mint condition (vol 1 – 50 or so, complete, including 1 – 12? which were MAD’s color-comic comics. (Remember reading reprints of the little convict no cell could hold, who always escaped using a nose hair? The Mole: “Dig! Dig! Dig!”) and hand on! “Be still my heart!” 150+ EC horror comics – yes! The ones that got EC comics banned, including the SF ones with the full 10/12 Ray Bradbury tales illustrated. All these comics stored at expense and time in plastic, all in order, and all read once. Vault of Horror, Tales From the Crypt…, Amazing SF, Two-Fisted Tales, etc. Nearly the full line of early EC color comics. The comics that warped a nation, Congress claimed.
    Years later I took my son to a comic book convention, he was 11/12, and I showed him venders who had scant displays of some of the ones I’d once owned and saved. My boy left a man, shaken to the bitter core, no longer a young fellow. He was saying over and over: “$254 + $175.95 + $495.00 + $375.00 on and on. Too much to add.” The venders, too, were struck dumb. I took my son for a milkshake to recover. He looked like the Bates motel had got him. I asked him not to brace his truly dear grandmother, she was elderly now, but of course he did – first opportunity he got. After he’d told her what he learned, she said: “Be still my heart, you could have been nearly been put through college.” We were three people shaken to the purse.
    That Chris is an example of true Suburban horror. Wish it were not so.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, Dan, that is so sad! It’s the first issue of any magazine that is the most valuable and the hardest to find later on. Everyone keeps the last one so it has almost no value, but the first one! And the Ray Bradbury! I hope your Mother was shaken (metaphorically only). My mother suggested I could throw away my son’s stuffed animals while he was in hospital (aged 5) having an appendectomy. She realized it was the wrong suggestion immediately but I was glad I hadn’t left anything she wouldn’t recognize as valuable behind when I left.

  16. Laura J says:

    Have you priced Nevil Shute? Patrick O’Brian? Ow. These books are NOT NEW. I dream of a world where, if it’s ever been in paperback, it’s whatever $3.99 (US) is. I don’t mind people making some money, just not as much as if they had had to provide paper and shipping. My house is full. But I can lend the paper copies. And that has good points as well as the likelihood that eventually, I’ll need another copy.

    People should be aware: the really cheap Jules Vernes in English are not as good a translation as the ones that come with a translator’s name.

  17. Laura J says:

    Have you priced Nevil Shute? Patrick O’Brian? Ow. These books are NOT NEW. I dream of a world where, if it’s ever been in paperback, it’s whatever $3.99 (US) is. I don’t mind people making some money, just not as much as if they had had to provide paper and shipping. My house is full. But I can lend the paper copies. And that has good points as well as the likelihood that eventually, I’ll need another copy.

    People should be aware: the really cheap Jules Vernes in English are not as good a translation as the ones that come with a translator’s name.

  18. Helen Martin says:

    Laura, that’s another item of cost. When I read something originally in another language and I find it difficult or confusing I often wonder if the problem is in the translation. Perhaps we ought to make good translators as famous as authors. I suspect many authors find a translator they trust and then stick with that one. Anthea Bell is a translator from German and French to English and some would know her for the Asterix graphic stories but she has done the YA series about the people pulled into books. My mind is mush today, She and the author work together with the German roughs and do final copy so that it translates well into English. That sounds weird but it’s how they explained it in an interview they did. Anyway, translation is a difficult matter, especially if the original was written in a different time. Do you use the English of the same period or use modern English and end with a strange voice?

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