Wednesday, February 16, 2011

e-books and e-readers

The recent announcement that Borders was closing over 200 stores nationwide came as no surprise, since it was public knowledge that this company was rapidly losing market share. The reason: the increased costs of production and the emergence of new and improved digital readers like the iPad and Kindle. Added to this is the increased production of e-books in a variety of genres. A more effective marketing of e-books was also an important factor in the increasing popularity of this new book format.

Amazon recently reported that sales of e-books had surpassed those of paper books for the first time. While this was not an unexpected announcement, given the increased popularity and better resolutions of e-readers, it was nevertheless tinged with a certain degree of regret. Borders' announcement did little to improve the mood.

The first victims of the closures are the hundreds of workers who will surely lose their jobs. The second group who will feel the absence of an outlet for their production is that of authors and publishers. Even though there are many stores and small chains that will continue to sell books, the reality is that none of them possesses the logistics and accumulated knowledge of retail sales like Borders. Publishers will probably feel the need to lower production figures to reflect the absence of a major player.

The reasons why sales of e-books have surpassed the sales of physical books are varied. One of the main reasons is the ease with which an e-book can be bought. All the reader needs to do is to surf the net and search for the book he is interested in. Seconds later he could be enjoying a good book. Another factor is the lower price of the e-book, several times less than that of a normal book. A point in the publisher's favor is that there is no need to have a physical inventory. Instead of warehouses bulging with unsold books, there will only be a computer program that produces the book. For famous authors accustomed to huge advances, there will probably be some bad news.

New authors will probably find it easier to sell their first book. Low advances will enable the publisher to recover the outlay quickly, while the author will receive royalties sooner. The lower prices for a digital download mean that there will be increased sales.

Undoubtedly, we are now entering a new era in the world of books. Authors, publishers and readers will have to adapt to a new way of writing and selling books.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Readers and Writers

There is a saying in Spanish that people who read a lot will soon start to write. In my case, I think it is true to a certain extent because I cannot remember a time when I was not fascinated by words and their meanings. I particularly liked foreign words, especially the way their spelling and pronunciation did not often correspond, at least according to the dictionary.

I think I always had a talent for spelling because I could see the words mentally and know if a letter was missing or needed. This enabled me to always ace the exams where spelling was involved. Unfortunately, my grades in arithmetic were below par because this subject did not come easily to me.

When I began reading, the first books that I devoured were the ones dealing with myths and legends. Even though these were adapted to children a few years older than me, I found that I could readily understand the content. The illustrations were also attractive and aided greatly in the formation of mental images to accompany the text.

Among the books that I read after my initial foray into myths and legends was Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. The adventures of Mr. Toad and Mr. Badger enthralled me for hours. I reread it now and again and still find it a very good read. A Basket of Flowers by Christoph Von Schmid was another book that I found interesting. Even though its protagonist is a young girl, it was written in such a way as to appeal to children of either sex. Even today I find that it still has the power to inspire me.

In High School I quickly gravitated to the books that were popular among the other boys. The Biggles series of novels by Captain W.E. Johns were a great source of delight for me. The books were always filled with daring escapes, adventures on sea and land, amid the warn-torn Europe of the Second World War. Biggles was followed by the Hardy Boys series of novels by Franklin W. Dixon. The setting was completely different and the young detectives introduced me to a world that was new to me.

Today, I find that my reading varies according to my different interests. Science fiction novels are one of my favorites, especially the ones that deal with present technology. Robert Heinlein, one of my favorite authors, said that a good story should take one aspect of technology and extrapolate from there. The factual basis of the story would lend a certain degree of credibility and make the reader's experience more vivid.