Round up #108: Textbook costs, costly speech

Round up #108: Textbook costs, costly speech

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

Costly speech

“Let me tell you what I think about that!”

“Sure…but from now on, you have to tell everybody you are a two-toed sloth with tennis elbow.”

“I…wait, what?”

“That’s our rule. You can say something, but you have to tell the world you are what we say you are. Oh, and not only that, we can say you said whatever we want…about anything.”

“Um…never mind.”

This just seems bizarre to me. It’s one of those things where I say, “When did that become okay?”

I read posts on other blogs, and sometimes, I want to comment.

WordPress makes it pretty easy. You do have to give an e-mail address, but it isn’t displayed to anybody except the blogger. You say you want to comment…you do. That’s about it.

I keep running into things that just seem…well, ridiculous to me.

For example, I recently wanted to comment on a post by Alicia Duryee at AllThingsD:

“Managing Expectations for Amazon’s Upcoming Kindle Event”

I just wanted to explain the difference between backlighting and frontlighting, because I think that’s useful for people to know.

I was going to comment:

“It will be interesting to see what Amazon announces! One technical point: a “glow” reflective screen device would not be backlit, it would be frontlit. With backlighting, the image you see is between you and the source of illumination. You look directly at the source of light with backlighting. The backlight has to compete with light hitting the screen from the front…the sun, for example. With a reflective screen device, you see what is on it by light bouncing off the screen: the same way you read a paperbook. The NOOK Simple Touch with GlowLight adds a light source in front of the image you are reading, and that’s what a lit RSK (Reflective Screen Kindle) would do.”

However, it wanted me to sign in to post.

I don’t like to create accounts just to leave a comment. I admit that I have an advantage in having another forum (this blog), but that just seems like work.

I was given the option to log in with Twitter. Check out the permissions, though:


This application will be able to:

  • Read Tweets from your timeline.
  • See who you follow, and follow new people.
  • Update your profile.
  • Post Tweets for you.


Say huh?

If I make a comment, they can change my public profile? They can tweet on my account (and presumably, people will think the statement came from me)?

That’s an awful lot of integrity to give away, just to make a comment!

It really makes me doubt anything anybody tweets…there’s a good excuse next time somebody makes a…regrettable tweet.

“Hey, I didn’t post that…must have been some site where I’ve commented.” 😉

Maybe that’s just me, and there were other ways to log in…but I was surprised.

US News & World Report: “How Your Textbook Dollars Are Divvied Up”

How Your Textbook Dollars Are Divvied Up

This is a great, lengthy article by Danielle Kurtzleben about the cost structure of textbooks…and how the prices are growing so much faster than overall price  growth.

There are a number of things in it that can be applied to any e-books. It explains why it isn’t the cost of materials that determines the consumer price of a book.

Here is one of the really key points:

“The single greatest contributor to the price of a textbook is a used textbook…”

That’s from Bruce Hildebrand, executive director of higher education at the Association of American Publishers.

When someone buys a used paperbook rather than a new paperbook, it contributes to higher prices for paperbooks.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the inability to sell a “used” e-book is significantly keeping e-books cheaper. 🙂 However, you can bet that if used e-books became a reality, publishers would use that to raise the prices on them.

I highly recommend this article.

PW: B&N Will Rise or Fall with Content

B&N Will Rise or Fall with Content

“Content is king.”

That’s been said before. If you have a super cool EBR (E-Book Reader), but you don’t have the content people want (and they can’t get it somewhere else), it’s going to be tough to make that sale.

If books become less platform-dependent, that may be less the case…but right now, you need books people  want to make money with your EBR.

It’s amazing to me how bookselling has become dependent on blockbusters. When I managed a bookstore, yes, we depended on bestsellers.

However, it’s now become that a few books sell massive amounts. We could look at Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and 50 Shades of Grey as prime examples.

By themselves, they can buoy the industry.

That’s different from Stephen King having a big bestseller…at the same time that John Grisham has one.

Amazon knows that exclusivity matters. They recently put out this

press release

saying that Kindle-Exclusive books have been purchased, downloaded, or borrowed from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library over 100 million times.

I’ve seen this misreported as being all Kindle Direct Publishing books. They specifically mention the 87th Precinct books by Ed McBain (starting Cop Hater). Those are published by Amazon’s traditional publishing mystery and thriller imprint, Thomas & Mercer. They said it’s been downloaded 250,000 times since December. That’s a significant figure for backlist titles.

What is Barnes & Noble publishing exclusively?

My Little Pony

Seriously…this is hipper than it sounds. 🙂 It’s also the beginning of a series of books they’ll publish from Hasbro, which could include G.I. Joe, Transformers…and Mr. Potato Head.

The content piece is an interesting article by Jim Milliot, and looks at how brick-and-mortar bookstores are helping Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.

What do you think? Am I overreacting to turning over my Twitter account to post a comment? Is B&N still leading on children’s e-books? Do textbooks cost too much, or is it a reasonable price for a limited market item? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

13 Responses to “Round up #108: Textbook costs, costly speech”

  1. Jason Cox Says:

    What a jam-packed post! (And a good one!) I’ll have to take things one at a time:
    1. The twitter/login to comment issue: while I can’t say the same necessarily about every commenting system, the one in question is called Disqus and I use it on my blog as well. My personal experience is that it is benign (if that helps any). Disqus is probably the most-widely-used 3rd party commenting system, so the benefit with it is that it eliminates spam and when you log in anywhere, you can post with the same profile on any Disqus site and use your same profile. While I didn’t create an account through twitter log-in, most “apps” that utilize twitter or FB in that way say similar things and they have to by policy of the api. It won’t actually modify your profile other than adding the app to your profile page of apps you use. It allows you to post comments or links through the “share” feature on your twitter feed, too, so it has to say it has the right to post tweets (even though it is actually you doing the posting). Because you are signed in under twitter, anyone who sees your post will see your twitter account and be able to see who you follow and all that.
    To me, the problem is more that the app developers for twitter are forced to post these scary-looking warnings so that you can use an intuitive feature. YMMV.

    2. I haven’t had a chance to read the article you linked about textbook pricing, but from your comments, the only way that makes sense is price-fixing. Competition in the marketplace should by economic principles LOWER the price due to alternate availability of an item. So somebody is price-fixing, whether it be the publishers or the bookstores that sell used textbooks. I remember getting royally hosed on even used textbook pricing in med school and college.

    3. The content question really raised my eyebrow. Then the other eyebrow. This is potentially a considerable problem, IMHO. To me, a reader and maybe a future writer, I think it is very limiting to have to consider book format in my decision of e-reader purchase. Because not all books are available to all e-readers, I suspect this will slow the wholesale conversion of readers from p-books to e-books. This feels very similar to the early days of HDDVD and Blu-Ray. What having that “choice” of format did was cause people to avoid going high-def at all until a unified solution was available. Luckily it only took at couple of years for BR to win that one. But disc prices were higher for an additional 2 years AND all those people who invested in HDDVD equipment lost some (maybe a lot) of investment.

    So, here we are again. Essentially two formats (Kindle and ePub) one with technological superiority (ePub) and the other with more marketing firepower and marketshare (and maybe better devices?). Who stands to lose here? One format does. And ALL the end-users. And maybe some authors who get nailed down to something less than full access to the market because of a contract. And that’s just directly. Amazon seems unwilling to make changes to their format (which I understand from my InDesign usage is much less flexible for formatting media-rich content in a controlled and design-friendly fashion). Is this because they are busy fighting on other fronts? Maybe Nook will win some battles based on this.

    One thing is for sure, I dread the thought of having to own multiple devices because I might not be able to buy Author-X’s latest book on every service. How can that be a good thing for a publisher or author? Why don’t the publishers make some demand (while they still have some power to do so) about a unified standards-based format to open their works to all devices? When an item is not available universally (blockbuster exclusive, B&N exclusive, or whatever), I find myself less likely to ever buy it as opposed to going to the exclusive partner to get it.

    How is this not bad for the consumer?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jason!

      Thanks for the lengthy and thoughtful post!

      Let’s start with the question of exclusivity. Quite simply, retailers will pay a lot for exclusivity. I’m sure Amazon had to pay relatively big dollars for the Ed McBain books. That’s hard to resist. If you sell it to Amazon, who are you not going to reach? Are there people who have NOOKs that don’t have either a PC or a Mac? Sure, there are some, and yes, people may not want to read on a PC or Mac. How about on an iPad or a Fire? That’s starting to stretch it.

      Part of the question here is how much people read exclusively on limited platform devices. If the HDDVD and Blu-ray debate was going on now, how many people would say, “I’ll just watch the movie on my tablet, or my phone.” Hardware is becoming less significant.

      You can already read Kindle books on Barnes & Noble devices…many people do. One solution is the Cloud Reader, but people also root their devices. It’s tougher with, say, a NOOK Simple Touch…but I think device independence is on the way.

      On the competition front, I don’t think you can lower price because the same product you sold before is being sold again used instead of being bought new. Let’s say you sell a book for $100, and it is resold for $50 instead of someone buying it new. Effectively, you sold the book for $75 twice. Does that mean you should have sold it for $50 to compete with the $50 price? What happens if somebody buys it for $50…and then sells it for $25? Now, you’ve effectively sold it for $37.50 twice…cutting the value of the sales in half.

      You can think of it as that resale is raising the costs of the book for the publisher…and, in economics, that should raise the price, right?

      I appreciate your information on the log-ins! I know there are things where I go with what I think someone will do, rather than what they say. Amazon’s “experimental features” are a good example. I know Amazon has the right to discontinue them, but I don’t think they will. However, if someone tells me they can post on my Twitter account, that power worries me…even if it has never, ever been used in an abusive manner before. If it was…I’ve betrayed my followers. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s how I would feel.

      • Jason Cox Says:


        Thanks for the reply.

        I think my reaction to the exclusivity deal is more “gut” than logical. Something about it just doesn’t “feel” right. I love Amazon and use them extensively, but I believe in competition and a level playing field for the benefit it provides to the user. While I may be able to install kindle apps on nook devices… what about the other way around? I have a Kindle 3g (several, actually). Can I read B&N exclusives on that in any form? Then there’s the whole concept of “this is a battle” and if one company (say Amazon) wins the battle, do we trust them not to jack up prices indiscriminately? Maybe they won’t. Or maybe it’ll be a while before they do. Or maybe they bully the publishers and take over the market and next thing you know everything in the Kindle store is $20 and AMZN’s profit margins are AAPL-like. That should be the goal for their shareholders, anyway. No company nor government exists who is purely altruistic in motive.

        On the textbook pricing…how does resale raise cost of production for the publisher? The cost to the publisher has to do with paper, binding, printing, quality control, author $, editor $, shipping, distribution. Where do used books come into that equation any more than a 1980 copy of Foundation by Isaac Asimov comes into the equation for a new pBook of the same on the shelf at B&N? (or the eBook for that matter?)

        Thanks for the enlightenment!

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Jason!

        I understand the emotional reaction to exclusivity. Of course, publishers have always had exclusivity. Oh, that’s not platform dependent, but if you didn’t like one particular publisher’s business practices, you couldn’t just buy your favorite author’s books from another publisher. Is that significantly different?

        When you talk about a level playing field, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to start with the same capabilities. Let’s say that one athlete has trained extensively, using innovative techniques, and sacrificed for years building up for the event. Another athlete has stuck to the old training methods…they went for quick wins early on, but over time, became bloated and out of shape. The “level playing field” doesn’t mean that the in-shape athlete has to carry an extra 100 pounds to make it fair. 🙂

        What isn’t level in this case? Barnes & Noble pays money for exclusives…so does Amazon. Amazon may have more money to do it right now, because their business model has been working better.

        As to the question: yes, you can read NOOK books on a Kindle in a manner somewhat similar to reading Kindle books on a NOOK. They have NOOK for Web, as Amazon has the Cloud reader. You can certainly read NOOK books without owning a NOOK: they have free reader apps for iPads, Android tablets, iPhones, Android phones, PCs, Macs…not quite as many as Amazon, but a lot of options.

        Publishers can also choose to publish books without DRM (Digital Rights Management)…Amazon allows that through Kindle Direct Publishing, and Tor (a major publisher) does all of their books that way. In that case, you can convert it for whatever device you want.

        Resale doesn’t add to the production costs, but by analogy, it adds to the negative income creating upward price pressure. Does that 1980 reprint of Foundation do the same thing? Yes, but there is a very significant difference…sales cycle. The textbook is only valuable for a short period of time…a few years before the next edition comes out and becomes the required version. Year One, people buy it new. Year Two, many people buy it used depressing the market. It might seem that would reduce the price by reducing demand…but the demand is the same. If 25,000 students need the book in Year One, 25,000 probably need it in Year Two: the demand hasn’t changed. The used books have a very different cost structure…the student who is selling the book in Year Two didn’t have those production costs you mentioned. They don’t even have to recoup the price they paid for the book…it discounts the initial price, it’s not required to make them a profit.

        So, the publisher has to make the initial sale make them profit for the multiple sales that will happen for that book.

        In the case of Foundation, the book is still selling new sixty years later…that’s a very different calculation.

        Equate price to energy expended…compare the energy expended by a runner during a 100m dash versus during a marathon: very high energy for a short period of time, or sustained energy for a long period of time.

        This one is long! One last thing…yes, the resale of the Foundation p-book adds to the price of the Foundation e-book. E-books are likely supporting the profit margin of p-books to some extent, just as bestsellers support niche market books. 🙂 It’s not quite the same way, because more gross still comes from p-books…but there is an impact. Higher profit supports lower profit when you have a population of books to sell, not just one.

        Thanks again for making me think this morning!

  2. Harold Delk Says:

    I do not feel you are overreacting about Twitter permissions. My personal rule is that I will not join anything that requires me to create an account simply to comment especially if it is either Twitter or a Facebook login. I’m especially cautious of anything related to FB as I consider it to be terribly insecure. The only login credential I use is via Google+ and not very often.

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Many sites give you a choice of 4 or 5 login possibilities. I use only two: gmail, and disqus. If those aren’t available, I forego the privil;ege of commenting. I absolutely will not use Twitter or FB (I refuse to have a FB account) — not because of privacy concerns per se, but rather that it leads to a lot of “spamish” stuff in my inbox..

    There are a handful of tech sites on which I comment frequently — I have accounts on these.

    As to privacy issues: I long ago resigned myself to the notion that if I do stuff via the net, then any notion of privacy is out the window. No matter what someone’s privacy policies might say, if it’s on the net, I assume I have no privacy.

    I adjust my net behavior with this assumption in mind.

    It’s beginning to look (MS’s $300 million notwithstanding) that BN is starting to fade. I suspect this Christmas season will tell the tale.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Privacy, and ceding your identity to someone else, are two different things. 🙂 Knock virtual wood, I do find that people often respect my privacy…oh, that doesn’t mean they don’t find things out sometimes, but they don’t tend to share them publicly.

      That’s not the same as saying someone can change your public profile and tweet for you…

      Barnes & Noble has done some good things, and yes, led in some important ways, but I do think they have a tough row to hoe. My instinct is that they survive in some way, but not in the current form.

  4. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I’m getting tired of so many sites requiring that you log in from either Twitter or Facebook. Why should I have to join Facebook to comment on articles in my local newspaper’s website? I can’t vote for fan favorite for Project Runway because you have to have a Twitter account.

  5. rogerknights Says:

    A subpoena-related article that is vaguely on-target, titled “Who owns your tweets?”

  6. rogerknights Says:

    Jason Cox says:
    “So, here we are again. Essentially two formats (Kindle and ePub) one with technological superiority (ePub) and the other with more marketing firepower and marketshare (and maybe better devices?).”

    What about Amazon’s Format 8? Won’t that supersede the “Kindle” format?

    • Jason Cox Says:

      “What about Kindle Format 8?”
      Currently it’s only available on Fire. And there’s only beta support for the format in an Amazon Kindle plugin for Indesign. The new version (CS6) is pretty aggressively designed for eBook design and publication including orientation reflows and stuff like that which are important to how the final product looks. Fire has been out almost a year and KF8 still doesn’t appear to be available on anything else but that. Not holding my breath.

      Hope it becomes more widespread, though, as it looks to be HTML5 and CSS3 based.

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