Do you remember the Negropontism of bits vs atoms (from Being Digital)

The best way to appreciate the merits and consequences of being digital is to reflect on the difference between bits and atoms. While we are undoubtedly in an information age, most information is delivered to us in the form of atoms: newspapers, magazines, and books (like this one). Our economy may be moving toward an information economy, but we measure trade and we write our balance sheets with atoms in mind…

In the information and entertainment industries, bits and atoms often are confused. Is the publisher of a book in the information delivery business (bits) or in the manufacturing business (atoms)? The historical answer is both, but that will change rapidly as information appliances become more ubiquitous and user-friendly…

Other media will become digitally driven by the combined forces of convenience, economic imperative, and deregulation. And it will happen fast.

This was published (in a book) in 1996.

Fast, eh?

To use a technical phrase, the economics of digital publishing are fucked up.

As a big fan and follower, I really wanted to buy a book from this man, that is Martin Weller’s new book The Digital Scholar. Martin has blogged openly about his writing publishing process, and his efforts to maintain an open access licensing version of his works (that is one of the “right” parts).

But I defy anyone to make sense of the pricing of a digital version of a book about digital scholarship. The paperback version is US$24.26 (and not even available in the US until December) while the Kindle version, those futuristic bits– costs $57.20!

This is just wrong, and I just rolled down the window, stuck my head out the window, and yelled “I AM MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE” I will not buy anymore kindle versions of books that are priced way over the print ones.

I hear the rationale. It’s not Amazon’s fault, it’s the publisher. I am sure the publisher has a rational about the cost of creating digital content. It is all chicken shit noise to me.

UPDATE (Sept 8 2011): As reflected in the comments below, thanks to someone from Bloomsbury Press (Martins publisher), we find that the prices for Amazon Kindle versions have dropped to more earthly levels– apparently it was Amazon’s mistake. You see, you cant just blame the publishers! And it sounds like Bloomsbury may be one that lands on the “what’s right” side. However, I can easily dip back in to Amazon and find thousands of inflated priced digital versions from other publishers. It’s good to know there are exceptions out there!

I will wait for the open version. Or just re-read Martin’s blog posts.

It is wrong, wrong, wrong, and it stinks. And until people start rolling down their own blog windows and yelling and stop paying outrageous unjustified fees for digital content, then the Man will keep sticking to us all.

For publishers, you are the lumbering giants standing around at the end of the Jurassic not even caring about those scurrying little mammals nor the asteroid careening your way. Your days are numbered. Bastards.

So what is right about publishing? It is people who are making efforts to act as humans by self publishing, the attitude that Rick Schwier adopted in his eBook on Connections: Virtual Learning Communities published for free damnit.

I do not expect digital to be free; so here is another story about what can be right about publishing. Back when I worked for …. well whatever the name of that place I used to work, I ordered a digital copy of Liz Castros fabulous guide ePub Straight to the Point… it was one of the most clear and sensible things I have read about the mud that you find when trying to learn how to do ePubs.

It was well worth the price, plus she sent out free updates.. electronically. Liz gets bits, but more than that, I have proof of her human nature; she is not some monolithic company, she is an author/publisher/person. She noted that the email address I had registered with the purchase was no longer in use, and she made a connection:

Hi Alan, My email to you about a new EPUB publication of mine bounced, and so I went to your site to see if I could quickly find a new email. Instead, I read and read and read. Thanks. Whether you buy my books or not, I sure hope you’re thinking of publishing your lovely writings and photographs in book format. kind regards, Liz

A personal email from an author/publisher. How often does that happen?

I do know that this may not “scale” (I hate that term, it is greedy, and I think human kindness can scale if we just apply it often), but to me, this is what is right about digital publishing.

And hey, Negroponte’s book is down to $9.09 and Being Digital is not even available… digitally.

Friends do not let friends buy overpriced digital content. Pass it on.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


      1. Maybe the German store gets it… maybe… or maybe Germans are not willing to pay more for digital and that “forced” Amazon/or the publishers to adapt their pricing policy… don’t really know… but it’s surely a strange thing! and you’re right to be *mad about* it :-)

  1. There’s an amazing new infrastructure of author/publishers developing out here. Not so much in the non-fiction realm (where marketing is so much easier) but in the fiction arena. Thousands of great stories being told (and sold) in the authors’ own — and sometimes unfortunate — words.

    The world of publishing is changing so fast, many people don’t even recognize it.

  2. Thanks Alan – I’ve passed your rant on to my publishers as an example of the pricing policy creating a negative impact (particularly given the topic of the book). I’m quite angry – I spent ages making sure the OA side was nailed down and didn’t pay attention to the Kindle pricing, and that has almost become the main issue about the book now. It’s kinda depressing. If I don’t get any joy, I’ll have a go at creating my own ebook version and releasing for free, but I would’ve been happier with just a cheaply priced Kindle version.

  3. Actually Amazon made a mistake which has now been corrected. Digital Scholar is available for £11.06 from Kindle.
    Bloomsbury academic’s policy is to price the digital version in line with the lowest price edition, not the highest!

  4. I think we owe Bloomsbury an apology here Alan, it wasn’t their pricing that was at fault, but an error from Amazon who picked up the wrong price and discounted from there. I’m guessing this will work its way through to the US site soon.

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