Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Part Two: A Little More About Digital Music, and Finally I Talk About E-Books

Just a couple of things about part one; I was wrong about the number of computers which can be set to one iTunes account. I said three, but in reality it's six. Also, I just want to talk about borrowing and lending music. I used to let my friends borrow my CDs all the time, and in turn I would borrow theirs. In that way, I got to listen to the music and make a tape of it for my own use and my friends got to do likewise. But most importantly, it wasn't just the music. I got to see the album cover, the liner notes. I love liner notes. I love the special thanks. I love the funny stories that are sometimes hidden. I love it when the band puts the lyrics in. I love the artwork that might be in there as well. And the album cover, which I mentioned in passing; I love album covers. Album covers can be an artist's conception of the album. The liner notes help the band color the music a little more. When I download an album, I miss the liner notes (I get a very small .jpg of the album cover, which is not the same). And while I can easily share the music (with DRM-free iTunes, I can make as many copies as I want), my friends don't get the liner notes or album cover either. Now, there are exceptions; two albums I bought on iTunes were iTunes exclusives, which came with a .pdf of the liner notes. But that's the exception to the rule.

Okay, now, on to the E-Book.

Much like digital music, digital books have advantages over physical books. Production costs are lower as you only need to create one file to sell multiple times. They take up much less space than a physical book. All the same things I mentioned before.

The only problem here, though, is that Amazon dominates the market and (until recently) has set the price. They became publishers and sellers, which meant that they got a double cut of profit because they held the digital rights. Now, this is very similar to what Apple did with iTunes pricing; the price was set at ninety-nine cents a song by Apple, not by the record companies (of course, with the record companies, they would have set the price much higher but would have lowered it in the ensuing litigation and PR nightmare when we went from $20 a CD to $13 because they admitted to price gouging...). The problem is for the publisher and author with the E-Book. There's a different sense consumers seem to have with digital books over digital music. The idea is that digital music is worth just as much (or almost as much) but that a digital book is worth a third as much as a real book.

A short tutorial on book releases: Before the advent of the E-Book, major releases were first sold in hardcover form, which are the most expensive to produce and thus the most expensive to purchase. The MSRP on these books is generally $30 or so, depending on the size of the book (both physical size and expected sales, in that smaller sized books are less and larger-expected sales books are more expensive). Big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target often offer these books with a 30% discount, which they can eat because they make money elsewhere (though that just reflects the regular price, not any promotional new-release sale which might knock another 3-7% off the price). Bookstores also offer discounts, though they are generally not as deep. Amazon falls under the big-box price model, often offering even deeper discounts than Wal-Mart is able to give consumers. When a major release goes to paper back, it often goes to what is called Trade Paperback. Trade Paperback books have a high-quality binding and generally hold up to multiple readings rather well. Discounts offered are of equal percentage to those offered on hardcovers. After a successful hardcover and trade run, books then go to the mass market paperback format, which is a cheap binding. Most of the Stephen King and Michael Crichton books you find in airport bookstores are the mass market paperback versions. These have a MSRP of ten bucks, but are generally offered anywhere from three to ten dollars. For a book that sells well, this transition from original hardcover release to mass market release can take about a year.

When Amazon set the price for books on the Kindle reader, they set the price for new releases at $9.99. So, here's what you've got; New Release CD comes to $14.99. Same album on iTunes costs $12.99. Net difference of two dollars, which is a fair difference, though considering most stores sell new release albums for as little as $9.99 the first week of its availability, so it's kind of a toss-up. New Release Book comes to $29.99. New Release E-Book comes to $9.99. That's a difference of $20. Again, most stores offer a discount the first week of availability, but not two-thirds off. That's a major chunk of change to account for. And publishers are furious.

Why are publishers furious? Well, publishers and authors are saying that this pricing model creates a diminished value in the eyes of the consumer. Instead of $30, a new book is only worth $10. Physical book sales are already dropping in favor of electronic book sales. Consumers are less willing to pay for a physical book when they can get the other one for much cheaper, and physical booksellers are asking publishing companies for a price break to compete with e-books. Publishers can't give them the break they are asking for without losing a lot of money.

So the problem isn't really the e-book, but the pricing. This has caused many publishers to pull their books from the e-book market.

The general consensus is that the pricing model that works for the music industry does not work for the publishing industry, because the original models were not interchangeable. A CD is a CD is a CD. Granted, there are differences between some releases; I bought the Limited Edition debut album from Franz Ferdinand, which came with two discs. It cost more than the original, single disc edition. But there is no real production difference between an album's first pressing and it's third pressing. But a book is not a book is not a book, as I explained earlier.

Strangely enough, the architect of the music industry's new model, Apple, seems to understand this problem the most. And now, the iPad.

What a ridiculous product the iPad is. Everyone remembers the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and its less-successful and unfortunately titled sequel Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, right? Well, here's what Apple did; they contacted Rick Moranis to see if he still had at least one of the machines from one of those two movies (I never saw the third of the series, Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves so I don't know if he built a third machine or if he was just using the original first one). Turns out, he had the machine from the first movie, which made things a little difficult. See, he had to first find a baseball, or a glass Coke Bottle, or something, to disable the laser. Then he had to reverse the polarity, or something. Then Steve Jobs took a specially modified iPod Touch with AT&T 3G access but no telephone and placed it in front of Rick Moranis' ray. Moranis turned it on, and zap! the Ipad was born.

Basically, the iPad is kind of useless. There is no reason for anyone to buy one, if you ask me. It's not powerful enough to replace your computer. It's not portable enough to replace your iPod. It doesn't have a camera. It doesn't make phone calls or even voice-over-IP (VOIP) calls (like Skype and Vonage). In fact, all the functionality the iPad provides can be provided by a combination of a netbook (a small, feature-light laptop), a Google Android phone (which can become a 3G modem for your laptop at no further cost to your wireless plan) and some other e-book reader. The iPad's only advantage is that you get all this in one device. But, again, you have to pay $100 extra to get the iPad with 3G access, then pay AT&T a monthly fee beyond whatever you're already paying your wireless provider to use the 3G access, and then you've got no multi-task functionality, no flash support, and then you're dependent on the Apple iBookstore price structure.

Okay, that lat part is actually something I kind of like. As I said, Apple understands that you can't iTunes the publishing industry (yes, I just used iTunes as a verb). Unlike it did with music pricing, and unlike Amazon did with e-book pricing, Apple went to the publishers to set prices for e-books. And an amazing thing happened; Publishers cut Apple a deal, of sorts. See, the publishers are aware that having spent money on a reader, consumers won't want to spend $30 on a new e-book. They understand that the reader represents an investment which should have some sort of pay off, and they understand the payoff comes with the prices of the books. After all, it is true that a digital file should cost less than a physical book. But less than ten dollars? No. Not right away, anyway. So the iBook has a tiered price schedule, meaning new releases cost more and older books cost less. The tiered price will likely change in direct correlation to the hardcover/trade paperback/mass market publication of the particular book. The digital files will be cheaper, but publishers will still make enough money to pay the author.

Of course, since I formulated all of this in my mind, Amazon has relinquished pricing control and agreed to a similar pricing model, which is a testament to Apple's dominance and brand-loyal following. The Amazon Kindle is the dominant e-book reader, a position Amazon knows it will hold until the iPad is widely available, regardless of price. The more consumers who purchase their e-books for the iPad, the more lucrative it will be for the publisher to make their books available for the iPad. We've already seen publishers pull their books from Amazon. Their pricing model was going to be a problem.

So, unlike the digital music file, there are problems for producers of the media with the e-book. But Apple has taken steps to include the producers in the process, so that problem may be taken care of. For the consumer, the benefits are similar to that of digital music; storage takes up no physical space beyond the space of the reader you're using. And while prices aren't as cheap as they were for new releases, it is still cheaper than a physical book.

But that physical book. I love books. I mean, I love books. See?

And those are just the books on the one bookshelf (the new, amazingly awesome one with glass doors on the bottom three shelves, and which carries my favorite books on the top three and our prized books behind glass, like our signed Alan Alda books and my battered/beloved paperback copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and so forth). See, what I love about books far outweighs the inconvenience of having to store them. But I don't really see that as an inconvenience. There's a great film, Auntie Mame starring Rosalind Russell. In it, there's a great line; "Books are awfully decorative, don't you think?" And while that line is spoken by a character who you are meant to instantly dislike, and is an indication of just how vain and stupid that character is, there's a grain of truth to it. Books are decorative. I just happen to also read them. I will admit that the books behind the glass doors are arranged to be aesthetically pleasing, and not in alphabetical order (like the other bookshelf) or grouped by genre (like the top three shelves of the new bookcase). But I do read the books.

Something else I love about books is the fact that I have signed copies. See, in the fall of 2008, Lee K. Abbott read at Webster University. I got a chance to meet him and he signed a copy of his short story collection All Things, All at Once which I mentioned in my top books of the decade post. Lee K. Abbot could not have signed a digital copy of the book.

One day, when I was in high school, I climbed out my bedroom window onto the roof of my parents' sunporch. I was carrying a book, I can't remember which one but I have a sneaky suspicion that it was either Cather in the Rye or Douglas Adams' Starship Titanic by Terry Jones (wrap your head around that one!). I dropped the book to the deck below. I retrieved it and the book was not damaged. Try doing that with an e-reader.

Another problem with e-books; writing. When I give somebody a book, I like to write them a note in the book. And when I read a book that is mine, sometimes I like to make a note in the margin, just a thought about a character or an idea or plot point. It's a habit I picked up in college.

The last advantage of physical books is that physicality, the ability to let friends borrow or to borrow friends' books. It's that not having to transfer files from one device to another when I upgrade (there is no real physical correlation to this, except for moving books from one bookshelf to another or packing up and moving to a new living space). And once I buy a physical book, the publisher and the store can't pull it from my hands. This is something that has happened to Kindle owners, ironically with digital copies of George Orwell's 1984. Granted, owners were refunded and Amazon changed its policy, admitting that the deletion was stupid. But still...it has happened and could happen again.

So, many of the same advantages and disadvantages between digital music and digital books. But one thing I haven't touched on yet in this post is the independent author, without an agent or a publishing deal. You'll remember that with an independent musician, it is fairly easy to at least place your music in the iTunes and other digital music stores, much easier than it is to place a CD in a department store or record store. And while it is harder for a writer, it is still possible to place an e-book in the e-book store. Though, with Amazon, it is easier to sell a physical book than it is to sell a physical CD, because unlike iTunes, individuals can sell books (provided the book has a valid ISBN) on Amazon. Lightning Source, Inc is a good source for self-publishers to sell their books on Amazon, since they work with Amazon to print-to-order your book. Lulu offers a similar service with e-book publishing as well. Again, like an independent musician using iTunes, an author using these services can do the online equivalent of putting their book on the for sale shelf next to all the best-sellers. And in the case of Amazon, selling your book there means you are selling your book at the world's largest bookstore.

Well, there you have it. iTunes, iBooks, e-books, Kindles, iPads, iPods, Nooks, and rants. One last point I want to make; I like the portability of digital music. I like having 800 songs on an iPod in my pocket. The average length of a song is about three and a half minutes, or so. Sure, that's more music than I can listen to in a day, but it's nice to be able to have that many to choose from so I can skip something if I don't want to hear it. The Kindle, depending on which one you own, holds between 200 and 1500 books (200 is a low-ball estimate by a consumer, 1500 is a high-ball estimate by Amazon itself). Now, really, how many people (besides English majors) read more than one book at a time? And of those few who do read more than one book at a time, who reads 200 books at a time? It just seems excessive. Also, I'm sure that if you have been reading this post in one sitting, you are painfully aware that staring at text on a computer screen (because that's what these e-readers have, computer screens) is not easy on the eyes. So not only will you not be reading 200 books at once, but it will probably take you even longer to read those 200 books, and you'll need corrective eye surgery when you're done.

I've kind of decided that I'm an analog guy living in a digital world. I prefer movies shot on film over digital; I prefer manual film 35mm cameras to digital. I prefer Vinyl to CD and .mp3. If it were feasible, I'd prefer watching movies with a reel-to-reel film projector rather than a DVD, but again, not feasible (but I prefer DVD to streaming over the internet). I prefer a stick shift over an automatic transmission. I do prefer to type on a computer, but I admit to having a strong affinity for my Royal typewriter. When it comes to plugging in an electric guitar, I prefer tubes to solid state (and ten points to the first person who a. understands that reference and b. is not my father) and will always favor a wood fireplace over a gas fireplace. That having been said, perhaps I'm not all analog. I am a social media user (facebook, twitter, Google Wave and Buzz, and an early abandoner of myspace). I watch most of my television on Hulu (though I hate the lower quality) and I do use Netflix streaming. I don't know...I guess there are certain things that belong a certain way. There's a point at which convenience isn't reason enough to take something on, in my opinion.

Oh well.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Entry 217: In Which Elliot Gives His $27.34 (that's $.02 adjusted for inflation) on Digital Music and the EBook Phenomenon. Part One - Digital Music

This started out, originally, as a post about why I think the iPad is the most ridiculously disappointing and useless gadget ever to be released, but I revised it (twice) and instead came up with part one of a two part blog on the digital revolution in both the music and publishing industry. I will still lay in to the iPad with unfettered avarice. This is a long post and is only part one. Ye be warned.


Well, readers, I've had a lot of time to think of the ebook revolution, and with several recent developments in both the pricing and platform wars (and yes, those events are intertwined), I figured now is as good a time as any for me to give you my views on the ebook. But before I delve into the digital book, I want to look at the first industry to really go through what the publishing industry is currently going through; the music industry. And I know that the news publishing industry really took the first hit from the internet's game-changing motif but I'm not one to beat a dead horse, or at least not that particular dead horse, and I know that the film and television industry are just as embroiled in the "new media argh! the old ways don't make sense anymore what do we do what do we do whatdowedo!?" fiasco but the music industry seems to have almost got it figured out and the publishing industry is on the brink of doing so. So. Let us begin with ebooks, work our way through music and not mention ebooks again until another post.

For those at unawares, an ebook is simply an electronic copy of a book. It could be something as simple as a book's pages having been scanned as a .pdf file which you could carry around on your laptop or store on your desktop/portable hard drive/jump drive, etc., or it could be a platform-specific file purchased from an ebook store (such as Amazon for their Kindle reader or Barnes & Noble's Nook reader or Apple's iBook for the incomprehensibly named/engineered/featured/priced iPad). The point is that, like the .mp3 music files (and other similar extensions for audio files) and their effect on the music industry, the ebook is poised to change the publishing industry forever.

This comparison is important, because the publishing companies and distributors of ebooks are taking their cues from the music industry, which was really the first industry to go through this digital shift openly and publicly. So, I want to give a brief rundown of my feelings regarding digital music files. Remember, readers, that I have spent the better part of the last two months involved in a terrible ordeal in an attempt to procure a copy of Sunny Day Real Estate's Diary Remastered on vinyl from Amazon.com (side note update: finally gave up and walked into Euclid Records in Webster Groves, walked out three minutes later with a completely brand new and unblemished copy of said record on Sunday, thus ending the eternal struggle) so it should be clear where I stand on the issue at hand. Maybe.

Look, there are a great many advantages to both consumer and producer of music when it comes to the download. For starters, the cost to the record company of delivering, say, the copy of The Decemberists' 2009 release The Hazards of Love was less than one cent (probably). I purchased the album on iTunes, using a gift card I got for my birthday. As I understand it, record companies (or an independent artist, for that matter) pay a fee for each track available from their catalog on iTunes. However, they only pay the fee once per song. Let's say the cost per song is twenty cents (it's not, at least, I don't think it is, which shows you how well researched this particular post is). That would mean that the record company paid iTunes $3.40 to post The Hazards of Love. The album was then made available to download to iTunes users for $9.99. Once the album is downloaded once, it's already brought in more than the production cost (granted, the money goes first to Apple, who takes a cut and then to the record company, which takes a cut and then to the artist so it takes more than two downloads to pay the fee), and once it's downloaded a hundred times, the relative producer cost of each unit sold is so small, it's almost negligible. I am simplifying, of course, because the record company has to pay recording costs, marketing, touring, etc, not to mention they're still producing physical copies. The point is, it's very cheap to make one digital copy and sell it a hundred (thousand, ten thousand, hundred thousand, etc) times. In fact, the more you sell, the more profit you make on each sale. When you sell a physical product (vinyl record, CD), you get the same profit each time. Let's pretend it costs the record company five dollars to produce a CD and seven for a vinyl record. The CD then sells for twelve dollars at the store and the vinyl for twenty dollars. For each record, the company makes the same profit. Actually, look at my example in the light of my battle with Amazon; the record company only sold one copy of the vinyl album at $20 (after the store's recouped its expenses and a small profit, the record company probably recouped plus a dollar or two) but they produced three copies. With physical products come the possibility of physical defects in the products. It is beneficial to record companies to sell more digital copies than physical.

Really, in looking at this business model, there doesn't seem to be any drawback to the record company. But what about the consumer? Well, there are benefits to the consumer as well, namely portability. I own a few hundred CDs and am building a meager vinyl collection, but my digital music collection resides in the 10+ gigabyte neighborhood (at the height of peer-to-peer, before iTunes opened a store, I knew a guy who had 140 gigabytes of music on two 70 gig external hard drives, so my collection is relatively small). Much of the music that exists on my computer also exists on my shelves, though there are exceptions (music purchased as downloads, free downloads from artist websites, CDs ripped from friends or the library and, yes, Napster 1.0 era downloads which have been transferred through at least five computers now). My CDs and vinyl records take up a lot of space (in the last year, I had to buy a new CD tower and acquire a stand for the record player which had space to keep my records). But my digital music exists on my computer. Files do not have any physical mass, they only take up what we call "space" on a hard drive (or, again, a flash drive/external device such as an mp3 player). So why do I continue to clutter my already cluttered house with vinyl and CDs? I'll get to that. But the benefit is clear; space and portability. I once read an article online (tried finding it, but can't) about how hard it would be to carry all the music that a sixteen gig iPod holds if you carried it in different formats, and even carrying CDs (and, mind, just CDs, not the case and liner notes) would have required a large vehicle and a fully trained and accredited OTR trucker, not to even bring up vinyl. Also, even though Apple recently introduced tiered pricing, charging more for new releases and popular music while lowering the price on other tracks, the price is yet another benefit of the download. A CD generally costs more than a download of the same album (assuming you're downloading legally) and, another benefit, you can buy right from your home and not have to wait in line at the record store or wait days (or weeks) for the album to be shipped. Depending on your connection speed, you can start listening to the album in seconds.

But unlike the record companies, there are a few disadvantages to the download (some of which point to advantages of physical media) for the consumer. The most pressing problem is one of physicality. Sure, I bought a copy of The Hazards of Love, I mean, money was exchanged, but I can't run my hands over it. The benefit is also a disadvantage. In days past, being able to listen to my music was contingent on the proper function of a piece of electronics. I had a Magnavox boom box in my bedroom growing up, with a radio/cassette/CD. I'd pop Sunny Day Real Estate's LP2 in at night, hit play on the CD player, and fall asleep right before "Rodeo Jones" came on. One day, the CD player broke. That was okay, though, because I also had a Phillips portable disc player (not a Discman, that name belonged to Sony) with a set of headphones (the player had a belt clip, like I would go running with it or something...) and also, there was the CD changer hooked up to the component stereo in the living room (side note: my parents were never the kinds of parents who shouted "Don't touch my stereo!" which was stereotyped in sitcom after sitcom...no, my parents encouraged me to touch the stereo as long as I used it appropriately, i.e. listening to The Beatles or Queen or Paul Simon and not for listening to gangsta rap or conservative talk radio). If one of those broke down, I always had a back-up and a way to get my music from one to the other. Now, for listening to The Hazards of Love I am almost completely dependent on the proper functionality of my computer. I say almost completely, but even that isn't true. I make an audio copy of every album I download via iTunes in case I want to listen to just that album in my car or on the home stereo, not to mention that I periodically back up my music files onto DVD-R. But, even with that there is a problem. I do not do this immediately every time I download a new track. There may come a time (knock on wood) when I haven't done either since downloading a new track and bam, my computer crashes beyond all hope (this actually did happen, sort of, in 2007, and more on that in a moment). I'm sure The Geek Squad can recover files from my hard drive no problem,they've done it before, but the problem I ran into when my old computer crapped out was that I had never de-authorized that computer with iTunes. One account can only be authorized on three computers at one time. I have only one working computer authorized for my account, but iTunes thinks I have two. If it happens two more times, I'm screwed for the music I've already purchased. That is another problem; the music could disappear and the consumer has no recourse but to purchase it again. Thankfully, having backed up everything I download on both data and audio discs, I am fairly certain I can work around this should it happen, but still. A good reason to still buy physical CDs: when you get a new computer, your CDs will not have to be authorized to work on yet another computer.

Another disadvantage to the consumer is sound quality. This is the big one for me, and the big reason why I am falling in love with vinyl. Digital compression of the music flattens the range of tones. This may sound strange, but I've tested it. Using the same pair of really nice Sony headphones (the kind that cup your entire ear in a gasket), I listened to Sunny Day Real Estate's "8" off LP2 in the three formats I currently own it. I started with the CD copy (not through my computer but through a stereo system). Next I went to the digital copy (not imported from the CD but a HQ download direct from Sub Pop records, via a download coupon in the vinyl copy) and finally the vinyl copy. I found the digital copy to be better than the CD copy (though it is possible this has more to do with the digital copy being from the remastered re-release and the CD being the original release) but neither compared to the low-end range I got with the vinyl recording. The warmth is missing when the files are digitally compressed (either on CD or .mp3...before anyone points this out I know iTunes downloads are not .mp3 files but in this case the file came from the record company and it is definitely in .mp3 format). The only reason for having the digital file is, again, portability. I can fit eight gigabytes worth of music on the iPod my wife is so graciously letting me borrow for the time being which is equal to half of my music collection, roughly. I don't have the space for half of my CDs in the passenger compartment of my car and my car stereo does not play records. For listening at home, I prefer CDs or vinyl to digital every time. And, though I'm sure you could determine this on your own, I prefer vinyl to CD. But vinyl has its own special problems, which I won't go into now except for the one problem that pertains to the matter at hand, and that is portability. I do not have one of those fancy USB turntables which can import your vinyl tunes into your computer. I don't even have one of those less-fancy turntables which can take your vinyl records and burn them to CD. My turntable was manufactured before I was even born and sat in my parents' basement collecting dust for several years, abandoned in favor of a direct-drive BSR turntable with one of those record-dropping arm dealies and a needle that didn't need replacing. Despite the drop in sound quality, I do like having music with me in my car. Since I listen to more music in my car than at home (I drive for work...), it behooves me to buy either CDs which can be imported to my computer or to just buy digital files. The Sunny Day Real Estate records are awesome because they came with coupons for free digital copies. Note to record companies; please do that if you release your content on vinyl.

One more disadvantage exists; retailers. In the same way that national record chains and department store chains killed the local record store, so too is the digital download killing music departments at national record chains and department store chains. Remember that for every album sold on iTunes, that's one less physical copy sold (theoretically...there is a psychological thing happening there, though, in that many people don't think twice about buying an album download but the same people would probably decide against buying the physical product in the store, but let's pretend it's a one-to-one correlation). Many stores can help make up for this by selling iTunes gift cards, but the profit gained by the store on a ten dollar iTunes gift card is much smaller than the profit gained be a twelve dollar CD. Some stores have tried to get around this (Amazon is an online model, Wal-Mart a brick-and-mortar model) by setting up their own download store in opposition to iTunes. In my former capacity as Entertainment Specialist at Target, I was prepped for the launch of a Target-branded download store which was set to compete with Wal-Mart's eighty-eight cent download store but the Target store never got off the ground. When I asked about it, I was told that the reason it fell through was because of Target's existing relationship with iTunes. Apple threatened to pull exclusive deals from Target's stores, which was a very real threat. Since iTunes had opened its store, department stores saw a steady decrease in music sales volume. The only consistent performance in the music department at Target was seen in the iTunes cross-promotional merchandise. There were often deals in which if a customer bought three CDs off a specific rack, they received a free fifteen dollar iTunes gift card. Or there was the new-release deal, in which a new release would be available at Target with a Target exclusive code to download free extra content through the iTunes store. As these deals were a good profit stream for Target, the plan for the download store was abandoned. Even Wal-Mart's eighty-eight cent download store (the prices have since gone up, though are still pennies cheaper than iTunes) struggles against the giant that is the Apple iTunes store. Apple is a relative newcomer to the game of selling music, yet because they were the first major player in the legal-download field, they are able to muscle established companies which have been selling music since before Apple was even founded.

So, that's the music industry model and the problems I see with it. There are other problems, as well, and other benefits. Notable among the benefits, I just want to add (because this will be vital when I delve into ebooks), is that the .mp3 revolution has made it easier for an outsider, independent artist to place their music in the same store where people are buying all of their music. Before the advent of the download, the only way for an unsigned artist to get their music heard was to gain exposure through playing out as much as possible and releasing a demo tape to a local radio station and hope the song gets played or that they get noticed by someone with money (or at least a line to the money). It was expensive to sell your music to your fans at your shows because you had to front the money for the recording studio time, mixing, mastering, copying of media, printing of media, etc. You had to pay for each CD you sold at your show before you knew it would sell. But now, with sites like myspace music, iLike, and others, it is very easy to reach a fanbase. Myspace lets you post your music for streaming, free of charge for either you or your potential fan. And with iTunes, there are services such as TuneCore which distribute your music to iTunes for a fee. Before the internet, the .mp3 and iTunes, it was difficult enough for an independent artist to get on the shelves at a local record shop, never mind national distribution. But now there exists the digital equivalent to an unsigned band's latest album sitting on the shelf next to established artists. So again, the digital music revolution is a mixed bag.

Stay tuned, I promise by the end of the week to actually talk about ebooks! I have some strong things to say, though keep in mind that I could basically just repost exactly this and change some key words around. I promise I won't do that, though. It will be at least 89% new material.