No Contest: eBooks Are Winning!

by Michael Hart on August 15, 2007

The pundits all ask, “Why aren’t eBooks a success?”

But their queries show a ridiculous bias when their form and content always come down to the dollar.

The almighty dollar.

A Reply To All Those Pundits by Michael S. Hart.

What If A New Product Just Doesn’t Cost Anything?

If the pundits had asked the same way about success for The Gutenberg Press, they should have spoken in just about the same manner, since at Gutenberg book pricing the new books cost only a small fraction of one percent of the price of pre–Gutenberg books.

Thus, the total cash paid out for these new fangled books was nothing compared to what price would have been paid under the old manuscripting systems.

Anyone could have simply said that the new books in question are failing, simply because they are not a major factor in the current world cash flow.

BUT…they ARE a major factor in information flow today just as they were in Gutenberg’s time when an unknown monk named Martin Luther tipped those world ruling Catholics on their heads with little more in his day than what people use Kinko’s for today.

Multiple copies of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses made a new fangled way around the world of this day, using nothing more than a new technology for copying.

Exactly the same thing is happening with eBooks.

The average eBook literally doesn’t cost anything!

Just one single Project Gutenberg site out of those hundreds or thousands around the world hands out an approximate 3 million eBooks requested each month— all given away free of charge as Project Gutenbergs have been doing since before the pundits ever heard of the Internet or the World wide Web.

The price of eBooks is nearly nothing, as it a cost for storing them.

As I have been writing this series of articles in a mid-2007 timeframe, I have often been wearing a few USB RAMsticks around my neck that literally do hold enough data to include every word in every book the average U.S. public library contains, 30,000 books.

This cost me under $100, as I bought some 8G sticks for $60 and 4G sticks for $30, and it takes 12G for the storage of 30,000 books of a million characters for the average book.

Even if someone were to GIVE you 30,000 books free, and pay for their delivery to your door, what could you possibly do with 15 tons of books, at one pound for the average book?

First you would need a rather large building to put the 15 tons of books in.

Cost: millions of dollars, it has to be sturdy.

Second you would need 30,000 inches of shelving for the books, which would also need to be very sturdy, that’s nearly half a mile of shelving, $5 per inch.

Cost: $150,000 just for the shelving.

Ask any head librarian, and they can tell you above expenses are actually very conservative.

There Are Millions of eBooks Out There

However, 30,000 eBooks is just a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of downloadable eBooks.

My own personal estimate is that we are well on our way to 5 million eBooks in existence.

Let’s suppose you want just one million eBooks.

Under $200 for the terabyte of hard drive to store, in uncompressed format, under $240 for the outboard version of the same drives.

2.5 million eBooks if you use compression.

Unless you found enough petty cash lying around for the above mentioned 30,000 book collection, you are probably not really interested in the costs for the 1 million to 2.5 million we are talking about now.

The fact is that storing a million books would cost about 33 times as much as storing 30,000.

2.5 million would cost nearly 100 times as much.

And those are presuming the books and delivery were all free of charge.

The Point

The point is that all these pundits are refusing to consider the one thing taught all the business folk at the very beginning: The Cost/Benefit Ratio.

None of the pundits would dare make calculations of these figures with a slide rule.

Why not?

Because the cost/benefit ratio is way too low.

Slide rules are out.


Because they don’t give as much bang for the buck.

BUT… .

If you set The Wayback Machine for 35 years ago you will see that the pundits, MBA’s, and all the rest, were at a total loss when it came to calculators.

You could hardly PAY them to use calculators and at a minimum price of $100, and a maximum of $500, the pundits and MBA’s just ignored them altogether.

Pretty much the same way they are doing with eBooks in modern times.

However, they don’t get it that when they search up something on Google, and they DO get Google, it had not yet dawned on them they’re really searching one great big huge eBooks Google has compiled from some zillion pages of various sites.

With all the searching MBA’s do, you’d think one of the things they would understand is the value of an awfully large database to search.

But they don’t get it.

Either that, or they want to leave the construction and maintenance of that database to someone else.

However, they probably are not aware that in nearly every large business there is a library, a complete library in the sense that it includes a librarian— someone to order books, catalog them, look up data, and send the books out to the company officers when they are requested.

These commercial libraries do not come cheap.

The MBA’s should be aware of how much data is added every day to the electronic libraries of the world, and how much of that could be included in their own little library at minimal additional expense.

Yet they are happily allowing, even encouraging the construction and maintenance of such libraries by a completely alien business structure, even though an assortment of business decisions is made based on a variety of outputs from these alien sources.

And if you think there is no bias to the output the various search engines present…think again!!!

This should be fairly obvious to anyone using every single example of search engines, from those with a commercial bias, to those who obviously sell spaces at the top of their listings, whether it’s actually meeting the terms of your search or not, to some in which the bias is actually built into the search of the information in the first place.

The Second Point

Why would anyone who spends over $100 on books in a given year not invest a similar amount in a million books they can have on site?


To avoid those biases listed above, for one.

To see the information in its original context.

Anyone basing any kind of decision on search engine results should know enough to follow information to its source and not just read the footnote, snippet, or pundit commentary.

Decision making is what those zillion dollar execs’ salaries are paid for, at least on the reasoning in their contracts and other paper explanations… .

So why then, in the name of rational decision maker philosophies, would you not want to provide the big picture people with the real thing?

If you feed them pre–digested pablum, you should be aware of altering their decision making processes.

Of course, that’s just what a lot of businesspeople do these days, but we don’t talk about that… .

As With All Revolutions, from the Ground Up

The current Information Revolution, just all like a revolution in any other framework or any other time in history, is only going to work as a ground up to the top enterprise, not from the top down.

The Gutenberg Press, if left out to the upper class to decide, would have been burnt at the stake along with Herr Gutenberg and all those who wanted to see a public version of The Bible and Catholic books of a previouslyprivate nature. [Footnote]

so too, with the modern day pundits and publishers, both agreeing that electronic libraries have failed even before they have really come into existence.

However, as terabytes are now becoming a new latest least common denominator, and their cost falls to under $100 per million eBooks, there is no reason a personal computer is not apersonal library for all intents and purposes.

True, you can search a million eBooks fast with the various mainframe search engines, but most books on the hit list from Google Book Search, etc. will not be easily downloadable and usable at home.

Hence the great value of having just a few millions of your favorite books already at home when you run out of context in thesnippet world or want to do some actual cutting and pasting from those books.

The Neo–Industrial Revolution

Project Gutenberg was simply the first example of a Neo–Industrial Revolution that marked low expenses, so low, in fact, that even without money, Gutenberg has been able to maintain the strongest e–Libraries in the world, counting combined quality & quantity.

This example has been followed by millions of sites around the world that provide wonderful services by the same exemplary structure of sharing something a price just doesn’t relate to in terms of cost of an item in production time, in warehouse storage or in

delivery to either the wholesaler or retailer or to the ultimate consumer…no taxes, no inventory or any of those other dozens of items the beancounters

use to justify the ridiculously high price of books since the middle of the last century, when averaged prices of paperbacks was the same as those averaged prices of gasoline we have heard about so much over the intervening years.

Rather than following the hyperinflationary spirals of all of the major brands of paperbacks, eBooks on the whole have remained free of all charges while a copy of the latest James Bond novel will cost these same readers about 60 times as much today as back a half century ago, tax included, while as an average the cost of gallons of gas is only 12 times as much as it was at the time.

Why did one price increase to 60 times the original cost while the other only increased to 12 times and all the media attention is on the inexpensive one?

The answer?

Personal bias.

The media won’t report on its own hyperinflation.

There are so many stories on the prices of gasoline in various regions that you can’t keep track of all of them in any sense at all, too many to count.

Yet I have never seen one single story listing book prices in any sense at all, either from perspective of just today’s costs or as compared to when prices of paperbacks and gasoline were the same, which was when I first started my serious career in reading.

Obviously all the Baby Boomers must have had a book experience of similar origins, but you never hear a single report from any of them in the media.

Not one!!!

In all the years of reporting by the likes of Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, McNeil/Lehrer and all the rest of thatGreatest Generation, and now the likes of Katie Couric and her cohort, or even a generation before with Walter Cronkite, Ed Murrow’s successor, or Harry Reasoner, Eric Sevareid, or the entire groups at 60 Minutes, Dateline, etc., I have never seen a single report mentioning that the cost of these books is hyperinflationary.

Tuition? Yes.

Textbooks? Yes.

Gasoline? You bet!

Food? Yes.

Housing? Yes.

Taxes? Yes.

Not a word about just plain paperback books.

/// CUT HERE ??? ///

How can you possibly trust the publishing industry, or any industry for that matter, to report honestly concerning itself?

Of course, this is why we haverevolving door for industry and government officials to change places, and keep on dancing to the same tune as they fleece the citizens of America and other countries.

And we wonder why the masses hate those World Trade Organizations, the World Intellectual Property Org. and all those other organizations, whose purpose is merely to funnel more and more money from the poor, no matter where they are in the world, to the rich, no matter where THEY are in the world.

Electronic money just allows more and more of this.

Here is why eBooks just don’t fit in to megaplans.

What If A New Product Just Doesn’t Cost Anything?

  1. You can’t add it to the Gross National Product.
  2. You can’t tax it.
  3. It’s harder to regulate as it is not part of an order of trade regulations.

These examples have long been used to devalue quite a large number of products or services of countries the evaluators wish to denigrate.

For example the United States is the only developed country without a national health plan, so the U.S. takes great pains to evaluate its health service in a very costly and expensive manner, even for simple operations such as an appendectomy, while rating an appendectomy in other countries as of little value, simply because it is part of national health plans.

However, with eBooks it is even easier because vast majorities of eBooks in every country in the worlds marketing lists of books are given away free and it just doesn’t fit in models of limited distribution, as have been the de rigueur rules of civilizations, all the way back to the dawn of our history.

The world just doesn’t want to accept free books or free anything else, for that matter, the change was just too great for THEM to understand, just as that change from one–at–a–time manuscript book copying a half millennium ago when Johannes Gutenberg upset a whole world of apple carts dating all the back back to the Garden of Eden.

This was the very first example of mass production!

The very first example of interchangeable parts!

The first example of a compound leverage machine!

The very beginning of The Industrial Revolution!

And it is all happening again with eBooks!

There was a literacy revolution then…and now.

There was a The Scientific Revolution then and now.

There was The Industrial Revolution then, and there will be a “Neo–Industrial Revolution” now…as it becomes more and more obvious that more and more of the world’s products can be manufactured well on an assortment of inexpensive home computers.

Every month thousands of new eBooks appear… .

Every year new “3-D Printers” appear than can print out more and more kinds of solid objects at home we used to have to rely on outside manufacturers.

These changes, both in the virtual world such as an eBook library, and now in the physical world with a wider and wider assortment of home CAD and CAM with more and more flexibility in terms of materials and the size of the objects manufactured, signal a huge change that the world is barely able to conceive in its mind but which is happening in an ever widening set of circles as exemplified by MIT’s FABLABs, and other more commercial examples of similar products, and product production arrays.

  • CAD = Computer Aided Design
  • CAM = Computer Aided Manufacturing
  • FABLAB = FABrication LABoratory

In each of such cases, larger and larger numbers of products are moved from the realm of manufacturing, and into the realm of at home creation.

Just as anyone with a computer can create an eBooks collection and send it out to the whole world, this is now true for an ever increasing number of people with CAD/CAM computers that used to cost millions— but now cost no more than the original IBM PC–AT.

What Changed?

What changed half a millennium ago was the need for an elite class to produce all books at a high cost, so high that the average book cost as much as did a family farm in the average European community.

When the cost of these books fell to literally some small fraction of a percent of their previous cost, there suddenly was a revolution in literacy, and it was no longer just a most elite 1% who could read.

This changed everything!!!

The Catholic Church fell to the Protestants.

The Bible became the property of the parishoners.

The political powers could no longer rewrite again, and again, and again, and use revisionism as a huge strategy over hundreds of years…though they are seemingly unwilling to stop trying… .

Education because the province of The Middle Class, a class that had never even existed before.

Once this Middle Class was established, they made a serious contribution to The Industrial Revolution— which made them even stronger.

The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get Poorer

Today we see the same financial trends and those in the years preceding The Gutenberg Press, and we see the same possibilities opening up for revolutions— both physical and intellectual… .

The time has come when YOU can own a million books, simply by adding $100 to the cost of your computer.

The time will soon come when a billion books are on the Internet, and the Internet libraries include an entirely new section of items you can actually MAKE on your computer for your own consumption, physical items…manufactured items…even to the points of making their own manufacturing plants.

A machine shop that makes machine shops… .

How many eBooks does it take for the pundits to get the point that eBooks are here to stay?

How many 3-D Printers?

Today there are already millions of eBooks online.

Is it possible the pundits don’t really get it?

Or is is more likely that they DO get it and are in some kind of modality that they think requires them to at least pretend it is not happening and at most to take an active participation in preventing these eBooks from getting the publicity they deserve.

Certainly the publishers of Gutenberg’s time knew a deepseated fear, shown by their 250 years of effort to get laws passed against The Gutenberg Press, and that these efforts continue to this day, using just the same responses to prevent new technologies from making Neo–Industrial Revolutionary copies as their ancestors did to prevent Industrial Revolutionaries from making too many copies in their time.

Information is the great enemy of politicos around, and across the various world strata, and they do an enormous amount of work to keep information a close to the vest protected quantiy in an Information Age that is capable of informing half the world in just a single day of any secret that gets out, as half a world now has active cell phones.

This is why it was so important to keep the Scooter Libby’s of the world out of jail so they should not be subjected to the temptation to tell the secrets, and there are plenty of secrets to tell.

For those who believe the world is their oyster and no one else’s the idea of everyone having a library containing nearly every book over 30 years old just drives them crazy, but that was the legal situation a century ago when the average U.S. copyright could last 28 years without renewal, and 90% of the times there was no renewal even though it was purely some nominal process with a purely nominal fee.

Today, THEY want to insure that NO BOOK EVER ENTERS

THE PUBLIC, unless the copyright owner goes through a similarly nominal process.

Today the idea has been reversed!!!

Instead of a nominal process to KEEP COPYRIGHT, the reverse is true, a nominal process to public domain which will, in the end, reduce the public domain to less than 1% of all the material ever published.


Any time “The–Powers–That–Be” get that organized to keep something from the public you can be sure that something is something of GREAT VALUE.

In this case it is the most important thing offered by most civilized countries…the opportunity for the individuals to learn to read to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to a more equal footing with The–Powers–That–Be.

Equality…What A Concept!!!

The Billion Book Library

I would be remiss if I did not include a final goal for the 50th year of Project Gutenberg, which is to conclude in 2021, that goal being to assemble eBook titles on the order of 10 million and translate the average title into 100 different languages, to make a library of one billion books.

It can be done.

It will be done.

The only question is when?

How long will it take for 10 million eBooks?

Based on 4 million in 2007, I’d say 2011 is a first possibility, with 2012 being more likely.

I am hoping by 2012 to have created some samples of translation project using the combination of humans and automated machine translation, just as we do at the present time with OCR combined with programs to find errors then combined with two human proofings, to create eBooks that are about 99.99% accurate.

I remind those who are skeptical just how bad OCR’s were 20 years ago and how good they were by 1997.

Additional Notes About Events of Gutenberg’s Time

According to the pundits of the time, there was not any contest between The Gutenberg Press and scribes and monks that made all the previous books.

Of course, the pundits of the time were as much the property of the publishing industry of the times as are the pundits of today…and what pundit worthy of employment is going to risk terminating the very employment we are talking about by stating that the olde boye networke is going to fall to some odd new invention that does it all in such a machine manner as to take all the humanity out of things.

The scribes of the time simply increased the artsy–illuminated–manuscript aspects of their work in the hopes that Herr Gutenberg’s invention would not get the same kind of results, but they were wrong; now you know why The Gutenberg Bible has so many aspect examples of the artform of illuminated manuscripts.


Of course, when I say “private,” I mean kept secret from the masses in certain ways. . .ways extending, as it were, from censorship to high prices and huge assortments of techniques in between.

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