Wednesday, April 2, 2008

To E-book or not to E-book

Librarian in Black posted a link to Epublisher's Weekly's 30 benefits of e-books article a couple of weeks ago. For the most part, I agree with those benefits. (Although #22 really doesn't benefit the authors much! And I think that violates most e-pub copyright notices.)

It seems like readers - at least the ones I've talked to - fall into two camps: The "I love e-books so much I want to marry them!" camp and the "I enjoy the sensation of paper in my hands and will never even think about reading an e-book" camp. Either viewpoint is valid! Reading for pleasure should be just that: pleasurable. So there's no sense in jumping on the e-book bandwagon and hating life while you're staring at a screen.

There's something to be said, though, for giving the format a try if you're sitting on the fence. I tend to be a 50/50 reader, where half of my books are paper and half of my books are electronic. I love my paper books! They feel good, they smell good. They're comforting. You can knock out a mugger with a hardback-filled handbag. But e-books have a few features that are very attractive to a very nearsighted, geeky, writer/library lurker/technophile/sometimes insomniac.
  • I can read in the dark. Okay, before you snort, have you ever been the passenger in a car on a long road trip at night with a broken radio? How about a light-sensitive spouse snoozing next to you when you can't fall asleep? I keep my e-books on my Palm handheld and it has a backlit screen so I can read in places that I was previously unable to when I stuck to print books.
  • I can make the words bigger. I'm not even thirty yet, and I'm already getting to the point where I'm checking books out from the large print section of the library. Most e-book readers let you adjust the size of the font.
  • Some of my favorite authors publish e-book originals. Bonnie Dee, Elizabeth Donald, Mark Orr, Lilith Saintcrow, Keri Arthur, and our own Savanna Kouger all have titles you can't buy in paper format.
  • Two words: instant gratification. I can buy books (or check them out since my library has a downloading service) at 2:00 in the morning in my pajamas and start reading immediately without having to use any gasoline or extra time. Which is great for me because I have to drive at least ten miles to get to a non Wal-mart bookstore. Oh. And you don't have to pay for shipping!
  • They're accessible to almost everyone with a computer. I usually stick to books available in PDF format. I don't need anything more than the free Adobe software to read them. Granted, there are lots of different e-book formats and readers out there, but I haven't really come across an e-book original that I have really wanted to read that wasn't available as a PDF somewhere.

Some folks fear that e-books might one day make paper books obsolete. It's possible. Technology changes fast! But publishing moves slow. My opinion? I don't think we're in any immediate danger. If and when paper is replaced by bytes, it will only be when readers are ready. If we keep buying paper books, our publishers will keep supplying them.

I'd love to know what you guys think! Do you e-read? If not, do you want to?


Evonne Wareham said...


I have to confess I haven't e-booked yet, but your great post has certainly made me keen to try. I'm hoping to get some ideas at the RT Booklovers convention. E-books are not so well known here in the UK. I hope that they will never overtake paper, though they would take up less room!
I now have an irresistable picture of you shopping for books at 2 am in your pyjamas!!!!

Trish Milburn said...

I have to admit that I love to read an actual paper book, particularly since I spend so much of my day staring at a screen anyway. That said, I just recently started buying e-books because my very good friend MJ Fredrick has now published her first two novels in e-format -- one with the Wild Rose Press, one with Samhain that just came out yesterday. She's a fantastic writer and a very supportive friend, so she's launched me into e-land. I'm beginning to have other friends publishing in e-format too, so I'll be buying their works as well.

Mel Hiers said...

Heh. I forgot to mention the fuzzy bunny slippers, Evonne.:-D

Hey, Trish! Both Wild Rose and Samhain are great e-publishers. I review a lot of Wild Rose stuff through LASR.

There are a few readers designed to be easy on the eyes and look like real paper. The Sony e-book reader and the Kindle come to mind. I haven't sprung for one of them yet because I'm so pleased with my Palm. And the Kindle's screen isn't backlit, which was the deal breaker for me.

Savanna Kougar said...

Illuminating, even backlit post, Mel. Adobe PDF works fine for me. Although, you can't beat the feel and smell of a paper book! Especially curled up in bed, if you don't have a light sensitive spouse.
I think both 'e' and print will be around for a long, long time to come.
We humans like texture, the feel and look of print. We like the design, the moods evoked.
Whereas, e-publishing is a different experience, yet wonderful in convenience and it's own digital artistic expression, IMH.
Personally, I believe there's a lot of room for both. Look at the growth of graphic novels on the side of print. At the same time it could go digital, almost a video version of the story.
There's a lot of exciting possibilities, which I hope will serve the preferences of all readers and authors.
I have to say, it is exciting to see my novels go digital. I think as exciting as it would be see them in print. Who knows, though? Until I actually hold one, the paper book in my hot little ole' hand.

Mel Hiers said...

I'm like you, Savanna. There's lots of room for both! I think the rise of e-publishing gives everyone (readers, authors, editors, etc) so many options.

Oh, and for you comment reading lurkers, make sure to congratulate Savanna on her first five-star review! ( We're uber proud of her!

Savanna Kougar said...

Thank you, Mel.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

As you folks know, I would rather read than do almost anything else. So, I have books open everywhere. Paperbacks, hardbacks, and e-books. I like every format. The only problem I have with e-books is I can't take them into the tub. ZAP! :)

And congratulations again to Sav for her rocking review! :)

Lexie O'Neill said...

Dear Mel,
I know I'm so behind!! But, I had to chime in...I've never even thought of reading an e-book:) And the main reason is, my eyes can't stand one more minute at a screen than they already endure. But, now that I cyber-know Savanna and one of the ladies in my RWA chapter is pubbing e-books, I really should. Are they easier to get in audio-book format?
Oh, and congrats to Savanna!

Terry Odell said...

I have an eBookwise, and I love it. I also have a kazillion paper books. But with all the TBR books and authors, I can't afford all the print books nor do I have shelf space. What happens when you discover a new author with a huge backlist? I'm loading them onto my e-reader.

And I wouldn't want one that doesn't let me read 'in the dark' or where I couldn't adjust the font. Those airplane lights are never in the right place for holding a book, and I can take 10 books (or 1000) on vacation with the space one trade paperback would occupy.

And they're green - no trees die, and you don't have to worry about recycling.

However, it's a new industry, and it'll take time to develop followers. My books are both electronic and print, and in my genre, romantic suspense/action/adventure/mystery (can you tell I hate labels?) the readership is by far primarily print.

I don't think it has to be 'either-or'. I also think the biggie will be an affordable reader that can handle all formats so potential readers don't feel that they can't choose whatever book they want.

Terry Odell said...

Quick follow up to Lexie -- I can't read on my computer, either. That's why an affordable e-book reader is needed. If I read at the computer, I feel like I'm working and want to edit the books!

Mel Hiers said...

:-D Thanks for the giggle, Anitra!

Hey, Lexie! I haven't seen many e-book originals on audio, but there are some text reading programs out there. It's usually easier to get paper published novels on audio. (And if you haven't heard the Harry Potters on audio yet, run and grab them. Jim Dale is amazing!!!) It's a lot easier on the eyes to use a handheld like a Palm instead of reading 'em on the screen, in my opinion. I'm with you on the last thing you want to do is stare at a screen after staring at a screen all day thing!

Hiya, Terry! I forgot about e-books/environment thing! You rock! I think it'll be a lot easier for readers to get into e-books once there's a more universal format. You've got Adobe, yeah. But there's Mobipocket, and Microsoft, and the Palm e-reader. And now the Kindle's in there. But I think we'll get there!

Savanna Kougar said...

Terry, thanks for more info and insights. So far, I've only used PDF on my computer screen.
Yeah, labels, never been that fond of them, either, unless they say 'organic' and mean it.

Terry Odell said...

My eBookwise has been worth every penny (and at about 1/4 the cost of a Kindle, not a budget breaker).

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

You're welcome, Mel! :)

That really is my only problem with e-books. My father is an electrician--his words of wisdom are: water and electronics simply don't mix. Er, well, they DO, but not WELL.

I read so much on a computer I guess it doesn't bother me. I'm on the PC about 16 hours a day so e-books work for me. I've never tried an e-book reader but after the comments I might invest in one.