“Eeek-books!”

ereaders

That seems to be the new name many within the publishing industry have ascribed to the e-book phenomenon – be it Kindle, Sony eReader, iPhone’s thingymabob, and the new Barnes and Noble Nook [what kind of lame name is that, anyway?]. As it is when anything new hits the marketplace, people stand by and wonder how this new kid on the block will affect the industry. Since it’s new, we can only guess.

When you look at the face of it, print and electronic books are merely a means of getting stories out to the public.

Are e-books a bad thing or a good thing?

It depends on who you ask. Certainly anyone who is directly involved with physical book production will be affected, if they haven’t been already. This would include printers, layout designers, paper producers, ink manufacturers, and cover designers.

Right now e-books are a small slice of the publishing pie, but those numbers are increasing every year, and this domino affect will impact a lot of people. As it goes with evolution, there are always some species that go extinct because it’s all about survival of the fittest. And every writer board I go to, there is invariably some thread about the evils of this crime against humanity. Some go even further, which I wrote about here.

But I will say that print books aren’t going anywhere. The sky is not falling. HOWEVER, it’s a fool with their hand in quicksand who doesn’t look at where the world is heading and take steps to go with the flow rather than scream about impending doom.

Bookstores: Are we facing the death of bookstores? If we are, I certainly don’t hold e-books responsible.  That particular bag of marbles lay in other backyard. Our world is about evolution. Anyone who remains static, fails to grow. We can’t help but change, and our ingenuity and willingness to think outside the box is what propels our existence. Bookstores will have to do the same thing. Powell’s Books, for instance, sells e-books. As this phenomenon grows, bookstores, like publishers, have to include this format.

Agents: I’ve heard people lament the death of agents. Again, ain’t seein’ it. They’re selling stories to publishers. It doesn’t matter what the eventual format will be. Now, traditionally, advances for e-books have hovered between low and nothing. Agents wouldn’t dream of querying an e-publisher because small sales and zero advances don’t make it worth the effort. Why go there when the agent still has options?

But if the only game in town is e-books, then the scenario remains the same.  However, I feel that as long as print and e-books live side by side, there will always be a huge disparity for advances because physical books are deemed more valuable. I can’t think of a single agent who would thrill at the sale of an e-book contact. It’s all about print, baby.

Publishers: And what about the publishers? JA Konrath has a very illuminating article about how his Kindle sales on his self-pubbed titles surpassed the Kindle sales from his publisher. Turns out he was making off far better with his self-pubbed titles. In this brave new world of e-books, will publishers be considered obsolete? The technology is there for anyone with a firing synapse to self-publish their own e-books.

For now, I see that as a doomsday scenario. For one thing, Konrath already has a readership. He could write his books on walnut shells, and his fans would read them. But for an unknown, chances are strong that their book will be lost amongst the plethora of other e-books. Which leads to publicity.

Publicity: How do you promote a product that only exists on your hard drive, or an e-reader? This is where bookstores can get a jump on things. If you’re at a book event, readers could buy the e-format and the bookstore would send it to their Kindle, or Sony e-reader, etc. If Powell’s can do it, why can’t B&N, or Waterstones?

If you’re at an event other than a bookstore, d/loading a book is equally easy. Readers would pay just like they always do, and whoever is assisting you would email the e-file of your book directly to the person’s e-reader. I’ve done it. I know it works.

Convenience: I admit it; I adore my Kindle. Not only can I stuff a ton of books on one little device, which is wonderful for all the traveling I do, but I can also upload author submissions and manuscripts. I can make notes right on the document and it automatically saves. I’m not lugging around a ton of books and hundreds of pages. The week before I bought my Kindle, I had no less than 600 pages in my brief case. Gad, no wonder my shoulder hurt.

I can increase the size of the font for my tired eyes, and I can order a book while sitting in the airport, or at the beach – done it, pinky swear. A book is always at my fingertips. I can download a free sample of a book – all at my leisure. With my busy life, this scratches a lot of itches, and I’m far more efficient. The biggest plus is that I read far more books than I did before.

In the end, it’s hard to say where the Eeeek-book is going and how it will ultimately affect the publishing industry. But I don’t think for one minute that print books are in danger of going the way of the dinosaur. There are still too many people who love the physical feel of books, and these two reading options can play in the sandbox quite nicely together. Instead, we need to understand that, like it or not, you can’t stuff this particular genie being back into the bottle. With each new advancement comes opportunity and an invitation to grow and expand, and each of us must take steps as to how we plan to evolve. Otherwise, get out of the way.

10 Responses to “Eeek-books!”

  1. Cat says:

    And when the power is not available…
    Seriously Lynn this is a real issue for developing world countries and complex humanitarian emergencies (aka known as disasters). Aid staff usually prefer old fashioned ‘paper and pencil’ type communication at very least as a back up. The batteries do not fail at the crucial moment. It is for these sorts of reasons that I cannot see e-books taking over entirely – ever.

  2. Cat Woods says:

    I own and love a Kindle for many of the same reasons you stated. However, I see e-books as a matter of convenience. I still buy hard cover books. And in fact, I have more than one title on my physical book shelf and my electronic shelf.

    This means double sales. And that can’t be bad in anyone’s book. : )

  3. Hi Cat. The publishing industry doesn’t see developing world countries as ones who would buy e-books or e-readers anyway. And really, their impact on the book-buying world, in general, is negligible.

    However, natural disasters like my earth-quake-prone state of California would wreak havoc for those with e-readers. But power isn’t off indefinitely, so I’m not quite sure I quite buy into that argument.

    But, like you, I don’t see e-readers taking over the physical book world entirely in the foreseeable future. But in the way future? Who knows? That’s why it’s important to understand the laws of evolution.

  4. Frank says:

    Currently (at least, as I understand it) Consumer can order a printed book or an e-book. That seems to be all there is to the marketing plan. What I would prefer to see in e-book sales is this: Consumer can order e-book, say, for 10 dollars. Or s/he can order both e- and print for, say, 14 dollars. If the latter, more important is that the print book could be ordered at a later date in much the same way that a music-lover can complete an album at iTunes and the pay the album price rather than the single song price. There are many books that I wouldn’t throw out, but I also wouldn’t require they be 3-dimensional. But for those which I read and love and often look at over and over, I would want a hard copy for the shelf so that I could take it down anytime and put my nose between the pages, both literally and figuratively.

  5. Rik says:

    Lynn – thanks for the succinct roundup of all things eBook.

    Can I add a couple of points? I can’t say anything about the readers (my cellphone runs on steam power) but I have downloaded Adobe’s Digital Editions and the Stanza Reader for the PC and I have to say – I’m not impressed. I checked out the epub versions of a couple of Smashwords books (I’ll admit it, they’re my own) and the rendering of the text left me cold – especially for the poetry.

    And yet I saw that youTube video put out by Apple for the new iBook and was blown away by some of the books shown in that presentation. It makes me think that if you want to publish a good eBook then you’re going to have to spend some hard cash to get the best out of the format – just as if you want a brilliant hardcopy book you have to invest in the typesetting, layout design and artwork for covers. Cheap will look cheap, whatever the format!

    On the publishing front, I don’t see self-publishing as being a threat to anyone in the forseeable future – and I say that as someone who self-pubs. Venues such as lulu.com and Smashwords have their place in the scheme of things – and I think it’s a vital niche they occupy – but the niche isn’t the production and distribution of bestselling novels. Nor does it threaten midlist publishing; the costs and resources don’t add up, as far as I can see. People taking the self-publishing route hoping to gain fame, fortune, respect – or even a publishing contract or an agent down the line – are missing the point: as you say, if you haven’t already got a platform you’re not going to build one by self-pubbing.

    Rik

  6. Rik, yes you have to shell out some bucks to get an excellent quality e-conversion. Otherwise the line spacings and margins are a mess. I’ve heard that Smashwords conversions are dreadful.

    Where I’m being driven a bit buggy is what conversions to do. Amazon Kindle still remains the biggest, so we get those done. But there’s Sony e-readers, and all the other players as well. For us, it doesn’t make sense to pay for converting one book into five different files. It’s like the Beta/VHS issue – who’s going to win out?

  7. Rik says:

    Lynn – you made me do some investigating. The Smashwords conversion of my poetry book was too awful to look at; something Had To Be Done.

    The most important discovery for me was learning that the open eBook standard (on which the mobi and epub standards, as used by kindle and most other readers respectively) is based on xhtml – just like webpages. I can code webpages myself; coding and packaging my own eBooks should be a doddle! Formatting and layout is handled through cascading style sheets; the standard even encourages the use of vector graphics and downloadable fonts. Designer heaven!

    I always wanted to hand-make my own books, but never had the time to learn about paper making, book binding and the like. But I can hand-code my own electronic books – a virtual version of arts-and-crafts publication. It’ll be enough to satisfy me for now.

    Thank you for making me do some research!

  8. Kelley says:

    Just wanted to add-electricity isn’t an issue. I have a solar charger pad I use for my electronics. (I also have a solar charger that attaches to my car’s windshield.) Works fine, and I don’t live in a sunny climate. Not that it matters. My Kindle’s battery is awesome anyway. (I’ve had it almost a yr and have only had to charge it a handful of times.)

  9. Kelley says:

    Or should I say, electricity isn’t a huge issue.

  10. You go, Rik! So are you saying your book can be read on Kindles, etc.? You rock. All that leaves me seeking the comfort of one of the beagle’s margaritas.

    Kelley, I’m such a mongrel. I didn’t realize that if you turn off the internet part your battery lasts forever. Duhh. I only turn it on when I need to d/load something – manuscripts and partials – or a book! – and then I turn it off again. I can go weeks between charges, and I read a ton.

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