eBooks – Trends in Reading


Hey Everybody,
I thought it might be interesting to give you the scoop on ebooks/enovels and that whole electronic world coming to a bookstore near you. Michelle Halket at ireadiwrite (the company that published my novel, False Witness) has graciously agreed to do a post that gives you a great overview of the whole electronic book universe. So, sit back and read and see what you think. Thanks, Michelle!

The eBook Primer

For those who love eBooks, like myself, it’s easy to tout their benefits – portable, customizable, instantly attainable, no paper to throw away and my entire library is always with me, (I read on my iPhone).  For those who haven’t taken the leap – by far the biggest complaint I hear is that one will lose that tangible feeling of holding the book, of seeing the words in their typeset as the publisher intended, of the smell and feel of the paper. It’s hard to argue with that.  I don’t see paper books going anywhere; heck, there are people who still swear by their vinyl or photographic film.  But for me, the experience of reading comes not from the paper and ink, but from the words that flow from the author’s mind, creating a time and space in which I don’t reside, carrying me away from myself and my surroundings to the one they created.  And once I was there, in that surreal place, even years later, I remember those words, that feeling the author invoked.  And I simply can’t remember the paper.

So this blog entry is for the naysayers and the non-believers or those who just know very little about them.  I’m not here to convert you, we all have choices in reading and I’d personally like to keep it that way.  But if you happen to be e-curious – read on…

What is an eBook?

File Types: An eBook is the digital file version of a book, much like an mp3 is a digital file version of a song on a CD or vinyl album.  Like music, there are many types of files which can hold eBooks the most widely known is the pdf.  This is a static version of the book, a “picture” of the way the text was laid out in it’s chapters, typesetting, spacing etc.  Other and increasingly popular file types are re-flowable, or allow the user to determine the font, sizing, spacing and paper/background on which the book will be read.  More and more we are seeing an adoption of the epub format as the preferred file format for eBooks.

Protection: To protect against piracy, publishers or stores can impose Digital Rights Management (DRM).  This is a form of encoding or locking the file so that it cannot be copied to other machines or to other readers.  For most large publishers and bookstores, DRM is necessary to protect themselves and their authors.  For those who truly love reading, it is a bane since it limits what the reader can do with a book once it has been purchased and can even limit being able to transfer the file to other machines. We are against DRM since imposing it doesn’t necessarily protect the book from being copied (e.g. I’ve heard recent rumors that a pirated version of Dan Brown’s most recent book appeared online not 14 minutes after it was released with DRM in large online bookstores.)

Methods of Reading: Readers can read eBooks on a variety of machines.  One’s computer is the most obvious choice. A smartphone, like a Blackberry or iPhone, is another.  But increasingly, electronics manufacturers are releasing dedicated eBook reading devices which can have a variety of functions, like wireless network access, single or dual screens, color display, large or small displays.  The Amazon Kindle is a very popular device and was devised to instantly gain access to Amazon’s Kindle store where New York Times bestsellers reside alongside self published titles. That said, there is a bevy of non-store specific readers that aptly and well serve their owners.  For everything you’d want to know about readers, here is a great matrix over at MobileRead.

Where to buy eBooks: Every major bookstore now carries electronic books and this is apparently the only segment of the book publishing industry that is in current growth.  Whether you choose to shop from the majors like Barnes & Noble or Amazon or the great independent bookstores like Books on Board or Powells, they all offer major titles and books by indie authors.  In addition, there is a multitude of self-pub sites out there, like Smashwords or Lulu.  The benefit of buying from smaller stores is that you may have a choice of formats and whether or not they impose DRM.

Overcoming Public Perception

One of the biggest challenges of overcoming the stigma attached to eBooks is that people often have a stereotypical idea of what ebooks are – many think they fall into one of the three categories:

  • A self-help, ‘make-money-quick-on-the-internet’ scheme
  • A technical or how-to manual
  • A way for untalented authors to get published
  • These misconceptions exist because originally this is what most eBooks were.  They were cheap and easy ways for people to get the word out on their book or themselves.  To compound and reinforce this image, there is a lot crap out there. The worst among them is ‘private label book’ – which is a generic piece written to sell to others who can put their own name on it.  Usually, these books fall in the “how-to” category from gardening to MLM marketing. Additionally,  a lot of document sharing tries to tout itself as self-published work.  Neither of these genres does anything to promote eBooks as a viable, credible publishing medium.

    However, if you can put those stereotypes aside I  believe you can see that eBooks have many advantages over paper books from the writer’s  and the reader’s perspective.

    1. eBooks are cheaper to produce:  This refers only to books that are only distributed electronically, (books that are both in paper and electronic versions don’t necessarily follow the same manufacturing P/L).  Therefore, the savings can and should be passed along to the Reader.  The lower production costs results in more authors being published.  Although, I don’t believe that works should be priced at free or next to free – writing is a profession and writers should be fairly compensated, thereby recognizing their contribution to society.  In addition, because of the lower costs of manufacturing, writers can and should receive a larger portion of sales as royalties.
    2. eBooks are portable: I am a big fan of multi-purpose devices and I like reading on my iPhone, a wonderful multi-tasking device.  I have my movies, music, email along with dozens of books – at all times.  Whether I’m flying somewhere or at the beach, I always have a nice selection of reading material with me.
    3. eBooks are environmentally friendly? Some tout the eco-friendly aspect of eBooks, however, I’ve found that most studies are still inconclusive on that topic.  Sure we save the trees that paper books are printed on and the disposal costs of the books.  But the manufacture of dedicated reading devices and their toxic innards might just negate the tree-savings.  That being said, I still feel good knowing that my previously read tomes aren’t moldering away in a landfill somewhere.
    4. eBooks are less exclusionary: Due to low production costs, more authors can get their books distributed without a huge investment.  More authors being published means more choices for readers and the fulfillment of the long tail of the industry.
    5. eBooks appeal to younger readers: Those of us 40 and over may be slow to adopt new technology, but younger readers are in tune and at ease with it.  As one YA author said to me, “This is how kids will read”.  And for her, being in a digital format might be necessary, not just a bonus.
    6. eBooks are here: Just as the book industry migrated from hardcovers to paperbacks, so too will it migrate eBooks.  Paper books won’t disappear, but they are another consumer option.

    Whether you consider yourself a fan of eBooks or not, you are an electronic reader – if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post. The idea of reading articles at our computers was completely foreign 20 years ago – not so much today.  Fast forward that trend, coupled with the light speed release of new reading hardware, and you’ll soon start seeing more people adopting the eBook as the ‘normal’ mode of reading.

    michelle halkert logo ireadiwrite
    Michelle Halket is the Creative Director for ireadiwrite Publishing, a digital small press that features writers of literary fiction, poetry and selected non-fiction across a variety of genres.  Their books are distributed to eBookstores worldwide and are available for purchase from their own site at ireadiwrite. If you would like to visit Michelle, click on the company logo above.