Originally written January 31, 2010
If you've been following my writeups, you know that I have a deep and abiding gadget lust. I love playing
with new computers and peripherals. Other women may get excited over
shoe bargains, but my heart goes pitter-pat when MicroCenter has a sale.
Likewise, any casual observer
should realize that I love books: big books, little books, hardbound
and softcover. I love the look of them, the feel of them. Having a
house full of books makes me feel rich in a way that having a full bank
account never did. Consequently, my husband and I buy a lot of books,
and it's an ongoing challenge to find new shelf space in our house for
So, my owning an ebook reader
would seem like a no-brainer, wouldn't it? I've bought a lot of titles
from Amazon ever since their site launched, so surely I'd have been all
over the Kindle like syrup on pancakes, right? My husband and I love
our Macintosh computers and iPods, so surely we'd have gotten iPhones
or at least upgraded to iPod Touches and would be happily reading
digital books on those at night and on trips, right?
But you'd be wrong. My love for
books and gadgets failed to mesh. Aside from my laptop, the closest
thing I have to an ebook reader is my PSP, which can be grudgingly made
to read books in HTML format and frankly I haven't used it for that
much because of the effort involved. It's been a lot easier to stick a book
in my purse or backpack and go.
Part of it may be psychological.
Way back in 2001, my very first collection came out as an ebook, and
although it got good reviews, to say that sales were miserable would be
a vast understatement. It was a combination of the publisher not
having a good distribution system, me being naive about promotion, and
the technology not being in place to provide a satisfying reading
experience to encourage many readers to want to spend money on a PDF.
My gut reaction to the whole thing was essentially "ebooks suck!"
I like to think that my head rules
my emotional innards, though, particularly when it comes to business.
Nine years have passed, and now we do have the shiny Kindles and iPods
and Nooks and everything else to tempt readers who previously went
cross-eyed trying to read books off a regular computer screen. And I've
had other books that have been released in both hardcopy and digital
copy ... and the ebook sales have not sucked.
Some people are breathlessly claiming that digital sales are outpacing hardcopy sales. It certainly appears that this is the case with my new novel Spellbent,
if the sales rankings on the B&N and Amazon sites are to be
believed. But I don't have any hard data to support that assertion. I
do have hard data on the sales for my collection Installing Linux on a Dead Badger:
although the Kindle version is priced considerably lower than the
paperback version, digital sales are only about 33% of the total number
of books sold. Admittedly, digital sales would probably be greater if
the book were available in other digital formats, but Kindle seems to
have the biggest piece of the ebook pie right now. And either way you
slice it, although 33% is not a majority, it's still a considerable
number of sales. The publisher feels that the Kindle version has nicely
supported sales of the hardcopy version.
So, the take-home message here for authors,
based on my experiences? You need both hard copies and digital copies
to meet your book's market. Despite the claims made by epublishers, I
just don't think digital alone will cut it right now if your goal is to
get your book into as many paying readers' hands as possible. But
not having a digital version will cost you a considerable number of
Abstract sales numbers aside, the real people I've polled seem to be split on how they prefer to read in the 21st Century.
Some just aren't ready to give up the joy of reading and owning physical books.
"I love the feel and look of
books," says avid reader Christine Jaegli Ehrler. "I don't own an ebook
device, have never actually held or looked at one, so maybe it's unfair
to dislike something I have no experience with, but I just cannot
imagine liking ebooks."
But other avid readers faced with the limited space to store hardbacks and paperbacks have embraced ebook technology.
"I've put a moratorium on getting new physical books," says Eric Haddock,
who now uses Kindle on his iPhone as his main method of reading. "I'm
enjoying it quite a bit. If it's not available on Kindle -- or PDF -- I
don't read it."
"I've had a Sony PRS-500 since the month it was released," says author Mehitobel Wilson.
"I love it. I won't discard books, which means that my poor house is
piled with the kind of paperbacks that you read once, and that's the
kind of thing I now read on the Reader. I still buy normal paper books,
and if I fall in love with an e-edition I'll buy the tangible sort
So, the technology is entirely
embraceable, and I've gotten over my bitterness over my first foray as
an ebook author (I think). Why haven't I bought an ebook reader?
Lately, it's been more a financial
concern rather than a psychological one. My husband and I have
laptops and iPods and shelves filled with paperbacks we haven't got
around to reading yet. Could we really justify the expense of a new
gadget that would only provide us with digital books when we're
surrounded by the real thing? I admit the iPod Touch and iPhones were
tempting, but the extra cost and duplication of gadget function made me
And my gut told me that Something Better was just down the road. Others have shared my wait-and-see attitude.
"I was about to buy the new Kindle when the Apple iTablet rumors started," says novelist/screenwriter Diana Botsford.
"Now I'm holding off. Part of what I've learned from my research (on
ebook readers) is that you need to see which device best supports your
preferred genre. For me, it seems that Kindle has better offerings for
(genre fiction) -- particularly recent releases."
And lo and behold, last Wednesday,
Apple unveiled their brand new gadget, named the iPad instead of the
iTablet. As is typical for new releases from that company, the new
product's lack of Flash support, size, even its name has been met with
derision around the Internet ("iPad sounds like a feminine hygiene
product" chortles a librarian friend.) And many hardcore Apple users
are upset that the iPad runs iPhone-style apps (140,000 of them and
counting) instead of the full-blown version of Mac OSX.
But you know what? For me, the
iPad is exactly what I was waiting for. I've been eyeing netbooks but
didn't want to have to deal with the constant whack-a-virus that comes
with owning a Windows computer or with the extra time involved in
integrating a Linux version into my work style. And of course I was
tempted by the functionality of the iPhone, but I hated the expense of
the cell plan that inevitably came along with it.
The iPad would integrate right
into our Mac-based household. The screen is big enough for decent movie
viewing and novel writing. I could actually see myself replacing my
7-year-old iBook with it (the fact that my laptop has remained useable
for so long is testament to why I like Apple hardware). There are
already apps available to enable me to do the things I typically do
with my laptop -- I don't need the full version of OSX to get work
done. And there's a nifty full-keyboard dock for the thing, so I could
carry the light, portable pad around with me during the day for quick
notes and then dock it at night for more serious writing.
But this writeup isn't about
laptops or netbooks, is it? We're talking about ebook readers. And
according to many, the iPad could be a Kindle killer.
Provided you view the Kindle as a
piece of hardware, of course. The iPad is roughly the same size as a
Kindle and can perform all the accessory functions of a Kindle -- MP3s,
web surfing, and note-taking -- far better than Amazon's product. The
iPad makes the Kindle look positively dowdy. The Kindle does offer
limited free worldwide wireless (it allows you to get books and look
things up on Wikipedia), but in a world of free wifi at the library,
hotel, and neighborhood coffee shop, the main advantage of a Kindle is
the E Ink technology.
"E Ink is hot shit," says
Mehitobel Wilson. "It's neither backlit nor reflective, and is great in
full sunlight. It so very closely emulates the printed page that people
seeing my Reader have thought it had a display overlay on it. No
Some have speculated that the
iPad's backlit screen can't possibly compete with the eye comfort of
the Kindle. However, I've heard some believable rumors that in the
near future there will be an app for emulating the E Ink reading
experience in the iPad. We'll see. There's already an app for reading
Kindle books on your iPod or iPhone, and an E Ink emulator might come
bundled in with future releases for the iPad.
Which brings me to this: if Apple
mainly views itself as a tech manufacturer and not as an upstart book
distributor, and if you view the Kindle not as a piece of hardware but
as Amazon's whole digital book delivery system, the iPad is not a
destroyer but a right-hand ally pulling in more market share for Amazon
from people like me who don't mind backlit screens.
It will be interesting to see how
(and if) the Kindle evolves in response to the iPad. It's hard to
imagine book-centric Amazon trying to have a hardware showdown with a
company that's been making excellent hardware for years. It's also hard
to imagine the Kindle disappearing overnight. It's possible Apple will
use iBooks to try to stage an iTunes-style coup over the digital text
market and shut the Kindle app down as unwanted competition, which to
me would be a stupid move. But strange things have happened in the tech
But the upshot is that ebook
technology has clearly matured, and interested readers have their
choice of good devices. Add that in with other book-related
technologies -- Project Gutenberg, printing on demand, and a cornucopia
of Internet bookstores -- the 21st Century is a great time to be a