The E-Book Revolution

OK.  We’ve all been hearing about the e-book revolution for a few years now.  According to some, print books will cease to exist within a year or two; everyone will read on electronic devices, and paper is dead, dead, dead.

I own a Kindle.  I also own an iPhone, outfitted with a number of e-reader apps.

Recently, I traveled to and from the West Coast.  The second leg of my return flight was delayed, and I had the dubious pleasure of spending 4.5 hours in the Kansas City airport.  I finished my Kindle-read book after the teeny airport shop had closed for the night, and I was able to select another book from those I already had online.  In fact, I disliked my first two selections, and I finally settled on a third, which entertained me until I returned home.

Similarly, I took a trip to the Baltics last fall.  I was able to carry a half-dozen brand-new books (including two that had more than 750 pages each), all on my easy, convenient Kindle.

And yet, as a reader, I’m not a complete e-book convert.  I do a *lot* of reading for my job as a writer, including several dozen books a year that I pick up at writing conferences.  I am currently judging entries in the Romance Writers of America’s annual contest, and I received each of those in print.  Try as I might (and I have to admit, I haven’t tried very hard), I can’t leave print books behind completely.

As an author, though, I’m a huge e-book fan.  I’ve spent the past month or two converting my backlist into e-books.  In fact, my Glasswrights Series, which has been out of print for more than five years, is newly available as e-books, with first-time-ever trade paperback editions available as well.  (You can read more about those books, including the first chapter of each, on my website.)

So, what about you?  Are you a convert?  What do you perceive to be the advantages and the disadvantages of e-books?  If you’re a writer, are your feelings about e-books different, when you have your author hat on, than when you have your reader hat on?

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  1. 1. Elf M. Sternberg

    Yes, I’ve been reading e-books for eight years now, ever since Plucker for the Palm Pilot was released. I’ve read hundreds of books on it, and have been impressed with it.

    I recently bought a Nook. I’m pleased with how the program Calibre successfully imported all of my EPUB, OEB, PDF and even Microsoft LIT format books into the Nook format, and have been enjoying them ever since. The larger screen format is great for my aging eyes, it’s an entire library I feel comfortable carrying with me, and I’ve used maybe 2% of the available space for the ~140 or so books I have placed on there, most of them technical but a few for pleasure.

    One thing the Nook has over the Palm is its highlights-and-notes facility. As a writer, exporting my own work to the Nook allows me to take it with me and annotate typos and such without having to carry a laptop.

  2. 2. N.M. Martinez

    I just got an Ereader for Christmas and I love it. I haven’t read nearly so much since I was in school. The thing goes everywhere with me (it’s so small it fits right in my purse). And there are a lot of good cheap books for it.

    Still, I love my paperbacks and used bookstores, don’t get me wrong. But ebooks are so easy now, and most of the time when I buy an ebook, I know I’m directly supporting the author and showing my support.

  3. 3. Laura

    I love the theory of e-books, but will never convert to them for plain old fashion physical reasons.

    I get migraines and lighting is one of my main triggers. Which means all types of electronic monitors will eventually trigger a migraine. Even a TV.

    So, print will be my way until the end of days.

  4. 4. Skip

    Laura@2, there is no lighting to trigger a migraine on the e-ink devices like the Kindle and Nook. It’s pretty much exactly like reading a printed page. Though I guess the Nook does have that color display on the lower part, so you might want to avoid it.

    I suppose it’s possible that the page-flip might be a migraine trigger for some, as some people find it a touch disconcerting at first, but most people don’t notice it after a bit. In any case it might be worth checking into.

  5. 5. Angela Korra'ti

    I’m happy to see that the Glasswrights series is available electronically, because I’ve been meaning to get caught up on those. :D

    Because yeah, I’m a big ol’ fan of ebooks. I buy crazytalk numbers of books (over 400 purchased last year) and that number’s gone up substantially now that I have a nook and an iPhone to read on. I do the majority of my reading on my work commute, and therefore I find that my nook in its sturdy cover carries a lot better in my backpack than a paperback or a trade does. And I hate damaging my books. *^_^*;;

    But that said I also still buy print editions of things–generally focusing on the authors I really love the most, the ones who I’d be sad to not be able to read if the power was out, or if I lost one or both of my reading devices. And also just because I figure if I really love an author I’ll be happy to throw her money for a print book AND an electronic one.

    That said, I’m still cranky that ebooks have so many different DRM formats you have to deal with, though. I’ve been buying from Amazon AND B&N AND Fictionwise AND Kobo, and it’d be nice to be able to coordinate my purchases on both my computer AND my devices without having to jump through the obligatory technical hoops. I have the know-how to do it, but it’s still annoying!

  6. 6. Timothy Groth

    I think the more important part of the eBook revolution is the growing ability of writers to go directly to their readers. This can be done with eBooks as well as with print on demand.

    Given the drift in publishing to focus on those who already have a platform and minimal promotion for new authors, it seems like publishers are offering less than ever.

    For someone with a platform and fans ready to buy a book they write, what does a publisher offer? Why not simply write a book, release it, and reap the profits?

    The story collection, Machine of Death, followed this line of reasoning after getting rejected by publishers and it seems to have worked pretty well for them.

    For someone without a platform and fans, what does a publisher offer? A poor deal on profits and some bookstore placement, with the author handling most promotions. With an eBook release, everyone’s risk is down—readers pay far less for the book, but still yield more profit for the writer. Using social media authors can drum up sales for the eBook and keep going. If a print version looks to be in demand, getting print on demand versions is quite doable and it isn’t unheard of for major bookstores to stock those now if they think the demand warrants it.

    Personally, I would love to switch over to eBooks only, if just to save paper. I try to confine my love of paper books to used books and similar sources—likewise despite loving the feel of writing on paper, I try to stick with typing.

  7. 7. Laura

    Skip @3 Thanks for the advice.

    I will definitely check it out :)

  8. 8. Mindy Klasky

    Elf – I tried to read on my Palm, way back when, and I hated it. With the relatively small screen, I found that I skimmed everything I was supposed to be reading. (I never fought to re-train my reading brain.) I agree, that the multiple formats on the Nook make it an intriguing product. At the moment, I can’t imagine using it to edit my own text, but this old dog might learn new tricks down the line :-)

    Laura – I’ll be curious to hear if the e-ink counters your migraine problems!

    Skip – thanks for the community follow-up to Laura. I’ve found the e-ink easy on my eyes, which are otherwise tired out by many hours at the screen each day.

    Angela – I hope that you enjoy the Glasswrights Series, if you add them to your Big Ol’ Batch O’ Books! I once joked about moving further out of town, so that I could have a longer commute and complete more reading! (Oh – and yes, the DRM games are frustrating to the extreme!)

  9. 9. Mindy Klasky

    N.M. – I’ve wondered several times whether e-readers will ultimately sell better to women, since so many of us have a purse with us at most times!

    Timothy – In theory, I agree with everything you write. In practice, it’s not quite that simple – I’m a good writer, but I’m a lousy cover artist, and I’m not real strong at file formatting. It takes a large chunk of time to prepare files, distribute them initially, monitor them on an ongoing basis – all sorts of things that a publisher does for me without taking me away from my primary business – writing. That said, I think we’ll see a fair amount of evolution in these aspects of the epublishing world.

  10. 10. Patty Jansen

    I am going to be a total hypocrite. I am making some of my pre-published work available online, yet I don’t own an ereader. I do have Kindle for pc, but am singularly unimpressed with regional availability, since I don’t live in the US.

    Moreover, I do all my ‘work’ reading on screen, and I love physical books. I take them to the beach. I don’t have to worry about sand and salt ruining my device. I’ve lately started buying hardcovers of books by authors I enjoy. I take pleasure out of seeing the books on the shelf, and re-reading them, without having to worry about damaged files, batteries and outdated formats.

    That said, I will probably get an ereader one day, for ‘throwaway’ titles.

    I think the e-revolution is not so much about the e-format, but it’s about accessibility, and about offering the reader the choice.

  11. 11. Mindy Klasky

    Patty – I agree – I think that *choice* is the key – in the same way that it’s easier for me to read contest entries in print (rather than buy them outside the parameters of the contest as e-books) and it’s easier to carry the e-reader while I’m on the road. I can easily see a future where I use the e-reader for “throwaway” titles – whether those are quick reads, books I don’t think I’ll ever read a second time, books that I want to hide from the public (erotica in public, that sort of thing…)

  12. 12. Patty Jansen

    LOL. I think this is the main reason that erotica does so well in e-form.

    As for POD, several fairly scientific titles I’ve ordered recently from the Book Depository have come to me as POD. I think it’s an excellent way of keeping books in print.

  13. 13. Mike Barker

    Eight years ago, I had a herniated disk. The doctor ordered me to spend as much time as possible lying down, and lifting even a paperback *hurt*. Luckily, I had my palm pilot, and the Baen library and webscriptions were available, so I still had something to read. And I still read heavily in electronic form (iPod Touch).

    But, as Patty mentioned, regional availability is really irritating — I live in Japan, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to read American writers! And I hate being urged to cheat — even publishers sometimes recommend just working around the regional limitations, which is crazy. Incidentally, there’s a small secondary business here in Japan built on providing slicers (to cleanly cut the back off) and high-speed scanners to convert books to electronic formats for readers.

    I have to admit, I don’t see the various formats as opposed, so much as complementary. I like ebooks for portability, searchability, and easy production/distribution. I do think we have to figure out better ways to let me browse the electronic shelves — I’m sorry, but Amazon and so forth don’t really make it easy for me to quickly scan the shelves, picking out new ones, favorite authors, and all that, like I have learned to do with a bookstore bookshelf. Frankly, I think that’s the area that needs work the most — how to publicize new books and help readers browse through the growing flood of ebooks.

  14. 14. Andrew Betts

    I bought a first gen Kindle back in 2008 (it arrived on Halloween so my first book had to be The Graveyard Book by Gaiman). Absolutely fell in love with it. My wife and I got so sick of sharing we purchased another one last year around Thanksgiving. There are very few books that just don’t work in this format (comics, RPG books, cookbooks, reference books) but I see that changing.

    I’m currently converting some books for a small publisher right now. I’ve learned a lot and keep learning more.

    And on a final note I LOVE eBooks!

  15. 15. karen wester newton

    eBooks! My favorite subject! You appear to have some converts already, but a few things I could mention as strengths for ebooks:

    free samples. When you browse a new author in an ebookstore, you can usually get a free chunk of the beginning chapter or two of the book, to see if you like it. This make me much more likely to try new authors.

    length is less important. you can easily sell a short-story or a novella in ebook form. you just charge less and be upfront about how long the “ebook” is. Likewise, mammoth volumes are much less daunting. The eReader never weighs more, no matter how big the books is!

    cloud archive. when you buy a book, most retailers (Amazon, B&N, Fictionwise, O’Reilly, etc.) maintain a web-based archive of your books. If you lose your eReader, you just download all your books again.

    Of course, there ar eplenty of downsides, the biggest one being competing DRM. You can’t load a Barnes & Noble book onto a Kindle or a Kindle book onto a Nook.

    But overall, I think the most positive thing about ebooks is they have people reading more now. That counts for a lot.

  16. 16. NewGuyDave

    I also spend all day reading, revising, and critiquing on a screen. When I read to enjoy a book, I pull away from the computer and lay down. I love the tactile feeling of a book in hand and the sight of them in the shelves in our library.

    That said, I see the advantages of being able to carry several books on an extended trip or buy books that are out of print.


  17. 17. Laura

    We have a few at work, so that we can test their accessibility for our blind and dyslexic students. I’ve had it broadly promised that I’ll be getting an iPad for my birthday. I’m looking forward to it … but I’m also not going to give up any of my signed books.

    The one thing I think about is, “Well, you can’t autograph an e-book.” So if (when, I hope) I’m in that situation, I think some sort of postcard or bookmark might be appropriate to give out. :)

  18. 18. Adele

    I read on my ipad but honestly mainly review copies. I have a few books on there and love being able to download things not easily available as physical books in the UK. When I travel (even just for the day) I now take one paperback and my ipad, knowing if I finish my current read I am still ok. At home theough I still go first to my shelves and if I am thinking of getting a book I will try my Waterstones before going to the kindle app.
    I think e books are fantastic, I love the reading experience on the ipad, but I still love a paperback.

  19. 19. Mindy Klasky

    Patty – Of course, as an author, I agree that POD and ebooks are a great way to keep books in print. There’s been a *lot* of discussion about this lately in several author lists that I frequent. It’ll be interesting to see how this “boom” plays out…

    Mike – Regional availability is one of those things that us States-bound authors are just starting to learn about. I have recently heard a number of horror stories about both the cost of paperback books abroad (the equivalent of $35 for a mass market paperback?!? Really!?!) and the hazards of publisher-driven territorial restrictions. Of course, authors are the *last* people that publishers listen to. It’ll be interesting to watch this shape up in the course of additional globalization of industry. As for the browsing process – I totally, completely, 100% agree that it’s broken online. I find e-books great for those instances where I know what I want. It’s substantially more difficult (and often, impossible) to browse effectively. Of course, I’m also mourning the depletion of shelves in my local bricks and mortar stores…

    Karen – I expected you to show up here! I know that free samples are one of the key advantages of e-books (at least in theory). In practice, though, I have so little time to read, relative to what I want to read, that free samples don’t matter much to me. As for length – I’m still grappling with this. As a slow reader, I feel a lot of pressure when I’m *still* reading the same old text that I’ve been working on for a week. The e-reader doesn’t alleviate this problem (and, sometimes, it makes me more anxious, looking at the percentage signs and saying – really? That’s all I’ve read?”)

    Dave – Yep; I don’t think it’s an “either/or” in my life these days. Most of the time, I prefer the feel of a book, but when I’m away from home, or in circumstances where I’m likely to finish one or more books…

    Adele – The ability to send out e-ARCs has definitely helped us midlist authors. Our publishers are willing and able to make that financial investment, when we would otherwise be left with nothing!

  20. 20. Ben J

    I’m not resistant to the concept of an e-reader and e-books. I live in Australia and geographic restriction is the main barrier to my buying an e-reader. The irony is that titles that are geographically restricted in e-book form are easily ordered in print form.

    In my country there are 2 main bookstore chains and the range of SF & F and Urban titles both on the shelf and e-books is not very large. The number of SF & F authors in the average bookstore is in the 30 – 45 range and Fantasy titles take up 75%, Urban Fantasy 15% and Science Fiction 10% of shelf space. The e-book component of both chains websites are really hard to search and navigate.

    In the past few years I have found one exception to the small shelf space and number of authors, as far as the chain bookstores go. My city also has a few independent bookstores that specialise and import in either SF & F or Romance.

    Mass market paperbacks range from $18.99 to $21.99, trade paperbacks range from $28.99 – $32.99 and Hardcovers generally start from $45.00. Bear in mind that the Australian population is estimated to be about 22 and a half million – so the market is much smaller than the US.

    Personally I’m an extremely heavy user of my local library system and the other ones where I can do inter-library loans – this is the easiest way for me to have a wide range of different authors to read. In Australia if you have a mortgage you pay council rates (councils are the third tier of government) and a percentage of my annual rates payments are used to finance my local library system. Also Australian authors receive annual payments for copies of books they in the various council and education run libraries. A couple of children’s authors do fairly well through this payment system (according to interviews I’ve read with them).

    Finally I still have a large love affair with the mass market paperback because it’s always easy to slip one in my jeans back pocket, particularly when I’m walking between modes of public transport.

    Hopefully I haven’t gone to far off topic.


  21. 21. Daemon

    The biggest advantage for comes when travelling. I’m not even talking about bringing books on the plane – I’m living in a foreign country for a year. English language books are rare, and insanely expensive here. Thanks to the ebook reader, I can get most of the books I want to read, via public library, project gutenberg, etc.

    Lot of annoyances too. Hopefully they’ll eventually realize that giving us space to put 1000 novels on one device is pointless if the interface makes it a bloody nightmare to wade through the giant list that is the library… which generally doesn’t even let you keep series together, never mind in order, without some form of Calibre trickery.

  22. 22. Subcreator

    I don’t yet have an e-reader because I can’t afford one. But I want one badly and am hoping the price will come down soon.

    I think those on either extreme in their opinion of ebooks are silly. Ebooks are not going to completely take over within a few years. That’s ridiculous. There will be paper books at least until my generation dies off. My children’s generation will probably be the first to wholeheartedly embrace ebooks to the exclusion of paper, but even then, they’ll trickle away slowly. Ebooks ARE the future. But that future isn’t tomorrow or in a few years. It will take time, because humans don’t much like change. It will be the people who grew up with ebooks and e readers that finally make it the dominant form.

  23. 23. Kelly

    We picked Kindle as our first publishing environment as it allows us to be “environmentally” friendly by putting out the book electronically, and it allows us to offer it at a lower price than a traditional paperback sells for currently, a bonus in a down economy, letting more people read new books than might be able to otherwise. (I personally LOVE reading Kindle books on my Android phone – so easy to use, very readable fonts, and only requires 1 charger – for my phone!) I EAT BUTTERFLIES: Tales of Vampires, Mages & Mutants by Raven c.s. McCracken, a trio of sexy and dark sci fi / fantasy stories, is our first Kindle offering, and we plan a whole series using this great technology.

  24. 24. Mindy Klasky

    Ben – While I’m jealous of your having independent stores near you that support genre, I’m *appalled* to hear your description of the speculative fiction shelves at the chain stores (not to mention the cost of mmpbs!) I was very intrigued when I traveled in the Baltics last fall, to hear about the state-supported publishing programs they have, to try to counter the problem of relatively small populations… As for libraries… I, too, am a huge fan. I’m in jealous awe of my fellow writers who live in countries where they get paid for library loans of their books…

    Daemon – As a librarian, I’ve always found the organization of massive amounts of information to be even more challenging than the mechanics of getting it to users. I think that the organizational tools for e-readers will only improve (but that’s not saying much, is it?)

    Subcreator – The prices of ereaders are certainly dropping, and I suspect we’ll break the $99 barrier soon.

    Kelly – I’ve been hearing from people trumpeting the environmental value of ebooks for quite some time. Of course, most people forget to include the high environmental cost of manufacturing the readers – and we’ll all get to explore recycling them in the next several years as the current models become outdated!

  25. 25. Ed Howdershelt

    Yeah, I’ve been an e-convert since about 1983, when I had to transcribe parts of a tech manual about a 300-baud modem into a file for distribution on a company-issue disk.
    I looked at that finished file and realized where things were going.
    But tech was changing so fast I thought we’d get here by 1993 or so.
    When I started writing, I had to explain the term ‘ebook’ to people, and many of them laughed at the idea of buying computer files and calling them ‘books’ of any sort.
    Then Fictionwise came along and I was suddenly able to put a screen porch and a new roof on the house and buy a motorcycle.
    People stopped laughing when ebooks became generally marketable.
    Ed Howdershelt – Abintra Press
    Science Fiction & Semi-Fiction

  26. 26. Mindy Klasky

    Ed – I remember getting “ebooks” as large text files to be read on my desktop computer, early in my career as a copyright lawyer. (I also remember trying to get the text of a novel on CD, and only being able to get the audio version of the book, but that’s a different story…) My how things change, huh?

  27. 27. Lara Morgan

    I haven’t actually yet really seen an e-book as I don’t have a reader and no one I know has one either (that they’ve told me about anyway). I love the portabilty of the e-readers as when travelling of course it’s easier than carrying hardcopy.
    I’ll probably buy a reader in the future but don’t feel, at the moment, it can replace the feel of a book in my hands.

    Speaking also as an author, I’m disturbed by the amount of people who believe writers may make more money from e-books. We don’t. Really, we really don’t. Especially given how low the price is being driven online by certain companies who hold a monopoly in that area. Authors under contract with a publisher generally sell the e-book rights as well (unless you’re an author with a lot of clout, you don’t have much choice) and we are still paid a % per sale amount, and on e-books that tends to be on net receipts, not the rrp. That means the % amount is calculated after any discounts and costs are taken out.

    For those without publishers who seek the e-publishing route for their work, great if you can make it work! Sounds simple in theory but personally, I wouldn’t know where to start. There are the copyright issues, the software itself, the sales management and the marketing of it. Marketing your own work is hard slog even when you have a publishers helping you out.

    I’m not against e-books, I think they’re a great invention and have a lot to offer, but what we need are better structures in place to ensure people, both writers and readers, are getting a fair deal.

  28. 28. Mindy Klasky

    Lara – In my experience, *some* authors don’t make more from e-books, but some do. For example, one of my publishers pays me 6% royalties on e-books, which is two percentage points less than they pay me for print. Obviously, I “lose” money on each e-book sold. Another one of my publishers, though, pays me 50% on e-books, and it doesn’t discount my titles. I’m thrilled with those sales! I’ve done some fiddling with self-publishing my reverted titles as e-books – some of it is easy to do, some is very challenging, and some I haven’t figured out how to make work yet. So, yes – we’re feeling our way through this – and there’s still going to be a lot of change!

  29. 29. Lara Morgan

    Mindy – 50% that is great, and provides hope for those of us signed up to lower amounts. One of mine pays me 20% on net receipts. Not that I’ve actually made anything from them yet, but I hope so in the future. I’d be really interested to know how you’ve gone about creating the e-books of your reverted titles, especially how you deal with protecting them from piracy – if that’s possible. It’s something I might have to do with some of mine in the future. If only there was a manual and a crystal ball to help guide us!

  30. 30. Mindy Klasky

    Lara – I don’t focus a *lot* on piracy. As I find pirated copies, I notify my publishers of the sites. I let my publishers send take-down notices as they choose to do. I figure, I only have so many hours in a day. Spending many of them chasing after folks who download files isn’t worth it – especially because I believe that *most* downloaders wouldn’t buy the book anyway…


  1. The E-Book Revolution | Mindy Klasky, Author

Author Information

Mindy Klasky

Mindy Klasky is the author of eleven novels, including WHEN GOOD WISHES GO BAD and HOW NOT TO MAKE A WISH in the As You Wish Series. She also wrote GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL, about a librarian who finds out she's a witch. Mindy also wrote the award-winning, best-selling Glasswrights series and the stand-alone fantasy novel, SEASON OF SACRIFICE. Visit site.



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