Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On eBooks and iPads

Recently there has been a ton of chatter about eBooks. With Amazon going to war with publishers over pricing, the release of the Nook--the first major competitor of the Kindle (not that there haven't been other eReaders, but just like Harry becoming the chosen one because Voldemort decided the prophecy referred to him, Amazon singled the Nook out as THE competitor) and then, of course, there was the stir over the introduction of iBooks. My observation has been that over the last year or two eBooks have gone from primarily a distribution tool used by small specialty markets (like small press erotica publishers) to a mainstream alternative to paper.

A few years ago, eBook sales were not significant enough to track. While I can't put my hands on the report right this moment, if I remember correctly, last year eBooks made up a little less than 4% of all book sales. While 4% of the market is not much, if you look at the trend, it's obvious eBook popularity is growing, and fast. Most books are releasing eBook and print simultaneously, and while some big NY houses have tested a policy model that delays the release of eBooks for hardbacks, the reader backlash to the policy has been heavy. The message is clear: eBooks are taking hold and readers expect to be able to download highly anticipated titles on the same day the physical copies hit stores.

I have watched all of these events unfold with a mix of disinterest and horror. The disinterest stems from the fact that reading on my screen annoys me--I spent years editing every draft of my manuscripts on paper, and only a sense of guilt over the waste finally forced me to learn to edit on the screen--so, if it's a chore for me to read on my computer, I'm obviously not going to choose to mix said chore with my pleasure reading. The horror is firmly rooted in the fear eBooks could one day become the industry norm and physical books over priced collector items. (Not that I think this will happen in my lifetime, but the fear is there.) As someone in my twenties, I'm apparently supposed to be a prime audience for eBooks, but I'm more of the opinion one would have to pry my paper copies out of my cold dead hands.

I like books. I like holding my books while I read them. I like seeing the spines on my bookshelves. I like judging how much story is left by the remaining thickness. I like being able to pull a well loved book off my shelf and open it to a random page. When I was little, I dreamed of one day seeing my name on the spine of a book. Before I was published I would walk in bookstores and scout out where my books would some day be located. A physical book is something special to me. Not that I have anything against eBooks (except that little bit of fear). I'm happy my books are released in various eformats as it gives readers who prefer such formats an opportunity to read my work. No, I've never had against them, they just weren't for me.

Until recently.

A couple months ago I splurged on an iPad. Mind you, I did not buy it as an eReader--there are much cheaper eReader's out there. I bought it knowing it would be primarily a toy, and justified the purchase by convincing myself it would be a nice alternative to my laptop for reading my critique partners' pages. Unfortunately, that plan has yet to pan out because none of the apps for the iPad have the ability to track changes or add comments to text. (Very frustrating! If anyone out there knows how to program in Cocoa and would be so kind as to write a document editing App with track changes and comments, I will love you forever. And of course, buy a copy of the program. ^_^) Since my productivity plans fell through, I have used my iPad primarily for games and movie.

Prior to my iPad, I had read exactly one ebook. It was a short prequel to a new series by an author I like, it was only available in ebook format, and it was free. Why not, right? So I downloaded the kindle app for my phone and snagged the book from amazon. While the story was good, I must say I was frustrated while reading it and the experience didn't encourage me to look into any other ebooks. Then, a couple weeks after getting my ipad, a similar situation occurred. An author I adore released a free short tie in novella to her NYT bestselling series, but it was only available in ebook format. I sighed, poured myself a cup of tea, curled up on the couch, downloaded the app for my ipad, and then resigned myself to reading on the thing. But the experience wasn't bad. Oh, I wouldn't say I enjoyed reading on the ipad more than enjoy reading a physical book, it was more like I simply stopped noticing that what I was reading was on a screen and not on a page. So I downloaded another book. Then I tested out some of the other ebook apps. This whole reading ebook thing? Not so intolerable after all.

So am I sold now? Am I going to stop killing trees and read only eBooks? Not hardly. Or, at least, not yet.

The switch from CDs to buying almost all my music electronically was fairly easy for me, probably because storing all my playlists on one device which worked with my headphones, my various sound systems through out my house, and even my car, made sense. When I'd buy a physical cd, I'd import it into my computer and then have to find somewhere to stash the physical CD which I really didn't need anymore. These days, the only time I buy a CD is if I'm at a concert and want something for the band to sign. Will I eventually feel the same way about books? Buy physical copies only when I want an author to sign them? I can tell you that when I recently moved and had over fifty large boxes of books, not having them sounded good, but I love having my own library. I don't collect much, but I do collect books. Things are changing fast, and this is probably a topic I'll have to revist in coming years.

So what are your feelings on eBooks? Love them? Hate them? Afraid of the possible future they represent? Has your opinion changed recently due to the events of the last six or so months? I'd love to know your opinions and your experiences!

Happy hump day everyone, and check back tomorrow when I continue the eBook discussion with my rating of the top three iPad ereader apps. (I originally intended to include it in today's discussion, but then I realized this post was already obnoxiously long.)


Janet Tait said...

I've had a Kindle since the first ones came out, and I also have an iPad (bought for the same reason you did - to write and do critiques). I find both useful as e-readers, the Kindle more than the iPad, because the Kindle's screen is optimized for reading. I love being able to download and read books right away.

I still love paper books, but after losing my library in a fire (2007 California wildfires) I came to appreciate having many of my books "backed up" off site, which Amazon does. Since we still haven't found a new house and I don't have the space for all those books, e-books are nice as a space-saver. Some books I buy on paper (especially ones I want to get signed), but I've found myself switching to e-books as my first choice.

From the reader perspective, if publishers keep raising the prices of e-books so that they match the prices of paper books, they will kill the market. I've heard publishers say their costs are comparable, but consumers will not believe that. E-books and paper books don't offer the same functionality to the consumer and shouldn't be the same price - I can't resell an e-book, I can't get it signed, loan it to a friend, etc. Pricing is my biggest concern about e-books viability.

Kt said...

Reading on a Kindle is completely different from reading on an iPad. The Kindle's screen looks just like a book page, no glare, no LCD screen. Personally I love the freedom of the Kindle. I can download any book I want, anytime or place. I also have all of my books with me without having to lug a bunch of books around. The device has really made reading so much more convenient for me.

Lexxx said...

Considering that my first novel is coming out as an eBook to start, I've been trying to do my research on them. I'm like you, Kalayna-- I'm not ready to give up my paper books yet. I like to read in the bathtub and on the beach too much. However, I think the eBook is going to be the wave of the future and I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. For one thing, its affordable. You can buy a trash novel that's entertaining for 4 bucks, as opposed to buying the same book in paperback for at least 8. Also, for those of us who like to read several books at once-- you can carry all of them with you.

But as rabid readers everywhere will say-- there's just something about the experience of holding the book. The slightly moldy smell of the paper. The gentle whisping sound as you turn the pages. Its all part of the reading experience for bibliophiles. And that's something that none of those readers can duplicate.

I will say... I have a friend who is a librarian and she says that one of the trends in libraries now is to have eBook checkouts and reader checkouts. That way, a reader can go to their library's website, download a book to their reader for free (sometimes even check out an eReader from their library) and then after a certain amount of time, the file is deleted from the reader. I thought that was pretty awesome.

Just somethin' to think about...

Dawn Chartier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dawn Chartier said...

(Sorry I had to delete my earlier post, typed a wrong #.)

My husband bought me a kindle for my birthday back in October. It also took an adjustment for me to go from "paper" to "gadget" but now it doesn't bother me at all. I still buy some books in paper, but if I need a quick fix, I download the book in 60 seconds.

Now that I'm an ebook author, I also did the research on ebooks and found that The AAP reported e-books sales jumped 176% in 2009 to 169.5 million and a slight decline in sales of print trade books. Go figure...

Dawn Chartier

Kalayna Price said...

Janet, I'm so sorry to hear about the fire. Fires as devastating, and the loss of books is probably something most people wouldn't consider. I can totally understand the appreciation of having an off site backup. Though at the same time, I admit to worrying about what would happen if the external host folded or if the book was removed from the catalog (as happened with one book on Amazon about a year ago and thousands of people lost access to a book they'd purchased).

As far as prices . . . I think that would be a good topic for another blog post.

Kt, I need to check out reading on an eInk screen at somepoint. The backlighting on the ipad doesn't really bother me, and I like that I and read in low light, but maybe (considering I stare at a computer all day anyway) getting away from the backlight would be good. I'll have to go to B&N and play with the Nook at some point. Or I hear Target (I think) will be carrying the Kindle soon. I'd definitely want to play with it before I invested in anything that only functioned a reader though.

Lexxx, how cool about the library! I'll have to see if my county library has any similar programs. As far as the feel of a book goes, I totally agree. I can also see a (possibly joke) product that looks like a real book but contains an ereader--maybe it would even come with a little aerosol can containing "authentic dead tree book smell." ^_^

Kalayna Price said...

Dawn, those statistics don't surprise me in the least. The market is really booming. I imagine will will eventually stabilize, but it still has a long way to grow. The ability the download a book quickly and anywhere you happen to be at the time is definitely a draw. I can't count how many times I've finished a book and thought "oh, I need the next. Now." But I do most of my reading at night, when the bookstores aren't open. Or haven't we all had to search around time for a book? Now many are just a couple clicks away. I just hope we don't lose any more of our bookstores in the process, but between online shopping and ebooks, brick and mortar stores have taken some pretty hard hits.

Sorwen said...

While I still love books I loved my Kindle before I even bought it. The reason was two fold. At the time it was the only eReader that allowed you to download with a cellular connection. The ability to buy a book almost anywhere was/is great. I love that I can finish a book and immediately move to a next. The second is the fact that I can carry my whole library with me. If I'm broke then it is easy just to pick one of the books I haven't read in a while and start reading. No need to wait till I get home to do so.

I much prefer reading on my Kindle than on my computer. The eInk really does make a big difference from me with eye strain. And the fact that normally I only have to charge it every week and a half to two weeks depending on my usage is great. I'm a gadget guy so I have half dozen I use/carry around and it is nice that this one I don't have to charge daily or every few days like other devices.

I'm sure some of the others are just as good, but I've had no reason to find out with my Kindle working so well.

Anonymous said...

I love actual books, for the exact same reasons, seeing them on my shelf and knowing I can pick them up at any time and to any page. Feeling the thickness of a book and knowing how many pages are left for me to enjoy but I have come to love the simplicity of ebooks and the variety at my fingertips. I have kindle on my iPhone so at any bored moment I can open it up and start reading. Also I've discovered some wonderful authors thanks to the kindle previoulsy really cheap or free downloads, for example a great book a couple months ago entitled "Once Bitten" that I probably would have never discovered were it not for kindle, and I absolutely loved! Of course instead of downloading the sequel I had to get the paperback because I knew this was a series I'd enjoy seeing physically grow in my library. Mostly I love having both at my disposal.
- Elvia

the librarian said...

Lexxx -- when you "borrow" an e-book from the library (download it), technically the file is not deleted after a certain amount of time -- the license expires making the file unable to be accessed for reading. If you're an avid borrower of e-books from the library and suddenly find that your device is full, it might be because you haven't manually deleted the files.

the librarian said...

PS: Lexxx -- Thank you for promoting your public library!

Lexxx said...

@ the librarian:

i knew it must work some sort if interesting way. and i love the public library. my husband, an author himself, works full time for a public library and is a big proponent of them. I think that all libraries should look into the eBook thing-- i think it would be great for people that couldn't come into the library for some reason. my mom also began losing her sight towards the end of her life and eReaders would have been great for her because you can make the type virtually as big as you like.

@Kalayna-- i think we should patent this eReader that looks like a real I'd totally buy one!

Kalayna Price said...

Good points Sorwen. How old is your Kindle at this point? I admit another fear I have with the e-revolution involves the tech surrounding it. Our technology is changing so fast that most computers are outdated within six months of release--they depreciate faster than about anything on the market. I wonder what the staying power of an eReader will be? Will it be something that needs to be reinvested in every 2-3 years?

Elvia, you made my day. Thanks so much! Yes, I agree, having both at our disposal is ideal. I hope it stays that way.

Thanks for the clarification Librarian. I really need to see if my public library has that service. If nothing else, it would give me an opportunity to test out eInk

Lexx: ^_^

Augmentative AT said...

I have a Kindle. I still read about 50% paper books and 50% on the Kindle. I have noticed that I read books twice as fast on the Kindle. I assume it is a combo of the special ink and ease of turning the page that makes me read faster. I also really like how easy it is to get new books. I click a few buttons and I'm ready to go.