Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

e-Books: Am I crazy or What?

e-Books...hate them or love them, I've come to the conclusion that they are the future and the future is now.  Oh, sure, I hear a lot of remarks like, "There is something about holding a real book and turning the pages..." or "I don't like to read a book sitting at the computer."  I'm with you on that last one, believe me.  As a computer specialist by day and writer by night, I sit way too long at the computer as it is.  I do not want to sit at one to read a book.

And yet...  I think the pundits that don't see e-books taking over the publishing world are being too conservative in their fortune telling.  I think the death of physical books may be imminent.  It only needs a few more things to fall into place....  And yes, I'll talk about that in a minute.  First, I want to explain what I've seen in my own life that has led me to believe none of us has really gone quite far enough in our predictions.

You see, I suffer from lack of room.  Both my husband and I read--and not only read, but collect out-of-print volumes.  So now, I don't have any more room for "real books," if you consider real books to be those things printed on paper.  We are literally drowning in paper in my house, and I can't take it any more.

I look at my books and what I see are dust catchers full of mites and allergens contributing to the general clutter and over-whelming-ness (is that a word?) of my life.  But I can't give them away because my favorite books are not available in any other format.  Most are not even sold anymore.  If I get rid of them, I'll never be able to read them again.  And I do re-read them.

So I have to keep them.  I don't want to, but at the moment, I have no choice.  But I see change and relief on the horizon.  And I see my behavior already beginning to shift in a new direction. Over the last three years, I've stopped buying computer books because I prefer to have two computers at work:  one to do my work and one for research.  I'd rather google a question than have to look for something in a book.  I leave the information up on the screen of my "research" computer to refer to while I work on my other computer.  I've even stopped printing things out.  If I want to "keep" a resource that I think may disappear off the web, then I download a copy and save it on my system.  All it takes is a little file space, and it doesn't even collect dust.  (Okay, my computer collects dust, but I'm over that, now.)

I cannot believe I'm the only one who has seen the speed and advantage of doing an online search. 

And there are so few things I need to make me completely convert over to e-books:

 An e-book reader (they exist, but are too expensive at the moment.)

 An online library un-associated with a specific e-book reader or e-book vendor (I'll explain more about this idea in a minute)

 e-Book versions of the books I just can't live without.  (No--not great literature, more like old Gothics from the 70's, 80's and early 90's)

That's all.  I told you it wouldn't be a big deal to make me into a complete c-book fanatic.

There are already e-book readers out there and they are pretty good.  I like Amazon's Kindle at the moment because of the download-while-I'm-in-the-airport capabilities, but heck, any will do.  Except...I really wish they had color screens.  I don't know why, but it really bugs me that they are only B&W at the moment.  This whole point, though, is really only a tech-weenie, propeller-head issue and is pretty much already solved.

The second point is really the crux of the matter, from my perspective.  I want a place to store my books until I die.  A place free from association with any specific vendor like Amazon, because I'm always paranoid that twenty years from now, they will be out of business.  And many of these silly publishers/vendors use digital rights management (DRM) which is a fancy way of saying they're trying to make sure you can't back up/trade/resell the item you bought, whether it is music or a book.  I loathe and despise DRM, but could live with it if I had a library where I could back up all my e-books forever and ever, amen, without worrying about a specific vendor going out of business and losing my investment in books purchased from them.

I don't think I'm the only one who has thought of such a thing, so I'm hoping to see news of it in some tech-weenie rag any day now.

The last point...well, I'm not sure anyone is going to go back and create e-book versions of Virginia Coffman's Moura books, so I may have to keep a few old volumes around for kicks.

Now...I think I will finish this blog with some interesting (at least to me) speculation about the impact of this trend.  Because there is no doubt it will have a huge impact.

Think about it.  If we go to e-books, suddenly, the playing field for authors gets a lot more "even".  Bookstores will dwindle--if not vanish.

The market will change.  How you buy books will change.  No more browsing shelves--you'll browse the Internet instead.  If a book catches your fancy, well, you'll buy it.  And the way books are advertised and marketed will change dramatically.

Right now, if you're not with a big, NY House, you may struggle to get your books into libraries and on shelves in bookstores.  If you're with a small house like me, you probably won't get into any book stores or libraries unless you give away free copies to individual librarians.  Forget the bookstores altogether unless they are independent bookstores and will purchase on consignment.

But if everyone is selling through an online store, then all authors are carried and it becomes more about:  popularity, word-of-mouth, and advertising.  The more popular books will get to the top of the e-book store's Have you tried this? list they suggest to readers.  It may dramatically change the ability of a new author to gain an audience.  We all get a better chance, although big publishers will still have the edge on obtaining advertising and better spots on "recommended" lists.

None-the-less, it boggles the mind.

This is a huge subject, and I've rather glossed over much of it, but I find it fascinating to watch the changes.  In point of fact, I can't wait for this particular change, because I'd love to replace my old, crumbling "The Vicar of Moura" with a dust-free e-book version.

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