Why eBooks are here to stay

I know Amazon isn’t real popular right about now (if it was ever popular with the literary crowd) and the story I am about to comment on is old.  But I wanted to comment on it at the time and never managed to do so.  I think it is worth noting in case you missed it.

In his commentary on the Tournament of Books championship, John Warner echoed my sentiments toward publishing and eBooks perfectly in saying “Let a thousand flowers bloom—only free market, rather than commie-style.”

But he also offered a powerful example of the attractiveness of the Kindle:

The digital/print divide was reinforced for me this weekend after reading the New York Times Sunday Book Review online. The lead review was of Wells Tower’s new short story collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. It’s a rave and reinforced many of the great things I’ve been reading elsewhere, as well as my own impressions of Mr. Tower’s writing, having read his fiction in McSweeney’s and his nonfiction in Harper’s. It has become, officially, a “book I want.”

In the same edition there is a review of another new collection of stories, Caitlin Macy’s Spoiled. Another positive review, though the description doesn’t make the book sound as immediately appealing to me specifically as Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Still, it became, officially, a “book I’d like to check out.”

This was Saturday, early, maybe eight o’clock. It was raining, unseasonably cool. I’d finished digesting the paper and was working on my oatmeal and I figured I’d see what’s what with these two new story collections. With the weather and the early hour, I wasn’t going to go anywhere, so I turned to the wife’s Kindle and found that only Macy’s book has a Kindle edition. I’d downloaded the first story in seconds, finished it in 15 minutes, and ordered the rest of the book right then and there. Meanwhile, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned remains in my unbought, “books I want” category, potentially forever since I’m constantly coming across books I want. Wells Tower and his publisher Farrar, Straus, and Giroux would’ve had a sale. Now, who knows? It may just get buried under the avalanche of new books.

That story illustrates one critical aspect of what makes the Kindle so useful and attractive (and dangerous quite frankly).  If you have a sudden desire to read a book, as John Madden might say: “Boom!” you can be reading it is seconds.

I found another example of smart marketing myself last month.  I found out that Ballantine Books was offering the first book in a series (His Majesty’s Dragon) free for Kindle users.  I quickly downloaded it and in fact started reading it rather quickly.

Now why was this so smart giving away books?  Well, as I am sure you have guessed, I went ahead and bought the next book in the series.  Risk one free book to hook readers into a series.  Gain loyal readers and customers.  As I said, smart.

And these scenarios can be played out anywhere.  You don’t have to be at home or near a computer.  You don’t have to have money with you or worry about carrying another heavy book. You just push a few buttons and start reading.

And this sort of convenience can’t be put back in the bottle.  Once you start to appreciate this capability you want to have more of it.  Those publishers who don’t find a way to offer it will miss out.

I will confess that I don’t know a great deal about the business end of publishing so I can’t comment on the concerns of publishers and authors.  But I know as a reader I love this instant on feature when it comes to books.  It doesn’t mean I will stop buying hard copy books by any means.  But in certain situations the publisher who finds a way to make their books available digitally, and at a competitive price, is going to have a distinct advantage when book buying choices are made.

Technology and business innovation is going to change the face of digital publishing and e-books.  I am sure the landscape will be much different in five years.  But I don’t think this kind of convenience and portability is going away.  Publishers will have to adjust; and soon.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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2 Comments

  • I would most certainly agree having been a recently e-published author and I also have my book for on the Kindle format. Publishers will have to get use to the fact that electronic publishing is here to stay and remain, and unless they jump on board soon, they will miss out on something big. Publishing electronically is the future, and although it remains slow now, it will eventually grow and become how most reading materials are made and distributed. This of course is far into the future, but the current economy seems to be the electronic publishing industry’s best friend at the moment. The expense of publishing in an electronic medium is more cost effective, and thus all that needs to be done is more cost effective and better e-reading tools to be created. It should be interesting to see how things shape up over the next couple of years, and even a decade from now.

  • I would most certainly agree having been a recently e-published author and I also have my book for on the Kindle format. Publishers will have to get use to the fact that electronic publishing is here to stay and remain, and unless they jump on board soon, they will miss out on something big. Publishing electronically is the future, and although it remains slow now, it will eventually grow and become how most reading materials are made and distributed. This of course is far into the future, but the current economy seems to be the electronic publishing industry’s best friend at the moment. The expense of publishing in an electronic medium is more cost effective, and thus all that needs to be done is more cost effective and better e-reading tools to be created. It should be interesting to see how things shape up over the next couple of years, and even a decade from now.

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