Friday, June 24, 2011

To E or Not to E

by Scott Rhoades

I admit it. For a long time I was resistant to e-books. It's not that I'm a technological Luddite. I've made my living in the tech industry since 1988 and I think technology is really cool, and I like gadgets, and the idea of having a gadget with hundreds, or even thousands, of books with me wherever I go is appealing, especially considering how much it cost me to take books with me for my four-months of working in Germany in 2005, and how much more it cost to send them home again along with all the new books I got while I was there.

It's just that I like books. I love bookshelves loaded with books. Apparently, I love bookshelves loaded with books, along with boxes of them shoved into every closet with space. But the e-book thing for me is the same argument you get from everybody else who resists the new books. I love the feel of books, the way they look, how they smell. When I read I like to keep my bookmark where I started so I can see how much I read and how much progress I made toward the end.

But I've been converted this year. Thanks to both my Android phone and the loaner iPad from work, several of the books I've read this year have been electronic. And, well, there's a lot to like about e-books, like how little space they take up, how easy they are to read in the dark, or to take on trips or to have with me when I'm waiting for somebody at the airport.

I still prefer regular books for the reason I mentioned. I also lament that so much of our media is no longer real, in the sense that you can't touch it. Whether it's a book or music, there's something comforting about being able to pull it off the shelf, look at it, and then enjoy it. In fact, sometimes I just go to the shelf and pull off a book just to look at the book. When it's just a bunch of bits, it seems less real. Insubstantial. Disposable.

Another concern about e-books: I tend to remember things, at least for a short while, that I want to go back and look at again in a book. I can find it by it's approximate location in a book, how far in, and what part of the page it was on. I can't do that with an e-book. On the other hand, most readers I've seen make it really easy to keep notes or bookmark pages you might want to go back to.

And then there's the whole piracy issue. People who would never even consider walking into FYE and stealing a CD have little or no problem with downloading it for free. There's an upside to that, though. Sharing makes the arts more of a community affair. If there's a song you like and your friend hasn't heard it, you just give it to him. That's kind of cool. Sharing is easier with something that doesn't exist in a tangible form, but it's impossible to get around the ethical issue.

Be that as it may, I've been converted. And that's got me thinking about self-pubbing an e-book. If you've ever read author Joe Konrath's blog, it's hard not to admit the advantages writers can have by becoming their own publisher. He constantly writes about what a good thing this new format is for writer, and bluntly calls us dense if we don't see the advantages. His bluntness would turn me off it weren't argued so well.

It still feels second-best to me, as if I were giving up on ever publishing a "real" book. But maybe that's me being old and looking at publishing in an old-fashioned way. Maybe Konrath's right. What I like is that he goes into quality issues, that writing an excellent book, getting it edited, and designing a professional cover are still critical. Anybody can throw out poor-quality books and, as he says, they'll even get some sales which they would never get through traditional means. The good books rise to the top, though. One thing Konrath laments is that the NYT lists ignore bestselling self-pubbed books, including his own, which, he shows, is outselling the online NY Times and is getting better ratings.

I'll have to look into that more. I don't want to jump the gun. But Konrath sure makes a good point.

Whatever I do as a writer, I've now jumped with both feet (minus a few toes, I guess) into the e-book reading world, and have even started to look seriously a readers, which I have yet to buy because I can buy ten books for the same price, and buying ten books is a bigger temptation. But I have no doubt I'll make the jump. I'll keep buying books because I can't stand the thought of not buying them, but when there's something I just want to read and I don't really care about having the actual book, I might as well save some space.

What about you? Have you made the jump, as either a reader or writer or both? How do you like the new world?


gaylene said...

I'm with you on this. I've enjoyed reading e-books, but they still don't beat actual books (I like my shelves packed with them, too). As far as publishing an e-book goes, I still can't decide if I want to try it or not. I would love to see my own book on a shelf someday, not just on my ipad.

Scott said...

I have this fantasy of actually seeing somebody reading my book. That would be difficult and much more creepy if I had to try to see what was on their Kindle to do it.

Julie Daines said...

I prefer a tangible book sitting on my shelf and whispering to me, stirring up the emotions I felt when I read it. I have a kindle and an iPad, and I don't get those feelings when I browse my archives.

But, for travel or for books I don't think I'll want to reread, ebooks are perfect. They don't take up shelf space and a kindle or iPad is much smaller and lighter than a stack of books for vacation.

The nature of humans is to want tangible things, especially when it comes to the arts. I think ebooks are wonderful, especially for those looking to easily self publish. But I'm not sure they will ever fully replace actual books.