Monday, June 16, 2008

Do you read Ebooks?

I honestly can't remember the first time I heard about electronic books. I do remember, however, thinking that hey, this is a very cool idea! Now, this was way back in the 80's and there just weren't many ebooks around. I think there were only a handful of ebook publishers. But I was very interested in this new form.

At that time, I wrote straight SF, sometimes with romantic elements, sometimes not. And it was mostly short fiction so I joined a number of groups and watched the internet sites of outfits that actively produced ezines devoted to SF. I even managed to sell a few of my pieces :D But, in the back of my mind, I wanted to write a novel. I could 'see' the characters, see their conflict, and, gasp, I realized this was a love story! So, being an old hand at electronic stuff, I started scouting out ebook publishers.

I've always believed that before you can sell to someone, you need to know what sort of material they produce. So, with that in mind, I bought a few ebooks.

I was more than a little disappointed. Poor quality story telling, poor writing techniques...even the production displayed a distinct lack of professionalism. I decided I'd stick with the ezines I was familiar with (the quality just seemed so much higher) and if I wrote a novel, I'd definitely go to one of the big publishing houses.

But in the back of my head, I really wanted to see ebooks become a reality. I mean, wow! No trees cut down to make paper when they should be producing oxygen. I didn't have to get dressed to go to the local bookstore...okay, that was hardly a chore. The bookstore is and always will be my favorite hangout, lol.

Over the years, the ebook market has been growing. And in fact I was so impressed with their quality that I offered my first novel to an epublisher. And I'm seeing other epublishers who are offering some remarkable books -- not just erotica but good solid love stories that range from the erotic to the simple love stories that involve chaste kisses and closed doors :D

Now, the big publishing houses are beginning to offer some of their books as ebooks. I read an article the other day, IIRC from Publishers Weekly, how the ebook market was a faster pace than print books!

With our U.S. economy being at a standstill, if not in an active recession, this is really impressive. Most books, after all, are pure entertainment and entertainment is one of the first sacrifices we make as we struggle to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table and gas in the car.

My book buying has slowed considerably over the past 12 months but I'll say right now, half of the books I've bought are electronic books. Are there still clunkers? Yes, just like there are still clunkers in print books from big houses.

But that elusive quality I wanted to see years ago has bloomed and it's growing. Do I think ebooks will dominate the market anytime soon? Probably not for a long while yet. But I see a day when we'll be carrying all of our favorite books in a hand held reader to read at any convenient time.

What do you think? Do you read ebooks? Do you think we'll see them dominate the market in our lifetime?

-- Lynda

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Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Lynda, that's a good question. From what I can tell there are some dynamics that should enlarge the e-book market. One, is the current state of the economy. Another dynamic is the sheer variety that can be offered, which the mainstream pubs can't do. Niche writers and readers are and will propel this market. Also, the younger crowd of readers are already e-savvy. And once e-book readers become more user friendly and less expensive that will improve the market, that is, if Amazon isn't allowed to own that market exclusively.
And there are probably other forces I'm not aware of, in favor of e-books.

Lynda K. Scott said...

Savanna, good point about ebook readers. I agree that once they become more economically available that the ebook market will grow even faster. I know I'd love to have one but can't justify the expense right now.

Savanna Kougar said...

I know what you mean. I wish I could afford one too.

Xandra Gregory said...

It's the reader that will really propel the market over the hump. My vision: something thin, lightweight, and most importantly, cheap. With the cheap laptops out there on the market now, and the expensive phones, a dedicated device has to not cost as much as these multi-taskers. Preferably something that is either multi-format capable, or some standard format (if it's possible). I see something that runs about 99 to 149 bucks, and comes with a gift card for a handful of books. The consumer will need some small incentive to offset the price, but something in that price range will enable them to put part of their book budget towards the reader without sacrificing as many actual books. And having the GC incentive will encourage them to buy and try the ebook versions of stories just enough to get them comfortable with the format, thus preventing the reader from becoming an expensive brick. iTunes has much of its success thanks to that free gift card you get with an ipod when you buy it from a big-box store.

Next up--a little more durable reader for use with libraries and schools - you check out the reader itself and load it with a number of books, files of which expire after your overdue limit. The reader itself must come back to the library at the same time, and fines are imposed when it's not returned. They already have the audio books on the little cartridges with lanyards. You just plug your own headphones in them and they play the audiobook for ya. The more durable one may be more expensive, but the cost is offset by its suitability for public use, hence fewer need to be purchased.

Finally, smartphones and PDA devices are already in heavy use--make them e-readers, too. It's worth investing in the market research to find the best way to offer an ebook for reading on a phone.

Last, but not least, and somewhat tangential--print publishers need to get on board with the ebook standards of royalties. eight percent royalty is criminal for an ebook sale! Quite honestly, if authors let the traditional publishers get away with this much longer, when ebook sales do take off, we will all be mourning what could have been.

Right now, ebooks are an afterthought to traditional pubs, and the authors' sales of many more print copies outweight the drawbacks of letting their e-rights go for less than standard...but when that changes, and print sales drop off in favor of e-sales--or at the very least, e-sales approach something close to print sales, then there will be a reckoning. And it might get ugly.

Lynda K. Scott said...

Xandra, boy, you're right on the money with those ideas for ebook readers! The only thing I'd add is a back light and long lived batteries. As our readers age, that back light will come in handy (and so will the ability to increase font size!)

And you're unfortunately right about ebook royalties from the bigger publishers. My understanding is that authors aren't pursuing a higher royalty because they don't see that many sales of their ebooks. But if this market takes off, it's going to be a case of shutting the barn door after the horse gets out. It'll be a monumental fight to get those royalties raised then.

Margaret Carter said...

Many people already read e-books on PDAs. I don't own one, so when I buy an e-book (or get one to judge for the EPIC contest), I read it on a regular computer. Alas, my computer doesn't seem to remember how to connect with the Gemstar (formerly Rocket) e-reader that I own, and anyway few books are released in that format now. I understand e-books transmitted to cell phone subscribers are already big in Japan.

Independent e-book publishers, such as Ellora's Cave, Hard Shell Word Factory, Amber Quill Press, etc., pay royalties around the 35% range. Large print publishers' policies of paying the same royalties for e-books as for the paper editions seem clearly unfair in comparison. Along the same lines, major publishers tend to charge the customer too much for the e-book version (although that may be changing, for all I know -- I hope so -- with excessively high prices, the belief that "readers won't buy e-books" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy).

Savanna Kougar said...

Xandra, excellent point about royalties. I didn't realize that end of it.
Perhaps, some of the name authors will find out, and switch to smaller e-pubs (with their new uncontracted books), which will give them the higher percentage. NY pubs may eventually dig their own graves, to a certain extent. Who knows?

Lynda, Yeah, they definitely need to design e-readers for all age ranges!

Margaret, excellent point about the self-fulfilling prophecy. And it does keep the door wider open for the smaller e-pubs to step in.