Reading Electronically: A Review

A few months ago I was given a Nook by a friend, who thought it would be something I could use. I appreciated the gesture; I wasn’t going to go out of my way to buy a dedicated eBook reader, but if one was going to be given to me, I’m sure I could find a way to use it. And so I have. In the months since, in addition to the Nook, I’ve also been reading off the iPad, the iPod Touch and off my Droid X (all of which have Nook, Kindle and other eBook reader software installed). I’ve been reading off these now for enough time to formulate some thoughts on the subject.

The first is that in fact I like reading books electronically just fine. In particular I do like reading them with the Nook, which is about the right size for my hand and has the passive “E-Ink” screen, which as it turns out really is a whole lot more comfortable to read off of than the lighted screens of the iPod, Ipad and Droid. I don’t find reading off my primary computer to be a problem, and quite like opening up a pdf file and reading it two pages at a time. But the secret there is that I have a big-ass monitor, which means I don’t have to jam it right up into my face to read stuff. That reduces eye strain quite a bit. With the iPad, iPod and Droid X, I have to get them pretty close up and after a while the eyes go screwy and want a break. With the Nook this is not a problem.

It’s not to say the Nook is perfect — its UI could use work, and the page contrast and screen refresh could be better — but if I’m reading an entire book electronically, it’s the reader I have I prefer. I’ll use the other readers for short duration reads (for example, I’ll read off the Droid when I’m taking Athena to Tae Kwon Do practice), but for a long haul reading session, it’s the E-Ink screen for me.

In terms of books, I’m not finding electronic reading is cutting into either my interest in or propensity to buy print books. As it happens, when I buy books, I tend to buy hardcovers (and occasionally trade paperbacks), and I buy them because I want to have them as much as I want to read them. For the having impulse, eBooks don’t do it for me, so I expect I’ll be buying hardcovers for some time to come. I think makes the proprietors of my local bookstore very happy.

What I find, however, is that eBooks are replacing (and this is important) increasing what would be the equivalent of my paperback purchases. I tend to buy paperbacks for travel or to replace books that have been lost/ruined, or to buy backlists of authors who I have recently discovered. But I would only do so fitfully, in part because it’s not like I don’t have a flood of new books coming through my door on a daily basis. With the eBooks, it’s a lot easier to give into that replacement/completist urge, especially when it’s coupled with travel.

When I went to AussieCon4, for example, I purchased and downloaded nine books into the Nook, including books by Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg and Matthew Woodring Stover, which I wouldn’t have been able to find in the local bookstore, because it does naturally tend to focus on newer works. Without the electronic book option, I would likely have bought those books used, which I prefer not to do with authors who are still living and desiring on occasion to eat. So in getting the electronic versions, they got royalties and I got their books to read on an insanely long plane rise across the planet, in a format that did not cause me bursitis lugging them about. As they say, everyone wins.

My own anecdotal experience as a reader is one reason why I as an author am not exactly freaking out about eBooks. I’m a writer for whom eBooks will probably be a good thing because a) I write in a genre filled with tech-friendly readers, b) I write in a genre filled with completist readers. The guy who just discovered Old Man’s War and wants to get everything else I have ever possibly written in the history of ever can do it in five minutes or less. This is not bad for me.

(Yes, that same person probably could search the Internets and find unauthorized OCR’d copies of everything I’ve written, but book retailers and publishers have made it really easy for them not to do that, and enough readers actually buy through those easy retail channels — thank you, folks — that I’m optimistic the “hey, let’s feed the author” impulse will continue for at least another generation. Heck, as I was writing this, someone just tweeted that they had finished one of my books and was now downloading another one for the Kindle. Good for them. Good for me, too.)

For me, then, eBooks are just another format I can use as an author to give people what they want, and for me as a reader to get what I want. Will they supplant hardcovers? I don’t think so, because people like physical things, and like giving them (and getting them) as gifts and having them on shelves. Will they supplant paperbacks? Not completely, because some people will still only read a couple of books a year, on airplanes or at the beach, and they’re not going to buy an eBook reader for that, even if the price comes way, way down.

Will I as a reader read and buy more because I have an eBook reader? I already do, and given the amount I travel these days, and how easy it is to travel with lots and lots of books now, I suspect I will continue to for some time to come. I don’t imagine I’ll be alone in this.

105 Comments on “Reading Electronically: A Review”

  1. I tell you what, if e-Books do replace physical books, the boatload of ARCs I get to take home from PW would take up a heck of a lot less space. I do like having physical books, mind you, but I’m running out of room these days, and don’t take home quite as many books as I’d like to.

    Plus, having a search function, and collaborative annotation on my nonfiction would be awesome for research purposes.

  2. I use the Sony Reader and can check out electronic books on it from my local public library. I agree I would never want to replace all my physical books with ebooks. Although I DO like to carry a few of my favorites around with me on it. I do this both for reference and for the comfort it brings when I need a little dose of thing I enjoy reading.

    Incidentally, I prefer the Sony Reader over the Nook because it supports more formats and I can use the stylus to write on the touch screen. Great for taking notes or making revisions!

  3. Have a Sony. Hate DRM. Given how many corpses along the road DRM for software and music has left, I skeptical of any format that I can’t easily convert as standards change. I reread, and I want to buy something I can expect to work in fifteen years. Luckily, there’s some DRM free stuff on the market. I’m looking to get an Adam tablet when they come out for my comics, but the big industry side of the artform is has the same problem.

  4. This is the one big tech development that’s been a huge “meh” for me. I’ve had an iPod Touch for a year, a nook for nine months and an iPad for six months. So far I have yet to read a whole book on any of the devices. I have read a few magazines and short (<50 pgs) non-fiction e-books that are sold only as PDFs. But when I went on vacation a couple weeks ago, I took the iPad and an iPhone — on which I have about two dozen books downloaded in total — and the only thing I read in eight days was the one paper book I took along.

  5. Yep. Spot on. I finished Old Man’s War and immediately started buying other Scalzi books, without leaving my bed.

    My biggest complaint about eBooks is the scarcity of older works. I hate reading something current which references an older work which is, in turn, unavailable as an eBook.

  6. The thing with ereaders…I remember the huge amount of cash I had to splash out to replace tape and VHS collection when they went out of fashion. Music companies are already doing it again with MP3s and Blu-Ray is being shoved down my throat constantly.

    I really don’t fancy adding books to the list of things I have to replace every five years as they bring out new formats just to lift cash from my pockets. To buy a paperback (and most of my purchases are paperbacks, not a huge amount only two or three a month) I just have to buy the book. Easy peasy. £6.99 and we are done, maybe a bit less if I shop around.

    Ebooks, well first I have to buy something costing £100 (I already bought something for £100 to help me read, called glasses and they are more multi-functional, they help me drive and cook too). Then I have to pay £9.99 upwards(no discount anywhere) for a collection of pixels. I don’t think that is value for money, no offence John. I mean I like authors being paid yeah, but I believe of my £6.99 you get about £1.50-£2.50ish. The rest is covering the cost of the paper, the binding, the distribution, the cover artists, the bloke wot makes the tea. And I call all that a fair price (I’m Scottish so I’m naturally a bit tight).

    For the £9.99, well, what is it covering? A lot of pixels, how much does a pixel cost? I’ve already forked out for the display medium, (which is the paper and ink you get fresh with each book), why am I forking out both extra and more for a bunch of electric pixels? I’m paying more for less, and I’ll need to repay the whole shebang again in 5-7 years or be accused of being a pirate. I have paperbacks here I bought (and have read regularly) since the 1980s.

    No. Either make the e-reader itself free and maybe I’ll consider paying £9.99 per file. Or, well still bring the reader price down to about £25 and the text file cost to about £3.00 so the author still gets paid. I’m not going to subsidise profiteering publishing companies again.

    And they have to be completely DRM free, region free, and multi-format as well. ‘Cause as it stands right now it looks like the book industry is looking at the recording industry pie and wondering how they go about excavating a chunk of it themselves and using the same dirty tricks to get it.

  7. DRM:

    Agree it’s an issue, although I suspect it’s less of an issue for most people than folks who read Whatever. I’ll also note by and large that DRM is not up to the author; those decisions are made up the publishing chain.

  8. The latest kindle’s screen is noticeably improved over the kindle 2 and original DX: The blacks are darker, and the ‘page’ is a bit lighter.

    CrypticMirror: “I really don’t fancy adding books to the list of things I have to replace every five years as they bring out new formats just to lift cash from my pockets.”

    Amazon’s been pretty good about putting free Kindle reader software on pretty much everything possible, even the supposed ‘kindle-killing’ iPad. So even if they in the future decided to stop making hardware, the books would still be readable via the Kindle apps for Windows, OS X, Android, iPhone, whatever.

  9. “With the eBooks, it’s a lot easier to give into that replacement/completist urge, especially when it’s coupled with travel.”

    Absolutely. Except that oddly enough, didn’t have Ghost Brigades available for a while, and I still can’t find a copy of Starship Troopers without resorting to possible Amazon + Calibre conversions.

  10. The other plus (for me and, in this case, for you) is that I have had trouble finding things like The God Engines in a book store, and had enough other things to read that I wasn’t motivated to go find it on-line (shocking that it takes motivation for me to use google, but here we are), but I found it on my iPad and that was exactly easy enough for me to buy it and read, so there’s that as well.

  11. If I wasn’t a commuter, I probably wouldn’t bother with an eReader, but for commuting and travelling, having a device the size of a bound novella that can hold as many novels as I can read in a year is a godsend.

    eBook pricing is currently a mess, in part because there’s a massive battle going on at the moment for control over the market.

  12. One other thing that is a concern for me. When I’m out and about I can generally leave a paperback lying on a table while I nip up to re-order, pop to the loo, or if on holiday go for a dip in the sea or pool. And when I come back it’ll still be there.

    I leave an e-reader lying like that then that is £100 I’ll never see again because people like to nick tech items. So it is extra faff in keeping it safe, or risking losing it. Or I could just buy an actual book instead and have no faff and no risk. The tech needs to be cheap enough that it is too much trouble for your average passing dirty wee scrote to nick, or at least cheap enough to replace if he does (because some people will steal for the sake of stealing, course if you stay away from the boardrooms of major banks you’ll cut down on your chances of meeting them).

    Plus you drop a cheap paperback in a pool or puddle, or it gets soaked in your bag (and there are lots of opportunities for stuff to get soaked here in Scotland) then you are out at worst the £6.99 or less you paid for it, heck even then if you get to it quick enough you can usually dry it out. Do it with an e-reader and well, you are out a lot more than £6.99.

  13. I bought a paperback copy of Zoe’s Tale at a local book store and put it in my pile of “to-be-read”. I had already bought and read the previous Old Man’s War books. Before I got a chance to read it, I bought a Kindle on Amazon and after downloading some of the free e-texts and seeing how convenient reading on the Kindle was I bought a Kindle version of Zoe’s Tale and proceeded to read it via the Kindle. I also used my iPhone with it’s Kindle App to read part of it while waiting at oil changes, or offices. I love how the two devices stayed synced up. I could start reading on one and then continue on the other without having to go looking to figure out where I was at. I also have technical documents from my work on it and love how I can annotate and bookmark parts of it. I think that the e-ink type e-readers are here to stay. The UI just needs some tweaks.

  14. DRM is the one thing keeping me from buying a reader at this point. There’s a lot of good stuff on Baen, but are AFAIK the *only* people who’ll actually sell you an unencumbered ebook at this point, and a diet of that and Gutenberg is a little restrictive.

    As an author, where do you stand on the ethics of pirating ebooks of which you already own the dead tree format? Maybe then cutting off the front covers and recycling the rest? Space constraints are a real problem for me, to the point where I’ve largely stopped buying books because I can’t bear to throw any of my existing ones away.

  15. DRM is the big kicker for me. I will not buy from Amazon, Sony, B&N or any reseller that insists on it.

  16. The thing that goes under appreciated about e-readers is there use for magazines. The kindle is great for getting/reading magazines that you can’t find easily (asimov/s, analog, etc.) or that you just don’t want to keep around. I’m a bit old fashioned when it comes to books, so I was always against e-readers, but it’s almost worth buying just as a way to take 4-5 magazines with you.

  17. Ebook readers need two things:

    1. Lose the DRM. It’s nothing more than a leash to force people inside somebody’s walled garden. I buy a lot of eBooks, but every single one of them is either DRM-free to begin with, or jailbreakable.

    2. Improve the user interface. The “page refresh flash” in an eInk device gives me a migraine, and any device that forces the reader to NOTICE that they’re reading distracts the reader from the text, and that text is the very reason you’re reading in the first place.

  18. John, you make a point I rarely see covered when discussing advantages of digital vs. physical publication that is an enormous benefit to working writers: the ability to keep a book in print indefinitely, so that the writer can continue to earn royalties from it.

    Everyone loves used book stores because they are where you can ferret out beloved works otherwise unavailable, but few people view them in terms of the lost royalty revenue they also represent. While I do not want to see used book stores disappear, the truth is that they exist at all entirely because of the OOP necessities of physical publishing. And the reality is that people who buy books from used book stores are not supporting authors, certainly not to the degree that someone who purchases an authorized ebook is.

    I am more than happy to pay a bit more for a book knowing that it is available when I look for it, and that the author will receive a chunk of it. The very notion of “out of print” has become archaic, which is, in terms of business model, a serious game-changer that has not much been addressed.

    I understand that issues of piracy and DRM are necessarily factored in to digital media. But (except of course for the volume involved) the status quo with physical books isn’t all that different — there is no DRM on them, and they are sold and traded freely — and I don’t see lawsuits being filed over it. Or authors railing against used bookstore patrons.

  19. “Not completely, because some people will still only read a couple of books a year, on airplanes or at the beach, and they’re not going to buy an eBook reader for that, even if the price comes way, way down.”

    The problem with this statement is that mass market paperbacks are a volume business and if the volume goes down, paperbacks aren’t going to be as attractive a proposal to that segment of the industry; to the point they might just disappear. And that would be really, really sad to those of us who tend to shy away from hardcovers.

    Having said that, I discovered ebooks a little over a year ago and I agree with pretty much everything else. And I think I just made a commitment to avoid used books in favour of ebooks from now on…

  20. John @19 – thanks for the link, I hadn’t read that before.

    I’m not sure it’s addressing precisely the same question, though. My issue isn’t really “I have format X and I want format Y and I’m cheap”; it’s more “I don’t have any format, I want format Y, and the only way to get it is to buy format X (which I don’t want) and throw it away so that I don’t feel guilty acquiring format Y through nefarious means”.

    It’s utterly daft, I know. I’m concerned that authors receive less from a dead-tree sale than a similarly-priced electronic one, but I’m very reluctant to buy a DRMed ebook as my throwaway, because that just encourages the people who inflicted the DRM.

  21. ” The “page refresh flash” in an eInk device gives me a migraine”

    Really? I don’t even notice it anymore. How long have you actually used an eInk device?

    I find the blink lasts about as long as it takes for me to move my eyes back to the top of the screen, although I probably also use that moment to look up and around, check where the train is, look for cute girls, etc.

  22. @CrypticMirror – the change of formats in the future is a concern for me too.
    In fact I, like John, just like owning books and I do like the feel of them in my hand.
    But when I got a droidX, it came with free kindle software, so I tried it. And I like it for somethings.
    I really like that I get instant gratification. I see a book that peaks my interest on line (maybe on the big idea) and I can INSTANTLY start reading it. I like that.
    I tried buying some of my favorite “comfort” books (ones I re-read regularly) and I find I cannot stand reading them on the e-reader. I have no idea why.
    I will probably buy hardbacks of books I want to re-read.

  23. Here’s the big problem I have with eBooks: I tend to pass books on to other people. Most all scifi I read gets handed to my son after I read it and he reads it as well. It’s usually a paperback, so it’s easy to pass to someone. A while back I read Zoe’s Tale and was really excited to find a book I knew my wife would be excited to read. Since they that book has been read by my wife, son, and daughter. I’ve gone on trips and traded books with the library at a resort, leaving something for someone else to enjoy and taking something I might not have purchased otherwise, often discovering a new writer.

    Yes, I know you can share an eBook on most platforms. But, it’s usually time limited and when I give my son a book he may not get around to reading it for a month or so (and then he’ll consume it at a rapid rate; he’s a fast reader). Yes, I could wait till he’s ready and share it, but right now I just give him the book and he puts it in a pile and goes to that pile when it’s time to find something new to read. I have a pile of books I recently purchased and it may take months to get to all of them.

    In general, a new means of distribution, particularly a new electronic one, should add capabilities, not take some away. I’m not trying to steal from authors, nor am I going to distribute the file to anyone beyond my immediate family. Heck, I’d be happy if I could pass the file on to someone and not have it anymore. If I want it back when they are done, they can send it back to me. That’s what I have done with physical books all of my life.

    One other objection to electronic books: I have books in my closet that are over 30 years old, some of which I’ve read several times. Can we count on any eBook format to be around 30 years from now, especially if it’s a rights-managed format? I worked on a project to create an electronic version of conference proceedings. That CD won’t run on any computer I know of anymore.

  24. Charles @26 – long-term readability needn’t be an issue. ePub is fundamentally just a zipped website – XHTML content with a few XML manifest files – and there’s no way that either ZIP or XML/XHTML will become unreadable on future systems. Even if they’re no longer the in thing, it’ll be trivial to convert them to the format du jour.

    DRM is, of course, a whole other story.

  25. The New York Times had an interesting article a couple of weeks ago about Ebooks. Apparently Ken folletts new book costs more in ebook format than in hardcover format. It is a bestseller in ebook. It is interesting that publishers may try pricing ebooks higher than hardcovers for bestsellers.

    I am surprised you like the Nook. The NYT did a review of it last year and made it sound horrible. They said the kindle was much better. They said it takes a long time to change pages with the nook amongst other things.

  26. I think everyone’s main worry is “can I read my book in 30 years?” =) And I guess secondary would be how much work will end up being involved in transferring my 5,000 volume library over to the new format when it inevitably changes.

    I think DRM is a passing concern. The music industry realized DRM was crushing their sales and got rid of it. Most of the authors I know self-publishing their backlists (or in many cases, new novels) to ebook are opting out of DRM. Small publishers tend to be wise to this as well. It’s mostly the big publishers who are using DRM still… And I think they will eventually realize they are hurting their sales, and change.

    Either that, or authors will realize it, go to publishers who don’t use DRM, and the ones who do will go out of business. ;) Right now, we’re looking at over 10% of all books being sold in the US being ebooks. Amazon predicts that by the end of 2011, that will be 50% (which might be something like a self-fulfilling prophecy, mind you…but they’ve been accurate on their growth predictions so far). Since we know books simply sell better without DRM, I just don’t see publishers who continue to insist on DRM lasting long in the new publishing environment.

    I don’t see print books going away anytime soon, either. Have any of you folks seen the new POD printers they have? A friend of my wife’s works at a printing shop. They have this large-desk sized machine. You give it the digital information for a book, and a few minutes later it spits out a trade paperback that is indistinguishable from one on the B&N bookshelf. I see this and think that the bookstore of the future will be the one where I can walk in, pick a book from an ereader in the store – from any of the millions of titles available online – and have the store “print your book – any book – in just an hour!” Sounds pretty darned cool to me. ;)

  27. Leaving aside the DRM/portability issues…

    I’ve got both a Sony Reader 505 and now an iPad. Beyond question, I prefer reading on an iPad; the Sony may be smaller and lighter, but I’ve never been a fan of e-ink. The lack of flicker is more than offset by poor contrast in anything but bright light. (Most of my reading environments are at best moderately lit; for example, my apartment has one room with an overhead light, all the others have to make do with floor/table lamps and have notable dim areas. The dark-grey-on-light-grey of e-ink isn’t close to the contrast of even a cheap paperback for me.)

    (For a bit of context: I’ve been e-reading for more than a decade, starting on early Palm handhelds and going through to a Nokia Internet Tablet, but they’ve all been more-or-less geek activities; it really hasn’t been until the last generation or two of consumer-focused e-reading hardware that I think it’s hit mainstream convenience and usability.)

  28. Guess@28, pricing ebooks higher than the corresponding legacy physical formats is nothing new. I see it all the time. And virtually all of the ebook releases are effectively higher than the hardback cost on initial release, except for the sane publishers who keep things cheaper. By that, take for example something I’m looking forward to – the next Stephen R. Donaldson Thomas Covenant book, ‘Against All Things Ending’. Comes out next Tuesday. On Amazon, with my Amazon Prime account I can get it for $16 with two-day shipping, and my experience is that when I preorder something Amazon very, very frequently gets it to me the day of release even with 2-day.

    Compare that with the Kindle edition. It’s $15. Cheaper, right? Well, no, not really. If I were to order the physical book, get it, read it over a couple of days, and then go turn around and sell it to Half Price Books, they’ll give me probably $5-7 for it as a current NYT best-seller (which I’m sure this one will be). So effectively they’re charging somewhere around 33%-50% more for the ebook, because their entire model is based on not cannibalizing hardback sales.

    As a second example, there was a book I wanted to read when the hardback came out, Trudi Canavan’s ‘The Ambassador’s Mission’. Hardback came out about five months ago. The local BN doesn’t have it on the shelves any more, and there’s no hole for it so they’re just not stocking it apparently. It’s currently priced at $13 for the ebook, which is more expensive that I can get a used copy of the hardback from Amazon, and only two bucks cheaper than getting the hardback from Amazon. And being expensive, it’s totally priced out of the ‘impulse purchase’ range. The paperback release is scheduled for next April, but I can almost guarantee that I’ll see remainders of the hardback show up before then for significantly cheaper than the ebook price.

  29. Another plus for ebooks is that some dyslexic people can actually read them far more easily than the printed word….

    I’ve no idea why though – I just know about that aspect from when I purchased an ebook reader myself and then found myself talking to everyone I saw who had one too… One chap turned out to be profoundly dyslexic and had found by looking at someone elses that he could read the screen clearly, without the letters dancing around as they did on the printed page.

    So he bought himslef one and was sat going through the Guttenburg catalogue of Classic’s which he’d never previously had the chance to enjoy.

  30. I’m with Charles@26. The inability to share the joy is one of the big minuses for me as an ebook owner — but a big win for the writer, since I now buy an additional print copy of books I love, just to loan.

    One thing that also really bugs me about ebooks is that in a lot of the books I read, the editing quality is dismayingly bad. I see lots of problems that would never have been allowed out into the market on a hard copy — and in fact weren’t allowed, in the case of books I own in paper, which I bought again for my Kindle. Special characters where there should be quotes; no space after a period; faulty word-wrap or missing paragraph starts; sometimes even random word replacement. The list goes on.

    It’d be one thing if this was a problem with self-publishers only, but I’m seeing this from products put out by big publishing houses as well, especially on older books.

  31. #29 Kevin: I’m not worried about 30 years, I’m worried about next year because I have a quite good Irex Iliad e-reader here, which is 2 generations of devices old, slower than a nook or kindle, already starting to lack in the supported formats and will never be updated since the manufacturer has gone under. Transferring books with DRM to another device is not possible by any legal means. So buying a book with DRM on it is something I’ll not recommend to anyone..

    Another thing that publishers have got wrong is the regional availability – Many times you’re not even allowed to buy an ebook in an online store because “This book is not available for your country” or something similar. And when no “local” store has that book available… rabble rabble…

  32. I’d be willing to buy a DRM-encumbered ebook if it was actually as cheap as a mass market paperback. I consider mass market to be essentially disposable, so matching its price points is important, since one really only rents a DRMed file. Given the trade/hardcover level of the ebook pricing, though, and I think I’ll be stuck reading from dead trees for a bit longer.

  33. There are a few faculty members, myself included, who are interested in using e-book readers for textbooks. Textbook prices are getting out of hand. You can buy almost buy a Nook for the price of an anatomy book at our book store.

    Since Barns and Noble runs the book stores for all the KCTCS colleges, student can still buy e-books and a Nook using financial aid from B&N. If we can get the price of the text books lower, then the Nook would pay for itself after one semester. Hopefully, that means more money to the students for supplies.

    There are still some issues to work out for this system, displaying graphics and equations for instance. However, with the launch of PubIt! by B&N last week, I can research more of the details.

  34. Like Travis above, I started reading ebooks on my first Handspring about a decade ago, and since then, the electronic portion of my reading material budget has steadily increased; I think I now buy about 70% electronic to 30% paper. The paper purchases are now exclusively books I can’t get electronically.

    Currently, my iPad is my prime reader, because it (like my various Palm devices before it) let’s me do something no paper book has ever done — read in the dark. I’ve been reading myself to sleep since I was a small child, but my dear husband can’t sleep with the lights on. In fact, my handspring was my engagement gift, rather than a diamond ring. I doubt we would have married at all if that physical challenge of light sleeper vs dark sleeper had not been overcome.

    I am not a fan of DRM, but it’s a manageable fight at the moment. I will admit to photo-scanning out of print books (ones I had to purchase used anyway) for personal consumption, but I don’t distribute the files and have never downloaded any illegal scan of a book. Nor will I — it’s usually easier to just purchase a legal copy than trawl the murky, malware-infested waters of bittorrent.

    The other consideration that make me primarily an ereader is space. If I had to buy physical copies of everything I read, we would have long ago pushed ourselves into a much larger house. Already, my library lines the walls of four of our seven rooms, and my husband has his own library in a fifth. But my electronic library fits nicely on a brick the size of a hardback book, with much room to spare.

    There are other considerations – big doorstops like The Stand, War and Peace, or Pillars of the Earth are much more manageable on an ereader; I don’t get accosted on the train whilst reading by well-meaning strangers who want to talk about the book in my hands that I’m trying to *read*; I can insulate myself from the Brangelina/Hilton/random faux-celebrity assault in the checkout line or waiting room. For me, the wins of ebooks far outweigh the few fails, like not being able to easily lend some things out. (Which has its own risks, like never getting the book back.)

  35. I have found that since I got my Kindle I’m actually reading more…a lot more. I’m also reading things I would have never have considered before. I’ve discovered pulps (of all genres). They are great airplane and bedtime reading; much better than watching the 8+ hours a night of Law and Order available on the hotel TV. I’ve even begun to enjoy trashy noir, crime and romance novels.

  36. I’ve been using my now-antiquated Kindle I for about 2 years, and as much as I love conventional books, I love the Kindle more. In addition to the convenience of having lots of books and magazines in a small package, I like the ability to search (great if you’re on page 700 and have forgotten the particulars of a minor character who was introduced on page 150 and has only now reappeared–Peter F. Hamilton, I’m talkin’ about you). The on-board dictionary is also terrific; I’m continually amazed at how many obscure words it contains; now I realize how many words I filled in from context in the past, having been too lazy to walk to the reference shelf and look them up.

  37. “In terms of books, I’m not finding electronic reading is cutting into either my interest in or propensity to buy print books. As it happens, when I buy books, I tend to buy hardcovers (and occasionally trade paperbacks), and I buy them because I want to have them as much as I want to read them. For the having impulse, eBooks don’t do it for me, so I expect I’ll be buying hardcovers for some time to come. I think makes the proprietors of my local bookstore very happy.”

    Amen to that. I like having the numerous shelves of books in my apartment, for their appearance, but also because I simply like having a durable copy on my shelf that I know isn’t going to go anywhere, save for something like a fire or related accident that’ll likely destroy whatever has the book in the first place when it comes to electronics. I’ve had to replace the hardrive on my computer, and all of my music and ebooks that I did have for my iPad were gone. I was able to back them up in places, but there’s some stuff that I’not getting back.

    Plus, I live in Vermont, which has a lot of trees, and a long winter, and those two don’t mix very well. I’ve been without power for a week at points, and my iPad and laptop’s batteries won’t last that long. Plus, if I really need to, I can harvest the BTUs of my library in an extremely desperate case (but not before I trek out to the woods and strip all of the birch trees of their bark.

  38. @CrypticMirror. Dead on, my friend, dead on. Both of your posts summarize my exact same feelings and perceptions about the topic of eReaders. I’d say the only one you didn’t expound on is the issue for us plane travelers. There is that bit of time during take off and landing where all electronic devices must be turned off completely. To me, that’s the golden time to be reading since I can’t do anything else (no listening to iPod, no playing Bejewel on Droid X, no watching movies on the netbook) and if my book is electronic, well surprise, can’t even read my book!

    I’m going to nick your replies and use them to send to anyone who asks me why such an avid reader as myself doesn’t already have an eReader or two. Cheers!

  39. For the having impulse, eBooks don’t do it for me, so I expect I’ll be buying hardcovers for some time to come.

    That’s interesting to me because I find that being able to carry increasingly more of my books with me at all times fulfills some ownership lust I didn’t know I had until it was fulfilled. Just thinking about it makes me want to go hug my nook. All my preciousessss.

  40. I was given a nook for my birthday…a complete surprise to me, but something that I truly love. I was also given a gift certificate and immediately set out to get some books.

    One of those is by our humble host, “The Android’s Dream”, which I am about 70 pages from finishing (note to John: TAD reminds me, in parts, of Keith Laumer’s Retief series…which were long a favorite of mine). I LOVE having a little device that can hold as many books as I desire and lets me read them at a whim. One of the other books I picked up and have read on the nook is Dan Simmons’ “Carrion Comfort”. A great book. A 950 page book. My commute is made much easier with the nook.

    I haven’t lost the taste for physical volumes, mind you. But now I’m more selective. It has to offer something more than just text. Plus, as Scalzi points out, some books that I haven’t ever found in a new or used book shop are available online, right now. Harlan Ellison’s Watching, for example, is probably on my list. Maybe some classic old-school SF.

    The other thing is that, I needed to be honest with myself. I just recently donated a LOT of books, because I knew I’d NEVER read them again. A book I haven’t read in 25 years and don’t feel compelled to read again? Let someone else get it. I’ve got new horizons ahead.

  41. What is the annotation capability of the Nook like? I keep thinking about getting an e-Reader of some sort (I have both the Kindle software and Stanza on my iPhone) not so much for current reading, but as a compact way to keep my reference works; however, I’d like a way to annotate or flag passages/words/works I reference often.

  42. This is making my curious about my rights to distribute the electronic copy of Old Man’s War that I got as a promo. As far as I understand it’s no longer available from Tor’s website. Does that mean that I am not allowed to send it to other people? How did that work, anyway? Did you get paid for any of that? Do you get paid if your publisher gives away free treeware?

    Totally offtopic:

    I recently discovered Pluto Tells All. My wife and most of my friends are astronomers. I and Everyone to whom I sent it thought that it was hugely funny.

  43. I’ve always been a huge consumer of used books, so I fear the e-book for what it will do to their availability – though I never really considered the effect on the authors of my tendency to wait months or years and buy used or remaindered. I guess that I could be converted to e-books, especially for light reading of the sort where I care less about adding to my physical book collection – but there really is a question of price points. It seems to me that e-books are currently priced at a moderate discount to brand-new, full-price books, often hardbacks. If I could easily click through an electronic retailer (Amazon, basically, on the argument that their commitment to lifelong access to your Kindle purchases on any device is a powerful marketing tool) and pick up the back catalog of an author I’m interested in, books first published years or decades ago, and get them for 2-4 dollars apiece, as I could at a used bookstore (though obviously without the vagaries of whether the used bookstore has the books I want), then I might switch from used to electronic. So far, I haven’t seen all that much discounting of older titles, so they’re still competing with new mire than with used on price.

    It does seem to me that the whole issue of used books could bear more discussion, though, as it’s an area where avid readers are getting more books, and paying for them, and often supporting a local small book-friendly business – but the authors don’t benefit. A pretty tricky one, that.

  44. David Edmeades:

    I let Tor give away an electronic version of OMW for a limited time because I was curious to see if it would have an impact on sales. Personally speaking, I’d say that if you let someone borrow your electronic copy, remind them that if they like it that a great way to thank the author is to pick up another book of his.

  45. The Nook has been on my ‘buy list’ for a while, but the temptation to just download books will always be there. Maybe not for authors I like but certainly if I already own a print.

    I don’t see lending Ebooks to be as effective as lending print copies. They’ll just end up in the file list and just sit there.

  46. Just have to say – I’m one of those people who bought your complete oeuvre (or at least that part available in electronic format) within a couple of days, which I would never have done with paperbacks.

    I actually found Old Man’s War because it was a “recommended if you bought…” to Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs series. I liked it a lot, so I ended up buying everything because I enjoyed OMW so much.

    I live in NYC, so I spend a major portion of my day commuting, etc, and I have bought more books since I got my kindle (right after its first release) than I ever did in hardcopy. Partially because, frankly, I have no more room for books. My apartment is full. And also, because generally, they’re cheaper, and at my fingertips WHEN I WANT THEM, which is a Very Big Deal. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a train with nothing to read.

    And, as an added bonus, I actually bought the hard copy of The God Engines, and Judge Sn Goes Golfing, which I would never have done had I not been able to read the rest of your works and enjoyed them so much.

    I guess the point I’m making is, the electronic option has sold way more books to the consumers of a generation which does everything digitally, to begin with. All my friends have some sort of reader, more than a handful of my friends have bought books at my recommendation for their readers, instead of just going to the library or borrowing it. I don’t see any downside to this for an author…

  47. I have read ebooks for many years on PC’s and pocket pc/palm devices. Only recently did I decide to buy a Kindle 3 and I love it!

    I have a iPad which is fun toy but I just could not read for any length of time without it hurting my eyes. Plus the kindle is so much lighter and small than the ipad, which means more comfortable.

    I would imagine that a author would feel less threatened by ebooks because you cannot share them, loan them (yes there are exceptions) or even sell the books used. If I go to the library the author gets nothing in return for a free reading I assume?

    As for DRM, well I hate it. And so I remove it. I guess the law and most people say that is piracy but my view is that I paid money for it and I am protecting my investment. Books I bought on my pocket pc and palm PDA’s I have kept over the years and converted them to formats I need and I have have a couple of them on the kindle now. If I gave them out or sold them then that would be crossing the line to be sure. I will do what I can to prevent losing books I already bought simply because the technology changes or I want a better device.

    As for ebooks prices, I as a customer expect them to be cheaper than the printed version. Paper, ink, printing, binding, distribution, warehousing and selling of printed books cost money. That part of the equation is gone, ebooks should a little cheaper than the print version, period. One of several ways that Apple has harmed consumers is what they did when they rolled out the iPad. As a result, a few ebooks are actually marginally more expensive than the printed versions, go Apple!

  48. Yeah, waterproof would be nice, eh? =)

    I don’t own one yet… I’m thinking they may drop the price tag down to $99 for this holiday. B&N is spending a FORTUNE putting 1000 sqft Nook shops in all their big stores, and Amazon is putting Kindles in Best Buy and Target nationwide (at a loss per unit sold, or so I’ve been told) – all just to get them in readers’ hands. I think one or the other of them will push the “$99 sale” button, and the other will have to follow up.

    I think I’d try one then. I’ll confess, $140 before I even get a book seems like a lot to handle, financially. I’d rather spend that one books, when money is already tight. ;)

  49. @Keven McLaughlinon

    Yeah, I would not be surprised if one did not do the $99 by Christmas either. For me, $140 reached the threshold I was comfortable with. Nook is not a bad device but it old/week now compared to Kindle 3. I would expect that soon B&N will release a Nook 2 that will freshen up the product line and be the next leap frog jump. I am pretty much a Amazon fan with the big reason being that I do not have to pay sales tax for stuff, digital or not. I wonder, do books from B&N have sales tax applied?

  50. @crypticmirror (esp post 7)

    I mean I like authors being paid yeah, but I believe of my £6.99 you get about £1.50-£2.50ish. The rest is covering the cost of the paper, the binding, the distribution, the cover artists, the bloke wot makes the tea. And I call all that a fair price (I’m Scottish so I’m naturally a bit tight).

    For the £9.99, well, what is it covering? A lot of pixels, how much does a pixel cost? …

    go read this series of posts by Charlie Stross and get back to me. The idea that most of the cost of a book is in the printing and distribution is, simply, wrong. The rest of your arguments that rely on that being true thus fall over dead.

  51. @Rickg
    I strongly advise you to reread in full my objections to eReaders and eBooks as you appear to have cherry picked one point and then declared it overrules all else. Many of my objections have nothing to do with the cost of the book, but are about the hassle it will cause me to own one as opposed to the hassle free paper version.

    Also how much it costs the publisher is moot point when it’s value and worth to me is substantially lower than the price they demand, but substantially higher than I am prepared to pay for a real book. An ebook has less value to me than a real book, and I shall therefore not pay more for something that has less worth.

  52. @rickg
    Stross makes some good arguments. I agree with some, and disagree with others. Bottom line is, though, that publishers DO save print costs, warehouse costs, shipping costs, and return costs with ebooks. The guesstimates I have heard vary, but generally agree that a paperback costs about 75 cents to print. Add 37 cents more for returns (one in two books is a return), some unknown value for warehousing and shipping, and you probably have the “paper” costs of an $8 paperback being about $2 a book, maybe a bit less.

    On top of that, the bookseller share of the $8 paperback is about $4. The author share is about 80 cents, leaving about $1.20 to pay for cover, editing, publisher operating expenses, and marketing. It’s a SLIM margin; there is a reason paperbacks cost as much as they do.

    However – if a publisher sells an ebook for $5, they get to keep $3.50 of it (70% vs the 50% share they get from paper books). The author gets 25% of that (88 cents), leaving the publisher with $2.63 cents per book – more than twice as much as they get from an $8 paperback, and that’s from an ebook at $5! For an ebook at $10 (typical price right now), the publisher gets $5.25 (author $1.75) to cover what costs them less than $1.20 for print.

    Follow the math. ;) There’s a *reason* why so many small publishers are offering authors 50% royalties, and why most indie/self publishers are going to ebook at $2.99-$3.99 a book. It’s not to lose money.

  53. The only hangup I have regarding eReaders is an odd one: I’d miss the smell of a real book. There’s nothing like cracking open a new book and getting a whiff of the paper, ink and binding, right in your face. It’s a happy smell for me.

    Honestly, the eReader would help de-clutter my life, considerably. My bookshelves are perpetually full, despite several trips to the library with boxes of once-read books over the last couple of years.

    But I’d miss the smell!

  54. I agree with John on this. There have been so many times where I’ve gotten into an author only to find that half his/her books are out of print. Then I’d finally find one, but it’s used. This way I can actually pay the author. Plus, I just love the convenience of carrying around the Kindle. I still do love to buy books, especially hardcovers, but am running out of room in my house. There are only so many walls I can have a bookshelf.

    I love the smell of books too. Good point. There is something about holding a book and reading for hours. Can’t beat a real book.

    I hope that the eReaders are around to stay. I just know though that my Kindle will be obsolete in a few years. Oh well.

  55. One of the biggest unforeseen advantages of eBooks for me is the space savings. My wife and I recently moved to a new house that had less space for books. My 4,000 volume collection had to be trimmed down to just under 2,000 volumes, and I have limited space for expansion. In some cases, it’s eBook or no book at all.

    I’m probably buying more books from Amazon since I got a Kindle. In a few cases, I’m buying the print and the Kindle version. I bought the first volume of Patterson’s recent Heinlein biography in print because I knew that’s a book I would want to have in hardcover. But only 30 pages or so into it, I decided to get the Kindle version too and read that because holding the Kindle in one hand is more comfortable than holding a two pounds of paper.

    Re pirating books, I’ll take the fifth. But I’ve never pirated a Scalzi book. Why? I don’t know John personally, and he doesn’t know me personally, but regular reading of Whatever makes me feel that I know John in some way, and that pirating one of his books would be a violation of that relationship. Something tells me that one of the purposes of Whatever is to establish that kind of relationship with readers. :)

    Re DRM. I don’t worry about it so much, since the first thing I do when I buy a Kindle book is remove the DRM. :) The free and open source Calibre lets you convert to and from almost every eBook format, so I’m not worried about losing access to my Kindle purchases.

  56. My experience is exactly like John’s: I bought a Nook with my tax return in February and have found that I’m reading more, in more places, than I did before, and am reading different authors. The Nook is particularly perfect when I’m on the treadmill at my gym, when turning pages is distracting at best and actively hazardous if I drop the book onto the moving treadmill and it goes sailing into someone else’s legs. I can carry it in my purse or even my pocket, and if my current choice doesn’t suit, five seconds and I’ve brought up another book to try.

    One thing people should be aware of: a LOT of older books that are out of copyright are available at no charge on Project Gutenberg and similar sites. That’s where I got all the Sherlock Holmes and Scarlet Pimpernel books on my Nook. I also downloaded several volumes from the Baen Free Library, including works by David Weber, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Catherine Asaro. I’m not giving up my library by any means, but when it comes to convenience and portability, you’ll have to pry my Nook from my cold, dead hands.

    And oh yes – one of my Nook books is this thing called Agent to the Stars by a guy named Scalzi….

  57. Travis wrote: “I’ve got both a Sony Reader 505 and now an iPad. Beyond question, I prefer reading on an iPad; the Sony may be smaller and lighter, but I’ve never been a fan of e-ink. The lack of flicker is more than offset by poor contrast in anything but bright light.”

    The 505 came out in, what, 2008? e-ink screens have been making gradual, but real improvements in contrast over time, and I expect will continue to improve.

    You can see the improvement in the latest kindle’s contrast here:

  58. “One thing people should be aware of: a LOT of older books that are out of copyright are available at no charge on Project Gutenberg and similar sites”

    On the kindle, you can often get them free from the Kindle Store, which is a bit easier. Public domain works are often present in the store in numerous ‘editions’, so it pays to get a sample.

    There are also many very cheap ‘editions’ of public domain works. Under a dollar, generally. If it’s well-formatted, that might be worth the price.

  59. I don’t want to reopen the entire line about why ebooks should be dirt cheap, but the ” this is why most indie/self publishers are going to ebook at $2.99-$3.99 a book. It’s not to lose money.” line rankles.

    You all forget the editing, the copyediting, artwork, layout, etc. You know, all of the other work that’s not writing and not print production/shipping. So, yeah, if you ignore most of the costs involved in making a book, selling it and marketing it and if you don’t mind killing bookstores off, there are few costs and ebooks should be cheap. Otherwise, not so much.

    Shorter version of that: taking an author’s raw manuscript and ‘publishing’ it skips a lot of steps that go into making the text of the quality we expect.

    and… back on topic…
    Where ebooks for cheap make a TON of sense is the enormous back catalog that’s out of print. Yes, there are initial conversion costs as there’s likely no electronic version of these. But once that cost is invested, the electronic copies are pretty much free to distribute and would represent incremental revenue. Like many of you I hate it when I find an author, like her, find out she’s got a bunch of earlier work… which isn’t in stores. Yeah, I can order via Amazon if the work’s in print, but that’s usually enough of a barrier that I don’t. Being able to simply download things will, I think, represent the recovery of otherwise lost sales.

  60. This is dead accurate for me, and there are a few more compelling reasons I love my Kindle: as a compusive reader, expat, and frequent traveler, buying, carrying, and storing books are all big problems for me that are solved by an ebook.

  61. rickg@66, as far as killing bookstores off, that’s going to happen regardless of what you and I do – within 10 years I’d predict about 80% of the chains gone. I _think_ Barnes and Noble will survive in a reduced form, their play with the nook will help tremendously for that. But apart from them? I expect Borders, Waldenbooks, most of the rest of the chains out of business or very greatly shrunk.

    Look at what’s happening to the dedicated stores where folks used to buy DVDs? Blockbuster, Movie Trading Company, etc., almost all either significantly hurting or out of business now. Bookstores are going to follow a similar model, and in the not too distant future.

    Publishing is going through a state change right now, and the publishers are doing everything they can to hang onto their dying model. Probably a lot of them won’t survive, but some will adapt and prosper, and new ones will move in to take their place (probably ones located in places where they don’t have to pay the salaries that you have to pay in NYC where the current generation of publishers is mostly located).

  62. My problem with ebooks is mainly with the whole digital distribution issue. It’s the same reason that keeps me from going whole hog into things like iTunes or Steam. The benefit/price equation has to be a LOT higher to get me to adopt a format with *so* much less flexibility.

    If I own a book, I can lend & borrow it to a friend. I can sell (& buy it) second hand. I can give it to my nieces once I’m done with them. In short, I have it & thus exercise total ownership over it.

    Note that this isn’t just a DRM issue. Even if there was no DRM, there is no practical way for me to do this with ebooks, beyond the implementation of some truly weird ‘honour’ system.

  63. Have you tried a Kindle at all?

    I ask because of this: I’m an IT guy professionally, and as such, I’m a luddite when I’m not at work. I love real actual books, managed to escape two divorces with still more than 2,000 of the damn things, and I was completely prepared to absolutely hate every e-book reader ever made, even if it was free and weighed nothing and automatically downloaded every book I ever wanted for free and also dispensed perfectly grilled scallops and perfectly chilled gin & tonics.

    …or so I thought. And then my girlfriend got a Kindle for Christmas last year, and I- …really don’t mind it. It’s okay. I mean, I guess a part of me WANTED to hate the thing, but I can’t. It’s a little plastic thing that has books in it. How do you hate that? IT’S GOT BOOKS IN IT.

    What do I do now? I have rage that has to go somewhere! What’s that dopey kid’s name? Justin Bieber? HE is TOTALLY ON NOTICE.

  64. “that person…could…find unauthorized OCR’d copies of everything I’ve written, but book retailers and publishers have made it really easy for them not to do that,”

    I’m sorry, but I have to violently disagree with this statement. I run a free (as in speech) operating system on all my computers and have a Sony Reader. It is impossible for me to legally obtain the majority of books in ebook format. Why? Because of the idiotic restrictions that publishers put into ebook distribution (restriction by country, DRM, installation platform). I’ve had ebook retailers refund my purchases after politely explaining to them that, despite everything they say, I actually can not run the piece of crapware they require for me to download their book. I cannot buy your books, John.

    At this point, I’ve given up on even trying to purchase ebooks, it’s too much of a hassle to dive through the tangle of retailer websites and be frustrated every time. I’ll try again some time next year to see whether things have changes. Now, when I’m interested in a book, I just download the torrent (takes a few minutes), and if I really like it I’ll buy the dead-tree version and give it to a friend as a birthday present or whatnot. I won’t buy the paper version for myself because I already have more than enough shelfspace taken up by books and do not want any more. Ebooks are the best thing this millennium has brought to me. Shame the distribution mechanism sucks so badly.

    Hopefully at some point publishers will see the light and make it possible for me to buy these books. And hopefully not too many authors will have starved by that time.

  65. Unabashed:

    “I’m sorry, but I have to violently disagree with this statement.”

    Violently? Are you breaking things in your house?

    Also, your electronic life appears constructed in such a way that it’s difficult for you to buy electronic books at this point. This is not the same things as saying that retailers, et al have not built robust sales channels which will work for the large majority of eBook consumers in the US (outside the US they appear to still be playing catch-up, which of course may also compound your problem). It’s important to make a distinction between your situation — using a minority eBook reader on a minority OS in (it appears) a country that is not the US — and the situation of most of the people with eBook readers, who have a rather easier time of making purchases.

    I’m glad you still buy the books you like and give them to friends; thanks for that.

  66. @69 – Ah, but you CAN loan books from a Nook! Granted that the loanee also has to own a Nook, but Barnes & Noble deliberately put that function in because of complaints that Kindle didn’t allow book loans.

    Also, as John’s picture of the cover of Fuzzy Nation on his Nook shows, you can upload PDF files to the Nook. That includes manuscripts and papers. A good friend who’s a writer sent me his latest manuscript, which I read at the gym on my Nook. Much more convenient than trying to read it on the computer!

  67. (hmm, I seem unable to submit this comment under my original name?)

    I wouldn’t exactly call the Sony a minority reader. You are right of course in pointing out that my problems do not apply to everyone. However, didn’t you mention recently that ~4% of your blog readers run Linux (plus maybe a few more who’ve changed their browser ID)? Those readers share my problem. I’d also guess that a high percentage of these people fall into the “would buy ebooks” and “know how to download torrents” category.

    Compared to the vast numbers of readers you have, my problems may only be shared by a minority. Compared to numbers of people who would be willing to buy an ebook of yours tomorrow, probably not so much.

    And I know fully well that the reasons for these problems can not be laid at your doorstep, decisions to improve the situation need to be taken by others and are outside your control. But I think it is false to state (or imply) that all is well in the ebook distribution world.

    And yeah, I constantly break stuff in my house, I’m clumsy ;-).

  68. I own a Pocketbook ereader and love it, but am based outside the US. I’m also not willing to buy stuff that’s DRM’d, but that’s pretty much a moot point because you can’t actually buy anything at all. Unless it’s for Kindle, they’re still winning on that front. Or webscriptions but as someone already said, that’s a lean diet. Although I could buy The God Engines there DRM free so you made a sale from that.

    However I think publishers are going to lose more and more buyers the longer they drag out the restrictions on the non-US and that those potential customers, once they’re in the habit of downloading and more and more books become available illegally, will not go back to purchasing. I don’t agree with it, but I’m living with the frustration of it.

    On a side note – and I think it’s something that maybe Elizabeth Bear wrote? Or you? Hmm memory fail – one of the things I’ve noticed with using an ereader is how I’ve now dissociated book and story. Now that it is no longer trapped in a physical object I’m relating to a story quite differently, and am willing to pay for that story. I think that’s where the emphasis has to be – on buying a story, not buying a book.

  69. Unabashed1:

    Your last comment got dropped into the spam queue for some reason. I removed it, so you should be able to quote under Unabashed again. I’m not sure why you got tagged as spam. Sorry about that.

    Sony’s definitely a minority reader here in the US. Amazon doesn’t release sales numbers, but my own guess at this point is that in terms of e-reader popularity (and leaving aside cell phones for the moment) it goes Kindle, iPad, Nook, Sony. Kindle and Nook also have advantages in that they have software available for iPads and phones (and Windows/Mac).

    I’m not entirely sure Linux users in the US universally share your problem re: readers. Kindles and Nooks have built-in wifi and/or cell phone radios and can download directly into the reader, which is something only the latest iterations of the Sony readers can do. So a Linux user doesn’t have use his/her computer to get books into a Nook/Kindle (or, for that matter, an iPad).

  70. I think some of the “not a physical book” problems are advantages as well. I’ve lost/misplaced/damaged difficult to replace books before, it’s nice to know that I can get another copy of the text easily. For well loved, reread books, it’s nice to know I won’t be buying another copy because the binding gave out. What is the reasonable lifetime of a regularly read book (say a couple times of year) that is kept on a shelf in a average house and read in the usual places (dinner table, outdoors, beach, etc.)? The not easily lent to random folk, is balanced by easily sharing a library with trusted folk for me. you can have (up to? at least?) 6 kindles on an account with access to all the media. those six kindles needn’t be used serially – up to six people could access the same books at the same time. If you lend/borrow books from the same 3 people and you purchase your kindles together, you get the same books at a quarter the cost. I think doing this solely for textbooks would pay for itself in a single semester.

  71. Every time somebody writes a post about e-readers, you can almost countdown to the tiresome rationalizations of the luddite fetishists.

    How to spot the luddite fetishist? It may seem obvious at first, but to be sure, apply this test: does the poster in question recognize that while they may have a spectrum of acquisition behavior that ranges from borrowing from the library/friend, or buying at the used bookshop at one end, and preordering the hardback and picking it up at the bookshop at midnight at the other end, there’s no room in that range for something that’s Not A Book.

    However, looking at the rationalizations is instructive.

    First, DRM. A valid issue, however “unencumbered” files are readily available, and as a practical matter, DRM is little more than a polite fiction, in which Adobe pretends their DRM protects files from being copied, and we, as readers, pretend that it’s what’s stopping us from spreading our files around like the pox.

    Second, pricing. Again, a valid issue, as the market is still in flux. I, for one, am certainly not going to pay more than mass market prices for ebooks. That being said, the aforementioned Project Gutenberg, and the Baen Free Library offer plenty of DRM free material if you want to wait out the pricing issues.

    Which brings us to number three, titles. If the titles you want aren’t available in the markets, well, you’re SOL (yes, the titles you want are surely available “outside” the markets, but we’re not going to go there, are we? hmmm?). However, besides the aforementioned Gutenberg, Calibre is built to deliver RSS feeds to your reading device. Publicly available, DRM free RSS feeds.

    And the previous two points bring us to the first instructional point, the point at which purchasing an e-reader becomes a no-brainer. Consider your niece, nephew, son, daughter, or other prospective 8th grader. Look at their reading list, and their reading lists on up to the 12th grade. And look at the classes besides English as well. Now, look at how many of the titles and authors on those lists are in the public domain, and consider that for under $150, they can get all those titles in one convenient, back-friendly container. Chiropractors may curse your name, but isn’t our children’s spinal health worth it?

    As far as killing bookstores goes, the general audience bookstore is already dead, and the internet killed it. But not for the reasons you may think. Imagine you own a pet store, and in your pet store, you’re going to stock dog food. You may have dog food from two different companies and each of those companies will have a variety for small dogs, a variety for medium dogs, a variety for dogs, and varieties for puppies and seniors. Add a chicken flavor, and you’re stocking say, a half dozen different varieties from each of two companies. Now imagine instead, that each company is pushing a separate variety for each individual dog breed. You should see the difficulty here. How much walk in traffic does it take to justify stocking X number of World War II histories on the shelves? Which means that bookstores will evolve into coffee shops with POD systems and the latest NYT bestsellers on the shelves. Bonus points for offering package reception. “Receive a coupon for 10% off your next order for having a package delivered to your local Barnes&Noble Books&Java.” Specialty bookshops will suffer less impact from this.

    As far as no lending, no used book sales go, ask yourself this: when it comes to lending, what’s more important, the book or the recommendation? Would you pay Amazon or B&N $10/month, or $120/year, for a 5 slot web based bookshelf, which would let you read up to 60 titles a year in a browser? What about those numbers would you shift to make it work for you to sign up? This is how O’Reilly’s Safari Bookshelf works. You get 5 slots (bigger shelves are available for more money, natch), and when you select a title, you can put it back after 30 days, meaning you can plow through 60 titles/year for $120. This lends itself to kind of a Netflix situation, where you have books that you wouldn’t normally purchase, but rather borrow, you’d read online, mucjh as you’d rather queue up Snow Dogs in Netflix rather than purchase the DVD outright. Stir in some social networking sauce for reading groups and recommendations, and it replaces a lot of what lending and used bookstores are used for.

  72. Linux hasn’t slowed me down, although I specifically avoided the Sony when it came out because of DRM. Before I bought my first ebook from Barnes & Noble I made sure I knew how to ‘un-cripple’ their epubs for archival purposes and to read them within my usual e-reader (Aldiko on my HTC Evo). Likewise for Kindle’s .mobi books. The legality (DMCA) vs morality of that is another discussion.

    And, of course, there’s Webscription free and paid, Gutenberg, Feedbooks, …

    Now I’m just waiting for the bluetooth-enabled direct-to-retina eyeglass projector. Then staff meetings will become completely bearable and I can catch up on my reading backlog. Until a virus overloads the thing and brands PROPERTY OF SKYNET across my optic nerve …

  73. bkd69, for the average consumer DRM is not a polite fiction. That is a overestimation of the computer literacy of the average person.

    That being said, realistically, I could jailbreak files. I’m just too lazy to jump through that hoop. Publisher’s want my money? They can pony up a file format I’m willing to buy. (Oh, hi Baen Books! Certainly, I’ll buy Flint and Drake and Weber through Webscriptions. Hey, look, there’s some Scalzi stuff on here. Awesome.)

    That being said, this post has convinced me that getting Kindles for my parents isn’t a bad idea anymore. Amazon’s willingness to expand the service onto other platforms and maintain a database of what the user bought to coordinate between the platforms suggests to me that their format might survive long enough to eventually become one of the standards incorporated into every device, much as iTunes songs have become.

  74. John,
    I encountered your books shortly after I bought my first kindle a few years ago. One of my favorite things about my electronic book reading life has been the instant gratification of “more more more” by the same author once I finish a novel. I have everything you have written that has been pushed through the Kindle and loved reading all of it. Thank you for allowing your books to live in that stream.

  75. @Patrick: I have no problem qualifying that statement: Ebook DRM is a polite fiction for that segment of the market that cares about DRM.

    I would suggest however, that you’re overestimating the desire of users to venture outside their market of choice/device. They’ll be happy with their offerings on their device, if they’re looking at an exclusive title, they may or may not have a multifunction device with the appropriate market’s app, and if they’re sufficiently motivated, they may well get the hardcopy.

    Of course, that raises the question of just how many exclusives each market has, and leads to specualtion as to just how long the notion of exclusivity is going to last. I think we’ll soon something along the lines of downloadable tracks for music games, where we’ll see an end to the practice in fairly short order.

  76. I have had a Sony ereader for 4 years now, starting with the 505 and now the 600…

    I loved my 505, I used it for the several months I was in the Middle East and had no access to significant numbers of english language books. (Saudi Arabia — such an interesting place for a female westerner, I will say. I spent ALOT of time reading or visiting Egypt.)

    I wish I would have waited for 606 as I have a regular relationship with the support chat on the Sony website (I like that part: direct, 24 hour support via chat is a good thing when you do most of your reading electronically).. the touch screen is a waste for me, as I still use the thumb button to turn the page. why fingerprint up the screen?
    I think the screen is NOT as readable as the 505, seems grey rather than black, so I usually have to go with a larger font size and brighter background light. this is a problem as I travel for work and am often reading while eating dinner in dim restaurants.

    I did just get Jon Stewarts Earth book in hardback, as I knew it would be mostly images and those dont look right in my sony. I tried to read a book about tattooing and the images just sucked in the sony.

  77. I just bought myself a Nook for my birthday. I see it as a fun toy, that has a lot of potential. The interface takes some getting used to, but I’m getting there.

    This may sound crazy, but I mostly got it to read free books from Project Gutenberg. Right now I’m reading “The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu” by Sax Roemer. There’s a handful of other oddball stuff I’ve downloaded from there that I’m looking forward to reading, once I work though the small stack of books I have from the local library.

    I may impulse buy a new book or two using it, but we’ll see how that goes. I only have so much space in my 1 bedroom apartment and an e-reader can help there. If its an author I really like, I’m much more inclined to buy the paper book, but we’ll see how that changes. The Nook can read epub format, which is what I’ve been looking for online.

  78. Actually, re: popularity of platforms, my understanding is that while Amazon is by far the dominant store for purchases (70-75% of the ebook market, depending upon whom you ask), the i-whatever platform is actually the most popular reader. Last I read, there were more folks reading Kindle books on Kindle-for-iPhone/iPod/iPad than there were reading Kindle books on Kindles.

    Seeing as how Amazon eats a small loss with every Kindle sale, but makes money with every ebook sale, this most likely does not bother them much. ;)

    Back @rickg… I wasn’t ignoring cover or editing costs. I’ve actually researched them very thoroughly, since I’m strongly considering kicking the novel I’m working on direct to ebook, once I’m done with revisions. A number of the same artists NYC publishers hire are available for indie publishing at $800-1000 a cover. I’ve also found artists, with less experience but who are doing nice work regardless, for as little as $150 a cover. I’ve also looked into several professional editors. The numbers I’ve gotten back average about $15 per thousand words. It’s not small potatoes, but that is the full job – full editing, not just grammar and spelling. ;) I’ve seen examples of the work, and in two cases got the reference from another author pleased with the results.

    So, about $1500 for editing, and another $800 for a really pro cover. Or go a bit cheaper on the cover, if you want to take a chance with a newer artist. Conversion is free, using any of a number of resources. Well, takes an hour or two for me to convert a full ms, but that’s a minimal expense. I’m just not seeing where the huge ebook expenses are, Rick.

    Would you rather spend $2300 once to publish your book – or 52.5% of the cover price, forever, for a publisher who put up the $2300 instead? Your call.

  79. I had little interest in Kindle, but pre-ordered a Nook because it had features I wanted. I can live with DRM, but I prefer to be able to use the books I’ve purchased on other machines instead of being locked into a proprietary format like Amazon’s.

    The lending feature has been very handy. One of my co-workers ordered a Nook when I did, and we’ve shared ebooks back and forth. I just wish B&N would relax the lending rule: limit it to a few loans per year instead of one-and-done.

    I still have plenty of physical books in my apartment and will never stop buying them entirely, but I like that I no longer have to take storage into account before I buy.

    I went from “dubious” to full convert on the eBook issue.

  80. Unabashed has a problem with software, perhaps. Living in Tokyo, I have a problem with DRM (damned country restrictions).

    I have a credit card in good standing. I have accounts at major e-book retailers in good standing. Before country restrictions, I routinely spent over $100 on e-books every month over at Fictionwise, and I had TONS of money in my Micropay account there.

    Then one day–everything stopped.

    I kept trying to buy books. And I kept getting, “Sorry, this book is unavailable in your country.” Never mind that it was an artificial limitation, since e-books travel across the pipes just fine, dammit.

    That was when I turned to less legal ways of obtaining books. (This was before the International Kindle.)

  81. I love my nook because I’m the type of reader who is constantly flitting from book to book and so instead of having 3-5 books in my purse at any given time so I’m ready for any mood I just have the e-reader and it has something for whatever mood I’m in.

    I bought it when the price dropped this summer because that was around the time I was making my 3rd move in a year and I made the decision to pack up all but my absolute favourite books and store them until the time when I’m living somewhere more permanently.

    It’s really nice not having to worry about shelf space when buying new books and I’ve ended up trying quite a few books that I probably wouldn’t have bought in the store but did for my e-reader. Still, the new releases of books that I’ve been waiting for forever? Hardcover, must have now, shelf space be damned.

  82. I’ve been hearing a lot about the “not available here” issues. I think this has to do with the new agent set up and how rights work, but I could be wrong here. What I am gathering is that when Apple and various publishers pushed Amazon into the ‘agent’ style arrangement, Amazon stopped being a retailer of ebooks and started becoming an agent of the publisher, collecting a commission on each sale instead of buying at a certain price and then reselling at a price of their choice.

    This let publishers control the prices of ebooks, which they wanted. But where a retailer can buy books in one country and import them to another country, I am gathering that an agent is restricted to sell only where the publisher they are an agent of has rights. So if Publisher A buys First North American rights to a book, and sells print and ebook copies on Amazon – Amazon can act as a retailer for the print book and resell it worldwide. But they are limited to acting as an agent for the ebook, and can only sell it in regions where the publisher owns the rights. <– Again, I *think* this is what is going on, but if I'm wrong I would be glad to hear a correction.

    Whatever it is, it's causing huge issues for folks in some areas of the world who want to buy ebooks, and can't get them. =/

  83. I saw a few posts about the costs of an ebook not being as much as the physical book because of the printing, paper, storage and distribution not applying. But the publisher does need to pay for the printing, storage and distribution of e books. Printing – conversion software and paying somebody to do it. Storage and distribution – a server and a tech guy for it. Yes, you can do your own book on your own home computer without paying for it but a publisher with several books and lots of demand is going to need a server.

    Also some one metioned that piraters can scan a book without any trouble, but they aren’t paying themselves to do that one at a time, a company would have to employ someone to go through thousands of books.

    I hve close to 3,000 books and constantly told by my family to get rid or they will fall through the floor. I was sceptical at first but an E-reader is looking more attractive by the day – especially since i could get things instantly without having to search the shops for days. And the Kindle has just been launched at £109, which is less than my ipod cost. I want one now, i just need the money.

  84. Musereader @ 90: Paper and ink are cheap, especially when you’re buying them in bulk as a publisher. Most of the cost of a book comes from the production costs – Editing, marketing, typesetting (Professional typesetting makes a big difference to how a page flows), proofreading, and other services. There’s an essay on the subject I’d love to link to, but I lost it to a virus. Very frustrating. But the point is, those costs are still there for a professionally produced ebook so the discount isn’t as steep as people expect.

    Regarding DRM, I buy most of my ebooks through Kobo. The books all come with DRM, but Kobo encourages you to create and distribute up to five copies of the ePub file. They want you to share ebooks with friends, because that gets your friends into the ebook market. And if you really need to you can break the DRM or just print the book, although they don’t encourage you to do either of those.

  85. I recently bought myself a Kindle. I was torn between the Kindle and the Nook / EReader due to the DRM issues but I decided that I simply like the Kindle more. I don’t like the Nook interface and the smaller size of the third gen Kindle is very nice. I don’t like DRM but let’s face it if I was going to be religious about that there are a number of CDs and DVDs that I wouldn’t be able to own either.

    For me, the experience of electronic reading has been nice enough that it probably will cut into the money I spend on print books. In fact I’ve already returned one book to buy the Kindle version instead. I simply don’t have enough money to buy both versions and I’ve discovered that while I love reading books I don’t really enjoy holding them so much. It’s nice to be able to lay my Kindle down on a flat surface while reading. If there’s a book that I really want to own a physical copy of I think I’ll be more likely to buy the Kindle version first and pick up a used copy sometime down the road.

  86. Well, these comments certainly illustrate the need for diversity in eReaders. Some people love e-ink and some people hate it. Good thing there are plenty of options.

    For the people who commented about sharing books, it is worth mentioning that Amazon allows up to six Kindle or Kindle-app devices on one account. Books (but not magazines or games) can be shared so long as they are purchased on the same account.

    For folks who want to borrow ebooks from the public library, to the best of my knowledge, the eReaders that support that are Sony, Nook, and Kobo.

    One reason there are errors (weird characters, odd spacing and unnecessary “hyphen- ation”) is because a lot of ebooks today are produced as an afterthought to print, sometimes from a PDF, sometimes from a scanned copy. Once publishers have tools and workflows in place to produce the needed formats from a single source file, ebooks should look a lot better.

    I do think that digital publishing will be good for authors in the long run. The trick is going to be getting to the long run.

  87. Mike @16
    “ are AFAIK the *only* people who’ll actually sell you an unencumbered ebook at this point, and a diet of that and Gutenberg is a little restrictive.” also have no DRM, multiple format, re-download unlimited times etc.

  88. I was one of those gals who just recently discovered the Old Man’s War series (via a Subterranean Press giveaway actually, so you have Bill Schafer to thank for this!) and went crazy trying to get her hands on everything else in the series fast! Eventually found paperbacks at Amazon, of course, since those are the sort of books I like to have.

  89. For those who are anti-ebook because you can’t share ebooks, the Barnes & Noble and eReader DRM is based on social engineering, as it uses your name and credit card information to encrypt the ebook. I have read, but not yet verified, that if you can temporarily have physical access to a friend’s device, you can unlock a single ebook with your name/CC#, and later share other ebooks with the friend without having to give them the name/CC#. The ereader saves a hashed key and can decrypt new ebooks with the same key. The friend won’t be able to share the ebooks with others, will have to use the same device to read the ebooks, and won’t be able to use your credit card.

    I bought a Nook instead of a Kindle because the Nook has an external microSDHC reader. I can’t fit all of my ebooks onto a Kindle, and what’s the point of having to pick and choose which ebooks to bring along? The downside on the Nook is that B&N brain-damaged the library app for books bought elsewhere (including their own subsidiary Fictionwise, where I bought over 1600 books & magazines), and the one for the softrooted Nook currently runs out of memory at about 3,000 books, so I’m stuck with using a file browser instead of a keyword search app.

    Sadly, but luckily for my wallet, the evil Agency 5 price-fixing pact killed the sales over at Fictionwise, and I’m no longer stocking up on backlist books that I already own in paper. I could justify rebuying when the sales prices brought the backlist down to used book prices. Now it seems like most of the backlist coming out that I’d like to get are priced higher than the new books because the price is tied to a limited release trade paperback, and I’m just not buying them anymore. I suspect that this pricing will not work in the long run for Tor and the other big publishers, especially if more mid-list authors follow J.A. Konrath’s example and self-publish their out-of-print backlist as ebooks in the $3-5 range.

  90. A bit of an aside, one of the flaws of the E-reader is that of my hardcovers without their sleeves– I don’t really have anything to remind me what the book is about. I’m already having to go to search engines to remind myself what the books are about and I consider myself to have a smallish collection so far.

    So, first generation software still has a couple of rough edges to sand off.
    As pertains to the main body of discussion: Ereaders are here to stay. All that needs happen to keep the status quo or improve it is that Ebooks are charged at the same price as the hard cover during the initial publishing period and then charged a buck less than paperbacks when that period is up.

    Save a few bucks on transport/returns (since I haven’t researched a return policy on ebooks)/storage/printing/etc. and then charge a comparable rate.

    Done. Its seems so easy, so there must be some horrible flaw in my reasoning.

  91. Perhaps you have covered this before… but while Athena is at Tae Kwon Do, have you given any thought to joining her out on the floor?

    Good times. Practicing poomse with the kids out on the driveway, making neighbors wonder what sort of looniness we’re up to…

  92. Love my nook, Cybook (Gen3, Opus), started reading Mobipocket book on My Palm TX a few years ago. Pandigital’s Novel with it’s 7″ is fine but not E-ink, so it’s now a very good Android Tablet since I hacked it with Pandigital Android platform firmware, I have added lots of apps, including (3) e-reader apps. I don’t purchase E-books since (4) library systems in Ohio offer most online for 14 to 21 day check out periods.

  93. Many post talk of DRM and a good thing to remember about ebook readers is to get one that supports epub. This is a fairly universal forms of DRM that a good chunk of devices will read (Nook, Sony reader, ipad, and many more but not kindle). I used to have a sony reader and bought a bunch of books there. The used to be in Sony’s proprietary format BBRM but they converted their library to epub and allowed their customers to redownload every purchase they had made previously in the format for free. They can always be download in the latest format through sony for free since they are tied to your account. Same with nook. I later bought a nook and all my sony books worked great on it. All you needed to use is Adobes Digital Editions software which is the defacto standard software for any epub device. Nook uses a more recent password protected format epun and adobe is planning an update to allow sony and other readers to be compatable with it.

  94. I have been reading electronically for about 10 year. I started with a Pocket PC, went to an iPod Touch. Now I use a Nook or my iPad, but prefer the Nook. I haven’t read a paper book in over 5 years. It is so much easier to carry an electronic device that I even have all my Scriptures in that form. As a matter of fact I have read most of your works on my iTouch. I would not go back.


  95. I know someone said something involving Linux(which I use for my netbook) and incompatibility between the nook. In my experience it’s easier to upload .pdfs/.epubs up to the nook through UNR than it is with windows 7 or XP.