I Love You, I Hate You – Miriam On e-Books And The Real thing.

Day Eleven

Late yet again? Yeah, but you’re getting used to that by now. My excuse this time? The weather. It rained.

For those thinking, big deal, remember I’m in West Africa and it hasn’t rained for nearly eight months, so when it does, it has a lot of catching up to do. The rainy season has arrived.

Night storms, at least, are predictable. You can see the sky lighting up long before it arrives. By day, it’s more a case of brilliant blue sky suddenly descends onto darkness and chaos. A picture-postcard scene is in minutes transformed to a Wagnerian apocalyptic end-of-world storm scenario. Using anything electrical is unthinkable, even if the power supply is still on.

And these are just the light showers that precede the real rainy season…

If even maintaining a blog is becoming hit and miss then actually writing the next book is going to be a serious problem once the real rains start and electrical storms go on for days at a time.

And so thoughts turn to revisiting civilization. A luxury holiday surrounded by twenty-four hour television, hot and cold running water, flushing toilets, Costa coffee and real books.

Now you would think, being an intrepid explorer and writer, that the “real books” would be the most exciting prospect. Obviously I wouldn’t be living here if I was addicted to television, or couldn’t manage without a hot shower and toilet paper (don’t ask!).

But my first duty on landing at Gatwick will be to visit the Costa bar for a latte, and my second task will be another latte.

My third port of call, admittedly, will be the WH Smiths airport book-shop. To look. To touch. To smell.

But I shan’t be buying anything.

I’m one of the Kindle generation, and I’m honestly not sure I’ll ever buy a “real” book again.

~

Living here in West Africa books are few and far between so I’m pretty much reliant on my Kindle. No surprise then that I worship it.

But a week ago a package arrived from Europe for me and in it were… Yep, books. Pre-owned, true, but still genuine paper and ink books. Paperbacks, some by favourite authors, that had only been read by one other person, a fellow book-lover, and so were almost pristine.

These were the first “new” books I’d seen more than six months. I rushed home (no such thing as postmen here – mail delivery means guessing when something may have arrived then trekking into a major town to collect) carefully taking them out of the box and caressing them.

Yes, literally. I held them in my hands and savoured the texture; the smell; the sight of a real book. Ten real books. It was wonderful.

A genuine front cover, not to mention a back cover, and a spine! Different print and fonts, different shades of white paper pages. The sound of paper pages turning. Flicking through and stopping at random to read a paragraph. The smell of a book as it is opened. All different thicknesses and weights, and different heights and widths. Some even had raised lettering on the cover.

This was heaven.

I sat them next to my Kindle, and how feeble it looked by comparison. That thin slab of plastic simply could not compare to these ten gorgeous books that I could hold and sniff and caress. I couldn’t wait to go to bed that night with a real book in my hands again.

But a week on, those books are still sat there. True, I pick them up almost daily and savour those tactile sensations, but when I go out I take my Kindle. When I have a few moments of quiet reflection, I reach for my Kindle. When I go to bed I take my Kindle.

I will read those real books, I’m sure.

Well, sort of sure. I mean, they’re sitting there, screaming “Read me!” like some refugee from a Lewis Carroll story.

But I sure as hell wouldn’t have paid full price for them. Now I’ve got access to cheap indie books I’m never going to pay full price for a Big Six paper book ever again.

But these were free. A gift. And I absolutely love them. I want to read them. It’s just… I’d rather read them on my Kindle.

~

Given JK Rowling has pretty much hammered the nails in the coffin of paper publishing this week, I asked Miriam back to the green room to give us her verdict, as one of the next generation of writers, on the e-book vs p-book debate.

Miriam, you’ll recall, is fifteen, so it goes without saying she’s into all things modern and will be even more fanatical about the Kindle than I am.

Only, no one told her that.

Here’s Miriam:

Well, here I am again (and this time, I did my own pictures. That would explain why they’re not as good). Yep. Sorry, it’s Miriam again. You ain’t getting rid of me just yet. But rest assured, I’m not going to be talking about myself this time (that’s embarrassing for all involved). Today I’m going to give you my perspective on e-books. You probably think, “She’s a teenager! She likes technology! She’ll be all for this revolution!”

Or perhaps you think I’m old fashioned and don’t know how the world works and will advocate paperbacks no matter what. Well, I’ve got news for all of you, and it might get me in a little bit of trouble considering this is a guest post on the blog of an e-book writer, but hey, if I’m not controversial then who’ll listen to me?

I have a love-hate relationship with e-books. Just to clarify, that’s a relationship in which sometimes I hate them and sometimes I love them, as opposed to one where I love them and they hate me or vice versa. I’m pretty sure they don’t have emotions, although since technology in general seems to hate me, it’s very hard to be sure.

First, I’ll talk about why I love e-books. Well, why I love the idea of them, since I don’t have a reader, can’t afford one and probably won’t get one unless my parents, looking at the number of books in my bedroom, decide to take pity on me at Christmas.

As a fast reader, I often find myself marooned without a book. Take today, for example. I was in a concert. It’s an enormous concert that the music service which runs my orchestra sets up every year, and it goes on for over three hours. Seriously, I’m not kidding. My group performed last, as we’re the most advanced group, having finished our rehearsals at eleven o’clock. By one o’clock I’d finished my (600-page) book. By the time we went on stage at half four I’d been bored for quite a long time, despite having a notebook with me.

If I had an e-reader, for example a Kindle, I wouldn’t have had that trouble. I would have been able to skip to a new book, and it wouldn’t take up any more room in my bag. What’s more, I wouldn’t have had to carry around the heavy book that I was reading. In those circumstances, I would have loved an e-reader.

And what about on holidays? I’m forever driving my family mad because my suitcase is the heaviest, simply because I’ve packed so many books. Somehow, I still manage to run out. I need something that’ll allow me to have a new book ready as soon as I’ve finished the first one, something that doesn’t weigh the same amount as a case full of bricks. Why hasn’t someone invented this already? Oh, right. They have. But I don’t have one.

Have you thought of the night-time benefits? Late night reading: no loud page turns to alert parents to ‘reading under the covers’, no torch needed, way less uncomfortable under your pillow than, say, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (first fat book I thought of).

However, e-books scare me. They’re so new and unknown! I don’t mind them, but they’d never be the one way I read. I wouldn’t want books to be rare. During a conversation after (before?) my last post, Mark said that paperbacks will soon be as rare as vinyl records.

My house is full of vinyl records. My parents are classical music geeks.

It was going so well until it assiliated some William S. Burroughs

Why can’t people see e-books as just another type of book? Why do they have to take over and be the only thing around, the one one that matters? Look at hardbacks and paperbacks. They’re different. Maybe some people will go for paperbacks because they’re cheaper, but collectors want hardbacks. It’ll be the same later. Some people will go for the e-book because it’s cheaper, but the collectors and the bibliophiles and people like me who enjoy building up their own library (no matter how many times their friends complain about being asked to use a pile of books as a chair) will always want the paper copy. You can’t collect e-books.

I love having pages beneath my fingers. I love smelling the pages of books. I’ll sit there in the corner of the library and breathe in the smell of books, because I love it so much. And I love picking a book up just because of its cover, or because it was on the shelf next to the one I was looking for and it caught my eye.

Yes, that’s the other reason I’m a little afraid of e-books: libraries. Libraries are my saving grace. I don’t think I could get by without them. I spend way too much time each Friday just picking out whatever books I can get my hands on. Half the time I’ve no idea about a book before I borrow it, I’ll just think it looks interesting. What have I got to lose? It’s free and I can just take it back if I don’t like it. The only thin I’ve lost is my time, and think about it … I could end up with something I loved. (and yes, the library below IS my local)

What would happen to libraries if e-books took over? You can already download them from the library website. I’ve done that, and read it on my computer. But I didn’t like it. Going to the library is a tradition, albeit one that’s not been in place more than about six months. I love placing holds for books and wandering around to find other ones by the same author. I love picking up the dog-eared books because I know they’ve been read, and possibly loved, by many other people. I love looking at the books for sale and perhaps buying them for 10p…

None of that would be around with e-books. It wouldn’t be necessary, either. But I’d miss it. I love libraries, I really do. I love them so much that I lend out my own books, complete with protective plastic covers. You know, they end up in the weirdest places! A friend came up to me the other day, Grace, and said, “I’ve got one of your books at home.”

“Oh, really? What was it?”

“Well, I’m not sure. It was yellow, I think?”

“Oh, yeah, The Shock Of Your Life? I’ve been looking for that!” Pause. “How on Earth did that end up in your house? The last person I lent it to was Annie…”

“No idea. Do you want it back?”

A little weakly, “Yes, please…”

Books migrate. Who knows where they’ll end up next? Imagine that: writing your name in a book and passing it on. They write their name on it, and pass it on. They write their name on it … by the time it works its way back to you it could have a hundred names inside the cover and have travelled around the world!

Could an e-book do that?

But as I said to Miriam, progress is progress.

Would I be as keen on e-books if we’d paper-published Sugar & Spice? No question we’d love to see it in paper format.

That said, when our New York agent suggested we abandon e-publishing for our new book Snow White, book one of the Rose Red crime thiller series, and try seek a paper deal first, we said no.

There was numerous factors involved in making that decision, but first and foremost were the many fans of Sugar & Spice eagerly waiting the next e-release from the Saffina Desforges partnership. Our agent was suggesting we forget them and concentrate on paper instead. The e-book could wait.

We argued that reader loyalty worked both ways.

Just before the JK Rowling announcement David Gaughran ran a post on the downward death spiral of paper publishing. Click on the link for the numbers. This was David’s summary.

The overall picture is quite clear. E-books continue their surge, but adult mass market paperback is in freefall, and the rest of the print categories don’t look too healthy either.

This was another key factor in our decision not to go with our agent’s advice.

Hopefully we will still see some our books in “real” print before the bookstores finally close. But if not, well, that’s progress.

How about you. Are you comfortable with the inevitable?

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  1. Awesome post Miriam! I can totally relate – I love my Kindle to bits, but I don’t think I could live without my favourite paper books either. Though, thankfully, I like them both enough to be able to live with the revolution, whichever way it goes.

    • There will be “second-hand” bookshops selling existing books for many decades to come, I’m sure. But in the not too distant future the only paper books being printed will be celebrity photo books, cooking, and the like, and special editions of major authors, which will cost ridiculous sums to buy.

      The real tragedy for Miriam is that she’s missing out on the many new authors who are epublishing (the so-called “indies”) who are not available on paper because the agents and traditional publishers (the gatekeepers) decided the readers would not like their books.

        • Miriam
        • June 28th, 2011

        I’s only missing out because I has no Kindle, not because I chooses to 😦 Sometimes I reads the books on my computer from the library website but I is not keen on this 😦 I is also very tired, so I has no grammar.

    • Miriam
    • June 27th, 2011

    Yay, my pictures didn’t come out as bad as I thought they would! Although the library looks remarkably pink/purple. More than it does in real life … though I’m usually too distracted by the books to notice, tbh.

    • What would be great would be for libraries to be able to lend e-readers as well as e-books.

      Even if the e-reader comes down to below one hundred dollars by Christmas that is still a big investment to ask people to make.

      But I would day it is the affordability of e-readers that is all that is keeping paper alive at the moment.

  2. I think dead-tree books will always be with us (although if we’re smart they’ll be made of hemp), but even those will eventually be mostly POD. The publication-chain is evolving faster than a fruit-fly on aesthophor, and though we’ll always have agents, editors, even publishing houses, their core tasks are changing fast. The survivors will adapt just on time to be met with the next Big Thing. And no, I don’t know what the BT is, but I’ve been using my Kindle for years–got on the bandwagon when it was just a clunky scooter called Rocketbook, used it for all of my Baen books.

    • George, I am in awe. Rocketbook!

      In the UK market the Kindle only became relevant last year. There were other e-readers available in the UK (B&N’s nook was likewise useless outside the US), but at ridiculous prices and with so few download options it was a pointless exercise.

      POD will of course be available, but mainly through distributors like Amazon’s Create Space.

      The issue with POD vs digital is that for POD the book still needs to be formatted for paper (different again from e-book format), and to have a full front and back cover, spine, etc. The costs involved will keep the price of POD paper production high, and of course the economies of scale for a traditional large print run will be lost.

      Add to that distribution costs, and paper will become less and less appealing.

  3. The issue with POD vs digital is that for POD the book still needs to be formatted for paper (different again from e-book format), and to have a full front and back cover, spine, etc. The costs involved will keep the price of POD paper production high, and of course the economies of scale for a traditional large print run will be lost.
    Add to that distribution costs, and paper will become less and less appealing.

    And yet, I’m rather struck with a comment that I think might have come from Ray Rhamey although don’t quote me: that the marketplace appreciates the value of an e-book along with its paper counterpart. In my own instance, until my Kindle sales prove that I’m wasting my time, I’ll continue to offer POD versions of my novels (via my publisher YWO.com/ Lightning Source) as well as e-books. I’m also one of those collectors who, if I’ve found an author I love, will want the print version of their novel, even if I have read it on Kindle. I’ve just discovered the new Georgette Heyer on Kindle, an Australian called Lucinda Brant whose Regency crimances and romances I find a good read. She has MAGNIFICENT covers and I want them all on my bookshelves.

    BUT as a writer, I hate that I have to format differently for the two forms of publication and my cover designer is frustrated that the print covers require such serious measurements and an expanded design. Life on Kindle is so much easier.

    Miriam, great article. I am a love-hater too. Love my Kindle for portability and ease, but love bookshops, libraries and my own bookshelves. I never thought I’d be a Kindle/Amazon devotee, but take my most recent experience. I went to a bookshop over the weekend to look for medieval research titles. First it took me ages to find the historical texts. Next there were only two and the costs were $85 and upward. came home… Came home and went to Amazon, looked up some titles, a polite little message showed me that because I looked at those, I might like these. I went to the ‘Used’ listings and the result is that a box load of desired titles is now winging its way from the UK and the USA. All done from my armchair! In addition, a couple I was able to download to Kindle. I confess I did feel sad for the aforementioned bookshop!

      • Miriam
      • June 28th, 2011

      Yes, I definitely buy books from Amazon more than I do from actual bookshops, but that’s not really on price, just that I don’t have time to go to shops! I have bought a book from the indie bookshop near me, though … partly because I was checking out as I’d like to work there soon as I’m sixteen!

      Around 90% of the books I read are borrowed, either from the library or from family members. The other 10% are presents, books I’ve read before or very occasional purchases 🙂

      For that reason I like paper books. They can be handed around to so many people and you never know quite where it’ll end up. With a Kindle, you can’t ‘lend’ a book unless the other person’s got a Kindle, right? They can’t download it without the hardware. With a paper book, on the other hand, you just hand it to them. They don’t need software for it. They don’t have to download anything. It’s so much easier…

    • I agree, Prue, that there will always be a niche for paper, and that POD may thrive on a small scale for personal gifts, for example. What could be nicer than giving a loved one a “real” book almost no-one else has.

      I think for anyone (like us) targetting commercial fiction readers and still hoping to maybe get a real print run before it’s too late, going POD would be counter-productive.

      No disrespect to POD publishers, but those sales are never likely to be enough to impress a major publisher. Especially now. Substantial e-sales by contrast do carry weight. We were approached by one of the planet’s biggest agencies because of our sales figures, not the quality of our writing. Which is actually very sad.

      For my future non-commercial WIPs I might well for a small POD run on paper for personal distribution, but for sales I’d prefer to rely on e-books still.

  4. Here’s my take…

    The beauty of a paper book is not that it’s a BOOK, but that it’s paper. I feel exactly the same about a beautiful blank journal as I do about a beautiful bound paper book. It’s the PAPER. The smell, the feel, the sound of the pages. It’s not the book.

    I would far rather read a book on my Kindle. Though six months ago you’d never hear me say that.

    I get my paper fix with sketchbooks. I use them to plot my novels. They’re amazing. I love them.

    But I’d rather READ my Kindle. Easier on the eyes. Easier on the wallet. Easier on my storage space.

    • I still carry a paper note pad eveywhere I go and jot down ideas, sketch storylines, etc, but that’s mostly for convenience. I don’t have an iPad and lugging a laptop around in these temperatures is not fun.

      I suspect I will end up reading the paper books I have in front of me for the simple reason they are there and free, and the e-versions are still ridiculously priced.

      The very best thing about the Kindle though is being able to beta read other people’s unpublished works without having to sit at the laptop.

        • Miriam
        • June 28th, 2011

        I always have a notebook – don’t go anywhere without one. I need to make myself a new one though, it’s full up. Those are my duct tape notebooks for anyone wondering … I need to find a new roll of tape!

  5. I am comfortable with the inevitable and I am SO discouraged by the ‘querying process’. I have posted MSs on NaNoWriMo, MacMillan New Writers, and that Amazon New Writers contest, so I am hoping I won’t have too much trouble with the Kindle epub process. I’ve read it through once and am mustering courage.

    • Hi Virginia. Welcome to MWi!

      I love the idea libraries are actually lending e-readers.I don’t think the UK has any comparable development yet (but in six months snce I was there a lot could have changed).

      Kindle epub is pretty straightforward, although if you can afford a one-off format fee then pay someone to do it professionally.

      As for courage – no different from sending it off to an agent. The problem is getting your new e-book noticed by potential buyers. If you can do that, and you have a good book, you’re on to a good thing.

  6. P.S. Some libraries are lending the actual e-readers, some pre-loaded with categories, some you can download on. Cudahy, Wisconsin for one.

  7. Found your comment on the counter-productivity of POD really interesting and intriguing. Expect a post from you to expand on same, please. Before September!
    If not… email!

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