Reconsidering eBooks

last updated: 14 March 2017 (approximate reading time: 6 minutes; 1195 words)

Many readers have a preference for paper books—and as far as is within my control, I will always ensure that my books are available in both formats so the reader can then choose whatever they prefer. But there are good reasons to consider electronic books.

And if you like paper, perhaps I can interest you in going electronic for your fiction reading.

Financial

Let’s start with the really selfish angle. eBooks are better financially for authors.

And not just authors—ebooks are financially better for publishers and (except when publishers are trying to gouge readers for cash) better for readers.

The reasons here are quite simple. On one side you have an electronic file (an ebook) and on the other side there is a physical product. Between publication and reading there are many expenses for the physical product which are simply not present for ebooks.

  • Printing books costs. Each print run costs. There is paper, there is ink, there is the cost of the printing presses, and there is labor. And, of course, the printer has to make a profit.
  • Printed books then have to be shipped (often literally shipped—printing in China is not uncommon) from the printer to the publisher’s warehouse and then the publisher (or their distribution service) send the books to bookstores. All the shipping and freight companies charge. Warehousing books also costs.
  • Once a book reaches a bookstore—after the costs of the publisher, the printer, the warehousing, and the shippers been met—then you’ve got the cost of the store itself. Each store has to pay its rent, taxes, and staff costs (wages, health, social, pension, and so on). And naturally, the bookstore also needs to make a profit.
  • But the expense doesn’t stop there. Paper books are sold on a sale or return basis, so a book can sit on the shelves for several months and then be returned by the store for a full refund from the publisher. Yet more shipping costs…and often, the returned book is in a poor condition (having been on the shelves) so it is then is only good for pulping.

Be under no illusion, this whole process is highly inefficient (that’s part of the reason why Amazon can sell paper books so cheaply) and that inefficiency is paid for by the reader.

In financial terms, by taking out the inefficiency (in other words, by going from print to electronic), authors can make more money and readers pay less. So, in short, if you want to support authors financially, then electronic is the way to go.

But there are other reasons to consider ebooks.

Reading Experience

Some people like paper…I get that, but electronic reading has many advantages that are not available with printed books.

  • Print books need to have legible typography. But what might be legible for one person with good eyesight may be far too small for a reader with poor eyesight. And on the flip, what might be fine for one person may be crazy huge and uncomfortable to read for another.
  • As well as the size of the text, ebooks allow a choice of font. To an extent this is a matter of taste and comfort, but the option to change font can be helpful for people with dyslexia.
  • Staying with people with disabilities, for some people ereading devices (such as the Kindle or an iPad) can be easier to handle than paper books. These devices are (generally) smaller and lighter (but you can choose larger/smaller devices to suit your grip), and there is less necessity for fine motor control—you just tap to change page. In addition, it can be easier to place an ereader on a stand where a paper book needs to be held in place. Even if you don’t have any disabilities, choosing a smaller/lighter device that does not need to be held open at a page can provide a superior holding/reading experience.
  • Perhaps the biggest advantage of ereaders is that you can load (literally) thousands of books onto a device. You can then carry a whole library with you and it will weigh less than a paperback.
  • Another advantage of ebooks is that—with the rise of mobile phones—you can always have your book with you. Sure, your phone may not be the best reading device—but they’re very good and make books and reading ubiquitous. The page reached can then be automagically synchronized back from your phone to your reading device, so you don’t need to worry about a bookmark.

That said, there are some books that are just better in paper format. For instance, you might not want to have an electronic device in the kitchen to view a cookery book and a photography book may not show the images at the right quality (particularly on an eink screen).

Practicalities

There are other practical aspects that make ebooks compelling.

With ebooks, there is a much wider range of titles available than can ever be accessible in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. That entire range of books is accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and can be delivered anywhere there is an internet connection at the click of a button. There’s no waiting and nothing to get lost in the mail. And if your reading device dies/gets lost/gets stolen, you can always download your books again.

Ebooks also make “free” a real option. As you will know, I make my introductory library available for free. This option would be prohibitively expensive if I had to pay to get those books printed and distributed. Beyond that, it’s possible to make meaningful length samples readily available so readers can try before they buy.

Downsides

There are (obviously) downsides to ebooks. For a start, you need a reading device (if you don’t want to use a phone or other device you already own). Potentially this means buying and bringing yet another device into your life, and then this new device will need to be charged. And that’s before we talk about the whole notion of setting up these things…

Passing ebooks between family and friends is a different proposition when compared with paper books. There are some options to share ebooks between members of the same household (Amazon offer something here), but you do lose some ability to pass books to others.

Perhaps the biggest change is more cultural. Ebooks are—in part—leading to a change in the nature of book stores. There is something of a push/pull going on here—it is financially impractical for bookstores to stock niche books and ebooks are introducing many new niches everyday. At the same time, the cost of doing business for bookstores is rising meaning they need to focus on more commercial products (which often have a celebrity’s name on the cover).

The other main change is one of consolidation. Currently there are only four global players in the ebook market. This is unlikely to change.

Time to Reconsider?

eBooks are not without their downsides. And if you don’t like ebooks, then there’s little I can say that will convince you. However, if you’re still a paper book lover, I envy the amount of space you have in your home and hope you might consider ebooks.

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Category: current affairs
Tags: ebooks