Monday, August 16, 2010

eBooks the new mass market paperback?

Earlier this month, Dorchester announced that they were no longer going to print paperbacks.  Publisher's Weekly printed something, then the Wall Street Journal printed something because it's a nice hot topic issue.  Over on the blog Pimp My Novel, there was a post about how ebooks are the new mass market paperback.  And I didn't post anything.

I wanted to process this a little bit.  See if there was really anything worth talking about.  Try to figure out what my opinion on ebooks as the new mass markets.

I have these thoughts which are listed in no particular order and may not add up to any particular conclusion:
  • I have purchased ebooks and read them on my computer.  I even read a 200 page novel entirely on an iPod touch (think iPhone but not as fancy).  
  • My last four novel purchases were real books books purchases in brick and mortar bookstores.  three of them were mass market, and one was a trade paperback.  The four purchases before that were real books purchased online.
  • The Wall Street Journal's poll of online readers of the article, broke down roughly into thirds.  478 people (about 33%) bought their last book in "real" format but purchased online.  568 people (39%) bought a real book at a real store.  419 (29%) bought a digital book online.  It's roughly even between the three categories, but when you compare real books to digital, it's 72% real, 29% digital.  (obviously, percentages have been rounded up)
  • I spend a lot of time reading on the computer.  Switching to reading on paper is relaxing.
  • I don't own an e-reader (unless you count the iPod touch), but I've played around with a 6" display Kindle at length and found it aggravating and cheap feeling.
  • I've played around with a Sony e-Reader and found it to be a piece of shit.
  • I've played around with a Nook and found it to be better than the Kindle in terms of both aggravation and feeling of quality, but not enough to make me want to buy one.
  • Last fall I had to read Melville's Bartleby the Scrivner for a class assignment.  The instructor didn't order the text at the bookstore because it was out of copyright and available on Project Gutenberg.  I got to class and the instructor was prophesying about how one day no one's even going to buy text books because we'll all be reading them on computers.  "You can say that," I said, "but once I found out that this was eighty-some pages I went to the library and checked out this." I held up the hardbound copy of Bartleby the Scrivner and Other Short Novels.  The woman sitting next to me had done the exact same thing.  The girl sitting beyond her groaned and said she wished she'd thought to check at the library.
  • I enjoy the ability to flip quickly through books.  To flip back to sections I want/need to reread or to jump forward to see how many pages the chapter or novel has left.  eReaders are not yet fast enough to flip quickly.  They are also extremely inefficient as text books for this reason.  Loading pages takes time.  Finding the page that you typed a note into takes a lot of time.  Grabbing on to the post-it hanging off the side of a page and yanking the book open to that spot takes a second at most.
  • Earlier this summer I listened to a podcast where an established SF/F author was discussing his new publishing venture.  I forget his name.  But essentially, if you paid the fee you received a chapter by email every week for 20 weeks or something like that.  At the end of 20 weeks, the author mailed you a signed copy of the finished novel.  The novels were going to have a print run limited to subscribers.  The author's theory was that physical books, particularly hardcover books, were going to become souvenir of reading much like the t-shirt is a souvenir of the concert.

In the end, I wasn't able to make anything of this information except that eReaders are not yet technically advanced enough to tempt my usage.  (Whether or not the iPad is advanced enough to tempt me is a moot point because it's out of my price range.) And therefore, I won't be buying a Dorchester book for some time.

I did develop one new opinion in the process, but it has nothing to do with prophesying about the future of the book.  What I've come to realize is that ebook-news will always be in the news these days because it's a polarizing topic -- some people get all excited about it and some people get majorly cranky -- it's just like Sarah Palin-news and just as annoying.

Highly Recommended