Monday, March 30, 2009

Why Ebooks & Ebook Readers Are Here to Stay

In February Amazon launched its new ebook reader, the Kindle 2, at a retail price of $359.00 US. Amazon is betting that even in times of recession, the time is right for this new device.

Amazon has reason to be optimistic. Demand for the first Kindle, launched about 15 months ago, far outstripped supply. Amazon has a library of more than 250,000 kindle books on its site (at least three of them belonging to yours truly). With Google now making available 1.5 million public domain books, almost any book you want is available in electronic format.

But ebooks, as well as online newspapers and magazines, have been around for at least ten years and have remained on the fringes of the publishing industry. What’s different now?

In his article for Computer World entitled “Here comes the e-book Revolution”. Mike Elgan claims that several events will conspire in the next year to create a boom in ebook sales. To briefly summarize:
1. The economy – For a real book lover, an ebook reader pays for itself after the purchase of 20 or 30 books, and then starts saving money.
2. The environment – To many people, the idea of a daily newspaper that gets thrown out every day seems wasteful to the point of decadence.
3. A publishing revolution – People will start self-publishing books, much as they have self-published blogs. Blogs are now common and respected. The publishing industry keeps up or dies.
4. The rise in aggressive ebook marketing – Ebooks will soon be everywhere. Both Amazon and Google have applications that make it possible for people to read ebooks on their phones, particularly the Iphone. And a lot of people like to do everything with their Iphones.
5. A rise in books written for electronic publishing – Ebooks may become shorter, get published much quicker, and be more socially and culturally relevant, especially for young people. Young people will not only be reading ebooks but writing them on electronic devices.
6. The decline of the newspaper industry - Newspapers that embrace e-publishing will survive. Those that don't, won't. According to Elgan, the New York Times could buy every single subscriber of their newspaper a Kindle ebook reader and it would still cost them half of what it currently costs them to print the newspaper in paper for one year.

As a writer with books published in ebook format, I say, bring on the revolution.

If you decide you want to join the revolution, perhaps you’d like an ebook reader. Is the Kindle your only option?

Not at all. There are other models out there. I personally own a Sony E-Reader, the PRS-505SC model. There is now an updated P700BC model available. On my recent vacation, I took my reader with me after having loaded it with 16 free ebooks from Harlequin. My reader is lightweight, about the size of a paperback but only about a ½ inch thick, making it fit easily into my purse. In a week of reading I only had to recharge the batteries once. There is no way I could have fit 16 books into my luggage (I managed to read five). The reader is the perfect traveling companion for a dedicated book worm.

Most ebook readers – including the Kindle, Sony E-Reader, Cybook, ECTACO Jetbook and the Star ebook – cost between $299 and $400 US. Only the eBookwise at $109 to $140 US is less expensive. If you’re thinking of purchasing, keep in mind things like battery run time, file formats that it accepts, and memory, both internal and external. To date the Kindle is the only reader with wireless capability. This means that you do not need to go through a PC or Mac to download a book but can download directly onto the device. For RWA members, check out the article on ebook reader by Christine Kocourek in the January 2009 edition of RWR.

And my fellow Canadians, I’m afraid that the Kindle is only available in the US where the Whispernet technology that runs its wireless capability is available.

If you don’t want to purchase a device dedicated only to reading ebooks, you have the option of using devices that have other functions, such as your Iphone, Palm Pilot or one of the new lightweight mini laptops. My husband recently purchased the mini Acer Aspire. It has plenty of internal memory but can be easily boosted with the insertion of an SD card. It has a built in webcam, wifi, and a decent size keyboard and screen, making it the perfect companion to travel with you across the country or over to the coffee shop.

Have you ever read a book from a reader? Would you consider purchasing one? Do you think ebooks are here to stay? Do you think ebooks will someday replace paper books?


Captain Hook said...

Ebooks are definitely here to stay which disappoints me. I love the feel of a book in my hand.

Would I buy a Kindle/E-Reader? On two conditions. 1) I have the money to spare (don't at the moment. I haven't even bought a book in over a year). And 2) if has a read-aloud voice capability. I am going slowly blind, and by the time Iactually buy one, I'm not going to be able to read it.

But if it somehow has Braille or voice technology, then I probably would.

Silver James said...

Jana, I'm also (or will be once I get my release date) epublished, though my book will also be available in print. I've been watching the debate with an interested eye. I'm old school--well, old actually. I just couldn't see me doing the ereader thing. Then I got to play with a Sony 700. I am in deep lust now. The wifi capabilities of the Kindle do nothing for me and the buttons are in weird places for my hands to feel comfortable with. The Kindle 2 does have speech capabilities but there's a lawsuit pending over the ability to convert text to speech. I figure the Americans With Disabilities Act will kick in before all is said and done. Once that's settled, I'm betting Sony jumps on the TTS bandwagon, too.

As I look at my overflowing bookshelves, I figure I need to go digital sooner than later. I've started saving my pennies. When I take the plunge, I'll go with the Sony.

Karen said...

Hi Jana,
I would hope both are here to stay. I am intrigued by ebook readers because I don't enjoy reading books on my computer but I enjoy the option of reading one on a hand held device. However, nothing brings me comforts quite like a paper book. I would definitely consider purchasing one for reading everything from books to newspapers to magazines.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Captain Hook,
My hope is that eventually ebook readers will come down in price just as Ipods, and cell phones and laptops have. And like cell phones I think they are going to have many more features. Right now there are some legal issues with the Kindle's speech capabilities (see Silver's comment) but I'm guessing that eventually these issues will be worked out and we'll have hand held devices that meet a lot of needs. But first the price has to come down.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Silver,
I felt exactly the same why as you about the ereader even when I was already published as an ebook author. I couldn't see myself liking an ereader over a paper book. Then last year for mother's day my husband bought me the Sony PRS 505 shortly after it became available in Canada. To be honest I really didn't use it much until we went on vacation this past February. It was so easy to use and I was able to take so many books with me. I really loved it, which I have to admit was a big surprise to me. Now if only I had more time to read.

I was on the Sony store website the other day and I saw that they offering PRS 505 owners a way to upgrade to the new 700. I may check it out.

And yes, I know what you mean about overflowing bookshelves. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all of mine either.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
I think you're probably right. There will always be a place for paper books. But I believe ebooks are going to be more and more common and popular as time goes on.

Several different manufacturers are coming out with ebook readers so I think our choices are going to increase in the next couple of years. And like I said to Captain Hook, my hope is that the price comes down to make them more affordable.


ban said...

actually i'm very interested in ebooks and the viewers but it seems there are still too many glitches yet. think i'll wait awhile and let them iron out the wrinkles ... i hate ironing :D

Helena said...

While I am firmly anchored (entrenched? mired?) in the print world, I am definitely intrigued with the idea of ebooks and the ebook readers that are becoming available. So your post today is packed with the kind of detail that I need.

The most relevant info for me is your mini-laptop reference. I have been thinking about getting one for travel. My current laptop is quite heavy, so I don't always take it with me and usually end up regretting that decision. So adding ebooks to the other functions I need, well, the usefulness quotient of the mini just moved up on the scale. I also like the idea of a larger screen than handheld models would have.

I still don't see e-versions of anything totally replacing print. The promise of the paperless society did not come to pass when computers arrived on the scene. But ebooks/newpapers/zines, etc. give us options that we didn't have before, and I'm grateful to have the choices that are now available.

Thanks for the research you've done on this for us, and your personal experience adds tons of credence to the topic.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

I actually had a similar conversation about this with my American Lit class last week. My prof knows a lot about the history of the book, and I agree with what he had to say. He feels that the book, as in the folio/quarto hardback or paperback that we're used to, is sort of like the pencil. Other writing impliments have come along, other ways of producing text have made things more efficient, but none of it has replaced your basic pencil. I think ebooks will remain in some format or another (like laserdiscs, dvds, blueray, etc) but I don't think it will replace the paperback entirely.

For myself, I have a few issues with ebooks, at least currently. I don't like the mark up my books, but I can see the downside of having no ability to make notes or underline. More importantly though, there are restrictions that come with owning an ebook that don't come with buying a hard copy. The book doesn't entirely become yours, it's more like you get a license to read it. You don't need lengthy terms of use to agree to buy a paperback. You can lend it to friends, sell it used when you're done with it. Ebooks restrict all those things. I gather you can lend kindle ebooks, but only to a restricted number of friends sharing your account.

In that respect, ebooks (and I'm speaking specifically of copies on ereaders, as I know less about restrictions of simple downloaded pdfs, etc) are not the same thing as a hard copy, so I think until that changes, the different formats will be necessary to meet readers' varying needs.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, excellent post.

Many of you know I have an iPod Touch filled with eBooks since I've blogged about it so much. Due to it's small size, I'd switch to an actual eBook reader if I had the funds but since I don't, my first choice is still print books followed by the iPod. Like many others, I just can't get comfy reading on my laptop.

Yes, I believe ebooks are here to stay for the cost saving feature and envirnmental health issues alone. And the portability when travelling. I love that feature! Oh - and I can read in the dark without a flashlight! Oh and ... :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi ban,
I hate ironing too :)
If big name companies like Sony and Amazon decide there is a market for ereaders, they are going to keep investing money in them. That should mean the readers will because better and cheaper. At least I hope so.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
I quite like my husband's little mini laptop. Compared to my laptop it is much, much lighter. On our last trip we took my reader and his mini laptop. They were very easy traveling companions.

While the screen on the Acer Aspire is somewhat bigger than my reader's it's not huge, so if that's an issue for you, you need to take that into consideration. But the upside is you can read a book on it, check your email, or write your novel. It's versatile. By the way, I would pair any laptop with a wireless mouse. I love mine because I really hate those stupid touch pads.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Hayley,
I have heard your professor's argument before. Often the comparision between Ipods and ereaders are made, but it's not the same. The way we listen to music has changed radically over the years. Each invention - from vinyl, to 8 tracks, to cassettes and then CDs - gets a little better in quality, is more portable, and more fun. So when Ipods came around, people were ready to embrace them because they were better than what came before.

Ereaders don't have that. There hasn't been that burning desire for something better because what we had, the book, worked perfectly well. That's what held back electronic publishing for a long time. But I think it's starting to change for some of the reasons I mentioned in my post.

I'm not sure what you mean by a download not really belonging to you. If you were to go to my publisher and buy one of my books, the download you receive, in whatever format you request, is yours, forever, to do with as you like.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
Yes, I love the portability feature too. One thing I've found however, is that it is really easy to buy more books, even worse than going to my favorite bookstore. All you have to do is press the little shopping cart and presto! you have another book! Very additive.


Erika said...

I have never tried an ebook and to be honest I don't know if I will. I don't mind paying $5.99-$7.99 for a paperback and more for a hardback of a favorite author. I read my books over and over again or turn them into a used book store for trade credit. I've read The Horse Whisperer (Nicholas Evans) more times than I can count, same goes with The List (Steve Martini). I've had to buy multiple copies of The List because I wear out the paperbacks. I just like the feel of a book in my hands. I know one person who owns a Kindle and she loves it, maybe one day, but not any day soon.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Erica,
There is something special about the smell and feel of a book. I don't think that will ever change. I just think that in the not too distint future there will be a place for ebooks and ebook readers just as there is for print books.


Dan said...

If you sell information that is "How to" in nature, ebooks are a fabulous way to go. I sell a large portion of my non-fiction ebooks to international readers. These customers haven't the budget for, access to, or interest in all those ebook reader gadgets that seem to appear on the scene overnight and disappear the next night. I wouldn't say that ebooks are on the fringe. I'd say they are extremely popular in many markets. It's just the mass media, so overly invested in the traditional print model, are pretty quiet on the subject. I sell lots of my own self-published ebooks every week in plain old pdf file format. If people want to hold it in their hands, they print it out on their printer. Easy peasy.

Janet C. said...

Wow, great topic, Jana! And lots of interesting information in the comments section, too.

I would love an e-reader. And when Lesley should be hers, well, I really wanted one, then. But, the laptop is getting old, so I think my $$ will be going toward a new one of those first (and the little laptops are definitely intriguing). Then, maybe I'll get a reader (hopefully when they come down in price).

It's interesting to read how many agents have jumped on the e-reader bandwagon - using their e-reader for submission reading anywhere. And I do think e-books are here to stay, but nothing will take the place, in my heart, of a real book. You said it yourself, Jana - the smell, the feel. I love walking into a library - or bookstore - and just breathing in books.

OK, enough waxing of the poetic. Again, great post. Now, back to work for me so I can afford one of those e-readers sooner rather than later :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Dan,
Thanks for joining us.

Your situation shows that there already is a thriving market for electronic books. Personally I don't mind reading from my laptop and obviously neither do your clients. But I hear from people who don't want to read for pleasure on their computers.

You bring up a point about the way electronics come and go. As we speak I've got unused or broken CD players, MP3 players and other miscellaneous electronics lying around my house. Either they don't last or something better replaces it. I hate to think that is going to happen with my reader but it probably will.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
E-publishing is close to my heart. I want the quality to be high in both books and readers, and I want people to be able to afford both. A lot of people like you would love to have a reader, probably not to do all your reading with, but as a welcome addition. But until the prices come down its not going to happen. Let's hope things change.


AK Willett said...

I would love to have a Kindle, but they are too expensive right now. I do have a few books on my Ipod Touch, but the selection is still limited in the Itunes app store.

Ultimately, though, I prefer holding and turning the pages of an actual book.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hello, AK Willett. I also have an iPod Touch and can access many more bookstores than what is available through iTunes.

However, you do need to download the eBook readers through iTunes.

For example, using the eReader from iTunes, I can go to many ebook stores like the eHarlequin one and purchase any book. Within seconds, it's on my Touch.

I've posted a review on the 2 eBook readers on my Touch here:

I hope I've helped you a bit and thanks for visiting with us.

AK Willett said...

Thanks Anita!

I also just discovered, as I was perusing the app store yesterday, that there is now a Kindle app for the Ipod Touch. It is AWESOME! Between it and the eReader, I am a very happy girl right now :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

AK Willet - there's a kindle app for the Touch? That's fantastc! Amazon is giving away a free eBook to anyone with a Kindle. I'm going to check it out...