As an independent author, it’s probably a foregone conclusion that I love ebooks. They’ve created a market that didn’t exist before, giving self-publishing writers a feasible way to release their books affordably and reach their audiences. Every review of Mutt published so far has been written by someone reading the ebook. The digital medium has also given me cause to rethink story structure entirely; my next series after the Rittenhouse Saga will likely be a sequence of very short (30-40,000-word) novels released biannually at a $2.99 price point.
It may surprise you to learn I don’t actually read ebooks.
Well, that isn’t entirely true. I’m presently making my way through a Poetry Magazine anthology on my phone’s Kindle reader. I also use it for a lot of nonfiction reading, as it’s easier to annotate and reference texts than in print. But I don’t own a dedicated e-reader, and I’m still reading fiction almost exclusively via dead-tree books.
After getting all those books yesterday, I had immediate buyer’s remorse—not at my selections but at the medium in which I’d purchased them. In addition to all the benefits I see from the perspective of a content creator, idea of an e-reader appeals to me from the customer end because it’s a way to consolidate my physical possessions. So should I just put down the $99 for a Kindle, return the paperbacks, and get the same books digitally?
For one thing, I did some comparative shopping and found that the subtotal for the four books would only have been $1 less than the cost of the print versions. Graceling was a bit cheaper; American Gods was inexplicably more for the ebook than the 500-page print version. And in addition, while American Gods and Neuromancer were mass-market paperbacks, both Graceling and Paper Towns were inexpensive trades. The money a publisher saves on ebooks versus print (and trust me, the claim that that cost difference is negligible is a myth) should reflect in retail. If we indies can manage to offer deep discounts on our ebooks, the major houses should be able to afford a discount of at least a dollar versus the cheapest print version of the same book, especially for a book like Neuromancer that’s been on the market for decades.
I’m also concerned by how digital media is redefining the idea of ownership. When I buy a print book, I obtain a physical item that is irrevocably my possession. When I buy an ebook, I’m actually only licensing that data on a limited and reversible basis. I read a story a month or two ago (link when I find it again) that a man whose Amazon account was deleted, Kindle library and all, on a rather ludicrous suspicion that someone had been trying to illegally access the account. When the man’s ebooks were ultimately replaced, he had lost years’ worth of annotations. This sort of thing is obviously very rare, and I don’t really have a legitimate fear of it happening to me if I buy a Kindle, but it does underscore the fact that in the digital world, “ownership” can always be reversed.
(A sidenote: if you ever lose access to a purchased copy of one of my books for any reason, please just let me know. As long as I control the rights to my work, I’ll happily replace anything lost due to a hard drive crash, a car running over your e-reader, etc. )
One thing is for certain: if I do by a Kindle (and it will likely be a Kindle, if only because Amazon’s royalties to writers are slightly better than B&N’s), I’m going to avoid the 3G model. Connecting the device to my computer for ebook purchases may be inconvenient, but it also ensure that I more frequently consider buying from vendors like Smashwords. I do love Amazon, given that they’re the ones who opened the ebook market up in the first place, but I never want to become so attached to one outlet that I don’t shop around.
I’d love to hear some thoughts on this one, both from writers and readers. Does the idea of ownership vs. licensing matter to you? How have people’s transitions to the ebook medium gone so far?