Yes, yes… I know…
Die-hard readers of printed books argue that there’s nothing to match the “feel” of those real pages. The crunchy noise they make as you turn them, keeping your partner awake in bed beside you and prompting hissed threats of divorce if you don’t keep quiet. The way that books, like bits of toast, always fall on the floor the wrong way and flip closed, losing your place. The comforting weight of a good tome, like carry around a loaf of rye bread in your backpack. Attracting rats and mice.
Don’t forget germs. A good book can cause people to burst into tears. Tears means sniffles, sniffles means snot, and snot means germs — this stuff’s bubbling out of your nose for God’s sake. It’s hardly going to be sterile, is it? The avid reader probably leaves enough germs on a book’s cover to wipe out an entire city with pneumonia.
Still, we’re very sentimental about the printed novel. It’s kind of romantic in a sleeping spouse-enraging, doughy, germ-ridden sort of way.
Okay, to be fair in this digital, piracy-plagued age there’s a lot to be said for a real book. Your average Stephen King-like novel is around 200,000 words. A printed book is a bloody efficient way to store 200K words. It doesn’t need batteries or a power outlet, it won’t break if you drop it, and when someone else wants to borrow your book it means you’ll hand over your copy, which should prompt many people to say, “Piss off, buy your own — you bloody cheapskate.” That’s good for the author’s sales.
But be honest, as much as you’re keen to hang onto the past and bury your face in several pulped trees when you’re reading, have you ever tried an eReader?
They’re awesome. If you consider buying something like a Kindle Paperwhite it’s not like reading from a screen at all. Amazon has gone to great lengths to create an experience akin to reading a printed paper page — without the snot and germs. However, if you want to try ebooks cost-free you don’t need an eReader at all, if you already own some kind of tablet. Free apps will mimic a Kindle perfectly.
Personally, although I own one of the original Kindles, lately I prefer to read books on my iPad using the Kindle app. For a very simple reason — I can set the app to display white text on a black background and read in the complete dark without disturbing my wife in bed… apart from the constant sniffing, burping, farting and yawning of which I’m apparently guilty of (yes me, not her, but I think she’s making it up). The app never forgets what page I’m on — although I often forget what I read the night before — I can increase the size of the text when I’ve been drinking, and being an iPad I can plug in some headphones and listen to soothing book-reading music at the same time (like Nine Inch Nails or Ozzy Osbourne).
Ebooks are generally cheaper, even best-sellers are usually much less in price than the printed versions. There is a wealth of very cheap, “indie” authors’ books, too. In fact, a zillion free books are out there. Okay, not all of them are well-written. In fact, there’s a lot of crap self-published and the good indie authors are the first to acknowledge this, but don’t let that deter you, because there really are some excellent indie authors doing sci-fi, thrillers, horror — it’s not just about romance and erotica like 50 Shades of Grey. Of course, if you are on the look-out for a bit of naughty porn-without-pictures you should find the odd title or two… yes, I’m being sarcastic.
I don’t have to convince you about eReaders. The apps are free, almost every ebook is available in a decent-sized sample that’s free so it’s a “try before you buy” no-risk purchase. In Australia (dunno about anywhere else) you can even borrow ebooks through your local library. For free — it’s a library, right?
Trust me, eReaders in all shapes and sizes are brilliant. What have you got to lose by trying one? Only a couple of hours reading a really good book… maybe even one of mine?
Featured Book, Twice As Dead US$2.99 from Amazon
“The first time anyone encounters a ghost it helps to be wearing some pants. Wearing anything really, but pants is a good start.”
Lukas Boston is a private detective who attracts beautiful women, annoying ghosts and murder investigations no one else will take on. He’s also caught the attention of a sniper, who is getting closer to Lukas with every shot.
Thanks to his grandmother’s gypsy blood, Lukas has the Gift to see the Dead, but the spirit world only brings him trouble. When the spectre of a dead drug courier starts visiting Lukas, it reopens a case involving a long-missing shipment of cocaine. Word gets out on the street that Lukas somehow has fresh clues and suddenly everyone wants Lukas to find the stolen drugs. Some people will pay Lukas very well if he does – and others will kill him, if he doesn’t.
Welcome to the world of Lukas Boston, a place filled with crime, sex, ghosts and Lukas’ very annoyed landlady
By now you should be aware that Amazon have launched the Kindle book reader in Australia. I’ve seen one- it’s pretty neat stuff. I used to be anti-Ebook not because of any kind of traditionalist thing, but because I could see they might cause more problems than advantages. Meaning, they wouldn’t become popular. But after having a Kindle in my hands and- more importantly, knowing how companies like Apple will respond by producing something better -I can now see how EBooks will (in my never-so-humble opinion) eventually take over the book industry… and maybe sooner than you think.
Cost is a dominant factor. At the moment in Australia it costs too much to buy a book (and no, we’re not getting into the Parallel Imports argument here) and to walk into a bookstore and make a choice actually represents a gamble- like, a big decision. No one wants to waste $25.00 or more on a novel that turns into a dud read. With EBooks costing around 75% less per copy, let’s say $6.00 a book, the chances of people risking their money will increase enormously. They’ll gamble six bucks on a new author.
However, here’s the rub. Quality control is a serious problem. You can go a respected Ebook publisher’s site and buy a novel with confidence that some kind of story appraisal and editing process was applied to the book- it was worth publishing. But there’s nothing to stop pretty well anyone “launching” their own supposed best-seller from their own website regardless of how good it is. In other words, the danger of Ebooks will be that the virtual bookshelves of the internet will be flooded with crap books written by bad authors who have no idea of their own lack of talent… and there’s plenty of them.
Okay, right now I sound like a wanker, but as a published author believe me that I’ve been approached by many wanna-be writers with manuscripts that are just awful- yet their owners simply can’t see the faults. They’re blind to their own writing’s failings and, in fact, get outraged when you point them out. I once was asked by a friend to evaluate one of his friend’s MS- a monster manuscript of about 300,000 words (say 600 pages) and the whole things was truly bad, I found it incredible that someone could write so much material and never once get a feeling that it had problems. I politely told this writer his MS was crap and threw it away… not out of spite, but because that’s what you do these days. Nobody returns MS’s anymore- the postage costs more than the reprint. It’s pretty standard practise to safely destroy someone’s print-out rather than mail it back. Next thing you know, this guy tops the list of conspiracy theorists and accuses me of “stealing” his story! What a dickhead. When I explained without the aforementioned politeness that his MS was absolute shit and not worth stealing anyway he still didn’t believe me. It took the intervention of the third party, the person who originally asked me to check out the MS for his “friend”, to get this guy to pull his head in.
He is the sort of person who will find a way to publish his masterpiece of crap as an Ebook and put it out there as a worthwhile read… and what’s to stop him? What will warn you, the book-buyer, that his novel is shit?
Maybe that’s the role of established publishers in the future? (Because they will lose the job of printing and distribution). Publishers will act as a marketing and promotional company as alway- and it’ll be tougher -but their best reputation may lie in providing quality books. Publishers will become the “quality control” filter for Ebooks written by new authors.
Meanwhile, established authors like myself will get to enjoy the best of both worlds for a while.
Soon I’ll be releasing my backlist as Ebooks from my website. There’s more in-depth details about these books on my home website at www.graemehague.com.au . I’ll give away some of them for free- there’s that marketing thing again. I reckon it’s going to be a very, very interesting time over the next few years.
What do you think?