Category: ebooks

Kindle Paperwhite: My New eReader and Some More Thoughts on eBooks

Yes, I know. I’ve been a long time iPad owner. So why in the world was I so happy to get a Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday? Why was it even on my wishlist to begin with? If you’re a longtime reader, then you know: I do an awful job of actually reading books on my iPad. I have a terrible attention span, because every time I pick it up, there are so many other things I could do with my iPad–things that don’t include reading. There are sports scores to check, fantasy football trades to be made, games to play, social media apps to browse, news to read . . .

And maybe once I get to it, a book to read too.

I don’t like that. I hated that I wasn’t reading as much as I used to. I’ve been doing some “reading” on audiobook now, and that’s very nice and helpful, but I still wanted to do more with books. The Paperwhite seemed ideal for this. It’s strictly an eReader. It doesn’t do anything else. So when I pick it up, I’ll be reading books on it. End of story.

Why did I choose to go with Amazon? While I think in many ways they’ve been extremely bullyish when it comes to books, as a consumer, I have a hard time looking elsewhere. They’ve got a huge selection, great prices, a super cloud service, integration with Goodreads . . . In the end, you have to look at them and acknowledge that–like it or not–they’re a Force to be Reckoned With. I just went and bought a couple of books, and they were on great sales. It was easy and convenient. They’re delivered automagically to my Kindle.

It’s one thing to be against something in theory. (Though let’s be clear–I have never been a rabid anti-Amazon fellow. I’ve been more of the “I don’t have one, so I suppose it’s okay if you’re upset about them” type when it came to those debates.) It’s quite another to actually start using a product. I haven’t been a book buyer in years. Why? Because I use the library for my reading (hello!), and because all those books take up so much space. Space I just don’t typically want taken up, unless it’s a book I absolutely adore, or one written by a friend. eReaders solve that problem. The books are cheaper, they take no space, and I can read them at night with the light off. đŸ™‚

Bringing books down in cost is something that the more I think about it, the more I think it’s a net win for authors and readers. I don’t mean free. I don’t believe books should be free any more than I believe music or movies should be free. But I will drop $3 on an app if it’s one that looks good or I’ve heard good things about. It’s a low enough cost that you don’t have to debate the purchase. Paperbacks have been cheap like that, but the problem with paperbacks is that I don’t view them as a longterm investment. I buy them, and they might get thrashed. I buy hardcover books when I want something to last, and so those have been the only books I buy. eBooks–easy, cheap, user-friendly–make a consumer like me much more likely to buy books. I don’t have to worry about the cost or them getting thrashed. If it’s a book I end up loving, I can buy a hardcover later on and feel fine about that.

Plus, Amazon’s doing some really attractive things. Things like offering drastically reduced ebook prices for books you already own in print. (It would be even more attractive if it were a free add-on, but maybe I’m getting greedy). They’ll let you buy the audio version of a book for a reduced price, too. That’s something other bookstores can’t compete with.

So how do I reconcile this ease of use and consumer bliss with the other side of the coin? Because I firmly believe brick and mortar bookstores–and libraries–are important and need to have a place at the table. When Amazon becomes the only player in the room, then suddenly it can do whatever it wants. We need competition to keep things honest. Plus, discovery of good quality books gets harder and harder. Case in point: Amazon bills its “Kindle Lending Library” as this big bundle of awesome. Be a Prime subscriber, and you get access to hundreds of thousands of books for free–you can check them out whenever you’d like and return them when you’re done. No overdue fines.

Great, right?

Except when I browsed the offerings, I discovered that they were a swamp of self-published stuff, with no easy way to hack through them to find books I’d actually want to read. Even if the service has a few thousand quality titles, what good are they if you can’t find them?

I realize that there are some very fine self-published books out there. But there are far more–far more–books that are just plain junk. Look at it this way. If I read a book a week (optimistic), and I live to be 75, I’ve only got about 2,000 books left in me. If I read one a month, I’m down to under 500. Why in the world would I want to waste one of those precious slots on something poorly edited, weakly plotted, and just plain boring?

I depend on gatekeepers: recommendations of friends, librarians, agents, publishers. Yes, things like Goodreads can alleviate some of that, but again–it’s all about discovery. There’s something about seeing a book. Browsing through it. Touching it. Something that you miss out on with an all digital experience.

Okay. I realize this post has zigged and zagged between enthusiasm and disdain for eReaders, but that’s likely due to the fact that that’s where we are right now. That no-man’s land where we’re not quite sure where things will end up. It’s made more complicated for me, since I’m there as three different people: Bryce the Reader, Bryce the Author, and Bryce the Librarian. At least I’m not a publisher or agent, right?

Suffice it to say that for today, I’m very happy to have my Kindle. For better or worse, I don’t think Amazon’s going anywhere, and I’m happy to hitch my reading books up to that train. As for the future of books, I suppose we’ll have to all just RAFO: read and find out.

A General Thought: Could EBooks be the Segways of the Literary World?

I remember when the Segway was first announced. A self-balancing, two wheeled vehicle of awesome. It was so cool. It was going to revolutionize the way people walked. The way cities were built. The way public transportation was handled. The sky was the limit, and everyone was going to want one of these puppies.

Bit by bit, the Segway lost some of its cool factor. It was expensive. It became something people might try out on a vacation, for the novelty. And then it fell off even more. People might use them for work purposes, but to casually have one sitting around to use for day to day transportation?

What sort of a person would do that?

And then, television showed us what sort of person would do that:

Gob Bluth

And that’s where the Segway is today, more or less. A run-on gag that isn’t taken seriously, despite the fact that it really is cool when you take a minute to step back and think about it. But in the end, it does something that people figured out just isn’t necessary. Walking works better for most cases, and it’s better for you.

Are ebooks going to be like the Segway?

I’m not trying to say they’re going to become irrelevant and a joke, but the explosion that is the ebook phenomenon seems to be slowing down. Growth went from 165% in 2010 to 117% in 2011 to 41% last year. (See here.) And no matter which way you massage those numbers–taking into account self-published book sales or the like–the slowing of the ebook movement seems to be clear.

And so I ask it–are ebooks going to be like the Segway?

Here’s the thing. I’m a techie. I love me some technology. I’m in front of computer screens all day long. And I enjoy ebooks, but the experience of a physical book really is different. When I’m writing and editing what I’ve written, I print the book out, even though it’s more expensive and (arguably) wastes paper. Why do I do it?

Because it works better.

It’s easier to mark up. It can get wet. I don’t have to worry about it crashing, or running out of battery. It’s just plain better.

I’m not trying to say ebooks are bad at what they do. There are some significant advantages they have over print. They’re lighter. They can be read at night. They’re easy to buy. But like it or not, the experience is different.

Could it be possible that this isn’t a case of CDs vs. MP3s, and that it’s more Analog vs. Digital? Vinyl records present something different than MP3s. There’s a place for both of them at the table, it seems. Could ebooks be the same? Is it crazy to think that all this talk about ebooks slaying print media is setting up a battle that will never be played out?

I don’t think it is. In fact, the more I think about it, the more potential I see for a future that exists with both print and ebooks happily coexisting. And if you don’t see that future, watch a few episodes of Hoarders and get back to me.

People like things. They like objects. Digital books aren’t objects.

I’m not making a full on prediction of the future. Just pointing out some possibilities. What think you of the matter?

Why I’m Giving Up eBooks–For Now

You all know me. You know I’m an author and librarian. To say that books play a significant role in my life would be an understatement. I read, and I read a lot. I read quickly, and I plow through books I love.

Or at least, I used to.

Something’s happened to me for the past few months. Maybe even the past few years. Lately I’ve been looking at my Goodreads account and wondering why it is that I don’t seem to have read as many books as I used to. Am I busier? Well, yes. I’ve got plenty of stuff going on in my life, no doubt. But that’s never made a difference to me before. In high school, I was working twenty hours a week, playing in orchestra, band, county band, dixie band, pit band, taking all AP classes, acting in the school play, playing a ton of video games and STILL reading a slew of books a month.

Reading is a priority for me. So why was it that despite feeling like I was still reading a lot, the actual “reading” part wasn’t happening?

I’ve taken a look around, and I’ve made a few experiments, and I’ve found the culprit: my iPad.

Ever since I got my iPad and started reading books on it, my books per month number has plummeted. It’s not because I don’t love reading. It’s because every time I pick up my iPad, there are so many other things I could be doing on it. Games to play, email to check, Facebook, Twitter, websites, weather, news, movies to watch, music to listen to–oh yeah. And books to read. Not only that, but it sends me notifications when I’m reading. “So and So just posted such and such on Facebook.”

I’m easily distracted. I have a lot of different interests, and I have trouble paying attention to all of them at the same time. And the result is that my iPad has been killing my reading. True story. I’ve stopped reading on it, and started reading those old things called “normal books,” and I’m reading a ton again. It’s made a huge difference, and it’s mainly because when I pick up a book, there’s only one thing I can do with it. (Well, two–if you count squishing spiders, which I do.) I get swept up in the story, and I lose track of time. Everything I’ve always loved about reading.

So will I never return to eBooks? Doubtful. There’s things about an eReader that really appeal to me. The ability to read at night and not bother Denisa. Instantaneous access to books, and no clutter. Also, I’m a technophile, so there’s that, too. But then again, which format to go with? I’m not interested in a Fire at all–I already have a tablet that works great for me. But I’m seriously looking at a Nook or one of the new regular kindles that are lit up. Something that’s exclusively for books. It’s been a while since I was looking for a gadget that had fewer capabilities–on purpose. But I want something that’s eBooks and nothing else. I’ll have to weigh my options.

In the meantime, there’s all these lovely physical pages waiting for me . . .

MP3s, eBooks, and 3D Printers: The Wave of the Future

Jonathan Coulton (famed musician of Thing a Week notoriety) has a fascinating piece up today about scarcity and the future of commerce, essentially. I highly recommend giving it a gander (although fair warning: there’s a bit of salty language in there).

As an author and librarian, this is a subject that is very near and dear to my heart. Books–written information of any sort–have already made the transition into the digital world. Anyone with an eReader and the desire can download books illegally. It isn’t difficult. As more and more eReaders go out into the wild, it’s only a question of time before practically anyone will be able to read any book they want for free–no library involved.

The question, of course, is will they?

I’m not sure they will. Just because something is free doesn’t mean people won’t pay for it anyway. There are plenty of examples of this, from free music over the radio, free television over the airwaves, free water at public drinking fountains, free public sports facilities. MP3s are free these days, but people still pay for them. Why is this?

For one thing, you’ve got what I’ll call the public water fountain effect. Some people just don’t like having or using something they might get germs off of. Yes, MP3s can be downloaded, but many times you might end up with some other nastiness along with the MP3. Viruses, Trojans, Keyloggers–you don’t know where that MP3 has been. I believe there will always be people willing to pay a reasonable amount of money for the assurance that what they’re getting is new, clean, and unspoiled. This is why thrift stores can coexist with high fashion. It’s all clothes, but there’s a different audience for each level.

I also believe that many people are inherently good. When it comes to readers in particular, they develop a strong connection to their favorite authors. They want their authors to keep writing, and they’re willing to pay money for those new shiny books. This is why hardcovers have sold so well over the years. Same information, radically different price point, but people pay extra to read it first. Even if you cut out all the publishers, agents, editors and the like (which you can’t–I’ll get to that in a second), readers will still want new stuff from their favorite authors. Authors who (speaking from experience) can’t afford to write for free. Not at the level fans have come to expect.

And what about those editors, agents, and publishers? I believe that more and more, people will turn to them as the gatekeepers of quality. Not the sole gatekeepers. There will always be breakthrough authors–whether they’re discovered by an editor or by an audience. But quality rises to the top. Inevitably. If you’re writing at a high level of quality, sooner or later, you’ll be found, and you’ll be paid for it. Yes, some people might continue writing books for free, but unless there’s a huge spike in the number of talented, independently wealthy writers out there, you don’t have to worry about that subset of the group.

And it’s important to recognize that authors don’t write in a vacuum. That editors and agents contribute significantly to the process. They earn those paychecks, folks.

So will books become like Legos? Printable and indistinguishable? I don’t think so. They’re not interchangeable. It will be interesting to see what happens as 3D printing takes off. Laws will change. Behavior will change. But there have been imitation products for sale for a long time. Products indistinguishable from the original. People still pay good money for the original. Why? Because. It’s new. It’s real. It’s authentic.

I suppose I’ll end with an observation. A lot of the time in these “what will the future be like” articles (not in Jonathan Coulton’s, mind you), writers focus on one aspect of society, taken to an extreme. I believe society changes and evolves in so many different ways that it’s impossible to predict what will happen. Yes, piracy will increase. But industry will adapt. Laws will adapt. People will adapt. Libraries will adapt. Authors will adapt.

We all change. Change isn’t bad. It’s necessary, even if it can be scary sometimes.


The Library and Publishing Worlds are NOT Disappearing

NOTE: This is another article I originally wrote for my library blog. But since it has so much to do with books, I’m duplicating it here too.

Okay. That’s it. I’ve been hearing more and more doomy, gloomy predictions about libraries and books over the past year or so, and I feel like it’s gotten to the point that I just have to say my own piece. You might disagree with me. That’s okay. I might end up being wrong on this one (I have, actually, been wrong quite a few times in my life), but for better or worse, I need to get this out of me.

Libraries aren’t going anywhere. Books aren’t going anywhere. End of story.

Note: this isn’t to say that libraries and books aren’t changing. They are–quite drastically in some respects. But change does not equal disappearance. But I hear people saying things like all books are going to be free, which would make me lose both of my professions. Self-publishing will eradicate the need to pay for books, so why need libraries? Why need paid authors? Free free free!


First point: libraries are more than books. Libraries are information. The casing of that information may change (scrolls, papyrus, books, ereaders, computers), but the information itself is still there. If librarians are information brokers, and the amount of information is increasing, then why in the world should we be worried about our jobs going anywhere?

Well, one reason is because non-librarians inevitably have this Books=Librarians mindset. And so they see a blow to physical copies of books as a blow to librarians as a profession. It could well be that this mindset will strike a significant blow to librarians for a few years. But I have every confidence that such a blow would be short lived. As soon as everybody’s trying to find all the information that they’ve lost track of, they’ll come running back to librarians, hat in hand.

But wait–what about Google? It finds you everything you might possibly need.


Google does a great job of finding broad information about something. It’s a great phone book and encyclopedia and almanac. But start tracking what you actually use Google for, and how successful or unsuccessful you are with those searches. One of the biggest flaws of Google is that you need to know an information resource exists, or you might well completely miss an important source of information. Let’s say you’re interested in children’s publishing. Allow me to show how such a search might go.

You don’t know a lot about the topic, so you start with “Writing books for kids.” First off, let me remind you that most searchers don’t go beyond the third result in a Google results page. The top three results get 60% of the clicks. The top result gets more than a third, all by its lonesome. So we’ll assume you’re a typical researcher–not a dedicated pro (like, say . . . a librarian). The top three results Google returns are all ads paid for by their sponsors. Let’s hope you’re at least with it enough to know to ignore the ads and go down to actual results. Two are for Amazon books, and one is of questionable merit. (Family-based, clunky website).

You ignore the fantastic–because it’s the ninth result. Only 1.8% of searches get down that far in the results page. So, since you came up empty, you change your search (assuming you’re really dedicated here). “Writing books for children.” is now the fourth result (not counting the three additional ads that popped up first). 7.9% of researchers will click that one. And this is assuming you know what you’re doing and can adequately distinguish the difference between a good website and a bogus one. (Speaking as an information professional, it ain’t always that easy.)

What I mean to say is that you need to do research to find quality sources–even using Google. But most people don’t realize this. They’ll spend hours and hours searching for something that a subject specialist would know off the top of their head. Hours and hours they could have been doing something else. That’s a distinct need, folks. And where there’s a need, there’s a job.

Librarian’s aren’t going anywhere.

What about books? Books are going to become free, right? Anyone can publish one. People will refuse to pay for one. Publishers will go under. Agents will fall. Dogs and cats will start playing in the streets together.

If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you while you’re busy writing your free book.

Again–this isn’t to say that books aren’t going to change. I’m sure they will. But look at the music industry. It was panicked that the entire world would start pirating music. No one would make any money. Mass hysteria! Has that panned out? Not really. In fact, studies show that music pirates actually spend more money on music than non-pirates. Go figure.

People love music. They’ll continue paying to support the thing they love.

Books? People love books. They’ll do the same.

Yes, right now I could just hit a publish button and have every piece of writing I’ve ever done online at once. And many people are doing just that. But the more people who publish all the stuff they’ve written, the harder it is to find the quality stuff you actually want to read. A lot of work and effort goes in to writing and publishing a book. Rounds of edits. Design experience. Bookkeeping. Marketing. Publishers don’t just slap a “for sale” sticker on a book and send it out the door. (At least, not reputable publishers.)

It’s certainly possible that for a few years, everything will Seem Grim. The sky might look like it’s going to fall. But in the end, people will adapt. Change. Authors, publishers, agents–they might not all do the exact same things they do now in the exact same ways, but that’s life.

Anyone who tells you differently–who claims that libraries or books are dying–is probably selling you something. Either they’re making money working the conference circuits and trying to make a name for themselves, or they’re starting their own publishing venture, or they’re trying to drum up business for their own pet project.

Don’t listen to the doom and gloom. Worrying about Everything Changing is just plain silly, because in the end . . . everything changes anyway. Worrying doesn’t do a blessed thing to fix it. Instead, take all that energy you’re devoting to worrying and focus it someplace productive. Figure out what you can do to adapt. If you’re an author, keep writing books. If you’re a librarian, keep up to date on changes in technology. Know the change is coming, and roll with it.

And that’s all the soapbox I’ve got in me today.


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