Ebooks: Boon or Doom

I got a droid razor this past Christmas. It came with a kindle app. I read my first ebook on it this past January. Overall, I found the experience quite positive. The small screen made the text manageable so you weren’t constantly twisting your head to read across a giant computer monitor–which is the biggest difficulty with reading anything on-line. There is less back light too, so there is less strain on the eyes. It’s easy to look up the definition of words you don’t know by just tapping the screen. Flipping through pages is easy too, just flick your finger–there’s no wrestling to separate two thin sheets that cling together, or anything like that; although, the first few times I used it, I sometimes flicked when I wanted to tap, or vice versa. I also had difficulty downloading an ebook from a site I encountered on my desktop. But after a few false starts, I figured that out too. Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. I was expecting a host of problems which never materialized, from eyestrain to who knows what. Obviously, ebooks are here to stay.

 

Still, I have several issues and concerns. I am an author who has recently published a vampire book, so realize I am coming at the issue from that angle. I have a vested financial interest in how things play out.

 

There is a preponderance of free ebooks available on the Internet, now, and I’m not sure that is good thing. Granted, it can be used as a marketing technique to get exposure for your writing, but it takes around a year (give or take) to write a single book. All that effort is then encapsulated in a document that, when in digital form, can be downloaded and copied in an instant. In the beginning, there was an attempt to keep copying books to a minimum with a special license that granted only a single copy per consumer. But apparently that too, is changing. Think about debunked myths 3 and 4 (on the linked to page). These two issues feedback on each other. If your book is free and you are releasing it only to get exposure, those two factors (ebooks can now be shared, and they can be checked out of a library) are great. Opportunities for exposure are increased many times. However, if you are expecting to make a monetary reward, or, god-forbid, support yourself with your writing, you may only be doing long-term damage to yourself (and to other authors). You don’t want your book to be copied for free and distributed easily by a library when you are supposed to be making money off of sales. The two stages of the author (beginner and established) are in direct opposition here. The beginners are flooding the market with free ebooks which have a vested interest in being self-replicating. The established authors are simply trying to survive by making sales, so they have a vested interest in maximizing cost for every copy. Who will win? I don’t like it, but I suspect the beginning authors are going to drive the established authors out of business (with, perhaps, a few exceptions). To further support my point, consider the following: the bulk of book consumers can read well, but do not constitute literary professionals. They can’t tell the difference between mass market literature and classic literature (or at least, not to the degree a literary professional can). As a result, there is a large group of readers who will have very little reason to “purchase” anything but a free ebook ever again. And who can blame them? If by reading, at no cost, the “Adventures of the Newbie Writer,” they get 90% of the enjoyment they would get from reading Mark Twain or his modern equivalent for $6… why buy Mark Twain?

 

Time will tell, if the ebook is a boon or curse to authors, but, historically, technology has a tendency to “obsoletize” certain professions, so I am anxious for the future of authors everywhere.

 

Now, having written all that, I’m debating if I want to be a complete hypocrite and set up a coupon to give my ebook away for free… In the meantime, the Grim Reaper is lurking over my shoulder (or is it the Scythe-Bearer?).

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About atoasttodragons

The author, Matthew D. Ryan, lives in northern New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, one of the largest lakes in the continental United States, famous for the Battle of Plattsburgh and the ever-elusive Lake Champlain Monster, a beastie more commonly referred to as Champy. Matthew has studied philosophy, mathematics, and computer science in the academic world. He has earned a black belt in martial arts.

2 responses to “Ebooks: Boon or Doom”

  1. graemedavis says :

    Some interesting points here. Writers and storytellers have survived many changes, and I think the fiction writing profession will survive this latest change. However, there’s no doubt that e-books – especially free e-books – are a force for instability that is going to take some figuring out.

    A few months ago I blogged on a different challenge that writers face from e-publishing: how to rise above the predicted “tsunami of crap” and get your work noticed without spending more time on marketing than on writing. You can find it here: http://graemedavis.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/lets-put-the-show-on-right-here/ I don’t know that I came up with any answers, but pondering the nature of the problem must at least be a step towards addressing it.

  2. squigamunk says :

    Excellent post, but I would like to point out one thing I disagree with. You seem to imply that getting ebooks through the library will harm a writer, as they will not be making money off of those “free” ebooks. The way ebooks work with libraries is the ebook itself is timed-you have to finish it before it is due, or it will vanish (basically). But, if you’ve only gotten a few chapters in and liked it, why go to the library again when you can just buy it online?

    My point is that people are more likely to purchase books they already know they like. With print books, if they liked it they’ll buy their own. I don’t see it being any different with ebooks. Libraries are just another form of advertising!

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