When RealmShift was first released I was against the idea of ebooks. I wanted to write and sell real books, dead tree books, solid books with pages that get dog-eared from being read over and over again. I love books. I’m a bibliophile of the highest order. As far as I’m concerned, there’s magic in books. Not just in the imagination of the stories or the knowledge contained in the content, but in the very act of being a book. Books are modern day magical items. The more books you have together, the more magic you can feel. You know the feel of your favourite bookstore? The vibe you get in a library? That’s the magic of the existence of books surrounding you. Terry Pratchett gets it – he calls it L-Space, or Library Space, where every book that has ever been written, or not written, exists.
So yeah, I’m a fan of real books. I love it when I sell hard copies of my books. I love opening the book to the title page and signing it for someone, knowing they’re going to take that book home and curl up in a chair to read it, enjoying the feel of the pages against their fingertips. It’ll sit by their chair or bed, then it’ll sit on their bookshelf. Friends and family will look at it, pick it up, read the blurb, say things like, “You’re still reading this shit?”
But all of that is going to become a niche activity.
There will always be a place for real books because there will always be people out there like me that can crap on for two paragraphs, waxing lyrical about them. But ebooks will become the mainstream, and it’ll happen pretty soon. I can’t say, “That’s right, you read it here first” because loads of people are already talking about this.
My own books sell better in Amazon Kindle editions than any other format. The print editions of my books are produced primarily through Print-On-Demand technology. There has been a print run and I do have a few boxes of books at my house, ready to sell to people at conventions or post out when people want or win a signed copy and stuff like that. But more ebooks sell than print books. Not only Amazon Kindle, but multi-format, non-DRM editions through Smashwords.com. And soon, Smashwords will be acting as a distributor for Barnes & Noble, so that means Smashwords editions become available in places like Fictionwise too. My novels are also available as ebooks on DriveThru.com, where you can get both RealmShift and MageSign for US$5 all up. Ebook popularity and sales are skyrocketing.
I recently upgraded my phone plan. I’m currently waiting on delivery of a shiny new iPhone. The reason for this is partly pure geekery, but also convergence. For my life as a writer, martial arts instructor and media whore, I like to have several things around me. I need a phone; my iPod is essential; I like to carry a camera to snap shots for the blog here or to capture images of my dog doing something nuts at the beach; I’m a social media whore, so having access to all those virtual street corners while I’m out is very appealing; having a quality portable video player for martial arts instruction is very useful. Instead of carrying a phone, iPod, camera, laptop and portable DVD player – which is a lot of shit to schlep about – I can get all of the above in an iPhone. Seriously. All of it. That’s some freaky sci fi technology happening right there. But you know what really sold me on the idea? On top of the convergence of all that other stuff? Stanza.
Stanza is an iPhone app that lets you read a variety of ebook formats. With the 32GB iPhone, you can carry an awful lot of music and video and all that stuff, plus a truckload of ebooks. Along with everything else, I’m going to have a variety of reading matter right there in my pocket, all the time.
It’s never going to compare with holding a real book and enjoying that reading experience. But it is going to make it possible for me to read more. I’m going to be able to get cheap or free ebooks and check out authors that I might not otherwise have had the time or money to look into. And imagine the people that are only now just starting to read. My mate’s two year old already handles his iPhone like a pro and she doesn’t read yet. This kind of tech is going to be completely natural to her.
Ebooks and ereaders have got an awfully long way to go yet – we need non-exclusive formats, we need readers that read all formats (Stanza is a bloody good start), we need publishers to stop being dickheads and charging full price for ebooks, and so on and so forth. But here’s my prediction – 99% of the books of the future will be either electronic or Print-On-Demand. Within twenty years or so traditional off-set print runs will be used exclusively for high-end collectors edition books. (I’ll be one of those collectors, natch). And the iPhone will seem archaic. My friend’s two year old will have her funky new tech and she’ll look back on the iPhone with a laugh and say, “I used to play with those when I was a 2 year old!” You know how we look at Pac-Man and Space Invaders arcade machines now? It’ll be like that. And long before that entire shift has occurred, ebooks will become a mainstream media. It’s happening already – I’m just one example. Just like there are still music stores and people still buy CDs, there will still be bookstores and people will still buy books. But like people also buy or steal MP3s, people will also buy or steal ebooks, in massive numbers.
Have a read of this excellent article by author Joe Konrath. He talks about Stanza and the future of ebooks, and he also explains a lot about formats. He and I think very much alike on this subject.
What do you think? Would you ever read an ebook? Before you answer, think back to things you did ten years ago compared to how you do things now. Then leave me a comment – love to hear your thoughts.