I didn’t grow up surrounded by books, at least not to the degree my children have. (I was, however, given the gift of thousands of hours listening to jazz and classical vinyl played on an audiophile’s system). A bookworm at heart, I was a regular fixture at my local bookmobile. Nothing delighted me more than filling my plastic grocery bag until the handles stretched.
Fast track to the digitization of books. One of the first successful online publishers of ebooks was an erotica publisher. The ebook format was perfect for readers who wanted to be discreet about their reading material. Especially since most bookstores had a limited supply of erotica on the shelves. I had the inside track, thanks to my dear friend romantica/erotica author Cathryn Fox, who was published with Ellora’s Cave as well as most of the major NYC houses years before FIFTY SHADES made its debut.
For various market reasons, other publishers saw the value of a digital press and they began to add these to their enterprises. My critique partner Kelly Boyce, who writes fabulous Western historical romances, sold her debut novel THE OUTLAW BRIDE to Carina press. Her book was only available in digital form. I realized that to read my friends’ books — and stay current with my industry — I needed to buy an e-reader. Two years ago, I asked for one for Christmas. My husband surprised me with an iPad, as he knew it could be a useful tool for when I travel to conferences. So I downloaded the Kindle app, the iBooks app, and the Kobo app, and quickly became a convert to ebooks.
Amazon is an incredibly clever corporation, and even though I knew I was falling prey to the lure of instant gratification with their “one-click” buy button, I couldn’t help myself ☺. I love the option of sampling first chapters, and being able to buy according to mood or need.
In addition to convenience, the beauty of my iPad is that I can turn it horizontally and read with the leather cover acting as a bookstand. This gives a two-page view, just like reading a book. At night, I balance it on my stomach, and I don’t have to hold it. This is important to me, as I suffer from a condition in both shoulders, and holding a heavy book is problematic for me.
For the first year of using my iPad as an e-reader, I loved it. I have a small house, and our bookshelves are always at more than 100% capacity (despite the cleanout I just performed, resulting in five banker boxes of YA books for my local library). I was delighted that I didn’t have all these extra books taking up space.
However, I have recently noticed that my reading habits had seriously declined on the iPad. Having internet and email access temptingly available at the touch of a screen meant that I often would peruse the news, Facebook, and check emails every few pages of a book. It was too much like a computer screen and all my bad internet habits resurfaced.
So this summer, I returned to reading physical books. I started with James Rollins’ BLOODLINE. The book itself is quite lovely: beautiful hardback, nice quality paper, and it has obviously been created with care and elegance. It also has the signature ink illustrations that James Rollins often includes as visual clues to his stories.
I enjoyed that book. And I enjoyed the reading experience. I looked forward to it when I went to bed at night. And I realized that I missed reading physical books. I missed the textured smoothness of paper under my fingers, the crisp pulpy smell of the pages, the heft of a book in my arms. I missed holding my spot with the flyleaf.
I did not miss my iPad (shhh….).
Yesterday, I conducted an extremely impromptu and unscientific poll on my Facebook page to find out whether physical books trumped ebooks for my readers. I was blown away by how many people responded, and by their obvious passion for the written word, whatever the format. They provided thoughtful and thought-provoking responses to the debate that is currently consuming the publishing world.
And now, dear readers, I turn you over to the experts: my dear readers who shared their thoughts in my oh-so-unscientific yet extremely illuminating poll. Here are a few of their comments. (You can read the full post on my page.)
“I need a good ‘tub book’ and for that it must be paper!”
“I…like how the print [of an ebook] can be adjustable for the elderly.”
“I…prefer e-readers for their capability of carrying lots and lots of books.”
“I like the feel of a book in my hands and the simple action of turning the pages, one by one, as the story unfolds.” [As a writer, this comment made my heart smile].
“I collect hardcovers of my favorite authors, the rest – ebooks!”
“…one can’t beat the versatility or convenience of e-books. A library in your pocket!”
“There is no such thing as cuddling up with a good laptop or e-reader.”
“I love to use my iPad to read, especially in bed at night… I don’t need a light on and I am not disturbing my husband.”
The readers who preferred paper books are whom I will coin, “experiential” readers – those who immerse all their senses in the reading experience and describe the pleasure of holding, smelling and cuddling with a book.
I hear you! They also like the fact they can lend their books, read them in the bathtub, and although this wasn’t mentioned, I’m sure enjoy the physical beauty of a book.
The readers who have switched to ebooks cite factors such as:
- availability of titles (especially in rural areas or for new releases that are digital-only)
- privacy (useful if you want to check out Fifty Shades without the entire office watching you)
- convenience (you can take it travelling, commuting and have a variety of titles at your fingertips)
- and price point. Who can forget that e-books are generally less expensive.
- one reader raised the red flag about possible negative health effects of using an e-reader, namely exposure to radiation. I’m not current with that concern, but I have read a few articles about the sleep disorders being triggered by the use of blue light emitting from a screen prior to bedtime. I do think that can be an issue for some people, but from my own experience, my big fear is my iPad falling off my lap and crashing to the floor when I do nod off!
And then there are hybrid users, like myself. People who still love paper, and will buy their favorite authors to keep on the shelf– but buy ebooks to keep the bookshelves under control. Or choose ebooks because they can afford to buy more books if they are in digital form. Or because the convenience of e-readers sometimes overrides the pleasures of paper books. Did I mention that my iPad was extremely useful when we went camping? I could read by the campfire because my screen was backlit, thereby freeing up a flashlight for my kids to use on their own books.
What is interesting to me is that the hybrid user seems to be the most prevalent trend both in my poll on Facebook, and at book clubs where I am a guest. When DAMAGED was first released in June 2010, I can hardly recall anyone who had read the e-version at a book club. But over the course of the past two years, it seemed more readers had switched to e-readers. Most recently, the general consensus at book clubs was that they now use their e-readers for vacation reads.
As a reader, I prefer paper. As the owner of a house bursting with books owned by teenagers who have refused to give up the pleasures of paper books despite the fact they can text at the speed of light, I am thrilled that my children derive so much pleasure from a book. And yet, after cleaning out those bookcases yet again, I value e-readers.
As an author, I get paid roughly the same for either format, so it doesn’t affect my earnings (at this point in time). However, a significant benefit of a paper book for a new author, is that one’s book can be more easily discovered when it sits face out on a bookshelf in a bookstore. I believe I gained many of my readers at retail stores, who saw the cover of my books and decided to give them a try. The vertical Top 100 lists on Amazon are really only helpful for readers to discover a small number of authors.
I have had a few readers attend my signings and almost sheepishly admit they read the e-version of my books. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me whether my readers enjoy my series in paper or on an e-reader. Just as long as they enjoy it. ☺
What do think? Has the pendulum stopped swinging between e-books and paper books? Which format do you prefer?