Monday, December 19, 2005

E-Book vs Paper: Which Will Win?

Interested in reading BLOODY MARY, but you're super cheap?

Visit on December 23rd, and you'll be able to download the entire book for free.

How does it work?
  1. Visit
  2. Fill in some basic info (they ask for a credit card, which is used as an unlock code to open the ebook--no charges are made to your card)
  3. Download free eReader software to read the book (many different platforms available, for PCs, Macs, phones, TabletPCs, etc)
  4. Download free book
  5. Open eReader, open book (using your unlock code) and read

It's a clever little gadget. The text is pleasing and easy to read, and there are some cool features. I've never read an entire book on a computer, but this seems like a painless way to do so. I was leery about giving them a credit card number, but my publisher set up this promotion, so the whole thing is legitimate. The unlock code makes it impossible to share the book with others, preventing file swapping and copying, which is a clever way to protect copyright.

But the big question is: Is this the future of books?

I've thought it over, and have come up with a list of pros and cons.


COST - E-books are cheaper that print books.
SPEED OF PURCHASE - E-books can be downloaded instantly.
SPACE - Hundreds of E-books can be saved on a device the size of a single hardcover.
PORTABILITY - You can't carry a thousand print books around with you, but you can carry a laptop, tablet, or phone.
POTENTIAL - As E-Books evolve, expect pictures, sound FX, internet connectivity, and other cool things to enhance the reading experience.
ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY - No dead trees or harmful pollutants.


COLLECTIBILITY - People like to amass books (and author signatures.)
FEEL - The tactile pleasure of flipping pages is hard to beat electronically.
WORRY - If you drop you book in the bathtub, leave it on the bus, or set it on fire, it's no big loss. Dropping an E-Book would be bad.
LENDING - Lending books is fun, and many people do it religiously.
BROWSING - Going to libraries or bookstores is an event, surfing a website for dowloads is not.
SIMPLICITY - You don't need batteries, or an expensive gadget. You can read a book anywhere, anytime.
GIFTS - Have you ever bought a download for someone you love? Me neither.
READING TO CHILDREN - The bedtime story would be tough to do in front of a PC.

I don't fear that print books will disappear within my lifetime. While electronic reading will grow in popularity--I do more reading on my computer than I do in print, thanks to the Internet--it hasn't reached the point where it is superior to print books.

A song is a product. It can be delivered to a customer on vinyl, cassette, reel to reel, 8 track, CD, MP3, WMA download, and played on a Walkman, and Ipod, a computer, a record player, a home entertainment system, etc.

A book is a product. But for hundred of years, it could only be delivered to a customer as... a book. The product and the method of delivery were the same.

The electronic age brings a new method of delivery. With music or film, the delivery methods have continued to improve in quality, speed, and convenience.

But watching a movie or listening to music are passive activities. Reading is active. It involves not only involvement with the story, but also with the medium in which the story is presented. Holding a book, reading at your speed, skipping sections, rereading favorite parts, putting it down and picking it up, pausing to reflect, imagining the scene, pretending you're the main character, reading the ending first--these are the pleasures of reading that go beyond the product of written words.

Until technology advances to the point where the delivery system allows for the same experience, print books will remain the prefered method of delivery.


Jenni said...

I can't imagine a world without printed books...

HawkOwl said...

I think I enjoy the physical presence of the book more than the actual reading. Otherwise, why have I never ever read an e-book? I can't even stand to read my own works on a screen. Or is it that I just can't stand to read my own works? :LOL:

Motherhood for the Weak said...

One benefit of ebooks that you didn't mention, they're handicap accessible.

Don't need full use of the hands.

People with chronic neck pain, like me, can remain in a neutral, pain free posture and read.


Jude Hardin said...

I agree with Joe. E-books will never replace printed ones, because the reading experiences are completely different.

I can imagine, however, that print-on-demand technology might eventually overtake traditional typeset. I can envision home POD systems, where a bound copy is delivered instantly over the internet. This would provide the best of both worlds, and economically it would allow the big publishing houses to take more chances on new authors.

Adam Hurtubise said...

I know people who swear by e-books, but I can't do e-books. I have to hold the book in my hand. It's part of the experience. Reading characters on a computer screen is too much like work.

Even when I work on my own stuff, I work from printed MS pages and edit with a pen.


Jeff said...

I prefer printed books. :)

Bob Farley said...

I have been an advocate of electronic books for a long time. I have a bunch, and I have given a few as gifts, even my own.

I once worried about the permanence of ebooks. What if they drop the Big One? Where will I get batteries for my reader or electricity for my laptop? And then I figured if they did drop the Big One, reading a story book won't be high on my list of priorities. I'll be able to wait till things are back to normal and I'm able to turn on my device again. In the meantime, I'll be looking for firewood to cook my rat meat and cockroach goulash.

Printed books burn. They take up space and become relegated to the Goodwill store when I decide I'm not going to read one again and I'm tired of dusting it. However, printed books survive a coffee spill better than a PDA or reader device. They're about equal in the fire category.

Of course, there are collector editions and signed copies and the like that I'd keep, and yes, I do like curling up with a book. However, I'm just as able to curl up with my PDA, and I don't need a light bulb using up oil-and-gas-produced electricity to read it. Plus, on a disk a little bigger than my thumb nail, I've got a gigabyte of space, enough for hundreds of books. All I have to have is a plug-in to recharge the PDA every three hours.

Many more generations will have to pass before printed books become the second choice after an ebook. And while I don't foresee a world without books, I agree with ELP that someday we might reverence them more, like the blade of grass: "There behind the glass is a real blade of grass. Be careful as you pass. Move along, move along."

JA Konrath said...

Losing ebooks to a poer failure or equipment malfunction isn't really a problem---the places you download from often allow you to downlaod as many times as you want.

I have a few ebooks that I bought through Amazon. They have a file locker' that you can access any time, downloading yourpurchases.

Mindy Tarquini said...

Is it me, or are publishers using teenier and teenier fonts? I appreciate saving trees and need to make a profit issue, but I have this image of the over 40's of the world giving up and becoming addicted to Sci-Fi channel.

Much as I love sitting in the bathtub with a good book (impossible with an e-reader), I have to admit that many times I've appreciated being able to enlarge the print size.

Unknown said...

I love amassing books. And, as you wrote, I am a fervent book-lender. And nothing beats 4 hours in a B+N flipping through those wonderful tomes of all sizes and shapes.

eBooks are interesting, but I don't think I could ever handle the shift.

However I WILL be getting that copy of your book, I'm super-excited to read some of your stuff after hearing so much about you.


Jim said...

Joe, since I've been accused as being as sharp as a bowling ball, maybe your could explain to me the reason behind giving away a book for free electronically. What's the promostion aspect of that?

JA Konrath said...

If I were stinking rich, I'd buy 50,000 copies of my books and give them all away.

Free books are the best way to hook new readers, who will buy later titles.

In the case of, their free book promo helps me out by strengthening name recognition, soliciting new fans, and advertising my brand.

It helps them out by drawing people to their website, where after reading a free book they will hopefully buy a ebook.

It's the same reason crack dealers often give out the first smoke for free---once you try it, you become a paying customer.

emeraldcite said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
emeraldcite said...

I don't have to worry about the hard drive crashing . . . changing to another computer . . . or the security system locking me out of my book (this happened to me with MS Reader).

I love mp3s, but I still buy the albums and rip them myself. I've purchased a few songs online and moved them to a new computer. I've tried several times to do the verification process for them, but they keep coming up as an error. It's not worth it to keep contacting them with the problem so I can listen to the songs.

Until some of the piracy issues and verification issues are hammered out, I'm a bit skeptical about anything with rights control in the hands of a third party.

Maybe that boils down to my control issues. I think e-texts are interesting and occasionally I read some public domain material on the Gutenberg Project, but I don't find it as enticing. I think there's potential with interactive texts...that I might like to see.

Jude Hardin said...


Your comment about crack cocaine hit home. You wouldn't believe how addictive that drug is. I work in a major inner city hospital (like the show ER only worse), and I've seen first-hand how that particular drug can ruin lives.

I'm thinking about my next mystery plot, having it revolve around an addict who kills to obtain the drug (not as uncommon as you might think). Any suggestions on how to not sound preachy as I outline the treacherous nature of this subject?

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I freakin' hate ebooks.

Dean said...

At some point, somebody will come up with something that is actually better than a paper book, a thin, flexible reader that will hold thousands of texts.

Until then, paper books will continue, and until then, ebooks come in a distant second to them.

Jeff Savage said...

Not sure the question is whether or not e-books will replace printed books, but how they will fit into the current spectrum..

If it were all about price and portability, paperbacks would have knocked off hardbacks long ago. Likewise, if it were all about quality and durability no one would buy the paperbacks.

I don't think e-books are going away. I've got about a dozen e-books on my PDA, along with various reference books, scriptures, etc. I've also got games, music, and work documents on my PDA. I can access any of them any time I want. The PDA goes for a week or more without a recharge, it has a light up screen for reading at night or in shadows. Let's face it, it's darn convenient.

But is it going to replace my printed books? Never. For all the reasons you mention.

I buy hardbacks because I like the author, don't want to wait for the PB, have a collection, etc.

I buy paperbacks because they are cheap, I can stick one in the back pocket of my jeans, I want to try out a new author, or because I'm wandering a bookstore and that's what they have.

I think e-books are going to drop in right behind paperbacks. Cheaper, buy any time you want, convenient. And most of all, they are a great way to try out new authors. Think of them kind of as a coupon to introduce you to the new sushi place down the street.

Also I'm with Joe 100% on the giveaway aspect. Unless you are a one hit wonder, it's not about how many sales you lose on this book. It's about what Stephen King calls "constant reader."

I'll gladly give out 50,000 free copies of book 2 to increase sales of books 3 and up by 5,000. And if 1 in 10 people who try your book don't think you're worth another read, you have bigger problems than free books.

Confessions of a Starving Mystery Writer said...

It has been predicted for the last sixty years that first TV, then video, DVD, cable, satellite TV, and now the internet will kill off the movie theater. It hasn't happened.

E-Books will enhance but not supplant the printed word. Those authors that embrace new mediums and distribution methods will lead. Those that don't may be left behind.