Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My Name is Bill and I Am An e-Books reader

It sounds like I’m joining AA but I find that I am still considered to be a strange lot to a number of people that view reading a book on an iPhone crazy, and reading on a tablet or Kindle fairly deficient.  In 2008 I was diagnosed with a form of cancer called Multiple Myeloma and my mother bought me a Kindle to make it easier to read in the hospital without worrying about finishing a book and needing another.  This is an important part of my post but I’ll revert back to that later.  The hard and paper cover stalwarts talk of the tangibility of a true book, the smell of a library book, the dust from an old book and these are all things that cannot be replicated with an e-book.  And they would be correct.  The first few months I read my kindle I would softly touch my thumb to tongue to turn the page, um, I mean, press the button.  I would laugh at myself in bed doing this, but now I had the experience of reading a book that was always the same size, always the same weight and I always knew how it would feel when I fell asleep and the Kindle hit me in the face.  The difference between Heinlein’s paperback of Starship Troopers and King’s hardback of The Stand is noticeable when balanced precariously upon a pillow as you’re laying down in bed reading.  The Stand is a big hit - literally.

Which brings me back to that “tangibility”.  When I finished a book I would go to Barnes & Noble and search.  I would find things on the end-cap or find books I had wanted to read that were now in hardback sales because they didn’t sell out and were reduced to $9.99 (depending upon the author it could be $4.99 or $14.99 but it was discounted and hit my price point!)  These books were purchased with the understanding that they would 1) hopefully be a good read and 2) I would have room to store them as I NEVER got rid of a book (until I got married, it wasn’t the wife, just sheer lack of space and kids!)  So knowing you were going to read the book and had spent a significant amount of time looking for the book, there were obviously some major pitfalls:

The book stinks - I can honestly say, in my years of reading, “real” books (unlike those accursed fake digital things :) I think I only put down, stopped reading, one book.  I think it was Silmarillion (Tolkein) as it was just too much to take in.  I will also say in my e-book reading days I’ve only put down two and one of them was because I hadn’t realized I had downloaded a free kindle e-book which was basically a soft-porn novel and wasn’t really what I was looking for at the time.  For full disclosure, there have been other, similar novels I did finish! 

The Cost - You weigh a variety of issues when in Barnes & Noble and deciding on your book purchase.  How much crap are you carrying already, how much time do you have to read, but most importantly, how much are you willing to spend being in full realization of the potential for the first point above (it could stink!).  There could be a very legitimate reason why that author/book is on sale.  Or, If you buy 4 books at $7.95 (paperback only guys, and pre-2008 prices) you’re in the almost $40 with tax which, at the time, was potentially 8 Guinness at the pub.  Oh the decisions we must weigh….

The Author and the Series - It’s very easy to get in an author rut.  That can be a good thing as Stephen King and Terry Goodkind kept me involved for many years.  But trying a new author (see first two items above) was a commitment, both price and storage.  You are taking home a piece of the author, their work in hard, tangible form.  What’s worse, you picked up book 2 - what do you do now?!?  You can’t read book 2 till you read book 1, which isn’t available at B&N or wasn’t on sale.  I picked up this book, on sale at B&N, called Manifold: Space by Stephen Baxter and though it was a long story, it was a great read and discussed the physics of space travel and time.  Years later, I got a Kindle e-book named Manifold: Time.  Part way into the book I realized some of this sounded familiar.  I have numerous book cases in my apartment and had to dig through many of those and boxes to find this first book.  Manifold: Space was book 2 where Manifold: Time was book 1 - I didn’t read them in order and wish I had.  It was on my to-do list but I still haven’t purchased the Kindle editions so that I can read them appropriately, in order.  It will stay on my to-do list as there was a plethora of new authors that were giving their books for free a few weeks ago so I’m stocked up for now!  Finding the author you want, and not getting out of that rut; and finding the series, in proper order, made shopping at B&N, or anywhere, a pain.  If you have kids in tow, you were down to two selections at best, along with three read-along books from the second floor at B&N Union Square before you had to get out of there so the kids wouldn’t explode in public!

There are numerous other reasons but the biggest issue I ever had with reading was getting the book you wanted when you wanted it.  I did enjoy the tactile changing of the pages and the smell of an old book that’s been stored for many years.  But folks, I drank the Kool-Aid on the e-book revolution.  I have a good friend of mine, Mike Malone, rugby buddy and PUBLISHED author who came out with his book a few years ago, a lot of which referenced our rugby team.  This is a good friend, but I drank the Kook-Aid so much that I didn’t read his book till it came out for the Kindle and I explained my dilemma to him at that time.  I love the fact that I can read my iPad before bed and then read my iPhone on the subway - just be sure to open the Kindle app prior to getting on the subway so you pick up at the right place.  I would NEVER carry a book to work - I have enough stuff to carry, but now I can read on the go when and where I want.  But let me ask you a question, oh patient reader, and please set the time machine back to a pre-2008 time frame when answering this question.  How many authors are you, or have you, been in touch with?  And I mean this outside of a book signing.  Let’s see by a show of hands, and using the beauty of imagination, imagine a full room with only a few hands, if any, raised.

The Kindle opened my eyes and let me keep my wallet confidently closed, or at least opened no more than a quick smirk.  THEY HAD FREE BOOKS - and not all of them were soft porn!  I mean, FREE BOOKS.  But then I started finding books that were $.99 or $2.99 - that is a significant difference from $7.95 price point I was paying before.  Even the “real” authors, authors who were published by a real publishing company, could be purchased for a reasonable price.  But you know what?  There were some new authors that had really cool stuff.  And you could get into a series and immediately get to the next book with a relatively simple process and “1-click” purchasing.  I would plow through a series about dragons from Naomi Novik or venture down the Spinward Fringe by Ralph LaLonde.  There was a very tame but very well written enigma I also found called the Solar Clipper Tales.  Every book in the series was available as audio book but I had to wait years to get the books on my Kindle (Nathan Lowell).  I was starting to really enjoy finding new authors.  Amazon’s recommendations were unfortunately shyte, but it gave me covers to look at and then reviews to try and understand that would help me find who would be occupying my time for the next few weeks.  It was either Steve Karmazenuk or Evan Currie who became the first author with whom I could trade comments, actually communicate and not feel like a bizarre stalker.  Steve had a great series called Omniverse and then I read Oh Well, Whatever, Never Mind which was so far off his normal track that I loved it.  Talk about getting out of the author rut!  Evan had a few series he was working at the time, both of which grabbed you and at least for one, was a roller coaster journey, cannot put the book down, action packed adventure (Warrior’s Wings - i love Aida!).  I’m not sure if it was their website or Facebook but I was able to touch base with each of them.  That adds a whole new dimension to the reading game.  It takes it to a different level as you can equate with the person and you get to know them in some way or another.  I'm not sure if those of you in the imaginary room would raise your hands now but I know I can.

None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for my mom buying me a Kindle for the hospital. 

And that’s when I met Molly - Molly Fyde was an enigma that introduced me to an author named Hugh Howey.  Although not my favorite story of all time, it roped me in and, similar to a King or Gaiman novel, you became part of the story, you were invested.  I read all of the Molly Fyde series and then picked up Hurricane which took place minutes from my folks house down in South Carolina so you knew the area and could appreciate what was going one.  That was another great story that you would have never found at B&N.  The Plagiarist was a fun find along the lines of a Philip K Dick novel.  But what put me on the true Fan list of Hugh Howey, an eternal lover of “the down deep” was “Wool - The Omnibus”.  Not since The Stand, The Hobbit, and many others, has there been a book that tells a deep story, Orwell’ish in nature, that rivets you completely.  If you’ve not read this story then you need to pick it up, for your e-book app, and read it today!  But that’s not the real purpose of my post.

Hugh has gotten big fame, deservedly so, but most recently he’s also putting the industry on its toes.  It’s not just him as there are plenty of others doing similar things; however, Hugh is the one that I reached out to, via Twitter, and he reached back.  I started reading Sand and he assured me I wasn’t going to be waiting for the next installment (which was a double edged sword as he told me it was the last installment!)  Hugh has been raising awareness for the independent (indie) or self-publishing author.  Of which many of the authors I mentioned above are currently.  Many of which I’ve read and discovered thanks to the immediacy of my Kindle app.  For those of you that have a kindle or similar app and read electronically, you may not be aware of the battle that is currently ensuing that is debating the future of how you will ingest good literature going forward.  Perhaps that’s too over-the-top - but it will definitely impact the cost of how you read books!

I received a check from both Amazon and Apple for the collusion suit where they were both accused of price-fixing and charging us, the reader, too much.  I am thankful for someone finding out and addressing the issue and I got a credit in both my Apple and Amazon accounts.  To that end, I was surprised - books were so much cheaper on the Kindle I could buy them all the time.  And I don’t need to worry about storage!  But here I find they were charging me too much and I got a credit.  That’s fine, I was happy with the price point.  But now there is a specific argument between Amazon and Hachette publishing regarding the pricing of books.  From Hugh, I found out about this and started following his posts and some of the other stories that came out.  The short story is the independent author, who self publishes maintains his rights for his book in perpetuity.  They don’t get paid an advance, they don’t get any marketing effort, they simply publish their book and Amazon gets a cut of the sales.  They don’t get the benefit of a big marketing push or any of the expense that goes with that, and for that reason, the most likely go un-noticed.  The “Published” author gives up their rights for at least a length of time, they may get an advance in payment but that will be eaten up in non-sales that may take place.  There's a hard cost associated with printing books and getting them to the store, the publisher takes that risk but it eats into the author's advance if it doesn't sell.  More importantly, if the book doesn’t sell immediately, the publisher may not do anything more and since it’s not on the shelves, it’s not on your shelf!  I am seriously summarizing this and will hope that others will comment on my post and correct my mistakes but I believe that what I’m outlining is not far from the truth.  In the amazon world you may only have a few sales but if three years from now your book gets popular, people can find it.  In the hard copy world, that's not the case (unless you're in NYC where you can find the still alive, obscure book store!)

The reason I’m posting this? 

I got my Kindle when diagnosed with cancer.  if you’re in the hospital and you finish your book, you can’t just get up and go get a new one.  With the Kindle I could, and I didn’t even need to get up - it was great.  For that I am forever in my mother’s debt (who isn’t, right?)  The funny part here is I’ve handled the cancer quite well.  It’s not gone but I wasn’t in the hospital as long as I expected.  However, let’s set that time machine back to pre-2008 days again and lets make an assumption you’re reading a really good book, first one in the series, and you’re on page 205 of 226 pages, and … you’re in the bathroom.  What do you do when you reach page 226 but aren’t finished- ‘nuff said!  Thanks Mom!

The Kindle, e-books I should say, have revised how I read.  The digital book makes it easy for me to read - everywhere.  The fact that there was collusion and now seems to be additional, similar thoughts, irks me.  If you were an author, you have most likely heard some version of what’s going one.  I’m not an author, I post to my blog sometimes but that doesn’t make me an author.  I’m also guessing that a number of you are readers and not authors.  I’m further guessing you’ve not heard about what’s going on.  So I’m here to stand on my pulpit and give voice to what’s going on.  I’m hoping I can inform the readers and if it helps the authors then so be it.  I like being able to not only find authors but communicate with authors and go wherever I want with their works.  But paying the same price as a hard copy or paperback just doesn’t seem right.  Amazon posted an Orwell quote that I thought was interesting.  With the advent of paperbacks around World War II apparently Orwell was quite concerned, of all people, and he had this quote, "(if) publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them."  Funny this came from him.  I guess all authors are equal but some authors are more equal than others….

The purpose of my post was to let you, the reader, know.  Investigate, reach out to your author friends, find out what they think.  I’m not a fan of Amazon, I’m not a fan of the publisher, I’m just a fan of reading.  And the digital reading hasn’t affected my abilities - it’s changed them - for the better. 

My name is Bill and i am an e-book reader - and i thank you for reading.

some links:
Hugh and “Data Guy” have pulled together some great data and analytics as to the impact of digital on the publishing world.  Great place to start

a link to one of Hugh’s blog posts that discusses the topic

Author’s I mentioned - hopefully i got the correct web page but it should be a good link nonetheless.  I’m not playing favorites here - there are so many.  I’m also not listing King or Heinlein as I’ll assume most of you have heard of them!

Evan Currie

Steve Karmazenuk

Ralph Lalonde

Nathan Lowell

Stephen Baxter

Naomi Novik

Michael Malone

1 comment:

Sandy said...

Wow. that was really informative, and as a Kindle and iPod reader, I am also aware of a few of my friends who are authors... thanks for posting this! And I'm so happy to hear you are doing well!