In case you missed it, in February sales of eBooks were up an astonishing 202% from the same month just a year before. To make the news even more impressive, for the first time eBooks exceeded sales of all other formats – specifically hardcovers and, the former staple of romance, mass market paperbacks.
Wow. Just wow. This change has happened far faster than I ever would have expected and it reflects a few things that I think are most significant for readers:
- The enormous ease of eReading. You want it, you got it without having to worry about whether or not a capricious bookseller will have the book you want in stock.
- The anonymity of eReading. While I wish it weren’t the case, women are often embarrassed or uncomfortable reading romance and with eReading, it’s your business and yours alone.
And, even more astoundingly, this growth occurred despite the lame-fisted, ham-handed, stupid, ridiculous, short-sighted, hide-bound, tradition-worshipping New York publishing industry.
If this is Tuesday, there must be a new controversy about eBooks. Recently, the Technology section of the Washington Post reported that both Amazon was selling Project Gutenberg titles in their eBook stores. This was picked up by other sources, including the Huffington Post. Amazon bashing ensued. People quickly found similar titles available on Barnes and Noble. Of course, B&N bashing ensued as well.
As usual, the blame, if there should be any, was misplaced. Many people were pointing fingers at Amazon and B&N, forgetting that in most of these cases, they aren’t the publishers. These titles were put up by people selling PG titles through CreateSpace at Amazon or PubIt at B&N. Just copy the text from Project Gutenberg, reformat it, and upload it for sale at Amazon and B&N. Presto, you’re a publisher. It’s not illegal, and it is allowed by the Project Gutenberg license, but some argue that it’s unethical. After all, the PG volunteers put a lot of effort into scanning and proofreading the eBooks, only to see someone selling the very same editions.
The news has been floating around for a while, but Google finally made it official on Wednesday: Google Editions, their eBook store, launched on Monday.
What’s the big deal? Well, as many of us agree, the proprietary formats are just a pain. You can’t read Adobe DRM on Kindle, you can’t read AMZ on anything except Kindle-compatible devices, blah blah blah. (Although the Bluefire app, which reads Adobe-DRM books on Apple devices, just broke through a major barrier.)
Anyway, the difference with Google Editions is that their books are entirely Web-based. This means that you would be able to read books anywhere, on any device, as long you can connect to the internet and have a Web browser.
The tech media are talking it up, saying it makes a significant difference, that it will provide true competition to the juggernauts. And in a way it is. Without being tied to a proprietary format, readers can read on anything. Similar to most eBook stores, the purchased books will stay on your virtual bookshelf, which you can access as long as you have a Google account. Reading the fine print on the Google Editions page (which is directed at potential booksellers, not consumers), there are some points of interest:
Disclaimer: This is a rant from a consumer’s point of view. No wait, a pissed off consumer’s point of view.
As one of your very best customers who routinely buys multiple books each month, you should care what I think, right?
So, here goes: Stop making me feel as if I’m doing something wrong – something lesser – when I buy an eBook. That’s exactly how I feel when you:
- Hold back an eBook release date until after a print book is published.
- Eliminate any discounts – the kind of discounts found everywhere on print books – by your stupid Agency Pricing model.
- And, God forbid, charge more for an eBook than a print book. What – I mean what the hell – are you thinking?
Enhanced e-books sound like yet another “wave of the future” that most readers never asked for. Yet it seems that every few weeks, there’s another story where a mainstream journalist waxes poetic about how the future of e-books is enhanced e-books.
When I bought my first eBook reader, an Opus, in December, I felt both like a pioneer – eBook readers are not at all common in Germany yet, and I’d only seen one in the flesh before, on a train in England – and, at the same time, like a dinosaur, because already the media were prophesying instant death for all eBook readers due to the advent of the iPad. (Well, I have only seen one iPad in the flesh so far, on a train in Germany.) I was excited and curious when I got my new gadget: Would I really use it enough to justify handing over a considerable amount of money? Would it be as easy to handle as a paper book? How would I deal buying eBooks online? Would my reading habits change?
I don’t have an eBook reader, mainly because I don’t buy enough new books to justify the cost. But when I checked back to the Toronto Public Library recently, lo and behold they’ve instituted an eLibrary.
Which makes me absolutely chuffed. I live exactly 14,242 kilometres away from Toronto, and yet my resident status allows me to borrow books from the library as if I were still there. This makes up for all the deficiencies, of which, I’m sorry to say, there are quite a few.
Most of the problems involve the nuts and bolts of e-borrowing. The formats. The lending periods. The hold notification system. And the fact that you can’t return anything unless it’s in Adobe EPUB or PUB format, which is bloomin’ annoying. Yeah, I know it’s a copyright issue. But it’s still a pain in the ass. There’s also the fact that since I don’t have an eReader, my reading is limited to my computer screen, and it is hell on the eyes. And I mean hell.
I’ve reached the end of my rope here.
In case you’ve somehow missed it, there is a labyrinthine mess about ebook pricing going on involving publishers, Amazon, and Apple.
First of all, rest assured that I’m not going to weigh in with a long-winded diatribe on the subject because (a) that’s not my style and (b) I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Let me also make clear that I’m not – nor do I pretend to be – a publishing insider. I am a consumer. And, as a consumer, I want to know that a book I want to buy is available at the place I choose to buy it at a fair price.
Not asking a lot, is it?
Well, apparently the pinheads in charge don’t see it that way. In yet another episode of dick-waving – much like the dick-waving that took place when Macmillan pulled all ebooks from Amazon a month or so ago – publishers have withdrawn many ebooks from Amazon and other retailers.
Including a book that I pre-ordered for Kindle: Changeless by Gail Carriger.
Even if you’re a big fan of ebooks, you might not realize that March 7-13 is Read an Ebook Week. The first Read an Ebook Week was started in 2004 and the first Amazon Kindle didn’t come out until more than three years later. Read an Ebook Week may be an idea most of us are only now catching up with. I celebrated it by accident yesterday, starting by downloading Michael Palmer’s new medical thriller The Last Surgeon on my Nook.
This year, lots of ebook vendors are participating. The Ebook Store page lists participating vendors. While the list includes stores I had shopped at in the past (cough Ellora’s Cave cough), there are lots of stores I had heard of and always meant to check out. For example, Diesel eBooks, AllRomanceEbooks, and Kobo. And even a couple of stores I wish I had heard of. (Did you know that you can buy digital copies of 2000 AD comic books like Slaine, Strontium Dog, and Judge Dredd from DriveThruComics? And they have back issues of Fantasy Book, a magazine I could never find at newsstands? Why didn’t anyone tell me this before? And people who like that site might also love WarGameVault, which is offering free downloads of RPG stuff this week.) There was even a site specializing in Spanish and Catalan ebooks.
I’ve had a crush on Steve Jobs for 20 years.
But, Steve, my man, you muffed it on the name. Big time. Because only one thing comes to mind when women hear the word “pad” and a computer isn’t it.
But you know, Steve is a rockstar. Always has been. Always will be. I suspect that after a whole lot of cheap iPenis jokes, we’ll all get over it.
Back when I got my first job at an ad agency, one of the things I remember doing on my very first day was to sit down at my original Mac Classic and spend a half hour or so on a a “How To Use a Mouse” tutorial. Because, believe it or not, back in those days most people didn’t have a clue.