Friday, June 10, 2005

eBooks, fad or future

A few years ago I bought my first laptop computer, and I purchased my first eBook shortly thereafter. The only reason for that purchase was that the book was out-of-print, and rather than spending time hunting for it through some of the used book sellers online, I could get what I wanted instantly, at the price of a mass market paperback. That book, an electronic version of a print book, didn’t suffer from either of the biggest problems I’ve encountered with books which are marketed as eBooks— that is, it was not rife with errors which should have been eliminated in the editing stage, and it wasn’t too brief to be called a book.

Once I had that positive experience, I bought a few other eBooks, but I only purchased electronic versions of books which had begun as print books. However, as an avid reader of online book reviews, I kept seeing reviews of books which were only available in electronic format. Eventually, I tried a few of those. Some were wonderful reads, but as I ventured on to more and more publishers, I ran into the previously mentioned problems— poor editing and an occasional novella sold as a full-length book.

Despite these issues, eBooks have a few advantages over their print cousins, but just a few. First, it’s easy to store a whole bunch of them on the hard drive of a computer, or in the flash memory of a PDA. Travelers find this especially helpful. By carrying their reading in electronic format, they can have far more to read and far less to carry. Better yet, when you are finished, you don’t have a big box to sell at a yard sale or donate to charity. Also helpful, but not universally true, is the fact that many eBooks are less expensive than their print counterparts. However, the main reason I began reading eBooks is the same one that keeps me coming back, and that is the generic nature of the titles which are available from the local bookstore. I might find ten futuristic romances at a bricks and mortar store, but I can find a hundred by checking my ever growing list eBook retailers.

There are some reasons that eBooks aren’t for all readers. I can’t imagine sitting at a desktop to read a whole book, so the reader needs a PDA, a laptop computer, or a dedicated eBook reader. Sometimes a print book is best, whether you’re sitting on the beach under the umbrella or in the bathtub. I’ll always want print media for certain times, but at other times I’m willing to sit inside with my laptop and read until the battery gives up. Thankfully, editing has been steadily improving, but I wonder “where’s the rest of it?” when I find I’ve paid for a book which has about 25,000 words— which is less than half the usual count for a full length novel. And this may seem petty, but I don’t like it when I download the book and don’t get a close-up look at the cover art. Some publishers send it along, but many do not, usually because including such graphics will slow the download process.

Although they often sell poorly in comparison with print books, eBooks are more than a fad. As the internet matures, online media will evolve to include music, video, and eBooks. Just as digital still photography and video cameras are beginning to merge, one day people will have a paid access to multimedia files, and eBooks will be one of the attractions. Until then, print will sell better, but books in electronic format will provide an avenue for new authors to strut their stuff to tech-savvy readers. Many of these books provide readers with what they want, something different. And different can be better— a lot better.

My answer to the title question is simple, "Both!"

There are many eBook vendors, but I’ve bought multiple volumes from the sites below. If you’ve never seen any electronic books for sale, check out these publishers and vendors—

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