How Can You Read This? There’s No Pages

Or, The effect of ebooks on my reading life

I have pretty well jumped over to ebooks for my entertainment reading. 

There are still a few books and authors I want in paper, whose works come out in hardcover and who I value enough to buy at the hardcover price.  By a few I mean…five?  Maybe as many as ten if I include certain series that I have started in hardcover and would like to keep going with, even if I don’t buy everything from that author in hardcover.

Research books I still prefer in paper—although half the time I am checking those out from the local university library.  I have not yet figured out how to visually summarize an ebook with multiple references or pieces of information flagged; the ease of flipping from one bookmark to the next just isn’t there for me yet.  Maybe it would be on a tablet where I could split the screen and still read the fonts, but I don’t want a tablet because of the backlighting (I am firmly in the e-ink camp when it comes to ereaders). 

Certainly any visual-heavy books, like sewing instruction books and art books I still need in paper.  I also don’t expect either to change because of the size—you cannot replicate a book that is a foot square, or 14 x 14 inches on a screen that is 10 inches or less.

Poetry, when I read it (which is about two nights a year) still needs to be in paper.  That one I can’t explain.  Maybe just because the poetry I read is all old stuff, and much of it has annotations that I do look at?  Maybe it just seems too…poetic for to read on a prosaic digital device?  Maybe because reading poetry for entertainment feels so old-fashioned that it just doesn’t fit the mood of reading poetry to do it on modern technology?  I don’t know, but poetry also I still want in paper.

For the most part, though, I have switched my book purchasing to digital.  I thought it might be interesting to jot down my behavioral changes as a consumer, for posterity or whatever, so here they are. 

My reading profile:  My tastes slant heavily to genre fiction if I am just reading for entertainment (and that is the primary reason I read).  I am a relentless re-reader of books I liked; if I don’t want to re-read it, it wasn’t very good (or it was simply too disturbing to want to read again even though it was very good, but those are few and far between).  I like to read novels in large swaths or even all at once, and rarely read part of a book to fill a half-hour or hour of spare time (I read articles online instead).  If I want to split a book up into more than two readings it probably isn’t very good—although there are exceptions to this, just not with romance novels.  I have about 15 hours a month of reading time, usually split into three or four sittings where I just take an evening and read from after dinner till midnight or a weekend afternoon or evening.  I can read most romance novels in four to six hours, so reading an entire book on a weeknight is usually possible without my having to stay up too much past my bedtime.

So how have my reading and purchasing habits changed with my move to digital?

First, for me the impulse buy is gone, barring a great sale on a book on my To Read radar.  I keep a wishlist on Amazon of books I want to read, and if I am in the mood to read and have time I go down my list and pick out what I want that night.  I no longer have to buy a book when I find it on the shelf (either at the B&N store or a used bookstore) because it might not be there later. With digital it will always be there later, so I only buy when I am ready to read.  I used to be exactly the kind of consumer bookstores wanted.  I always bought at a bookstore, because if I had the time to read I wanted the book that suited that mood, and if I wanted a particular book that night I wasn’t going to wait three days to get in the mail because it wouldn’t do me any good three days after my free evening.  I also tended to browse around and would often pick up a second book that looked good, just because it was there and so was I.  I know one of the supposed appeals of digital marketplace for writers trying to sell their books is the one-click digital impulse buy that leads people to overbuy, but the current system does not lead me into that temptation.  As long as I have an easy way to keep track of what I have looked at and decided I might want to read, then I don’t have to buy it in order to get it…so now I only buy when I’m going to read it.

Second, one of the largest barriers to reading literature is gone.  With all the works in public domain, I can finally go back and fill in most of the gaps my English degree missed.  There are plenty, and while affordable versions of many great works have always been available…the fact is, if I have a $20 per month book budget, chances are I’m going to spend that on three or four fun books rather than something high-minded and important but which has only a 30% chance of actually being fun and enjoyable for me.  So the availability of free downloads for the great literature in English, even if it’s just the original text with no scholarly annotations, is really fabulous.  It basically just leaves the 20th century literature for me to buy in one form or another, and much of it I already have.  (How much this will lead to my actually reading all that literature remains to be seen, but one of the greatest barriers is gone.  And no, I never liked checking literature out from the library, because it is the one kind of book I will read in a hundred little pieces and I can rarely finish the books in the check-out period.)

Third is about what I consider a fair price.  For me, an ebook needs to be cheaper than the mass-market paperback, since ebooks really are replacing that as the cheap, widely distributed, read once and passed on type of book form and have no physical production or distribution costs associated with them.  So for me the price I consider fair for a novel ebook is $4-7.  The range would be based on whether I’ve heard of you before and perhaps how long the book is…I have no issue with someone charging a higher price for a book that is longer than average.  The one exception to my perception of fair price for an ebook being less than $7 is if it’s the ebook for a new release in hardcover.  Then I think it could be as high as $10-12 as long as it drops when the paperback comes out, or would have come out.  I might or might not pay that if I knew the price would go down later.  If the price wasn’t going to go down later…I don’t know that I would buy that book at all.  If I wasn’t willing to spend my entire book budget for the month on the hardcover, I’m probably not willing to spend half of it on the ebook.

Discoverability is the one part I have not jumped into or noticed a big change in my habits with.  I have little enough time to read and enough writers on my “auto-buy” roster that only a couple of the books I read in any given quarter are from new (to me) writers.  Those books I generally find via internet discussions.  There has been one that I picked up from an Amazon…it wasn’t even recommendation.  It was me being a curious author and looking at the other “mistaken identity” romances they list, and thinking one of them looked interesting.

As to where I purchase, mostly from Amazon.  I have an account with Smashwords and am happy to pick something up there if Amazon does not have it, but I go to Amazon first.  It’s the path of least resistance, and for all the “what if Amazon changes their terms after they are 90% of all publishing and bookselling” conspiracies out there, I like what Amazon has created.  Right now they are an awesome company with fabulous customer service and a great deal for writers.  My take on them is that they are in the business of being the biggest and best marketplace on the internet, and I think they have a lot of business creativity going into making—and keeping—that goal a reality.  They created the ebook market and set the terms for writers self-publishing within it, and I want to support them for doing that because it creates a net benefit for me as both a writer and a reader.

So there it is…my behavior as a book to ebook consumer.  Has anyone else out there noticed shifts in their purchasing or discovering philosophies after switching?  Is anyone still buying some books in print (other than special purchases) after moving to an ereader?

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2 Comments

Filed under Digital Revolution

2 responses to “How Can You Read This? There’s No Pages

  1. First off, I’m reading a wider selection of books than ever, but I’m reading fewer books.

    The only writer that I’ve collected in hardback is Dick Frances – I used to buy everything he wrote when it came out – so I ended up with quite a few hardbacks.

    Being able to buy a book while sitting in front of the fireplace has done something to my brain. I don’t read as much, but when I DO read, it has to be really good. So there are a couple of genre that I’ve stopped reading all together because the ‘editor’ in my head won’t shut up.

    My New Year’s resolution is to read more. I’ve bought all kinds of e-books and they sit on my new Nook while I play Angry birds. I think it’s time I stopped writing for awhile and started reading more.

    You make a very good point – I think I’ll put down the laptop and finish the book I just bought.
    Happy New Year!

    • Happy New Year to you, Kat! I am glad I could inspire you to go read a book.

      I think your experience of only wanting to read a really good book is interesting. I also think it speaks to the fact that books are competing not just with other books but with other entertainment technologies. Novels used to be, well, NOVEL, now they are just one of many options for whiling away an idle hour or afternoon. I know that I don’t read NEARLY as much as I used to when I was a kid, who grew up wihtout a TV and out in the country so with no cinema to walk to. Movies were a rare treat. My entertainment was playing games (imagination games or board games), simple toys, and reading. Now that I think on it, my tolerance level for unsatisfying books has plummeted. I used to force myself to finish every book I started. Now if I’m not hooked in 50 pages–10 on a day when my ADD is in charge–I put it down.

      Dick Francis is one I always read in ppbk. Looking forward to picking up my 5-10 tattered “keepers” as ebooks. 🙂

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