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Who’s Afraid of E-Books? Guest Post by Jason Starr

I want to welcome Jason Starr with his guest post: jason-starr

Who’s Afraid of E-Books?

Like a lot of writers, I’ve been thinking about e-books lately. After all, now that Oprah has endorsed Amazon’s Kindle, it’s only a matter of time until we all have Kindles, or other electronic devices, and the days of old-fashioned books are gone for good, right? Well, I wouldn’t write the obituary for the book just yet, but the fact is that love ’em or hate ’em, e-books are here to stay.

As disclosure, I don’t own an e-reader (though I suspect I’m going to be getting one as a gift shortly), but I’ve used my friends’, and there’s no doubting the convenience, portability, and ease of use of the devices. While I love books myself and I don’t think that anything can ever replace the experience of old-fashioned reading -the feel of a book in your hands, the smell of the paper, etcetera-I think it’s indisputable that e-books are here to stay. Lately, I’ve heard many writers bash e-books, basically claiming that nothing will ever replace the book and predicting that the e-book will eventually be rejected and/or disappear. I think this is a mistake; writers should embrace the technology and adapt to it, rather than fear it.

I see e-books as a major opportunity. In the future, writers will have more control of the marketing of their books and authors’ websites and other sites, such as my My Space and Facebook pages, could generate significant sales. Now, when authors market their books online, they have to hope that readers either buy their books at an online store, or go to a bookstore to purchase them. But if everyone in the world had e-readers, writers could gain sales instantly. I think e-books, potentially, can take some of the marketing control away from publishers, and empower authors.

In addition to having a dramatic effect on the marketing of books, I think e-books will ultimately change the way books are written. Just as the invention of the novel itself led to new types of storytelling, as e-books compete for our attention with other portable devices, such as iPods, writing itself will change. Stories will have to become more fast-paced and visceral to keep readers engaged. Series books will become more prevalent because the goal will be to get readers to immediately download other books by the author. For this reason, I think stories with big cliffhanger endings will become more common.

I don’t think books will ever disappear completely. I don’t even see why books and e-books can’t co-exist, or why e-books are necessarily a threat to bookstores. Why can’t patrons buy a book in a store and receive a code to download the e-version of the book? That way, they can read the book at home and the e-book when they travel. After all, electronic music has become hugely popular, but people still buy CD’s.
For the foreseeable future the obituary of the book is premature. But I also think it’s inevitable that e-books will gain a large percentage of the book market, and that there will be a major opportunity for the authors who want to seize it.

But what do you think about all of this? Am I way off base and will the e-book go the way of the 8 track tape player? Do you plan to buy an e-reader or read an e-book in the coming year or do you plan to stick with books for the long haul?


 

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Bio: JASON STARR is the Barry and Anthony Award-winning nine crime novels which have been published in ten languages. His latest thriller from St. Martin’s Press, THE FOLLOWER, is now on-sale in a new mass market paperback edition. Visit www.jasonstarr.com and sign up for Jason Starr’s newsletter for a chance to win a 50-dollar Amazon gift certificate, and other exciting prizes. Newsletter subscribers will also be eligible to win free advance copies of Jason Starr’s next thriller PANIC ATTACK, which will be on-sale in August, 2009.

| Tags: , , , , , , 10 comments »

10 Responses to “Who’s Afraid of E-Books? Guest Post by Jason Starr”

  1. Christine

    I’m sticking with books for the long haul, for several reasons. The first is just that I prefer them; I enjoy books as physical objects, not just as texts. But there are still some legal issues with ebooks that have yet to be worked out, too.

    Some books are still being released with DRM, which brings up the question of whether you own an electronic text once you’ve paid for it — DRM says that you don’t, sorry chump, and thanks for the money.

    As well, the prices for ebooks can be insane, sometimes costing as much as a hardback copy. That’s ridiculous. The cost to produce and sell an ebook is peanuts compared to the cost to make an actual book — since you’re not paying for paper, printing, shipping, etc. There’s no reason to charge comparable prices.

    Also, I see books as having reached the epitome of their evolution. I’ll never have to buy a new copy of a book because the technology has changed. Can you say the same about ebook readers?

    Finally, I see ebooks/readers as environmentally questionable. I read dead-tree books, but they come from a renewable resource and are fully recyclable. Your ebook reader is full of yummy things like plastic and mercury, and when it breaks, it’s going in the dump.

    Not convinced? Perhaps Dave Kellett can say it better than I can. I submit to you these three comics.

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  2. Tammy

    Great post! You bring up some points that I had not considered before, such as the marketing aspect. There’s lots of potential there. I’ve been thinking about ebooks a lot lately, I’ve been a diehard traditionalist up to now, but just the other day I started seriously thinking about getting a Kindle, after I realized that the library didn’t have many of the books that I want and the Kindle versions are incredibly affordable (many were less than $5, some even less than $1). I don’t think ebooks are going away, no matter how much some of us kick and scream. Luckily, I think the book world is big enough for all the available mediums — traditional books, ebooks, and audio. No one is going to completely replace another.

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  3. Jason Starr

    Hey, I totally agree with you! I think there’s room for books and e-books, but there are some areas where books won’t be able to compete, like with textbooks. I remember lugging the Riverside Shakespeare around my college campus–an e-reader back then would have been a God-send!

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  4. Jessica

    I think bookstores are one of the few places left where it’s quiet enough to read. Public libraries are hampered by a lot of factors, the first one being that they’re public places. Bookstores have the option of throwing out any miscreants who disturb the peace. Maybe in the future they’ll have more couches, chairs, and cafe tables where their e-customers can just sit and read quietly, in place of the bookshelves they’ll no longer need.

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  5. Jason Starr

    Christine, the point about the environment is a very good one, though I suppose e-readers could be recycled in the future? Like I’ve stated, I love book myself. My real point is that it’s ultimately hard to fight technology. For example, advertisers wish there was no such thing as TiVo, but there is, so they are going to have to modify the way they advertise. Similarly, we are going to have to modify the way we read and write.

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  6. Jessica

    I feel the same way! I can’t fathom the thought of books being left in the dust. Technology really is taking over. I imagine that this is a good thing- science, medicine, business, communication, etc. but it makes me sad to think of no longer holding a book, or stuffing it in my purse, or being able to interact with my text in the margin.

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  7. Michelle Gagnon

    Hi Jason! Loved The Follower, if anyone hasn’t read it yet make sure to pick up a copy, it’s a fantastic read!
    I love books, but am also completely hooked on my Kindle. It’s proved a godsend with my frequent travel schedule. Plus it’s much handier to carry in a purse. And Christine, part of the reason for the cost (although ebooks are notably less expensive: around $15 for a new hardcover, and $5 for a paperback) is that you have to factor in all the ancillary costs, from marketing to advances to editorial salaries. Plus, I still firmly believe that ebook readers are the most environmental response in terms of their carbon footprint. Half of printed books are remaindered, which is a tremendous cost not just in paper, but the carbon imprint of printing, shipping, etc. And most electronics can now be recycled in a relatively clean manner, with old parts reconstituted into new devices. So I’d argue that ebooks are still the greener option. Also, with a generation of kids growing up acclimated to reading everything on a computer screen, this is a way to reach them. And for an aging population, ebooks eliminate the need for large print formats, a huge plus (and also, less waste). Great post.

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  8. belleofthebooks

    That post is so insightful! I had never considered the changes in marketing strategies or alterations to writing styles to fit the new medium, even though its a very logical progression. I still can’t decide how I feel about e-books, but I agree whole-heartedly agree that e-books are here to stay. It will be exciting to see how this evolves.

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  9. veens

    I prefer books no doubt about it. But there are advantages of eBooks that I can’t ignore.
    One is that – there is NO shipping charges 🙂 I am here.. you are there.. and you can easily send me the book whenever i want.
    if kindle or any other reader is there… you can just use as much time as is there to read. you won’t feel awkward hunting for the book in your bag. Some books are really Big, and carrying them around is a task 🙂

    And like your guest says – the marketing thingy — is true!

    Though i love books, i will always — i ahve to admit ebooks are the next big thing! and they can exist with books too

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  10. Dreamybee

    Great post, Jason! I never considered the fact that authors might start changing their writing styles to adapt to e-readers in the way that you mentioned. I do worry that the need for speed will override the need for quality, but I guess that has always existed to some extent. There will still always be authors who take pride in their work and whose goal will be to put out a good story rather than a fast story.

    I agree that the e-readers are here to stay, but I also think that books are here to stay. There are just too many people out there (like all of us!) who still love books enough to actually buy them once in a while.

    I have a Kindle, and I really like it, but it’s not the same as a book. It does have certain advantages, like portability and the immediate accessibility to thousands of titles, but it’s just not a book! I put down some other thoughts on my Kindle here. http://subliminalintervention.blogspot.com/2008/10/thoughts-on-my-kindle.html

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