Four Ways E-Books Will Change Your World

Anytime I suggest e-books might become the primary or preferred format for reading, a lot of people get upset. They say they can’t possibly imagine giving up the satisfying, human, physical experience of reading a paper book.

I think everyone knows where I stand on that issue—and much of my thinking also aligns with these recent posts:

  • The 3-Format Future of Books (HighSpot) — yes, there will be print books in the future, they won’t disappear! But they won’t be the first go-to format for publishers or otherwise automatically assumed format of distribution.

A reader, Scott Nicholson, recently offered up this guest post to directly outline why e-books will change our world. I expect much debate/discussion in the comments.

Four Ways E-Books Will Change Your World
By Scott Nicholson

You probably love books if you are reading this blog. And you probably grew up with paper books, and sat on your grandparent’s lap and had stories read to you, and you probably carried library books under your arm as a kid. You’re probably sentimental about the stories that changed your life or challenged your thinking.

And you might hate the idea that these techno-geeks want to take away your paper books and force you to use tiny digital screens. You might be fighting mad, ready to chain yourself to the front of your local bookstore and declare that paper books are the only “real” books. You might even be one of those people who “love the smell of paper.”

First of all, relax. Because paper books will be around for the rest of your life. As long as you keep buying them, publishers will keep making them. I promise.

But, sooner or later, you might take a peek at an e-book reader, especially since they will soon be on sale in every big-box retailer. I can’t make an emotional case for you, but I can share the practical advantages.

1. You will be able to get millions of titles instantly. Well, probably not at the same time, but you will have easy access to almost every worthwhile book ever printed. No trips to the store, no waiting for UPS, no special orders. Of course, you’ll still be able to browse the dusty shelves of used bookstores if that’s your thrill, because those books will be around a few hundred years.

2. You will be able to carry a couple of thousand books on your e-reader at any given time. I made a deliberate decision to pass up a paper book on my recent vacation simply because it would be one extra item to carry and keep up with. I had books on my computer, which was going with me no matter what. Yet I still keep a hardcover by my bedside for those cozy moments of leisure.

3. You will be able to interact with the content in ways impossible with a fixed-type paper book. Because users can control the text size and other features, those with vision problems can finally optimize the type size. The ability to adapt, bookmark, highlight, and even alter the text will rapidly become an adventurous part of the reader experience. Yet the traditional paper version will still be around, because most books are quality products and paper has a long lifespan.

4. The prices will fall dramatically once the various market sectors settle down.
Judging by the cost of music and movie downloads, your favorite new titles should probably cost no more than a few bucks. That development is still a few years away, but paying only for content means you have less infrastructure to support and fund. But just as you can choose the $25 hardcover instead of waiting for the used 25-cent paperback, you can wait until the e-book hits your favored price point.

I also believe the wall between you and the author, and other readers, will get thinner than paper. With interactive, connected devices, more opportunities will open up to interact, share, or communicate while you read a book, or afterward.

This era is the best of both worlds, because for the first time in history, readers will be the most influential part of the publishing industry. Readers will be supporting favorite authors and driving prices and habits in ways never before seen or imagined. You will have choices, and lots of them, yet you’ll still be able to control which genres and subjects interest you, in much the same way you do in a bookstore when you stroll through your favorite sections.

This is the Golden Age of Literature, and whether you stick with your paper books or go electronic, you’re going to benefit from the explosion of content, price variations, and delivery systems. Congratulations. You were the caboose, and you are now the engineer of this literary train. Full speed ahead.
 

Scott Nicholson is the author of 10 novels, four story collections, six screenplays, and four comic-book series. He works as a journalist and freelance editor in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His site has articles, writing excerpts, and multimedia files to enjoy.

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15 thoughts on “Four Ways E-Books Will Change Your World

  1. Jean Delaney

    Here in Massachusetts, with the summer heat wave in full swing, my ideal afternoon occupation is to sit in the lounge chair in the pond and read my book.

    I want a book on paper.

    The chair is a U shaped float with a fabric seat so you are immersed in water up to your chest.

    It better not be a library book in case I drop it. I can’t imagine what dropping my ebook reader would do, to it and me. Can you say electrocution?

  2. dave malone

    I love this post. I keep thinking about those thin walls & that we as writers and readers get to make some of the rules. This gem is my mantra:

    "This is the Golden Age of Literature, and whether you stick with your paper books or go electronic, you’re going to benefit from the explosion of content, price variations, and delivery systems. Congratulations. You were the caboose, and you are now the engineer of this literary train. Full speed ahead."

  3. Nath Jones

    Jane knows my stance on the electronic and digital aspects of anything. I am old guard, superstitious, distrustful, and completely averse to change when it comes to books. It’s not that I don’t want new devices and technology. It’s that I don’t understand them and don’t care to educate myself. (She tried to nudge me forward ten years ago…FAIL~!)

    However, I agree with the four main points of advocacy for e-books offered above and would like to add a few more. Having recently fallen in love with my Kindle, my favorite aspect is the ease with which quotes and citations can be collected.

    I am a person who absolutely will not write in a book. (Sacrilege.) But I have no problem "highlighting" digital content. As a writer, I love how the Kindle compiles the points I find interesting. I could easily derive an essay just by looking at the quotes I have gathered from different sources, finding the links and associations between them, and fleshing out the connections. The resulting piece might seem that much more well thought out as it draws upon different perspectives even though the cross-referencing rigor of scholarly research has been diminished.

    So I definitely agree with Jan about embracing the change as writers. Content can be provided in more affordable and durable ways.

    On a personal note, as a lifelong lover of books, I like the close-knit community my Kindle builds. There are four Kindles on the same account as mine. I am not a person interested in joining a book club necessarily–I’m not committed to doing things in a certain time-frame. Yet, I am intrigued by the books that the people I am closest to find most interesting. I love the sense of sharing and family that can be developed as the mutual library between us increases.

    By having joint accounts, our reading histories are readily retrievable, search-able, and accessible to one another over time.

    We do not live under the same roof. There is no imposing wall of mahogany shelving in a green felt room. But this archived list of titles we can all use freely does offer a certain sense of home.

  4. Scott Nicholson

    Good thoughts, all! Theresa, I’ve more and more evolved my thinking to separate "publishing" from the reading/writing experience. Publishing is a corporate industry with its own specific needs–namely, profit and the continuation of itself–that doesn’t always serve the reader or the writer. Indeed, the very fact that "readers" are not even a part of the conversation of "How will publishing survive?" tells me a lot about the shape of things.

    Now, I believe the publishing industry will mutate and the most adaptable will survive, but there are hundreds or thousands of cottage industries out there emerging–writers, designers, formatters, blog-tour organizers, freelance editors–that are adapting much faster. And they are better able to respond directly to the audience–the reader.

    Jane wisely pointed out a critical development–the wall between readers is also vanishing. That’s one reason I believe readers are getting the most power they have ever had.

    Scott Nicholson
    http://www.hauntedcomputer.com

  5. Theresa Milstein

    Good post. This is an uncertain time in publishing, but also an exciting time. Just like it’s been great to be here through the evolution of computers, I’m sure it will be for the world of books and publishing.

  6. jcorn

    Also, as a member of a book group, ebook readers can be hard to use because some people have the book and others the ebooks. I just give up and buy the book. It is too hard to turn to specific pages in the ebooks because I adjust the font and that messes up the pagination. Sure, I can make notes and highlight sections but if someone mentions another page or section during our discussions, I can’t automatically find the right page in an ebook.

  7. jcorn

    Here’s my take:
    I love my ebook reader because I’m among that group of Baby Boomers who has to care for an aging parent and also drive from place to place. I never know what type of book I want to read on a give night. My Kindle give me access to many books, all in one handy device.

    However, I have a respect and love for older magazines and rare books. I believe they will rise in price because they relate to both social history and a time when some books were printed with care and it still shows today. Writing was taken very seriously because it didn’t have to compete with internet writing (often done in haste), cable tv, videos, etc. It was a different time and books and magazines have evolved to reflect that.

    This is an interesting time and we’ll see what happens. I do know that if I resell books and videos or DVDs on Amazon, the movies sell far more quickly than the books. Maybe that says something about priorities when it comes to books versus movies – or maybe not.

  8. Jan Strnad

    Speaking as an author whose book has been out of print and unavailable for the past six years, I welcome and embrace the ebook revolution! I can only imagine the wealth of material that waits out there, posted by formerly-published authors such as myself whose work disappeared from shelves under the cold equations of paper publishing.

    It is daunting, knowing that your work will soon be in competition with virtually everything ever written. But what a gift to readers!

  9. Ron Ruthfield

    Great article, Scott. I, too, live in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Boone to be exact. I remember the years as a newsman when we wrote with manual typewriters, then switched to electric, then switched to the clunky, cumbersome DOS system computers, then Windows, then iPods, iPads, Kindles, cell phones, and great gadgetry you can take anywhere in the world. The world shrinks again, putting us closer together on a path of a real world community. And we all got used to it. Those who embrace the actual paradigm shift in the book industry will be the winners, while the whiners will be left behind reading Lash LaRue westerns.

  10. Scott Nicholson

    Yes, there’s a "newstalgia"–all the people bemoaning the loss of bookstores who haven’t bought a book in years. My daughter, an avid reader, saw a Sony Reader in a Borders and she thought it was the coolest thing in the store. She said she’d gladly trade all her books for one and "if you had one of those, you wouldn’t have to pay $4 extra for the hardcover if the paperback isn’t available." At age 10, she sounds a lot smarter than most publishers.

    Scott Nicholson

  11. Tom Bentley

    I nod my head (sagely) to everything Scott says, indeed the transformations and possibilities in the new world of books are fabulous indeed. I’ve been intrigued by electronic books since reading Twain on my Palm V, downloaded through Project Gutenberg.

    And yet, and yet … the smell of books (there it is!), their very bookishness, the turning of the pages, crisp or yellowed, the ability to throw one vehemently across the room when you disagree with its persuasions, the gazing at them lovingly in serried, uneven stacks, the discoveries made (and you can do this online, but it’s not the same) when you leaf through a bookstore, ambling through the colors, the weights, the feel of books.

    I think all of what Scott says is true, but we do leave something behind. That said, where’s my iPad!

  12. Kristin Wolfgang

    I was just telling the kids last night over dinner that when I first started working at Borders we had to use a book
    (called Books in Print) to find out if a book was in print. Now you can just google it and boom, here’s a place to order, someone selling a copy from their home or Amazon.com, of course. I’ve had a Kindle for a few years and I only use it when traveling. Otherwise I read books from the library.

  13. Jena

    When I go on vacation, I have to carry at least half a dozen books with me – taking an e-reader instead would save me a ton of space in my suitcase.

    But when I decide to go for a swim, I can leave a second-hand paperback on my beach chair and not worry about a sudden shower or clumsy beach volleyball player or light-fingered passer-by destroying or stealing my e-reader.

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