MIND MELD: SF/F Reading And Buying Habits In A Digital World
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This week we asked out panelists the following question:
Here’s what they said…
Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside of the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams. She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.
I don’t listen to many audiobooks, but ebooks have definitely changed my reading habits. As a combination of being a poor university student and living in tiny quarters, I avoided buying most books I read because there would be nowhere to store 100 books a year. I limited myself to the occasional splurge but mainly relied on libraries, friends, etc. Now, I still live in tiny quarters but I’m not as poor as I was as a student. I buy a lot more of my books as ebooks, and I’m a lot more diverse in my reading. I also read more books and read them quicker because I don’t have to lug myself to the library or bookstore or wait for the book to arrive. If I read a great review of an SFF book, 5 minutes later I can be curled up on my sofa reading it with a nice cup of tea. I’m able to support authors I admire without running out of room to turn around in my tiny flat. At first, I found reading on the Kindle distracting, but now I’m used to it, and I could never go back to not having an e-reader.
I still don’t have an e-reader I particularly like: my choice is between my phone (which is too small for reading comfort) and my laptop (which is too nearly dead). I did read the majority of the Vorkosigan series in e-book form, when Baen released them for free, and I read King Solomon’s Mines on my phone during a trip, but apart from those, I’m still very much about the physical books.
That may very well change once this laptop dies, as I’m thinking of replacing it with some kind of tablet. Once that happens, I strongly suspect I’ll become more a fan of e-books when I’m traveling: there’s a great deal to be said for being able to bring a stack of books along. More than once I’ve finished my book too quickly, or been stuck with nothing to read because I made a bad choice in what to bring, and this would solve such problems quite neatly.
I have to admit, though, that I still prefer physical books. I like having them on my shelves; I like being able to see them when I’m sitting in my living room. I like getting and giving them as presents — a gift card just isn’t the same. When I go over to a friend’s house, I like to browse their shelves and see what they have. So while time may prove me wrong, I don’t expect getting a tablet to make a substantial difference in my habits, apart from travel.
As a side note, what I would love is for a book purchase to provide you with both a physical and electronic copy. It’s something people have discussed, but we haven’t yet found a good setup to make it happen. I won’t be surprised if it happens eventually, though.
I own an iPad, an iPhone, and a Kindle. My reading habits have changed greatly because of them. I read newspapers only on devices now, and I do a lot more webreading on my iPad. It’s convenient and easy. But have my sf/f habits changed? In an odd way yes, and in an odd way no. I read a lot more samples after I see a review or learn a new book is out. I read those on the iPad. Occasionally, I’ll read the samples on the Kindle. So my sampling habits have changed. But my sf/f reading habits remain stubbornly the same. Even if I like the sample, I tend to get the paper book. (Rarely do I find an sf/f novel that screams Read Me Now! after I finish the sample.) I then read the paper book whenever.
The greatest area my sf/f buying/reading habits have changed is that I sometimes double-order a book on purpose. If the book is huge, like Stephen King’s 11/22/63, I get the hardcover for my King collection and the e-book so I can read the thing comfortably without breaking my arms.
As for the sf magazines, I get the ones in paper form that I’ve always gotten in paper form. The new ones—like Lightspeed—I read online on my iPad. I download issues to read when I travel. But I do buy the annual trade paper as well, in case I missed something.
So, as you can see, I probably buy more and read more, but not in a really structured way.
My fiction reading habits have changed dramatically with the advance of eBooks. I’m certainly buying more books—it’s dangerously easy to indulge! I read a great deal more, too, at least a book or two a week, and I read almost exclusively on my backlit eReader. I typically read before I go to sleep, when I inevitably wake up in the night, and sometimes in the morning if time allows. I used an iPad for a number of years but it’s heavy and clunky for reading in bed. Now I have a cheap little Nexus, not as quality as the iPad but it’s small and works great for an eReader. I’ll probably consider the iPad Mini at some point.
I consider eBooks on par with paperbacks and prefer them priced accordingly—I think it’s good for writers and the industry to keep the value of books up and on par with other forms of entertainment, like films. I think around 8 or 9 bucks is fair for both reader and writer when it’s compared to a paperback, but when it edges up into trade paperback prices sometimes I’ll just wait it out. I read a lot of sprawling epic fantasies though, so I’m willing to let the price push up when I’m getting a 175K word book.
I still buy a lot of paper books, mostly that of friends or to round out series I’m collecting, but I rarely read or finish them because I don’t read during the day—too busy writing! To that end I prefer to buy hardbacks when they’re available. They look so pretty on my shelves and I like a bookish vibe at home.
I don’t use audiobooks, in fact, the first audiobook I ever heard was Exile. I’m very visual and really prefer to read without interruption, so I doubt I’d even like to listen to them in the car—an engaging story might make me drive off the road.
I still prefer my non-fiction/research books to be in paper form because I tend to use them at my desk or read them in my office during the day. At the heart of it, I love books, and eBooks don’t make me any less fond of stories than the paper version.
Like every writer and almost every reader I know, I prefer print books. I like to look at them there on my bookshelves looking back at me. Hey! There’s that Lyndon Hardy book I bought in high school! There’s good ol’ Philip Jose Farmer’s World of Tiers omnibus! Most of my collection is paperbacks, but there are certain writers that I have always bought in hardback, and nothing pleases me more than adding another Iain Banks book to a shelf.
But this past year I got a glimpse of how it could all go wrong, and how easy it would be to become the next subject in an episode of “Hoarders.” I was serving on the jury for the Philip K. Dick award, and boxes of books were arriving weekly, sometimes daily. They’d stack up by the front door, then in the kitchen, until I could take them upstairs to the office and sort them into stacks: Read Now, Read Later, and Hope Someone Else On Jury Reads It. Ebooks would have been easier on me (and my wife). However, I would have missed some beautiful covers, as well as some atrocious ones. Thumbnail jpegs just don’t cut it for either admiration or mockery.
Now I’m back to buying for all my SFnal needs, and the situation is grim. The town where I live (State College, PA) has only one bookstore for new books (an understocked, over knicknacked Barnes and Noble) and one indie bookstore for used books. For a college town, this is shameful. So even though I prefer print books, I find myself buying ebooks more often than I might. Certainly the Ebooks = Impulse Buying equation is true in my case. I’ve clicked to buy after reading a review of a book or just seeing it referenced.
I have an old Kindle, but I now read on my iPad. I have the Kindle, Nook, and iBooks apps, and that let’s me feel less locked in to a particular corporate ecology. I also buy my own books, strip the DRM from them, and store them, so I have an archival copy of the electronically published version.
The biggest effect that ebooks have had on me so far is on how I work as a writer. I’m always exchanging manuscripts with folks. If I’m critiquing someone else’s manuscript, I’ll often convert the doc to PDF, then read it on my iPad in neu.Annotate. This is a free app (or $1.99 for the “Plus” version) that lets me draw all over the pdf as if it were on paper and add text notes. The app also works well with Dropbox.
When I want to have someone read a draft of the work in progress, I offer it to them in a variety of formats — Word, epub, mobi, pdf — because I’m obliging like that. (To create the mobi and epub files, I first save the Word doc as HTML, then use Calibre–another free app–to convert the HTML. You’re welcome.)
And there you have it: Print books for the love, ebooks for the instant gratification, and instant publishing for practicality. Some day I may love ebooks, too, but I’m not there yet.
My buying habits haven’t changed that much, to be honest. Living in the Netherlands, it’s hard to come by ebooks I’d want to read without being forced to go through Amazon or other DRM hoops. And more importantly, my husband reads mainly SFF as well, but he really dislikes the idea of reading from a screen – I haven’t been able to convince him to actually try it, mind – so I buy paper books so I can share them with him. As for audiobooks, I’ve rarely bought them either, since they are rather expensive. The only time I’ve actually bought an audiobook was when Brent Weeks released an e-only/audio-only novella and the e-version wasn’t available to buy from the Netherlands.
However, my reading habits have changed. When I started A Fantastical Librarian I had a solid ‘no ebooks’-policy. When I got an iPad that slowly changed and it’s opened up a whole new world for me. There are a lot of smaller presses that can’t afford to send out loads of ARC’s, especially not to The Netherlands, but they will send eARC’s. This means I’ve read a lot of books and anthologies I wouldn’t otherwise have tried, either because I would probably never even heard of them or because they were out of my comfort zone. At the same time, things like Netgalley and the Angry Robot Army, have also allowed me to request eARC’s from larger publishers that wouldn’t normally send me review copies because of my location.
Discovering podcasts, rather than audiobooks, has also allowed me to read – or rather listen to – new forms of fiction. Mostly, this means more short fiction. Listening to Escape Pod, PodCastle, and Dark Fiction Magazine has allowed me to discover an appreciation for short fiction I didn’t have before. This in turn has made me more likely to read and review anthologies, which are often sent as eARC’s. So ebooks and audiobooks have widened my reading, made me more adventurous in trying things outside my comfort zone and allowing me to discover that I actually like stuff I’d never thought I would.
Before my Nook descended from the heavens to the fanfare of angels, I refused to read ebooks for anything. No review copies. No purchases. A total ban. But then ebooks became “a thing” and I bought a Nook to make life easier on me (or something like that). Since then, I’ve found myself using my Nook for reviewing books for interviews first, and purchasing books second. Most of my reading, however, is still done via hard copies, in part because I’m a PhD. student in literature and digital works have yet to cross the “usable” barrier for academia. You try taking notes on an eReader! The result has been a weird shift in my purchasing habits: I still purchase most of my books in dead-tree format, with special attention given to works I think will be relevant to my research — most of my purchases are what I call “I want it in my collection” things, which will probably annoy whoever helps me move when I get done with this whole PhD. thing.
But that only accounts for 80% of my purchases these days. The other 20%? Ebooks. And there’s good reason for that: there are a lot of books out there that I want to read for fun. Fun books don’t require notes. They’re things I can sit down and read because I just want to get lost in a good book. That’s a good thing, I think. When I look at my Nook, I know it’s both my “review device” and my “fun device.”
There are other ways ebooks have changed my purchasing habits too. For example, when a book goes on sale or hits the net for the first time, I can easily buy it in electronic copy and get access to it instantly. There’s no way for Amazon to deliver the books (especially for those spur-of-the-moment purchases). Ebooks are now. Sometimes, that’s a serious consideration for me. If I really want to read something, why wait?
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), I’ve increasingly moved away from browsing to publisher sites, word-of-mouth, and online reviews. Browsing ebooks is an impossible feat, with everyone and their mother trying to self-publish or scam the system by releasing cheap ebook reproductions of classic works. It’s more likely I will buy an ebook after seeing it on a publisher’s website or reading about it on a trusted website than by digging through the hell that is Barnes & Noble’s catalogue (or Amazon, for that matter — not having a Kindle helps with that). It’s an unfortunate side effect, I guess, but I have hope that it will be resolved in the next decade.
All of this comes from someone who didn’t think ebooks would change his reading or purchasing habits at all. So much for that, right?
P.S.: Reading books for my research doesn’t mean I don’t have fun reading. It’s just a different kind of fun for me.
E-readers have a place, for sure, but as a writer and editor, I spend so much time on the laptop every day that the last thing I want to do in my down time is stare at a screen, so I am still very much a paper book reader. I enjoy the new book smell. And I enjoy the freedom of taking it anywhere without concern for batteries. I can sit and read for hours at the park, on my back deck, or even travelling, and I usually take a book with me everywhere in case I have to wait.
My reading habits are largely shaped by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat. Except for our bi-monthly roundtables, that requires me to read a book a month. I commit to that when I book authors. Familiarity with their work helps me dig into craft, etc. in ways that broaden the conversation. Some books take longer than a week to read, especially the epic fantasies, but I generally schedule guests with that in mind. So one book a week is for SFFWRTCHT.
Then I read other books for fun and by request. I get asked for blurbs now, so I have those obligations. I also get asked for reviews and must fit those books in. Also, there are favorite authors and friends whose books I have wanted to read as well as classics I’ve not had time for which I am trying to work into my schedule. That can be slow going. For example, as I write this I am juggling three books, one from chat that I want to finish. One for an upcoming email interview, and a third for fun from a series I have long wanted to continue with. I set reading goals per day, prioritizing the books which must be finished by a certain date, and I strive to meet them, tracking my reading on Goodreads.
For book buying, SFFWRTCHT has brought me one big advantage: All the major publishers send me free books. Some by request, others to entice me to read. So I get 3-5 books a week in the mail plus any I request and I have stacks everywhere. Some I farm out to the reviewers for the SFFWRTCHT website, the rest are waiting for me to read. On top of that, since we don’t have a bookstore in my little town and Walmart’s selection is far from broad, I buy from Amazon, or Hastings, Half Price Books and Powells. All three are local and have used as well as new books. For my budget, I generally buy used. For some others, I look for used hardbacks. Most I buy mass market paperbacks. I’d say I buy 2-4 books a month in addition to the 15-20 I receive. But I also sometimes double up one month and then don’t buy the next.
But lately, because of my stacks, I’ve been trying to focus mostly on catching up with books on my shelves which I’ve never read. I have a ton of them, so I figure I need to stop lusting after the next best thing and get busy. The advantage is I am usually reading a classic like Dann or Asimov alongside a recent release and a book from the past ten years, which keeps me informed of the broad range of the genre and how it’s developed.
Audiobooks I just can’t get into. It’s the same with sermons at church, I’m good for about fifteen minutes, then my mind drifts and you’ve lost me, so I only own a few and most have never been listened to completely. For me, the reading experience is pleasurable in its inter-activeness anyway. Having someone do it all for me takes away the fun and the focus.
I started reading SF/F when my dad would leave books lying around half-read. He’d have five or six going at a time. I’ve picked up that habit and I usually have half a dozen lying around at various stages. I’d get partway through one, bounce to another, forget where I put a third until I bump into it on a table somewhere and start in where I left off.
Technology hasn’t changed that I do that, but it has changed how I do it. I’ve always been comfortable with reading on a screen, whether it be a computer monitor, e-reader, tablet, phone, whatever. So I’ll still have a half dozen books at various stages of being read, but now they’re all in one place.
I used to lose books a lot. I’d be reading in bed or on the couch or in my car and put the book down, or into my backpack, do something else and forget where I put it. Might take me days to find it again. Now, though, I know where it is.
Only problem is that I’m still losing them. I’ve got a lot of books on my iPad and now instead of losing track of books because they’re in different parts of the house I’m losing track of them because they’re in a sea of other books. It’s like getting partway through a novel and instead of putting it down on the bedside table I slot it back into the bookshelf. Browsing my library isn’t nearly as easy or as satisfying as looking at my bookshelves. I can only find what I’m looking for if I know what I’m looking for, if that makes any sense. I’d really like it if they could do a better job of replicating a browsing experience.
I still like paper books. Especially if they’re non-fiction for reference. It’s a pain in the ass to highlight and bookmark an ebook. With paper I can find the spot I marked a lot more easily. That said, I can’t do a text search on a paper book.
With ebooks I find I’m buying a lot more of them. It’s not just the price, which sometimes is ridiculously low, but the ease of getting them. I press a button and voila! there it is. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. With paper books at least I have a stack of them to give me a sense of just how much money I’ve blown. Now it’s when I look at my bank account and wonder how I’m going to make rent.
It’s a whole new world for me. It used to be that I left a couple of books in my car or purse to make sure I had something to read if I was early to an appointment or date. These poor books would get beaten to hell and back despite my attempts to keep them in shape. Now, I have all of my favorites on my phone. I read so much more these days because my books are always with me.
My buying habits have changed, too. I tend to go for electronic copies first. Then, if the book really struck me, I buy a paperback copy. I also take a lot more chances on new authors and keep an eye out for those books that are occasionally free on Amazon. Though, I do still go to bookstores and buy paperbacks. I’m a bit of a book junkie. The husband and I own about 1500 books between us.
At home, if I’m exercising or cleaning, I’m listening to an audiobook. I tend to go for authors I know I really like or books I’ve already read because of my multitasking nature. If I miss something because the cat threw up, I can go back or I already know what happened. I also listen to audiobooks in the car on long road trips.
I’m not one of those readers who has to have the book smell. I like my e-reader. I can pump up the font size \ so I don’t have to look for my reading glasses. I don’t have to worry about losing my place. I still get lost in the ebook the same way I do with a normal book. E-readers make reading that much more convenient for me. It’s a treasure I appreciate.
Tagged with: Betsy Dornbusch • bryan Thomas Schmidt • Daryl Gregory • Jennifer Brozek • Kristine Kathryn Rusch • Laura Lam • Marie Brennan • Mieneke van der Salm • Mind Meld • Shaun Duke • Stephen Blackmoore
Filed under: Mind Meld
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