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MIND MELD: The Pros and Cons of eBooks

We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: Do you read eBooks? If not, why not? If so, what are the pros and cons of eBook reading? What device(s) do you use?

Read on to see their responses…

Rachel Swirsky
Rachel Swirsky‘s short fiction has appeared in, Subterranean Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, and a number of other magazines and anthologies. She also edits the audio fantasy magazine, PodCastle.

I don’t read e-books. As a writer, I do a lot of reading on screen. I compose my own stories; I workshop my colleagues’ stories; I research online; I conduct my correspondence online; I hold virtual office hours online; I waste time reading online blogs. Being an editor for a magazine that accepts e-submissions makes the situation worse. Consequently, one of the things I’m looking for in a novel, anthology, or collection that I’m reading for pleasure is its non-electronic, paper form. I want to be able to sit down with a traditional book.

If I were neither a writer nor an editor, I think I’d be an ideal candidate for e-book reading. I like gadgets and I like reading. If onscreen fiction reading weren’t such an integral part of my work, I’d be better able to appreciate it for recreation.

Rose Fox
Rose Fox edits science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mass market book reviews for Publishers Weekly and co-writes PW’s SF/F/H publishing blog, Genreville. She has the username “rosefox” on just about every social medium there is, including LiveJournal, Twitter, Flickr, Dopplr, and Ravelry. She also engages in a wide variety of freelance writerly and editorial pursuits. Rose lives in northern Manhattan with one partner, two cats, six computers, and several thousand books.

At present, I don’t read e-books. I have yet to encounter a reading device that holds any appeal for me at all. The “page turn” speed is much too slow on the Kindle et al., and I don’t like the physical design of it. (I have a chronic arm injury that makes me extremely picky about devices that need me to hold them with my hands in a certain position or press buttons with my fingers or thumb.) I don’t enjoy reading PDFs or other documents on my laptop, and I can’t imagine attempting to do so on my Palm or phone.

I also care a lot about typography and design. I know which stories I read in Judith Merril anthologies because my copies of those anthologies have yellowing pages and green edges and a particular narrow typeface that I would know anywhere. I know which ones I read in Terry Carr anthologies because of the arrangement and design of title, author, intro blurb. I know which ones I read on Strange Horizons because of the distinctive color scheme and broad font. I love a book’s unique heft in my hands, the creased corners that once held my place or marked a passage another reader found particularly notable, perhaps an inscription from a beloved author or an ancestor’s fading “ex libris”, the weight of the paper and the scent of ink and dust. It all helps to anchor the reading experience in my memory. E-books lack those things, so if I started reading e-books, not only would I lose the tactile enjoyment of the experience, but my memory for what I’ve read (which is already shoddy) would probably fail entirely, and what’s the point of reading something if you’re just going to forget it? I need those mnemonics to recall which book a scene is in, or which year a story is from. Especially in my line of work, it’s very important to keep my literary history as straight in my head as possible.

An e-reader literally could not replace my library, even if I were the world’s biggest e-book champion: many of the books I own are so old and/or obscure that digital versions will never be released. Every once in a while I think about getting a barcode scanner to put my books into LibraryThing, but a significant number of them don’t have barcodes, either because they’re ARCs or because they predate barcoding (and, in some cases, ISBNs). I very much doubt that anyone will ever put out digital editions of Damon Knight’s Orbit anthologies or the old Ace doubles or J.B. Post’s wonderful Atlas of Fantasy. Most of the books I get “new” are review copies I bring home from work, and it will be a while before most publishers make the shift to digital galleys, so even if I pledged to never again buy a new book in paper form, it really wouldn’t help to reduce the amount of paper on my shelves.

Comparing a reader full of e-books to a room full of paper books is like comparing a pocket shrine to a temple; we are still monkey-like enough to be awed by size and number, and a good library trips the same circuits in my brain as a house of worship. I thrill to books en masse. This is the one place where my environmentalism is overruled by my decadence. If I could, I would swim in my books like Scrooge McDuck in his pool full of coins. I also have no interest in keeping my books to myself, as one necessarily must with an e-reader. I want them out where other people can learn about me by looking at them, borrow them (with no worries about DRM!), rediscover old favorites, take risks with something new, and find inspiration for conversation. We throw parties where people come over and help us sort and shelve stacks of ARCs and books rescued from my office. I seduced my girlfriend by plying her with dictionaries; we pulled six or eight of them off my shelves and sat on my bed and read each other funny and fascinating definitions until the ice was broken. My children’s and YA books are organized in a single bookcase by maturity of content, with the picture books on the bottom and the teen angst at the top, so young visitors may read anything they can reach. I enjoy creating interesting juxapositions on my shelves: Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s magnificent but distant color photographs next to Weegee’s starkly intimate black and white portraits, the Bible and Qu’ran filed under Middle Eastern mythology and folklore, the humor alongside the porn. Friends offer to cat-sit while we travel so they can spend a weekend alone with our library. My largesse of literature is key to my self-image, and I can’t see any way that e-books could offer even of a fraction of the sociability that paper books do.

I would love to carry hundreds of books in my pocket and never again need to adjust a shelf to accommodate an odd-sized hardcover, but there are just too many things I dislike about e-books, and most of them can’t be solved with technology. I may eventually accumulate a digital reference library so I can search the text and annotate it without damaging it–really, everything in life needs a search function–but for the most part I expect to go on indefinitely playing Scrabble with physical tiles, and playing solitaire with physical cards, and reading physical, tangible, memorable, unique, delicious books.

Jeremiah Tolbert
Jeremiah Tolbert is a writer, web designer, and photographer living in Northern Colorado. His work has appeared in Interzone, Shimmer, and most recently, the new anthology Seeds of Change. He is also behind the steampunk project Dr. Roundbottom found at

I have read ebooks off and on since 2001 when I got my first PDA. It was a great way of getting some genre reading done when I might not necessarily was supposed to be doing that kind of reading. Ahem.

I read a lot of short fiction on it, and a few novels. The pro is that I always had something to read with me wherever I was, and I could buy stuff without going to the store. When I lived in Wyoming, ebooks were the only way I could find some texts. The downside of my earlier readers were that the screens were a little small to read on comfortably, and they could be hard to operate in a comfortable reading position. I like to sprawl out when I read. Turning pages can be hard in that position, unless the reader can be operated one-handed.

I do not currently own a dedicated eReader. My device of choice is my iPhone. I don’t even use ebook software now–there’s more than enough to read online for free. Because of the economy and my employment status, I’ve been cutting costs wherever I can, and sadly that includes books.

I don’t read texts straight off a website, however. I use an app on the iPhone called Instapaper. This application functions via a website and a bookmarklet on your computer. Any time I come across a huge chunk of text that I don’t want to read at my computer, I click my “Read Later” bookmarklet. This quickly adds the text to my account on Instapaper’s website, which then syncs up with my phone. Instapaper strips all the graphics and general webby cruft off a page and formats it just like an ebook–nice margins and text formatting, etc. The one thing it doesn’t handle well are stories or articles broken up over 20 pages (to maximize ad revenues I am sure). In those cases, I bookmark the printable version when they have one.

Thanks to Instapaper, I get a lot of online fiction read that I wasn’t getting read before. I have no problem reading stories sitting at a computer–I do it daily, after all, but there’s just a limit to how much time I want to spend on a computer.

I don’t own an eInk reader although I am a big supporter of the idea. I’m very curious about the Nook in particular, but my concern right now, beyond financial issues, is that I don’t want to buy a device before the technology reaches what I think will be full maturity. That device will be full color, the size of the Kindle DX, and allow for reading PDFs laid out like magazines always have been. Also, it’ll be generally platform agnostic without too much concern for DRM bullshit.

When something like that hits the market, I think it’ll be end of the print magazine as we know it, and it’s coming faster than you might think. I suspect we’ll see something along those lines within a year. In the meantime, my iPhone works well, and the stacks and stacks of books and magazines I already own are already on a pretty mature technology platform.

Dominic Green
Dominic Green was born (1967). Was educated (English public school and Cambridge). Wasted education on a career in information technology in the UK, Germany, Belgium and Holland. Now works for a large and vengeful international credit card company, in the secret subterranean rocket complex. Duties include saying “CLOSE CRATER DOORS” into the intercom in a sinister indefinable Central European accent.

This one is very relevant to me, I’m afraid. As most people who’ve read me know, I’ve never been able to get novel-length manuscripts published. I have no idea why – I suspect I give off some sort of hormone that selectively repels literary agents and publishers, but not magazine and anthology editors. For this reason, I’ve had to put my manuscripts online on my website, and on, where I’m known as demonicgroin, so people can read them for free.

Ebooks in the sense of formats requiring an Ebook reader, however, are something that I’m not sure will catch on immediately, for the following reasons:

  • They don’t smell as good as books
  • You can read books when the sun’s shining
  • Paperbacks don’t run out of battery power halfway through chapter 2
  • You can club someone to death with a sufficiently large Times Atlas of World History

The battery problem can be overcome, however, by only ever reading God-Emperor of Dune, which is so tedious that your Ebooks will consume very little battery power. And you can read Ebooks under the bedclothes.

I do anticipate, furthermore, a future in which we’ll have to upgrade our personal libraries every few years every time manufacturers bring out a new form of Ebook technology. If the Bavarian Illuminati plan it right, they could prevent certain books from ever being read again, just by making sure versions of them don’t make it into the next generation. The Communist Manifesto, mate? Never heard of it.

Ebook readers seem, to me, to be devices that will go the way the dedicated word processor did in the 1980s. I think the future holds a technology that is more similar to current internet browsers – i.e., a hand-held device offering a variety of remotely hosted applications, not just the ability to read a book. There are currently very few barriers to producing a device that is ‘a PC in the palm of your hand’ – the only two drawbacks are keyboard and display size. The keyboard problem could be easily solved by future generations of voice recognition technology, though this would lead to people irritatingly talking to their computers in public in the same way people irritatingly talk to their mobile phones today. I’m not sure about the display issue. The sort of ‘smart paper’ we saw in movies such as Red Planet and novels such as The Diamond Age might be a solution.

Fabio Fernandes
Fabio Fernandes is a writer living in São Paulo, Brazil. Also a journalist and translator, he is responsible for the Brazilian translations of several prominent SF novels including Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and A Clockwork Orange. A translatin of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is coming in May 2010. His short stories have been published in Brazil, Portugal, Romania, England, and USA. Fernandes also published a non-fiction book on the work of William Gibson, A Construção do Imaginário Cyber, and an SF novel, Os Dias da Peste (both in Portuguese). He’s currently writing his first novel in English.

Yes, I certainly read eBooks. Even though I love the still dominant cellulose-based lifeforms (aka paper books), eBooks are much easier to carry – and that’s a big advantage over a traditional hardcover, for one thing. The only con I can think of is the screen glare – which, I’ve been told, is virtually non-existent in Amazon’s Kindle. Living in Brazil, I wasn’t able to buy one until a few weeks ago, when Amazon finally made the device available on a global basis. Currently I use both a Dell netbook (on which I’m reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Diving Into the Wreck) and the Stanza eReader on my iPhone (on which I’m reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl), but I’m planning on buying a Kindle early next year – a good friend of mine in Rio de Janeiro already did and he’s loving it, it’s working just fine. I still have a whole lot of reading to catch up with, so the “one device to carry them all” policy seems the best bet to me in the near future.

Paul Levinson
Paul Levinson, PhD, is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in New York City. His eight nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), and Cellphone (2004), have been the subject of major articles in the New York Times, Wired, the Christian Science Monitor, and have been translated into ten languages. New New Media, exploring blogging, Twitter, YouTube and other “new new” modes of communication, was published by Penguin Academics in September 2009. His science fiction novels include The Silk Code (1999, winner of the Locus Award for Best First Novel), Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002), The Pixel Eye (2003), and The Plot To Save Socrates (2006). His short stories have been nominated for Nebula, Hugo, Edgar, and Sturgeon Awards. Paul Levinson appears on The O’Reilly Factor (Fox News), The CBS Evening News, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (PBS), Nightline (ABC), and numerous national and international TV and radio programs. He reviews the best of television in his blog, and was listed in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Top 10 Academic Twitterers” in 2009.

The big advantage of eBooks is that you can get them in your hands and in front of your eyes immediately. This fast gratification of intellectual impulse is one of the most profound benefits of the digital age. The big disadvantage of ebooks is that you need an expensive device, or your own laptop, on which to read them. You don’t want to bring your Kindle or your laptop along to the beach on a beautiful, windswept, high-tide day. Also, you need reliable batteries to keep your reading device working. In contrast, all a paper book needs is the easily available ambient light of the sun or a nearby bulb.

I don’t read eBooks, because I already spend as much as 10 hours a day online, reading and writing blogs, sending Tweets, uploading podcasts, etc. So a nice old-fashioned book to read can be a welcome break from this.

But as an author, I flat-out love eBooks, because they make it so easy for my would-be readers to get my books. I’ve sold almost as many copies of my new book, New New Media, via Kindle as in paperback. Which I guess is only right, since the subject of the book is, well, new new media.

Tim Lebbon
Tim Lebbon is a New York Times bestselling author of over thirty books, including The Island, Bar None, and The Map of Moments (with Christopher Golden). Visit him here:

I’ve never read an eBook. I don’t have an eBook reading device, and have no plans to buy one. I know that lots of people in publishing use them now, and I can hardly blame them – much better than carrying hefty manuscripts around with them all the time. But when I want to sit down and read a book, I want to sit down and read a book. It’s all part of the reading experience for me, and after spending all day in front of a computer screen writing, reading from a paper page is a delight.

Jeff VanderMeer
World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer grew up in the Fiji Islands and has had fiction published in over 20 countries. His books, including the bestselling City of Saints & Madmen, have made the year’s best lists of Publishers Weekly, LA Weekly, Amazon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many more. He reviews books for, among others, the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post Book World, and the Barnes & Noble Review, as well as being a regular columnist for the Omnivoracious book blog. Current projects include Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer, the noir fantasy novel Finch, and the forthcoming definitive Steampunk Bible from Abrams Books. He maintains a blog at

I read nonfiction and magazines off of my phone. I have also sampled the Sony e-reader and would definitely use one for nonfiction. I wouldn’t use it for something that requires more concentration like a novel. A portable book is just always going to be more convenient. That said, I do read novels I need to blurb or back when my press was open reading them as submissions, which is initially a different kind of reading.

Personally I think that ebooks will top out at about 35 percent of the market.

From a writer’s point of view I would add that thinking about a book as a mutable object works both ways. We forget the physical book at our peril and we miss opportunities for innovation if we don’t think creatively about the possibilities of all forms. A PDF book is not a physical book is not a Kindle book is not a Sony eReader book is not, to be crude for a moment, a Word document.

Paul Melko
Paul Melko‘s first novel, Singularity’s Ring, won the Compton Crook/Stephan Tall Award as well as the Locus Award for Best First Novel. His second novel is The Walls of the Universe.

I have never read an eBook, even when one was given to me for free. I grew up venerating physical books. The sensation of the book itself is an important part of reading: the smell, the texture, the imperfect process of marking your place with whatever is nearby. All of that _is_ reading!

I once went through all my old books, one by one, pulling out and indexing what I had used to mark my place over the years. I often just leave my book marks at the end of the book I finish, failing to recycle it for the next. I found business cards, take out menus, receipts, letters, notes. It was an archaeological dig of my life!

Which is not to say, I don’t believe eBooks are worthwhile. The benefits of eBooks — portability, price, weight and size — will come to outweigh these secondary benefits that a generation of readers like me won’t live without. Like any new technology, the children who grow up with it will view the last generation as daft for caring about that old stuff. So too will future reading generations come to prefer eBooks, at least until books can be printed directly to the brain, in which case their own children will mock them for carrying around their Kindle eXtreme 2125s.

So no, not for me, but go for it! I’m happy for you if you do!

Ellen Datlow
Ellen Datlow has been an editor of short science fiction, fantasy, and horror for almost thirty years. She was co-editor of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror for twenty-one years and currently edits The Best Horror of the Year. Her most recent anthologies are Inferno, The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Poe: 19 New Tales of Suspense, Dark fantasy, and Horror Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft Unbound, and The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales and Troll’s Eye View (the latter two with Terri Windling). Forthcoming are Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, Tails of Wonder and Imagination, Digital Domains, Best Horror of the Year, volume 2, Naked City: New Tales of Urban Fantasy, The Beastly Bride and Other Tales of the Animal People (with Terri Windling), and Haunted Legends (with Nick Mamatas). Datlow is the winner of multiple awards for her editing, including the World Fantasy Award, Locus Award, Hugo Award, International Horror Guild Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Bram Stoker Award. She was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre.” She co-hosts the popular Fantastic Fiction at KGB Bar series of readings in New York City where she lives in close proximity to too many books and some very frightening (although not to her) doll heads.

I’ve just bought a Sony e-reader Pocket edition. I bought it not to read ebooks on but to read PDF and word files of books that I need to cover for my Best Horror of the Year. I’m hoping it will alleviate the agony of lugging around 20 pounds of books/magazines with me every time I go on a trip.

So far I read a story on the reader and found it very simple to use. Then I started reading an anthology and although the formatting took a bit of time, the experience itself was satisfactory.

Ask me again in six months and I may have more to add. 😉

Michael A. Burstein
Michael A. Burstein, winner of the 1997 Campbell Award for Best New Writer, has earned ten Hugo nominations and three Nebula nominations for his short fiction which appears mostly in Analog. Burstein’s first book, I Remember the Future, is available from Apex Publications. Burstein lives with his wife Nomi and their two daughters in the town of Brookline, Massachusetts, where he is an elected Town Meeting Member and Library Trustee. When not writing, he edits middle and high school Science textbooks. He has two degrees in Physics and attended the Clarion Workshop. More information on Burstein and his work can be found on his webpage and blog.

I do in fact read eBooks, but as of yet I do not own a dedicated eBook reader. I used to read eBooks on my Palm Tungsten device, but ever since that device died I’ve switched to my iPhone. I tend to use the dedicated eBook reader apps. Stanza is my favorite for the ease of its interface and the access it provides to my reading libraries, although I also have a few of the other reader apps installed, including the Kindle for iPhone app.

But even though I have the ability to read eBooks, I still do the vast majority of my book reading with print books.

Mostly because of the virtual character of eBooks, I still have trouble envisioning an eBook as an item worth purchasing for a significant amount of money. This is ironic, given that many of my own stories have been available as eBooks for quite some time.

As a result, I tend to download and read almost exclusively eBooks that are free, which usually means eBooks that are in the public domain. For example, I revisited all fourteen of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books over the past year on my iPhone and had a great time doing it. There are some exceptions to the rule – for example, I bought Ken Rand’s three books on writing – but mostly I will only download eBooks that are provided for free.

Why does the virtual character of eBooks make it difficult for me to pay for them? I think it’s because I have no idea if the platform I use tomorrow will allow me to continue to read the eBooks that I download today. I have some eBooks I could read on my Palm that I cannot get onto my iPhone. I don’t want to spend $10 or $20 on an eBook only to discover in a few years that my new device, whatever it turns out to be, doesn’t allow me to read the eBook anymore.

One feature I miss from when I switched from Palm to iPhone was the ability to turn any document into an eBook and easily read it on my device. A friend recently sent me a first draft of his latest novel for me to review, and I can’t figure out how to get it onto my iPhone. Anyone out there reading this who can point me to a good, inexpensive way to load .doc, .rtf. .txt, or .pdf files onto an iPhone, in such a way that they are enjoyable to read, let me know.

When the Amazon Kindle was first announced, it included one feature that almost made me purchase one. The Kindle offers a variety of daily newspapers, downloaded in full each morning, so one can read them throughout the day without needing continual access to the Internet. My morning commute takes me underground for a part of it, so if I’m reading the New York Times on my iPhone there comes a point when I can’t download the articles anymore. I’d rather have a device where the whole newspaper is downloaded at the start of the day so I’ll always have articles to read while waiting for further updates. (Since this is for SF Signal, I’ll note that the presence of newspapers on the Kindle reminds me of the newspads in John Varely’s immensely enjoyable novel Steel Beach.)

The eBook does have some major advantages over the print book, although most of these are obvious. When I am on my commute, if the train gets crowded, it’s a lot easier to pull out my iPhone than a book. Theoretically, I could carry with me a large library of books, just like I carry with me a large library of music, so I could read whatever book fits my mood at the moment. But for now, I still feel that a book just isn’t a book unless I’m holding a print copy in my hands.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

16 Comments on MIND MELD: The Pros and Cons of eBooks

  1. Michael, if you download Stanza (a free app) onto your iPhone, and download Stanza Desktop onto your PC/Mac ( you can convert and upload the documents you want to your iPhone free of charge.


    I’m a huge eBook fan, and have been reading eBooks for about 8 years. I’m also a bibliophile, and some people find it odd that I can be both.

    I love books – I love the look of them, the feel of them, and the experience of them. I also love eBooks – I love the convenience of them, and that I get admiring glances from people on the train (at least I think they’re admiring). I also love the fact that I can read one of my guilty pleasure books without people knowing what I’m reading.

    What is most important to me, however, is the text inside the cover/inside the solid state drive. I’m far more interested in the work the author has done to get the book into my brain, than the work the printer/typesetter/distributor has done. When I’m buying fiction, I’m buying the story, the language, the ideas. And yes, nice packaging is preferable, but it’s the story that matters…

  2. Is it wrong to say that I fell into a swoon reading Rose Fox’s response?!?!  *Sigh*, a woman after my own heart.

    The only stories I have read online are short stories and those experiences are few and far between.  I read a lot on line for work and visiting blogs and it isn’t the way I want to experience my fiction reading.  I’m old fashioned in that I need the physical object in hand, the smell of ink and paper, the chance to flip back and glance at the cover every so often, the appreciation of the books font and overall design to truly get the most complete reading experience.


  3. Lee, I do have Stanza on my iPhone; it’s how I do the majority of my eBook reading.  I’ll take a look at the Stanza Desktop software you suggested.  But I also just found that Fictionwise has a Beta site for loading PDB files onto the iPhone (located at, so I may try that as well.  Thanks!

  4. Pros of ebooks:

    Don’t need paper

    Instant access

    IMO, more comfortable to read than books when using a handheld device.

    No more clutter piling up from books

    Easy to travel with multiple items to read

    Technology allows all writers to access market

    From a publisher perspective, creating one electronic file equals infinite inventory. What a dream!

    Cons of ebooks:

    Require electricity

    Device could crash

    Dedicated ebook readers cost money, but if you like reading, they are so worth it.

    Not all titles are produced in digital formats

    Although I had been selling ebooks for a few years, I finally bought my first dedicated reader (A Sony 505) in 2008. I totally love reading on the Sony. I always look for a book in ebook form before paper (unless it’s a cookbook). E-ink screens are wonderful. There is no glare and you can use them in full sun or with artificial light. It’s great to be able to reading with only one hand.

    As for the page turning speed of ebook readers I find it comparable to physically turning a paper page.

    Battery life on most devices is very good. My Sony 505 for example holds power for about 2 weeks with almost daily reading.

    I realize that dedicated readers are expensive, but I have heard that many people who like ebooks read them on mobile devices and laptops that they would have anyway.

    Now that I’m used to ebook reading, actually holding a book, especially a large hardcover, is uncomfortable.

    I really hope that the majority of the book market goes digital, especially for fiction. All the paper and fuel that is wasted on books that may or may not be sold is a shame when you think about it.


  5. I have Stanza, eReader, B&N eReader, Goodreader, and Kindle apps on my iPhone. I do virtually all of my manuscript reading on my iPHone using the Stanza app and now discourage agents from sending me physical manuscripts any more. Too hard to cart around stacks of manuscripts. Total waste of paper when someone sends you 500 printed pages and you realize a chapter in it isn’t for you.

    I have 9 floor to ceiling shelves in my library, though, plus half-sized bookcases and tables stacked with books waiting for me to buy shelves to put them in. I love the book as artefact, and have things like the entire White Wolf hardcover collection of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series and about 60 Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks from the 70s (with covers by Whelan, Vallejo, etc…) that I treasure.

    I think that ebooks may become “the new mass market,” and, like a mass market, I could see buying ebooks to read and then rebuying the “really special ones” in hardcover to add to the library.


  6. eBooks have been around for ages.  They are finally catching on for three reasons:

    e-ink– the screens are great (except for the first Sony touchscreen ones). It is not at all like reading on a PC or laptop.  You can easily read in bright sunlight.  There is no more eyestrain than there is with paper, and every book is a potential large print book.

    wireless delviery– there is a reason the Kindle kicked off the eReader craze and this is it. If you are a book addict, wireless delviery turns an eReader into a crack pipe.  You just finished a book and you want the next one in the series?  Bam! In your hands in seconds.  But it’s 2:00 am and you’re sitting up in bed in your jammies?  No problem.  Wireless is 24/7, from pretty much anywhere.

    portability– the availabilty of eReader apps on iPhones, PDAs, and laptops means that tons of people are now carrying around tons of ebooks. In the long run, multiuse devices may have more to do with ebooks’ popularity than dedicated eReaders– if they can find a way to minimize eyestrain. 

    I don’t think print will go away, but I think Lou Anders is right that ebooks will become the new mass market version.  And as ebooks become more important, hey will get even better.  Publishers will develop new workflows to eliminate the errors seen occassionally in ebooks.  Artists will create covers optimized for eReader display.  When the devices get sophisticated enough, the book design will flow through to the eReader display.

    eBook lovers are book lovers first.  As someone who also has a house full of books, what I love about my Kindle is it enables me to read more books.  I think that’s what’s important.



  7. I’ve had a kindle for over a year now, and I love it.  But even still, I only do about half my reading on it, or less.  If e-books ever replace physical books, it will be long, long after my time is up, or else shortly before the Rapture of the Nerds.

    I am amused by the loving descriptions of the physicality of reading a book, and can only imaging the correspondence taking place at the turn of the previous century:

    I, for one, will never forgo the pleasures of the buggy whip.  The aroma of the leather versus the malodorous stench of gasoline.  The feeling of lash projecting from my hand, conveying my wishes to the horse with near instantaneous alacrity.  One simply cannot achieve a similar level of mastery with a lowly worm gear and the ponderous wheel projecting into the driver’s chest.  And what of the horses themselves?  We have bred these noble beasts into a symbiotic harmony with Man, and ought not to abandon them to the cruelties of Fate in favor of a mechanical monstrosity.

    Amusing yet inexact analogies aside, e-books have changed the way I read.  Being able to try new authors for free (or at a highly reduced price) has opened me to sample their works and buy their books.  The free e-books that were offered at and are still offered at suvudu have generated about two dozen sales to me of authors that I never would have considered buying.

    I do agree with Michael Burstein on how e-books don’t feel as real as regular books.  Until I can get over this, I will probably never buy an e-book unless it’s priced less than it’s physical counterpart.  Even if it is only $1 less, I’ll still buy it.  But I rarely buy hardbacks, so Amazon’s $9.99 for ebooks that are still out only in hardback is not a big temptation for me.  And if publishers are serious about not being able to make money on e-books at lower prices, then e-books probably won’t take off in a big way until we have our first generation of readers who grew up reading mostly e-books.

  8. I inquired with some of the publishers that send me review copies if they were moving to ebooks, but I’ve been told there are no immediate plans to do so. Once they make that transition, I’ll be on board only so I can carry a lot of content with me all in one spot. How fabulous would that be on vacation?

  9. Great discussion, and I’m glad I read this.  As long as nobody suggests getting rid of paperformat I am all for ebooks, particularly as they create so many new opportunities and also help the new generation (one that is phobic of paper) connect with good stories.  Thanks all for sharing these thoughts.

  10. YAY for the almost universal endorsement of the physical book and the marginally grudging acceptance of e-books for some (small amount of) utility!


    Rose – absolutely:  some books (like, say, 50% of my own collection) have no isbns and cover prices of no listing (hardbacks) or 15 cents (paperbacks).  (Though I do have most, if not all of the Orbits, so if it is time to find out of those stories can be re-collected, there are at least two sources – yours and mine!) – not to mention the earliest efforts of Conklin, Healy&McComas and Wollheim.

    This does strike me as a generational divide though,  (being a bit provocative) between those of us who can wait more than five seconds (however impatiently) for something and those that demand emphemeral, mostly worthless, immediate gratification.

    In all seriousness:  things you have to work hard for are usually valued more greatly than things that you get for nothing.  What does that say about the value of real books (ones you have to buy, lug around, store, protect) versus electronic bits and bites that waft freely through the air to your device, can be replaced or replenished at a whim and require no effort to obtain or use?

  11. SQT:  beyond review copies – the solution to lugging lots of books on vacation is the thrill and excitement of tracking down the local bookstores…

  12. Edward Milewski // November 26, 2009 at 2:55 pm //

    Just think of all the jobs that are presently and will continue to disappear once e-books really take off.Literally thousands more jobs gone for good.

  13. @Edward – sure some jobs will be lost, just like jobs were lost when the printing press replaced manual copying.  I hope those people get different and more productive jobs.

    @Chris – Thanks for that, I was thinking the same thing.  It fits with Lou’s comments that there will be some who buy physical books, just like there are some who prefer horses.

  14. I’m with Chris Taylor on the pricing of e-books. I see articles/comments that refer to $9.99 as “cheap” for an e-book. But why would a non-physical copy of something cost more than the paperback? That paperback had to be printed, shipped, and inventoried, and you had to stand in line to have a real person check you out. If I were to click to download a book, none of that applies.

    So if you’re not providing a physical object, e-books should be cheaper. But a higher percentage of the money generated should go to the author.

  15. Ebooks have a lot of advantages — I read some of my fiction that way, and some of my non-fiction. As writers Sharon Lee and I  also sell a lot of ebooks — that revenue stream is important to us. Alsdo, as writers we’re pleased to be able to carry a lot of our books with us for readings and conventions — much easier than lugging 15 books around, i can tell you.

    Pricing an issue? Maybe you’re dealing with the wrong publishers. Baen ebooks — through webscriptions — are reasonably priced — our books individually run around $6, with omnibus editions at $10 or so and some “featured” editions (like advance E-arcs) more expensive.  And yes, as an author, my percentage of an ebook sale is higher.

    Dedicated readers? Not yet — I’ve been using my Asus netbook for a couple years; it already has a lot of what I need on it, why lug something else? I do sometimes have to convert files from one format to another…but hey, that’s usually not all that hard.

  16. W. R. Mahoney // December 7, 2009 at 10:24 pm //

    I am not a Published Author.  What I am is a Reader.  I learned to read before Television was invented.  I too have had a long, love afair with “books”!

    As a young man of 12, I received my first litareary classic, in Faux-Leather Binding with gold edges to the extra-high-quality paper: Tresure Island.  Hook, line and sinker:  Since then, I collected and read everything I possible can.

    I belonged to Time-Life Out-Of-Print Club (for the brief period they re-printed).  I rumaged through books at Flea Markets, Goodwill, Used Book Stores.  I borrowed (and on one occasion, did not return) a copy of Robert Service.  I had a leather bound copy of a Interliner New Testament/ First Centruy Greek (First Edition). 

    I can’t go on with the treasures I had.  Key word: “had”. 

    Twelve years ago, a house fire seperated me from what “moth and rust does destroy”.

    I do not read e-books.  I listen to books.  Back when Books On Tape were just getting started and others followed.  Then the advent of the CD Book.  Now I use a Creative Mozaic 8GB and I download from anywhere I can/want.  All of Pratchett; most of Harry Potter (it got too repeative); hundreds of Old Time Radio Programs; Fictional History (Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder); A History of the English Language by Michael Drout; The Journals of Lewis and Clark; Journals of ordinary (realitive term) folk on the Oregan Trail; anything on the Native American; etc.

    Living in King County, south of Seattle, I can go online to the King County Library, check the Index, order or place a hold, tell them what local branch I will pick it up at and they send me an email to say when it is ready.  Borders has books one may purchase and download.

    Point is that it is nice to read a book, but when you realize the fraility of life and its breavity; when you must drive, ride the bus, babysit, or otherwise be in a situation where you can not hold a book in your hands, Audio is the answer.

    As for electronic advancement, my MP3/WMA player is designed for Music, which I DO NOT listen too.  At some point, someone will develope a device for audio books that will allow for better Bookmarking, Voice Speed and Pitch Control adjustment where (as my Radio Shack CTR-118 would do) I can speed up a slow reader and still make the voice sound normal.  I also could make minor adjustments to change the “sound” of the Readers voice. 

    Audio; (Human not Computer readers) books for when you can’t read!

    So many books;   Please Sir, may I have more (Lifetimes)?

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