Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Kindle Problem--A Moral Conundrum

by Dave White

I have a confession to make.

After a long time resisting the trend, I got myself a Kindle. It was a wedding gift I asked for, and I was first able to use it on my honeymoon. And having the Kindle on the cruise gave me the idea for this blog post.

You see, I was all ready to say e-Readers weren't becoming popular. We were on a ship of 2000 people, and I figured it would be a good way to survey the popularity of the e-Reader.

The first day I had my topic. E-readers aren't popular outside of publishing. I wandered the pool deck and saw hundreds of people reading actual books. The Girl with the... The Joe Torre book... Jennifer Weiner... But no e-Readers. I was convinced. Only I had one, and that was because I was into publishing and was trying to conserve space in the condo.

And then a funny thing happened. As the trip went on more and more e-Readers popped up. At one point I had a running count 6 Kindles, 4 Nooks, 2 Sony, and two iPads. By the end, I think I was over 20.

It strikes me this isn't just a fad, it's really starting to catch. And I think authors are going to really love it. At one point I was talking to a couple about their iPad and Kindle (both liked the Kindle better) and the woman bought a copy of WHEN ONE MAN DIES on the spot.


It's hard to do that kind of hand selling on a vacation.

And here's where I come to the problem. It's a selfish problem, but a problem nonetheless.

I don't like the e-Reading culture. The e-Reader is going to create book monopolies. Apple and Amazon (and maybe BN will hang in there) are going to be the only booksellers and the rest will just drift away like independent record stores.

And I love my indie bookstores. So how do I reconcile my love of an indie with my love of the Kindle?

I spent the week thinking about this, before I started writing this blog. And here's what I came up with:

Anytime I want to try a new author, the book goes to the Kindle. They're cheaper, there's less risk involved. But my favorite authors.... yeah I still love the feel of a book in my hand. I still love wandering the stacks.

I love the smell.

So when my favorite authors put a new book out, I'm going to an indie. I'm ordering from an indie. I will not just download the book.

Laura Lippman's newest, for instance. Sometime in the next week I'll be taking a trip to a local store to buy it, even though I have a gift card to Amazon sitting in my account.

It clears my conscience. It makes me feel better.

It means I can have my books and Kindle too.

What do you think?

PS: Thanks to Joelle and Bryon picking up the slack the last two weeks. I read Joelle's Thursday posts, and Bryon's other posts and they did a bang-up job. Really appreciate it.

BTW, if you want to hear my thoughts on my actual honeymoon, check out my actual blog by clicking here.


John McFetridge said...

Beyond the theory of "indie" bookstores (I just like the sound of indie, the idea of something being independent) I've had to think about what I really like about bookstores.

Of course, it's the people who run them. I shop for my crime fiction at Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto. They know me and have geat recommendations for me.

But not all indies are the same and farnkly, lately I've run into some real snobbism at indie bookstores. A few weeks ago I was in a small indie store in a very trendy/hip neighbourhood in Toronto and I asked if they had any Elmore Leonard and the nice woman who owned the place told me she only stocked literature, "no junk."

There are a lot of things about the e-reader culture I'm not crazy about (like the one star reviews given to books because they cost more than $9.99) but every situation is different.

Erin said...

I think the ebook industry is *great* for indies. it cuts out the middle-man, and allows you to get more money for your books, while selling at a price that allows you to get as many customers as possible.

How many publishers do you know of that'll give you 70% royalties?

J A Konrath's blog talks quite a bit about what he's learned from publishing on the Kindle. He's found that he can actually make more money self-publishing on the Kindle with a price of $2.99 than he could make through a major publishing-house. That says something right there.

If you think that e-readers create monopolies, look at what the publishing industry has done. They are trying to take advantage of the authors and readers both, taking the majority of money to themselves.

Honestly, I'd never been to an indie bookstore. I used to buy from the big-box bookstores, and never would've picked up an Indie simply because they weren't right in front of me. Now, I read Indies more than I do traditionally-published books. There's some great stuff out there!

Dave White said...

I'm not talking about "Indie" writers. Independent bookstores, the mom and pop shops... that's what I'm talking about and worried about.

Judy Bobalik said...

I agree with you Dave. I pick up the free books (lots of classics I have not read) and new authors to try on the Kindle. My favorite authors I buy.

Did you get Tim Hallinan's first book for free on Kindle. It's called A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART. One of my favorite new (to me) authors

Ron Earl Phillips said...

We've only 1 "indie" bookstore. Small selection, a little of everything, and very little people buying. It's cramped, dark, and were it not for it's little coffee shop, I'd equate it to what's wrong with most comic book shops.

It always seems full, but I rarely see anyone buying actual books.

And as a comparison, we've only got 2 commercial book stores. A BAMM and a Borders Express. (So will probably be down to 1 soon).

I just got back from Denver and visited my favorite bookstore at it's new location: The Tattered Cover. Bought a Jim Thompson, despite having a coupon for Borders in my pocket. It's big, it's bright. Multiple floors, lots of books. One thing that bugged me was Crime and Thrillers were lumped in with Mystery.

Was also disappointed that they didn't have Dennis Tafoya's latest book. They said it was never released when asked. Odd, it's available on Amazon. Hmmm.

Anyway, I wish we had a good "indie" store and I could afford to buy books at price all the time. But in these times, I can't spend $25+ on a single book.

So this is why a Kindle has been of more interest to me lately. Especially with the WiFi version being only $139. A much better price. That and space.

Like I said, just came back from Denver. Visiting family. The FiL sent me packing with about a dozen or more hardcovers. I just filled up my new shelves. lol.

Unknown said...

I share the same philosphy regarding e-books, new authors get the e-book treatment, the same with authors I'm researching for interviews (which kind of sucks because if I really enjoy the author--like Michael Koryta, I own all of his books as e-copies for the exception of So Cold the River--I like to have my copies signed, but how do you do that with e-text?)and favorites I buy the actual book from the Poisoned Pen. And, John, I think there's always been a certain amount of snobbery in the indies...Hell I tend to think there's a fair amount of snobbery from the people who shop indie exclusively.

Judy Bobalik said...

I would love to see publishers quthor ebooks at say $1-2 with the purchase of a paper book. Then you have one to get signed and one for portablity.

Unknown said...

It is nice to see that people actually consider these things instead of just jumping on the mass hysteria bandwagon.

In my opinion, the only thing that will ruin the indy stores is their elitist attitudes. I used to own a bookstore and I know that if you are not nice to your customers, and if you don't give them what they want, they will NOT come back.

The eReaders go a long way to eliminating crappy customer service. You simply don't have to deal with people having bad days, or booksellers who think mystery and romance novels are junk. When a bookseller says that to a customer, what does that say about the sellers opinion of the person wanting the book?

I reckon we will always have both, but I do think that if the booksellers, in indy and chain stores, don't realize the true value of customer service, they will continue to lose business to places who don't insult their buyers.

As an indy publisher, I find it sad that indy stores are not more supportive of their cousins in the industry. We know we have readers who want our books, but most indy stores, who insist they be supported, will not make those books available. Why not?

I love indy stores as much as the next guy and I am honestly looking for a few good ones to support with my entire being, but not if they are going to be mean and rude.

People should take a lesson from stores like Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park, IL. Augie is one of the greatest booksellers alive and his customers and a world of authors will back me up on that!

Karen Syed

scott neumyer said...

Great post, man. I actually went back and forth a few times to see which way I preferred reading (hard book or Kindle book) and after a few times I have to admit that I actually prefer reading on the Kindle.

I love the accessibility and I love the ease of switching from book to book. But what I love most is being able to highlight and add notes right there on the Kindle. I like that they're backed up on Amazon and I like that I can share them with Facebook & Twitter right on the Kindle.

I didn't think I'd care that much about it until I started doing it more and more often on non-fiction books.

I'll still buy certain hard books (photography books, some film criticism/analysis, etc) but most of my book purchases are now on Kindle.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Interesting conversation. I think e-books will probably be more of a threat to the big booksellers than the indies. Anyone shopping at an indy now is going there specifically for the experience--not for convenience or price, where Amazon or B+N bargain bin will always win.

I also doubt the e-reader thing is a fad. The technology is only going to improve and become cheaper.

And once e-readers have access to college textbooks for cheap, they'll sell even better. College books (even if you go through Amazon or can still run upwards of $500/semester depending on your major--and they're all very heavy. Having all your books on an e-reader--which could also have access to all readings stored on the university's server and double as a notebook that never fills up--would be a godsend.

michael said...

Perhaps this might make you feel better. Reuters recently ran an article entitled "U.S. neighborhood bookstores thrive in digital age".

Quoting one part of article, "The ABA has reached a deal with Google Editions -- Google's digital bookstore, due to launch this fall -- that would allow its 14,000 members to sell Google's eBooks through their websites."

My one problem with ebooks is will it be able to recreate the experience all of us had when we held our first book. Happily the libraries and e-reader companies such as Sony are trying to find some way to bring the ebook to libraries. Considering few libraries exist today without at least one computer available, I remain hopeful.

Anonymous said...

here's a 'compromise' i've used and read of others using:

e-reader devices are great for downloading previews and first chapters of books, especially current fiction.

you could download the chapters and if you like it, then buy the book from your independent.

guilty conscience assuaged.

Elizabeth K. Burton said...

The previous comments have covered the major issues quite well. As for the "morality" of supporting indie bookstores, that has always struck me as a little extreme.

It's lovely if you have an indie bookstore nearby, one that carries what you want to read and has friendly, helpful staff. But they are few, and as has been pointed out, they are operated based on the preferences of the bookstore owner.

This doesn't benefit new authors or small presses who don't employ a staff of reps to sell new titles to said bookstores. Or who can't pay a premium for favored placement.

Understand: there are indie bookstores that are fantastic in their support of small presses and local/regional authors, however those authors are published. And we adore them.

But they can't provide the sales any publisher needs to stay in business all by themselves. For that, we need the market Amazon and B&N can provide.

For all its flaws, Amazon will include an independently published or small press title side-by-side with the NYTBR bestseller.

It's about choice. And for us small presses, it's about having a better opportunity for our authors to get noticed. We know from experience that word of mouth driven by ebook readers spills over onto print, so for us Kindle (and Nook and, soon, Sony) are the horse that pulls the cart.

Fred Zackel said...

Ebooks are little threat to the indie bookstores, really, unless libraries are a threat to the indie bookstores, or used book stores are a threat to an indie bookstore, or ...

Is an audio book a threat to a "real book?"

Really, we buy stories, and the container each story gets plopped within is important only to the situation we find ourselves reading in.

This brohaha will eventually be balanced out.

As a writer, I'm on Kindle, but as a reader I just cannot walk past a bookstore without pooping it.

Morality is slowing you down. "If it's an obstacle, go around it. Then it's in your rear view mirror."

Steve Weddle said...

Good points, Dave.

So many options. Libraries, too.

One of the best things about the KINDLE, to me, is the ability to read novels and stories -- not books.

I've read quite a few unpublished novels on the Kindle already, whether an upcoming novel from and 'established' author or a new novel from an unpubbed author. Just really does a great job breaking down the barriers and letting you get to the book, er, story.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article concerning your observations about your cruise and the e-readers /devices.

I think the ebook readers will have there small percentage of fans but its not going to end publishing on paper as we know it.

The leader of ebook sales is the ever elusive Amazon. We are told that ebook downloads are at a all time high, and the press runs with it. Though this past Christmas, there were tons of e book downloads, Amazon forgot to mention that 9 out of the top 10 downloads were free titles ie Christmas Carol etc.

With all that being said the book in printed form is not going anywhere, at least for now.


Dennis Tafoya said...

What I wonder about is the changes to marketing and the actual shopping experience that will accompany the rise of ebooks. My feeling about Amazon is that they make buying ridiculously easy and shopping ridiculously tough. If you know what you want, it's great, but if you want to browse, the interface seems clumsy and quickly gets tiresome.
I stumble on all kinds of cool, offbeat books at good indie bookstores, but I haven't had that experience using online stores, which tend to be organized to put the largest-selling books front and center.
Audiobooks have been available digitally for a long time now, and if that model is any indication of how shopping for ebooks is going to work, my fear is that selection will dwindle and that smaller, more niche books will fall away.

Dave White said...

Good point, Dennis, but I find I'm likely to stumble on to a book through Amazon ("If you liked this, then...") then I do at a bookstore. I'm not much of a browser. I go to a store and know what I want. If they have it, great, if not, I probably won't stick around too long. But on Amazon, if I know what I want, and then they recommend something else, I'm much more likely to buy...

Dave White said...