An American Editor

June 22, 2011

The eBook Revolution’s Effects on My Book Buying & Reading

For many years my reading habits ran in cycles. For x period of time, I read only fantasy and science fiction. When that cycle came to an end, it was replaced with mysteries. As that cycle ended, I moved to nonfiction biography. And the pattern kept going — I would come to the book-buying and -reading trough and gorge on books that fell within a particular genre, satiate my appetite for that genre, and then move on to feast on another genre. For 50+ years, that has been my habit. Until 3.5 years ago…

…when I received my first ereader device, a Sony PRS 505, as a holiday gift. Suddenly my reading world was threatened with upheaval. At the time, I had been in my third year or so of reading largely nonfiction and the occasional novel. All of my book purchases were hardcover and I was spending upwards of $5,000 a year on hardcovers (I am not going to discuss my magazine reading as those habits haven’t yet been affected by the ebook revolution).

When I got my Sony I learned pretty quickly that I had limited options as to where I could buy ebooks. At the time, Sony used its own proprietary format; it hadn’t yet transitioned to the significantly more open ePub format, although that came about 8 months later. I also discovered, after purchasing my first nonfiction ebook for the Sony that nonfiction on the Reader was not going to be a practical option for me. Much of the nonfiction I read is heavily noted and accessing notes was awkward at best, impossible at worst.

I also purchased a couple of novels that I had wanted to read but which were no longer available in print, yet they were available as “reasonably” priced ebooks. And thus began a change in my reading habits, compliments of the ebook revolution. I found that reading fiction on the Sony was extraordinarily pleasurable. The screen was excellent; the ease of bookmarking was great; the ability to switch among books wonderful; and the ease with which I could carry multiple books everywhere with me was breathtaking. The Sony was meant for me and for any avid reader — as long as it was fiction.

That was the kicker — it had to be fiction. The Reader could handle nonfiction, but not all that well (and from what I could see of friends’ Kindles, the Kindle was in the same boat). So what to do?

In a way, solving my problem was easy. I have always viewed fiction and nonfiction differently. I consider 98% of all fiction as read-once-throwaway material; little of it was worth saving for any reason. I also consider fiction to be a “cheap” read. What I mean is that with only a few exceptions, the most I am willing to pay for fiction is the price of the mass market paperback discounted. In contrast, I consider 100% of the nonfiction I buy to be books I want to keep in my permanent library for future reference by me or someone else (note that I said that I buy; there is a lot of nonfiction that belongs in the fiction category of read-once-then-throwaway). I consider these books to be readable multiple times (although I do not do that with a great deal of frequency) and some of them to be collectible. Consequently, I will buy the hardcover and pay the price.

The ebook revolution affected my reading habits by “making” me buy and read fiction in addition to the nonfiction I buy and read. My habits have changed; my reading broadened. The ebook revolution also introduced me to a category of books that I would not have considered at all before the advent of ebooks — the self-published book. I still have not ventured into self-published nonfiction because I still give credence to traditional publishing and its vetting process, although that credence has been under attack in recent months as a result of traditional publisher carelessness that has been publicized.

Previous to the ebook revolution that began for me with the gift of the Sony, I would never have knowingly bought a self-published/vanity press book. No exception. But within weeks of receiving the Sony, I discovered Smashwords and free and 99¢ ebooks. I grant that there is a lot of poorly written, poorly edited, and poorly produced drivel at Smashwords, but I was willing to do my own vetting for that price. I also discovered Fictionwise, which had some very inexpensive fantasy books, especially with the sales.

I purchased a lot of ebooks from Smashwords and Fictionwise and soon found that I was devoting much of my reading time to fiction. I’d pickup a hardcover nonfiction book only to put it back down after a few minutes because I really wanted to read on my Sony. I was hooked. (I’m waiting for the American Psychological Association to create a new mental disease category for my ereader addiction.) I will admit that given my druthers, I’d druther read on my Sony (which is now the newer Sony 950) than read a print book.

It is a constant, daily struggle for me, and I am losing the battle with myself. As each day passes, I become ever so slightly more addicted to reading on my Sony 950 and less willing to pick up the pbook. This is causing me angst on another front: the financial front.

Because of how poorly many ebooks are produced, their high pricing, and the restrictions imposed by DRM, not least of which is the idea that I am “renting” the ebook rather than owning it, I am reluctant to abandon hardcover for my nonfiction. I think making that transition is at least 5 years, maybe 10 years, away for me. As well as my Sony 950 handles footnotes and endnotes, there are still things that dedicated ereaders do not handle well that are important to nonfiction, such as images. This conflicts me because the reading experience of the Sony 950 is so great.

As this internal battle rages, I find that in some cases I buy both the hardcover and the ebook versions of a particular nonfiction book. Granted this doesn’t happen often, but even I can see it happening with increasing frequency. Whereas when I was using the Sony 505, which I did for 3 years, I only purchased 3 titles in both formats, an average of 1 per year, since buying my Sony 950 at its release 8 months ago, I have purchased 2 books in both formats and have contemplated purchasing several more (but have not yet given in).

The one battle that the ereader has won, and it wasn’t much of a battle, is in regards to fiction: I will only buy fiction in ebook form, with the exception of a couple of authors whose books I am collecting, in which event I will buy both formats.

The other battles that the ereader has won are that of broadening my reading habits and skewing the number of fiction versus nonfiction books I buy. As for the former, I now read concurrently fiction and nonfiction rather than cycling and I read multiple genres of fiction rather than cycling. As for the latter, whereas I used to buy 20 nonfiction for every 1 fiction pbook, I now buy many more than 20 fiction for every 1 nonfiction I buy, although I read only 3 fiction for every 1 nonfiction (I have large to-be-read piles of both to get through). However, I rarely spend more than 99¢ on the fiction books.

My reading and buying habits have been significantly influenced by the ebook revolution. Has it affected your habits, too?

8 Comments »

  1. Has it affected your habits, too?

    Not one bit. :)

    Comment by Grumblepa — June 22, 2011 @ 4:26 am | Reply

  2. My reading habits haven’t been changed by e-books — yet. Experiences in the past year have introduced them to my life and, in trying to read them on a computer, have made me want an e-reader. Our regional library offered a “try it!” program allowing one to sample an e-reader for the week. Based on American Editor’s recommendations, I sampled the Sony — and liked it, aside from that model being too small. I have seen Kindles and don’t like the look and feel of them, as well as the relationship with Amazon. Point is, I see clearly that e-reading offers advantages in certain situations so I want to add that tool to my arsenal.

    As for content: I haven’t explored the world of options yet, but what I have seen of e-novels have been consistently poor quality, enough to interfere with my reading enjoyment. Unlike American Editor, I find e-books most valuable in nonfiction form. No problems have arisen yet because I’m reading PDFs on a desktop computer and the works involved aren’t footnote or graphics heavy. This may change when I have an e-reader in hand and tackle something more complex.

    The greatest change in my reading habits has been forced by selection choices at local libraries. My income level vis-a-vis my reading quantity vis-a-vis my storage capacity has demanded that I get the bulk of my books from the library (fiction, that is; I still buy nonfiction for my personal library). Because I live in a low-population, rural area, local libraries are, shall we say, feeble, and not only have I read through most of what they offer (that I’m interested in) but also they are in the process of “upgrading” from card files to electronic catalogues and barcodes, and the cost of this motivated them to pare down their holdings in order to reduce the per-book conversion cost. There went the backlist of all midlist authors, if not the midlist authors themselves, so that now the bulk of offerings are best-sellers, classics, and popular genres. All used-book stores in the area have disappeared, too. Other sources of free books, such as Paperback Book Swap, require you to offer as well as receive, so if like me you haven’t built up a body of desirable books to swap with, you can’t rely on this source to feed a volume habit.

    Which leaves free and cheap e-books as the obvious avenue to pursue. That only solves one aspect of the problem, though: quantity. My preferred reads are still new releases from favored authors — which works are caught in the current debate (war?) on pricing and rights. How long will it take before those works come available in the low-dollar form for free-readers like me? I used to have to wait anywhere from a few weeks to two years to get the latest hardcover in a series at the library. If my library doesn’t buy that volume (now almost guaranteed), and if it isn’t available through the state’s interlibrary loan system (50/50 chance), then I will have to spend a lot more time, energy, and money to read according to my tastes than ever before.

    I will be more willing to leap into the e-reader fray when the purchase price comes down. Right now, despite all of the above, the return on investment is skewed in the wrong direction for my wallet, especially since I suspect a big technology or rights change in the next 2 years.

    Comment by Carolyn — June 22, 2011 @ 5:15 am | Reply

  3. [...] Via An American Editor [...]

    Pingback by The ebook revolution’s effects on my book buying and reading | Ebooks on Crack — June 22, 2011 @ 8:52 am | Reply

  4. [...] with permission from An American Editor [...]

    Pingback by The eBook Revolution’s Effects on My Book Buying & Reading | The Digital Reader — June 22, 2011 @ 10:00 am | Reply

  5. I find that I read more now that I have an ereader in my purse virtually all the time. What used to be annoying down time waiting at the bank, at the car service center, etc, is now reading time. Except for a select few authors where I know I can get copies signed, all my purchases are now ebooks. Of course, I read very little nonfiction. I do find a read more short fiction because I can buy single stories and also I get Asimov’s on my Kindle.

    Comment by carmen webster buxton — June 22, 2011 @ 10:40 am | Reply

  6. The biggest change for me is I’m reading a wider range of authors, many of whom I wouldn’t have discovered before the advent of ebooks.

    Comment by Vicki — June 23, 2011 @ 5:45 pm | Reply

  7. [...] Have ebooks changed your reading and/or book buying habits? [...]

    Pingback by Stumbling Over Chaos :: Linkity for a dark and rainy and workity week — June 24, 2011 @ 2:03 am | Reply

  8. I’m a foot soldier in the eBook Revolution. My dystopian thriller Against Nature was recently published as an eBook by Wild Child Publishing. I think we’ll see a greater bump in eBook sales after Christmas. The ereader will be a popular gift and the prices are coming down. I personally love my Kindle and that is my preferred way to read.
    With that said, the prices of the eBook need to be kept under $10 (and this comment coming from an author.) There are no real production costs (paper, binding), storage or shipping costs and as such the eBook price should be significantly lower than paper. Selling a new release in eformat should not be the same price as a paper copy. When the e-version is close to the price of the paper version we need to complain to Amazon, Apple, B&N, etc…..

    Comment by John Nelson — September 26, 2011 @ 1:02 pm | Reply


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