So, as seems to be customary this time of year, I’ll go back to one of my favorite topics — ebooks.
I think the new Kindles are cool, I think the ones before them were good as well and to be honest, there’s really nothing to complain about my – now aging – Kindle either.
I still like all the things I used to like about ebooks and I still dislike all the things I used to dislike. But there’s something that really bugs me more and more: pricing and release dates.
Let’s pick for example, the last book in The Wheel of Time series, probably my favorite fantasy series of all time.
Finally available for pre-order, you can find it on the Amazon webstore in Hardcover and Kindle format.
Notice first of all, the pricing. The hardcover is £13.10 and the ebook is £10.99.
This is wrong in my mind for two reasons, both related to how cost should get calculated.
1. Production process
I have not been involved in the book publishing process of either paper or digital books, but here’s what I guess is a reasonable high-level description of the process.
- Trees are cut
- Paper is made from said trees
- Books are printed on pages of said paper
- Pages are tied together
- Big heavy books are hauled all over the world
- Books are placed in bookstores which require physical space and all the pains and costs of a physical storefront
- Some conversion is done from the original digital format the book is in from author/editor to the ebook format it will be released under
- The ebook is placed on the publisher’s servers for download
Now I’m no expert in any of these, but it seems like the ebook version is a whole lot easier and more cost effective. Not to mention greener.
2. What you pay for
A physical hardcover book can be used for the following:
- Reading the content inside
- Lending said book and content to a friend
- Door stop
- Ammo against annoying mosquitos
- Last-resort flammable fuel in case of a zombie outbreak
- Many more things that I can’t think of right now
An ebook can be used for the following:
- Reading the content inside… unless you decide do move to a different ebook provider
So… does the small discount justify the reduced production cost of ebooks and the reduced benefits that come from buying an ebook instead of a physical book? I don’t feel it does. I really really don’t. I think they should be a lot cheaper than they are. I find numerous examples where the ebook is more expensive than the paperback and that’s just wrong.
But what I find it even more annoying is the release date. If you look back to my previous example, you may notice a detail so small that I nearly missed it when I was preordering. The ebook comes out three MONTHS after the hardcover.
Before I noticed that I was debating between the hardcover and the ebook. I was debating whether I want to own this wonderful series in physical form, out of fandom more than anything else, or whether I want to go for the more practical approach of getting it all on my Kindle and not taking up an entire rack of my bookcase with the WoT books. I would’ve maybe blogged about that internal debate and what it means to a book fan like me, who also happens to be a practical geek.
But I won’t blog about that. I won’t blog about that because I want to own A Memory of Light as early as humanly possible and I will not wait for nearly an extra quarter of a year for the ebook version. I won’t blog about it because if I want to get the previous books, I can pick between getting them at about £0.60 each in paperback (and I mean new) or £4.99 in Kindle format. I won’t blog about that because that debate is pointless in a world where ebooks are second-class citizens for publishers, so instead I’ll have to stick with this mild rant for this year.
But there is hope though… So, until next year, happy reading, no matter how you like it.
Almost a year ago I blogged about getting a Kindle and how I was pleasantly impressed by it (that’s an euphemism for being totally blown away). It’s been 11 months and in this time I have downloaded 58 books on my Kindle. Wow! Now I say download and not bought because about half of these are free ebooks that you can get on Amazon (mostly classics). Out of all these I read probably about 20-25. In case you’re wondering how do I end up getting more books than I actually read, that’s an interesting topic that I’ll touch on another time.
Regardless, that’s still a lot of books read and a lot of books bought. I can say with certainty that I bought more books this year (using the Kindle) than in any year before because of the convenience. Nonetheless, among these numerous books, free or paid, there is not one technical book. I just never bought an ebook that I would be directly using in my work. There are several reasons for that:
- Kindles are great for reading a novel from start to end, but not that great for flipping through pages and going back and forth
- I don’t even notice the screen lag when I’m reading, but it would bug me a lot if I were going back and forth between a few pages (as I often do with reference books) or if I was searching for something specific
- No color makes many figures and screenshots useless and most others hard to read
- The screen is small by “tech book” standard. This is perhaps a weaker argument since there are larger Kindles, but for me it’s an argument nonetheless
- Old habits die hard… I just like having the reference book next to me so that I can flip through it, make notes and of course throw it at the wall when code crashes!
Recently though I did purchase what is most probably my first technical e-book. I actually bought three of them in a pack. These are the Android Books from CommonsWare and again there are several reasons why I decided to buy these. As tech books go, these are quite cheap actually so it’s not a huge gamble if it turns out to be a bad idea, I could check on the author (by observing his inhuman rep on StackOverflow and the way he explains things there) and they actually seemed quite promising in terms of quality. But really, the one selling point that got me to decide on this almost immediately was getting Free updates for one year.
Now let met just stop there and expand on that. Free updates for any period of time is a HUGE thing in technology documentation, especially with something young like Android that mutates into something new every 10 minutes or so. My previous book on Android was outdated by the time I purchased it. By the time I finished it, Android was something else altogether. Updating books is something that you can’t have with “dead trees” and I cannot overstate its importance for tech books. I believe this to be the strongest argument for getting tech books electronically. Unfortunately, not all ebooks come with this benefit (actually…most don’t as far as I know), so the argument becomes rather null. It’s sad to have a medium with so much power, but find it not be used to its full capability.
Of course, I’m now back at my original concerns. Having this new ebook I was faced with the challenge of…well…using it. This is for personal work and I’m doing that off a laptop now which means that I don’t have three screens so that I can put the book on one and just work as normal. Lion’s fullscreen mode plus gestures actually helps a lot, it’s easy to switch between the book and the environment… but I still have to switch, which is a bit annoying (for those of you confused, I was spoiled by working on two 24+21 inch screens for a year; you just can’t really ever get over the experience of 40″+ of screen space).
Among my numerous options with these ebooks, I could get a Kindle version of the book so I could put it on my Kindle, but I run into the problems I was previously mentioning. Again, call me fussy, but I just can’t see myself using my Kindle for a tech reference.
I think this is where I become interested in having a tablet. I can genuinely see that be useful for something like this. A 10″ screen is decent size and if going through pages is as smooth and quick as it is on the computer, that’s great. Since the reasons for getting a tablet are adding up, maybe once the Kindle Fire makes it to the UK, I’ll look into that.
(You know, it’s funny how when the iPad came out I was completely unmoved and considered it a dumb idea and as time went by, I slowly started buying into the whole tablet thing; I hate to admit something like this, but in this case Steve was absolutely right… I had no idea what I wanted until he shoved it in my face. Damn!).