Southern Books

eBooks are the future – whether you like it or not

On Oct. 1, my new mystery/suspense novel, Remain In Light, was released as an eBook. My publisher, Vanilla Heart, is trying a “digital first” strategy with new titles and will follow up with a print edition in January.

Although I’ve fully embraced the eBook revolution, it’s still weird not to have a physical book to hold in my hand. The marketing campaign for Remain In Light has been done completely through social media (Facebook, Twitter, e-newsletter blast and blogs). This is the new reality facing authors today, whether we like it or not.

Statistics show that 1 in 6 Americans now owns some type of eReader, according to a recent article in Publishers Weekly. With the recent announcement of the new line of inexpensive Amazon Kindles, expect that number to grow rapidly.

eBook sales rose 167 percent in June 2011, according to the Association of American Publishers and eBooks are now outselling print and hardbacks at Amazon, according to the company. Many independent bookstores in Atlanta, including Outwrite Books in Midtown, are now offering eBooks to customers via their websites.

And you might have heard that a number of authors (most famously Amanda Hocking) are now millionaires just by uploading their own eBooks to Amazon, which removes agents and publishers completely from the equation.

I decided to talk to a few of my fellow authors and get their thoughts on having their work available as eBooks and whether they’ve embraced the future.

Jessica Handler

Jessica Handler, author of the memoir Invisible Sisters (it’s deservedly on the 2010 list of Books All Georgians Should Read), doesn’t own an eReader, but has seen her book on other people’s devices. “I’m excited to see Invisible Sisters in anyone’s hands, in any form,” she said.

Handler said if indie bookstores have to sell eBooks to survive then so be it. “I’m still so attached to the bookstore experience; browsing, chatting, handing over actual money to a real person and leaving with a real tangible thing in my hands,” she said. “However, as an author who loves indie bookstores and wants to encourage reading, any revenue stream that serves the indie store and the author, and any way to make reading accessible to the public, is a benefit to the industry.”

Bestselling author Tayari Jones has her eReader in her bag while she’s on a 50-city tour for her latest novel, Silver Sparrow. “I can’t carry around books around, but nothing brings me more comfort in a hotel room like a good book, so an eReader is perfect while I’m on the road.”

Tayari Jones

Jones has also downloaded Silver Sparrow onto her eReader and often reads from it. “Sometimes during a radio interview, I will be asked to read and I always have the book handy on my eReader.”

Man Martin’s latest novel, Paradise Dogs is out now and he’s grateful for the eBook. His first novel, Days of the Endless Corvette, isn’t available in digital format and he said that cuts off readers who have gone all eBook. “As far as I’m concerned I’m happy to see my work available in as many formats as possible: print, electronic, audio, semaphore, cuneiform, bring it on,” he said.

Online magazine TechCrunch predicted that bookstores would be virtually nonexistent by 2018, but I disagree with that “dystopian” outlook. Tapes and CDs were expected to be the death of records, but vinyl is still around and actually having a bit of resurgence. I think printed books are going the way of vinyl, still viable and still available but more for the collector and connoisseur. I own hundreds and hundreds of books and no one can make me give them up. That said, I’ve pre-ordered the new Kindle Fire and itching to have it in my hands.

Man Martin

Martin agreed that printed books are becoming marginalized, but they won’t disappear. “People will keep reading books; there are troglodytes like me who just love the weight of a book in their hands, the sight of a fat stack of books on the bedside table, the smell and sound of books.”

Many publishers are duking it out with Amazon and other retailers over price points for eBooks. The average price for an eBook is $9.99 and publishers are trying to hold the line or raise it to net more profit.

Grant Jerkins, author of the forthcoming thriller At the End of the Road, said readers are more willing to take a chance on a book when it’s $10 or less. Many authors (including those aforementioned millionaires) are selling books for a mere 99 cents each.  “Keeping the eBooks inexpensive is great for impulse purchases,” Jerkins said. “Why not take a chance?”

Grant Jerkins

Jerkins was given a Kindle as a Christmas gift last year and he’s a convert. “I love books and I love gadgets, so I really wanted one. I have to say that I genuinely enjoy reading on it. And it’s indispensable for impulse buys, for those times when you hear about a great book and you can literally have it placed in your hands in mere seconds.”

That sentiment is key to why eBooks have risen so quickly in popularity. Consumers like instant gratification and being able to download an entire novel or memoir in a minute from the comfort of your living room is a pretty compelling argument.

I held out on actually reading eBooks for as long as possible, but once I bought an iPhone and the Kindle app was available for free, I couldn’t resist any longer. I’ve now read two eBooks on my phone and, yes, I downloaded Remain In Light the day it was released. Adapt or die.

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Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley is the editor of Atlanta INtown and the author of two novels, Conquering Venus and Remain In Light. His poetry collections include Better To Travel and the recently reissued Slow To Burn.  For more, visit www.collinkelley.com.

9 Comments
  1. As much as I love the mingled aromas of paper, ink, and coffee in a bookstore, I must admit things are changing. Just this month my novel, Forbidden Island, became available as an eBook on Smashwords.com with more digital retailers to come. I hear, too, that technology is underway that permits an author to sign a fan’s eBook.

  2. I’m still buying “real” books, and, for the most part, I shop at the wonderful indie store, Capitol Books and News, here in Montgomery. I do all the things book-lovers do: read the dust jackets, talk to the owners, browse the shelves until I’ve seen every new title. Our household has a kindle (a freebie from Hotels.com for booking a bunch of rooms) but I’m still adding new titles to my crowded floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. I can’t imagine a world without bound paper pages.

  3. I’ve been a Kindler since the beginning and only buy eBooks. I’m so adapted to the format, that if I occasion to read a traditional book to review for Amazon (Vine program), I find myself tapping the edge to “turn the page.” I’m so adapted to the format that now, I hate holding a traditional book, hate the weight of the book in my hands. I can read at night without disturbing my husband. I can read in the pool while exercising (Kindle into dry-sac) without awkwardly holding my arms up to keep the book out of the water. I can sync the Kindle with my Kindle phone app and pick up where I left off while waiting for the grands to come out of school.

    I love my Kindle, finally, because I get to read stories by really talented authors whose works I would have missed but for the ease of self-publishing.

    What disturbs me? If Ken Follett and his peeps thought I would pay $19.99 ($18.99 as of this writing) for the eBook version of his first-in-a-trilogy, they misjudged. Charge whatever one wants, but he lost an audience without doubt.

    And then there is the memory problem: since there isn’t an actual book on the nightstand, the cover/title of books aren’t embedded in my memory. I’ve been known to finish a book, begin telling someone that they simply MUST read it and then can’t conjure the name. (With the Kindle app on the phone, just give me a minute and I’ll find it!)

    I think the Kindle Fire will take care of that problem. All-in.

    That said, I’m very grateful for the strength and success of our local area independent bookstore, Books & Books. There are times when one must roam the aisles for gifts and kinder-reads. And as time marches on, physical books will evolve from being the cheap mass-produced pulp of today (crumbling compost in a decade) to being treasured artwork meant to last for lifetimes.

  4. Robert Lamb

    I threw in the towel, too. My latest two books are available in print on Amazon.com AND at smashwords.com for downloading to any Ebook reader, including one’s personal computer. (Because it might be considered gauche and self-serving, I won’t mention that one is a novel titled A Majority of One and the other is a book of short stories and poems titled Six of One, Half Dozen of Another.)
    I still prefer the physical book and I keep a stack of them on my bedside table. But I smile when I hear people say they refuse to read a book on a screen. They sound like descendants of those who swore when paper came along that they’d never give up their stone tablets. I lived through too many print revolutions during my journalism career to ever say never to a new technology.

  5. I personally would like to express gratitude to publishing houses like Vanilla Heart who, rather than grasping at straws, nay-saying the burgeoning technology, and denying there’s a revolution afoot, instead chose to step up and invest themselves in eBooks. They are at the forefront of change, and I hope that the change makes them profitable and formidable, while those who cling to outdated modes become mere anachronisms.

    For years “traditional” publishing houses held a tight grip on distribution, because paper is not cheap. Those days are over. It will be interesting to see how publishers and agents adapt to the rapidly changing market… if they adapt at all.

  6. I like ink on paper. Yet, I’ve gotten used to looking online for news rather than in a newspaper. Two and a half walls in my den are covered with books. I don’t own a Kindle or a Nook. One day I will. For now, I’m happy that the people who do own e-readers can read my books that way.

    Malcolm

  7. Well count me as one writer who would never have been ‘published’ in the traditional sense for a whole lot of reasons. But thanks to smashwords, my book is out there and here are the links (below). The really cool thing is that you can promote your book in places like this and perhaps even have a few people download it before someone complains about what Bob Lamb mentioned above, i.e. “it might be considered gauche and self-serving”, and then your comments are removed. But then again, some places don’t mind if you leave links. I used to read the ‘rules’ on all the sites re what you can and can’t do, but that got pretty tedious and boring, and besides, I hate rules. I sure broke most of the ‘rules’ in writing in my book, that’s for sure.

    Kindle 99 cents

    http://www.amazon.com/Im-George-mwm-52-ebook/dp/B004EPZ1EC

    Nook free

    http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Im-George-mwm-52/George-Everyman/e/2940011156182

    I-pad free

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/im-george-mwm-52/id411641737?mt=11

    Smashwords free

    http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/31577

  8. I still love my paper books, but I’ll have to admit the e-books are a great way to experience new authors without having to spend a lot of money. I’ve found some wonderful books and made lots of new friends.

  9. I wonder when people say “it’s weird not holding a physical book in my hand” what, exactly, they think we are doing with our Kindles? I hold my Kindle in my hand. It is a physical, tangible book, albeit a different sort of book. Saying an eReader is not a physical book is like saying an apple is not a fruit because it isn’t a tangerine. I love print books, don’t get me wrong. As a fellow author at Vanilla Heart with you, Collin, I adore holding print copies of my books as much as you do. Yet I don’t feel the resignation some authors apparently feel, that it’s adapt or die. It’s embrace, not adapt–and be grateful so many more readers are reading your wonderful novels who would not read them if they were only in print.

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