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Are ebook readers stingy or just wary?

kindle1 203x300 Are ebook readers stingy or just wary?

While Ive been away on holidays Ive been largely reading from my Kindle (the only exceptions being the rather hefty 1000 page hardcover Murakami I had to bring with me and a chick lit left behind in my hotel room), and tech-wise, its all been fine.

But if youve been reading my reviews over the last few weeks youve likely seen that the type of stuff that Ive been reviewing has been rather different from my usual fare. Gone are the young adult novels and the literary stuff in apparent favour of myriad romances, cozy mysteries, classics and Christian fare (the last being an unwitting discovery, admittedly).

Why the sudden shift in genres?

Most of my review copies still arrive in print formatIve even had some publishers tell me that its still easier for them to send me a print copy rather than an ecopyand often those in ebook format are in file formats that are difficult to read on a Kindle. (PDFs are not the Kindle readers friends, it must be said.) So, to ensure that my voracious reading appetite was to be sated, I loaded up my Kindle with all manner of Amazon freebies. Naturally, certain genres tend to be overrepresented in the freebie section of the site, so more of those ended up on my Kindle than did other genres.

But why not just shell out a few bucks and pick up something I genuinely wanted to read, rather than scraping about for something thats merely sufficient?

Well, first, Ill admit it, Im stingy. Im a freelancer, so sue me (or, on second thought, dont, because you really wont get much for your troubles. In my pocket I have a hairpin and a tissue, and my wallet contains much the same.) So free things delight me much in the way shiny things never fail to catch the attention of my fiance.

But the second, and more meaningful, reason is that Im wary.

Im naturally a cautious purchaser, and early adopter is a wildly inaccurate way of describing me. (I only have an iPod because a friend gave me a hand-me-down, and I was perfectly happy with my crusty old Nokia until the fiance pointedly turfed it and bought me a new phone.)

And when it comes to ebooks there are a number of things that a reader has to be concerned about.'These include, but are not limited to:

General ugliness

Admittedly, this one is in large part aimed at the self-published and the small press, who unfortunately seem to bear the lions share of eye-gougingly awful covers and design. But big publishers dont get off scot-free here, either.

An ebook isnt the poor cousin of a print book. Its not just some dodgy scanned thing downloaded from a torrenting site (hopefully). But it really does seem in many cases that publishers are releasing ebooks merely to keep the Third Estate from uprising rather than out of any belief that ebooks are, you know, a product'that theyre selling.

There are small things that make a difference. Pretty chapter headers. Having an illuminated character at the beginning of a chapter. A table of contents. Cover art that actually renders well on an ereader. Really, anything that shows that someone has actually given some sort of consideration to the overall appearance of the ebook.

Ebooks need the same degree of attention paid to formatting and pagination as print books do.


As alluded to above, formatting woes continue to be a problem with e-texts. Unfortunately, many ebook publishers seem to think that clicking a format button to convert a PDF to a Kindle-appropriate file is all that involved in ebook conversion.

Not so, my friend.

Once again: an ebook is not a print book.

Even with a perfect conversion, things will appear differently on an ereader from how they will in'a print book. The font is different, the line spacing is different, the kerning and leading are different. Text can be resized up and downand this can destroy formatting designed for a particular zoom.

A recent ebook that I read, for example, had clearly been scanned from another file, and was riddled with hyphens that remained no matter what zoom level I was viewing. This is tough on the reader visually, and results in them being drawn out of the story (and musing on why every character seems to have a stutter).

An eye also needs to be kept on margins and justification, as these can turn into visually spectacular works of art worthy of William S Burroughs, and are roughly as easy to read. Chapter headings can also spill strangely on to the next page, or be brought back a page. Oh, and bear in mind that really theres not really such thing as recto/verso in an ebook.

Poor proofreading

Yes, Im a pedant, but Im not alone in this. I take issue when a book is riddled with misapostrophications and homophone confusion. Anecdotally, poor proofreading persists in ebooks, no matter where they fall on the price spectrum. Weve all heard of the cases where proofs have been uploaded as ebooks, or where ebooks have been found to contain so many errors that refunds have been demanded.

Scanned books are also a problem, as characters can be misread and turned into gibberish (albeit often to hilarious effect. One book I read while on holidays converted rn to m, so I got to read all about how a fire bums.) Proofing the print version of a book isnt good enough. The egalleys also need to be thoroughly looked over. Readers really do notice this stuff.

The unknown factor

One of the biggest issues with ebooks, of course, and which links into all of the points in the post, is the huge amounts of unknowns involved. Ebooks cant be picked up and flicked through, and theres really very little indicator of whether an ebook will be pristine and wonderful or whether youd be better off spending your money elsewhere.

How do I know that a certain publisher or self-published author is selling me a product that meets my standards? Personally, Im still concerned by the perception of ebooks as lesser print books, and worry that this outlook affects not just the design of said books, but also the content. Am I paying good money for someones out of print backlist? Or for something that even the authors mum wouldnt recommend?


Ooh, pricing. I could write an entire post on this alone (perhaps I shall. Lucky you!), but price and subsequent perception of value are definitely driving factors when it comes to an ebook purchase. Ebooks are already facing a major hurdle in that theyre not a physical thing. Theyre intellectual property, a bit of electronic stuff on a reader. People dont usually go into a shop and come out with their pockets bulging with pilfered stuff, but ripping a CD or downloading a movie seems to be entirely different, because theyre not stealing a physical thing. The same is true of ebooks. Many readers will see a huge disjunct between the price being charged and the amount of thing theyre getting for it, and particularly if any of the above problems are present.

(This is where the trend towards low pricing can be a problem, by the way. Does a low price indicate a bargain? Or that a book is terrible? Or does it mean that Im going to be paying through the nose for the authors subsequent books, and if so, is this acceptable? Fiddling around with prices can be a great way to entice readers, but it can also be a way to undermine trust or set inappropriate expectations regarding cost or quality of content.)

So, while the naturally wary me waits for ebooks to move from being new-fangled tech to something homely and familiar, Ill just dip my toe into the freebie pool for now until my ebook dataset has enough positive entries that Im willing to start spending the big (well, bigger) bucks.

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  1. Im nodding along vigorously to this post, Steph. Its frustrating as a reader to be stuck with a book which is riddled with these formatting issues. I read almost all my review copies as e-books and can forgive the crazy punctuation and line breaks since I know this is not the final version. But whats the excuse when its a published copy that I buy?

    Publishers should really look at the e-book as a valuable product and not just a slap dash poor cousin of the print version. And I do believe that these really low-priced e-books are ultimately not a great thing. The e or paper is just a method of distribution. True, no printing and shipping costs, but there is still a lot of work (or there should be) in creating a e-version.

    Lots more I can say, but will wrap this up for the time being!

  2. Stephanie /

    I agree completely, Puj. Im happy to let things slide on a proof, but certainly not for the final copy. If were expected to pay close to full price for an ebook, the product should certainly be up to scratch. After all, the only costs that ebooks allow to be cut are printing and (some) distribution, not anything in design and editorial!

    I think Ill do a follow-up piece on the ultra-low ebook pricing, as these concern me due to their use to game the bestseller lists and also in the way that they set reader price expectations far too low to allow for a sustainable model.

  3. That was a great article. I dont have an ereader yet, mostly because of the cost, but also because of the reasons you mentioned. I guess Im hoping some of the formatting issues will be resolved by the time I can afford one, but I wonder if they will ever be all that cross compatible. Because I specifically want an ereader that can handle PDFs and downloads from the library.

  4. This was one of the most rational and seeing all sides to the equation post on ebooks Ive come across.

    I just wanted to say thank you. :)

  5. Stephanie /

    Hi Jami, to be honest, if I hadnt received a Kindle as a gift, I probably wouldnt own one. I think its a brilliant piece of technology, though, but its the documents that are an issue. Its like buying an awesome sound system only to find that all of your music is on scratched old LPs or ancient cassette tapes.

    I hope that publishers start to realize how important ebooks really are, and see them as an essential product to complement (and likely eventually overtake) their print listings. Ignoring the importance of ebooks is ridiculous, but I wouldnt be surprised if publishers hang in there as long as possible. (Aside: I once worked for an academic publisher who didnt want to move to e-versions of their products, but who instead tried to lock customers into long purchasing contracts to stave off lost revenue)

    Michael: thanks for your lovely comment! Its my pleasure. Im glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. I would say frugal, not stingy. Im hesitant to pay big bucks for any unknown author in any format, but with a print book I can share, trade, and/or resell that book. I agree that new books dirt cheap is not a good model, but if you arent putting the money into creating a clean file for a pleasant reading experience Inexpensive backlist titles is a good way to get me to either discover an author or get me to re-purchase titles I have in print.

    As a librarian, Ive been appalled how short-sighted publishers are being not making books available at all (ex: Harry Potter) and/or not playing nice with libraries (hello, where do you think readers discover an author before going on to buy the authors other books?)

    Its as if publishers think that ebook readers will turn non-readers into readers, as opposed to asking readers what they like and why they buy books.

    • Stephanie /

      Hi Barb, great point regarding the reusability of print books cf ebooks. I hadnt even considered that ebooks are largely single use in that they cant easily be shared.

      I think the cheap books/poor formatting is a self-defeating cycle, personally. With prices so low, margins are low, and publishers/authors dont have the money to invest in making high quality versions. But if all theyre selling is poor quality versions, its hard to justify a price increase.

      Regarding ebooks and finding new authors, I discovered a great romance author (Jacqueline Diamond) thanks to her reposting her backlist online. She mentioned that doing so is about discoverability, and I think its a great tactic, particularly given that with 90 (!) novels to her name many are hard to find in shops. I think the Harry Potter thing is something different entirely, thoughI think Rowlings minions were clever enough to realise that there are big bucks to be made in ebooks, and retaining complete control over the electronic versions (ie those on Pottermore) will ensure a solid income without fear of revenue dilution or piracy. At least its a sign that some publishers recognise the value of ebooks, even if theyre trying to keep them out of the hands of readers!

  7. Fascinating point of view Steph.
    I agree wholeheartedly with the issues you raised concerning poor formatting, proof reading and visual appeal. Given that the e-book industry is still in its infancy I am willing to let problems slide a little for small/indie and self publisher but I am increasingly becoming less tolerant of big publishers who continue to release e-books of poor visual quality but have no qualms about charging a price that is equivalent to a bound copy.
    Given that the local publishing community is, in general, not supportive of e publishing its not exactly a surprise that they casually sabotage the market with inferior electronic editions but the result is that I will purchase a UK or US electronic copy since in most cases I can trust that some thought has been given to the process, rather than defaulting to the print version which is what I think they are hoping will happen.

  8. I am mainly using my ereader for review copies but there are some authors who I will buy from. They are however generally authors that I already know that I enjoy reading. If there are freebies I might download new to me authors, but the fact of the matter is that I havent actually read a lot of the freebies that I have received.

    I do know that I have a limit as to how much I am prepared to pay for an ebook. If it costs more than that, then I will do without it!

  9. Stephanie /

    Very interesting comment regarding the local press deliberately sabotaging itself, Shelleyrae. Id love to get some perspectives on that one. I certainly expect far more from ebooks than what Im getting if Im going to be paying a comparable price to the print copy. Ive noticed that some publishers (Angry Robot, for example) include bonus material in the ebook versions to make them more appealing to readers.

    I havent got around to many of my freebies yet, MargIm still trying to work through my huge print stack, which somehow seems so much more demanding than my ebook stack. I hear you on that price point, issue though!

  10. Great post! Im also very wary of buying eBooks, because as you say Im not getting a thing. If I buy a paper book and dont like it, I can sell or trade it online, give it to someone, or donate it. If I buy an eBook and dont like it, all I have is a useless file. If I DO like it, Ill probably want to buy the paper version.

    I also have a big problem with pricing. $8 seems like a lot to pay for a mass market paperback; theres no way Im paying that for an eBook. The prices vary so much, though, that the message almost seems to be eBooks are worth nothing! Its like theyre selling beachfront property in Arizona.

  11. Hopefully the delay in releasing ebooks of Harry Potter results in a high quality product, but in the meantime publisher is losing millions that they could be earning. There are plenty of torrent sites for ebooks just as there are for music, movies, TV. If content owners wont make a legal copy available for purchase, otherwise honest folks end up using these sites. Publisher loses what would have been a sale. IMHO, the way to reduce piracy is to make it easy for consumers to buy your product, no matter where they live. (End rant.)

  12. Stephanie /

    Heidenkind: Its interesting that a few people have mentioned the borrowing/giving element of books. Im also intrigued that you still like to buy books even if you do have an ebook version. I think its because a lot of people like to be readers AND collectors of books, and ebooks dont allow you to have that gorgeous collection sitting there waiting to be thumbed through.

    With books here commonly over $20, $8 sounds pretty cheap to me, but Id be a bit leery paying that much for an ebook unless it was an author I knew and really wanted to read.

    Barb: very, very true about the torrenting. I wonder if publishers will move towards special, bespoke formats to stop the piracy (similar to the increased use of 3D to help prevent people recording and distributing theatrical releases). I agree that publishers need to be tuned into what people want rather than trying to tell them what they want or need.

  13. Great article Stephanie. I too get bugged by formatting issues on my Kindle, which I mainly use for reviews or freebies i come by. Because if I really like a book then I want to have a physical copy sitting on my bookshelf. I must say using the text to speech function is a great way to tackle review copies while I am driving to work!

  14. Im still wary of getting an e-reader. For me, part of the enjoyment of reading is actually holding the physical book. I dont think I can give that up! I can see the advantages for travelling, maybe, but I dont know Im not converted yet ;-)

  15. Stephanie /

    Im really intrigued by the collecting aspect of book buying, Jayne. I think theres a whole post in that!

    Belle: I think youll cross over to the ebook dark side one day. ;) I said the same, but the Kindle has been wonderful. I dont think itll replace my books (unless I travel for long periods of time), but its a wonderful alternative when Im on holidays or dont want to cart around an armload of books. And its so light to read in bedno heavy hardcovers landing on my head!

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