Originating Author: G Berton Latamore
I am a writer, and as you might expect I am also a reader. I would rather read than watch TV, play computer games, or go to movies. But these days I seldom buy physical books, and I almost never buy paperbacks.
The reason is that I would rather read ebooks or, when I am walking, working around the house, or driving, listen to recorded books on my iPod. And despite all the marketing from Amazon.com, I do not use a Kindle or some other special, expensive, single-purpose device. I read my books either on my PDA or, recently, my Vaio UX (which I can hold in one hand).
I started reading ebooks in part because it was something I could add to my PDA. Today, however, I still prefer ebooks to paper, and I have several hundred electronic books. I bought most from eReader.com, which is now owned by Fictionwise, btw, but that is only one of several small electronic book publishers I discovered Audible.com several years ago when I was commuting daily through very heavy traffic, and it quickly became my key to sanity in the modern American city. Traffic jams ceased to be an annoyance and became extra reading time.
So why do I like ebooks? They are more convenient – I can carry my entire library on a single SD card with plenty of room left over. They are ecologically better, which makes me feel good. But in large part they are just less expensive. Books that cost $15-$18 in paperback or $25+ in hardback cost me $9 or so. And they are delivered directly to my computer over the Internet, so I don't have to go to a bookstore, and I don't have to wait for them to be delivered. Also, I can get books that are long out of print. My wife likes the mysteries of Lawrence Block, who has been writing since the 1960s. One day she said she would love to read his early books. The next day I had them all on her PDA for her. I now buy all my light reading and as much of my serious reading as I can find in electronic format. I may not be able to get every novel, but I can certainly buy many more than I have time to read.
So what have I been reading this summer? I just finished reading two WW II spy thrillers by one of my favorite authors, Alan Furst. He is somewhat of an intellectual spy novelist, and his strengths are in evoking the period from 1932-1942 in Europe and in precise historical accuracy. His heroes tend to be average people who decide they have to do what they can in the face of absolute evil at a time when things look pretty much hopeless, and his focus is more on why people are motivated to do things that they know could easily get them killed in very unpleasant ways than in high tension and constant breathtaking action. Not that action doesn't happen, but Furst tends to understate it, to the point that I sometimes have to reread a passage to be sure of what actually happened. “Blood of Victory” is about the German oil lifeline from Romania and does not have a very high tension level. The interest is more in how people survived in Eastern Europe under the Nazis. “The Polish Officer”, about an officer in the Polish Army who goes underground as part of the Polish spy network after the Germans take over his country in 1939, has both suspense and some strong action scenes, but again the real focus is on what motivates this man to continually risk his life when he certainly has opportunities to escape to Switzerland or England.
If you want more action, you might try David Baldacci. Another of my favorite authors, he has written several high tension novels, some of which (e.g., “Absolute Power”) have been made into successful films. However, he also has written books that have nothing to do with violence (one of his best is “Wish You Well”). I am just starting “The Camel Club”, which promises to be a tense thriller. Baldacci always has interesting characters and a complex plot, and I am looking forward to exploring what he has created in this book.
Free books and new voices in fiction
But these days even $9 is a lot to pay for an ebook. A growing number of authors, particularly newer novelists, are giving books away, both as ebooks and podcast serial novels, to build an audience that then, they hope, will carry over to successful print runs. They have found that giving away the ebook version does not necessarily cut into print books sales. Rather it seems to increase sales as people start reading the free version on screen and then want the print version to finish reading.
The podcast novels have their own section of iTunes. I have been getting a real tour of this phenom by listening to the podcast of “Nocturnal” by Scott Sigler (http://www.scottsigler.com/) whom I first head about when he was interviewed on of all things “This Week in Science”, one of my favorite science podcasts. I don't know how he swung that since he definitely doesn't write science, but I am glad he did. Sigler is a SF/horror writer, and his books are pretty good if you like that genre. But what I find most interesting about the “Nocturnal” podcast is the news he provides, both about his own activities and those of other novelists exploring the potential of the new digital media. This group hangs together and promotes each other. Scott often has other writers do guest spots on his podcasts, and he has free ebooks from other writers on his Web site.
And it seems to work. After giving away several books, he published his first “dead tree edition” novel, “Infected”, in hardback no less, and came within inches of the extended New York Times Best Seller list. Now a major production company is considering turning it into a movie, and it is being published worldwide in several languages.
This, therefore, represents the leading edge of book publication, although this is still probably a transitional stage in a market that is in real turmoil, since its ultimate goal is to break into the traditional printed book market. The ultimate form that the new media book will take is still unclear, and these are very brave pioneers indeed in that sense. Still it is a very interesting example of how individuals can harness the new digital media to build an audience and career, reach people they never would otherwise, and keep books alive in the marketplace. This is the obverse of the coin, whose other side has been typified by the music industry's attempts to sue 14-year-olds for downloading free copies of music in violation of copyright.
Action Item: We all live in a world that is being turned upside down by the very industry most of us work in. Drastic, tumultuous change is inevitable as the technology evolves. Today traditional software sales are being seriously threatened by software-as-a-service, for instance. The future of music, movies, and publishing is unclear. But the reading public is not going away, and as long as a viable market of people who enjoy reading remains, novels in some form will be with us. The trick is to move with the times and find ways to work with, rather than against, the inevitable. For a tour of one way to do this, try Scott Sigler's podcasts.