Home » Ebooks, Non-US » Ebooks are not ‘stupid’ – they’re a revolution

Ebooks are not ‘stupid’ – they’re a revolution

22 February 2018

From The Guardian:

I was a relatively late convert to the e-reader, getting my Kindle five years ago when it became clear that reading 600-pages of A Suitable Boy while breastfeeding wasn’t going to work. After a frenzied few months of almost exclusive e-reading, I returned largely to the traditional printed book for a number of reasons: screen fatigue, a tendency to scrawl in margins, because I want my kids to see me reading, and because I’m a passionate supporter of bookshops and booksellers. Hachette Livre CEO Arnaud Nourry recently called ebooks “stupid” – but last summer, they changed my life.

My novel He Said/She Said, a psychological thriller about a couple who witness a rape, was a Sunday Times bestseller, but three months out of the trap, the hardback began the soft fall in sales that is the norm that period after publication. When the ebook edition began selling for 99p on Kindle for the summer, I’ll admit that I flinched, but – excluding a few days’ concession of my throne to Neil Gaiman – it topped the charts for six weeks and I was able to take my family on an overseas holiday for the first time. (On that trip, I took seven novels in a device that weighed less than a paperback, like something out of Star Trek.) I’d always had a core of loyal readers – but these numbers were something else.

The subsequent revival of my backlist was a welcome surprise. Readers have been writing to me to praise, criticise and debate; more often than not, they sign off by saying they’ve bought my other titles as ebooks. This effortless chain-reading is something hard to replicate with the physical book – very few authors can be confident of walking into any bookshop or supermarket to find their entire canon for sale. The ebook of He Said/She Said has reignited interest in my other books, and brought new readers to the novels that, in genteel publishing speak, “underperformed” at the time. I’m as grateful for that as anything.

Given that backlist especially is free money for the publisher, I’m bewildered by Nourry’s dismissal of the ebook. Of course there are caveats; Amazon’s near-monopoly of the market is worrying, and we have already reached the tipping point where competitive pricing has become a race to the bottom in which profit margins are negligible. But a stupid format?

. . . .

“It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience,” said Nourry. Fake news! The built-in, one-tap dictionary is a boon for Will Self fans. And as an author, I’m fascinated by the facility that shows you phrases other readers have highlighted; what is it about this sentence that resonated with dozens of humans? It’s an illicit glimpse into the one place even a writer’s imagination can never really go: readers’ minds. And Kindle’s Whispersync facility lets the reader fluidly alternate between reading a book and listening to it. What are these if not enhancements to the reading experience?

And then there’s the simplest, most important enhancement of all: on any e-reader, you can enlarge the text. That in itself is a quiet revolution. Page-sniffers who dismiss ebooks out of hand are being unconsciously ableist.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Ebooks, Non-US

11 Comments to “Ebooks are not ‘stupid’ – they’re a revolution”

  1. On the OP, this article already has over 500 comments. The usual sort of thing.

    • My favorite. ..

      Its hard to beat the touch, the smell, and the simple physical presence of a real e-reader.

  2. Amazon’s near-monopoly of the market is worrying, and we have already reached the tipping point where competitive pricing has become a race to the bottom in which profit margins are negligible.

    We’ve been racing to the bottom for ten years. When do we get there?

  3. > Amazon’s near-monopoly of the market is worrying

    …which they practically forced on Amazon by either rejecting ebooks outright, or making such clumsy attempts at it they foundered in the market.

    Amazon, far from being the Evil Overlord, was simply picking up the scraps the traditional publishers didn’t feel were worth pursuing.

    Now that customers value those scraps about as much as printed paper, the tradpubbers are screeching “no fair!” and “Amazon is too big to compete with!”

    • More than that: price fixing schemes favor the bigger established players which is exactly what happened under Agency. Before Agency readers could shop around and find sales on books Amazon wasn’t discounting at the moment.

      Under Agency everybody had the same price on BPH books but Amazon had books nobody else had. They also had, at the time, the unquestioned best eink reader. Same price, better reader? Of course the market moved to Kindle: there was no competition.

      The BPHs wanted to limit competition to favor Apple and instead they steered the market to Amazon. (With an assist from B&N and the four hour price war.)

      And after all that, the BPHs went back for seconds.

      Agency, the gift that keeps on giving.

  4. I’m surprised the Guardian even published this. After all, it does portray ebooks in a positive light. I suspect the gratuitous criticism of Amazon and the use of the mindless phrase “race to the bottom” got it over the line. Lets face it, Mr Nourry’s comment must rank amongst the most stupid and ignorant on this topic in recent times. Given Authors United and the like this is really saying something. And this is so even interpreting his comments as referring not to literal stupidity but to the lack of smart features “enhancing” the written word. Which I and many others are not interested in. If I want to watch a movie or play a game then that’s what I will do. When I want to read this is actually what I want. Not video. Not interactive content. The actual words of the author, be they on a printed page, a screen of some type or even spoken in an audiobook.

  5. My writer friends are pretty evenly divided into pro and anti eBook people. Not the indies, obviously – they are all pro! Or maybe not so much anti as ‘grudgingly accepting’. It drives me wild. For years I’ve been pointing out the facility of being able to buy and read a whole backlist, on impulse. I like my local bookstore a lot, and buy from them. I know I could order from them, but often, if I love a writer’s work, I want to read more of it there and then, and if I leave it a few days or weeks, I simply go ‘off the boil’. I read fiction mostly on my Kindle these days anyway. Nourry’s comment is indeed stupid. I don’t want the written word ‘enhanced’. I have film and television for that. In fact what I really want is what I get with my Kindle – as little as possible between me, the word, and the story. I read a lot in bed in the dark in the early hours of the morning and the immediacy of that, the way in which the book leaches into my mind, is beyond price. I often find that I fall asleep and the story (not always the way the writer intended mind you) continues in my dreams!

    • Being anti-eBook is a bit like being anti-rye bread. Both are simply choices that align with some consumers’ tastes and preferences.

      I like rye bread. You are ani-rye bread? Who cares?

      I don’t like Brussels Sprouts, but it’s hard to generate the energy to be anti-Brussels Sprouts.

  6. Worth noting the article makes the same mistake a lot of others do about Nourry’s interview. When he called ebooks “stupid,” it wasn’t in the sense that he thought they were a bad idea. It looks more like he was trying to say they were “dumb,” as in “dumb terminals”—not enhanced beyond the similar capabilities to be had in a paper book.

    Of course, this does miss the point that those similar capabilities to paper books are all that people actually really want

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