Monday, February 21, 2011

Ebooks are great, get with the program

Apologies to my fans who enjoy this blog. I don't want to show my ass on here, since that's not my thing, even though I know that's supposed to be what the modern, internet-connected fan wants. I'm staking out old-school territory here. That and I figure you wouldn't give a shit. But let's just say I've been between reliable internet connections, and the one I'm using now is not great. I'd say that writing this blog and writing more books has been the last thing on my mind, except it's been the first, I just have a lot of heavy shit to lift and contractors to talk to.

With my last advance (for my upcoming novella coming out later this year) I bought a refurbed ebook reader because I wanted to see what the deal with ebooks was. I'd been reading J.A. Konrath's blog, since it's now interesting as it's not all about how to get your vampire romance novel published interspersed with corny jokes, but instead him proselytizing for the electronic book thing. Lots of interesting stuff and drama going with that, maybe I should start a feud with someone to get some hits here.

So here's my thoughts in long form about ebooks. First, let's clear the table. Understand that there is a lot of shit-talking on the internet. Big surprise, even in forums that require to "register", it's nothing like talking face-to-face, and frankly registering for a website - well, let's just say it was tougher to get a driver's license in Virginia ten years ago. So what you see is not only the well-known "internet tough guy", but a lot of "internet smartasses". I see it in my industry and I see it everywhere else - people acting like they're not only the smartest, but the most cultured guy in the room. You know the type - the ones that complain about going to the movies, all the kids, all the bad shows, the sticky floor, but every week they post about what they saw at the bijou. They're not like those unwashed masses - they have internet and they know how to use it. I'm pointing the finger squarely at the people who say "I could NEVER enjoy reading an ebook because" - if you've read the posts I don't need to list their reasons here.

It's bullshit. Ebooks are awesome, thanks to the latest generation of readers that makes consuming this particular entertainment media enjoyable. This is as opposed to the last ebook craze about 10-15 years ago when everyone was telling you that ebooks were the future and then trying to get you to pay 30 bucks to read "Rose Red" on your goddamn Palm Pilot. They were right about ebooks being the future, but they were a little too excited to see that reading ebooks sucked back then.

I've read and been reading tons more books than I used to since I got my reader. That to me speaks volumes. And I'm a guy who goes to the bookstore every week or every other week, combing through the bargain bin for gold, and has assembled a library that made my wife demand a professional kitchen for the sake of parity. I could list all the things that are great about ebooks and ebook readers, but you know the selling points already, so I'll just be brief.

E-ink makes using a reader just like reading a book in terms of how the words look on the page. I can take it anywhere. The thing remembers where I left off in multiple books - no more losing my place because I moved it or got drunk and knocked the book on the floor and the bookmark fell out, no more dog-eared pages. It does one thing and does it well without a lot of extra crap I don't need like a lunar calendar, to-do list, Facebook, whatever. And it's cheap. I'm cheap, so while it would hurt if my reader, say, got a Hurricane spilled on it, it wouldn't break my bank the way it would if someone let a caffeinated 2-year old at my Playstation 3 with a jar of extra-chunky peanut butter.

So now you're saying, "Well Jim Gavin, aren't we being Mr. Positive today? Was the Walgreens out of Haterade?" And you're right. There are things that suck about using the ereader. I feel like a goof carrying it around. I'm afraid to read it in public because I don't want random people asking me about it - unlike most people I don't get off on carrying around a piece of consumer electronics like a trophy to prove how cool I am. (Why do you think the iPod's earphones were so white? So you could see people wearing them.) It's another thing I have to worry about someone stealing (though not so much as my phone, I guess). Shopping online with it sucks, typing on the little keypad sucks, browsing the store sucks. I like my computer for that.

I get that due to the laws of physics I can't have my e-ink and also have it backlit (I've tried reading a book on the iPad and it sucks as much as reading on a computer, that light shining in your face all the time). But now you have to have this goofy, gimpy little book light to go with it as well if you want to read in the dark. Gee, why not just get a cane, a pair of those big-ass sunglasses that go over your regular glasses and a fanny pack and you'll be all set to ask your doctor if the Post-T-Vac is right for you?

Oh, and you have to charge the damn thing. It's like having a pet that you have to worry about feeding all the time, or a baby, I guess. You have to make sure you have a charger for it, plug it in, unplug it, maybe get a portable one to carry with you so you can plug it in while you take up space at your local coffee shop/bookstore (I have a whole thing on that, might bust that out for another entry since it's topical). You're always monitoring the battery life like you're watching for the reactor meltdown warning light. It's half charged, is that enough for my road trip? Oh, I forgot to plug it in, now I can't read my book in the doctor's office or whatever, gotta feed the reader. I hate that crap. Plus battery technology, while it's gotten better, is still at the point where after two years you know the damn thing won't hold a charge. You yourself will hold a charge of static electricity better than the battery will. No coincidence that the battery is usually inaccessible unless you're a hacker like me (okay, wannabe hacker).

All that having been said, I love ebooks and I think you will too, if you're not a dumbass. Normally I hate trends and when I see a crowd, I go the other way. But I'm also not dumb. If I were a perfect iconoclast I would refuse to eat at, say, Five Guys because everyone including the President thinks their burgers are tasty. Fuck that. I like tasty burgers. When you're right, you're right. Ebooks are right, and they're only going to get more so.

I think a lot of the hysteria over ebooks comes from two groups of people - book nerds and wannabe writers. Book nerds are afraid that in the dark, dystopic future, there will be no paper books, and they will be even worse off than Burgess Meredith in that one Twilight Zone episode. (Actually, with ebooks he would've been OK, he could've just made the font really big.) Wannabe writers are afraid that there will be no publishers to lend their works cachet and make them feel important - in the dark, gritty future where there are lots of neon signs of Japanese women and everyone wears trenchcoats in the rain and looks sad, writers will all be ... self-published! Dun-dun-DUNNNN!

Both of these fears are, I think, overblown, though they are based in fact. First and foremost, I think it's important to say that there is not going to be any goddamn Singularity, take your tinfoil wallpaper down and relax. The Mayan calendar runs out in 2012 because some Mayan astronomers were like "we've got this shit mapped out, like four thousand years and change. You know what? Job done. Who's up for fermented jaguar blood and karaoke? I'm looking at you, Malekekaki."

Attention book nerds: if there are enough of you - and there are, trust me - you will still get your fancy books as long as you're willing to pay money for them. The internet already caters to a lot of niche markets and many people do pretty well meeting that demand. Who the hell heard of furries twenty years ago? Now there's an army of people that will make your Cookie Monster suit to your exact specifications, including having the junk-hole cut out.

My own expensive, handome deluxe limited edition sold out. (The signed limited is still available, get 'em now.)That's thirteen people who can now stick their nose in it and smell to their heart's content, or seal it in a lucite block, or do whatever the hell they want with it, and most of them are not related to me, either. Dark Regions and other publishers like them do make money supplying this market, and I don't see that changing. I know that in the grim, dark future where Batman is old you think that there will be no paper books for younglings to discover and fall in love with. Last time I went to my local independent bookstore I observed that, like most other local independent bookstores, they are fucking buried in books. They have shelves and shelves, and boxes piled up in the back.

If nothing else there will still be libraries because they are staffed entirely by book nerds like you who also get FREE GUBMINT MONEY to have a building that lets people borrow books. Books are a technology that has lasted for six hundred years. That kind of tech should be beyond anyone wringing their hands over its imminent demise. Did you know that people worried that books would be dead because of fucking photocopiers? More to the point, people thought that VCRs would make the TV and movie market collapse. But I'm getting down the road a bit.

Wannabe writers: your book probably sucks. If it's good you don't have anything to worry about. Hell, as long as it just "doesn't suck" you'll be okay. I read a book the other day that a dude put up for free on Smashwords - hell, I'll just go ahead and plug him - Soul Identity by Dennis Batchelder. I don't know why he put it up for free because I could see it getting published. Maybe he didn't get any offers. But I'll tell you what - dude coulda got 3 bucks for it on the internet. He has a pro cover, his formatting is good, and obviously an editor took a pass through it. The point is, a publisher's marque is not as important as it used to be. Hell, I'm not even sure it used to be all that important, either. Maybe publishers will survive if they decide that they're going to push harder on themselves as a brand. So much of this business is locked into old mindsets of the way things were done back in the day. And that's fine, I'm a big fan of that kind of thinking in a lot of areas. But when it comes to making money - you gotta keep up or get left behind.

Look how many companies are out there telling you their products are "green". You think they give a shit? No. But they figure you do. So if you tell them "I'd like a product that doesn't have any prescription antidepressants in it" then next week your favorite cereal brand will announce that it is "100% Drug Free!" This is not me making shit up. The other day my wife got a free sample of the "NEW" gluten-free Chex cereal in the mail. The shit is made out of rice, people. It's been gluten free since people thought glutens were the muscles that made men more interested in women while they were pointing out something on the chalkboard.

Why should publishers disappear? I can't create a brand, an awesome logo, a cool website, and cut a deal with a stable of authors to "publish" their ebooks? Sez who? You talkin' to me? I'm the only one here so you must be ... okay, getting off topic. Boom, I just invented e-publishing. Except I didn't. But you get the point. You gotta learn some history, people. Too many of you think the world started yesterday. I saw someone recently, talking about the demise of publishing and book-reading, complaining about celebrities having their fluff books and being "published authors".  I liked this kid. He made me laugh. Shit has been going on for years, son.

I guess in the end that's what a lot of the ebook "controversy" is about - since it involves an "e" it means people will talk about it on the internet, free to expound at length at subjects they know little or nothing about  to anyone who will bother to read...

oh shi

I'm gonna go read now.

In the FUTURE.

1 comment:

  1. Love it dude. You are right. Ebooks do rock and they are here to stay. Who can say if it will change the bookstore model (it will) but we will be reading more and more ebooks. I love my Kindle. Thanks for the post!