What if ebooks had come first?

I like to read books. I always have, and I expect that will continue for the rest of my life.

But I’ve changed in my reading habits a lot over the last few years. Now I read far more ebooks than print books, and I listen to audiobooks as well. Most recently I’ve started exploring graphic novels, mostly digitally on my iPad.

When I talk to people about reading ebooks (usually novels), they either hop excitedly foot to foot inquiring about the Kindle titles I love or they scrunch their faces as though tasting bitterness in their old-schoolery while proclaiming they prefer print books.

Why the polarity? Why do people love one or the other?

Why ebooks are better

They’re sometimes cheaper (not always).

They’re easy to get on release day, or any other day. They’re always available and never out of stock.

You can bring (and read) hundreds of them anywhere without lugging anything you wouldn’t already have (phone, tablet, etc.).

They’re not heavy (ever try to read a Brandon Sanderson hardcover?).

They’re not lost in a basement flood, they can be archived, and they can’t be stolen by literate, opportunistic ruffians in the coffee shop.

You can share your notes (even voice notes!) with a social network.

They can synchronize across devices, and with audiobook narrations.

You can adjust the type and screen to account for your failing eyes, the brightness of the room, your font snobbery, and the colour you want the “paper” to be.

From a publisher’s/distributor’s point of view, they require no storage and no shipping; that is, no per-unit cost. They can therefore maintain a back catalogue into perpetuity at no additional cost. Books can even be updated to correct typos, improve covers, and so on.

Why print books are better

You can share them easily.

There is no question that you own it, and you’ll always be able to read it.

You can write in them with a pencil.

They work when you’re out of power.

You can leaf through them quickly, which is helpful for some times of reading.

You can’t change the type, colour, or where stuff is on the page (that’s a good thing).

They don’t depend on screen resolution to look good.

But what if we had had ebooks first?

But of all the reasons people list for preferring print books, the one I hear most often isn’t such a “logical” reason: it’s just that people “are used” to them. It’s almost an argument from nostalgia.

I think if we’d had ebooks before print books the market would be different.

People buying print books would be incredulous at the delays (“You mean I can’t just click the button and start reading?!”), and at the limitations of the format (“I can’t embiggen the font!”). They would feel cheated at only being able to have a small number in their bag at once.

But print books would still have their place, because they truly are better at some things. They’re better when you need to look at a series of charts. They’re awesome for marking up. They are locally very shareable.

Sometimes digital text is later produced in print formats. For example, a series of blog posts might be sold as a paperback book (even while remaining free on the web). Or an ebook is successful and then has a print run. This is often to hit both markets, I’m sure, but sometimes it’s because a text is better represented in print. The authors whose books are published with gorgeous covers, creamy paper and stitched signatures revel in the work of art they were a part of. They may love the pagination, or how they were able to choose the font to evoke emotion instead of relying on Caecilia.

I love that there is a market for both, and I’m sad that many books will never make it into my digital library because of a publisher’s retention of rights without the will to digitize. I hope that authors and publishers will make both forms available to us, and I’m happy that print-on-demand will make it reasonable to do so without many of the costs of warehousing and shipping.

If ebooks had come first we would still have both forms, but more people would think more kindly of them.

What I’m Reading

I saw this post by @PernilleRipp via @OSSEMOOC today:

First, go and read the article. Great advice.

Now, I’ll share what I’m reading right now. See how I was inspired?

  • Gabriel’s Journey (Book 1, Gabriel’s Redemption) by Steve Umstead (Kindle; just listened to #0 in audiobook)
  • Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (audiobook; second time through)
  • Play by Stuart Brown (borrowed hardcover; haven’t actually started yet)
  • Star Trek: Ongoing (graphic novel/comic series; just finished issue #32)

What are you reading?

A very brief audiobook review of Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

Where to get it

The Audible edition was narrated by Noah Galvin and was 6 hours 23 minutes long. The print version is 226 pages.

The very brief review

4.5 stars. This book was interesting, painful, reflective, well-written, and well-narrated.

The brief review

I always find “coming of age” stories strangely compelling. I think perhaps it’s because the characters always make different choices than I made in high school, and that sets me a-pondering. In this story the main character, Charlie, recounts his first year of high school through letters he writes to a stranger. The letter writing part is unnecessary and doesn’t really add to the story for me. Charlie has some issues which he’s only partly aware of but which are mostly apparent to the reader/listener. It’s about friendship, choices, drugs, identity, love, mental health, and the early 90s.

The language of the book is beautiful. From beginning to end the words are thoughtful, inspiring, and gorgeously poetic. I might have to read a text copy of this book because although the narration was excellent I want to re-read and revel in the prose.

So I’ll recommend it. Enjoy.

A brief audiobook review: Tony Danza’s “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had”

Where to get it

I listened to the Audible edition read by the author. It’s just shy of 7 hours long. The print edition is apparently 272 pages.

The very brief review

4.5 stars. Good narration, good story. Fun to listen to The Boss. Made me think. You should read it or have it read to you.

The brief review

This was a well-read, interesting story of Tony Danza’s year as a 10th Grade English teacher. The reading was good, and the stories were good (I use the plural because of the many small, heartfelt tales he related from the school year). I recommend it to teachers as a way to reconnect with why we do this work, and for the general population as a way to understand the heavy burden teachers place on themselves.

As an Ontario teacher, it was interesting to note the many similarities in the Philadelphia school system; it was startling to note some of the more dramatic differences.

As a teacher who is about to return to the classroom after 6 years in central roles, I empathized with Mr. Danza. It’s not so much that I’ll be a first-year teacher again, but more that I remember struggling with many of the same challenges and that I know I’ll be facing those again full time. After all, life at the board office is a little removed from the realities of the daily work of the classroom.

I do have a few “complaints” about the book, but let me say up front that these criticisms are hardly fair. Tony Danza reads his book very well, and relating the actual events of a year of high school won’t likely fit nicely into three-act format or anything.

When reading the book, Mr. Danza doesn’t use “other voices” for other characters to any great extent. I’m used to listening to narrators who have a distinct voice for each character in the story. I realize that it’s really difficult, and that it’s a small point in an otherwise very good narration.

Second, the book doesn’t feel like it’s flowing well about halfway through. There isn’t a nice, tidy plot arc the way I’m used to from reading fiction. As mentioned, that’s more about the way the year progressed than anything, probably, but there is also less material in the second half of the year for Mr. Danza to refer to (read the book and see why). In spite of that pacing issue I still cried a little towards the end.

Read it

And that is all.

Whispersync is cheaper, it seems

I recently bought “Ashes of Victory” by David Weber on Amazon for $6.76. The audiobook on Audible is $24.95, although clicking through to Audible from Amazon drops the price (inexplicably) to $21.95.

But there is no Whispersync for this title. I’m not sure if they haven’t gotten around to it, or if it’s not on the list to be synced.

This poses a serious problem for me. The book is 672 pages (according to Amazon; it is an e-book, after all), and the audiobook is 25.75 hours. I can read the book in about 11 hours, but I need my eyes to do it. I can listen to the audiobook without my eyes, but it takes more than twice as long. If I split my time 50/50 between formats, it’ll be 5.5+12.875=17.375 hours to complete it.

Maybe the math was unnecessary.

It would cost me an extra $21.95 to get the professional narration for this book. If it were a Whispersync title, I would get a deeper discount on the audiobook. Check out this example:

“The Way of Kings” by Brandon Sanderson is $11.48 for the Kindle edition. It’s $63.93 for the Audible narration ($47.95 through the Amazon link to Audible). If I buy the Kindle edition first, the Whispersync Audible narration is only $7.99 (an extra $40 off or so).

If I were exclusively buying audiobooks, I’d be buying a lot of extra Kindle editions to make the audiobooks cheaper, and I’d be primarily buying Whispersync-ready titles.

Admittedly, I’m not an Audible Member (i.e. I don’t have a membership plan for monthly credits), so I’m not saving the 30% they would normally give on all purchases (for “The Way of Kings” the price would only be $44.75), but that’s still waaay more than buying the Kindle edition first.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the discount applied even if the book wasn’t Whispersync-ready?

Flash Fantasy Fiction: Mining for Silvers (minor edits plus audio version)

I decided to read the flash fiction I wrote last week. When I did this, I realized there were a few errors. I’m sure there are more, and my reading of it feels a little stiff, but I’m sharing it anyway. Follow the links to download from my Google Drive.

Book 5 – Mining for Silvers.MOBI [for Kindle]

Book 5 – Mining for Silvers.ePub [for other e-Readers]

Book 5 – Mining for Silvers.mp3 [audiobook]

Book 5 – Mining for Silvers [Google Doc]

Audio recording of my last short story

I’ve been listening to audiobooks lately, so I thought I’d record the short story I wrote (with minor edits). It sounded fine while I was reading it; less so when I played it back for myself. Ah, well. Narration is harder than it looks. Enjoy.

Link to MP3 file on Google Drive