Friday, July 23, 2010

Ebooks, readers and Readercon 21

Readercon 21 was pretty cool. I went to a lot more readings this year, which made it much more interesting. I even went to a panel about carnivorous plants. Hopefully they will make it into a story of mine soon!

The most interesting panel I went to was about ebooks. Cecilia Tan of Circlet Press was the speaker. She was very energetic and knowledgeable about the printed and ebook formats. The impression she gave me, which confirms what I think, was that while ebooks are on the rise, they will not be a replacement for the traditional printed book any time soon. This is not surprising since many people still like the feel of the printed book; you can go into a used book store and pick up an old favorite (something you will not likely ever be able to do with an ebook).

I discovered that many writers seem to dislike the Amazon agreement. Perhaps loathe would be a better word to use. Then there is uploading and formatting that they didn't like. They were more excited, but hardly as excited as I would have thought, about the epub format. There are several gotcha's when trying to use epub. That sounds like good fodder for another blog entry.

I love ebooks; So much so I have stopped buying printed books for a couple reasons. The main reason is that I like having my bookcase in a portable format. I want to be able to study a C++ programming reference book at home, make notes in it, and then bring it to work with me the next day. I also want to be able to bring in my physics book and my AI book. What I don't want is to have to bring a backpack laden with all these books. Hey, I'm not a school boy anymore. I am also tired of moving all my reference books when I move to a new apartment.

Now, let me balance that with why I don't like ebooks. Cost. They are too expensive compared to the printed format. The price is better these days, most notably for technical books. You can usually save between $5 - $10, plus what you save on shipping. Not to mention the time you wait for the book to arrive. If you are like me, you don't like waiting for anything. I like retail stores because I can shop, compare, decide and walk out of the store with my new purchase, all at the same time. There's no wait and no fuss. With an ebook, it is much the same. I can shop, compare, decide and have the book delivered to my reader in seconds.

The predominant ereader at Readercon was by far the iPad. In fact, it was the ONLY reader I saw people carrying around. Even when people were just hanging out, I saw books, laptops and iPads. I wasn't able to ask how much they use the device for reading vs other stuff, like note taking while in the panels.

So what's it going to take to make ebooks more mainstream? I think a shift to a common ebook file format. Like what mp3 did for the music industry. The same magic needs to happen to ebooks. Since its introduction, the iPad has forced changes to the ebook business. It has changed the price model for ebooks and has driven the prices of the Kindle down. Perhaps epub is the next mp3. Perhaps it's something Adobe is offering. Where ever it comes from, if we have a common format, we will all win in the end.

All in all, I think ebooks have their place, and I also think printed books also have there place. My hope is that more books become available in ebook format so my ebook shelf can continue growing.