Digital evangelism and the death of print

bible-600There is a good article on ebooks by Molly Flatt in today’s edition of The Memo. Titled “The ebook is dead, long live the ebook.” the article uses an interview with Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn to solidly make the point that ebooks are alive and well. It is a fascinating read.

As I sat down to do a write-up on the article, I was distracted by the following paragraph:

What’s more, he refuses to toe the digital evangelist’s line about the death of print. What we’re seeing, he believes, is the healthy recalibration of a truly hybrid industry.

I have to admit, I was a little taken aback. The death of print? Who asked for that?

As someone who passionately advocates for ebooks and digital access, I certainly consider myself a digital evangelist, but advocating for the death of print is another thing altogether. That sounds like more of a digital militant thing, IMHO. If that’s what it means, I evidently missed an important memo.

Most early adopters are pretty passionate (and evangelical to a degree) about e-reading. In the early days of the Kindle, most people that many early adopters encountered had never seen an e-reader. Yes, they existed, but they certainly were not widespread or mainstream. Most of us got very good at explaining both the mechanics of e-readers and the benefits of reading ebooks. For many of us, the introduction of ebooks was a life-altering experience and the analogy to a religious experience is probably not far off. I have  written here about how getting a Kindle changed my life.

But many of us also found that there was a dark side to having an e-reader. You didn’t own the books you purchased. You only had a license to use them and that license could be taken away (Google Amazon and 1984 to see what I mean). You can’t convert them to other formats or use them on other devices. You can’t sell your ebooks, many of them can not even be loaned.

Many titles were not available as ebooks at all. The ebook for a new release might not be released for months after the print version (a practice called windowing). And good luck trying to get all the titles in a series or the complete backlist from an author – it probably wouldn’t happen. And the quality?  Many of the first ebooks were horribly formated and filled with OCR scanning errors.  Publishers threw an OCR file together, called it an ebook and told customers that we were stealing them at the $9.99 price tag that they thought was too cheap.

Now, I could go on and on about agency pricing, price fixing, terms like “paperback ebook pricing” and “hardcover ebook pricing” and so on…. But I think you get my drift. If you read this blog, you’ve heard me say it all before. It all boils down to availability, accessibility, quality and a price that in commensurate with the rights included with the ebooks we purchase.

Are digital evangelists vocal about what they want? Sure they are, in the same way that any other group of passionate hobbyists are vocal about what they are trying to change. It is pretty galling to be asked to pay more for an ebook than a physical copy would cost and not even have the same usage rights.

But do notice that the death of print is not even on the list. Please don’t confuse publishers’ fears with what customers want.

First and foremost, at least as people who read ebooks are concerned, we are readers. Really dedicated readers. That means we love books. I still have a houseful, even though I haven’t read a paper one in years. No body wants to kill off print, even if we don’t want to read it. And some people do read both.

But, ultimately, we just want the option to read what we want, in the format of our choice, when we want it,and at a fair price. We don’t want to be told that we are miserly or cheap because we don’t think that the convenience of the ebook format is worth the premium price that publishers want to charge.

But a truly hybrid industry that offers fair, healthy pricing for both ebooks and print? Yeah, I could get on board with that.

Daily Links: Romance Novel app unveiled

These are from the last few days:

From Goodereader: RWA Novel App unveiled

From The Digital Reader: Kindle Cloud app goes international

From Open Culture: Free NASA book on communicating with Aliens

From Teleread: Free Liberace Biography


Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news.

New Category: Did You Know?

question markI get asked a lot for tips and tricks and how-to information, so I thought I would add a category where I could post small bits of information that wouldn’t normally be substantial or long enough for a traditional blog entry.

So, to start:

Did you know that your Kindle reads every book and document you put on it? It does this so that it can index every word and make them searchable. It does this even if you add the books yourself (a process called sideloading). The indexing process can take a while, especially if you add a large number of books. It really drains the battery, making it very important to keep your e-reader plugged in when you have just added new books. So don’t fill your e-reader right before a cruise or a long flight – otherwise, your battery may let you down. 😦

Print versus e-book: a look at the numbers

e-book infographicThere is a really interesting infographic on E-Books in America on  It gives a useful overview on formats and profiles of those who like to read e-books.

However, the part that I found fascinating was the part at the bottom on which format, print or e-book, is best. It shows the percentages where one format is preferred over another and for which activities. E-books win hands down for traveling and getting a book quickly. Print books dominate for reading with a child and on lending to others.  I was most surprised by the fact that reading in bed was pretty much a tie between the two formats. 🙂

I think the infographic confirms a lot of things those of us who read e-books already know: They make it easy to buy books and easy to carry them around with us. I also think that it is interesting to note that little sharing is done on e-readers – only 25% – mostly because publishers don’t allow us to do it! That number is actually higher than I would have imagined it to be.

Anything in the numbers that surprises you?


Managing your Free Kindle Books, Part One: The Problem with Free

This is the first in a three-part series. Most of the information in this series of posts is specific to the Kindle line of e-readers  and the Amazon bookstore.

A while back, I did a post on where to find free books for your Kindle. A few more are listed in this article on tips for the new Kindle Owner. When I bought my first Kindle in 2008, free books were very few and generally, offered by major publishers or their imprints. Back then, with few freebies and books going for an average of $9.99,  it made sense to grab every free book that was available. And there were some good ones: I got Tess Gerritsen’s The Surgeon (the first book in the Rizzoli and Isles series) and  Julia Spencer-Fleming’s In the Bleak Midwinter  as just a couple of my early free books.

Now, it’s a different landscape. With Amazon’s KDP Select publishing, literally hundreds of free indie books are offered daily. The number of blogs, websites and newsletters letting you know the daily free books has multiplied exponentially. Even Amazon has made it easy with a list of the top 100 bestsellers, free and paid, on their website.

So now, the TBR pile (your stash of To-Be-Read books) has become a problem of its own.

This is where the difference between digital and physical books becomes quite clear. For a print book reader, the TBR pile was self-limiting. As some point you literally run out of room, your books fall off the nightstand, or the bookshelf simply will not hold anymore.

For book lovers, digital books didn’t have that problem. No cluttered piles of books. Promises of storage for 2000 to 3000 books on your Kindle.  And, with e-readers that had expandable storage options like the first generation Kindle, you could just keep adding more and more books.

Or so it seemed. Try finding a particular book when you can’t exactly remember the name of the title. What happens when you can’t even see all your books in your archives? What happens when your battery won’t last through a book because it is constantly indexing? What if your Kindle starts to malfunction because it is too full? (And yes, that actually happens!)

So now, it seems, the problem has reversed itself: Instead of asking where do I find free books, people are asking where do I find good free books and, more importantly, how do I organize them all? Who would have ever thought that managing free books for the Kindle could actually be considered a problem?

Are you tired of sorting through lists to find free books that are actually worth your time? Maybe you are one of those people who like an uncluttered Kindle home page. Maybe you have so many books on your Kindle that you can’t find or organize them all. Maybe you are tired of books that are badly written, unedited or badly formatted.  Or, perhaps, your Kindle is actually starting to slow down or malfunction because of the sheer volume of books you own.

Over the next few blog entries, we will try to address solutions to some of those problems.

Next time in Part Two: Choosing more wisely and finding sites that will help you do just that.

And in Part Three: Organizing your Digital TBR Pile. Note: Due to a family emergency, part 3 was never written.

J.K. Rowling and the incredibly expensive unreadable ebook

Well, I have to ask: Is this the future of ebooks?

Today, probably the biggest book of the fall season, J.K. Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy, was released today. Folks have already been outraged by the unbelievable price of $17.99. (Remember, that is the price simply for the privilege of a license to download and read it –  you don’t actually own it or anything.)

And it that wasn’t hard enough to swallow, that ebook you paid all that money to pre-order was basically unreadable. You can see pictures of the formatting at PaidContent.

The price and formatting issues, as well as actual criticism and feedback on Rowling’s first adult novel add a surreal element. The varying points of view on this can be seen in the flurry of reviews on the book’s Amazon page which seem to break down into the following categories:

    1. Reviews based on the book’s price.
    2. Reviews based on the book’s formatting.
    3. Reviews based on the fact that people liked Harry Potter.
    4. Reviews from people who actually claim that they have read the book.

While this was said to be an unusual situation and the problem has supposedly been fixed, those of us who have been buying ebooks for a while now have a somewhat more cynical opinion. The truth is, typos, scanning artifacts and formatting issues are all too common in ebooks that publishers want to charge top dollar for. If major publishers can’t get it right on a release this big, I truly fear for the future of traditional publishing.

Kindle Serials (Part Three)

This is part three of a three part series. The series begins here.

There’s been a certain level of excitement about Amazon’s Kindle Serials announcement, including articles like this one from Jason Allen Ashlock on Digital Book World (in which, by the way, Moveable Type is announcing a serial of its own).

But, like the serial GAMELAND that we spoke of in Part Two, in reality,  there are already many popular serials being published on Amazon–they are just being published one episode at a time: Look at Hugh Howey’s  Wool or Sean Platt and David Wright’s Yesterday’s Gone. Prices for the episodes usually range from 99 cents to $2.99 each and occasionally, even free. Generally, when these series are complete, they are published in either an omnibus edition or a boxed set.

But for the new Kindle Serials, Amazon is only charging $1.99 for the entire series! Right now, no one knows whether that  price point is only an introductory offer or a vision for the future.. In his article “Kindle’s Serial Killer,” writer Mike Cane viewpoint is that “Bezos has just lowered the floor for eBook prices again.” His advice to writers is to “pass on this.”

Kate Sullivan of Candlemark & Gleam notes:

It looks like the current Kindle Serials available are $1.99, which seems to be a standard Amazon tactic – it’s sort of a loss-leader, positioned exactly at the novel-selling sweet spot these days. From that point of view, it’s a great price – it’s cheap enough to make people willing to take the risk on an unknown author and/or a format they’re not familiar with. From the point of view of someone who likes to see creative types paid a fair wage for their work, though, I really despise the 99c and $1.99 price points for full novels. We charge $5 for a basic serial, with additional content and rewards available at other tier price points, and I think that’s fair. But promotional pricing can be anything you want, and I’m going to look at the current $1.99 pricing on the Kindle Serials as just that – a way to get market penetration through encouraging people to take a low-priced risk.

Authors like Saul Tanpepper express concern that “$1.99 is too restrictive, for both readers and writers.”

Compare the $1.99 price tag to the price for Baen Books’ Webscriptions, where for $15 a month, subscribers get serialized versions of upcoming new Baen titles.

But it is not only the price point that may be restrictive for authors: Like the Kindle Singles program, the Kindle Serials program is curated. Authors must submit samples of their serial and get accepted by Amazon in order to get published. The fact that three of the serials currently offered are from the same Studio hints that there are obviously some agreements already in place for serials material. Just how open the program is to new material remains to be seen.

Customers have some concerns as well. Many of those concerns have little to do with price. What if the author doesn’t finish the series? It is bad enough for a reader when an author doesn’t finish a series of books. (Consider Sterling E. Lanier’s Hiero’s Journey or Dean Koontz’s Moonlight Bay series or Anne Rice’s never-written sequel to The Mummy, among many, many others.) But an unfinished serial is actually an unfinished book! That’s certainly not a recipe for customer satisfaction!

And anticipation may not be for everyone! I read some disgruntled comments about Tor publishing the next book in the Old Man’s War series as a serial. Some fans would rather wait for the whole book to be available. (Personally, I’m one of those –  Remember how I said I bought The Green Mile and The Blackstone Chronicles serials in the 90s? I actually waited until I had bought them all so I could read them like a complete book!)

The serials market is clearly going to be an important ebook market, with content, availability, delivery and price all being dynamic issues going forward. And it may not just be the ebook market pushing the boundaries. I just stumbled on a website for a new print serial called Ora et Labora et Zombie. Written as an epistolary novel, the book consists of 4-6 page letters (on watermarked stationary and with a hand-printed cover sheet) that are actually mailed to your house.  With 72 episodes priced at $3 each, the total price of the book may actually make agency pricing look good.

Kindle Serials (Part Two)

This is part two of a three part series. Part one is here.

In April, 2012, I purchased GAMELAND Episodes 1-8 for the Kindle. Designed to be an eight episode serial, the experience has proved to a lot different than what either author Saul Tanpepper or customers like myself expected it to be. Because of this, I asked him to comment on his early experiences trying to publish a serial on Amazon before Kindle Serials and his thoughts on the new program . I thought his comments were important and interesting enough to post in their entirety as a guest post.

At a press conference on Thursday to introduce the new Kindles, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos announced—almost as an afterthought—that their digital publishing arm Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), will be offering a new kind of ebook product. Kindle Serials are book-length stories delivered to customers’ Kindle reading devices over a period of time. A customer buys into the concept early, pays once, and gets future installments without having to dish out any additional cash.

I admit, I have mixed feelings hearing this.

First off, let me just say that I’m thrilled Amazon is exploring this approach. The serialized novel is not a new concept, but rather a format whose popularity has been repeatedly demonstrated throughout publishing history and which only recently had fallen into relative obscurity. What I am unhappy about is how long it took Amazon to recognize this opportunity and to offer this publishing option to authors in the first place. Six months ago would’ve been nice. A couple years, even better. After all, digital content has been delivered serially for years; and yet, for some reason, books have not been included.

 It’s about time.

 I approached KDP back in early April of this year (it may actually have been sooner; I can’t remember and I just can’t be bothered to wade through all my emails) with the idea of offering a book to customers as a serial. As I envisioned (and explained to them), the idea would be that customers would only have to pay once and would get a steady stream of reading material over some set future period of time. Sort of like a magazine subscription, only with books.

Sorry, they told me. Not doable.

Instead, I was told to consider using their Blogs and ePeriodicals publishing program. What is this option? Basically, anyone with a blog can deliver their content to subscribers’ Kindles when it becomes available. The caveat? It has to be published on-line. For reasons that aren’t relevant here, this wasn’t a viable option for me.

Despite this setback, I set out to publish a serialized novel anyway. Without Amazon’s blessing, I signed customers up. How could I deliver on this promise? By publishing an ebook and updating it monthly with new content. This workaround was available to me only because Amazon permits customers to receive (at no extra charge) any updates to an ebook they have already purchased. (Generally, an author might update for reasons of formatting or editing, for example.) Unfortunately, updates aren’t automatic, and customers aren’t automatically notified of their availability.

Why not?

 Amazon is extremely resistant to notifying customers about updates and instead requires an author request the notification as well as to provide extensive details outlining the changes in the request. Updates, they say, must be “significant” in order to warrant a notification. The vagueness of this standard essentially means Amazon can decide to notify customers or not at its discretion.

To some degree, I understand their hesitancy. I know many authors who constantly fiddle with their books, rendering tiny changes on a regular basis. Amazon would spend a lot of time just notifying customers, and customers’ email inboxes would constantly be flooded with notices.

 But there are other, more practical, reasons why updates and notifications aren’t automatic. First off, while sending electronic files is extremely cheap, it isn’t free, and Amazon foots the bill. (The initial “transfer” fee following a purchase is charged to the author in most cases, but updates aren’t).

 Additionally, Amazon hasn’t yet figured out a way to update an ebook without a customer losing bookmarks, notes, and highlights. Consequently, when they notify customers of the availability of an update, or when a customer requests to receive an update, the customer must acknowledge that they understand that these things will be lost. Amazon says they’re working on this, and maybe the launch of Kindle Serials means a fix is close to being implemented.

Despite all this, I was determined to offer my urban thriller novel, GAMELAND, as a serial, and to allow customers the option of buying into the entire project early, something I had never seen before for an Amazon ebook. To incentivize customers to buy into the experiment (and because I was a relative unknown), I offered the “subscription” at a huge discount (over eighty percent off the individual episode price). What those first customers received in April, the month before the first episode was even released, was essentially a cover, a welcome note and instructions for updating the file. With each new episode, I raised the price. For latecomers, the package is still cheaper, and will always be, compared with buying the individual episodes (or even multi-episode packages).

 But there has been a tradeoff for early adopters: along with the savings, they’ve had to deal with the monthly hassle of Amazon updating reluctantly and notifying sporadically. But the end of this grand experiment is now in sight, if only because there are just three episodes remaining. The launch of Kindle Serials hopefully bodes well for future projects.

Will customers buy serialized ebooks?

 If GAMELAND is any indication, I think they will. My sales are still relatively small to be attempting to make grandiose generalizations, but the feedback has been nothing but positive. I can also say this with confidence: if my readers get half as excited as I do engaging in discussions about a story while it’s still being written, then they will buy into the idea of the serialized novel. Just imagine how much more popular this format will become once the obstacles are removed!

So, yes, I’m thrilled that Amazon has finally developed a process that enables authors to publish this way. But for me and my fans, it’s a bittersweet moment, the culmination of an arduous journey while simultaneously a validation that the journey itself was worthwhile. I have been blessed with readers whose enthusiasm is matched by their patience. I like to think that our struggle—and our combined and unrelenting dedication to the serial format—has finally made Amazon see the light.

In Part Three, we’ll discuss pricing and customer expectations about the serial format.

Kindle Serials (Part One)

In the midst of all the announcements about’s new family of Kindles was an unexpected tidbit: The announcement of Kindle Serials.

Now, serials are nothing new. Dickens did them (and Amazon is giving a couple of those away for free  to celebrate the new program). Many of my favorite classic sci-fi novels started as serials back in the days of the pulps. Back in 1996, Stephen King  resurrected the serial form with his Green Mile series, with rival John Saul penning The Blackstone Chronicles shortly thereafter. (And, just for the record, I bought both of them….)

Tor Books recently garnered headlines  by announcing that they were going to be serializing the next installment in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. In reality, however, small presses and authors have already been digitally serializing books for some time now–without the credit given to Tor and now, Amazon.

Just ask Kate Sullivan, editor-in-chief and the mastermind behind Candlemark & Gleam, a small press in Bennington, Vermont. Just be prepared to duck (digitally, of course). The normally good-humored Sullivan had a few things to say  about mainstream publishers taking the credit for being “unique” and “innovative” by publishing serial fiction. Candlemark & Gleam has been publishing it online for several years.

When asked about the Amazon announcement, Sullivan was more positive:

I’m choosing to look at the Kindle Serials announcement as a good thing. At Candlemark & Gleam, one of our earliest goals was to bring some classic publishing ideas back into practice; from the beginning, part of that involved working with serial fiction – one of our first titles, two years ago, was a serial. Serials were, for a very long time, a vibrant part of the publishing landscape, and also intimately connected with the world of science fiction and fantasy, which is obviously near and dear to us. Given that modern technology has made it simpler than ever to publish short works directed at a specific, interested audience, we figured that the time was right to push for serial fiction to come back. Unfortunately, since serials fell by the wayside in the latter part of the 20th century, it’s taken some doing to get people to understand what a serial even is, much less to understand the vagaries of how one might be delivered, or to buy in to the joys of delayed gratification. That’s been the biggest challenge facing our two serial projects thus far, and I think it’s a challenge that the prominence of Kindle Serials might help overcome. Say what you will, but Amazon has a lot of clout, and a lot of ability to push ideas into the mainstream. If Kindle Serials mean that more people are willing to give delayed gratification and serial stories a try, then hurrah!

What I’m most hoping for, though, is a simplification of the delivery process. Our two serials so far have been Hickey of the Beast, a YA fantasy by Isabel Kunkle, and Constellation Games, a “space opera soap opera” by Leonard Richardson. Both serialized as weekly emailed chapters initially, with Hickey of the Beast also available as an auto-updating iPhone and Android app, and both are now available in compiled form as both eBooks and paperbacks. When we were originally serializing the novels, they were pushed as emails to subscribers each week, with PDFs of each chapter available on a subscriber-only webpage. With the Kindle Serials plan, it’s possible that there will be a means for publishers and self-published authors alike to make serials available with each chapter auto-delivered to a subscriber’s Kindle device – much simpler than loading a PDF each week, and just as easy as opening an email on your smartphone. Between easing the delivery process and making readers aware of serials as a great option – just think about how much you look forward to each week’s installment of your favourite TV show! – there’s a good chance that Kindle Serials will inject some new life into a format that many of us have been struggling to revive.

I highly recommend reading Ralph Vicinanza’s fascinating introduction to the Kindle edition of The Green Mile for background on just how groundbreaking an idea it was to do a serialized print novel. If you don’t have the book, you can read the intro on the “Look Inside” feature here.

There’s so much to say about this subject that this is going to be a three part article. In Part Two, we will talk with author/publisher Saul Tanpepper about his experiences publishing his serial novel, GAMELAND on Amazon prior to the Kindle Serials program. In Part Three, we are going to look at pricing.