8Jan

A Question For Ebook Buyers


I know you’re out there, you normal readers. Not you charlatans like me who will do their best to filch their books from publishers, but those of you who actually browse and hand over cash.

I have questions to those of you who buy ebooks more than physical books. This came about as a result of talking to people who were getting used to their new reading devices. By seeking internet opinion, I hope to turn this debate into science fact.

1) Do you find yourself buying lots of ebooks because of their simple ‘click to buy’ nature?

2) If so, will you ever get to read all of the extra books you’re buying, or is there a good chance they’ll remain unread?

I ask because I wonder if the click to buy nature is inflationary to the statistics, that a there is a gap between books being bought and books being read. That lots of people buy ebooks but may never read them (more so than physical books). The people I’ve so far spoken to suggested this may be the case, and I wondered if there was a trend.

Obviously the money from these sales is good, but do writers value being read just as much, in building careers over many years? Because surely a career depends upon retaining a readership, as much as shifting units?

Food for thought.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

25 comments

  1. A friend of mine self-published a book. I wanted to support him, but could only buy it electronically, so I downloaded Amazon’s free Kindle app. So far, so good.

    I find myself using the Kindle store on a whim, just as you suggest. For example, Margaret Atwood’s name came up several times in one day, while I was at home, so, rather than wait til the next time I was shopping, and probably forget about it in the meantime, I bought the electronic version of the book I hadn’t read.

    As many books as I buy, and I buy a good number, I no longer finish every book I start, as I did until a couple of years ago; this applies to print, too. Life is too short to finish a bad book if you can find something better.

    I know this is off-topic, but, having experienced a couple of self-published novels, I would urge amateurs to spend the time it takes to get their book together looking for an agent, instead. I know it’s tough, because I’ve got three finished manuscripts on my desktop and two more in progress, and I can’t get an agent to take an interest, but, whoever you are and whatever you do, you ARE NOT qualified to produce a decent book. I don’t care about the typos and literals in the word files my mates send me; I don’t care that they need formatting and editing, and that you chose the wrong font or didn’t give me a cover. I do care about those things when I’m paying money for a book. I will never buy a self-published book written by a stranger, and I suspect I should not be encouraging my friends by stumping up the 2 or 3 quid for their efforts.

  2. I was one of those who always said with a lot of pride: “I will never read ebooks, I love physical books too much”.

    Cue to last November when I caved and got a Kindle. I had to because I want to get arcs from NetGalley and some authors are starting to offer more PDFs than ever (it is so much cheaper to market your book with electronic copies).

    And do you know what? I love it, I LOVE it. I only have about 30 books so far and only about 5 of those are free galleys, the rest I bought. I found that I actually PREFER to read on the Kindle and is now my favourite format for reading. For starters, it’s so light, and I always hated reading Hardcovers. Then, do you know that you can highlight your favourite quotes and they are automatically added to a separate document which you can access later? This is so helpful to me when writing my reviews!

    I also love the sample feature – every book from a new-to-me author I buy, I download a free sample first and read the first few pages before deciding to buy the book or not.

    SO on top of the books actually being cheaper (some times, SO much cheaper) , I am actually saving some money with this sample feature.

    But in answer your questions: yes, the “click to buy” is the bane of my existence , it makes it so much easier and I have bought several of those books like that but do you know what? I always had the “buy with 1-click” installed with Amazon (which I have visited every day for the past 3 years) and always ended buying books on a whim like that before too.

    (and no this comment is not sponsored by Amazon. * g *)

    Which brings to your second question: I think that you are probably asking the wrong people. I may be wrong but us, serial readers, have a tendency to buy a lot of books because we love them so much but a lot of us do have a giant TBR mountain with unread books. It happened with hard copies, it will happen with ebooks. It is part of the joy of being a reader, me thinks – to look at those shelves filled with yet to be discovered treasures (and now I am getting sentimental!)

    As for the general public – the ones who only buy one book here and there and generally read it straight away, I think that ereaders will probably make them read more.

    I think that there is certainly an element of “hey, instant gratification, BUY BUY BUY” but in the end, I think this is a good thing – I think people will read MORE not LESS. I suspect that teenagers, who are so used to new technology will actually be a HUGE part of this, starting to read earlier and then becoming the adults who will be reading your books in the future.

    I think this is a good thing, people and I am optimistic.

  3. I’ve only had a Kindle for a few weeks, but this is what I’m finding so far:

    1. The ‘click to buy’ nature of my eReader probably helped me decide to buy some novels right there and then. I think it’s been an emotional response. If it’s 10pm and the shops are closed, and I’m browsing the internet or a blog, or reading a magazine and I see an interesting book the urge to buy it is at its highest as I’m excited about it.

    I don’t have to wait overnight, where my decision can (or usually will) change. I can buy it right there and start reading 2 minutes later.

    I think that’s the big pull on buying – no fuss, easy, and IMMEDIATE. Also, it’s fairly easy to go for that whimsical buy.

    2. I may not be the best judge of this question due to the fact I buy many novels that are garthering dust in my office, with only a few chapters read, but I have over forty novels on my Kindle already, and I know I will not read them all.

    Some I would not have bought as a paperback or hardback. What made me click was the cheap price (many where a £1), or the fact they were free, and I had a little interest in the genre or author.

    Here’s an interesting observation though: I now have TWO copies of several novels – 1 paperback and 1 eBook (Nights of Villjamur being one of them!). In some cases I’m spending more on these two versions that buying a hardback.

  4. I still find actual dead-tree Amazon more seductive in the “think of it-click on it-buy it” sense. I’ll go on Kindle-filling splurges, but they’re more life event based (before a holiday, for example).

    The one exception is with free eBooks – if I find a new resource for fun, out of copyright stuff (not pirated things, I swear!), I’ll go nuts & download everything. Then, a few weeks later, I’ll go back and sheepishly delete the complete set of Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books or whatever.

  5. I don’t buy drm’d ebooks, so the buying process (from vendors who do non-drm formats and therefore get my business) is not very different from buyin a regular book on the net. And I’m buying way more of both than I have time to read (at the moment).

  6. I’m not quite in the group of people your question was addressed at, but I’ll answer anyway.

    I find myself buying almost no books at all, because I have switched to reading almost exclusively on my ebook device and yet am unable to find a reasonable point of purchase for most books I want to read, in a format that matches my specifications. Point-in-fact, I tried (for a period of several hours) to buy “Nights of Villjamur”, even went so far as to ordering it from a seller who seemed to fit, then had to cancel that purchase when I found his description of the product was incomplete. What I want to buy is:
    1.) A populare ebook format (e.g. epub, mobi or pdf), that’s not tied to a specific reader model and does not require a specific software/operating system installed on my computer.
    2.) A file which I can transfer from my PC to my reader/phone/wifes PC without restrictions.

    Having failed to purchase NoV, I then went to a torrent site, found and downloaded the novel within five minutes and read it. If anyone can point me at a site which will sell me Marks books in a format that fulfills my requirements I will most happily do so, but until then I’m reading them for free.

    To answer the question: if buying an ebook at a reasonable price (slightly lower or equal to the price of a paper book at the time of purchase) were without hoops, I could see myself buying quite a lot of books that I won’t then (fully) read. At the moment, I stick interesting books on a toread list, search for them whenever the whimsy takes me and then read (or don’t) them some time later. I could easily see myself succumbing to “click n’buy” for the simplicity of process alone.

    I know that some may view my post as obnoxious, because essentially I’m telling Mark that I’ve taken a piece of his work, enjoyed it, and not paid for it. I’d truly love to be able to do so though. So I hope Mark will forgive the rudeness inherent in what I’m saying and find something of value in the information. And maybe someone _will_ be able to point me at a store where I can buy the books, in which case we have all won.

  7. To FeelFreeToIgnore:

    I sympathise with you, I really do. I will not condone the pirating (which I will never resort to) but I can completely understand it. This is one thing that frustrates me to no end as well – the amount of STUPID restrictions that ereading has at the moment. DRM (DIE BASTARD DIE), geographic restrictions (really??? in the era of the Internets, Geographic restriction is the most idiotic thing ever, GAAH) and as much as I love my Kindle I would love to be able to buy books from other sellers as well.

    I don’t think though that this is a problem with ereading – this is exclusively a problem brought forth by publishers who still have their heads buried in the early 20th century. The world is changing folks, MOVE ON.

  8. Interesting topic

    Do I buy a lot of book based on there ‘click to buy’ nature?

    Yes and no – I did take advantage of Amazon’s 12 Days of Christmas thing but for only books that I’d want to read in some way – though the £1 nature did tip me over the edge.

    The fact that you can sample books is a much stronger factor – that need to satisfy – whether emotionally or intellectually – can be done without having to actually buy the book in question – though I think in the compulsive book buyer it’s going to take a bit of shift in behaviour to take advantage of the fact you can read the opening to a book whenever you like while having the option to get the rest when you’re hooked.

    It does also come with it’s own frustrations when you can’t buy the book you want because the publisher hasn’t or can’t (depending on territories) make available the book you want. That has caused a real world buy on occasion.

    And is there a chance that they’ll remain unread? Definitely though it also means that if you can carry more than one book with you can swap between books with ease and without having to do anything more than a few button presses.

    If used right ebooks can widen a writers relationship with a reader. Like Solaris offering:

    The Blue Portal’ is the opening of his upcoming novel The Kings of Eternity, which began as this short story.

    http://a-fantastical-librarian.blogspot.com/2010/12/in-news-free-eric-brown-ebook-blue.html

    Or making available for purchase or free snippets, shorts, extras that just isn’t commercially viable to offer in print – see Abercombie’s Heroes super pack thingy which seems to be only missing the kitchen sync.

    Digital can also wider access like Locus has done with it’s #600 issue.

    So yes there is a danger that books with be digitally gathering dust but also more opportunities to build fandom and to reward fans with extras they couldn’t otherwise access

  9. Gav you are SO right. I love all the extras that ereading could possibly offer, more novellas, short stories, include interviews, commentary, maybe in the future even trailer and video commentary. seriously, how COOL is that?

    And it’s not only FICTION that can offer more things. Thea is doing grad school now and has to buy reference books. A few stats:

    1. The accounting textbook she needed was $189 in print, plus $10 for shipping. For the used textbook, it was $140 plus the $10 shipping. For the e-textbook (including online quizzes, updates, powerpoints) it was $80. COME ON NOW.

    2. She can take textbooks with her everywhere with her computer or iphone or ereader, without breaking her back with a ton of heavy books

    3. Etextbooks are updated each freaking WEEK with new data, links, quizzes, etc. She can take notes in her textbook. She can instantly access the information. It’s also good for the environment.

    4. DID I MENTION IT IS SO MUCH CHEAPER THAN THE PRINT BOOK!!??!?!?!?!!

    So yeah. (Sorry for hikacking the comments though).

  10. It’s an interesting question, certainly.

    I’m definitely one of those who spends far too much money on books (actually, that’s a lie, one can never spend too much on books). Point is, that without being a particularly huge user of ebooks, I already find myself with piles of as yet unread books.

    Like some other correspondents, the main barrier for me (at the moment) is the stupid nature of much of the ebooks market: DRM is horrible. It’s actually retrograde, paper books aren’t restricted in that way. And the pricing is mental; I completely accept that far less of the costs involved in producing books are in the making of the physical product than I suspect many do. However, the situation (which I saw earlier this year) where I pre-ordered the paperback of The Quantum Thief and got it for about £7, whilst the ebook was over a tenner is daft.

    It’s already easy to buy books online (sure, there’s the wait for the postman) so I can imagine that as and when I to start buying more ebooks, it’s unlikely that I’d suddenly find that I didn’t have a huge (metaphorical) TBR pile.

  11. I actually am more discerning with my ebooks purchases than I was with physical books. I only have one or two unread ebooks, whereas I literally have a TBR room of books I purchased because it might be worthwhile to read in the name of work. Although, now, more of my physical book purchases are being read now that I’ve curtailed the “just in case” purchasing to books that I’m reasonably certain I will read.

  12. @Richard – is DRM really that much of a barrier? It’s a harsh having to be limited to one vender ie Amazon if you want to have ease of ‘one click purchase/delivery’ but they don’t stop you adding your own books from venders such as Locus or Zenhabits who don’t DRM their books – even google is going with Adobe DRM for their epub books

    @ Anna – text books it’s crazy – I know they are specialist and they have hours and thousands put into them but then selling them much cheaper because they are digital is kind of cutting your own throat or proves you were inflating the price.

    Speaking of over inflating the market. I have bought some of my ebooks because I own hardbacks (Terry Pratchett I’m looking at you) and they are a pain – so I’ve paid twice for the same book. That might skew sales if a lot of genre fans buy a book to keep and a book to read….

  13. Blimey. Good old debate, this one. Thanks to everyone who’s jotted down their thoughts so far.

    (And no problem for hijacking, Ana – it’s a valid discussion to be had!)

    Firstly: yes, the 1-click thing on Amazon is also something to be had for physical books, but then at least the physical books arrive and take up room and you realise, ‘Gosh I’ve spent a fuck-ton of cash on books this month.’ With e-readers (like my iTunes account) it just sits somewhere in digital land, and you barely notice.

    FeelFreeToIgnore – you know, I’m not that bothered about piracy. You clearly made the efforts to track it down, weren’t given an option, but – hey, you’re now a reader, and that’s cool with me! ( Though feel free to leave an Amazon review if you’re feeling guilty. 😛 )

    DRM totally sucks, though I can see why publishers would want to put it on – doesn’t mean I agree though.

    On emotional buying. Yes. You’re right. This, actually, this is something that I’m beginning to understand. There are barriers to emotional buying when you have to get off your arse to go to a bookstore, but when it’s an instant click away… Boom, in your ereader. It’s easier to emotionally buy with ebooks, certainly. This is where genre readers are likely to start widening that gap between what is bought and what is read, especially because we’re an excitable bunch.

    The buying both editions thing – yes, another one that might over-inflate the statistics (though maybe stats of the other formats?)

    And Yanni – you’re clearly better with your spending than I am! 🙂

  14. I have never liked buying books online, from Amazon or Abe or other merchants, but I’ve found Amazon’s one-click buy for the Kindle changing my purchasing habits. Turns out, getting the book instantly has made a big difference in whether or not I’ll buy it. That said, my Kindle is filled almost exclusively with (free) Project Gutenberg downloads.

    Whereas I don’t mind the occasional error in Project Gutenberg downloads (being as they’re free and available thanks entirely to the efforts of volunteers), buying typo-ridden Kindle versions of books from Amazon – even if I only paid a couple of pounds for them – really irks me. The last book I bought off Amazon was almost unreadable, full of missing punctuation and transposed sentences. I haven’t bought anything off Amazon since, but that won’t last.

  15. It’s been interesting reading the views on ebooks here. I don’t have a Kindle but I do hav the Kindle App on my Android phone.

    I wouldn’t say I read more than I did, but I absolutely hate reading paperbacks now. They are big, heavy and the font size is too small.

    The thing with multiple formats is that a lot of books can be found at Smashwords.com and if you buy a book there you can download it in epub, mobi and pdf amongst others.

    If you have a Kindle why would you want strip the DRM? I can read my Kindle books on multiple device, on my computer, my phone and possibly a Kindle if I had one. What’s the big deal?

    I realise that you used to be able to lend your books to your friends, (I used to do this) but ebooks are so much cheaper (I know some are over priced.) There are so many books at $2.99 or less.

    A lot of work goes into crafting a book, I think people forget just how much. Maybe that was one of the reasons that books were so expensive. If everyone bought a book rather than borrowing it, they’d sell more which means the price would go down. I’m not talking libraries here as authors are paid money from the Public Lending Right in the UK.

    Give authors a break, they work hard, let tem have soem protection for their work. If you want to buy DRM free go to Smashwords, where the quality of the formatting is not quite as good as Kindle in some cases, otherwise pay for the work that someone has put in. You wouldn’t expect your carpenter to work for free for nine months and lend your new whatever it is to your friends.

  16. Yes to both of your questions.

  17. @Gav

    I know what you mean. I have to admit that, with me, I’m one of those annoying gits that dislikes DRM on principle. I realise that in many cases the DRM isn’t that onerous (and for a fair number of people it’s not an issue). But, in general, it’s making things difficult for thems that have paid for the book/song/film/whatever.

    Heh, as long as it doesn’t get as horrible as the Audible DRM. I did their free trial: if you want to play the files on some devices, you need to hack the file. Easy enough done, but I don’t see why I should (fortunately I have another player which worked OK with it); so I didn’t take up the offer to continue.

  18. I’m not so sure this is relegated to ebook readers, Mark. Plenty of people buy more hard copies of books than they either have time to read, or will ever read. I do that. My apartment has close to 2,000 books in it, and I will likely not read all of them, and haven’t read the vast majority of them. The only difference between ebooks and regular books is that the latter take up a hell of a lot of space :P.

  19. @Mark: will do the Amazon review thing 🙂

    @Ceri: I have bought books from Smashwords, their model is really excellent, but there isn’t that much outstanding content there. And no books from Mark, for that matter. And I can’t use any type of DRM system without changing the operating system my all my computers run on (which I’m not willing to do for obvious reasons). So yeah, reading stuff from authors without paying for it sucks, but for me it sucks less than the hoops publishers want me to jump through.

  20. Easy clicking for ebooks is no more a factor than a bright cover catching my eye in the isle of a book store.

    If I don’t read an ebook for a while, it is the same as for many of the books from the store which still are in stacks in my house.

    What’s different is that my wife is unhappy looking at the stacked books, no matter their colorful covers.

  21. Thanks for the rest of the comments, guys, some really interesting opinions there, especially on DRM and formatting.

    Anne – I hear this a lot about ebooks, and I suspect what happens is publishers work in bulk on their backlist without a thorough proof (or they just want to get the job done as cheap as possible).

    SMD – yeah, we were chatting about the one-click nature of Amazon, but I think there’s something about the fact that you never physically see how much you’re buying when it comes to ebooks. It’s a lot like iTunes – I downloaded more music, but listened to those individual ones a lot less, if that makes any sense.

    FeelFree- thanks!

    Algot – your comment about your wife was great! I bet she loves you having an ereader… 🙂

  22. So far, I only buy Kindle books that I will definitely read. I’m particular that way. In fact, given my bulging bookshelves, the issue you’re investigating is FOR ME more an issue for print books!

    I imagine that over time I will have some purchases that sit unread for a long time. But, right now, I’m excited and motivated to read on the device.

  23. Just got a Kindle for Christmas, and so I’m still struggling between reading on my new toy and working through my backlog of 15 or 20 dead-tree books (I have to agree with Algot – my colorful stack of books was a primary reason my wife bought me the Kindle :). So far I’ve managed to limit my e-book purchases to a single paid volume and a couple free ones (supplemented by a handful that my wife had already purchased via Kindle app on her phone) Judging by the way my Amazon wishlist of Kindle books is growing exponentially, though, things could get out of hand in the near future!

    My feeling on the DRM is that it’s a major annoyance (especially to book lending) but given the number of platforms you can read Kindle files on, it’s only really an issue to me if either Amazon goes out of business, or an e-book is only published in a format that the Kindle can’t read. I have some hope that e-books will grudgingly follow the mp3 business and remove DRM one day. Until then, if there is a book that I MUST have for the rest of my life, I’ll buy a physical copy.

    As for unread e-books, my rule so far is (same as with physical books), if I purchase it, I will read it, period. It may take me 3 or 4 years to get to it, but it will happen. If necessary, I will tell myself I’m not allowed to read any other new books until I do so. If it’s free, though (unless it is a gift), then anything goes.

    I’m a sucker for bargains, which abound for e-books, so I very well may purchase a lot of books that I was on the fence about, if the price is right.

  24. I don’t buy DRM books, and I don’t have a wifi-enabled ereader, so my ebook purchases tend to be lower priced, and slightly less friction-free than the Amazon.Kindle close tie gives folks, but for what it’s worth I buy more books (same budget, lower prices = more books) and I read them all, if not immediately.

    (in terms of building readership / finding new authors, I’m more likely to take a punt on an unknown, but also more likely abandon the book part way through if I’m not enjoying it, than I would be if I’d paid £8 or £9 for a new paperback)

  25. Late to this – but I do buy at a faster rate than I read. But I do eventually get to read them, and often re-read them. The simplicity of the purchase is a factor in accumulating a collection of course. I do also only buy formats that I can remove the DRM from, not so that I can give them away, but so that I read them on future devices. As an ebook veteran of nearly a decade I have seen formats come and formats go and would have been stranded in some cases with books I could no longer read.

    Twitter has been my main means of discovering (and sticking with) new authors.