Scott Marlowe
Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Are Printed Books Dead?

With the rise of tablets and other e-readers, some are starting to pronounce the traditional hard back book as dead. As new versions of e-readers like the Kindle become more advanced, the noise about the death of books becomes louder.

Are we really part of the last generation to be able to purchase, own and consume paper books at will? Here are a few reasons why many think we are:

Book shops dwindling

In a world where we can buy things at the click of a button, many high street and independent retailers suffer as a result. In 2011 American book retailing giant Borders closed its doors for good, despite being the prime retailer of books in both the UK and USA (alongside its parent group Barnes & Noble). A lot of this was attributed to the fact that as well as there being fewer people actually reading hard back books, those who did want to read solid printed books usually bought their desired books online. Retailers like Amazon, who are a one stop shop for almost any need you have, took the custom from shops as consumers could buy books here at the same time as making any other purchase. The convenience factor plays a big role here, especially at peak retail times like Christmas. Not only that, retailers like Amazon are able to offer books both used and new at a much lower price than book shops as there are no store overheads, not to mention free delivery on orders of a certain cost, meaning the consumer isn’t put out by ordering this way so it becomes less of an issue that they may not get to open their book for a couple of days.

And so with less book shops comes less need to print as many books overall. However Amazon has contributed to the death of print in a much bigger way.

The rise of e-readers

The first Kindle launched in November 2007 and in the last 7 or so years the device by Amazon has gone from strength to strength with each new model which has been released. The small sleek design, roughly the same size as a paperback but far lighter, proved appealing for those who love to read at any opportunity. Both a popular space saver in your handbag, suitcase and in your home, the Kindle breathed a whole new lease of life into the hobby that is reading. Soon many different brands of e-reader cropped up, offering all the same benefits as a Kindle.

As a result, e-readers and in turn e-books then became popular, fashionable and affordable. As e-books don’t have to be printed and delivered to a store, the cost to produce and sell them then becomes much less than an average paperback or hardback. This means that e-books can sell for much less, and in quite a lot of instances you’ll find e-books for free available in most e-reader libraries. Therefore although you pay an initial expense with an e-reader, it becomes more cost-effective in the long run to enjoy reading this way, which then drives down the need for as many printed books.

The digital world

Although e-readers make up a large part of the digital world, our whole attitude and adoption of the digital technology available to us is another contributing factor to the death of printed books. For example, with an e-reader you can buy a book directly from the library and have it added to your device in seconds. You could have an account linked to your bank details or you may opt to use a payment method like PayPal, but either way, the transaction is almost instant and you can enjoy your books in minutes.

But it’s not just books we can consume in the digital world or even on our Kindles any more. Now you can pay your bills, play games, gamble and so much more too.

With all these factors considered, it’s easy to see why it looks like the death of printed books is near.

eBooks, eReaders, and Maps

I recently added a map to the front matter of The Hall of the Wood because I think maps are an important part of the fantasy reading experience. One of the first questions my illustrator, Jared Blando, asked me was if I wanted black & white or color images. Because I wanted to use the map on the World of Uhl site and because lots and lots of people now have color eReading devices, of course I said color. If needed, I can easily convert the image to black & white myself.

I anticipated problems. Not with Jared or the maps themselves but with eBooks and the devices we read them on. Sure enough, after adding the map to the Kindle eBook version and viewing it on my Kindle 2, I saw right away that the map was next to useless. It’s simply impossible to read.

Here’s a couple of images which attempt to demonstrate the problem. It’s unfortunately very difficult to take a picture of a Kindle screen. (Try it if you don’t believe me. Maybe if I took in in full sunlight, but it’s too darn cold out right now.)

Anyway, check these out and believe me when I say the map is unreadable.

image

IMG_3046

However, when I brought the same eBook up on my iPad and viewed the map…

IMG_3045

I guess this image isn’t the best (again, taking a picture of one of these devices ain’t so easy; lots of glare, for ex.) but the map is very viewable in all its glory. One of the best things about viewing it on the iPad? Pinch and zoom. You can zoom in, pan, zoom out, and swipe away. The higher res image really shines here when you get close up.

Which is all fine and dandy if you own an iPad or similar device. But what about those who prefer traditional Kindles or other b/w eReaders?

My solution is to offer a link to the World of Uhl site where the map is viewable full-size. To that end, I put this disclaimer into the eBook:

A friendly note from the author about maps: Maps, eBooks, and eReaders do not always mix well. If you have difficulty viewing this one or simply wish to see a larger version, I encourage you to open your favorite browser and visit the World of Uhl map section (www.worldofuhl.com/maps.html).

In the eBook, it looks something like this:

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While my primary motivation for including this extra option is to make things easier on my readers, I’m also trying to preemptively avoid any 1 or 2 star reviews because someone couldn’t read the map on their Kindle or nook. If you think that someone won’t do that, I have some primo beach front property to sell you here in Dallas.

I think this is an adequate concession and hopefully accommodates everyone.

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher

I'm stepping into the way-back machine today to highlight a series I wrote back in 2009 about selling your eBook without a publisher.

Back then I was just getting started with self-publishing. A lot of people were. I used the series of posts primarily as a way to familiarize myself with the various retailers, services, and how to actually produce an eBook. I've learned a lot since then. Still learning, in fact. But I think this series is still relevant. In fact, I think I could expand on it. For example, Kobo and CreateSpace are missing as retailers and service providers, respectively. Both are used by yours truly.

But, for now, here is the 8 part series in its original form broken down by post.

  1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
  2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
  3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
  4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com
  5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
  6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
  7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
  8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

eBook Versioning

In the world of software, version numbers are used so people can distinguish between different product versions or builds. The following is one way in which version numbers are broken down:

(Major version).(Minor version).(Revision number).(Build number)

Let's look at each of these.

  1. Major version: The major version can be thought of as the product version. Office 11, for example, where '11' is the major version.
  2. Minor version: The minor version often indicates a point release containing enhancements, bug fixes, and generally significant improvements just short of the product warranting a new major version.
  3. Revision number: If major and minor versions of a product are identical but have different revision numbers, then those assemblies (a DLL, for example) are meant to be interchangeable. A new revision might indicate, for example, that a security hole was plugged. Functionally, though, the two assemblies are identical.
  4. Build number: The build number is associated with a compile of the program or product in question. Depending on a team's build schedule, a new build number may be generated at the end of each day or less frequently.

That may seem overly complicated but it's really pretty commonplace in software product development.

So how about books? Do books have version numbers?

Why yes they do.

The version number of a book is called an 'edition'. One possible way to break an edition number down is to express it as, for example, 15/30, which means the 15th print  having a volume of 30 units. Otherwise you may just see a simple sequential numbering system. Not very complicated.

When I first released my eBooks I was following a versioning scheme more inline with software development, except without the build number part. So, something like 1.0.11, for example. The major version never really got updated but I had a number of point releases to correct typos and such. The minor version never got updated at all. So I dropped it. I also came to realize over time that having a major version didn't make much sense either, cause when was I ever going to release any major changes? Hopefully never. The types of releases I make are really only point releases resulting in a revision number increment.

So what versioning scheme am I using for my eBooks now?

I'm using a simple sequential numbering scheme. I put the version right on the copyright page:

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The version serves the obvious purpose of tracking changes and letting readers know there have been changes, corrections, etc., but it also lets me know which version I have uploaded to the various retailers who sell my books. It's an easy way to verify that everything went smoothly with the upload just by taking a quick look at the preview via the retailer's site the same way anyone else would.

I need to get better about tracking the actual changes that go along with each version, but that's a task (and maybe a post) for another day.

Conclusion

eBooks are digital and as such share similarities with other digital entities such as software applications. Even traditional, paper books have versions, so why not eBooks as well? It makes it possible to track changes if that's something an author wants to do and lets readers know that the book isn't static and that mistakes (we all make mistakes) are being actively corrected. That last point makes me wonder if I shouldn't add a "Last Revised" or "Last Updated" date in there somewhere. Hmm…

A reminder about getting my eBooks for either 99 cents or for free

The Five Elements

The Hall of the Wood

The past couple of weeks I've highlighted two ways in which readers can get my eBooks for less than retail. The first way you get a steep discount. The second, you get a full discount, as in the eBooks are free.

Here's the deals:

1. Get'em for $0.99

The 99 cent method involves heading out to Smashwords and using one of the coupon codes below.

The Five Elements - JJ32F

The Hall of the Wood - EC98E (not for sale currently)

2. Get'em for free

The second way is slightly more complicated because it requires a commitment on your end. But in exchange you get the eBooks for free. The reasoning behind this was discussed in this post, but the gist of it is that in exchange for me sending you either or both of my eBooks in a format of your choosing you have to agree to post a review. The review can be posted to your blog, web site, the retailer (or retailers) of your choice, Goodreads, or anywhere else you see fit. It should be honest and doesn't have to be good. What you write is entirely up to you.

If interested, contact me and I'll get the eBooks to you.