5 Myths About E-Books Busted


When I talk to self-publishers out there, I find that they have several misconceptions about e-books.

Here are the myths:

1.  My book will do much better as an e-book because it will be more accessible to readers.

2.  Most people have e-readers now anyway.

3.  Customers can check out e-books from the library with no strings attached, just like print books.

4.  E-books will allow me to finally get published and noticed by the major publishing houses.

5.  E-books make people better readers.

Now let’s bust the myths:

1.  Accessibility: Sure your self-published e-book will be more accessible to more people, but it will be just as accessible if it were a print-on-demand edition from Createspace.  There are some other worries you might want to think about: namely piracy.  Lloyd Shepherd found himself in the middle of this very common publishing dilemma with one of his books.  He had published his book as an e-book, and someone else downloaded it, put their own name on it, and then started selling it.  Before anyone knew what was going on, this pirate author had sold many copies of the book before Shepherd ever found out.  Of course this could happen with a printed edition of the book, but it would be much harder to do.  Even though e-book sales are in many ways dwarfing print book sales currently, it does not mean that your book will be a best seller simply because it is an e-book.  E-books sell about as much as print books if they are not marketed to the public.  It takes a lot of blogging, social media and other avenues to get your book in front of the most people.

2.  Most People Have E-Readers:  Mills & Boon, a publishing house, did a survey in August of 2010 of their customers to find out what format they use to read e-books.  The survey found that 60% read on laptop, 33% read on e-readers and 7% read on a mobile device.  Things haven’t changed much since then.  A recent Publishers Weekly report states that in the U.S. alone, e-book sales are up among the big three sellers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes), but according to this CNN article, “print reading material still rules the consumer market, however. Pew found that nearly three-fourths of U.S. adults read a printed book in 2011, and 11% listened to an audiobook. Print books are especially popular when people read to children.  Print books are also the most popular choice when people want to borrow or lend a book.”  Print still rules the roost, so even though the e-reader is the fastest selling device since the cell phone, it does not guarantee that you will be the next Amanda Hawking or John Locke.

3.  Library E-books Are Without Strings: As reported in American Libraries Magazine, in September of 2011, Amazon cut a deal with Overdrive to allow customers of public libraries to check out certain books on Amazon for a two week to one month period.  The problem with this was that when it came time for the book to magically disappear from their Kindle devices,  Amazon then offered to sell the book to them effectively using libraries sacred trust with their patrons to market their products.  The article also states that “Amazon’s communications with borrowers made it plain that Amazon was acquiring and keeping lots of information about library users and their reading habits and using that data to market goods to them. Inquiries revealed that while OverDrive did not acquire or pass along user information, Amazon required Kindle users to log in with their Kindle accounts to access the borrowed ebook. That information—along with the data about the Kindle customer’s use of the ebook—was, per Amazon’s terms of service, subject to Amazon’s standard commercial privacy policies.”  I know this is very Big Brother, but should a public library be party to the marketing whims of a corporation?  Most of you would agree that this crosses an ethical line.

4.  Getting Noticed by the Publishers – If you believe this myth, you might as well play the lottery and hope for a million.  The Guardian reported in February that most of the soaring e-book sales are being driven by down market fiction that doesn’t really last in the long run.  Writers by the thousands are prostituting themselves, writing horrible clones of Twilight and Percy Jackson rather than writing anything substantial.  Someone once gave me some very poor advice: “Write to the market and then once you get famous you can write what you want.”  This is absolute nonsense.  Writers write best what they most care about.  I could never write a supernatural romance because that stuff makes me go green in the face.  My novels are not only meant for entertainment, they are meant to make readers think about themselves and their condition on this planet.  If that seems to be something that a publisher wants after I’ve published to Amazon, Nook and Smashwords, so be it.  Amazon reported this year that they have over 950,000 e-books for sale online, but how many of those are by writers with absolutely no skill, no desire to produce hard work and big dreams of being a “best seller”.  I’m sure the good stuff will eventually rise to the top.

5.  E-books Make Us Better Readers:  Time Magazine posted an interesting article showing that these devices may actually cause readers to remember less of what they read than if they were reading a printed book.  The reason for this is that “E-books… provide fewer spatial landmarks than print, especially pared-down versions like the early Kindles, which simply scroll through text and don’t even show page numbers, just the percentage already read. In a sense, the page is infinite and limitless, which can be dizzying. Printed books on the other hand, give us a physical reference point, and part of our recall includes how far along in the book we are, something that’s more challenging to assess on an e-book.”  I’m sure that e-readers will make people buy and read more books because they make that practice easier and more instantaneous, however, I am sure the novelty of these devices might wear off after a while.  What e-books are being used for right now is to create a buffer zone for publishers who can tell how a printed book will do based on e-sales.  Studies also show that a majority of people will buy a hard bound copy of books that they like anyway.  If an e-book has mediocre sales, the print publisher can pull back on the amount of print copies they warehouse.  The amount of people out there who exclusively read e-books are too minuscule to count.  Most people who are avid readers read both print and e-editions of books.  E-books still only make up 13% of a publisher’s profit margin.

I do not have any illusions.

I will do three things with my next book (along with blogging and social media) to give it the best possible exposure:

1.  I will release it as an e-book in three installments with the first installment offered at zero cost to the consumer.  The other two installments will cost only .99 cents.

2.  I will release a print edition after all three e-books are released.

3.  I will release an e-book of all three installments with the print edition.

If I do not sell well, I will not cry in my soup.  I love writing, love working hard to create a good narrative that captures the reader’s interest while commenting on the human condition.  If one person says they had a good time reading my novel, I have all I need.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

5 thoughts on “5 Myths About E-Books Busted

  1. I think you’re right. Just now the environment’s a movable feast; the industry is changing, as is the technology and the way we’re using it. I think it’s got a way to go yet. Probably e-books will find their own level in due course, just like video, DVD and everything else did. The main thing I think we need to be wary of is the logic-trap that “the new” will by some automatic process supersede “the old”. You know, TV was going to kill cinema in the 1950s, video was going to kill cinema in the 1980s, and so on. E-books will, as you say, have their place, and I think very likely a significant one in due course. But they won’t be the sole way we read books – and they aren’t a panacea either for self-publishers, or for a publishing industry that’s both slow to change and beset with customers whose spending is recession-minded.

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