Since the digital format for books (and music) is still in the equivalent of its late infancy stage, those who are reluctant to embrace change have given the format much criticism. I know a few fellow writers who say they have tried the digital format, and dislike it, insisting that I should cease and desist with my annoyingly persistent attempts to convince them to give digital a chance. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their preferences. However, due to how inimical people often tend to be when it comes to any type of new technological offering to the world (as well as pretty much anything else, but that’s a whole other topic), I cannot help but wonder if the real reason they refuse to embrace digital as a viable format is because, plain and simple, they are not used to it.
I. Change, Change Go Away…
People often tend to prefer what they are used to. This can create a stubborn psychological block that prevents them from adjusting to anything new. This is why, I believe, the home computer revolution took over a decade to reach the point where over 95% of all homes had such an important and revolutionary device. How many people are aware that home computers were available since the early 1980s? Probably not many, because back then it was mostly only true “geeks” who actually purchased computers, particularly those who planned a career in working with them. Many other people felt they didn’t need a home computer, simply because they had previously spent the entirety of their lives without one. I’m sure the same situation prevailed when the telephone was first invented; it probably took next to a decade before the majority of people had one since, after all, they were so used to conveying messages via horseback from one house to another that they didn’t see any great need for an obvious “extravagance” like a telephone.
Let’s all try to imagine not having a cell phone now, let alone a land line. Let those who grew up during the last two decades now try to imagine “not needing” a home computer. These technological advances make our life far too easier to contemplate the thought of going without them, yet it took those who lived their lives for a long time without these devices to warm up to the idea that they weren’t a monumental waste of money and/or an unproductive waste of time to learn how to use. And then there are those people who never want to embrace new technology – and I’m talking about devices that are truly useful, and not just consumerist junk that the advertising industry are paid to tell us that we “need” – because they are totally convinced that these devices are “too complicated” for them to learn, or that you have to be extremely tech-savvy in order to use them. And yes, I actually know a few people, generally older folks, who consider me an “expert” with computers because I’ve greatly impressed them with my ability to send an e-mail or shop off of Amazon (that’s me, the computer genius! Bow before my greatness, and I shall show you the secret of using an online search engine! Mwah-hah-hah!).
Over the next few years, as soon as efficient models of 3-D printers (forgive me, but I love calling them replicators) become truly affordable for everyone, I’m sure they will be the next great technological advance that people of the present who live then will insist they don’t need, but which people who grew up with one in the house can scarcely imagine being without. Not to mention failing to understand how their grandparents can insist they “don’t need one.” But that is a complaint I can no doubt save for a future blog to gripe about. Today, the technical advance in question that so many find hard to embrace due to its status as a new form of technology is digital books, or ebooks.
II. Why I Believe The World Will Leave Behind Those Who Refuse to “Get Digital”
Now, let me give the following disclaimer before I provide my adulation-filled endorsements for the digital format: I’m not hoping that the new format completely replaces the treeware (sorry, but I can’t resist calling it that!) format. Yes, print books are beautiful. Yes, they feel good in the hand. Yes, they look great filling a bookcase, and such a collection catches the admiring eye of many visitors. Yes, they give the impression of great erudition on your part for having such a collection occupying a respected spot in your home. And yes, they provide a good means of physical information storage should our computer technology fail us, as it often does, especially in regards to preservation for future generations.
It’s not my intention to diss the treeware format, and there are good reasons for authors, publishers, and readers to be open to working with both the print and digital mediums for books (and music, etc.). My criticism here is for authors, publishers, and readers who in this day and age stubbornly insist on only reading and/or publishing on the treeware format.
So with no more further ado, here are all the reasons why I think it’s a very good idea to embrace digital no matter how much you love, prefer, or are simply too used to the print medium:
1. You can’t beat the instant gratification factor of purchasing a book in digital format online, and being able to read it within literally seconds of your purchase. Many may insist they are more than willing to wait the two days to two weeks (or occasionally longer) it takes for print books to arrive in the mail, but I’m sorry, time can pass very slowly for those who have to wait for something they really want.
2. You can’t beat the price savings you usually get with the digital format. Yes, there’s a certain big publishing company currently trying to pull a “Hachette” job on fair digital pricing right now, but I believe they are fighting a losing battle to retain their privileged position in the long-time status quo for which the digital format is causing a rapid decline.
3. No shipping and handling charges for digital products (at least in the United States). Woohoo! The many of us on a budget or fixed income certainly appreciate that.
4. You just can’t beat that dictionary feature where you can double click on any unfamiliar word and instantly summon forth the dictionary definition! And, in addition, the Wikipedia entry on certain reading tablets, like the new Kindle Fire HDX! Some of the stubborn “print only” folks out there may boast that they aren’t “too lazy” to look up a word from their print dictionary just like they learned to do in school before the digital format was a reality, but come on now! Do we really have time during an intense reading session to constantly keep putting the book down, marking our place, and flipping through the hundreds and hundreds of words in the treeware dictionary to find every unfamiliar word we come across in a text? This dictionary entry at the click of a cursor has immense educational benefits to people of all ages, since it provides greater incentive to use the dictionary due to the lack of time wasting.
5. Print books may look beautiful in large numbers on your bookshelves, but they quickly become an eye sore for many when they begin piling up on the floor in multiple rooms. For those of us who love to read, that means large numbers of books often begin accumulating in huge piles on the floor of whatever room in your home happens to become your makeshift storage depot. How many books have we lost that way? How much time do we have to waste by digging through large piles of books that virtually rival the number stacked in the library (yes, libraries still exist) to find that one tome we’ve been clamoring to re-read for two years now, but haven’t been able to find buried in that massive pile? How about if we simply want to locate a certain reference or highlighted paragraph, only to find that a needlessly daunting task because the book in question is buried somewhere in the hidden reaches of that storage room? Is not wanting to spend a few hours digging in that book pile truly a sign of laziness, or is it more akin to time efficiency?
6. Sorry, but you can’t beat the convenience and space-saving measure of being able to bring literally a thousand books with you wherever you go, be they stored on a reading tablet, as downloads on your laptop, or simply saved on cloud space. That is far more convenient and less annoying than having to pick and choose just a few treeware books to bring with you on a trip.
7. Two important words for those who hope to go into self-publishing: more control. That means being able to publish what you want to publish, rather than having a big business mogul or one of their editing staff decide whether it’s “marketable” enough for them to take a chance on. Also think of the greater choices we are giving to the reading public by letting them determine what books make it through the marketability “vetting” procedure, rather than one or two people sitting in an office. Yes, a lot of crap makes it through, but a lot of crap made it through before, including certain works commonly hailed as “classics” simply because they were published a long, long time ago. And a lot of good stuff is making it through now that would likely not have seen the light of day if a big publisher was the only avenue for getting it before the reading public. As selling platforms like Smashwords slowly begin to encroach on big digital retailers like Amazon, more and more opportunities open for alternative books with insights and ideas that a big publisher would never allow past their vetting process for what amount to political reasons. Hence, the digital format is good for democracy.
8. Total control over your cover design. Woohoo! Near-total control over the pace in which your book is ready for publication. Woo-freakin’-hoo!! Yes, it can be argued that many digital self-publishers are not doing a professional editing job, and this is indeed something that print books often have over many digital publishers… at least for the immediate present. And yes, self-publishers do need to hire a good editor. But as the digital publishing medium becomes increasingly popular, more professional freelance editors are entering the business, and as they grow more numerous, their services are becoming increasingly more affordable. They are clearly worth the expense, and over the past few years we have seen an exponential increase in quality editing jobs with digital books. Some formatting problems tend to crop up in digital books, but the medium is still rather new, and this problem is also decreasing with the passage of time.
9. There is a considerably better chance for writers to be able to make a decent living off of their work with self-publishing in digital format than those who stubbornly insist on only going with traditional print publishing. I’ve been amazed with the number of fledgling writers I’ve met who do not know how the print business actually works. Consider this: Your books that are sent to traditional brick and mortar shops – which are now in trouble – are forced to compete for very limited shelf space. Those that do not sell are often removed from the shelves within six months, and the unsold copies are sent back to the publisher. Your traditional publisher then has the choice of removing your book from print then, or at any time thereafter. Their goal is to make as much profit as can be squeezed out over the short term. You are often paid a mere $5,000.00 for your work, with the rest going to the publishing company. Only the top few sellers can expect the periodic royalty checks from being in any way substantial.
9.1 With the digital medium, however, you – or your indie publisher – have the option of keeping your books in print for perpetuity. The digital retailing business is designed to make a profit over the long haul, and your books will generally have ample time to find their audience, and to remain visible. Granted, a traditional print publisher has more resources for promotion. But that, however, is changing due to the advent of social media. You have many opportunities to promote your book for free, e.g., your channel on YouTube; your Facebook account; over Google; your websites; blog, etc., et al. You can get fellow authors or publishers to promote your books on their blogs by offering to do the same for theirs in exchange, or sending them out to the many online book reviewers out there.
9.2 You get a far greater percentage off of sold books if you’re self-publishing in digital format than you do with traditional publishing. For instance, Amazon will currently give you 35% of everything you sell for under $2.99, and 70% for anything between that price and $9.99 (anything above that is 35% to the writer again; many thanks to fellow writer Perry Constantine for this important reminder!). By offering your stories, essays, books, etc., at such reasonable prices, coupled with periodic free giveaways, you have the potential to grab many more buyers than those who can be expected to pick up a hardcover treeware book that costs a small fortune for those on a budget.
10. Yes, there is the problem of piracy, as many will point out. This, in fact, is what comic book writer/artist Howard Chaykin complained about in a recent interview that I responded to in a previous blog entry; he said he thinks of piracy whenever he thinks of books in digital format. And yes, some degree of piracy will always be there, since our beautifully archaic capitalist system hopes to continue utilizing a barter system in a world where true scarcity no longer exists, especially not for intellectual property sold on easily copied digital files (but I’ll save my anti-capitalist rants for future blogs). And do you know why piracy got so out of hand with both the music and writing industries? That was due to the big music, publishing, and video companies charging an arm and a leg along with other select body parts for their products; far more so, in fact, than what was required for them to actually make a good profit. This is a duplicitous business practice which angered and alienated the many consumers who have to live on a budget. Whether or not this was justified is another topic for another blog, but the point is, if you try to rip people off, you can’t expect loyal sales support in response. Selling intellectual property at reasonable prices that do not break the proverbial bank of your prospective customers greatly discourages piracy and hugely encourages your readers to support your product.
11. If you want to make your books available in print format despite being heavily into digital publishing, you have the Print On Demand [POD] option, which is provided by CreateSpace (owned by Amazon), Lulu, etc.
12. Print publication still has the advantage of prestige, but that’s only because the belief persists that if your writing is deemed by the editors who work for a big publishing company to be worth investing $30,000.00+ to print a sizable amount of copies for the brick and mortar retailers, then your work must be “good.” This belief has gone on for a long time because traditional print publishers have existed for a long time, and digital publishing for only a very short time in human history. This belief doesn’t take into account the difference between “good” and marketable. It also doesn’t take into account how often big publishers are wrong in their assessments, and how they routinely both overestimate and underestimate the sale-ability of a book. Finally, this belief doesn’t take into account the office politics involved in these decisions that have nothing to do with the intrinsic educational and/or entertainment value of a given book. Moreover, this belief makes the arrogant assumption that a few elite members of a publishing company are a better judge of a book’s quality or worthiness to publish and purchase than the readers themselves.
13. For those who are genuinely concerned about the environment and the health of the biosphere, there is the matter of how the print medium acquired the nickname of “treeware.” The growth of the digital format decreases the amount of trees that have to be sacrificed for our reading pleasure.
14. I know certain people who continue to prefer the print medium who have eye problems that are exacerbated by the relatively small print of the letters on treeware books. With digital books, you can control the size of the text and even the color of the background on reading tablets and text on PDF files. This, frankly, makes me seriously question the judgment of such individuals for continuing to prefer the print medium, not to mention how I worry that their stubborn resistance to change may be damaging their vision, or at least resulting in chronic painful eyestrain.
15. Your digital collection of books that are only visible on your computer, your cloud storage space, and reading tablet afford you greater privacy than your physical collection. What do I mean by this? Simple. How many of us do not own books of controversial topics that we would rather our nosier guests do not just stumble upon, or which your grandmother doesn’t come across while wandering about your house? Let me give you a few hypothetical examples so you really understand what I mean. How many of you would like your grandmother to stumble upon your print copy of An Illustrated History of Stag Films? Or A Connoisseur’s Guide to Prostitutes? Or The True Story of A Man Who Loved His Puppets a Little Too Much? Or… I’ll spare you any more such hypothetical examples, since I think you hopefully get the gist by now. This may sound flippant, but I think it’s a serious point to consider. It’s much easier to keep your digital collection away from potentially prying eyes than your print books, since you have the option to lock your computer or reading tablet to keep those unwelcome ocular organs away from your more, um… personal reading material. Yes, you can hide your print books, but as physical items it’s still possible – and more likely than you may want to think – that some nosy guest will manage to “stumble” upon them.
So there you have it, 15 reasons off the bat that explain why I consider the digital format to be awesome and a major positive convenience which readers, writers, and publishers refuse to embrace at their peril.