Sunday 28 February 2010

Opinionated Speculations: eBooks and iPads

Over at his blog, Stephen Deas - author of The Adamantine Palace and The King of Crags, which The Speculative Scotsman will be reading shortly - answers a question that I've often pondered myself. Regarding e-books.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. In and around the blogosphere, we hear a lot about e-books. In particular, Jeff C over at the wonderful Fantasy Book News and Reviews has much to say about the emerging medium, but there are others beyond him - and no shortage of them. In fact, there's enough talk about e-books and the various readers with which to consume said that of late, I've felt increasingly pressured to drop the however many hundreds of pounds I don't have and get with the damn programme.

To be perfectly honest, though, it's only lately that I've considered buying an e-book reader to read actual books on. I've had my eye on the market since the very earliest news of Sony's first piece of hardware; I had a real geek crush on that initial bit of tech, but in the end, I wasn't in a great place financially when it finally arrived on the market, so I didn't take the plunge. Besides which, my hope has always been for a colour reader that I could get back into comics through.

I used to read a whole bunch of comic books. These days, I don't, but not because I became disillusioned with the medium, or fell out of love at all. I only stopped buying my stack of Vertigo and indie efforts because of the sheer cost of them, firstly, and the incredible amount of space they'd begun to take up. There are very few comics I'd care to read more than once, ultimately, and I made such a pittance selling on those I didn't love enough to keep that the proposition just stopped making sense. I started on the graphic novels, but that didn't last either; the very same problems were inherent there, too.

As I say, I've never stopped wanting to read Fables, Finder or The Walking Dead, nor anything by Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman, but before the recently announced iPad, the only available readers were black and white, and comics without colour would be like bread without butter. Hell with that, especially considering the expense.

With the iPad on the near horizon, however, the equation, for me, has changed. I'll certainly wait to see what support there is for e-comics before I trade the big bucks for what is essentially a tablet PC, but the temptation is greater now than ever before.

And yet, since I launched TSS in the New Year, the urge to buy an e-book reader of some description has changed again. There's the pressure I've already mentioned, but add to that the fact that I've been offered PDFs and epub files for review months in advance of actual printed proofs, and I've had no choice but to turn them down, with hat in hand and the excuse that I'm a veritable luddite when it comes to literature that isn't printed on trees. I feel like an old man who can't find his way around a keyboard - no offense intended to any computer illiterate old men who are reading, incidentally.

On Tuesday, a post from Stephen Deas prompted me to reconsider yet again. He reports that, at the annual Orion party, discussions were had regarding the actual market-share of e-books. Better you hear it from the horse's mouth. You can read the original article in its entirety here, but for your convenience, dear readers, a brief excerpt:

"Amid the Amazon vs. Macmillan malarkey, iPads and other shenanigans and the poorly advertised possibly-not-actually-a-fact that the e-book version of The Adamantine Palace will have something pushing 60,000 words of extra material in it, I’d somehow gained the impression that e-books were, somehow, well, y’know, important? Apparently not. According to Peter Roche, chief executive of the Orion Publishing Group, there is the possibility that e-books will expand greatly in 2010, possibly up to a whopping great 2% of total sales. Woo-hoo."

Now hang on just a minute. A 2% share of a market that's dwindling year-on-year would represent a great expansion? Well... I guess I'm not so behind the times at all.

I don't doubt that e-books will go on to become a much more significant endeavour, perhaps even to equal old-fashioned printed equivalents in the not-too-distant, but I'm truly staggered at the disparity between the frequent talk of them around the blogosphere versus the reality of what, when you come right down to it, is their miniscule appeal.

In light of Stephen's comments, I think it's safe to say I'll be waiting for the inevitable next iteration of Apple's no doubt soon-to-be ubiquitous iPad. Either that, or for the price of the initial model to come down far enough that I don't feel as if I'm wasting hard-earned on tomorrow's technology today. The comics I've missed have waited this long, and while I'll have to keep turning down offers of e-books for review, in the end, who doesn't prefer the reassuring solidity of a real novel anyway?

I'll get an e-book reader one of these days - I will! The only upshot of all this is: today just isn't that day.

On the other hand, did someone mention that there'd be an extra 60,000 words worth of content in the electronic edition of The Adamantine Palace? For those of you further ahead of the curve than I, that's a hell of a bonus...

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