Jody Lynn Nye is the author of over 40 books and 100 short stories in the SF/fantasy genre. Her latest books are View From the Imperium, perhaps best described as “Jeeves and Wooster in space,” and Dragon’s Deal, third in the Dragons series begun by Robert Asprin.
I used to have three objections to e-publications. First, I didn’t believe that books should have batteries. A book is the least expensive investment in entertainment and can be used over and over again, in almost every situation except total darkness. I can and have read books by candlelight during power failures. You can’t do that if you have to plug them in. I didn’t want to reach for the book I was reading and find that it was dead.
Secondly, I always said that I didn’t want an electronic book until I could have one that if it fell out of my hand into the bathtub would not electrocute me.
Thirdly, my concern was as an author. I worried how I would be paid if my work were suddenly available as an electronic download. I watched the music, movie and television piracy situation grow out of hand, mostly because the Powers That Be refused to believe that nice little boys and girls wouldn’t just buy their product, no matter how much it cost or how inconvenient it was to transfer to their listening/watching device of choice. Books take up a fraction of the size even of an MP3, so trafficking in stolen literature could be accomplished with e-mails, let alone P2P sites. E-books were first sold for ridiculous amounts of money, vastly out of proportion to the cost to produce them. The situation invited ripoff, and authors make far less money than media studios or famous musicians. Not that anyone, rich or poor, should be the victim of piracy.
My first objection was assuaged by the advent of the Kindle and its ilk. The Kindle holds hundreds of books. That would cut down vastly on the amount of paper that I carry with me on trips. It also keeps its battery charge for a month. Even I can remember to recharge something once a month. That’s just too convenient not to be considered. And lots of books on those services are free. I’ve been catching up on classics, but modern publishers are offering their work gratis, too. Baen Books has had a wonderful electronic library of manuscripts, many free to download, which their fans use as a supplement to the paper volumes that they still buy. Then, my husband bought me an iPhone 4, and I overcame the second problem by myself. I improvised a bathyscape for the phone out of a gallon Ziploc bag so I could take it into the bathtub and read ibooks while soaking. Since then, I received the gift of a watertight case with clear, flexible sides so I can control the touch screen through them. (I don’t yet own a Kindle or other e-book reader, but it’s probably just a matter of time.) Thirdly, models for payment and file security have been evolved so that readers can buy what authors have written. The new Creative Commons license means that if I choose to offer a story or book free on the Internet, it will still be known as my work, leading readers back to me and my other books. Many new online and e-publishers are acquiring reputations of being good people to do business with. The fact that several of my friends are earning good monthly royalties from their online sales makes me optimistic for the future of the industry.
I love technology. I was a television engineer before quitting to write full time. I want to see I-books, e-books and audio books succeed. But I also love the feeling of paper books in my hand. I like being able to flip back and forth without having to scroll or lose my place. E-books can never substitute for the relationship I have with real books, but I feel they have their place. They are a new but similar form of entertainment that will supplement, not supplant, the physical page-turner. I can see the younger generations who grow up with them seeing paper books as old-fashioned and dull in comparison with their electronic counterparts, but so be it. Technology marches on. I don’t crank a gramophone to listen to music, and I haven’t hand-bound a book since college. I also applaud the ecological footprint of an e-book issue instead of the current model of book sales where most unsold copies end up destroyed instead of shipped elsewhere. The delivery system is easy to techno-savvy youth: point, browse, click, pay, download, read. Gotta love it.
There’s an argument that e-book publication is too easy, that more junk than quality will crowd the market. There are two ways of looking at that. Sure, anyone and his cat (this IS the Interweb, after all) can become an e-publisher. But as indie musicians have been finding out, the narrow pipeline that is mainstream, or ‘legacy’, marketing limits what the public sees or hears. Much excellent work goes unseen. Word of mouth and social networking, also new tools, help legacy publishers as well as e-publishers. The good stuff gets talked about and, therefore, one hopes, is purchased. But it is also a blessing for any legacy author whose first books in a series have ever been dropped out of print before further volumes were published. Getting old books reissued on the publication of a new book is difficult, considering budgets and bookstore space. With e-pub, a series can live on.
E-publication is a trap for legacy authors as well as a benefit. If a publisher is given e-rights, unless you specify a time limit in the contract, your book is never out of print with them. It becomes an asset of the house, through bankruptcy, acquisition, merger, and so on, even if they drop you. Some houses assume that any future rights belong to them. Affinity groups like SFWA and the Authors Guild want specific rights limited and spelled out. Who knows what advance in literature-delivery will come next? In the meantime, we haven’t really plumbed the depths of what e-publication has to offer. I and my submersible iPhone can’t wait to find out.