Are ebook readers stingy or just wary?

kindle1 203x300 Are ebook readers stingy or just wary?

While Ive been away on holidays Ive been largely reading from my Kindle (the only exceptions being the rather hefty 1000 page hardcover Murakami I had to bring with me and a chick lit left behind in my hotel room), and tech-wise, its all been fine.

But if youve been reading my reviews over the last few weeks youve likely seen that the type of stuff that Ive been reviewing has been rather different from my usual fare. Gone are the young adult novels and the literary stuff in apparent favour of myriad romances, cozy mysteries, classics and Christian fare (the last being an unwitting discovery, admittedly).

Why the sudden shift in genres?

Most of my review copies still arrive in print formatIve even had some publishers tell me that its still easier for them to send me a print copy rather than an ecopyand often those in ebook format are in file formats that are difficult to read on a Kindle. (PDFs are not the Kindle readers friends, it must be said.) So, to ensure that my voracious reading appetite was to be sated, I loaded up my Kindle with all manner of Amazon freebies. Naturally, certain genres tend to be overrepresented in the freebie section of the site, so more of those ended up on my Kindle than did other genres.

But why not just shell out a few bucks and pick up something I genuinely wanted to read, rather than scraping about for something thats merely sufficient?

Well, first, Ill admit it, Im stingy. Im a freelancer, so sue me (or, on second thought, dont, because you really wont get much for your troubles. In my pocket I have a hairpin and a tissue, and my wallet contains much the same.) So free things delight me much in the way shiny things never fail to catch the attention of my fiance.

But the second, and more meaningful, reason is that Im wary.

Im naturally a cautious purchaser, and early adopter is a wildly inaccurate way of describing me. (I only have an iPod because a friend gave me a hand-me-down, and I was perfectly happy with my crusty old Nokia until the fiance pointedly turfed it and bought me a new phone.)

And when it comes to ebooks there are a number of things that a reader has to be concerned about.'These include, but are not limited to:

General ugliness

Admittedly, this one is in large part aimed at the self-published and the small press, who unfortunately seem to bear the lions share of eye-gougingly awful covers and design. But big publishers dont get off scot-free here, either.

An ebook isnt the poor cousin of a print book. Its not just some dodgy scanned thing downloaded from a torrenting site (hopefully). But it really does seem in many cases that publishers are releasing ebooks merely to keep the Third Estate from uprising rather than out of any belief that ebooks are, you know, a product'that theyre selling.

There are small things that make a difference. Pretty chapter headers. Having an illuminated character at the beginning of a chapter. A table of contents. Cover art that actually renders well on an ereader. Really, anything that shows that someone has actually given some sort of consideration to the overall appearance of the ebook.

Ebooks need the same degree of attention paid to formatting and pagination as print books do.


As alluded to above, formatting woes continue to be a problem with e-texts. Unfortunately, many ebook publishers seem to think that clicking a format button to convert a PDF to a Kindle-appropriate file is all that involved in ebook conversion.

Not so, my friend.

Once again: an ebook is not a print book.

Even with a perfect conversion, things will appear differently on an ereader from how they will in'a print book. The font is different, the line spacing is different, the kerning and leading are different. Text can be resized up and downand this can destroy formatting designed for a particular zoom.

A recent ebook that I read, for example, had clearly been scanned from another file, and was riddled with hyphens that remained no matter what zoom level I was viewing. This is tough on the reader visually, and results in them being drawn out of the story (and musing on why every character seems to have a stutter).

An eye also needs to be kept on margins and justification, as these can turn into visually spectacular works of art worthy of William S Burroughs, and are roughly as easy to read. Chapter headings can also spill strangely on to the next page, or be brought back a page. Oh, and bear in mind that really theres not really such thing as recto/verso in an ebook.

Poor proofreading

Yes, Im a pedant, but Im not alone in this. I take issue when a book is riddled with misapostrophications and homophone confusion. Anecdotally, poor proofreading persists in ebooks, no matter where they fall on the price spectrum. Weve all heard of the cases where proofs have been uploaded as ebooks, or where ebooks have been found to contain so many errors that refunds have been demanded.

Scanned books are also a problem, as characters can be misread and turned into gibberish (albeit often to hilarious effect. One book I read while on holidays converted rn to m, so I got to read all about how a fire bums.) Proofing the print version of a book isnt good enough. The egalleys also need to be thoroughly looked over. Readers really do notice this stuff.

The unknown factor

One of the biggest issues with ebooks, of course, and which links into all of the points in the post, is the huge amounts of unknowns involved. Ebooks cant be picked up and flicked through, and theres really very little indicator of whether an ebook will be pristine and wonderful or whether youd be better off spending your money elsewhere.

How do I know that a certain publisher or self-published author is selling me a product that meets my standards? Personally, Im still concerned by the perception of ebooks as lesser print books, and worry that this outlook affects not just the design of said books, but also the content. Am I paying good money for someones out of print backlist? Or for something that even the authors mum wouldnt recommend?


Ooh, pricing. I could write an entire post on this alone (perhaps I shall. Lucky you!), but price and subsequent perception of value are definitely driving factors when it comes to an ebook purchase. Ebooks are already facing a major hurdle in that theyre not a physical thing. Theyre intellectual property, a bit of electronic stuff on a reader. People dont usually go into a shop and come out with their pockets bulging with pilfered stuff, but ripping a CD or downloading a movie seems to be entirely different, because theyre not stealing a physical thing. The same is true of ebooks. Many readers will see a huge disjunct between the price being charged and the amount of thing theyre getting for it, and particularly if any of the above problems are present.

(This is where the trend towards low pricing can be a problem, by the way. Does a low price indicate a bargain? Or that a book is terrible? Or does it mean that Im going to be paying through the nose for the authors subsequent books, and if so, is this acceptable? Fiddling around with prices can be a great way to entice readers, but it can also be a way to undermine trust or set inappropriate expectations regarding cost or quality of content.)

So, while the naturally wary me waits for ebooks to move from being new-fangled tech to something homely and familiar, Ill just dip my toe into the freebie pool for now until my ebook dataset has enough positive entries that Im willing to start spending the big (well, bigger) bucks.

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