Who says ebooks are just for porn?!

British author and winner of the prestigious Whitbread Prize for Literature, Joan Brady, made these provocative statements in an article in the UK’s online version of The Daily Telegraph:

“…lowbrow ‘pulp’ such as ‘celebrity biographies… and porn’ will ‘disappear into e-books.’

“Your Rolex watch? It’s a statement. A four-wheel drive? A statement. That’s what the books in your house are too.”

Odd! I thought books were for reading, not for placing on a shelf to prove your erudition. [Erudition: extensive knowledge acquired chiefly from books: profound, recondite, or bookish learning. And though I love the heft of a great big print dictionary, I got that definition online instantly.]

I had my first-generation Kindle ereader for about a year before I used it much… I really wanted that Kindle, and as soon as I heard that such a device was coming out, I asked my then-fiance and kids to buy me one for Christmas. They did, and though the Kindles sold out fast that year, mine was pre-ordered and I got one of the very first ones. Then it sat around for about a year while I continued to buy and read old-fashioned paper books.

But eventually I picked up that original Kindle… which is now rather like a Model T of ereaders. Sometime later I began publishing my own books and those of others electronically, persuaded by all the advantages and control available to new indie authors. Now that I have both the classic Kindle and a Kindle Fire (my husband graciously reads the old black-and-white) I am a complete convert.

I acknowledge the value of print books. I was in a bookstore yesterday for the first time in a while, marveling at ALL that paper, and the outrageous expense of producing it, but also the beauty of these objects, and some of the positive aspects of a simple, non-technical solution to the desire to share stories. We will always have print books, despite their limitations.

But I prefer ebooks and ereaders. Let me count the ways:

1. Ebooks are lighter (for many books).
2. Ebooks are cheaper (nearly always, once you have your reading device).
3. You can choose your font size (increasingly important as we age).
4. There is an infinite selection of books available at a touch.
5. A reader has the ability to chat with others in real-time about ebooks and the reading experience.
6. The content of an ebook is updatable.
7. There can be, and will increasingly be, brilliant, light-filled color photos.
8. No trees are destroyed.
9. Instant gratification — you are able to order a new book and start reading it in seconds!

(Love the last best — I can finish Book #2 of The Hunger Games at midnight and give in to the irresistible urge to buy Book #3 in the blink of an eye!)

But I ain’t sayin’ nothin’ about that 50 Shades book. Oh, all right, I was curious. I read the sample. And I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was — it wasn’t even very dirty, and it certainly wasn’t very well-written. So I had to buy the first one, of course, and then I was still curious, so I bought the second. By then, my curiosity was sated. And yes, it was dirty. And after a while, not all that interesting. Perhaps that’s the porn Ms. Brady is talking about.

But ebooks being just for pornography? Hardly.

Here’s when we’ll know that ebooks are the thing. When the word “book” simply means ebook, and one has to use a term like print book or paper book to identify the old-fashioned kind.

Oh, and here’s the kicker to the story in The Telegraph: Ms. Brady’s new book, The Blue Death, to which she is naturally trying to draw attention with her provocative statements, is available as an ebook!

I note that her book, a kind of political thriller, costs $14.99 via Kindle, $3.00 more than the paperback costs. Currently, it has no reviews on her U.S. Amazon page. I guess she doesn’t object that much to ebooks and ereaders… but perhaps she is not having much success electronically.

My political thriller, RUNNING, has 51 reviews, a 4.4 star rating, and has been downloaded 50,000 times. Oh, and it’s on sale for $2.99 right now.

And though it does have a bit of sex, it’s not porn.

P.S. That first photo above is me, looking at my Kindle Fire, in front of my library of old-fashioned books, being funny. But I’m not reading porn!

(Not that you would know, right?)

See comments for a response from Joan Brady herself.

9 Responses to Who says ebooks are just for porn?!

  • Joan Brady says:

    The trouble with an interview is that an awful lot gets left out. I agree with everything you say about ebooks. I own a kindle, use it, enjoy it. The electronic book is here to stay, and I’m glad of it. You did leave out its value as a research tool though. It’s superb at that.

    What I’m trying to do is reassure physical book lovers that the physical book is here to stay if not entirely for the most elegant of reasons. Maybe it’s a flaw in us people but how we’re seen is important to most of us: our cars, our clothes, our houses, our music, our books. I maintain that’s one of the reasons bound books will survive.

    And there are problems with ebooks that physical books don’t share. They raise some complex legal issues, perhaps the least of which is that you don’t actually own them in the usual sense: you can’t resell them or loan them or leave them to your children.

    Another problem (probably one soon to be solved) is format: one reason my thriller has no stars on amazon.com is that it’s not downloadable in the US (no idea why it’s listed there). There are lots of formats and a British kindle isn’t always downloadable in the US (or the other way around). Nor can a kindle book necessarily be read on a non-kindle reader.

    Ebooks also give people like you a forum that you might not otherwise have had. Congratulations on the success of your book. Any commercial publisher would be very happy at such a sales record.

    Joan Brady

    • patricefitz says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Joan. I appreciate your kind words about my success. I have been thrilled with the response to RUNNING.

      I agree that print books have some wonderful attributes, and will always be venerated as beautiful tactile objects that preserve stories — and yes, can be loaned and left to our children. On my shelf is a book written by my grandfather in 1906, which I just purchased (we have one in the family but it’s in some box somewhere!) It is undeniably cool to hold that book in my hand and think about a relative I never met penning this transparently autobiographical story when he was but 20… definitely his “age of innocence.”

      The forms change, but the storytelling goes on.

  • Hi Joan! I actually brought up the possession vs. licensing issue in another blog your interview was brought up on. My ebook Cancelled has a different licensing statement than most other ebooks, I specifically encourage my readers to treat my ebook as they would a paperback and they have my permission to share the file with up to 10 people per year, family and friends, in a direct, personal communication such as email. They are prohibited from reusing the material outside the standards of Fair Use as outlined in the U.S., representing themself as the author, agent, publisher, owner of rights to reproduce or other representative for the content or book, nor may they upload the file to torrents or other file sharing website or service, nor can they publish the content themselves.

    I’m part of the digital generation. 99.9% of people are very reasonable with the digital content when given the chance. I know though that traditionally published authors don’t have the control to do the kind of statement I made.

    I think books will be like candles, to borrow the metaphor from many, many authors who’ve come before me. When electric lights came out, they were more efficient but not the exact same as a candle. Nearly everyone has electric lights in their house, but there is still a market, albeit a much smaller one than before the electric light, for candles.

  • patricefitz says:

    Elizabeth, thanks for your comment.

    You make some very good points about the licensing issue. I did see that statement in your book, and I don’t think I’ve seen exactly the same one elsewhere. Did you develop the language yourself?

    In my old life, I was an intellectual property attorney, and I am watching with great interest as the way books and ebooks are changing the landscape dramatically. It’s an evolving situation, and I’m actually glad I’m not currently in the business of advising authors… I am not sure precisely where I would draw the line from one month to the next… it’s moving so quickly.

    I love the analogy to candles — ebooks and ereaders as the modern, electronic, in many ways more practical equivalent to print books. But everyone knows that you can’t beat an old-fashioned candle over a harsh lamp if you’re going for the romantic evening…

    • I did make it myself. I look at it this way. Most of those other generic license statements are just that, generic license statements. I’m not giving away my copyright. So I thought, hmmm, why throw up a Beware of Dog sign like everyone else that people will disregard if they are trying to the “steal” the book anyway, and just put up what I think is fair and reasonable. If a reader gives me their $3 for my ebook, and they like it, I should be so lucky they tell 10 people about it in one year!

      I’m a huge nerd. I know DRM doesn’t stop ANYONE who wants it off and mostly just aggravates the legitimate people who want to do things like read a book they bought on their Kindle on their Nook so they run it through Calibre to save it as an epub. In fact, the epub standard is readable on FAR more devices than .mobi or azn.

      I was someone who downloaded music from Napster in college, the biggest reason was always that it was easily accessible and and the format I needed. As soon as record companies pulled heads from sphincters and started selling individual songs, me and all of my friends started buying the music that way. It saved us a hell of a lot of time ripping CDs. My generation doesn’t like to “own” stuff. We go, we move, we usually live in a small room at our parent’s house (I don’t, but many of my fellow graduates of my university are still getting their lives together). And we’re spoiled by being constantly entertained with something small that fits in our bag, from our Walkmans as a child to now our MP3 players to multimedia players.

      And my kids are ten times worse in their instant gratification needs. ;)

      • patricefitz says:

        Things are definitely changing, and it will be interesting to see where it all lands. The balance between the need for art and ideas to be freely circulated, and the need for the artists and creators to make a living, is a delicate matter. I like your statement, and I like the sentiment behind it. Have you gotten any feedback from readers?

        In contrast, a book I read recently and enjoyed a lot, “Flat-Out Love,” by Jessica Park, includes a custom, cheeky but funny warning to readers telling them that stealing her work is a “dick move.” She’s gotten a lot of pushback from Amazon reviewers who read it (probably not a large percentage) and were really turned off by that initial impression. I think it includes parents who were going to buy or check out this book for their kids (it’s YA) and found the term a bit shocking.

        Here’s where you can find her book, which got a huge boost recently by appearing on the front page of the Amazon site. And I mean the FRONT page! What a coup…

        http://www.amazon.com/Flat-Out-Love-ebook/dp/B004W9BYR8

        (Look at the one-star reviews to see the blowback about her language.)

  • I just wrote a long response, which WordPress ate. They say my log in has expired. Whatever that means. So before I lose it all again, this is a test. WordPress, will you pull another bully-boy stunt?

  • OK, so I’ll try again with the comment.

    Patrice–great post. Elizabeth: Excellent analogy with candles. I love candles. I burn them almost every night. I also love old books. I have complete sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica from 1911 and 1932. They’re full of stuff you can’t find anywhere else.

    But I do most of my reading on my Kindle. New books and classics. With the Kindle I can get all the works of Trollope free!

    Joan–You have a legitimate gripe–but with Amazon, not ebooks in general. You do have a buy page in the US and the price ($14.95) is invisible to you in the UK, just the way Amazon.uk prices are invisible to us over here. But the reviews should be transferred automatically. At least all of mine show on both my US and UK pages. So talk to your people at S & S and have them talk to the Amazon elves.

    Meanwhile, nobody has liked your US page, which is sad, so I just did. Writers, I suggest we all “like” her page so she feels welcome here. Welcome to the digital world, Joan!

    • patricefitz says:

      Anne: I love the thought of the antique Encyclopedia(e?) Brittanica! I bet they are fascinating to read, simply to get a whiff of the zeitgeist. (Can you smell a spirit…?)

      And that is a very generous and good-spirited (see the theme here) idea to go and “like” Ms. Brady’s book on the U.S. Amazon page. I’ll do that too. Hands across the pond and all that… though of course, she was born in the U.S.

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