There’s this new thing Random House is doing called Suvudu, where they’re giving away free– and DRM FREE– ebooks. Awesome free ebooks! One of those free ebooks is His Majesty’s Dragon, which I read and loved. I immediately wanted to read the next book, and so I went looking for the ebook of it. See, I have this thing where I want all my editions of a book series to match, and so obviously I’d need ebook versions of the rest of the Temeraire series. Except.
The paper version was cheaper.
OH SNAP. My Barnes & Noble membership was actually handy! I went and got the paper version of Temeraire #2, and while I was at it, #3 and #4 as well. All cheaper than the ebook versions, even with the “discount” and reward dollar things, which I never really got anyway.
(I suppose this mean I’ll have to get #1 in paper, too. But that’s not the point.)
Okay, so, two problems with this scenario:
1. The ebook version was MORE EXPENSIVE than the paper version. Still pretty cheap, compared to other ebooks, but, HELLO, still not a good deal.
Yeah, I’m one of those people who believe ebooks should be cheaper than the mass market paperback prices. I’d prefer it around $5 or less, but even then I’d still be kinda iffy about buying it. This brings me to my second problem:
2. I’m afraid of DRM and of getting screwed if I spend more than $1 on an ebook. Seriously.
I’m a big proponent of ebooks. I wanna love them, I wanna use them, but I still can’t bring myself to actually buy them. I bought Empress, yes, but it was $1. Getting screwed out of $1 will not be horrible in the long run; getting screwed out of a whole library’s worth of books? Yeah, I’d die.
And everyone who tells me that it’s super easy to get my books back should I lose them somehow? I do not believe you.
Stuff happens. Companies fail. Companies break apart. Harddrives crash. I could get a new credit card. I could get a new computer or iPod. Anything could happen and I’m not guaranteed the ability to keep all my purchased ebooks. I don’t feel safe, y’see?
And, yes, I’m aware that my paper books could potentially burn up or get rained on or eventually just turn to dust because their bindings are poor quality, but at least I’m not worried that when Barnes & Noble collapses 20 years from now (or whenever), all the books I bought from them will disappear too. Do you see the problem?
Ebooks are not tangible. It’s hard for me to part with money for intangible objects, and I actually want to. How much harder will it be for someone who isn’t entirely convinced of an ebook’s merit in the first place?
Super hard. Duh. I can’t even get people to download the free copy of His Majesty’s Dragon, they want the paper version. Ebooks are scary, and people aren’t being put at ease.
So. Possible solutions:
1. Somehow tie paper books in with electronic books. Maybe purchase of a hardback means access to electronic version plus more? I could get behind that. I’d love it even more if it was trade paperbacks as well as hardbacks– I need the extra space.
2. Stop hanging onto DRM like it’s a bloody lifesaver. It’s not. It’s freaking out readers and customers, and we don’t like that. I know it’s been said millions of times before, but just in case this is the one time it gets through: DRM does not stop people from pirating your book. It stops people from having access to books they legally bought.
3. Sell more cheapo ebooks. Or hell, give ’em away free! The trick is to entice people with low-risk goodies, then gently lead them into spending a little more for what they want. Not a lot more– it still has to be cheaper than the paper versions, most times– but a little more. $1-2 more, say.
4. Before all that: rethink what a book should be, and what it could be in the future. An ebook is not only an electronic version of a paper book. It has the potential to be so much more; it just needs the chance.
This is all ignoring ebook readers, something that’s a necessary component of the ebook experience. But I’ll get to that another time.
I’ve been thinking more about this since I first wrote it over the weekend, and I have some more to say about it, including my own cowardice. I’d love to hear what you all think about it, though: are you as much of a coward as I am? If you’re not, how did you get over your worries about buying ebooks? Did you even have any worries, for that matter? How would you convince someone like me that buying ebooks is okay?
I’ll leave you with this quote I found that kinda ties into what I’m talking about:
Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we often might win, by fearing to attempt.
(Bonus points if you can guess what my post title is a riff off of.)