Thoughts on ebooks

by martinhesp

So….. Ebooks. Are they a good idea? I think so.
I’ve just looked at my own modest ebook sales for the month and am delighted. My original  ambition was to actually see if I could create an ebook – which I did after much messing about on a steepish learning curve.

The next ambition was to sell enough ebooks to earn enough to buy a round of drinks in the pub. That ambition has now also been achieved.

So what next? Fame and fortune? Don’t think so. But I am of course fervently hoping more and more people will read my Cornish Snapper books.

It’s not about the money – because it will take me a long time before I can buy that second round of drinks – and I’m never going to retire on those sorts of sums.

It’s much, much more about being proud of an idea. Writing is a joy in itself. The act of creating characters and stories in book form is a massively rewarding thing to do and you could, I suppose, let the matter rest there.
But I cannot imagine being a writer and not wanting the whole world and its cousin to see or enjoy what you’ve done.

No publisher was ever going to take on my Cornish Snapper series – probably because they’d deem the stories to have some fault in some way – but also because they are novella length and would make pretty strange sized, thin-nish books if printed and stuck between two covers.

But I’d argue as ebooks they’re ideal. At around 26,000 words, they’re the sort of length which a person could read on a two hour train ride – say from Taunton to Paddington.

And talking of ebooks on trains – here’s an opinion piece which I wrote recently for the Western Morning News….

Anyone who has been on a plane, bus or train recently will have noticed a curious phenomenon that could not possibly have occurred even five years ago… Many travellers will be gazing, with glazed intent, at some sort of screen.

A few might be watching movies on computer-tablets or smart-phones – but a great many will be reading digital books.

In doing so they are being part of a huge, far reaching, revolution – one that is seeing literature delivered electronically rather than by ink on paper.

The nation’s largest book retailer now sells more e-books than printed tomes and literature’s main trade organisation in the UK, the Publishers Association, has recently announced a “huge increase” in the value of digital book sales.

People who, only a couple of years ago, were saying: “I’ll not have anything to do with those new-fangled machines – give me an old fashioned book any day…” are changing their minds in droves.

Amazon says that for every 100 hardback and paperback books it sells on its UK site, 114 ebooks are downloaded. Sales of its Kindle e-book reader have tripled every year since 2006 and now there are a plethora of similar devices, many of which are coming down in price.

Estimates vary as to how many such devices will be received as Christmas presents this month, but figures compiled earlier this year by Book Marketing Limited, showed that seven per cent of British adults received a dedicated e-reader in the last festive period.

That brought the total percentage of adults with e-book readers in this country up to 13 per cent, or 6.5m adults. With e-readers now costing as little as £50, some trade estimates now put the figure at over 20 million come early next year.

In the meantime, paperback sales are down by nearly 25 per cent year-on-year, leading some industry experts to predict that the conventional cheap way to read literature could soon become as rare and fanciful as listening to music on vinyl discs.

In the first three months of this year 11.3 million paperback novels were sold compared to 14.9 million during the same period last year – and blame for the decline is placed fully on the increasing popularity of e-readers such as Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s Reader and tablets such as the iPad.

The basic logistics are, actually, hard to argue with. You can pack more than 1,400 novels onto the average e-book reading device – which is convenient if you’re one the move, whether travelling to work or going on holiday. Then there’s the fact that many reading devices are back-lit, which means you can use them in the dead of night without disturbing wife, husband or whoever else might be sharing a dark room with you.

Perhaps more important in tough economic times is the fact that ebooks are often, but not always, considerably cheaper than their printed cousins.

But should we be welcoming literature’s digital revolution? My own answer to that question would be a resounding “yes!”

Don’t get me wrong – I love old fashioned printed books – anyone who has been to my house will known the place is lined with them. I’ve got too many – there are books tucked into crannies in this cottage I haven’t touched in 20 years.

I like the smell, the heft and the feel of books – and I love the look of them on shelves and in bookshops.

But I’m a convert to e-readers for the reasons given above. I also have another entirely selfish reason – and here comes a shameless plug… I have started to produce e-books of my own.

Before you cry out: “Listen to cheeky old Hesp praising the e-book revolution so that he can promote his own work…” please hear me out when I attempt to say why this could represent a good move for people living in places like the South West.

Our rural backwater of a region is ignored by major publishers every bit as much as it is by major politicians – name me half a dozen Westcountry-based literary works that have hit the national stage in the past year or two.

The literary world is as madly London-o-centric as any other, if not more so.

But now, suddenly, people like me – and you – can produce e-books that would never have been published by an ever-more-tough-to-break-into book trade. And they can be works that have a real and proper relevance to other people living in this region.

So far I’ve produced a couple of collections of my Western Morning News columns (as an experiment more than anything else to see if I could do it), a collection of my old harbour series articles, another of my WMN Christmas ghost stories and two crime novellas based on a fictional figure who is a Cornish based photographer for this newspaper.

The Cornish Snapper (as he’s called in the titles) is the Sherlock Holmes, and a fictional WMN crime reporter is his Dr Watson. Okay, so the books aren’t going to win any literary awards, but I’d like to think they are fun.

And now they’re out there – on the big scary, but highly efficient, worldwide web.

My argument is that they could be joined by 100s or 1000s of other Westcountry based works of both fact and fiction – and that we’d all be the richer for it.

Not financially, I hasten to add – I’ll only make a few pence on any e-book I sell. But that’s not the point. What I like – apart from the convenience of e-books – is that they open up a new world which is inclusive to folk like you and me, rather than the previous status quo which has been London-o-centric and exclusive.