Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type and the printing press, in the 15th Century, was the most revolutionary development (my opinion) in the history of technology, the history of communication, the history of everything.
Mr. Gutenberg could never have imagined offset printing, the printing revolution of the 20th Century, so he definitely would not understand or believe the advent of the eBook, which could be a defining revolution of the 21st Century.
After all the technological revolutions of my lifetime (** See “A Personal Perspective,” below), I do not understand — and can hardly believe — the sudden rise of the eBook. Nonetheless, this week I purchased my first eBook.
I had associated eBooks with the development of digital book readers, starting with Amazon’s Kindle. (The price of the Kindle has dropped like a rock as competitors emerged, putting the technology within reach of even frugal folks like me.) With a Kindle or one of its imitators, you can download books, newspapers, magazines, etc., and carry them around in a small, handheld device, to be read at will. Amazon boasts that the Kindle could hold a small library of books.
I thought the Kindle and its competitors, like Apple’s iPad, were primarily devices on which you could copy and read real, old-fashioned books, like “To Kill A Mockingbird,” or “The Grapes of Wrath.” You know, books with paper pages produced by a publishing house in New York. Books with covers, called hardbacks and paperbacks. One apparent advantage of devices like the Kindle is that you can purchase and download virtual copies of paper books, including new bestsellers, for much less than you could buy the hard copy in a bookstore.
But here’s the truly revolutionary thing about eBooks:
eBooks need not ever be published on paper. They don’t need to be accepted and edited by a traditional New York publisher.
eBooks float in the cloud of the Internet. You can buy them from the Web sites of budding eBook publishers. You could buy an eBook and have it printed out for you on paper, but the fundamental point is to bypass paper entirely.
You can buy these virtual eBooks and download them onto your Kindle, iPad, or similar device. But you don’t need a special device.
eBooks can be downloaded onto any computer. You can read your eBook on the computer screen. Or if you have old eyes, like me, you can print your eBook out on your home printer.
(The eBook that I purchased is “Smalltopia: A Practical Guide to Working for Yourself,” by Tammy Strobel. The eBook is 156 virtual pages and it has neither an ISBN number, nor a copyright. I found the book interesting, but it’s not really a “practical guide,” in my opinion. “Smalltopia” offers encouragement and inspiration, and general suggestions, but little concrete information. It contains numerous links to other bloggers and writers who are also trying to make a living by working for themselves. Ms. Strobel blogs about “social change through simple living” at http://rowdykittens.com/ )
Where do you buy eBooks? How do you publish your manuscript as an eBook?
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon Smashwords, (“Discover Great Ebooks and Indie Authors and Publishers”). What is an “Indie Author?” I had to look it up. “Indie” means “Independent.” Of course. How could I have been nearly blind to the world of Indie music, Indie video, Indie books, and who knows what else? Indie book publishing is sort of the online version of what used to be called “Vanity Publishing.” Unknown authors often paid to have their books published on paper. In the brave new world of eBooks, any author can self-publish for free.
“Smashwords publishes and distributes ebooks. Authors and publishers retain full control over how their works are published, sampled, priced and sold. If an author wants to charge one dollar or ten thousand dollars, or give it away for free, they have that freedom. Smashwords was launched in May 2008, and in this time we’ve become the leading ebook publishing platforms for indie authors and publishers, with over 25,000 ebooks published.” — Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords
Smashwords is only one of many eBook publishers. They do not suggest that authors are going to get rich quick on Smashwords. In fact, many authors sell their books for very low prices, like 99 cents, or give them away free.
I think one of the larger eBook publishers may be Lulu, which claims over a million published authors, over a thousand new titles a day. Then there’s eBooks.com, which claims to be the leading online store for eBooks. And Issuu (“You Publish”), which offers both free and “pro” publishing services.
There must be hundreds of online eBook publishers and sellers. I can hardly scratch the surface here. But the one I don’t want to overlook is iBooks for the iPad. You can download the iBooks app for free, natch. Apple has had huge success with its iTunes store, so I would have to guess iBooks might be a player in the new world of eBooks. Who can predict how this new industry will shake out?
I think it’s safe to say that the quality of eBooks covers the spectrum from worthless to priceless, and everything in between.
The number and variety of books available online is already huge, in the millions. That’s an important aspect of the eBook revolution. eBook authors and Indie publishers are tapping into what Chris Anderson has described as “The Long Tail.” Mr. Anderson’s blog is on hiatus, but it contains a wealth of information on the long-tail phenomenon.
Anderson posits that the demand for variety in the marketplace is much larger than old-fashioned retail stores can handle. Even a mega-bookstore can offer only a small fraction of the world’s books for sale. All the books you can’t find in that bricks-and-mortar bookstore are in the “long tail,” and they’re available to browse and buy as eBooks on the Internet.
The world of book authorship and book publishing will never be the same.
** (A Personal Perspective)
I have witnessed and participated in the transition of the newspaper industry from letterpress (hot type), to offset (cold type), to computer pagination (no type).
My first technology purchase was a used, Royal standard typewriter, bought from the Wheaton Typewriter Co. for $99 in 1965. I adapted easily to the IBM Selectric in the early 1970s; but I had to be dragged — kicking, screaming, and hyperventilating — from my typewriter to a primitive computer terminal, in the 198os. (That first computer used a word processing program called WordStar. You will never, ever hear about WordStar again. You do not have to remember WordStar for the test.)
I survived to help one newspaper transition from printing to pagination, using Quark xPress page design software, in the 1990s. And then at the turn of the century, I was a minor, unwilling accomplice in the final destruction of the printing trade, as a major daily implemented Harris pagination in the newsroom.
Are you ready to write or read an eBook? Please comment below.
— John Hayden
- Sony eBook Reader App for Android (pocketnow.com)
- Amazon’s confusing self-publishing options (feldmanfile.blogspot.com)
- Ebook Reader iPhone app with MegaReader [Heads Up Display] (madrasgeek.com)
- Kindle app now supports Project Gutenberg eBooks (tuaw.com)
- Google scarfs up ebook tech firm (go.theregister.com)
- New Year, New Policy from All Romance eBooks for Self-Published Authors and Small Presses (prweb.com)