Sunday, January 29, 2012

Thoughts of a Kindle Owner

Late last year, I was given a Kindle for my birthday. Hurrah, you may think, and that's indeed what I thought (albeit with an air of that disappointment that comes when you get something big and expensive, because you kinda feel bad for it) at the time. But I've had it for about a month and a half now, and I've only read a few books on it. Partially it's because I've been stuck in two Ciaphas Cain omnibus editions, partially it's because I got a 400 page Archie graphic novel along with some others. But there's another set of reasons...

So, this is Talia. Talia is my Kindle. The picture was taken with Snow (iPod Touch 4th Gen) and uploaded with Danielle (my self-built PC), the names of which are all linked. Anyway... Talia only has about 22 books on her, four or five of which (at least) I've read, and the majority of which I picked up for free or sub-£2.

I only have a few big publisher releases on her, though, and there's a good reason for that. In my mind, it's not economically sound to buy ebooks. That sounds a little odd, so let me explain. The pricing of ebooks for big releases is currently a barrier for me. I can pick up the ebook of, say, Ari Marmell's The Conqueror's Shadow for £4.99 - not a bad deal for a book. However, I can order the US retail edition for £5.22 from The Book Depository. 23 pence more and I have the physical edition in my hands, albeit after a few days wait. Sometimes the ebook is cheaper, and noticeably so. I picked up the ebook of Teresa Frohock's Miserere for about £5, which is £4 or so cheaper than the physical edition (which is a trade paperback, hence the higher price). L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s paperbacks tend to be expensive in the UK relative to books published in this country (e.g. Tor UK's catalogue), often being around the £7 mark, but I can buy the Kindle editions of his paperbacks for roughly £4.22 a go, which I find to be brilliant.

See, this is where - as a fantasy/sci-fi reader - I feel the Kindle falls flat a little. Books are not cheap on it, not cheap at all. To use Gollancz as an example, they have Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun. I can buy the Fantasy Masterworks edition of the first half of the series (books #1 & #2 in a collection) for £6.79 on Amazon for the paperback, or £6.40 in their Top Ten Hardcover edition. I have to pay £5 each for the books (meaning the series is £20 in ebook form), or I could - not now, but not long ago - pay about £13 for a massive trade paperback edition of all four books. The ebook form of the series is by far the most expensive way to go.

Black Library are also bad for this. They sell their ebooks exclusively on their site for £6.50 a book. £1.50 cheaper than the retail edition's RRP, which isn't... terrible, but isn't great either. Their omnibus editions, in retail form, are great. £11 tends to net you at least three novels, and some short stories. There's some exceptions to this, such as the first Gaunt's Ghosts omnibus The Founding which is only three novels, but a Black Library omnibus is guaranteed to be full of content. And then we get to their ebooks editions. Not a single ebook omnibus is available, meaning you have to pay for each book separately. In the case of the first Gaunt's Ghosts omnibus, this means an ebook copy would cost you £19.50. Going by their own retail pricing, for £2.50 more you can get the first AND second omnibus editions. The Ciaphas Cain first omnibus, Hero of the Imperium, would be even more expensive as it has three short stories, which are priced at £1.50 each on their site. So, that's £19.50 and £4.50, which is a total of £24. It's cheaper to buy both omnibus editions of Cain, too. I'd like to say it's a niche market, but the Warhammer 40,000 books have many spots in the Top 100 books on both Play and Amazon, as well as stores like Waterstones carrying quite a selection of Black Library novels.

But it's not all doom and gloom. The Kindle has its own benefits, for authors and readers alike. If you browse the Fantasy section of the Kindle store, there's a lot of self-published or small press authors selling at £2-3 a book, with the first books of their series being free (if only for a short period). This is actually quite good for me as a reader, perhaps less good for the authors, but I bet it works as a business tactic. A free book is hard to pass up - if it looks interesting, you're likely to try it as it's not going to cost you anything beyond your time. Just last night I picked up two or three free novels from Amazon as they looked interesting, and I hope to get to them in the near future. I've not looked into the pricing of the sequels, but that's a hurdle to jump when I get to it.

See, this is where the Kindle shines for me. It's got a myriad of free titles, and its multi-format capabilities allow authors to give things away on their sites if they so wish, and people can put them on their Kindle. I have a .pdf book on there which works fine (but doesn't look as good as a native ebook, sadly), and that means less technically-inclined authors don't have to wrangle with working out how to make proper ebooks. I can read books I otherwise wouldn't have, I can take risks on authors without a financial loss to myself (and seeing as I'm unemployed right now, that's quite important). Reviewers and publishers/authors can also work well with Kindles. How, you might ask? Well, e-ARCs! Publishers and authors can save money by just sending out ebook review copies to reviewers with ereaders, and I think that's pretty cool.

I like my Kindle. I'm not using it quite how I imagined I would, but I wouldn't be without it now. It's worth having just for the doors it opens to me as a reader, as I can access books and stories that otherwise I wouldn't have taken the time to look into. Click a button, enable Wi-Fi, wait a second for it to download, bam - the book is ready. Or I can use it to read a preview of a book I might buy later, if I so wish.

It won't replace my physical book collection. Not in a million years (or, more accurately, not until the pricing sorts itself out). I love looking at covers and holding the book in my hand too much, but for now it's perfect as a complimentary reading tool.

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