Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Ebooks | Some Ideas: Beyond the Written Word

Much of the time, ebooks are mentioned as simply the alternative to the written word: e-ink replacing the physical sort, but otherwise, not much different. Much of the time, that's right - but it doesn't have to be. While I'm more a fan of the tactile sort of book, most will concede that ebooks have real advantages. And by using them, as some are already doing, ebook could become more than simply a format. So - here are a few ideas:

For one, ebooks eliminate most of the costs associated with publication. This might seem like mere pragmatism - but it's cost that drives away additional features like illustrations. While Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings contained many, it's in a small minority: adding images costs a lot. For ebooks? It costs almost nothing. Now think how many maps that Erikson novel could come with... Mmm. This represents a unique possibility, and one that could make ebooks on occasion a preferable alternative, rather than simply an acceptable one!

Another? Interactivity. Publishers are already jumping on this, with the lines between books and other media becoming blurred. While I'm not personally a huge fan of this - my books are books for a reason - there are definitely situations where it could come in useful. Music; video - not big issues for books, but they're still being done, and in some cases, they could work well.

Length is also less of an issue. Not talking about novels here necessarily - epic fantasies are long enough with limits. But removing this limit, and adding the possibility of hyperlinks for navigation, means that other projects become more viable. Such as - to take an example - much larger anthologies, which are often limited. Imagine the possible selections! The reverse is also true: ebooks can be shorter, and sell less, while staying viable. This means that with the ebook market, we could see more, previously unpublished material: world bibles, awkward length-novellas, and fictional in-world documents all become possibilities.


  1. Hi! Long time no see! (my fault, I know...)

    I agree with every single one of your points here. I've been advocating them, too - and here in Spain the whole idea is taking a lot longer to take root, I'd say!

    I think one great feature, too, is the fact that, as you say, e-book reduce the costs. Thus, they should be cheaper - some publishing houses are really going the other way with this one, but the truth is that, yes, e-books should be cheaper. For a reason.

    The tech will evolve. Formats will change. Propietary formats might disappear. All of those things will result on the reader losing their book. It's only fair that they come cheaper than hardcovers and paperbacks, which durability is clear.

    More importantly, though, e-books can take this cost-reduction without a hitch, because they're that much cheaper to create. And if you give this incentive to readers, they will take the chance with the formats... And with the new authors. The unknown series. The ackward lenghts.

    I think that e-books are the perfect window for new titles to gain following and exposure, on top of all you said.

    Not sure if that made any sense, but oh well :)

    Ron @ Stories of my life

  2. Hi there! Nice to hear from you again - you've got some great points. I think ebooks should be flourishing as the medium for experimentation, rather than being simply for the tried and tested - and while small press prices reflect that, I'm not sure the big houses are catching on.

    You've got a great point re. durability as well. If I want to keep a book permanently, I'll buy physically - my favourites. But for the new, I might well consider ebooks.

    Made perfect sense. ;) Which ereader do you own?


    1. I've got a Sony... Which is a bit of a disaster. Mostly because I can't buy form the Sony Store - at least, I couldn't up until December, the last time I tried - for frontier issues.

      That's another thing - frontiers for content should go out the window. But that's another issue altogether, isn't it?

      The thing is that I can read the propietary format, lrf, useless unless you buy form Smashwords (and even then the format can go wonky), and e-pub (but I can't buy from B&N, because theirs have security so that only Nook can open them). Pdf as well, but again, it can get funky with the resizing of text.

    2. Ouch, that's annoying. I agree, though - I think these proprietary formats should be either removed or standardised. I can see the need for some restrictions - nobody wants pirated versions of books floating round the internet - but restricting books to particular devices is just silly. Especially when devices move on.

      Pdf files annoy me. Text resizing with them is awkward on the Kindle, too - often, it's either tiny or too large to display a whole line.

  3. The possibility to develop those "awkward length-novellas" is one I never thought of! I'm a big fan of novellas - I think it takes the best aspects from novels and the best aspects from short stories and can often present a story in a cleaner and more elegant fashion than their longer counterparts. I would love to see eBooks give rise to more novellas, but I doubt it for the simple reason that pricing is still seriously skewed. Until the publishing industry adjusts to the very concept of eBooks and finds a pricing balance, they won't be able to take full advantage of the medium. Eventually it'll get better, but I suspect we have a way to go...

  4. I agree. Novellas aren't well suited to print publication - generally too short for individual books; too long for anthologies. But like you say, they take much of the best of both worlds. I generally prefer novellas to short stories, simply because the concept can be more fleshed out and the suspense drawn out: a movement pretty much straight from mystery to revelation or from dilemma to resolution... Just seems a little brief.

    Actually, I'm pretty optimistic. Michael J Sullivan, who's now published by Orbit, has released a prequel short story (as have other authors) - so going from non-anthologised short stories to novellas can't be too big a step, I hope.

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