Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Ebook buying for Newbies

By all accounts Amazon shifted three million Kindles in their various variants in the final weeks of the pre-Christmas run up in the US alone.  I doubt they shifted the same amount in the UK and other territories, but all told I expect there are maybe five million new Kindle owners worldwide.  Add to that the new Kobos, Sonys, Bebooks etc, plus I guess Apple might have shifted the odd iPad as well, and you have a lot of new eBook readers struggling to find books.

So, to anyone who has just entered the world of eBooks - welcome.  It's not a perfect world, in my opinion anyway.  This edition of my blog is dedicated to helping the new members of the eBook fraternity to get to grips with their new devices, in particular finding books to read.

First off I'll set my stall out - I write and self publish eBooks on Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, Sony etc.  Information about my books is generally posted at the end of every blog so you can choose to look at or ignore at your leisure.  The only other warning I should issue is that I believe many eBooks to be overpriced - I'm on a bit of a mission to try and drive eBook prices down.  If you want to know more, take a wander through my earlier blogs and you'll get a feel for my opinions there.  Mind you, not all authors share my enthusiasm for cheaper eBooks - Irish writer Declan Burke presents an alternative argument.  Ultimately, it's your Dollar/Pound/Euro we're chasing, so I'll leave you to decide.

Next, can I congratulate you on joining the future.  The reality is that paper based books are an endangered species - sure there will be campaigns to revert back to the old way of reading. it's a bit like the renaissance being enjoyed by vinyl records - it's niche, and it's unlikely to last that long. Like vinyl, paper based books are about to become an anachronism.  It's difficult to imagine a world without paper based books, but that's because we've always had them around us.  By the time you read this you've probably had a play with your eReader and realised that, actually, it is incredibly good for reading books on.  I find that the only people who insist they couldn't read on anything other than a book haven't actually tried reading on an eReader - they may have some experience of reading on a PC or Mac, but that isn't the same by a long chalk.

Your biggest problem isn't finding ebooks - there's millions floating around - it's finding ones you want ot read at a fair price.  As a self published author I'm not going to promote pirate copies - they're out there in the same way pirate music is - but I am keen to nudge you to wherever the better priced books are.

First of all, you're not locked in to whichever manufacturer you've bought or been given.  Obviously Kindle owners should look at the Amazon Kindle store for books, but if you're not afraid to connect your Kindle up by USB to your PC and transfer books you can find the same and alternative books on a site called Smashwords.  Most authors price their books the same on both sites (Smashwords caters for all eReaders and formats) but you may find the book you are looking at a bit cheaper.

For Apple folks it's possible that you can make even bigger savings.  Apple have a no-nonesense pricing policy that in the US means books are priced in $0.99 increments ($0.99, $1.99, $2,99 etc), in the UK and Europe it's a little different but follows a similar trend (£0.49, £0.99, £1.49, £1.99 etc for UK, put a Euro sign in front for the rest of Europe).  What this means is that frequently books are more expensive on Apple than on other eReaders - although for a while my books were cheaper, so always check.  What you may not have realised two days into owning your iPad is that you can download Kindle, Kobo and, I think, Nook eReaders as Apps for free so you can read ebooks on your iPad from multiple sources, choosing the best prices for the books.  This should also be true for those of you who have recieved a Kobo Vox or an Amazon Kindle Fire, except of course, you can't run the iBook app on anything except an Apple device (if anyone knows differently, let me know).

So there are possiblities to shop around for your books.  If you have a Kindle then you may have already experienced the whispersync feature - that is so seductively smooth and efficient it will deter you from looking eleswhere for books unless the savings are significant, but don't be afraid to look anyway.  For other eReaders that don't have a comparable service the tendency to stick with the device manufacturer's website is less compelling.

But your biggest problem is finding the books you want to read.  As I've said, there's literally millions of books, many of them free.  A lot of the free books are classics that are out of copyright - you'll either like reading old books or you won't.  The rest are made up of books that probably wouldn't sell at any price and often don't deserve to take up your device storage.  Not all, though.  Some authors will allow their books to be given away as a loss leader to get you to consider buying their priced books.  There's also some books that are provided free as a service to the public - the recently released compendium of the Queen's Christmas Speeches discussed in an earlier blog, for example.

Just above free books are those that sell for $0.99 or its equivelant in other currencies - £0.86 including VAT in the UK right now, for example.  That's the price point I pitch my books at and generally I buy at too (up to and just beyond £1.00 does for me).  You can find mainstream authors pitching at this price point as well, and it's worth following blogs like this to get notice of deals being done.  The standard of book available at this price point is extremely variable - there appears to be a lot of short stories (circa 4000 words), generally pornographic in nature, being pitched.  I have no idea how well they sell, or indeed how well they're written, but it seems a lot for what is the length of a magazine article to me.  Amazon aren't very helpful in advising how long a book is but you can generally get an idea by the file size - over 300kb for normal length books.  Smashwords tells you how many words are in a book, which is much more useful.  70,000 upwards is normal for a novel.

After that price point, you can pay as much as you like (I generally don't like - told you I'm on a mission).  It's not unusual for ebooks that are also in print to cost as much as and even more than the printed version, despite the manufacturing costs being much lower.  There is consumer resistance to this now and I expect the unit costs to fall in 2012.

So, how do you find your books?  Well, monitoring the home pages of your chosen suppliers for deals is a good start.  Recommendations by people you trust is as good a method as any, as is looking up authors you've read and enjoyed.  I tend to search by genre, price and make a decision based on the blurb.  I don't tend to bother with reader reviews - I've not found them that reliable, especially the glowing ones.  I suspect some authors place their own reviews or arrange for them to be placed by friends and family.  You can download a sample of a book you fancy for free - Smashwords tends to give a more generous sample than Amazon, so it may be worth using them for that even if you ultimately want to use the Amazon site.  I know some people download samples of free books, which I find bizarre, but we're all different.  I don't usually bother with a sample unless the book exceeds my Scrooge-like limits - if the price is in range and the blurb is reasonable I'll give it a punt, I couldn't be bothered with a sample for something that costs less than half a pint of beer. 

Ultimately I think the industry needs a better way to help you find the books you want.  The genre search is way too vague to be useful, keywords rarely turn up anything I want to read.  Amazon let you search by most popular, but I have a suspicion that might be a bit rigged, unless most people want to pay £8 for an ebook - perhaps I'm the biggest miser in Britain?  So you do have a trawl to find the books for your new device, but once you find authors that suit your reading style you should really enjoy the benefits of eReading devices.  Good luck, and if you find any smart tools for locating books please contact me so I can share them.


I can be followed on Twitter - @RayASullivan

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