I Surrendered my E-Book Virginity

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 09: Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos holds the new Amazon Kindle 2 at an unveiling event at the Morgan Library & Museum February 9, 2009 in New York City. The updated electronic reading device is slimmer with new syncing technology and longer battery life and will begin shipping February 24th. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Buying a Kindle has cost me big, if not in financial terms, in respect from my son. He put up with my fussing, griping, railing, and other demonstrations of fear about e-readers changing the publishing industry and access to books. Now he’s putting up with experimentation and — dare I say it? — qualified enthusiasm. I’ve been informed he will “never listen to me again.” I haven’t decided if this constitutes news.

Now, I realize many of you are far ahead of me on the e-reader curve, but in case you are not, here are the thoughts of an e-book virgin upon the occasion of her deflowering:

1. The Wait

I chose a popular Kindle model — the third generation one with 3G and WiFi — and when I placed my order through Amazon on August 19th, they could only estimate its date of arrival as September 9th. I’d told myself I was buying it to stay experientially informed about trends. (In other words, I made the decision on intellectual grounds.) I found myself stalking my order, lest the e-mail about the delivery date had gone astray. I checked three times a day.

Yeah, a little denial going on in my life, but that’s okay. I’m supposed to be more conflicted than my characters, right?

In the end, I received an e-mail September 5 and had it in my hot little hands September 7.

Conclusion: superior customer service through the classic strategy of under-commiting and over-delivering.

Anyway, does this look like the embodiment of evil to you? Nope. Doesn’t to me either.

2. The Set-up

The Kindle comes in a box with a 12-page manual and cord. The former includes diagrams, large font, and is super readable. I haven’t referred to it once, and even then, it was from curiosity rather than need. That’s because its e-Ink display illustrates your first step: take the only other element in the box — the cable designed to plug into the wall socket and/or USB port of another electronic device — and put it to use.

I’m not certain how long it took to charge my Kindly-Lindly because I ate dinner out, but four hours later, it displayed a pretty black-and-white nature image and instructions to “slide and release the power switch to wake.” When you do, boom! About ten seconds later, you’re ready to lock and load a book.

Conclusion: Honestly, the hardest part of this step involved opening the #$%^ box, and this would be only because I can’t read instructions. Please, for the love of dog, pull the tab. Don’t fight the Glue of Death. You will lose.

3. The Browsing and Purchase

My Kindle came loaded with a welcome message, a user’s guide (notice the apostrophe placement in that phrase), and two dictionaries. I’ve referred to the guide twice — once to delete a sample chapter of a book I won’t end up purchasing, and again, to learn how to bookmark.

Accessing Amazon was incredibly simple and intuitive. The first “snag” — and I hesitate to call it that because I’ve shunned their instructive material just to see what I could accomplish on my own — comes with browsing.

I don’t care for their menu system or buttons. When you hit “Shop in Kindle Store”, you’re in the position to buy in mere seconds. But the menu is linear, without visuals to make it more intuitive, and you scroll by employing eensy-teensy buttons. Alternatively, you can enter a search term through a QWERTY keyboard, but it doesn’t prompt you with options. In other words, if your brain works like mine, you’ll find yourself browsing and picking your books through your computer, not your Kindle. The exceptions to this would be when you’ve already placed an item in your wish list, or go to the store with a specific purchase in mind.

However, there are distinct wins here too:

  • sample chapters, so as in a bookstore, you can get a sense of the author’s voice and the book’s premise before you commit
  • Buying is incredibly quick if you have a pre-loaded credit card
  • You have easy access to your Wish List.

Conclusion: A device like the iPad would be light years ahead in terms of book choice. Amazon could do better in terms of prompting and intuitive menus. But it’s workable.

4. The Reading

Although its physical dimensions are similar to that of a trade paperback, the Kindle’s density makes it feel very different. It’s not a paper book. It lacks the right smell, the textural association with pleasure (not to be underestimated for kinesthetic people like me), and it’s heavier than I anticipated. At the same time it lacks the solidity and sense of permanence of a hardcover. The model I chose also gives a little less than a third of its vertical space to the keyboard, so I’m very conscious I’m reading on a device. That may yet change. I hope it changes.

For what it’s worth, that sense of distance from the material doesn’t appear for me in non-fiction, where I’m already engaged through my intellect more so than my heart. I hope I will learn to enter story in the same way I do with paper books. If not, this will be a major, huge, all-encompassing barrier for me. But it’s too early to tell.

Otherwise, unlike the Kobo and Sony models I’ve demo-ed, the page turns are incredibly fast. I love the ability to adjust font size and don’t mind the e-Ink at all. Not at all.

Conclusion: While bookmarking isn’t near as easy as Post-Its and highlighting, I can see the appeal of an e-reader for non-fiction. With fiction, I suspect I’ll default to having my keeper books in paper but my whimsical choices on the Kindle.

5. The Entitlement

Yes, I can feel it beginning, and I’m a little shocked by my thoughts: “Are you freaking kidding me? No ability to share, exchange through a second-hand bookstore, or give to a library, yet the prices are so high?”

I feel this way, even though as a writer, I am terrified about books being devalued. (I know. *shrug* I do not understand how my mind works, but I thought I’d be honest.) 

This is what I picked, but in a cobalt blue

The consumer in me who wants instant gratification still isn’t pleased at the…disrespect shown to my intelligence through e-book prices. As mentioned above, there is no sense of permanence. I don’t feel the “value” of the work in the same way as I do with paper. It feels like I’m buying a knock-off at almost-original prices.

Conclusion: Honestly, given my inability to subsume myself in a fictional world because of the factors I mentioned above, the prices cheese me off. Unless I’m making an impulse buy, I’m not certain why I would obtain my fiction this way. I can drive to a real book store, hit all the pleasure-points involved in a physical browse and night out of the house, have a sense of genuine ownership and rapid service with virtually the same price; or I can wait a few days for library rental or delivery.

6. The Content I’m Choosing

Want to know which book I first purchased? It’s one in which I’m apparently featured, though I haven’t hit that part yet.

Remember when I changed my Twitter name to @Jan_OHara from @Tartitude, and the woman who drove that decision? I’ve been reading her blog ever since, and if you write, you really should too. I’m reading Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I’m a third of the way in and already having a few head-desk moments about my stupidity, but that’s okay. I like to learn and she’s a gifted teacher. 

7. The Naming

After Glinda Harrison introduced me to Oberon Designs, I wanted one of their Kindle covers with the fiery passion of a thousand romance novels. Alas, I couldn’t justify the price or the delay. I ordered a basic, blue leather cover through Amazon. It’s sleek, seems to do the job, and at present has inspired my Kindle’s name: Old Bluey.

However, this is where the post gets interactive: Do you have comments? Questions? Books you think I should buy and/or tips? Alternate names for my new i-Toy?


17 thoughts on “I Surrendered my E-Book Virginity

  1. To be honest, I buy most of my books by browsing Amazon on my computer or through my wish lists, though I would by books through the Kindle in a book emergency. I totally agree with you about the prices and think publishers are failing to understand their audience.

    That said, it turns out I’m a total sucker for traditionally published books that I kind-of, sort-of want that are priced at 1.99 and 2.99. I also really like it for reading full manuscripts to crit though you have to learn to love the note-taking capabilities (I use them primarily for marking spots to comment on and pay no attention to how I spell things). I also love, love, love that I don’t have to worry so much about books space in the house anymore. Though, like you, I still buy my favorites in hard copy.

    Oh, and (just one more thing, really) the interface does disappear for me when I’m reading. It’s interesting and weird actually.

  2. Flo, I have no experience with this, but I understand if you reformat your files through Overdrive, it will work on the Kobo. Here’s a link. Scroll down to the bottom of the comments and you’ll see an Indigo person saying the same:

    Good luck. The compatability issue is frustrating for sure. I’ve looked for two friends’ e-books and can’t find them. I assume Amazon will fix that with time, or their e-publishers. Otherwise, they’re neglecting a supposed 70% of the market.

    Charmingbillie, that’s really encouraging to hear about the interface. Did you acquire that ability or develop it as time went by?

  3. Okay – I shouldn’t be thinking this and feeling this , but while reading _ I thought “GIMME ONE I WANT IT GIMME I WANT WANT” and I am an author with fiction books – lawd!

    As for the pricing – I would still defend it – as it is, authors are paid an pittance – no really, we are. With traditional books, we may get around a dollar a book-a little more or a little less depending on royalty rates-discounts-etc, with e-books we get a little more because there aren’t printing costs, etc, but, Ebooks are cheaper than Traditional books – in most cases I’d guess. However, the work for the author is still the same: whether we receive eighty cents or a dollar or three dollars a book sold thru whatever venue, we still worked and sweated and bled that novel -and worked a long long time without knowing whether we’d be paid. This is what I love and dreamed of doing, but it is also my job – how I am trying to make a living. People will spend $50 on a haircut, or more, and never think to ask for discounts or for free, and that haircut will last 6-8 weeks when the person has to shell out the dough again- how long will a book last? Just saying *grin*

    My publishers, BelleBooks, do have “Kindle Promos,” which is cool – they’ll offer one, or more, of their titles for free for a one or two week period – then it goes back to regular price, which I think is around $9.99. Tender Graces was on this promo for two weeks in May and shot me up to “best seller” status even after the promo was over and the book went back to regular price- it was cool! 😀

    I am going to get a Kindle – I buy a lot of books and what happens is, I buy a lot of books that I would normally not buy because I’m supporting friends and colleagues, so, Kindle will be a way to try out more books and decide if I want the paper copy! Also, I can read my ms on it(from what I understand) and when traveling, have magazines I think? And, I’m curious –

    but conflicted . . . always conflicted (dang) – enough of my babbling!

  4. Kat, I too am conflicted, and you need never worry about babbling here, just in case that was in doubt. 😉

    Re the prices: I agree that relative to most entertainment, books are grossly undervalued; that writers should be able to make a living wage; that culture has value in and of itself. As a family, even before I began to write in earnest, we spent thousands of dollars every year on books. I’ve joked there are entire bookstores that are staffed because of us. In other words, I agree with everything you’ve said. And yet, I noticed my thoughts around the prices and thought I’d mention the internal battle, which very much surprised me as it developed.
    (For “scientific” value. ) If someone like me feels this way, I wonder what others, who don’t really consider themselves avid readers, would think. It concerns me, to be honest.

    It’s kind of similar to my experience around movies. If I go to a theatre and take my family, for an ephemeral experience, I’ll spend five times what it takes to purchase the same movie in DVD format from my local Blockbuster. Different experience, different perception of value, I have no idea if the financial outcome differs for the script-writer, say, depending upon where I view their product.

    Anyhow, I am not a change-leader in this realm, but I find it interesting. I’d also love to have further conversations with you or anyone else about the evolution of buying habits or our relationship to books as the changes progress.

  5. Believe me, I love to save money!

    And as an author, I never went “into this business” to make scads and tons of money, but because it is what I am good at, what I love–the job that fits me– if someone goes into this thinking they’ll make a lot of money, then they may be sorely disappointed. But, it would be nice to be compensated for all the work that goes into this job, this career – and it’s not just the sacrifice of time and energy and family and friends and a social life that’s spent writing(laugh), but all the things authors are expected to do outside of the writing- many things of which we spend our own money on . . . if an author makes more than they spend, well, that’s when we know we’re doing okay :-D.

    I tell you, what sane person takes a job where the boss tells them: You may be paid, or you may not be paid – you may be paid $1.00 an hour or you may be paid 1 cent an hour; if we decide to put your work on this venue, then we’ll cut your pay, but, if Oprah calls, all bets are off and you may make lots-o-cash; however, then again, maybe not, who knows – all we know is, you best work your arse off – oh, and while we are at it, we may or may not take your work that you’ve worked months on once it is completed – so you better get it right! laughing! lawd! who wants that job? 😀

    But still, I’d do it — yup. I did and I would and I have – (meanwhile, some meanie in my head screams SUCKERRR! Laughing!)

    I understand what you are saying about experience, although that’s a subjective thing – some people may get the same valued experienced from reading on a Kindle or watching a movie at home than they do “the traditional way” — but, of course in the theater, one has to pay the employees so ticket prices are higher – so it’s the same concept — I’ve heard some publishers/authors are pushing to raise the cost of ereader books – I don’t know that this is wise . . . it makes me nervous to hear that. One thing I don’t want is a greed fest – ugh! Hate money snapping greed fests!

    It’s hard for me to talk about money in relation to my books – especially because it’s linked to something I love so much – something that comes from my heart and guts and sweat and tears – the arts are so difficult to qualify, put a value on, you know? I mean, would I do this for free? Well – I have, so there you go 🙂

    Love discussing this!

  6. I LOVE my Kindle! I’ve had it for almost 3 years. I don’t know if you shop on the US site, or if there’s a CA site, but I do all of my shopping on the computer and it downloads to the Kindle…much easier than shopping on the Kindle itself. There are tons of novels from free to 2.99 US which, as a reader I love. As a writer, I know I’m not going to make a living at it anyway. I write because I love it. By the way, all 4 of my books are on Kindle. 😉

  7. “It lacks the right smell, the textural association with pleasure (not to be underestimated for kinesthetic people like me)….”

    That’s the reason why I haven’t bought any kind of e-reader. I’ve picked up a Kindle before, and “flipped” through the pages. But, I’m not convinced yet. I’ll wait to hear more from you — like you’re a big sister filling me in on all the juice.

    By the way, I’m now a subscriber to Kristen Lamb’s blog. Thanks for providing the link!

  8. Kat, when I was in practice, I felt eternally grateful for our public healthcare system. I would have starved as a doctor if I’d had to become a strict businessperson and turn patients away. Some of the elements of “calling” are similar to writing. And yet some people are lucky and hard-working enough they don’t have to choose. I hope.

    Laura, I’d love to know if you had an adjustment period or if you fell into the story right away. BTW, in Canada we have to buy at Amazon dot com, too. Not sure how that works when I can’t buy books from Barnes and Noble, but whatever…

    Christi, I’m so glad you checked out Kristen’s blog. It’s become a staple-read for me. As for pre-testing the Kindle, absolutely. That’s why I did this post. I was pretty sure there would be others who’ve been as resistant as me who might be interested.

  9. I’ve found that it’s much more comfortable to read without the cover on – I only use the cover to store it in. I became engrossed in my first book and lost the sensation of the device. 🙂

  10. My first handheld computers came with e-book readers, although I never did download anything to read–too busy writing. The sample material they came with was easy to read and the app easy enough to use but I largely forgot about that capability until this discussion. So if you’re still using an older iPAQ or even older Jornada (Yup, just dated myself there!) you may not need to spend $$$ on a reader. BTW, I tend to wear the poor little things out by working them to death…don’t ever buy a 2nd hand one from an author!

    I checked with my self-publisher and apparently the novel that came out in 2009 is supposed to be compatible with e-book readers but they’ve strongly cautioned me that my first two titles may not be.

    I’ve just send my latest manuscript to my new publisher, so thank you, thank you, thank you for reminding me to check with him to see if this title will be available as an e-book. 🙂

  11. I love my Kindle. I’ve had mine for two months, and I find I’m reading most of my books on it, though I still have two towering piles of print books on the counter next to the fridge. I’ve ordered books at the same price as print books, but I’m not happy about it. A lesser amount shouldn’t hurt the authors, because they are (or should be) getting a bigger percentage for e-books. Most of the profit goes to the publisher, because they pay nothing for distribution prices and printing, etc.

    There are many books for $2.99, though, and I only pay full price for books by friends and favorite writers. So I’m not ordering full-price books I normally would have if they were only $1 or $2 less. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels the same way.

  12. I loved your post and your research and, yes, I love my Kindle, too. I really love that my clutter (as in once-read paperbacks I have yet to give away) is reduced to this neat little thing that’s always with me.

    Pricewise, it’s all good for me. The content of everything I’ve read has been well worth it. Besides, I want the author to make money. Sometimes, I am her. 🙂

  13. Laura, without a cover, I find the Kindle too slippery. Do you have a skin on it?

    Kat, I wouldn’t say *never*, but definitely it’s unlikely.

    Phyllis, I think an e-book strategy is a must these days. Even if it doesn’t persuade the casual reader to pick it up, it seems as though the librarians, booksellers, etc. are persuaded. It’s pretty much imperative they can get the books they want in the format they prefer.

    Liz, we did a big clean of my house this weekend and oh, the clutter… I must say I appreciate the efficiency of an e-reader for this. As far as author compensation, your book’s available on Kindle. Hope that’s meant good things for you personally. 🙂

    Edie, I’m trying to whittle down my TBR pile before I stock the Kindle too, but it’s sooo hard to refrain. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the e-pricing changes in the next while and what customers are willing to tolerate.

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