Ebooks or “electronic books” seem to go in and out of favor. Right now, many people are talking about ebooks again because of Amazon’s new Kindle reading device. With a Kindle, you can download books without being connected to a computer. Hundreds of thousands of books are becoming available and for big readers or gadget junkies it might be a cool thing. I’m quite sure I’ll never own one since I’m guessing the necessary wireless coverage here is nonexistent. (Driving 300 miles to download my next book seems sort of stupid.)
Thanks to the Kindle, ebooks are in the news again. Publishers everywhere have thought at one time or another of saving money by offering their books in digital format. For one thing, it certainly would save a lot of trees. After all, ebooks have a number of advantages over print books.
In addition to the environmental aspect, when you sell ebooks online, you don’t have to worry about shipping. You put the ebook in your shopping cart and when someone buys it, the file is magically transferred. You’ll find gazillions of people online who will tell you that boundless fortunes await you if you create an ebook.
That may be true, but the process isn’t as easy as it may appear. At this point in their online evolution, ebooks have a number of significant disadvantages. One of the biggest disadvantages of ebooks relates to their largest advantage. The extremely low “cost of entry” to create an ebook means that your ebook has to compete with a whole lot of drek. The Web is littered with a vast number of extremely bad ebooks. That’s not to say that awful print books don’t exist, but it costs more money for a publisher to produce a print book, so far fewer ever see the light of day.
For the last 5-10 years since the “Internet gurus” started touting those boundless ebook fortunes, millions of virtually identical single-page sales letter sites have come on the scene pushing ebooks that range wildly in price. At this point, it’s tough to convince people that any ebook on any subject is worth 10 or 20 times the price of print book. (I mean come on; $247 for a PDF file?)
Another disadvantage of ebooks has to do with technology. You don’t have to explain to anyone how to use a print book. Sadly, the same is not true of ebooks. Many people can’t uncompress “Zip” files or know how to read a PDF file. If you use a lesser-known format (other than PDF) in an effort to protect your copyrighted material, you’ll run into even more problems.
These days, many people don’t try to sell just an ebook online. Now you see “packages” that bundle an ebook with audio or video files. The perceived value of ebooks has dropped so low that it’s necessary to include a lot more “stuff” to make the offer look interesting.
Other people have gotten away from digital downloads entirely. They sell print books or binders stuffed full of printed material, forms, and CDs. Again the perceived value is much higher than a digital download.
Deciding to do an ebook depends on your audience. An ebook makes sense for technical or rapidly changing material. Many tech publishers rely on ebooks, for example. In our case, we offer downloadable digital packages that include an explanatory PDF and Microsoft Office template file.
Ebooks aren’t dead. Undoubtedly someday the perfect ebook reader will appear on the scene. Personally, I don’t think the Kindle is it, but you never know. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the limits of technology, and not just blindly follow every new fad.