30 May 2009

Part One: The ebook blog begins

Hi. I'm completely new to this. Never thought I'd contemplate a blog. Then again I also said to everyone that would listen that I would NEVER ... EVER purchase a digital camera (I spent a small fortune on my first one, loved it, and spent even more money September last year on a DSLR). And here I am again saying who really reads e-books, particularly on a computer? I spend all friggin day - and most of the evening - on a computer, so why would I want to read a book there.

You see, I work in the book industry and have done so for nearly 20 years. The last six years I've worked on "the dark side" as I call it. When my resignation from publishing was announced to my colleagues, there was a sigh of relief I wasn't going to the competition. I wasn't even going into bookselling. I was going into the depths of library supply. Yes we call ourselves booksellers but what we do, day in and day out, goes beyond that. Those in publishing will never understand library supply. They try. But it's not until you go to "TDS" that you realise it's another world.

Speaking of other worlds, after years of reading articles about ebooks and talking to publishers about digitisation, I've actually made the decision to start exploring the ebook market further on the personal front. Professionally, we have sold ebooks to academic libraries for several years and I am absolutely 100% committed to ebooks for this market: all that content at your fingertips, Search and Discovery, patron driven demand models. Good stuff! But what about fiction. Would you read the latest novel on your computer or a hand-held device?

That's the test and what I'm going to be blogging about. You see, I'm not the demographic for this stuff but I have to understand it. Are ebooks the future? I read dozens of articles every week that say the end of the book is nigh. Good Lord! The end of the book has been coming for years and since the Internet the noise keeps getting louder and louder. Lots of column space. But really people! Think about it. It's about READING. For pleasure, for education, for work. Look at Generation Y and what we are competing with. There are way too many distractions. When I find a teenager who actually LIKES to read, I want to kiss their feet. In fact, as my godson Jack will tell you, I BEG him to read so I will remain in a job until retirement age. (Heartbreak: he HATES reading. I told him that needs to change otherwise I'll write him out of my will, but it doesn't change anything! It's about mobile phones that do 100 things, computer games, sport, anything BUT reading...I still live in hope....sigh)

But back to the ebooks (see this is my first blog, I'm easily distracted LOL) would I read MORE if I utilised ebook portals and mastered the handheld device? Would I LIKE the experience? What will work better for me - content read for work purposes and professional development, or books for pleasure. What about my commitment to the local book industry, to publishers, to booksellers. Will I discover new authors? Will I read things I wouldn't normally do. And exactly how bloody hard will it be for me, here in Sydney, to actually access the books.

Amazon's Kindle is not available here. Nor the Sony e-reader. We have The Iliad sold through DA in Melbourne. A whopping $1299 for an e-reader ($1099 for another version). There are watered down ones like the HanLin (which I have on loan for work purposes at present. An industry colleague there reckons I'll be a convert in no time!) You read the spin about each device every day, OMG stop the press Oprah recommended The Kindle. Yes, it's called marketing and giving one to everyone in her audience (which seems to be the done thing on American chat shows now - so boring!). Great promotion for Amazon. It's the winner. Next day you'll read about another new device and how Sony's e-reader is taking on the world. Then there's the latest product release. The COOL-ER for example. Looks ipod-y. Got my attention I must say but let me guess, it won't be available in Australia? The good ones never are....

So not only do we have the problem with the actual e-readers, I'm sceptical about what content I can get (afterall the Sony ebook website doesn't even RECOGNISE you if you are in Australia!). And as a layperson am I really supposed to know the difference between EPUB files and PDFs on an e-reader? I'm not the most tech savvy person, but I'll press the buttons, I'll read about devices, and in the end I'll figure it out!

So it's Saturday 30th May here in Sydney and it's time for a status update. I've got the Mobipocket and Sony ebooks library installed on my computer (thanks to a U.S. work address) I've got a Sony e-reader about to be ordered and sent to me from a colleague in Oregon and I've got this HanLin to assess for possible reselling opportunities through work. I ordered The Alchemist using Mobipocket to trial and downloaded more than a dozen classic works for free (Austen, Bronte, Byron etc). And I ordered the book (and movie) of the moment, Twilight, using the Sony store.

At this stage I'm not looking at reading on mobiles (yes, I hear you, the Stanza application is soooo popular on the iphone, I get it I get it!, but I'm not going to even attempt reading on a small device like a mobile so consider it as out of scope for this project for now)

So ebooks, reading on a computer, reading on a dedicated e-reader. Hmmmm. Will I convert? Will I enjoy? And will it have it's ipod moment for me. Stay tuned and let's discover this together.

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