Confession: My Relationship with Ebooks

In the middle of the night, after only three hours of sleep, I woke up. There had been a crash in my living room. Fearful it was a beast dog or a monster rodent, I jumped out of bed to investigate.

Turns out, it was this:

That's right, one of my shelves, weighed down with so many books, broke. And all the books toppled down to the ground. 

Because of a recent new development (more on this in a minute), as I stood in the middle of the night staring at this mess, I pictured the neatly organized virtual bookshelf on my iPad and thought: This won't ever happen to that shelf!

This has prompted me to think about what's happening to me. 

I am becoming an ebook reader!

I have always been one of those people who resisted the transition into digital books. I like physical books. (I'm a hardcover lover). I like reading them. I like that people on the subway can see what I'm reading. I like the way the pages feel and smell. I like putting them on my shelf when I'm done with them (evidence above).

That said, on a recent trip for a Writer's Conference, I bought my first ebook for pleasure reading (Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren, and guys it's super hot). And when I finished, you want to know what I did? I bought more! More ebooks. A number of them really. (First I pre-ordered the next book by Christina Lauren and then I bought 16 more ebooks.)

Here's why this is good: um I bought 16 books. I might not have bought that many were I in a physical store. After all, I'd have to carry them all and depending on format it would have been more expensive. And let's face it, it's easier to click a button and have something immediately downloaded than carry things up through a line and wait for a cashier to ring them up and then fork over the money.

Now don't get me wrong, I still love my print books. I'm still a hardcover person, especially for the books that I'm really excited about or authors that I love and in fact, if I read an ebook and love the book I will probably then buy the hardcover or paperback. But I see now why this whole ebook thing isn't going away.

Here's my problem with my newfound ebook relationship: DISCOVERABILITY. 

I have an iPad. On it, I can read through iBooks or my Nook or Kindle apps. Personally I like the layout of iBooks best. I like that it reads like a flat electronic mass market book. I also like that I can buy directly from the app which I couldn't figure out how to do from either Nook or Kindle. 

But neither Nook or iBooks are doing something Kindle is. They're not telling me what other books I will like when I finish my book.

Here's my example. In Nook, when I finished reading Beautiful Bastard, that was it. The book was over. I even scrolled through all the back matter to see if there was anything helpful, but nope. Just more info on what I'd already read.

iBooks is a little better but not enough. After I finished reading a digital only novella by Kelley Armstrong, it showed me other books by her: 

While this is good, I've actually already read all of those. I'm already a fan. I want to read something new. I want to discover new authors, the way I would when wandering around in a bookstore. Or talking to one of those awesome booksellers who knows their stuff.

However, when I finished reading "Under the Nameless Stars" by Diana Peterfreund (which is awesome by the way), look what Kindle showed me:

Other books by Diana (though not all of them, wtf Kindle) and then other options! Books that other people who share my reading interests read. A few are ones I recognized, but several of them are ones that I didn't. 

This is important to me because discovering new books and new authors is important to me. And if I was just a regular ebook reader, how would I decide what books to read? Without walking into a store, without talking to a bookseller, without browsing around the internet--I would see only the big bestsellers or the books being advertised. I would miss out on a lot of the really wonderful books that I might love. And as our culture becomes more and more instant, the average person will spend less and less time looking for something and just buy the first thing that sparks there interest. And it might not be a book they'll love. They might be missing out on something great.

In my mind, there's something wrong with that. 

As I'm new to the world of reading ebooks for pleasure, I'd love to hear what you think about all this.

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Anonymous said...

I like the recommendations feature of Kindle as well. I tend to only buy books I want to read more than once, and would like to be on my bookshelf as a discussion piece.

tlbodine said...

Interestingly enough, I blogged about this recently:

I think that writers could definitely learn something from Netflix and Hulu (and all other video streaming services) when it comes to promotion and discoverability. The way I see it, there are two things we really, really need in the e-book age:

-- Writers need to work together to advertise *other writers.* We need to stop thinking of each other as competition. Reading a book by Author A does not preclude me reading one by Author B; my demand for books is generally higher than the supply an author can generate. If I could get to the end of a book I love and find a sample of a different book by a different author that I will *also* love, I'd be a happy reader.

-- We need a more reliable recommendations system. The Amazon "...Customers also bought" thing is OK, but it's not very informative. The Goodreads recommendations are better, but still not perfect. Someone needs to find a way to make e-book recommendations with the same level of specificity as Netflix queue suggestions. When Netflix suggests, "Do you want to watch a cerebral foreign time travel movie?" I say "Heck yes!" because every suggestion they give me is something I want to watch. Until somebody makes that happen with books, discoverability is going to lag.

Becky said...

Hmm. After reading this, I just pulled out my Nook to see what it does offer. True, there's nothing but, well, the end of a book at the end of the book, but if I go to the home screen, there's a section called "What to read next" that's got other books by authors whose work I've purchased, and a "See all B&N picks" that I can't test right because I'm not on wifi. (In fact, I'm at work, shhh.) If I recall right, the "Shop" tab is set up similarly, but I can't actually test that because, again, no wifi.

But that said, I do shop very differently on my Nook than in B&N. In a store, while I'm often looking for something in particular, it's true that other stuff can catch my eye and I can browse. But when I pick up my Nook, it's more likely because I've run across a book rec somewhere that made me want to grab a copy of the book. I like the immediacy - I can just get the book I want without having to write it down or add to a list to remember later, like I'd have to if I were going to go to a physical store. So while I don't browse as much, I still impulse buy - just in a different way.

Unknown said...

When I buy a Nook book, it suggests similar books right then, so if one catches my eye, I add it to my Nook Wish List. I'll add them to my Good Reads currently reading-list once I buy them and rate them after I finished. If I liked the book I bought, I go back and see what I put on my wish list on Nook. It's hard for me to find books I like when a site like Good Reads or Nook bases recommendation off other people's star ratings. This usually doesn't work for me, so I go on pitch and cover alone for the most part. It's very flawed, but I feel in control.

Mojito Maven said...

For me I use Amazon often for this. Once I purchase a book (often times with the one-click option...don't even get me started on this as that small little button is how you end up buying 100 eBooks in under 10 minutes), I like how Amazon will offer similar books in the category. True these are similar to what I just read, but by clicking on a few of those similar books, they lead me to books outside my category.

Sometimes I'm also brave enough to wade into Goodreads, which can also act as a place for me to find new authors (Wendy Darling's bookshelf is where I find a lot of my current reads).

Matthew Masucci said...

The reason you can't buy books through the Kindle or Nook app on an Apple device is because Apple gets a cut (something like 30%) on all in-app purchases.

The first generation Kindle app for the iPhone allowed you to browse books and buy them in the app, but then that feature was removed due to the agreement with Apple. Apparently, they didn't like their users buying books through Kindle and Nook without them getting their cut, especially when they had their very own iBooks app.

Makes me a little grumpy as a user, but I still like my Apple products. I just use them grumpily.

Unknown said...

FYI: You can't purchase books in-app with the Kindle or Nook apps. This is not a failing of B&N or Amazon, though: Apple won't allow it, because it presents direct competition to iBooks and Apple - just like everyone else - wants to encourage people to stay within their ecosystem.

That being said, you can use the regular Amazon app to buy books and have them Whispersynced to your Kindle app. Not sure if B&N has an equivalent if you're using an iDevice.

Unknown said...

Matthew that's interesting and I get it, though it makes me grumpy as well.

TL, I like your idea about the Netflix formula. Although I'm not sure authors truly have control over that unless they're self-publishing. Definitely something to think about.

Ricky Bush said...

I love to read a book that I can physically hold him my hand, and I still buy them. Since getting my Kindle, though, the number of books that I've read has quadrupled. There is no way I could have fit all those on my already over flowing bookshelves.

Lucas Darr said...

As I'm new to the world of reading ebooks for pleasure, I'd love to hear what you think about all this.

Welcome to the world of eBooks where Amazon is kicking everyone's ass.


Consider just what Amazon does:

I recently read that half the books that people buy is still decided by word-of-mouth. Goodreads is especially nice for this; when a friend on Goodreads recommends a book or reviews one, I see it. While Amazon doesn't offer this, it does offers a technologically superior social media options on their storefront:

--on the web storefront, they make it very easy to recommend a purchase by pre-formating a Facebook post or Tweet, or mail.

--totally related, notice in your example screen captures, the Apple Store says "write a review" and "share with friends," while Amazon actually has very specific call to action for the reader: Tweet it or Facebook it.

Do little things like this matter? Hell yes. They matter a lot.

That's just friend-to-friend discoverables. Amazon, as you noted, does a good job at recommending things that might interest you. They also do a killer job on giving publishers the tools to make their books enticing on their purchase pages. The "Send me a sample" is a highly used feature that most who don't understand the Kindle overlooks. If you go to a Nook book, you can "look inside" just like Amazon, but there isn't a way to send a partial book to your Nook automatically with the option to purchase the rest RIGHT THERE from your Kindle.

I don't have purchase numbers, but between me and my Kindle, it is rare for me to buy a book without sending a sample of to my Kindle first. That's the default. I also do this because if the book is in the KDP select program, since I am a Prime Member, the book is free until I borrow a different one.

How cool is that? It's way cool.

Look inside on Amazon is another great customer experience when the publisher has enabled the print version of "look inside." Not only can a reader search inside the book, more importantly the reader can see the book layout and better views of the front cover and back cover, not just read some sample pages.

And so on and so forth. The technological advantage you noted Amazon doing and everyone else falling on their face at is just scratching the surface. Hence, I do take a small exception that the future is going to be instant. Amazon is trying to enable ALL the sides of purchasing with technology, not just discoverability.

And everyone else does a poor job of it.

Regardless, it's an exciting time for books and book publishing.

Unknown said...

I agree with Anthony. Amazon catches my interest every time, and I can wander around and look at different things and read samples so easily. I always spend more time than I expect - just as if I were in a real bookstore. :-)

Unknown said...
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Marsha Sigman said...

I'm still trying to resist the e-reader.ha But Goodreads is awesome with the recommendations. I have found so many new books/authors there!

Unknown said...

update: I hear that Kobo has a good app and also gives recs so I'm downloading that to the iPad and will check it out.

Thanks everyone for your thoughts!

Emily Sterner said...

I'm very new to ebooks as well, having just received a nook for Christmas. I love books (gosh, hardbacks are beautiful) for all the reasons you stated above. And I really am enjoying my nook for the ability to carry TONS of books around at one time, as well as being able to buy books that I'm not quite sure about for a lot cheaper than a physical book. Then, like you said, if I totally love it, I can buy a hard copy of it! I really love amazon and the way they set up their buying and recommending system. I also really love the Netflix comment! That would be a pretty snazzy idea indeed! So far, Nook is losing the race for me, but as I own one I figured I might as well use it as much as possible.

Farrah Penn said...

Have you downloaded the Overdrive app? I love it. It lets you read ebooks from your public library (if you have a card, of course) I never have time to go to the library to get physical books, but this is a great alternative if you read on your iPad or iPhone a lot :) (oh, and if you like listening to audiobooks too!)

Laura Pauling said...

I resisted it at first too. But Amazon makes it so easy to find books I'll love. I'm buying more and reading more books than ever. I still enjoy print but I like that I can make the ereader print size larger or smaller. And so many great self published books are cheaper in ebook and so easy to buy and read. :)

Mary Pat said...

Everyone posted such thoughtful and intelligent remarks, and all I can think about it, "Is your bookshelf okay?"

Unknown said...

Ebook is one of the best sources for the people to getting lots information about any subject which they want. In these days so many of people prefer to use Ebooks. Here you share nice information about the relationship with Ebook.


Unknown said...

Thanks so much sharing! I'm going to be sharing this post on our Facebook Company Page, KiteReaders. Please take a look! We are a children's ebook publisher and distributor, and it's very refreshing to see how your experience "converted" you to ebooks! You can find us at or :)

Unknown said...

I have the same relationship with books and ebooks. First, I was sure I would never read ebooks because it's too different from what a 'real' book feels like. I mean, with ebooks you don't feel the paper, smell the ink, feel the cover with your fingertips, weigh the book, etc. And yet, at one point I had to try ebooks if I wanted to read new releases. Living in a tiny flat makes it complicated to buy so many books and it's not cheap!
So yes, at first I tried ebooks by default but now I do enjoy reading ebooks. When I'm going in vacation it's easier to take my iPad instead of a bag full of books, my bank account is not suffering as much and my flat is not too overcrowded by books.
Though, I still buy paperbacks and hardbacks. I love to have a hardcopy of books I love the most.

And I agree with you, the kindle ap, iBook ap and such make it complicated to discover other authors or books. That's probably why I'm such an addict of Goodreads.

Michael Barron said...

I have yet to make the full transition. I like the way physical books feel and smell too much. We recently moved into a new house and I put all my books into one room and even my wife agrees that it's the best smelling room in the house.

Unknown said...

Yaaaay, Diana Peterfreund! She is just lovely. I got to meet her at Capclave in October and spend some time chatting superheroes with her.

Seeing her name on your blog brought a grin to my face.

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