The Top 10 Myths About EBooks

After my recent post about the inevitability of e-books, I was surprised that there were so many misconceptions in the comments section about e-readers and e-books.

For the record, I don't think everyone is going to or should or will like e-books and converting people is not what this post is about. But I do think people should at least have the facts.

Now would also be a good time to state for the record that I have no financial interest in e-books or e-readers whatsoever and in fact, my job would probably be easier if they didn't exist. But they do exist, I genuinely like them, and I don't think this industry can afford to be behind the curve on technology.

Here's my personal Top 10 list of the mistaken beliefs people have about e-books:

1. "They strain your eyes" / "They're bad for people with poor eyesight" / "I'll go blind."

Aside from reading on an iPhone, which I personally love but realize isn't for everyone, most dedicated e-readers use e-ink displays, which are very different than the backlit screens of computers and televisions and phones. E-ink literally looks like ink on paper, you can read in sunlight, and it's crisp from any angle.

Also, all e-readers have the ability to change the text size, so you can instantly turn any book into large print if you have difficulty with small fonts.

2. "You can't back up your files" / "If you lose or break your e-reader or if a new e-reader comes out you lose all your books"

Different devices do indeed favor different formats, but even still the above statements don't accurately reflect the landscape.

Let's start with Amazon and the Kindle. Amazon stores the information about all of the titles you have bought centrally, which means that you can access the titles on any device that has a Kindle app, whether it's a Kindle, iPhone, or a PC (coming soon:Macs). Better yet, Amazon syncs between the different applications so that if you stop reading on a Kindle and open up the app on your iPhone it will turn to the page you left off on. If you lose your Kindle or it breaks or you want to get a new one you can still read all of the titles you bought on a computer or another device.

Now, Amazon usually uses its own proprietary e-book format, and some people want a more universal format. If so, you might consider the Sony Reader or nook. Their stores use the ePub format, which can be read on most e-reader devices, so you're not beholden to one device or vendor after you have purchased your books and you can always take your library elsewhere.

3. "I don't want to have to scroll endlessly through a book" / "I'll miss turning the pages" / "I like taking notes"

Most e-readers, including the iPhone apps, have pages that you "turn" either by clicking a button or tapping/swiping your finger. While I know some people view this as a sign of the apocalypse, you'd be surprised how quickly it becomes second nature.

And most e-readers allow you to take notes, bookmark pages, search within the text, and highlight sections you want to come back to.

4. "They require a lot of power" / "They're hot to the touch like laptops"

When they're not using their wireless function, e-readers using the e-ink display consume very little energy, and you only have to charge them once every few weeks, even if you read often.

They're also completely cool to the touch.

5. "You can't check e-books out from the library"

According to the NY Times, about 5,400 libraries now offer e-books, and more are signing up every day. Most library programs work like with physical books - you "check out" an e-book onto your e-reader and "check it back in" when you're finished, and only one patron at a time can "check out" an e-book while you're reading it.

6. "You can't lend to friends or family"

Amazon allows up to six users to access the same account for most titles, and nook has a LendMe function that allows you toshare a title for 14 days (if the publisher allows it).

Admittedly these aren't the freest means of sharing content, but my wife and I share a Kindle account and are able to read each other's books whenever we want.

7. "E-Readers are bad for the environment"

A Cleantech study asserts that e-readers have a much smaller carbon footprint than physical books when book production and shipping physical books are taken into account, though one blogger felt that the Cleantech study didn't adequately address paper recycling programs. Although, it's not as if it's impossible torecycle electronics.

8. "You can't read an e-reader in the bathtub" / "I would never take an e-reader to the beach

Put it in a Ziploc bag and it's more waterproof/sandproof than a paper book.

9. "They're too expensive."

E-readers may be relatively expensive now for a wide swath of people, but prices will inevitably come down. And because e-books are (usually) much cheaper than print books, it doesn't take long before an e-reader pays for itself - since most hardcovers that sell for $25 or more are available for $9.99, all it takes is roughly 20 e-books for an e-reader to pay for itself. You save even more if you read e-books on a phone or computer you already own.

For a casual reader: yeah, a dedicated e-reader probably doesn't make the most sense. But for people who read a lot, especially new books, it can result in actual savings relatively quickly.

10. "E-books are bad for publishers and authors"

While most agents I know are not thrilled with the royalties authors are currently receiving from the major publishers, so far the deep discounting has been absorbed by the e-book sellers and publishers have little to lose from e-book sales, at least in the short term. According to reports, most publishers still receive roughly 50% off the list price for every e-book sale, meaning that a $9.99 e-book is a loss leader for Amazon and the other e-book publishers, while the publisher receives the same amount as they would for a hard copy.

And while, again, we agents would like to see authors get a fairer split, authors still receive royalties for e-book sales. The low price points of e-books have attracted some of my cost-minded friends who used to mainly buy used books, for which authors of course don't receive any royalties, so from that standpoint they are much more author friendly than used books.

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