The annual ebook spring cleaning: what I learned this year
March 20, 2011 | 5:35 pm
By Joanna Cabot
Something about being off for March break brings out the nesting/cleaning instinct in me, and after almost a week off, my home is now sparkling—and my digital home is too! Among other spring cleaning chores was the purchase of a new backup drive, the deletion of a bunch of digital clutter so I wouldn’t over-fill said drive, and a virtual pruning of the digital bookshelf. Lessons learned this time around? Keep reading!
1) LESSON LEARNED: NO SAMPLE, NO PURCHASE
Before there was Smashwords, the big indie goldmine was the Fictionwise multiformat book, and I used to get suckered in to spending on the new stuff with the promise of rebates I could use to get a dozen of these pretty much for free. This turned out to be a costly regret. Fictionwise did not allow reviews and most of these books had no samples; I bought blind on the strength of the plot description, and it turned out that in many cases, I bought stupid. Of the ones I actually read, most were mediocre at best. And of the ones I hadn’t yet read, most of them didn’t look all that compelling or well produced when opened up and sampled.
In my mind, Smashwords is a huge step up because it allows for both samples and reviews. You know what you’re getting into! Fictionwise is now off my purchasing radar, and has been since they were decimated by the introduction of the agency model. But I regret the money I spent on these quick, cheap and so-so reads. Lesson learned: sample first. And if there is no sample, pick something else to read. There are plenty of other choices, especially these days!
2) THE AGENCY MODEL: A HUGE MONEY-SAVER
I looked at my purchasing stats and was shocked at how much money I have NOT spent this year. Last year, my total ebook spending was almost $1300—some of that was a big pre-agency binge because I knew prices would go up, but even so, we’re looking at an average of about $100 a month for the last two years.
So, how much have I spent in 2011? Slightly over $100 since January, or about a third of what I spent before. And why am I spending less? A combination of higher prices and greater choices. I belong to three public libraries now which lend ebooks. My sister has a Kindle and can share with me. I get a ton of stuff from Smashwords, including professionally edited books from established authors. If a new book comes out at $14.99 and doesn’t drop really fast, it languishes on my wish list. In many cases, someone else gets it—my sister, my mother, the library—and I read it for free. And if not, I skip it. Plenty else to read! Something interesting will always come along if that one doesn’t work out…
3) PRICE IS NOT THE ONLY THING THAT CAN IMPROVE (OR NOT) WITH TIME
Calibre’s cover art feature has been upgraded, and you can use larger, sharper images now. I went through and updated the ones which were tiny into bigger, better versions and found to my delight that many books I owned had better art available now. At least five indie authors had either changed the cover art altogether, or reissued an old cover with a better font. And one commercial series I follow had been re-issued in the UK with gorgeous matching covers that were just a Google Images search away.
It took time to get the cover art for 1500 books checked and updated, but it was worth it. My Calibre library is, to me, the equivalent of the roomful of bookcases I grew up with in my parents house, and I want to be able to browse it and have it look pretty. The cover art does matter to me. I like it when the series books match, and a garish, ugly cover will turn me away from a book. It was tedious to spend the time on this chore, but now that it’s done, I’m glad to have everything nice and pretty.
4) INDIE QUALITY IS ON THE RISE
I added a new tag to my library to indicate whether I obtained a book for free or not. I have a bit of a hoarding habit with ebooks, and wanted to prune my collection of stuff I’m really never going to read. It’s easier to chuck it if I didn’t have to pay! So I set up the free tag, browsed what I had and deleted nearly everything I downloaded during Read an Ebook Week last year. A lot of it seemed okay on first glance but proved to be in need of a good edit!
Then I looked at what I downloaded this year. Sure there were some clunkers, but overall, the quality was much higher and there were more genres represented. I think that the success of a few pioneers in this area has made aspiring indie authors take this more seriously, and those astute enough to be aware of promotions like Read an Ebook Week represent the more business-savvy end. The books just seemed a little more polished this year. And the growing cadre of published, edited backlist getting its second life via Smashwords is upping Smasword’s cachet a little. These are quality, polished books, a huge and growing number of them. And they are giving readers a real, viable alternative to what the big pubs are offering, at better prices, DRM-free, and a better deal for the author to boot. All hail the indie! I am looking forward to writing some great reviews this year.
5) BOOKSTORE WEBSITES STILL NEED SOME WORK
The bookstore websites I shop at have their conveniences—the Kobo coupon code, the Smashwords sample—but they still need some work. Kobo badly needs a wishlist feature, for instance. I am tired of having a book I don’t own cluttering up the ‘library’ on my iPad app just because there is no place else to put it. And no shopping cart yet? Really?
As for Smashwords, I would dearly love some expanded filtering options. I’d love it if there was a way authors could indicate, perhaps via a checkbox, that the book was a backlist repub, so people could filter for that precious subset. And I would love it if people could set up lists or collections within the site, as Amazon has. That way, book reviewers like me could set up a browseable collection of favourites and give their readers a starting point. There is just such a large quantity of books on Smashwords. We need to start getting more options for filtering.
I think it’s going to be an interesting year for the book industry. Some things are going on right now which really alarm me, but I think the indie scene is just exploding and we’ll see some really cool things coming out of the little guys this year. Should be a ride!