eBooks are like a good spy: seen but not truly noticed until the last minute when it is too late — at least that was the case for me.

As each day passes, I find that I am more inclined to read an ebook and less inclined to read a pbook. This was finally hammered home to me with the release of two new fantasy novels, Terry Brooks’ Bearers of the Black Staff and Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings.

I wanted both of these books for my library, so I bought them in hardcover when they were released (just in the past few weeks). I finished an excellent mystery in ebook form (Vicki Tyley’s Thin Blood, a great buy at $2.99 and an excellent read) and decided to next pickup the Brooks book. My habit is to be reading 1 or 2 nonfiction books and 1 fiction book (usually an ebook) concurrently. So I put down my Sony Reader and picked up the Brooks hardcover and got as far as the copyright page, when I realized that I didn’t want to read the book in pbook form; I wanted to read it as an ebook. I also realized that I felt the same about the Sanderson book. So I bought both books in ebook form and put the hardcovers on my library shelves. For once, the publishers got me twice.

Combine this my recent struggling to get through any nonfiction book in recent weeks because I really want to pick up my Sony Reader rather than the hardcover, and a dawning occurred – I finally realized that given a choice between an ebook and a pbook, I really do prefer to read an ebook on my Sony Reader.

The preference for ebooks stealthily snuck up on me. Unfortunately, I also recognize that my preferred books to read are nonfiction and ebooks aren’t quite there yet if the nonfiction book is loaded with illustrations and notes (perhaps the new readers will be better; I plan to try a nonfiction book on the Sony 950 when I get it). So I’m in a quandary: on what do I compromise? Do I forego the footnotes (99.9% of which are useless anyway and are present only to impress readers with the extent of the author’s “research”) and illustrations (many of which help explain the text) and read nonfiction in ebook form, or do I forego the pleasure of reading on my Sony Reader and continue to read nonfiction in pbook form? I suspect that the latter is what will happen for the most part, although I will start buying nonfiction ebooks when possible.

Of greater concern is whether I am seeing a new phase in my buying habits, a phase where I buy the hardcover for my library and the ebook to actually read — format double-dipping. Double-dipping could become a mighty expensive proposition, and as much as I love books, double-dipping makes no sense, especially as I do not truly “own” the ebook versions of the books that I would double-dip.

Here is where willpower comes into play. I am resolute (at least for the moment) that the Brooks/Sanderson double-dip will not be repeated. How resolute I am is yet to be tested, especially if the new device meets my hopes as regards the reading experience. (Wouldn’t it be nice if publishers said buy the hardcover and we’ll give you the ebook for a token price?)

The problem is ebooks and the very positive reading experience, at least on my Sony Reader (I don’t feel this same lure when reading books on my desktop or laptop; then I can’t wait to go to the pbook). eBooks are seductive. First, they are convenient — I love the ease of carrying my Sony Reader everywhere, such as while my wife shops. Second, 95% of the ebooks I buy are significantly less expensive than a pbook, in fact they are usually less than $3 and rarely more than $5. Additionally, ebooks can be better reads than many pbooks, as Vicki Tyley’s Thin Blood, mentioned earlier, and Shayne Parkinson’s Promises to Keep quartet, which I reviewed here and here, deftly prove. Each of these books cost less than $3 yet are exceedingly well-written and captivating.

But as seductive as they are, ebooks, for me, lack the permanence of hardcovers and the ability to pass down to children and grandchildren (which means that I value books, just as publishers want me to do; so why do publishers make it so hard to value ebooks? and, yes, I know I can strip DRM but I prefer not to), just as they lack the price of hardcovers (the great tradeoff). I have yet to surmount the peak where I am willing to forego adding hardcovers to my permanent library and only buy ebooks; I find that I look forward to giving my grandchildren my library. I expect the day is coming, however, when I buy only ebooks, but I do not see it in the immediate future and thus my need for great willpower. At least that willpower only needs to be exercised with fiction (for the moment) and I do not buy many hardcover fiction books. (I much prefer my fiction to be in ebook form so I don’t feel bad about starting a novel and deciding that it was a waste of money and time; ebook fiction is easy to delete and doesn’t take up precious space. I also generally prefer to buy from the independent authors I find at places like Smashwords, which is where I found Tyley and Parkinson.)

eBooks have captured me. Everything is right about fiction ebook reading, assuming, of course, that the book itself isn’t one of those that falls into the Give Me a Brake! or Truman & MacArthur & Why a Good Editor is Important category, which, sadly, an increasing number of pbooks are doing these days. Additionally, what is right about ebooks and ebook reading seems to get “righter” with each passing year, especially as devices get better and authors and publishers more careful and concerned.

I guess this needs to be viewed as a warning to all those yet to be initiated into the addictive pleasure world of ebooks. Once you stick your toe into the ebook waters, you will be captured because the reading experience is excellent and keeps getting better as publishers take ebooks more seriously. This is one of those experiences that compel you to go forward, that does not permit backward movement. Just remember to keep control of your pocketbook so you don’t end up like me: buying the same book twice; instead buy more ebooks, which is something else I do because I find I read significantly more books than ever before since I was captured by ebooks.

Via Rich Adin’s An American Editor blog



  1. I laughed when I got to your comment about leaving your library to your grandchildren. You are making the assumption that they will want the books.

    My children well remember the number of boxes of books we carted about the country as we relocated for jobs. I did cull out quite a lot each time but I kept the children’s books for my grandchildren. Three years ago I was happy to finally hand them over when the first grandchild was born. I’m sure that I was happier to do that than they were to receive them. I think the children’s books may be the only thing out of the paper books that they will accept.

    My children immediately saw the benefits of an e-library and were early adopters. I doubt that my grandchildren will revert back as they age. I am in the process of donating my paper books to the local Friends of the Library group while they still take them.

  2. I feel the same way. Since I started reading ebooks on my Nook, I find it extremely difficult to read pbooks. The awesome realization that I can purchase a book from the comfort of my home in a matter of a couple of minutes is mind challenging to say the least. Love your blog post.

  3. If you have a Kindle and an iPad, you kind of have the best of both worlds as far as illustrations are concerned. With those, I read the text on my Kindle and look at the pictures in the Kindle app on the iPad. As for double-dipping, yes, I have done that as well, and a couple of times have also started books from the library only to realize I would MUCH rather be reading on my Kindle so have bought the book, but fortunately only bought it once since the P-book belongs to the library.

  4. You know, book reviews get advance copies of new book for free (sometimes even in hardcover) though this practice may someday go the way of the dodo. If you became a book reviewer, that might be one way of spending less on hardcovers while getting some freelance notoriety. In the last two and a half years that I’ve been a book reviewer for two publications and received a boatload of free, crisp, hot-off-the-press books I’d never have bought new.

    There is a downside, however; lately the books are individually so expensive that collectively I’ll probably have to claim them as income on my taxes…

  5. I won a couple advance review copies in ebook format. The ARC ebooks had a time limit on them – about 3 or 4 weeks. Publishers may eventually do away with paper copies of ARCs in favor of ebook ARCs only, so they can have a time limit on them. Something they can’t do with paper copies.

  6. Since buying my first ereader a couple years ago, I’ve stopped reading paper books all together. I’ve found too many advantages to ebooks which paper books can’t match… carrying my entire TBR pile on one device while away from home, reading on my cell phone which is with me all the time, changing font styles and sizes, changing orientation, no longer having to search for something to use as a bookmark.

  7. Rich, to help your nonfiction purchasing decision (print or e), I recommend looking up the print edition at When you get there and have found the book, click the title link to view the full record and scroll down past the libraries that have the book to the record details. Under ‘Description’ you are likely to see an indication as to whether there are a lot of images in the book (‘ill.’, and if the cataloger was being thorough whether they’re in color), maps (‘maps’), etc.

    The library catalog description is not that helpful on the question of notes (most non-fiction books have them, after all), but the non-Topaz Kindle editions have cross-linked footnotes. Oxford University Press publications remain fruatrating, but I’m having no problems with the notes in a nonfiction book I’m reading now. In fact, I prefer it to the ‘two bookmark’ method of reading I have used for some printed books. Thus far I’ve encountered no images in the book I’m currently reading, but similarly to Mary above I have an iPod touch I can sync with for that purpose if it turns out I need to.

    Please tell us about your new Sony when you’ve formed an opinion of it.

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