For the past three years, my ebook reading, if you graphed it, would be a steady, upward slope: more choice, more books, more happiness. I went from Project Gutenberg freebies to full-price patronage at first one store, then several; I went from plain text reading on a tiny but serviceable PDA to a gloriously book-sized full screen on a dedicated device; I can now do what used to be a sci-fi fantasy and access my entire library off any device I own and synchronize my bookmarks between them. Life should be great, right? The curve should continue steadily upward: more choice, more books, more money, life is grand. So…why isn’t it? Why is 2012 shaping up to be my worst ebook year ever? Here are my top five reasons. Any of them taken in isolation might be tolerable, but as a combined force, they spell a worrying downward spiral.
1) QUALITY IS GETTING WORSE
Of the first 100 or so ebooks I bought way back in the glory days of Fictionwise, there was nary a typo to be found. And now? I can’t even remember the last book I bought that didn’t have something wrong with it. It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of book it is, either. I’ve seen really careless mistakes that even a casual glance would have fixed in new best-sellers by hit authors; in re-issues of decades-old paperbacks; in midlist non-fiction and so on. I just can’t stomach paying—especially at current higher-than-paper prices—for books I have to decrypt just so I can correct them for future re-reading. If I wanted to be a copy editor, I would have stayed a professional journalist. I don’t have the time or the inclination. So I have been getting more and more stuff from the library—that way, I am not out any money if the book has problems. I can delete it, guilt-free, and move onto something else. Of course, this means I am discovering fewer new authors. An author who may have converted me with the library freebie into a future paying customer can lose a valuable opportunity when their book is error-filled!
2) PRICING IS GETTING OUT OF CONTROL
I understand striking while the iron is hot—a new release by a best-selling author should absolutely command a higher price than the backlist. But just how high a price? What used to be a $9.99 best-seller is now going for $15-18 thanks to the agency deal. And unlike the traditional hardcover-to-paper paradigm, it’s never going down either. When the new JD Robb book came out this past week, it was priced in ebook at almost $19—and so was the previous book in the series! At that pricing level, it has to be something I truly, desperately want to read for me to shell out that kind of money. And to shell it out and then have to deal with mistakes as I read? It has to be something I doubly extra-special want to read. There is fair pricing, then there is pricing yourself out of the market altogether. I’m happy to pay for quality content, but I am not happy to overpay. I am starting to feel taken advantage of, and my response has been to simply retreat and read other things.
3) NEW RELEASES ARE BECOMING LESS AVAILABLE AT THE CHANNELS THROUGH WHICH I DISCOVER THEM
First, one of the big 5 dropped out of the library game altogether. Then another one raised their prices 300%. What’s left? If my local library is any indication, it’s reams and reams of vampire novels. Yawn. Why slog through those when I have hundreds of unread classics bookmarked over at Gutenberg? And hundreds of other purchased books I haven’t gotten to yet? The reality is that there are maybe a dozen books a year I hear about ahead of time and really want to read. The other books I read are just whatever comes my way. If you are fighting for my attention, you lose it right out of the gate just by not being available through the channels I regularly check.
4) AUTHORS ARE GETTING SERIES-CRAZY
It seems every book that comes out these days is part of a series, and to be honest, I just don’t have the initiative right now to get invested in something new that’s going to involve that kind of commitment. I hit the same threshold with television about a year and a half ago after decades of voracious watching. It all started looking the same, and the thought of getting hooked in and then having to keep up with every new installment or risk falling behind and losing the thread completely just tires me. When I do watch television now, it’s usually one of those pseudo-how-to things where you can watch one episode and be done. There is one I particularly enjoy involving an expert who comes in and teaches people how to manage their money. Each episode is a self-contained experience. I have many pulls on my time these days and I value that. I am starting to value that in books, too. I do have a few series I follow already. That is commitment enough right now. As for a new-to-me author? Just give me a good read. I don’t need any more sagas.
The bottom line? I have bought only a handful of books this year so far, and don’t see that changing any time soon. I do have a lot of books to read. I am just spending less money, on fewer authors, in order to get them. 2012, worst year ever? So far it is! Here’s hoping for a more favourable second quarter.