To Download, or Not to Download: That is now the question.

It started with The Hunger Games. I wanted to read it, preferably right this minute, and all of the bookstores were sold out. I don’t have a Kindle, and I’ve always claimed to abhor ebooks. I caved. I downloaded the Kindle app to my android phone, and was reading The Hunger Games in mere seconds. I scrolled through the quasi pages so fast they were almost a blur.

By the next day, I had to have another one, and I consumed it so fast it probably ought to have made me sick.  By the day after that, my little habit was growing. I downloaded two ebooks (Mockingjay and The White Queen) because I finished the first so fast I had to have another one.

It turns out that it’s a dangerously addictive habit. Downloading books gives the thrill of instant gratification, and you can get your fix anytime, anywhere. It’s easy to get hooked. 

Now, I know what people are saying about these devils lurking in ebook culture, killing our local bookstores and ravaging innocent townspeople with their big, scary corporateness and unwillingness to cooperate with the infinite sharing policies of public libraries. Here’s what I say to all of that:

Libraries, used bookstores and the lot don’t pay royalties for each person that reads their books. Now, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but considering that the average author advance on a full-length novel is well below ten thousand dollars, and considering the measly percentage the author makes on sales (usually below 30%, and the advance is just that- an advance on the author’s cut of the sale), the author – the person that creates this product you love so – isn’t exactly making a bundle in most cases. It’s radical, but I propose to you that there’s absolutely no difference between downloading movies without paying for them and reading books without paying for them, except that one is legal and the other isn’t. The irony here is that on average, books make a much smaller profit than movies in the first place. Even a bestselling book (with the exception of freak hits like Harry Potter) doesn’t make as much money as the average Hollywood “meh” movie.

Contrast the infinite shareability of a paper book, passed around a circle of friends and finally donated to the Goodwill and re-sold for fifty cents, with the ebook. You want to read the book- you pay for it. The author takes their cut, the publisher (if there is one) takes theirs, and the seller takes a tiny slice of the pie, too. You’re paying the people that published the book. And you’re paying them without overhead. Basically, they’re getting paid for producing quality products at a much higher margin than they are even if you buy a paper copy.

Take Amanda Hocking, for example. This girl self-publishes on Amazon at a much higher percentage than she could ever get through a traditional publisher, and she gets paid 70% commissions on her book sales (which are over 10,000 per month). But she’s earned it, because it’s her product. She’s self-marketing and offering products people like (and at a very low price), and she’s being paid accordingly.  A novel concept, if you’ll pardon my pun.

I thought I’d miss the paper when I started down this slippery slope. I love the feel of paper, the scent of it, its weight. I’m the girl that has stacks of books on every conceivable surface in my house, a book or two in my handbag at all times, shelves stacked horizontally two-rows deep. What I’m finding is that I no longer have backaches lugging extra pounds of book around by my shoulder strap, and I’m not bringing books into my already-crowded nest of them, contributing to a vast book storage problem (and possible fire hazard). I’m not saying I’ll ever quit buying paper books. Some of them are just too pretty to see on a screen, and some of them absolutely need to be held, touched, and even smelled to be properly devoured. But I will be buying all of the space-hogging bestsellers that I know I’m likely to read fast and give away in Kindle format from now on.  This saves a few trees and helps me avoid contributing to the current saturation of the book market that keeps authors among the lowest paid people in the book industry.

To my local bookstore: Stock books that are as quirky and individual as you are. I’ll come see you for those, I promise. Just make sure the coffee and conversation are ready for me when I get there.

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About literatelibran

Writer of words, thinker of thoughts, dreamer of dreams, mom. View all posts by literatelibran

5 responses to “To Download, or Not to Download: That is now the question.

  • kirinjirafa

    I’m still too much in love with paper books, but I gotta tell you- this is making me consider getting an ebook reader.

    And about those bookstores- i totally agree with you. Borders is shutting its doors, and I can’t help thinking it’s because of their online presence (or lack thereof). I don’t think I’m ever gonna stop going to the bookstore and sitting with a cup of coffee and looking at the books, but the fact that i can bring my laptop and read digitally while sitting somewhere comfortable and quiet away from my house is a huge plus.

  • Sasperella

    I’ve been ill for the past two days and have now FINISHED The Hunger Games – how’d you find ’em?

    I do get having ebooks for stuff like commuting and going on holiday, but I just can’t imagine a world in which I prefer holding a Kindle to a book. An ACTUAL book, with its paper pages and breakable spine, its underlinable words and scrawlable margins, its foldable, riffable pages and relative durability in the extreme steaminess of my bathroom… Nothing like an actual PHYSICAL book that you can hold in your actual PHYSICAL hands; a book that you own, that you can file neatly on your bookshelf very loosely based on genre, that you can lend to your friends or give away or donate to your local charity shop/library.

    Ahhh, books! How I love thee!

    • literatelibran

      Kirinjirafa works at a school, so she’s wise to what young’uns are reading, and she told me to give them a go. Did you love them?

      Ebooks will obviously never be a replacement for books with “personality”, but it sure is convenient to have the instant gratification of downloading something new at 3am when struggling with insomnia.

  • Geek Squirrel

    I’m currently reading Ulysses electronically, but I miss the feel of a real book. On an e-reader it feels more like I’m doing serious work rather than reading for fun, plus the portability is nice. I have mostly classics loaded on mine right now but I am still buying real books.

    • literatelibran

      I think it’s great how many classics and public domain books you can get for free and not have to store, although I’m primarily downloaded ebooks that I don’t think I’ll ever want to reread again.

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