Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

NOTE The views I express on this site are mine and mine alone. Nothing I say should be construed as being "official" or the views of any group, whether I've been a member of that group or not. The advertisings on this page are from Google, and do not constitute an endorsement on my part.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Is an eBook from an unknown author worth reading?

I'm an avid reader. I read between 200 and 400 books a year. I read fiction, non-fiction, biographies, textbooks, and just about anything else that strikes my fancy at the time. I also go back and re-read some of my favorites from time to time. Unfortunately for me, and for a lot of readers like me, my favorite authors, the ones I grew up reading in my teens and early twenties, are fast disappearing. Finding new authors to take their place hasn't been easy. The local library has helped, but only marginally. Most of the books by new authors I've read lately have been ebooks.

The expenses of producing a hardbound book have gone up explosively over the last fifty years. Publishing houses aren't stupid -- it's a big risk paying for something from a new author. It's even expensive just to look at something an unknown author has written. In the past, there was a way for publishing houses to screen for new talent. While they couldn't (or wouldn't) "invest" in new talent, quite a few magazines, especially genre magazines, were quite willing to accept something from a new writer. If the writer managed to sell several stories to the magazines, there was a good probability that books by that author would also sell. The number of magazines that have gone bankrupt in the last fifty years would probably rival a medium-sized town's telephone directory, and many of the remaining ones are also relying on established writers with a known 'draw'. These two facts have made it all but impossible for a lot of new authors to get published. The ebook is beginning to change all of that.

The legacy publishing industry has estimated that about one million books are written each year. Out of that, possibly as many as one THOUSAND are purchased and printed, either in hardbound copies or in paperback. The other 999,000 never reach an audience.

The Internet has the potential -- a potential that is being rapidly turned into reality -- to guarantee those other 999,000 books can be shared. These books can be, and frequently are, offered in electronic format. There are several different ways these books can be distributed, but the most convenient is in a recognized ebook format by a major retailer. Two of the major sellers of ebooks today are Amazon ( and Barnes & Noble ( Just about anyone who has ever written a book can now upload it to either (or both) of these websites, and offer their product to the world.

Barnes & Noble has created and marketed a device, the Nook, that will present an ebook in a format that mimics a printed book. Amazon also has a device, the Kindle, that does the same thing. Each, however, has created a proprietary software format for their devices, and their books. For Barnes & Noble, the format is ePublisher (xxxxxxx.epub); for Kindle it's Mobi Pockets ( Books in .mobi format cannot be 'read' on a Nook, and books in .epub format cannot be 'read' on a Kindle. Both the Nook and the Kindle will display books in Portable Document Format (.pdf), and in Hypertext Markup Language (.html). There are problems, however, on how well these other formats appear on both the Nook and the Kindle. Some of the .pdf formatting doesn't translate well, and isn't displayed as well on either device as it is on a personal computer. Both the Kindle and the Nook are retailed for about $150-$200. If that price is too high, both companies allow proprietary software to be downloaded and installed on a personal computer, usually for free.

An ebook may take up anywhere from 500 kilobytes (Kb) of date to well over three megabytes (Mb) of data. Modern storage technology has so significantly reduced the price of data storage as to make that a very minor cost to the retailer (a 300 gigabyte [Gb] hard drive now costs less than $300, and can store 100,000 three-megabyte books. The cost of storing any single book is reduced to about $0.003. Most of the books that are written are much smaller than that, ranging in the neighborhood of 1Mb. Five 300Gb hard drives could store 1.5 MILLION 1Mb books. A retailer could sell one copy of each per year and make $1 million in sales. If sales are greater than one book per year, the gross sales will also go up.

About half the ebooks a retailer may offer are the same ones that a reader could reasonably expect to find in a library of a medium-sized city. Those ebooks usually sell for about the same price a paperback of the same book would bring. Some cost more, a few cost less. New authors, however, can't afford to offer their ebooks for that price, and expect to make a sale. Ebooks from new authors usually sell for about $0.99 to $4.99 each. Most readers would probably be willing to pay that amount to buy an ebook from an author they haven't heard of before. If it's not any good, they haven't lost much. If they enjoy it, they won't hesitate to purchase additional books from the same author at the same or similar price.

So, is it worthwhile to buy an ebook from an unknown author? That depends, and primarily on what you're looking at to purchase. If you're looking for fiction, there's a very good chance that you'll find a few good reads among the unknowns - along with the probability of finding quite a few you will quit halfway through. Some of that will be because of the quality of the writing, some of it will be because the book wasn't what you thought it was going to be, and some of it will be because the author's point of view may vary greatly from your own on a given subject. Non-fiction is different. Non-fiction will depend not only on the person's background and knowledge of the subject, but also how well he presents that knowledge through his writing.

The biggest beneficiary of the new ebook technology is, of course, the reader. Both the amount of material and its variety is growing exponentially. The reader will have a much better chance to find something that satisfies his or her individual taste than what the average legacy retailer can stock.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a writer of ebooks available at both Barnes & Noble and Amazon. I'm also pretty well "unknown".