Freelance Blog + success

Guest Post: Can E-books and Print Books Co-Exist?

By Elisa Lorello
My sister got a Kindle for Christmas, much to her surprise, and she loves it. Despite my successful book sales on the Kindle for the last six months, I hadn’t yet seen one up close. She gave me the honor of downloading my novels on her Kindle, for the first time I got to hold and play with the gadget.

I can see its appeal: lightweight, convenient, instant gratification. Faking It and Ordinary World appeared in minutes, despite the fact that my mother’s house had no wireless internet service! Whereas I had packed a travel suitcase full of books for my Christmas vacation, if I owned a Kindle, all I would have to do is make room in my purse. Nice.

There’s just one problem: I love books.

Tactile books, I mean. I love the feel of them in my hands. I love the sturdiness and elegance of a hardcover. I love the softness and flexibility of a paperback. I love smelling and touching the pages, waiting to turn each one, looking backwards to see how much I’ve read, and forward to see how much I’ve yet to read. I love a handsome cover.

I love bookstores too, especially the independent ones. Indie stores are owned and operated by booklovers, entrepreneurs who support local authors and their communities. I love bookstores with comfy chairs and small cafes built in. Bookstores, like libraries and college campuses, are happy places for me.

Here’s the other problem: I’m a Kindle Store bestseller.

I’m certain my success is due to the exceptionally low prices I set. I did so because as an unknown author I was more interested in readers than royalties. Without them, I couldn’t have any royalties in the first place. I wanted readers to take a chance on me. 99 cents was a low-risk way to do that. As sales numbers increased, so did my promotion. Word-of-mouth took over from there, and my books have been ranked in the Top 200 for four straight weeks, hitting the Top 10 in special categories (two of which have held #1 spots for the last month). However, I’d like to think that although the price is getting them in the door, the quality of the writing is keeping them inside. Faking It and Ordinary World have received positive reader reviews as well as high rankings.

Here lies the conundrum, the Catch 22. There’s no doubt that bookstores, especially the indies, are suffering at the hands of the Kindle and other e-readers, and we can’t afford to lose our bookstores. But as an independent author, I’m a bookseller, too. I’m making more money selling e-books than print books. Yet how can I turn my back on my beloved bookstores, and my beloved books? What’s more, how can I undercut my own books’ value (not to mention profits) by pricing them so low on Kindle? Doesn’t it hurt the book industry in general? But would I stand a chance otherwise? How do I co-exist as a booklover, a writer, an author, and a bookseller (aka businessperson) all at once? Moreover, can e-books and print books co-exist?

I think so. Kindle-lovers became such because they were book-lovers, first and foremost. This is the one thing that unites rather than divides us. E-readers are looking for book experiences as well as bargains. And the Kindle-owners I’ve talked to all say the same thing: they haven’t stopped buying (or adoring) their tactile books; they’re just supplementing (not substituting) the way they read them. Why not treat the e-book the way we treat the audiobook—just one more option to experience a story?

Rather than resist the shift in the publishing paradigm, publishers and booksellers need to embrace it. Barnes & Noble has their own e-reader called Nook, and some libraries offer Kindles for loan. There’s got to be a way for indie bookstores to get a piece of this as well. One way is to allow independent authors to upload their e-book files to an indie store’s website (on consignment, just as a brick-&mortar arrangement), where customers can purchase and download books directly from that site. I’m sure similar arrangements can be made with publishers as well.

I still make appearances at bookstores and champion the tactile book. I belong to a book club, and my bookcase runneth over. I also listen to audiobooks on my daily commute or on road trips, and I’m sure I’ll own an e-reader by the end of the year.

And, of course, I keep writing. I write because I love to do so.

Compact discs made vinyl records obsolete. iTunes and MP3s have been on the CD’s heels for years. But here’s the thing: Although digital music and file sharing took a bite out of the record business, it gave musicians, recording artists, and performers a chance to reach audiences that they’d never had before. And music-lovers became quite savvy in weeding through the bad to get to the good. Musical quality was still in demand, and musical appreciation did not suffer. What’s more, vinyl records are making a comeback for nostalgia’s sake, not to mention quality. Turntables are showing up on the shelves again.

The e-book does not have to spell the end of print books, nor does it have to spell doom for reading. If we all work together, we can pull through with our eye on what really matters: quality books and quality reading experiences. We can have our books and read them too, in any form we please.

Elisa Lorello attended the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, where she recieved both her bachelor and master's degrees. She now lives in North Carolina where she teaches academic writing. In 2004, Elisa began her first novel, Faking It. Since then, Elisa has written a sequel, Ordinary World, and is currently co-writing a third novel.

art, book, case, guest post, life, money, publishing, reading, special, and more:

Guest Post: Can E-books and Print Books Co-Exist? + success