Monday, July 25, 2011

Could the Ebook Revolution Lead to Buyer Confusion?


Today I want to talk about a reaction I get to a certain type of shopping situation. I'm wondering if others have the same reaction and if this reaction could apply to the ebook marketplace. Let me explain.



When I go to a large street market in another country or a large flea market or farmer's market in the US, I'm confronted with an overwhelming sea of choices. In a crowded and noisy environment, there are multiple vendors selling the same thing. Is vendor A's broccoli really any different from vendor B's? And there's usually a huge variety of things for sale, from broccoli to beef, batik to baskets, bracelets to blouses, bike tires to buckets, you get the idea.



In such markets, especially in a third world countries, it's guaranteed that a lot of the merchandise will be cheaply made and of poor quality. But I'm not an expert buyer in all of those categories of merchandise. I don't know what distinguishes a poorly made basket or blouse from an expertly made one. So, not only do I feel overwhelmed by the choices, I feel like I'm almost guaranteed to make a bad one.



What's my typical reaction? Often I just give up and walk away. The stress of decision-making is too great, and the chance for reward is too small to be worth the stress. I close my purse, avert my eyes from the vendors clamoring for my attention, and escape. Do you ever feel the same way?

Now, let's look at the electronic book marketplace. Again, there's an enormous variety of choices, and again a lot of the books are of poor quality. Making a good choice and feeling like you're not wasting your money can be just as overwhelming. I must admit that I've yet to test the waters, that instead I read only paper books and only those that are recommended to me by readers (or writers) whose judgement I trust.

What about you? Are you closing your purse and walking away, too? Or have you found a way to wade through the morass and find the true bargains, the electronic book purchases that you will savor for years to come?

22 comments:

Mario said...

Great topic. The plethora of ebooks will require marketing savvy on behalf of the authors. No surprise there.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for the comment, Mario. But, with all of us authors waving our hands, shouting "My book's good reading, I promise!", how do readers know which ones really are?

Lizzie Hayes said...

For me there is no confusion. I buy, read books. The ones you can hold, touch. My house is shelved floor to ceiling in every room with books. If I have a moment of sadness, unhappiness, I walk along my book shelves and run my fingers lightly along the spines of my books and I always feel better. Why would I spend money on a souless electronic contraption - easy, I wouldn't - why would I be that crazy? So in answer to your question - no confusion, for me!
When in the future so many of you who have jumped on the bandwagon of downloading a book for 99cents to your ebook, and suddenly there are no longer any printed books, well, I will be dead, and you will all get what you deserve - No beautiful bound books. Luckily not my problem!

Lizzie Hayes said...

For me there is no confusion. I buy, read books. The ones you can hold, touch. My house is shelved floor to ceiling in every room with books. If I have a moment of sadness, unhappiness, I walk along my book shelves and run my fingers lightly along the spines of my books and I always feel better. Why would I spend money on a souless electronic contraption - easy, I wouldn't - why would I be that crazy? So in answer to your question - no confusion, for me!
When in the future so many of you who have jumped on the bandwagon of downloading a book for 99cents to your ebook, and suddenly there are no longer any printed books, well, I will be dead, and you will all get what you deserve - No beautiful bound books. Luckily not my problem!

Terry Wright said...

Hi Beth,
As you know, I'm knee deep in ebook publication. I've found that readers who want to try new authors need only invest as little as 99 cents to buy their books instead of shelling out $29.95 for a hardcover at the bookstore. No confusion there. AND the authors make as much royalty (or better) on those ebook purchases than they'd have earned from a publisher. No confusion there either.

Susan M. Boyer said...

I admit I'm frustrated with the logic the big ebook providers use to suggestive sell. I still buy my favorite authors' new releases, but have yet to buy anything B&N or Amazon has "picked just for me." (Though Amazon's "people who bought this also bought that" feature is helpful.)

Aside from buying books by authors I know, typically, I browse the books classified as mystery/crime until I find something that appeals. If a title and cover catch my eye, I look at the reviews and ratings. If the book has an overall 3 star rating or above, and the "jacket copy" appeals to me, I'll usually buy. If in doubt, I download a free sample, if offered. I don't really feel overwhelmed by the volume of options. But I'm not sure I'm seeing the books that would most appeal to me because the order in which they are presented is either "top choices," bestselling, or release date. I have a nagging suspicion that I am missing books that I'd like to read.

More and more, I'm relying on various email loops to find new authors. I then have to do a search specifically on the author to find his/her book. But, most of the loops I'm on are author loops. I wonder if readers who are not also writers (and are not active on loops, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are relying on the suggestions the Amazon and/or B&N computer spits out. I think the sort order is key, because most people will shop until they find something appealing, then stop. But there might have been a more appealing choice if the books were presented in a different order.

Terry Wright said...

oh and another thing. Bound books will never go away. Ebooks simply make more books available to more readers. The younger generation loves their electronic gadgets, so e-readers are a natural choice for them. They can carry the equivalent of a houseful of books shelved floor to ceiling in their backpacks.

trek said...

I've successfully used the Limited Time Special Offers (freebies) to find new authors and also Lendle though not all publishers enable the lending feature. This is counter-productive, in my opinion. Many times I've been given the opportunity to read a loaned book or freebie which then translated into me actively seeking out everything else that author has written.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Lizzie,
I, too, like having "real" books around me in my home. It's a comfort to know that I always have something handy to read or to offer a guest to read. :)

Susan,
You've expressed the conundrum well--even though you end up choosing books, how do you know that you've chosen the BEST books for your tastes? And, are you missing out on something that you'd really love to read because of the huge variety of choices?

ChristineA said...

Hi Beth! I'm on the fence about e-books right now. I much prefer a paper book, whether hard back or paper back, in my hand. Though when & if I decide to take the plunge, for me it's not so much about finding the BEST book out there. IMO, that's kind of an unfair way to judge authors/books. I'd rather think of it as there are authors I thoroughly enjoy, authors who I like, and authors who don't quite interest me. To find e-books, I'd most likely rely first on friend's recommendations, then on site's "picked for you", and lastly simply being intrigued by the description. :D

Beth Groundwater said...

LOL, trek! I'm almost hesitant to try a new-to-me author, especially if they have a long backlist, because then I'll end up with a whole new bunch of books on my TBR list.

Christine,
I guess I'm talking about finding the Best-for-you books, based on what you enjoy reading. There are two components to that search, though. You want both books that suit your interests and books that are well-written and hold your interest while reading them.

DeAnna said...

The indie books that I have SNAPPED up have come to me via Twitter lately. I hear a good description, go check it out on Goodreads/Amazon/whatever, read the sample. I try not to get too excited about the book until I read the sample, but sometimes I'm like "steampunk dragons reader cookie oh my!!!" I keep an eye out for writers who Tweet well - at least, their books will be amusing.

Rick Bylina said...

Any infant technology or service is bound to lead to some level of confusion. Yep, there's a lot of crap in ebook land - short stories masquerading as novels, stories dumped on us out of frustration with the traditional system that weren't published for good reasons, and con-men with great book titles and titilating covers that separate us from logic. Ultimately, it will the readers who will decide which author lives or dies in the ebook environment. They'll do it the same way they did it with paper books...word of mouth, reviews, and closer examination of the book before purchasing. Some of the same frustrations will occur as in the traditional pub industry: great books will be missed for years and inadequate crap from the next 15 minute famous twit will rake in gobs of money while I open another can of beans. The upside is the wake-up call for the traditional busines to rethink some of their backward logic. I believe once the traditional pub business catches on, you'll see a revival of the mid-list author, a burst in the need for editors, and a better profit margin for the authors. I still like my paper books, but in three weeks, my novel, ONE PROMISE TOO MANY, joins the ebook revolution.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, DeAnna and Rick! Yes, samples, reviews, and word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted friends will help all of us readers make wiser choices if we have the time and inclination to wade through all that material. But, I still can't shake the feeling I get when overwhelmed in a bustling market--to avoid the stress and energy it takes to make good choices, close my purse and go home.

Rick Bylina said...

Make sure before you close your purse, you purchase my book. :-)

Susan Fleet said...

Hi Beth, interesting topic. I have a Kindle and often discover new authors, since I'm also a writer, through writer email lists and such. First, I download a sample. If the sample is well-written and engaging, I buy the book. If the sample is disappointing, I don't buy the book. I've never bought an ebook priced at $9.99 (or more), and probably won't. The big publishers slap these prices on their e-books. I would love to how many are buying them.

Ron at CM said...

And there are still plenty who prefer slides to digital photographs, yellow pads to computer screens, Super 8/VCR to Blu-Ray, and Hummers to Subarus B^)...

Everything in life is a value judgement about capabilities and limitations.

But the village market isn't necessarily a fair comparison. Maybe a village market with a place that has a 100,000 varieties of fresh exotic foods flown in daily.

I'm excited about anything that offers new promise for new ways to imagine new worlds. And a place to sneak in a little anaphora. B^)

jenny milchman said...

Author Betty Webb had some wildly intelligent (I thought) things to say on exactly this wading through content issue, and how buying at a bookstore, from an established publisher, avoids it. Tim Hallinan, author of the Poke Rafferty series, set in (to echo this post) Thailand, also poised content filtration as the #1 issue facing the e-volution. For me it's still simple since, like Lizzie, I read in print. I do buy many indie authors who have published a print version, and some are better than others, of course. I don't mind getting the occasional dud--but I agree that market overwhelm could pose a real barrier to buying.

Yvonne said...

To add my 2 cents - I love ebooks and my Nook. I never ever thought I would, but I do. All my books are stored in one place and I have easy access to them. I take my Nook everywhere.

I literally have over 10,000 print books and they overwhelmed we. We discussed the possibility of moving one day and when my husband said we couldn't afford to move them all with me, I turned to ebooks and I've been happy. It's not for everyone, but it's another choice for those who want it. I seriously doubt physical books will ever go away completely.

As for the choices, it's the same for me as with physical books. There are good and bad books. I go by recommendations mainly. Also, with ebooks, there are a lot of freebies out there. If one interests me, I get it. I've lost nothing since it was free and if I like it, I'm likely to get the author's backlist. I did that with physical books too (except there are no freebies and I have to pay to try the author). Nothing has really changed for me. A big plus for me, and I never thought about this before I got my Nook, is that I can change the font size. I make it much bigger and it's easier for me. I never realized how small some of the print is in physical books.

There are a lot to chose from with physical books and there are alot to choose from with ebooks. There are both good and bad books with both formats.

Just my thoughts on the subject.

Chris Devlin said...

Beth,
Great question. I think it's a natural reaction to something as new and fundamentally game-changing as the e-book revolution to feel confused and overwhelmed by the different way of doing business. But underneath it all, human nature doesn't really change. We'll adapt to the technology, but we'll still ask our friends, our booksellers, our review sites, to recommend books. We'll check out the covers and the blurbs, we'll read the samples. And we'll miss great reads, just like we do now, and we'll buy some clunkers, just like we always did. In other words, each individual's relationship to finding stories they enjoy won't essentially change. Great post, cheers.

Gabrielle Evelyn said...

Dear,

I hope not,in fact.

karen millen

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, Susan, Ron, Jenny, Yvonne, and Chris!

Susan, I, too, wish the traditional presses would price their ebooks lower, say in the 5-7$ range. I lament that mine are priced so high, and I wonder how many readers I've lost because of the price. I'd be willing to go lower, even if it means reduced royalties per book, because I think the volume would make up for it.