Introducing Ebook Review Central

So what is “Ebook Review Central“? I’m so glad you asked.

Every Monday, Ebook Review Central will publish a list of all the ebooks published by a particular publisher the previous month, with links to all the published reviews.  Today’s first issue contains all the Carina Press titles for September 2011, along with links to all the reviews as of Sunday, 10/23/11.

In the upcoming weeks I will do the same thing for Dreamspinner Press and Samhain Publishing. I would be interested in hearing from you, the readers, your suggestions for which publisher or publishers to include for week 4. After the 4th week, I’ll cycle around to Carina’s October titles, and back through Dreamspinner and Samhain and “the player to be named later” again.

Why am I doing this? People decide what books to buy based on browsing at a bookstore or recommendations. Ebook-only books can’t be browsed in a bookstore, so we all blog to create more recommendations when we like a book. But each of us blogs about the books we like, and it’s fantastic.

But, when a reader is undecided, where do they go? Amazon or Goodreads, and not all of us post our reviews there. Sometimes none of us. And that debate is for another post someday. Yet an ebook may have tons of reviews.

Also, I’m a librarian by training. Librarians need a place where they can find reviews of ebooks, just like they do print books.  Their budgets are tight. They want to add ebooks from ebook-only publishers, but if they can only buy 3 or 5 Carina Press titles this month and 3 or 5 Dreamspinner titles this month, there is no place to go to find which ones were the best. Ebook Review Central will be that place.

A question that will be asked, because I had to ask myself when I created this, is why the one month delay? Why am I only publishing the September titles now, when it’s already mid-October?

It takes about a month for the blogosphere to generate reviews for all the titles. I wanted to put up last week’s titles this week, but when I started my research, half the titles weren’t reviewed yet.  When I looked at last month’s titles, almost everything had a review someplace. That won’t always be 100% true, but at least it turns out to be a reasonable way to bet.

One other note: Amazon and Goodreads will not be listed as review sources unless that was the only thing I could find.

If you have suggestions, let me know. If you find this useful, definitely let me know. I will update published lists, so if later reviews are published, or if you have a review that should be listed but I missed (Google is good, but it is not perfect), send email to marlene@readingreality.net.

Are eTBRs easier to forget?


A thread in rec.arts.sf.written that was discussing the merits of ereaders vs. “dead tree” books raised some interesting corollary questions that don’t seem to have anything to do with the technology per se.  They seem more like unintended consequences.

Bookshelves have inherent browsability. Many people commented on the pleasure involved in just looking at the books they have, and seeing what is available to read, or re-read. I know that’s true for me. Also, there’s the added benefit of thinking that Galen might like something, and knowing that I have it and can simply go to the shelf and pull it out, even at 2 am. He can read it or not, because it’s already here. John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is a book I know I introduced him to, because I had the whole series on hand. Likewise, Tanya Huff’s Valor series. Not all my introductions go that well, but when it works, it really works. There’s just something about handing someone a book that you know they will absolutely love, and then watching them just absorb it, and by absorbed by it, that is simply marvelous.

Handing over my Nook doesn’t quite have the same feel to it. It only contains my B&N stuff, not the rest of my ebooks on my iPad. And it duplicates everything–so it includes all the trashy romance novels, not just the book I want to give Galen to read.  I’m not sure who is going to be more embarrassed!

And, as someone on the list pointed out, it is much easier to lose your TBR list on an ereader than it is in the “flesh”.  A physical TBR pile has weight and heft–it piles up–sometimes literally.  My remaining “dead tree” TBR pile takes up three bookcases, plus the 200 or so books that were interfiled during the last move we made. And it continues to increase in my B&N wishlist, since that’s where I keep it.

But my ereader TBR list is even more invisible. The Locus Awards finalists were announced last week.  Connie Willis duology Blackout/All Clear was nominated Best Science Fiction Novel, and it was already moving up my TBR list after having been nominated for the Hugo last month. Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest book, Under Heaven, was nominated for Best Fantasy Novel, and it has been hiding on my Nook and then my iPad for over a year. I usually read him as soon as his stuff comes out, but the ebook was too easily buried compared to a physical object.

I’m discovering that the less obvious a TBR is, the more likely it is to wind up on a back burner. My library books get read first because they have the highest nuisance value. I do not mean that in any negative way, merely that there are so many built-in reminders. I keep them easily visible on the kitchen counter, so I don’t lose track of them. They have to be renewed, and I can only renew them so many times. If someone else wants them, I can’t renew them at all. Of course, any library books from here are going to have to be shipped back if I haven’t finished them before we move, and I’ll have to pay for shipping. Physical books that are on countertops are more in the way, and are more likely to get read next. Books in those TBR bookcases in the living room just cry out “read us first!”. The TBR bookcase in the Florida Room is “out of sight” and therefore, “out of mind”.  The TBRs that got interfiled have blended into the books I have already read.  Finding out there were over 200 of them was quite a shock.  The eTBRs are just a tiny part of my iPad. Compared to all the other books clamoring for my attention, they’re almost invisible.

So many books, so little time.

A visit to Murphyspace

Yesterday, the latest Sookie Stackhouse book by Charlaine Harris was released.  I wanted to read it.  So, of course, I bought it from B&N and tried to download it to by iPad into my Nook app.  No go.  Then I realized that the other two books I had purchased on Monday weren’t there either.  Uh Oh!  I tried downloading them again, and they wanted to open in any available app except Nook.  I thought, “Okay, fine,” and downloaded them into the Overdrive app.  Since Overdrive released a native iPad app, it’s a perfectly good ebook reader.  I regularly use it for epub titles I purchase from places that don’t have an app of their own. (I use Bluefire for PDFs)

Meanwhile, everything looked like it downloaded to Overdrive, but the book wouldn’t open.  And did I mention that I had reached insomnia point by the time I figured out that the book wasn’t actually there?  Also, my iPad suddenly decided it had no network.  Our house has two wireless networks, and I have 3G on the iPad.  If my iPad drops off the net, it’s seriously unwell.  But at post-midnight, I wasn’t going to look into it too deeply, especially since every time I left the bedroom to investigate, the cats all started thinking that I might be willing to play with them, or at least provide lap space.  But really, I was just getting more and more annoyed, and less and less sleepy.

Brilliance is generally in short supply at that hour of the night.  I just wanted to start my book!  I resorted to my trusty Nook.  Yes, the real thing.  It still had a charge after more than a week unplugged, and it found the 3G network just fine.  I downloaded Dead Reckoning and settled in for a couple of chapters.

But my misbehaving iPad was still a problem this morning.  At least it found a network in the morning.  Maybe it needed a night’s sleep more than I did, but that didn’t solve any of the problems with the Nook app.  I guessed that the iPad needed a serious update, probably something to do with Apple getting hinky about apps wanting to sell things without the iStore getting a cut, or a move in that direction.  And so the fun began.  It refused to update.  Four times.  The update kept losing the network, somewhere in the middle of the hour-plus download.  I discovered that not only does the watched pot never boil, neither does the watched update. I shut everything down except the upload and moved to my laptop. Then I left the house!  It finally updated while I was out.

For anyone thinking that print books don’t do this, print books also don’t let you decide to purchase the book at midnight, and keep downloading to alternate devices until one of them finally decides to play ball.  Midnight cravings for particular treats can’t be satisfied until the next day.  Whether they should be, well, your mileage may vary.

Murphy wasn’t done with me yet.  Late this morning I called the property management company about the house we were hoping to rent in Atlanta.  The owner is suddenly not so sure about renting to four cats.  Last week, when we were there and could keep looking, it was okay.  This week, he’s not so sure.  Unless we get a “yes” by tomorrow, we’re going back to Atlanta this weekend to find a house.  Second verse, same as the first.

Murphy is laughing at us.

Why I’m willing to pay for ebooks

Please don’t get me wrong, I like to get things for free as much as the next person.  But the word free has multiple meanings.  Free as in kittens, or free as in beer being two well-known examples.  Free kittens usually have long-term ancillary costs, such as food, vet bills, love, grief, scratched furniture, frayed electrical cords, aggravation, additional rent or security deposits, etc., etc., etc.  I am intimately familiar with this particular definition of “free”.  Free beer is free, unless you buy the next round.  But beer, well, someone gives you a beer, you drink it, it’s over.

Should ebooks be free because there are no costs to print, warehouse and transport them?  Ebooks don’t require a physical bookstore with rent and light bills and heating and A/C to sell them.  So they should be free, right?

What goes into the creation of a book?  Not the container, the content.  The book has to be written.  That’s a creative process on the part of the writer, or writers.  Whether the book is printed or electronic, the actual creation doesn’t change for the creator.  They have to invest time in that creation, whether it’s invention, research, or a combination of the two.  If the reading public desires more, the authors need to be compensated for their time, otherwise, they will have to find a different way to make a living.  There are people who write their first book, or first couple of books, in their spare time from a day job that pays the bills.  But they write a lot fewer books than folks whose full time job is writing.

There are other parts of the process that would still need to go on, even in an all ebook world.  Editing is importing!  Editing doesn’t have anything to do with whether a book is print or electronic, it has to do with making a book better.  Everyone who reads a popular authors’ work over time can tell exactly when that author stopped being edited.  The books get longer, and they are less “tight” and not quite as good.  I call it “describing the wallpaper”.

Crystal Dragon coverDragon Variation coverBooks sell better with covers.  Library books circulate better with covers.  Ebooks will probably sell better with good cover art.  A quote from science fiction editor Lou Anders in the January issue of Locus Magazine probably said it best. “I won’t buy a book with a crappy cover, and I am finding I won’t buy an e-book with one either.  E-books need to have compelling cover art…”   A picture really is worth a thousand words.  While there is a print edition, the print cover is used to sell the ebook.  When there is no print edition, the publisher has to create cover art.  Good cover art sells books.  Cover art is produced by artists, who are also creators who need to get paid for their work.

One of the things that has turned into a brave new world for everyone is promoting books, especially works by new authors.  How does anyone decide to spend money on someone they’ve never heard of?  It turns out that people are browsing “bricks and mortar” bookstores but buying ebooks.  We look, we touch, we click.  It turns out that Barnes and Noble had a really great idea when they allowed Nook users to browse the entire bn.com while they were inside a B&N store, just like you can sit and read any book on the shelf, as long as you don’t leave the store.  Sampling is good.

Books sell a lot by word of mouth.  I like a book, I tell everyone I know.  Blogs and lists and Facebook multiply that effect.  But how to get that ball rolling?  Different channels of promotion have been created.  Publishers need people to work those channels.  It’s an investment in keeping the company in business, so that it can, in turn, discover new writers, and promote them, which feeds my addiction to reading.

But I expect to pay less for an ebook than a hardcover, and so do most people.  Instinctually, the fact that there is no thing that I can hold, no physical piece that has to be toted and shipped and stacked and stocked, means that it should cost less than a hardback.  Also, I can re-sell or give a hardback (or paperback) away when I’m done.  An ebook still feels slightly ephemeral.  And Amazon or B&N can take it away without my consent if things go awry, and Amazon has done this in one famous case. (1984 anyone?)  When Michael Connelly’s latest best seller, The Fifth Witness, initially cost more on the Kindle than it did as a hardcover, Amazon users revolted by giving the book one star reviews and vowing to either wait or purchase it in hardcover elsewhere.  The Kindle price has since dropped below the hardcover price.

I’m willing to pay for the creative process.  I want more books that I want to read, and I expect to pay for that privilege.  One way of voting for which books I want to read more of is with money.  But not an unreasonable amount of money.  If I buy an ebook, I’m not willing to pay for the storage costs of the print book, since I didn’t purchase that and I’m not getting the benefits that go with buying a physical item.

Free ebooks make great teasers.  The freebies exist as introductions to new authors, or series.  They are designed to get me hooked, so that I will then purchase more books by the same author.  It is supposed to be a win-win.  If I don’t like the book, I’ve lost nothing but a little time.  If I like it, I’ll buy more, and the author and publisher win.  But I am willing to pay.