Since I bought my iPad a year ago, I’ve been steadily filling it with ebooks, especially when I find $0-5 sales. (Thank you, Webscriptions and Weightless Books.) For a while, I still preferred paper copies, especially for single-use books, because I could then swap them on BookMooch or PaperBackSwap, where I trade for out-of-print goodies, or at the local paperback exchange.
However, I’ve finally hit the point where I’d rather have everything digital. I was cleaning out the bookshelves for the umpteenth time, making room for all the random piles that had taken over my study, and I said, “Fuck it.” I’m tired of shelving these things, carrying them around, having to stop reading in the car when it gets dark, making room for more shelves in my house. I’m ready to switch my entire library. Hell, if I didn’t have to deal with all these dead trees, I could almost live in one of these. When the new iPad came out, I thought about upgrading — smaller! faster! with a nifty cover! — but decided to put the money toward replacing my books with ebooks instead.
I started calculating what it would cost to buy my in-print stuff over again as ebooks. The total is pretty appalling, even more so when I noticed how many series books were only partially available in e formats. I can see exactly when ebook rights got added to contracts! (Between The Young Widow and Village Affairs, for example.) It’s frustrating to see that I’ll be stuck with half-paper, half-ebook even within a single series. On the other hand, if I sold some of my more valuable first editions, I could probably come out even.
And then there are all the OOP books, and the in-print books from authors who are never going to sign ebook contracts (like Patrick O’Brian, who isn’t around to do so, and J.K. Rowling, who just won’t). In some of these cases, there are illicit ways of getting around the problem. (Ahem.) For the rest, I’m sorely tempted to spend a weekend putting together a book scanner.
The ebooks come with their own challenges. None of the readers have great methods of organizing them — who the hell wants to list a series alphabetically rather than reading order?! — but someone will figure that out sooner or later. Borrowing some features from Delicious Library would be a good start. Many of the books have minor formatting issues, some of which I can fix with Sigil once I get them converted to EPUB from whatever goofy format they come in. For conversion, Calibre is a lifesaver. There’s a suite of plugins for it that will remove DRM from almost any format, which is fabulous, because I was getting irritated at having to remember which app held the book I was looking for. DRM, stripped; book collection, consolidated. Ugly covers, removed or replaced.
Then there are the issues with the big ebook stores.
Amazon’s Kindle store has the widest selection, but I’m not as fond of the Kindle app as I am of iBooks, and it’s just a little more challenging to get Kindle books obtained from other sources (like the Shadow Unit bootleg) into the app.
With iBooks, it’s much easier to transfer any book into the app — you just drag it into iTunes — but the iBook store is terrible. It doesn’t have the selection Amazon does. It doesn’t list preorders very far in advance, which drives me insane — I’d much rather order something as soon as I find out about it, rather than having to remember to come back for it later. Worse, it doesn’t have a web interface! Again, this prevents me from buying the book as soon as I hear about it — usually online, at my desktop, not while I’m using the iPad.
But the biggest problem is that iBooks doesn’t have a mechanism for me to report problems with the books I’ve purchased. A couple of the samples I downloaded — Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me and Laura Bickle’s Embers — were absolutely riddled with typos and OCR errors, just in those 20-30 pages. There’s no way for me to tell Apple, “Hey, I’d buy this book if someone could please fix the errors,” or even to report problems after I’ve bought the thing. On Amazon’s Kindle pages, there’s a link to report problems, and when I reported Bet Me, I got a cleaned-up copy the next day.
And of course, books from both stores come DRMed to hell and back, but I can get around that.
Despite all the glitches, I’ve decided that digital is better. My iPad is tiny and can hold something like 32,000 ebooks; my house is… a lot bigger, and can hold nothing of the kind. I can’t imagine anything more delightful than traveling with my entire library in my bag.
(Expanded from a comment on Nicola Griffith’s ebook pricing post.)