I went into a Barnes & Noble this evening and spotted stacks of Nook eReader pamphlets at the information desk and near the registers. I picked one up and an employee was all too eager to tell me more about it. There’s just one problem: the Nook is already sold out through the end of the year.
Not too bad for a product that, by some accounts, should be dead before it even launched.
I should probably qualify that statement. The people I run into who claim the e-book “fad” won’t last are all bibliophiles. They don’t just read books, they collect them. I will readily admit that I’m as much a collector — or at least an accumulator — of bits of dead trees stamped with ink and glued/sewn together myself, so I don’t fault them for it. However, it doesn’t take a big brain to figure out e-books are here to stay.
Amazon and Barnes & Noble are playing their cards close to the vest, so it’s tough to say how many units they’ve actually sold. However, with every major publisher and many smaller presses on the bandwagon, it’s tough to believe they aren’t doing well. Keep in mind, the Nook not only sold out before the holidays, but it sold out in pre-order. They have yet to get a physical unit into anyone’s hands, including reviewers’, and they’ve still sold every unit scheduled to ship out of the factory. That’s the kind of scenario every business dreams of.
The bibliophiles may dismiss electronic books, and the e-readers may have their shortcomings for the moment, but it amazes me the variety of demographic I’ve seen for these things. Technophiles are among the first in line, of course, but I’ve also seen some other writers and book lovers toting them around. I know of schools buying units for classrooms, including elementary grades. There are colleges putting them in the hands of incoming students. At work, we’ve got a retired teacher who can’t say enough about her Kindle, and she can barely negotiate her way around the Windows desktop. She subbed in our junior high building one day and had all of the other teachers drooling over her shiny white e-reader in its little leather folder. My wife and my mom both tear through novels and could care less what happens to the actual books after they read them. They’re both waiting to see if and how Amazon responds to the Nook’s color LCD, and they’ll both most likely own one or the other sometime next year.
E-books are a win-win for voracious readers. They can carry most of their library with them, and they get instant gratification when searching for a title. If they get 100 pages into a book and decide it’s garbage, with just a couple of clicks they’re reading a different book, even if they’re sitting in the park or riding on a bus or train. I hear the bibliophiles complain about battery life issues, but I have yet to hear a Kindle owner offer up any real complaints about it beyond “Eh, I’ll plug it in when I get home.”
From a writer’s perspective, why ignore them? I’ve talked to a couple of guys now who could care less if their books are on the Kindle because they think e-books won’t last (see bibliophiles above). Okay, let’s say Amazon sold 50,000 units. I have no idea how close or far from reality that is, but it’s a nice, round number. That’s 50,000 people who are going to visit a dedicated store that will be stocking your book. You don’t have to sweat which chains are in their neighborhood and whether or not their local store is stocking your book. You don’t have to worry about whether or not they shop at a local indie store that may or may not have ever heard of your or have shelf space for your book.
Yes, you still have to make these 50,000 people aware of your book, but isn’t that better than having to make them aware of the book and having to make an effort to get it stocked? What makes the book more likely for them to stumble upon: Amazon’s Recommended, Also Bought, and Also Browsed links and thumbnails, or your book sitting spine-out among a sea of other spine-out books? Even if only 1% of those 50,000 people read the kind of material you produce, you’ve just made your book easier to find with zero effort.
Sure, it’s still supplemental at this point, and I realize the overwhelming majority of readers are still purchasing dead trees. The Barnes & Noble was packed tonight, and obviously they weren’t buying Nooks and e-books. That’s why The Pack: Winter Kill will have both a Kindle Edition and the imminent trade paperback edition. It’s not smart to ignore the e-book market, but it’s suicidal to ignore the dead tree markets.
Will that hold true in five years, though? Or ten? When they get the technology behind a vibrant color display with the same battery life as the existing grayscale displays and the costs start coming down, I imagine a lot of trees will be breathing a deep sigh of relief.
Hmm… I wonder if the Sierra Club has made that connection yet?