Do Ebooks, Legal or Not, Make You Buy Real Books?

Popular author Stephenie Meyer put her eagerly-anticipated vampire genre sequel Twilight Sun on indefinite hold after copies of her rough draft showed up on BitTorrent sites. The (obviously somewhat biased) TorrentFreak takes authors to task for not using online leaks as a promotional tool, but I have to ask: Would having access to a digital copy of a nearly-complete book inspire you to purchase the ink-and-paper version? Would having an advanced ebook reader, like the increasingly popular Kindle, change your answer? Let’s hear both sides in the comments.


  • Yeah they do. Until E-books are coupled with decent reader applications (especially on the iPhone / iPod Touch!) I’ll continue to pirate ebooks and buy the ones I start to enjoy…

  • The series (and the first novel) is called Twilight, the new book is going to be called Midnight Sun.

    If you have a look at her website here: you can see she still plans to write the book and have it published, though her thoughts have somewhat changed with regards to how to treat it. She uploaded the leaked portion to her website, and has since uploaded the first chapter of her work in process. It seems to me after her initial disbelief and anger perhaps she’s embracing the digital revolution, and seeing the potential to get free research directly from her fanbase before the book hits stores.

    Meyer’s issue was with the fact it was published before its time, before it had been finished, let alone polished in editing. I’ve seen this happen with other things, unfinished videoclips and leaked parts of songs turn up all over the place. We’ve moved from a time of only a select few ‘in the know’ being able to access these pre-release items, to anyone who might be involved in the production process (as good as) anonymously spreading it to anyone with a computer.

    How does this affect book sales? Truthfully, I have not bought a copy of the first three of the four books in the Meyer series. I read them as .lit files. But I did that for convenience, I would have just as likely borrowed them from a friend. I did borrow the fourth one from a friend, managed to spill something on it, and bought her a new copy. Even having my own hard copy, I still read the .lit files for convenience. I could take it with me anywhere and listen to it read itself when I couldn’t sit in front of the computer, or didn’t feel like doing so. I was pleasantly surprised to find it my favourite of the series, and probably the only one I would have invested money in (without being obliged to by my own clumsiness).

    Where does this leave book sales in the future? I think die hard fans of an author or series (or genre, or publisher) will continue to buy hard copies of books, it’s been tried before without success to find something that defeats holding paper and ink in your own hands. It will be a long time before something like Kindle catches on and has a substantial amount of the book-reading population using it. The success of bookshop chains like Borders which people come back to because of the pleasant atmosphere proves this. My boyfriend points out to me the other side – there will always be the tech-addicted who will want to own all their hard copy books in ebook/audio digital format. I think ebooks provide a great way to sample things, and personally I will always buy a book that I think deserves my money and my full attention. Perhaps this will force the publishing industry to rethink some things, and not assume that people will buy the next big-named author’s book because they have the opportunity to sample some of it online. However, anything with the name Stephen King, Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer will still fly off shelves as things are today, whatever is between the covers.

  • Lessee – I’ve read pirated ebooks, legit ebooks of real novels (released under cc) and every variation therewith. I’ve also bought a lot of books.

    Generally I’ll read pirated ebooks to ascertain if a book is worth buying – and if it is I’ll generally order it in and buy a dead trees copy.

    Living in Australia as I do where the local distribution channels are poor and we often pay three times the price and need to wait for weeks to get a copy of anything not on the best seller list, the try before you buy element works for me. If a book contains enough heft to annoy me reading it off screen I’ll seek it out on principle. If it doesn’t contain compelling enough material then meh.

    There are good importers locally, but they tend to be botique places that can’t stock enough to have what you might want unless a serendipitous coincidence happens to put the book in the shop at the time i’m looking for it.

    I think… in my case at least… this works for publishers. I bought the complete 6 volume penguin classics proust based on a pirate etext of the first volume, and recently purchased another copy for a friend in the states. In order to get two complete copies though I had to order from three countries, and wait in some cases for months for a book to arrive.

    E-texts are doing to the publishing industry what mp3 has done to the recording industry. You can’t stop people copying stuff in a digital world. If you leverage that to produce sales however you can’t go wrong.

    Throwing a hissy fit because someone has copied your work and you haven’t made a sale is insane. The royalties on a single volume are infinitesimal. It would cost more per head to advertise your work than you lose per head for lost royalties on a digital copy. Seems best to swallow your indigence and view pirate versions of your work as free advertising. But that’s just my view… and I may be a more principled buyer than some.

    I may well be more biased too – having read “down and out in the magic kingdom” by Cory Doctrow (which was released free via cc license as an etext), I felt compelled to pay to go see the fellow speak when he was in town. It was well worth the price of entry – the main thing I took out of it was; any business model based around restricting copying of material in a digital age is defective by design.

    Authors don’t need publishers to print books – they get more of a cut if they print them themselves. They need publishers to push their books out to as many people as possible. The publishers now are the problem – they need to get on board and make e-texts compelling as a product.

    It makes no sense to me that ebooks, which contain no dead trees and negligible distribution costs (and as a former web designer and print publisher I know the numbers) to be as expensive as paper books. There will always be a market for paper – and there is a market for etexts. Etexts are intrinsically worth less. It costs maybe ten bucks to print a book from a pdf, which is half the shelf price to buy it. So the etext is worth half – as it would cost a LOT to print at home, or needs to be offset against an expensive reader, or professionally printed at reasonable cost.

    If publishers would make the pricing compelling we’d buy them. For botique (like university press) volumes we’d buy them much more. Short run botique prints can run into the hundreds of dollars – they hardly reach their audience at all due to this pricing. MOST of the cost is in distribution, short run printing, and promotion.

    A friend recently published a botique university publication which ran at a cost of maybe 70c a page, with an extremely small run. Your average pulp novel costs maybe 3c a page. 20 times the cost and probably 1/20th of the potential audience. If the publisher had been open to distribution as an ebook methinks that short run would have the potential to make a larger impact, larger profit, and benefit the author a lot more.

    But i digress… it’s become a rant… oh well …

    That’s my two cents anyways 😛

  • I read my ebooks on my Sony Ericsson P1i mobile phone using MobiPocket Reader, which comes with a very good PC based conversion software.

    So if I get my hands on an ebook, legit or otherwise, I don’t buy the paper book. Well, not always. I read the last of the Potter series before the book was available in stores thanks to BitTorrent but I did go and buy the paper based book later.

    Authors & publishers have to make intelligent use of the new medium. Paper based books are so 1990ish. If I can get an ebook at a good price, I will prefer that!

  • I like real books, because they are good on a train. However, I have a shelf full of PC books I have purchased over the years (you know the 600 pages everything to everyone books), but find I spend more time these days in the few e-books I have downloaded because I can search through them. If more books came with a companion, searchable version, I would be more likely to go back to purchasing rather than downloading.

    I think the PC press industry also needs to address the pricing of some of their titles – prices of $150+ for some books is really just an invitation to download it. If the titles were more around $50, then more people would but as opposed to downloading.

  • As an example of the possible positive effects of ebook availability, I stumbled onto Laurell Hamilton a good year or so before she really took off over here due to ebooks I had pirated. Since then i’ve bought every book available, and shared them with others who have done the same (and that is a -significant- number of books), despite the fact that I read the first 9 on ebooks.

    To silence possible critics too, I didn’t start buying them because I ran out of ebook versions 😉 I bought them because I love books, I loved -her- books, and I do continue to download pirate versions of each of her books, despite buying them as well. Wouldn’t want to break up a collection.

  • I usually end up buying the book, then downloading the ebook. I would love it if the books I buy came with a PDF (or similar) companion, but for now usually the only way to get that is by torrent.

  • Well I bought an ebook once…it was the sequel to the first part of a series of novels which I enjoyed immensely.

    I could not make it past the prologue of the ebook (for which I borrowed my friend’s e-reader). Sun glare (I tried to read it outside!), watering eyes, having to ‘scroll’, losing my place while reading after a distraction (you can’t exactly put your finger on the screen!) all contributed to making it a VERY POOR experience.

    Thankfully I didn’t lose faith in the book itself and went and bought the physical version. The book turned out to be a real page turner which I read in 3 days.

    The ebook was cheaper than the physical…so to me this is obviously a case of ‘You get what you pay for’.

    So I guess this means that ebooks, by being so grossly awful, makes me buy real books.

    The point is, I don’t think reading an ebook (not in my circumstances anyway) can assist in helping you decide whether to buy the real book, since they are completely different experiences.

    Each to their own I guess.

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