E-Book vs Hardcopy

For all the talk about e-books taking over the world, I can’t help but notice what I consider a serious swing in the other direction. When I was lining up beta readers for The Human Template, I gave most of the local readers a choice between electronic or hardcopy versions of the novel.  Only one of the thirteen people asked for an electronic copy. He turned out to be the only one of the beta readers who didn’t actually follow through and read the book.

I will say that a number of people since that time have asked to read it and half of the people who received hardcopies still haven’t finished it. But the scales still definitely tip towards the hardcopy side.

A good number of the people who read the hardcopy gave it back when they were done, which is quite understandable given the fact that many of them are condo dwellers with very little space to store things like books. Even as a bit of a book collector, I make a point of thinning out my shelves on a regular basis, keeping only those books that made a significant impression (or in my case, books that were written and signed by friends).

I myself really dislike reading longer works on an electronic device. Long e-mails, essays and short stories are one thing. If I can finish something in one or at most two sittings, I prefer electronic. But if it’s a book that I need to revisit frequently over a week or a month, that’s a whole different story. Gimme the hardcopy and a bookmark.

Changing the Parameters

I came up with the following, forgive the SlapWow-like pitch

Do you believe in recycling? Do you love books but have nowhere to store them?  Or do you love books but hate the clutter? Do you prefer reading books to reading from a screen?

If you buy a copy of one of my fiction books and don’t want to store it once you’re done – send it back to me and I will pay postage plus a couple dollars as long as your copy is in good condition -  then I will sell it at a discount to a new reader.

Sure, you pay for shipping. But you get to read a great book in the format you like best and then not be responsible for having to recycle it!

Please note, this is a theoretical rather than an actual offer at the moment...but I think it's essentially a good idea.

Could be a goldmine compared to the old days, where authors made nothing on copies sold at used bookstores. Logistically, if this starts to work, we could send each book out with a return envelope and a collectible bookmark. People could start bookmark collections to keep track of the books they’ve read. If you wanted to, you could keep the whole book – there’s no obligation to send it back. Each copy could have a sort of library card page saying “this book has been passed along by…followed by spaces for half a dozen names.

It’s just an idea at this point, but if enough authors (especially self-published authors) did it – I could see it becoming normal or even expected to resell books. So the authors get maximum life and maximum profit from each book…and readers get the hardcopies they prefer at a lower cost.  If you throw it out when you’re done, it’s no big deal – especially if you’re the 2nd-4th reader of that copy.


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