Novelty is always welcome but talking pictures are just a fad – Irving Thalberg
The Kindle was launched on 19 November 2007. It wasn’t the biggest hit at first. In its first four months it only sold a paltry 100,000 copies and I wonder if Amazon thought it was going to die a death like the laserdisc. E-book readers had been tried before – Carrie bought me a Rocket eBook in 1998 (it, along with the SoftBook were the first handheld e-book readers available) and although I liked the product very much it never set the world on fire. Things are very different now. By January 2011 there were 12 million Kindles in homes and the conservative estimate for the end of this year is that that figure will grow to 22 million and to 35 million, again a conservative estimate, by December 2012 assuming the world hasn’t ended by then. And that’s just the Kindle. According to the research firm IDC the Nook is now outselling the Kindle. “IDC forecasts the worldwide eReader market to ship 16.2 million units in 2011, a 24% increase over 2010.”
Of course that’s just dedicated e-readers and all you have to do is look at the list in Wikipedia to see that there is plenty of competition out there with the Sony Reader, the BeBook Neo and the Kobo eReader Touch to name just three. Fashion is a fickle thing though and technology moves at a ferocious pace. How many mobile phones have you been through since, say, 1983 which is when the first 1G network launched in the USA (make that 1981 if you’re Scandinavian or 1979 if you happened to live in Tokyo)? I hardly ever use my mobile phone. If I spend £10 in a year on calls that’s a lot because basically I only call two people, my wife and my daughter, and somehow I am on my fourth phone! Okay, I lost the first one but you see what I mean. Of course my daughter gets a new phone every year. And many of those phones double as e-readers anyway.
Personally if someone were to point me in the direction of a software upgrade for my Rocket eBook I’d be happy to keep using that. Carrie gifted me the Kindle but I was in no rush. I’m still stinging after buying a Betamax video recorder in 1982. I would have been happy to wait until we see what format comes out on top. Besides I prefer the Rocket’s shape, the backlight and the stylus and I don’t see that the text is any more readable on the Kindle. I would have expected the technology to have improved far more than it appears to have since 1998 but I don’t really care.
I’ve seen a number of major changes in technology in my life. Music is the best example. When I was a kid it was LPs and singles until, in the sixties, the audio cassette arrived and look how long it lasted – about forty years – before being superseded by CDs which, for all intents and purposes, were defunct within thirty years although I expect it’ll be a while before they vanish completely. Maybe once my daughter’s generation is done everything will be downloaded. Who knows? I’ll be dead and buried by then.
For the moment though e-books are something people want to play with and I suspect they will stay flavour of the month for a while. People are confessing to buying their first Kindles daily online and reporting back when they’ve read their first books – “Look at me! Look what I done.” And I am one of them. I’ve bought and paid for a couple of e-books and even read one of them. Mostly I’ve used the thing to read stuff I would normally read on my laptop. I proofread my last book using the Kindle. I didn’t make the corrections on the thing itself – sod that for a game of soldiers (the interface will have to improve considerably before I’d even think about that) – but I did use it as a way of making the text look new to my eye and caught a lot of things I’d missed on the computer.
I’m not going to tell you which e-book reader is the best. There are plenty of sites out there presenting the pros and cons. I suspect most people will not want to spend too much for their first one and so will veer toward the cheaper options. My daughter decided to go for a tablet PC which has an e-book reader programme on it and if I was to put a bet on it I think that this format will win out over a plain ol’ reader. Who buys a mobile phone that just makes phone calls these days? Does anyone even manufacture such a beast? Personally I’d be perfectly happy with that. I’ve only texted a handful of times in my life anyway.
That’s not the reason for this post. I’ve said as much as I have to say about the pros and cons of e-book readers apart from this: if you have bought one and are looking for something to read on it and are generally bowled over by the ridiculous choice available – as of July 4, 2011, there were more than 765,000 books available for download and the last I read that was up to 950,000 – let me draw your attention to three more releases.
My first two novels, Living with the Truth and Stranger than Fiction are now available in all the popular formats. In addition an omnibus edition, The Whole Truth, is obtainable combining both books. The prices are as follows:
- Living with the Truth – 99¢ (for a limited period)
- Stranger than Fiction – $1.99
- The Whole Truth – $2.99
So, yes, for the moment you can save a whole 1¢ by buying the two books separately but, obviously, when the price for the first book goes up to $1.99 The Whole Truth will be a real bargain. Or you might want to read the rest of the article first.
There is a lot of debate at the moment about how much e-books should cost and what some people are griping about is the fact that there is often little or no difference between the cost of a paperback and the cost of an e-book. I have even seen cases where the e-book was dearer than the paperback and I don’t care how anyone does their sums, that does not make sense to me. On the other hand there are a number of authors who are selling all their books for 99¢ or even giving them away (if only for a limited time) and why would anyone pay £7.99 for a book when there are loads of books out there free and for gratis?
To my mind it all boils down to quality and what the market will bear. If you shop in Poundland (which I do) you can pick up real bargains as well as a load of crap. At the moment, every time I’m there (which is not so often you have to understand) I come away with four boxes (120g) of Maltesers at a pound a piece. In Tesco I’d pay £1.50 for the selfsame product and why would I fork out another two quid for my teatime treats if I don’t have to? You’re not telling me that Poundland isn’t making a profit on those boxes. So, they’re happy, my tummy is happy and who cares what my waistline thinks? Tesco does do a 360g box for £4.00 but, again, why would I bother when I can get 480g for my money in Poundland? And there is no difference. The products are all in date. Only an idiot (or a rich bugger) would buy their Maltesers from Tesco. (Shocking Amazon are charging £2.49 for the 120g box!)
I thought long and hard about what to charge. I’ve never been greedy. All you have to do is look at the prices I charge for the hardcopies to see that (£5.99 including postage in the UK and £7.99 to the States) and I could say, to hell with it, let’s just get as many readers as I can and see if I can develop a bit of a fan base so that when the next books come out (I have another three novels, at least one collection of short stories and the poetry book) I might reap the profits later. There are too many conflicting schools of thought out there to know for sure what will work. Some are putting their prices up and down like yoyos trying to see what the optimum prices are and I may do that. My basic logic is that the prices I’m asking should be a fair price. If I went into a shop and there was a sale on I never thought twice about buying a cassette tape or a book for a couple of quid, £2.99 was okay too but once they started asking £3.99 or more then I began to scrutinise the product and swither. I have a tape of Vaughan Williams’ Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9 that I bought in Stranraer about twenty years ago and I remember how long it took me to decide to buy it because I wasn’t flush and I think it was £2.99.
So, why am I not selling the omnibus for £2.99? If people didn’t have the whole world to choose from I would because so often things that sell for $2.99 in the States retail for £2.99 over here and there is no reason why they should other than the fact that is what the market will bear. Besides, like I said, I’m not greedy. I want to be read but I also want to be appreciated. There is an old argument about appreciation, that people don’t value things that are given to them and I believe that. If you’ve worked for something then you have a whole different perspective on the item. If it’s cost you, whether in time and energy or simply in funds, then you might not be as inclined to put it aside and never look at it or give it away to a charity shop some years down the line.
On BBC radio [on 16th August] the chief executive of Harper Collins UK said she believed e-books would go from 14% of their book sales to 50% within three years. She also said that whereas the e-book would become the paperback of the future, she believed the hardback would see a revival and become the sought after, special item, bought as present or treat, and likely to increase in price. Who knows? I don’t. I’m miffed though that in the UK the government has decided to add VAT to the price of e-books (which is probably why some e-books are dearer than their paper counterparts) because love them or loathe them e-books are the necessary future and this is something we have to embrace no matter how much that goes against what we would prefer. Trees are finite, digits go on forever and ever.
If you’re new here and know nothing about my books let me give you a brief summary. The rest of you can skip to the extra special offer at the end.
Living with the Truth
Jonathan Payne is a jaded bookseller at the end of a wasted life which has been spent in a dull north England seaside town. He could be an everyman, but seems to have missed the boat somewhere. He's both distastefully pathetic and oddly sympathetic. A passive character, he has been happy to read about life without experiencing either great joy or great despair. If Death were to knock on his door it wouldn’t trouble him greatly.
The knock comes. Only it’s not Death. It’s the truth. Literally. The human personification of truth.
Truth proves to be a likeable, if infuriating, character with a novel mode of expression: “glib dipped in eloquence and then rolled in a coating of irony,” to quote one reviewer. He knows everything and has no qualms revealing intimate details of lives of the people who cross his path while he’s with Jonathan. He’s quite indiscriminate. The same reviewer described him as “one of the most endearing antagonists I have come across.” Comparisons with Peter Cook’s devil in Bedazzled are not unreasonable.
Jonathan learns what he's missed out on in life, what other people think and the true nature of the universe which is nothing like he would have expected it to be. At the end, having learned far more than he ever wanted to know, he finds out that it's usually never too late to start again. Only sometimes it is: no Ebenezer Scrooge or George Bailey-esque turnaround for poor Jonathan.
The author Kay Sexton had this to say:
“In all, this is one of those novels that bookshops must hate: not hard enough to be spec fic, not weird enough to be fantasy, too realistic for the humour section and yet too humorous to shelve easily with the lit fic. And that, I suspect is going to prove to be its charm; for those who do read it, it's a singular take on the world, and it will either resonate with you or leave you cold. … But I can recommend that you try it—if you like distinctive fiction that rings no bells and blows no whistles but creeps up on you with its absurdities, this book will satisfy you, as it did me.”
Stranger than Fiction
Living with the Truth was set in the drab reality that is Jonathan Payne’s life, its sequel is set in the drab reality that is Jonathan’s afterlife. He awakes to find himself inside a landscape entirely generated by his own memories of his past life which means it looks pretty much identical to the seaside town in which he spent his entire and mostly uneventful life.
Whereas in the first book Truth could only confront Jonathan with people who were alive at the time Truth can now raise the bar and put Jonathan through a whole other level of embarrassment and misery including meeting his battleaxe of a mother and being forced to attend a conference made up of versions of him from all the other alternate realities. All to a good end of course.
It’s hard to describe this book without revealing much away. Suffice to say the universe has ended. And apparently, not for the first time. When Jonathan was alive he got to spend his final two days in the company of Truth—not he gets to meet some of the others, a group known as The Dunameon, with whom God is seriously ticked off because they keep running his creations into the ground.
As in the first book Jonathan is taken to some dark places but no matter how dark things get Truth is always there to make light of them. Like its predecessor (no pun intended), the book is shot through with wry humour and off-hand allusions to all manner of people from Kafka to Einstein via Frankie Howard.
Very much like Living with the Truth this is a hard book to categorise. As the author Guy Fraser-Sampson said at the end of his review:
Here’s the link to the Smashwords page and as a special rewards to my loyal readers for getting to the bottom of this page if you enter coupon code SJ39T (not case sensitive) on the Smashwords site you can order The Whole Truth for $1.99. This offer lasts for one week only.
I also have a new and improved (actually new and simplified) website here where you can read excerpts from the books and a whole whean of reviews.
 ‘Media Tablet Sales Lag Optimistic First Quarter Targets, But Forecast Remains Strong, According to IDC’, Business Wire, July 8 2011