Paperbacks are like feet – even people who haven’t read a novel since high school love to fetishise them.
I love paperbacks for all the reasons you’ve heard argued and likely agree with. I love the smell of a print book. I love the tactile feel of the coarse paper against my fingertips and being able to turn pages. I love leaning out the kitchen window and throwing a chunky paperback at the kid who’s been stealing my newspaper. I love that a tree had to die to make a print book (at times, depending on my current sentiments towards trees and how many I’ve crashed into on my drive home).
In the time it’ll take you to read this paragraph, 20,000 people worldwide will repost a meme they found on some Facebook literary group that exalts the virtue of paperbacks over ebooks – a meme that can only be viewed on a device more damaging to the eye than a Kindle or Nook. And I’ll be among those sharing this image.
But here’s the thing: I also love ebooks.
I love being able to read a book on my PC, with both hands free to shovel greasy snacks into my food-hole without damaging a print book. I love being able to buy a self-published story for the fraction of a paperback’s cost and knowing that almost every cent’s going to the author. I love that I can give these unknown authors a chance without blowing more than five bucks on a story I mightn’t enjoy. I love that I can
copy/paste text from another author’s ebook and disguise it as my own writing… Ho ho ho, delightfully devilish, Jesse download an ebook instantly instead of waiting two weeks (or longer) for a novel to ship from the US to Australia.
I’m no best-seller, so don’t take my word as gospel, but the majority of publishing advice I’ve read suggests that ebooks have begun outselling paperbacks and that all the most successful indies have made their fortune through digital sales. Another recurring snippet of advice I see is that a successful launch is integral to building your platform, and that ebooks are integral to a successful launch.
So it’s baffling how many new books I see that are only released in e-format months after launch, if at all.
We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to entertainment nowadays, with Netflix and iTunes and Steam and all those other services that deliver media faster than pizza. Speaking purely as a reader, if you put too many barricades between me and your art, I’ll go consume someone else’s art instead. And I’m not just talking about picking a YouTube-binge over reading a book. I’m saying I’ll read someone else’s book instead, provided it’s accessible (this includes cherished print books I already own and have read several times).
Still, if you’d ask me whether I prefer ebooks or paperbacks, I’d say paperbacks. If I’m really lusting over a book from a favourite writer, I’ll get it in paper and keep it on my bookshelf forever. Same goes for DVDs of shows I love. I don’t mind paying extra and waiting on the postman for the pleasure of owning a physical copy of something. But as an obscure, self-published author, you might be overestimating just how eager random strangers across the world are to read your work and how many hurdles they’ll jump over before their attention flickers to something else.
In closing: “If you can’t beat them, join them… for now.” If you’re that dismayed about literature being reduced to the soulless husk that is digital media, or that newer generations seem to be choosing television/gaming over reading, then give them your fiction in a format they’re used to devouring. Once you’ve built a fanbase, give them a fistful of pulp and ink.
Until books start coming out in “shark format”, I can safely say that options never hurt anyone.