E is for E-books

On the fifth day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge I considered blogging about the dreaded editing process that strikes fear in the heart of the writer. (There should be sound effects here. Think “dadadadah dadadadahhhhh” from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.)

However, I am so far from being an expert on editing that I concluded that I shouldn’t attempt to write about the process. That left me scrambling for another “E” word to blog about today.

As I bounced around on the internet looking for inspiration, I happened upon an interesting article about E-BOOKS. Written in 1998, this serious article comes across as humorous to the 2017 reader. If you don’t think the world of publishing has changed in 20 years, I direct your attention to “Electronic Books – A Bad Idea,” by Jakob Nielsen as published on July 26, 1998, on https://www.nngroup.com/articles/electronic-books-a-bad-idea/.

The title of the article alone gives the 2017 reader a chuckle. Before I start throwing rocks at this 1998 article, though, I thought I should do a little research on its author, Jakob Nielsen. The name meant nothing to me, since I’m not a computer nerd.

Who is Jakob Nielsen?

Jakob Nielsen is a Danish web usability consultant born in 1957. He holds a Ph.D. in human-computer interaction from the Technical University of Denmark in Copenhagen. I don’t even understand what that means except that Dr. Nielsen is far better qualified to write about electronic books than I will ever be. In 1998, I’m not sure I’d ever heard of electronic books.

According to https://www.nngroup.com/people/jakob-nielsen/, Dr. Nielsen is a principal of the Nielsen Norman Group. He co-founded the organization with Dr. Donald A. Norman, a former Vice President of Research at Apple Computer. His biographical information on the Nielsen Norman Group website states that Dr. Nielsen “holds 79 United States patents, mainly on ways of making the Internet easier to use.”

Dr. Nielsen’s accomplishments are far too numerous for me to include here. Suffice it to say, he knows what he’s talking about and he was a respected authority in 1998 as well. I cite his 1998 article today merely to illustrate how far we’ve come in the last two decades.

His article talks about his hope that “The Last Book” Project at the MIT Media Lab would produce a computer on which the reader could flip pages like one does when reading a printed book. Dr. Nielsen argued that “digital ink” needed to be invented that would give higher resolution, and hence, “gain the same reading speed as print.”

Dr. Nielsen stated the following two paragraphs in his 1998 article:

“Even when e-books gain the same reading speed as print, they will still be a bad idea. Electronic text should not mimic the old medium and its linear ways. Page turning remains a bad interface, even when it can be done more conveniently than by clicking the mouse on a ‘next page’ button. It is an insufficient goal to make computerized text as fast as print: we need to improve on the past, not simply match it.

”The basic problem is that the book is too strong a metaphor: it tends to lead designers and writers astray. Electronic text should be based on interaction, hypertext linking, navigation, search, and connections to online services and continuous updates. These new-media capabilities allow for much more powerful user experiences than a linear flow of text. Linear text may have ruled the world since the Egyptians learned to produce arbitrarily long scrolls of papyrus, but it’s time to end this tradition. Nobody has time to read long reports any more: information must be dynamic and under direct control of the reader, not the author.”

1993 Floppy Disks

An article on the BBC website (http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160124-are-paper-books-really-disappearing) gives a more up-to-date look at the state of the e-book. “Are Paper Books Really Disappearing?” was written by Rachel Nuwer for the BBC in January, 2016. Ms. Nuwer wrote in her article:

“When Peter James published his novel Host on two floppy disks in 1993, he was ill-prepared for the ‘venomous backlash’ that would follow. Journalists and fellow writers berated and condemned him; one reporter even dragged a PC and a generator out to the beach to demonstrate the ridiculousness of this new form of reading.”

Jump forward to 2017

We’re still debating in the public arena the fate of printed books. In the 1990s, Peter James predicted that electronic books would someday threaten print books with extinction. He was probably laughed at for saying that; however, that very issue is up for much debate today.

Print versus e-books

People seem to fall into two camps. There are people who have dug in their heels and refuse to read an e-book. At the other end of the spectrum are people who only read e-books. If they can’t get an electronic copy, they simply don’t read the book. I fall somewhere in the middle.

I like the ease of holding my Kindle Fire in my hand and having immediate access to hundreds of books. (If money were no object, I would have immediate access to thousands or possibly millions of books. That’s not my reality, though.)

I like being able to borrow e-books from the public library and change the font to better suit my aging eyes.

I like being able to pause when I come to a word I don’t know, highlight it with my finger, and instantaneously pull up the word’s definition. In fact, I have used that feature so much that occasionally while reading a print book I catch myself holding my finger on an unknown word and waiting for the definition to magically appear!

I also like the feel of a printed book. The smell of a new book. The clean, crisp pages of a new book.

I like the pliability of a well-worn old book – for instance, an old family Bible. I like the feel of my great-grandmother’s tiny leather-bound Psalter. I like holding a book in my hands that an ancestor held in her hands 150 years ago.


I like holding a cookbook that my mother hand wrote. There’s something comforting in reading her favorite recipes written in her own handwriting. As her death in 1993 becomes more distant, this book that she wrote just for me becomes more and more valuable to me. An electronic copy of my mother’s favorite recipes would also be valued, but it wouldn’t have the same effect on me as the paper pages bearing her handwriting.


The day that the boxes of my paperback vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, arrived at my door was a day I’ll never forget. Although discovering my book in electronic form some weeks later was a thrill of a whole other kind, nothing equals the thrill I feel when I walk into a bookstore and see the paperback edition of my book on the shelf.

Mt. trip Dec.11-14,2014 048
Janet’s book on display at Books Unlimited in Franklin, NC.

Destiny of printed books

Rachel Nuwer asked a question early in 2016 in her BBC article that is still waiting for an answer:

“Are printed books destined to eventually join the ranks of clay tablets, scrolls and typewritten pages, to be displayed in collectors’ glass cases with other curious items of the distant past?”

Then, she asked a follow up question:  “And if all of this is so, should we be concerned?”

I ask, “Does it have to be either/or?”

The advent of e-books has revolutionized book publishing, but surveys indicate that most people still prefer print books. The advent of print-on-demand books and e-books struck fear in the hearts of writers, be they established, or newly-published, or the not-yet-published.

E-books – a two-sided coin.

On the one hand, e-books are less expensive to publish than print books, which prompted a fear that they would completely replace print books. As long as there is a demand for traditional print books, I believe they will continue to be printed. E-book technology has made it possible for anyone to publish a book. The other side of that coin, though, is that e-book technology has made it possible for anyone to publish a book.

You read that right. The good thing about e-books is the same as the bad thing about them. Do we want anyone publishing anything they want to? It used to be that having a novel published by a large publishing house gave the author credence. The way large publishing houses used to operate, an author was assigned an editor. The editor worked closely with the author to polish the novel before it was published. Budget crunches gradually squeezed in-house editors out of the equation. Now a person can self-publish an e-book without the aid of an editor. In fact, a person can self-publish an e-book without the benefit of even a self-edit.

My plan

It remains to be seen how or if I will get The Spanish Coin published. My original dream was that I would get a literary agent who would get me a contract with a large publishing house. That would still be fantastic and would stamp me as a legitimate writer; however, realistically, I know that I might have to self-publish a print-on-demand book or an e-book only. Doing so does not carry the stigma it did just a few years ago. The assumption used to be that a self-published novel was not professionally edited, but that is no longer necessarily the case. If I choose to self-publish The Spanish Coin, it will only be after it has been professionally-edited at my own expense, of course.

I hope within a year, I’ll know which path to publication The Spanish Coin is taking.

Until my next blog post tomorrow

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.


One thought on “E is for E-books

  1. Hi Janet
    Another Interesting read. I still buy books that I love. I enjoy that personal touch of handling the book as I re-read it. I purchase ebooks for two reasons: it is cheaper and convenience to read in various places, like the beach or at night , after the lights are turned off. But, when it comes to books I love, I still buy the hardback with relish.
    You are right, it can be both 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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