Why E-Books Are Winning

I’ve spent a good part of this evening reading an e-book on my iPhone. Which, since getting the new iPhone 4 with the excellent high definition Retina display, has become a regular activity. Combined with the iBooks and Kindle apps, the iPhone is a great e-reader, and has displaced my Sony Pocket, primarily because it is so simple to get books on the iPhone and I always have it with me. The size of the screen is not to everyones tastes, but the larger iPad and other readers solve that issue. And sooner rather than later there will be an e-reader almost identical to paper books. Whatever your reading tastes, there will be an e-reader to suit.

But its not because of technology that e-books are wining, although it helps. Its because of how e-books are changing my relationship with the writers I want to read.

The other thing I have done this evening (other than meet some friends for a drink) is enjoy some social networking. Facebook and Twitter between them are now a regular evening activity, as they are for hundreds of millions of people. I don’t think I need to argue the case for social networks as a major revolution in our cultural lives, as important in the 21st Century as television was in the 20th. Social networks are a different experience for their many different users. If you like music or fashion, your social network will be full of those things. If you like reading, its likely your social network will include many writers.  Certainly mine includes hundreds of writers whose work I love in one way or another.

And more than anything else, its my social network that is driving my reading choices now. The writers whose books and stories I’m reading are also the ones I’m following in the blogosphere, or chatting with on Twitter or Facebook. These social mediums are great for writers, who are perfectly adapted for what is largely a text driven social media world. In social media, writers are able to build a direct relationship with the niche audiences who love their work. Its a model that has been evolving alongside the evolving internet. But it seems to me that e-books have now provided the last piece of the puzzle.

By their nature, social networks are very transitory. They consist of many light-weight relationships, that change quickly over time. If I become interested in a writer through their social network, it does not follow I will go and buy their book in a shop, or even order it online. But there is a good chance I will download a sample chapter from the Kindle store or iBooks. And if the book catches me then, I will definitely buy it. E-books allow a writers social network to directly feed readers towards their books, in a way that paper books really do not. As social networks become ever more central to the work of writers, e-books are becoming the primary way writers get their work to readers.