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.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

5 thoughts on “Why E-Books Are Winning

  1. I’m not sure I agree with your assertion that e-books are “winning”. Winning in what context? Over your personal reading habits or reading habits generally? Recently I’ve been following quite a few blog posts about this and there is a common theme. Many people who extoll e-books are early adopters and part of a select group. It seems that they are part of a group which talks, mostly, amongst themselves.
    I am what you might call a geek. I have many geeky friends. They are generally tech-savvy and quite comfortable with the technology around them. Not one, apart from me, uses an e-book reader in any real sense. We all use our portable gadgets as part of our daily jobs (engineering, IT, science etc) because it’s useful to have access to up to date information on what we’re doing at any one time. Because we all have current generation mobile tech (Ipods, iPhones, HTC Desires, N900s and the like) it appears we’ve rejected specific reading devices such as kindles and none of us use (or see a use for) devices such as an iPad. And we all read books.
    So it puzzles me when I keep seeing references to how e-books are taking over. The buses where I live are still filled with people, like me, reading paper books. The question that springs to me mind is why do I keep reading that e-books are becoming so pervasive and desirable when it appears to be the converse that’s true on the street?

    PS. There’s a contradiction in what I’ve written. I use an e-book reader and yet read books? How can that be? I actually use the reader very occasionally when I download a large file that needs to be read in my own time from the web. I read paper books for pleasure.


    1. Winning in the context of becoming an authors primary commodity, ahead of print books, not because e-books are intrinsically better, but because the importance of social networks makes them the easiest format to get new writers work in. I really don’t think it about the technology of e-readers, or e-book vs. paper books. I think its about how authors establish relationships with readers, and social networks are ever more central to that.


  2. Thanks for the reply. I really didn’t expect that.

    I’m seeing two issues conflated or I am being thick (take your pick).

    So you see them [e-books] as a primary tool for self promotion?

    That’s interesting. I agree entirely with your sentiments when we talk about establishing a relationship with readers, that chimes perfectly with social networks: in particular blogs and potentially Twitter (for those who use it).
    The last book which I can categorically state came into my hands as a result of social networking was Hack the Planet. I heard of it on a podcast, thought the author sounded interesting, went to the blog, then went out and bought a paper copy.
    The thing I am not clear on is where the e-book fits into that picture (for a second ignore that I bought a paper copy as I am not even sure this book is available in an electronic version). What intrinsic benefit does an e-book give over leaving a sample on a website or even sending round a word or RTF document?

    Or do you mean commodity in the sense of sell-able item?

    In which case how does a new author generate income from sending round electronic copy?


    1. Thanks for commenting, its always appreciated!

      I’m thinking, yes, of the e-book as a saleable item, which readers discover through social networks. With both Kindle and iBooks, you can click on a link in a blog post, status update or podcast notes, and moments later have the e-book in your e-reading device of choice. It’s that immediacy which is essential, not just for books but for all mass-art in the digital era. for instance, yesterday I bought Amanda Palmers ‘Greatest Hits of Radio Head on Ukelele.’ Would I have bought it in a shop? Or ordered the CD online? No. I bought it because I could buy it with one click, even whilst I was streaming it from the website. I’m not arguing this is going to kill the print book, in fact I think it will make it stronger. But I do think the e-book is going to become the first and most profitable point of contact for writers very quickly.


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