September 17 – 23: “E-Reader or paper book?”

This week ITW Members Wendy Staub, Nancy J. Cohen, Grant Jerkins, Audrey Braun,  Jean Harrington and Jeff Carlson discuss the E-Reader vs. the paper book: “Why one over the other? Why not both?” Tune in to what’s sure to be a thrilling discussion!


Jean Harrington lives in Naples, Florida with her husband John. No cat, no dog, no children anymore. After seventeen years of teaching English lit at Becker College in Worcester, Massachusetts, she now spends her days—and nights– writing the Murders by Design Mystery Series for Carina Press. And is having great fun wallowing knee deep in fictional dead bodies. Designed For Death was the first in Jean’s light-hearted Naples-set novels. The second book in the series, The Monet Murders, was released in June. The third, Killer Kitchens, another of heroine Deva Dunne’s sleuthing-by-design adventures, is due out in spring 2013.

Grant Jerkins is the author of THE NINTH STEP and AT THE END OF THE ROAD. Barbet Schroeder (Barfly, Reversal of Fortune) is attached to direct the film version of his first novel, A VERY SIMPLE CRIME—adapted for the screen by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nicholas Kazan (At Close Range, Reversal of Fortune). Grant lives in the Atlanta area with his wife and son.

Wendy Corsi Staub’s nearly eighty novels include multiple New York Times bestsellers. Her latest, NIGHTWATCHER (9/12) and SLEEPWALKER (10/12), launch a new suspense trilogy for Harpercollins, concluding with SHADOWKILLER (2/13). She’s under contract for another suspense trilogy for Harper. Honors include a RWA Rita, four WLA Washington Irvings, the RWA-NYC Golden Apple for Lifetime Achievement and the RT Bookreviews Career Achievement Award in Suspense. Her 2010 thriller LIVE TO TELL was an Edgars finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award.

Nancy J. Cohen is an award-winning author who writes mysteries and romance. Her humorous Bad Hair Day mystery series features hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several of these titles have made the IMBA bestseller list, while Nancy’s imaginative romances have also proven popular with fans. Her latest title is WARRIOR PRINCE: Book One in the Drift Lords Series from The Wild Rose Press.

Audrey Braun is the pen name of novelist Deborah Reed. She has lived all over the United States and in Europe, and currently resides in the Pacific Northwest with her family. A SMALL FORTUNE is her debut, bestselling thriller. FORTUNE’S DEADLY DESCENT, her follow-up, is the second of a trilogy.

Jeff Carlson is the international bestselling author of Plague Year and The Frozen Sky. To date, his work has been translated into fifteen languages worldwide. Readers can find free fiction, videos, contests, and more on his web site at

  1. Why not both?! Personally, I’ve owned a Kindle and an iPad since the dawn of those devices and I buy books in e-format and in print format. Each serves its purpose. Kindle/iPad are perfect for long trips (my damaged spine appreciates not lugging bags filled with travel guides and novels I just might have time to read). Old-fashioned print books are a must for beach reads (sand, water, and electronics don’t mix, I’ve learned) and nonfiction books I’m using as research (I tend to research-read in a non-linear way and find it too difficult to flip back and forth and mark pages on an e-reader).

    Confession time: it frustrates me when people come at this topic from an all or nothing position (ironic since I have always been an all-or-nothing kind of gal in most aspects of life). And yet there is undeniably good reason to ask the all-or-nothing question. Case in point: a few Christmases ago, I had a December 28th thriller release that my publisher did not make simultaneously available in e-book format (delayed by a contract/rights issue). It seemed everyone and their grandmother had just been gifted with a shiny new e-reader, and I was bombarded with emails from readers who had been anticipating the release and were now angry that they had to “wait to read it” until the digital version came out. Apparently, they had all gone cold turkey on printed books overnight and now intended to do all their reading electronically. Fair enough. But it certainly caught me off guard!

  2. Yes, why not both? If you can afford a dedicated e-reader, I say get one. There is just nothing like it for convenience. You literally have over a million titles right at your fingertips. Instantaneous delivery. And of course, you don’t even need an actual e-reader for this miracle. A computer or cell phone works just fine (although if you read an e-book on a computer or phone screen, I think you’re bypassing the most critical aspect of the experience, the eye-friendly e-ink display). For people in rural or undeveloped areas without access to bookstores, an e-reader is like having your own personal bookstore—in your pocket.

    The flipside, of course, is that, as Ray Bradbury famously put it, e-books “smell like burned fuel.” So that is definitely a check mark in the “cons” column. Books, real books, are objects many readers and writers fetishize. Or, more accurately, romanticize. Whether this is simply nostalgia remains to be seen. But, still, it’s hard to get misty-eyed and wistful over a hunk of plastic encrusted circuitry.

    To each his own, but I will say that every single e-book I’ve purchased (and enjoyed,) I ultimately regretted not having purchased the actual book. I want that physical object as a memento. A fetish.

  3. Why not both, indeed? In preparation for this blog, I wrote a piece saying that while the shape, form and page-turning capability of print books is familiar and comforting, the electronic reader, in a device about the size of a slice of bread, can put a virtual library in your pocket—or purse. And how the scope of that staggers the imagination.

    True, very true. Then on Friday, September 14th, in USA Today I spied an article by Craig Wilson. In it, Wilson interviews Random House Publishing Group’s president, Gina Centrello on this very subject, and I thought you’d rather hear what she had to say than anything I might.

    Ms. Centrello bridged the future of both traditional and digital publishing very effectively, IMHO. When asked what the publishing world will look like 30 years from now, Wilson states, “she (Centrello) hardly pauses, using two words repeatedly: ‘change and choice.’ She goes on to say “that people will increasingly read digitally and that the digital marketplace will continue to expand. . . It seems more fun, exciting and cool to read on a new device.” Nevertheless, physical books are not going away, she says. “But now and in the future, you and I are going to be able to choose how we read—whether it’s a phone or an iPad or a hologram.” Or, I presume, a paperback.

    So there you have it, a voice from the top–the head of Random House–declaring there’s room out there for everyone in this new publishing age which she calls “. . .an age as revolutionary as Guttenberg.”

  4. At the risk of seeming brash, I believe the question might more accurately be phrased “…for how long?” My wife and I are Boomers. She is very competent technologically, but won’t read anything (other than email and business documents) in digital format. I wouldn’t consider reading my daily Wall Street Journal in digital format. I like the feel of the paper and the actual, not virtual, turn of a page. On the other hand, our oldest son, a Gen-Xer, reads the WSJ on his iPad. Our youngest son, a Gen-Yer, reads the Journal daily on his iPhone. Neither of them has any use for the print versions. I strongly suspect from my own research into the issue that the print versus digital issue is divided along generational lines. When the Boomers are gone, or too weak-eyed to read anything, will there still be a demand for print versions of anything?

    But the issue may not be that clear cut. While my wife demands a print version of any book she reads because she like the weight and feel of it, I’m something of a crossover. As I said, the WSJ has to be in print for me. And around the house or at the beach (we’re fortunate enough to live in Naples, Florida, which has one of the world’s great beaches), I want to read the print version of any thriller. Conversely, when I’m traveling, I prefer to use my iPad.

    So what do you panelists and other readers of this roundtable’s output think about the future of print versions post-Boomer?

  5. Excellent commentary. There’s no question that a lot of our question’s answer comes down to demographics.

    I get emails from people who say they’re reading books on their phones while standing in line at the store or sitting on a train during their commute. For the most part, these are young, educated professionals. Others are tech-savvy gadget lovers.

    Right now eReaders seem like the hottest thing since the wheel. I know a guy who owns FOUR Kindles because he can’t stand not having the latest model.

    Personally, I prefer dead trees. Is that because I’m over forty? Aha ha ha. Maybe not. I spend waaaaay too much time in front of a computer every day to want to hold another piece of electronic gear when I read for pleasure, but as a full-time pro, I think ebooks are fantastic. People who buy Kindles or Nooks tend to read a lot. They save trees. They save gasoline. They save time shopping (and read even more).

    Having said all that, I’ve never understand why anyone wants to be a foamy-mouthed fanatic extorting people to take sides in a print-versus-e-war. I hear arguments about dinosaurs versus revolutionaries or literature versus cheap schlock. Feh. The reading experience is the same whether you’re looking at ink or pixels or listening to an audiobook. It’s what happens in your head that matters to me.

    I know controversy is fun. So here’s a deep thought:

    In ten years, Samsung will release the HURI, a wireless heads-up retinal implant that will allow people to download movies and books from the super cloud directly to microscopic nets laced over the insides their eyes… Then we can argue about who’s the coolest!

  6. As a reader, I like both. I still relish the feel of a book in my hands and want to peek at the cover when I am reading the story. Or sometimes I might want to shuffle back a few pages to look something up. These are hard to do with an ereader device. However, on trips I take my Kindle. It’s handier, lighter, and contains many titles. It’s a matter of convenience. I also might prefer a book on my Kindle if it’s a heavy hardcover and would be hard for me to hold for long. Or if there’s a big price differential. So I’m a hybrid as far as my reading habits go. I also have books on my iPad. But at home it’s usually my print book collection that gets my attention.

    As a writer, I’m a hybrid, too. I want my books to come out in as many formats as possible to give readers more choices. It’s so exciting that we have these options today. For my mysteries, I like them to come out in hardcover because this allows them to get into libraries, where many of my fans first found my titles. And many of my readers still like print books. However, ebook devotees demand their books in that format, so ideally, the books should be available in both print and digital editions.

    Romance readers are more into ebooks, so this is a great market for my paranormals. However, I chose a house that also makes the book available in trade paperback for any reader that wants a print copy. So it’s the best of both worlds. I haven’t yet gone totally digital. If I had an original work, I’d do digital plus Createspace to have a print book available. I think the more options you offer the reader, the better. Cost is always an issue to consider, too. Readers don’t want to pay for an expensive hardcover. With mass markets diminishing, ebooks are the most economic choice. And having at least a trade paperback available offers a print option as well.

    Re backlist titles: for my romances, I’ve gone digital only after revising these stories. My mystery backlist is available in both ebook and print on demand.

  7. Wendy, I had the same issue with Shear Murder, my latest mystery release. It only came out in hardcover. Ebook devotees asked if it was available in a digital edition. When I said no, due to contractual terms it wasn’t available that way yet, I did mention that they could get the book at the library. According to my contract, I have to wait at least a year after pub date to put the book into ebook format. Readers don’t always understand that whichever way a book is released is a publisher decision. Five Star has since split from Techno Books and I understand their new contracts include print and ebook releases.

  8. The best of both worlds? How about that concept–e-books and print. Take your pick. The electronic reader has nothing to do with the book as book–it is simply a new delivery system, the first since the invention of the scroll. And way back then, no doubt there were people who said, “There’s nothing like a good scroll.” Anyway, thatever its format, the magic of any book is in the words it contains.

    So it’s a thrill for me as a writer to have my Murders by Design Mystery Series in both digital and audio format–and to have the pleasure of knowing that early next year the first two books in the series, Designed for Death and The Monet Murders will also be released in print format. Have to love that diversity!

  9. As a previously self-published author I have to say that the ebook is responsible for starting my career. Without it I’m not sure I’d be where I am today. In fact, Jeff Bezos just showed a taped interview with me at the Amazon press conference two weeks ago. Here is a link to an edited version of what was used. Keep in mind I’m Deborah Reed—Audrey Braun is the pen name I use for mystery/thriller writing:

    For the reader, there is no denying the convenience of an ereader. Being able to carry thousands of books with you wherever you go, not to mention purchase a new book no matter where you find yourself, is a gift to readers everywhere. I don’t know about the other ereaders (though I suspect they are the same) but Kindle owners are reading 4.6x more now than before they owned a kindle. This is great news for writers, too.

    There is also the price point to be considered. A significant gap in price exists between paper and electronic books. During difficult economic times the ebook is not only more convenient, it’s more affordable, even when you factor in the price of the ereader. From a writer’s perspective, a more affordable book is also great news. It is far easier and more profitable to sell 10,000 copies of a novel priced at $4.99 or less, than it is to sell 100 copies of a book priced between $9.99-$25.99. Lower price means the author has a better chance to build a larger readership and make a better income at the same time.

    One very important point I want to make here is the fact that print books eventually go out of print, and long before that they are removed from bookstores due to limited space, sent to a warehouse, and if they’re not purchased by a certain time they are literally destroyed. An ebook will never go out of print. Readers will always be able to find older, more obscure books with a simple search, and begin reading them immediately. For authors this is a huge factor in sustaining a career. A book that came out years ago can suddenly be made relevant again, by something as simple as being featured in a discounted deal of the day or week or month. My novel, A Small Fortune, came out over a year ago and continues to sell very well as an ebook. This past June I sold 11,000 copies in one day during a daily deal special. This could never happen with a paper book. No doubt someone will be able to point out a possible failure on the part of ebooks, whether it be corrupt files, sites being hacked, or something we’ve yet to think of. I understand that and don’t deny these things could happen. But if your house burns down you lose every book you ever owned, too. Destruction on a catastrophic level isn’t what I’m addressing here.

    My final point about paper vs ebooks addresses the very painful, hot-tempered and emotional subject of bookstores. We all love bookstores. Readers love them, writers love them. No one wants to see them disappear. And I don’t think they will. I feel very strongly that there is a place for bookstores alongside the rapidly changing world of publishing. How they will take shape remains to be seen, but change they will, and just like all the other changes made by technology in our lives, we will adapt. One change I see happening now is the presence of publish-on-demand machines arriving in bookstores. Customers go to the counter, select a book, and it is printed in the time it takes to pick up a prescription. This is one way to keep books from going out of print by saving space, while at the same time allowing the reader who likes to frequent bookstores to shop there, and it obviously keeps the bookstores in business as well. I’m not declaring this by any means as a way to save the industry, I’m simply pointing it out as one example of adaptive change taking place.

    And finally, my home is still full of paper books. I still read them and like having them around. To each his/her own on this one, my friends. Purchase what you love to read in whatever format you choose. Just never lose site that story, that reading itself is at the center of what we’re talking about here. Read, read, read.

  10. A problem with ebooks/POD that I’m encountering is with booksignings. I’m having to order my own books now, and they are costly. If I sell them through a bookseller on a consignment deal, that kills any profit I might make and in some cases, I could end up in a negative balance. I have to pay shipping charges for those books. I believe booksellers will have to rethink the percentage they claim when working directly with authors and offer a fairer deal. That is, if the bookseller will work with a small press author at all. I’m not talking self-pubbed here because buying your own books from Createspace is probably cheaper than what I am paying per book.

  11. Nancy, In above blog, you mention “ebooks/POD.” as one. Do you see them as presenting the writer with the same sales/delivery problem? Usually for ebooks there is no author expense for delivery/publishing on demand, etc. I’m speaking here not for self pubbed books–electronic format or other. Just wondering.

  12. I also think if publishers and booksellers want to preserve real books and real bookstores (and everybody wants to), then they should embrace this idea of bundling—of giving away an electronic copy with each real book purchased, i.e., bundling them together. If books came with a free e-copy, I would probably almost always choose to go to a bookstore and buy the real book. Here is a good article on the promising idea of bundling and how it tripled sales of one publisher’s titles:

  13. I am epublished for my romances through The Wild Rose Press. They allow us 10 pdf copies to use for reviewers, contest prizes, etc. Beyond that, we have to buy them. Obviously there aren’t any shipping charges as there would be for print copies, but I can’t issue free coupons as I could, say through Smashwords, were I self-published.

  14. Grant, you mention bundling. That’s like the DVD packages we can buy now with Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital copies. It gives the buyer a choice of formats. I think this is a long way off for books, however. Right now, it’s a print versus ebook mentality.

  15. Grant, I like the bundling idea, too! And in fact I have bought both print and e-copies of books I’m reading so that I can bounce between formats depending on where I manage to grab some free time to read them. Often it’s a train or plane…but if I’m in a chair at home, I want a “real” book for some reason.

  16. Right, DVD/Bluray often bundle content – including a digital copy of the movie (for use on a portable device) along with the disc. As stated in the linked article, one publisher tripled sales by bundling their books with a free electronic copy. — It seems each of us has answered the question of ebook v. real book by saying “why not both?” So perhaps that literally is the answer.

  17. Good luck getting the publishers to give away something for nothing. Maybe the big six can afford to do it for their bestselling authors, but forget us small press folks.

  18. The fascinating exchange above reveals one thing–print or electronic–the publishing industry is fluid and changing even as we speak. Whether this means good or bad news for writers is a moot point, but we can’t say it’s dull. BTW, thanks to ITW for the opportunity to partake of this forum. Always a pleasure.

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