I take back what I said about e-books

Somewhere, a pig is flying.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about how the e-book will never be as popular as the good old-fashioned book. I confess, I am something of a Luddite and I like the feel of a book in my hands. I treat my books badly, though, dragging them to the beach and into the bathtub. I fold down corners to mark my place, bend back the spines, and splash spaghetti sauce on the pages. I like the disposability of paperbacks, and will toss out a banged-up pb with barely a twinge of guilt. E-books made no sense to me, and I never planned to buy one.

Until I went on a recent trip and wrenched my shoulder because of all the heavy books in my suitcase. Coincidentally, on that trip, a writer gave me a peek at her brand new Amazon Kindle. She raved about it with evangelistic fervor, demonstrating all its bells and whistles. She had dozens of heavy textbooks saved on it, and said she could travel the world with her medical library in her purse.

When I got home, I decided it was time to step into the 21st century. So I bought a Kindle too.

I admit, my first experiences were not good ones. To start off with, I live in Maine, which is a “Whisper-net” free zone. When I’m home, I can’t download a thing onto my Kindle via Wi-fi. If I’d known that earlier, I probably would never have bought it. So I first have to download the books onto my computer, and from there I transfer them onto my Kindle.

And here’s where the fun part of the Kindle comes in. I checked out the titles of books available for download and suddenly I was a kid in a candy shop. You can download the King James Bible for under two bucks, plus change! (I’ve always intended to read the Bible from beginning to end, but ended up getting bogged down in Leviticus.) Here was my chance to carry a bible around with me, for only a few bucks. Then there’s Herodotus’s “The Histories”, another book I’ve meant to read from beginning to end — and also available for under three bucks. Tempted by all the choices, I began downloading like a madwoman. I picked up classics and textbooks and novels. I downloaded an Egyptian hieroglyph dictionary. I had visions of traveling the world with my entire forensics library contained in my purse.

Then I headed out on book tour, intending to road-test my Kindle.

I found out that when it comes to reading novels, the Kindle is wonderful. The display is crisp and the battery lasts a very long time before you have to charge it (you can read about three books on it before it needs a charge.) And best of all, if you’re at the age when you’re constantly reaching for your reading glasses, the Kindle allows you to enlarge the font and make any text readable. I loved not having to actually turn a page; all I had to do was tap a button.

But when it comes to textbooks, the Kindle is just not going to work for me. I miss the ability to flip easily between sections. I miss being able to jump between chapters and scan for illustrations. I discovered that the hieroglyph dictionary is pretty much useless on a Kindle, because I can’t really search the files for particular symbols except by going page by page. Maybe I’m just not facile enough to figure out how to do these things on a Kindle, and I don’t really have the patience to teach myself the necessary techniques.

So here’s my judgment on the thing. It’s great for vacations, where you don’t want to load up your suitcase with novels. It allows you to bring both serious reading and light reading on the same trip. But when it comes to textbooks, I’ll stick with the real thing.

I’m sold on it as a pleasure-reading device. And believe me, I was a hard sell. I don’t know if I’m representative of some sort of consumer tipping point, but I suspect the e-book component of book sales is on an ever-steeper climb.

Which is a bit scary for those of us who write, because of the possibility of piracy. If the music industry can be ruined by digital theft, could publishing be far behind?

26 replies
  1. Abe
    Abe says:

    Hi Tess,

    I grew up in a world where I had Coleco computer games, 8 track tapes, Beta video cassettes, and thank God, no reality TV shows. There was always something to do even though we all wished for an updated version of it all. Now we have the Wii, Tivo, DVD’s, and too MANY reality shows.
    I, personally, love the feel of having a book in my hands. The feel of the pages, the ability to dog-ear a page corner, and to see the author’s picture on the book jacket.
    So Tess, good luck with your Kindle. May you have hours upon hours of pleasure with it. Me, just give me a Tess Gerritsen book, a cup of coffee and a few hours peace, and I’m one happy camper. The best of luck on your continuing tour. I’m so happy your son is OK. How is mom adjusting to Maine? I will see you on the 28th.

  2. Kyle K.
    Kyle K. says:

    Oh god, this damned thing again? LOL… I’ve now read articles from Stephen King, Lois Lowry and yourself who say it’s useful. I admit, I’m kind of intrigued. When ebook readers first came out, I swore I would never get one. I also said I would never download an MP3 over buying a CD, and I haven’t bought a physical album in about two years now (which has only RECENTLY become a problem since I moved back to PA and realized I couldn’t figure out how to plug my iPod into my car!).

    I think that if I ever get a travelling schedule as rigorous as yours and the rest of the bestselling authors out there, then maybe I’ll consider it as a means to travel lighter. Until then, I think I’m going to stick to my physical books for now.

    King made an interesting comment about the e-readers, something along the lines of: We shouldn’t care about the means in which someone reads our/a book, only the fact that they’re reading it.

    I guess he has a point! 🙂

  3. Barbie Roberts
    Barbie Roberts says:

    I guess I’m technologically behind the times: I don’t own an ipod, have never sent a text message, and am not on Myspace or Facebook. So, it’s no surprise that I prefer reading in the old-fashioned format of a book. When I meet you later in the month, I want your signature in your book; that’s where it will mean the most to me. Have you signed a Kindle yet?

  4. NewMexicanAnn
    NewMexicanAnn says:

    hahahaha! I’m with you, Barbie! Although, I do have a MySpace page. Oh, and I don’t even have a cell phone. *sighs*

    Anyway, I’m really not much of a traveler and only read one or two books at a time, so portability really isn’t an issue for me. Still, it might be fun to have a Kindle, but only when I can afford one. 🙂

    Oh, and Tess, about your reading the Bible, well, there was a pastor who asked the congregation if anyone ever read Numbers devotionally. It was quite foreboding that everyone just laughed and didn’t raise their hands. So, you might wanna skip that part unless you’re really fanatic about geneaology.

  5. Omm Lucarelli
    Omm Lucarelli says:

    Okay, I’m 21. I love to read (I can, and frequently do read up to 15 novels in a week. Slightly fewer if they’re academic texts. I read fast). So, technically, I’m in that tech-savvy, heavy-reader category. I cannot STAND using a Kindle. For some reason, I just really like the feeling of having a book in my hands. And I like writing in textbooks… which I don’t think you can do on the e-books.

  6. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    To me, Tess, a good book is infinitely better than any movie or video game could ever possibly come close to aspiring to be. When I read, it’s like I’m forming my own movie using that particular author’s set of directing instructions. And I will resonate what you originally said about not ever buying an e-book. I love holding a book in my hands and turning the pages and not even having to worry if the book is going to go dark because I’ve suddenly run out of battery life. Books are still very much important and Amazon’s Kindle, while seemingly quite nice, will never defeat that fact.

  7. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    Oh, and Kyle K., King has enough money to say that! Being one of the top paid authors in the WORLD gives you that right I think. :)And I do love his enthusiasm for literature and for pushing for people to pick up a book. Lord knows he can write ’em!

  8. IServeTheCat
    IServeTheCat says:

    The first thing I look for in anyone’s house is their bookshelf. Do they have one? Or ten? What sorts of books do they own? Do their books have worn spines, or are they smooth under the dust?

    When looking for a new apartment recently, the first thing I considered in the layout was where to put up my bookshelves.

    There are books piled by the bed, the bathtub, and the couch. There’s a book or two in my purse.

    Kindle? Nice concept, but no thank you.

    I am addicted to my computer, but my book addiction runs MUCH deeper. 😉

  9. JMH
    JMH says:

    Tess, I agree absolutely that Kindle is wonderful and is changing the publishing lanscape. In addition to what you said, I’d note that the Kindle is green and the books are cheep ($9.95 for new releases, $4.95 for most others). Plus, you can store hundreds of books in your Kindle and if you run out of space there, you can store create a bookshelf at Amazon and store them there. Basically, you have access to them forever.

    Authors would be wise to evaluate their contracts to be sure they get a cut of Kindle proceeds. For the publisher, it’s a goldmine since the book needs to only be uploaded to Amazon once and then is available for purchase forever without any further muss or fuss. Amazon EFT’s the $ to the Publisher’s bank account on a monthly basis (Currenly Amazon keeps 65% and the publisher gets 35%). Since the publisher really has no direct expenses in adding a Kindle outlet for the book, it makes sense that the author should get the lion’s share of the sales proceeds. After all, the reader is buying the author’s words, and not a physical object that was purchased at the Publisher’s expense.

  10. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    I believe with improvements coming over the next couple years in technology for Kindle and its competitors, they will win over new converts exponentially.

  11. cathair
    cathair says:

    I actually tend to double-purchase books of authors I like: one, real book to have at home, pet, lug from room to room, dog-ear, and so on, and one e-book for my Treo so I can take it on the plane with me. Anyone want to try to lug the *entire* Diana Gabaldon Outlander series in their carry-on? But it’s all on my Treo.

    I have to agree, though, textbooks are not for e-reading. There’s too much flipping back and forth, referring to tables or figures, looking at the references cited, and so on.

  12. Tess
    Tess says:

    I too found that I ended up buying both the print and the Kindle version of some books I particularly love. (For instance, I have Herodotus in both the print and e-book version.)

    E-book rights are indeed important for authors to retain, and agents are getting savvier about retaining royalties for them.


  13. therese
    therese says:

    I love techno-dom and choice! 8 tracks and Beta videos, been there. Remember phones with chords? LOL!

    While I don’t have an e-reader yet, I imagine I will someday. It will not change the euphoric experience of a hardcover in my lap, under the light, next to the fire. I know an e-publisher who now offers out-of-print genre books because they are great stories/great writing and available no other way, hooray!

    While I am not rich like King, I can still see the delight of having readers who can access my book according to their preference, page or file. Once I’ve written the words, my work is done and the way it is read is the readers choice.

    Hopefully sales and royalties will be enough so I can write another book since it is the writing that nurtures me and the techno world that currently pays my bills.

  14. KarenTroxel
    KarenTroxel says:

    Tess: I’m a new Kindle owner and love it. Whispernet is readily available in my area and it is a huge bonus and although it isn’t the only thing that makes the Kindle stand out, it is handy for instant on-demand books whenever and wherever I may need one. (Like during a rain delay at a baseball game last month!) The eInk technology and readability is amazing, clear and easy on the eyes with the added ability of adjustable type sizes.

    I am not a novice–having “discovered” ebooks several years ago –and loved other ereaders so much that I burned out two of them (Franklin and an RCA 1100.) I still have a eBookwise 1150 that I use for reading. (Since my Kindle arrived though, my other reader is collecting dust!) These other readers all can download via computer like the Kindle but don’t have the ability to download without the computer. (There’s the Whispernet feature again.)

    The first time I bought an ereader, I stewed for weeks about the purchase thinking it was too expensive and that I wouldn’t ever want to replace my “real” books.

    These days I find myself getting perturbed when a title I really want is only available as hardcover or paperback and wondering when it will be available as a “real ebook.”

  15. khughes
    khughes says:

    Hi i know this is very random and not anything about what you all are talking about but i would like to tell you that you have influenced me more than you could ever know.
    I used to hate to read. once i started reading your books i loved it.
    I used to watch my mother read mystery books and hopstital/doctor novels and i couldnt understand why she would want to read somthing so sad and violant. but when I started reading your books i found out. Because of your wonderfull books i have dicovered my love for medicine! I wont be attening medical school but I want to become a nurse.
    Your books are so interesting and just overall great! You are such a great writer.
    Thank you for writing like you do
    K. Hughes

  16. struggler
    struggler says:

    Tess, as a fellow Luddite I respect the fact that you have turned your scepticism about-face and actually invested in the Kindle. For some reason I believe that if you can make the switch, then I can too. Mind you, I’m hoping to persuade the Vine people at Amazon to give a few away to some of their favoured reviewers (I’m just outside the Top 100). I think it’s inevitable that one day most reading will be done this way, and surely there are significant environmental benefits too as a bonus. You’ve got me wanting one.

  17. Tess
    Tess says:

    thanks so much for the nice comment! I applaud your decision to go into nursing!

    struggler, if I can be convinced to use a Kindle, I think anyone can be.

    jmh, i’ll check it out!

  18. wendy roberts
    wendy roberts says:

    I don’t know if I’ll make the Kindle leap any time soon. It sounds good on one hand but I really would miss bending pages and just generally abusing a good book.

  19. Niki
    Niki says:

    I’m not against e-books, however I don’t think they’re all that great either.
    I suppose it would be nice to have if you’re an avid traveler. I do not travel that much anymore so I probably won’t invest in a Kindle.

    I would like to have one because it’s compact, but honestly it’s missing something. With a Kindle there’s no way to pass a book along to a friend in hopes they enjoy the author as well.

    For instance…I can easily take my copy of The Surgeon and pass it along to a friend. Which I have done. I have let about 10 people borrow the book now and they have each fell in love with your novel and writing style. Now they all buy your books when they come out in stores.

    I personally wouldn’t trust lending my Kindle to someone so they can read it. :/

  20. Marc A. Pitman, FundraisingCoach.com
    Marc A. Pitman, FundraisingCoach.com says:


    Just catching up on my blog reading. Loved this post. Especially that pigs are flying somewhere! (I think I saw one outside my house here in Waterville, ME! *grin*)

    My Kindle should arrive today at 3 p.m. I LOVE books but I’m more into the story than the packaging. I’ve read books on my Palm Pilot (very handy when standing in long lines) and love my Audible subscription.

    It’s so cool that Audible can be used by a Kindle!

    Thanks for the Herodotus mention. That’ll be among my first purchases. As was Pride & Prejudice.

    I’ll have to add Jane Rizzoli to the digital bookshelf! 🙂

  21. Kathryn Fox
    Kathryn Fox says:


    I think I was that evangelical author talking to you about the kindle when we were in Harrogate.

    Coming from Australia, I have to travel long distances to promote books here and in the US, UK and Europe, so that’s why I have a whole forensic library in my handbag.(And am never without reading material when stuck in an airport. It saved my shoulder, back and neck, not to mention carry on weight.)

    It’s not the same as flicking through text books, but I’ve just been on holiday and did read novels on it by the pool at times. Still bought a paperback to read while away, which I devoured as well. Nothing like the smell and touch of a book.

    I see the kindle as something in addition to books (like you, often have hard cover and kindle versions of favourites, eg Helen Keller’s autobiography, To Kill a Mockingbird).

    Glad you like the kindle, didn’t mean to be that evangelical! Travelling without backpain can do that to you!


  22. LisaS
    LisaS says:


    I just saw this blog posting and wanted to let you know that it is because of Kindle that I have now downloaded and read all of your books in the Rizzoli series just in the last month. I got hooked when “The Surgeon” was made available as a free download. I figured, what the heck, sounds interesting, and better yet, free! So I read it. Then the next one, then the next one, etc. And now I have just downloaded “The Keepsake”. I am tempted to read that one slooooow because I know I will have to wait a while until I am able to get another Rizzoli fix!

    So thank you for such fabulous books and making them available on the Kindle – you have made a dedicated fan out of me!

  23. CD1
    CD1 says:

    Tess- Welcome to the dark side. I was one of the few–first to mention it, I think, on your months’ ago blog regarding ereaders and owing a Kindle. I still read my Kindle exclusively, only buying a book if I must have it and it’s not Kindle-ized. My entire library of purchases, thus, since Dec 2007 is in the Kindle and at Amazon. Very convenient. Although I was soundly bashed by posters that did not ever try the Kindle on your other blog, one can see from your experience that, once eInk is tried, it isn;t half bad. In fact, I took advantage of your free download of The Surgeon..thank you. It is “on deck” in my reading list right after I get through your friend Stephen’s Duma Key (a hernia repair awaits those who wish to lug it, along with The Surgeon and my daily Chicago Tribune sibscription, onto a plane or train–ugh!). I frankly read faster with the Kindle. Much better for lying supine in bed and reading, for instance. It’s an eco-friendly winner for all–reader, bookseller, author and publisher. The only one that loses is the book borrower: the moochers and library patrons of tomorrow may need to invest in a reader as prices drop in coming years. Interesting. Thank you, Tess, for being a fun author and neat and honest person on your blogs. signed, cooldoctor1

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