On eBooks and pBooks

First off, I’d like to apologise for my use of pBook in the title. I could take it away, but I won’t, because it is an experiment on whether it works as a term. I heard it last month at the Publishing Scotland conference, where it fell from the mouth of Faber CEO Stephen Page—




And there it lay, quivering as if with a silent mocking laughter. And we took it, folks. We just nodded our heads as if to say, ‘Oh of course, everyone says pBooks these days, we know exactly what you are on about.’ And then, if the rest of the delegates were anything like me, we all felt rather ashamed. Because it is pretty awful, isn’t it?


This is all by the by, and I am sure that it is completely unimportant, but it is good to keep you all up to date, and I needed a snappy title for this post.This is what I was really going to write about:

It occurred to me this morning that I have only reviewed one book on this blog that was read in electronic format, which is not at all representative of my eBook (Ebook? ebook? I’m not entirely sure how it should be written. Answers on a postcard please.) consumption. The reason behind this is that I use my ereader for really only one purpose – to buy the books I don’t want people to know I am reading. This fits very neatly into my post from a few weeks ago, where I looked at people lying about the books they have read. I hide a certain genre of fiction (which I love) in ebook form because I feel acute embarrassment at the thought of people knowing that I read it. This genre of which I speak? Science Fiction.

So, what is my problem with Science Fiction? I love to read it, to experience other people’s thought experiments (it is the perfect genre for what if thinkers) and to strain my imagination to breaking point. It is also a genre where I encounter the most disappointments. I find it hard to talk about these books with someone unless they have already mentioned reading sci-fi – and even then I feel the need to hush my voice, and lean in for fear of being overheard, uncovered – just writing this gives me the heated feeling of embarrassment.

103341369This may be just me, of course. But there is one other reason why I don’t buy these books in print, why I don’t want anyone to see what I am reading, and that is the awful cover design that has, for too long, blighted novels of this nature. For excellent examples of this blight, I point you to the fascinating website good show sir, which has some cracking examples. I’m glad to say that things have improved greatly since most of the books listed were printed, but they still aren’t great. I won’t name and shame, I just urge you to go to an independent bookshop of your choice and visit the sci-fi and fantasy section.

So why do I feel that this is a Thing Worth Writing About? Quite simply, I think it is because I am not alone in this (shaky facts to follow). Crime and sci-fi are not seen as ‘proper’ literature; any that make it into the classical cannon are swiftly torn from their birth-genres, and hidden under clouds of guff about what makes them special. It is all nonsense, but then an argument could be made (by someone else, please) that all genres are rubbish.

When we were at the aforementioned Publishing Scotland conference we were also treated to a talk by a man from Nielsen BookData, who had all the facts and figures about the British public’s book buying habits. Now, I know you should never trust statistics, but we learned that the ebook share of the market will probably hit 50% in the next couple of years. And the section of the physical book market that is being swallowed by the voracious ereader is, in the most part, crime and sci-fi. Now, this could just be a correlation, but I think there is more to it than that – it is the nature of ‘literature’ being something different to ‘fiction’, and the ever present feeling that what one is reading isn’t good enough. Isn’t doing you any good.

To this extent, I am going to follow my current philosophy of fighting the elitism within myself by writing about it here, on the blog. In coming weeks you will soon be able to read fairly frequent reviews of ebooks, which will tend to be rather sci-fi focused.

Probably on a Friday, when we haven’t thought of a decent feature to give you over the weekend.


1 thought on “On eBooks and pBooks

  1. I was certain that pBooks meant “PDF eBooks.” We actually need a term for those, I think. An awful lot of companies tout “click here for our free E-book”… and those are invariably shoddy PowerPoint presentations exported to PDF and guaranteed to look odd on E-ink devices.

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