I’m happy to be part of the KnitGrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design blog tour. For my part in the tour, I decided to talk to author and designer Shannon Okey about ebooks. We had a very long and interesting discussion so I’ve broken into several blog posts. Here’s part 3, some follow-up questions. I’m not sure if we’re done talking yet.
DD: It will be interesting to see what happens with Amazon. I have actually bought quite a few Kindle books to read on my iPad and my iPhone because the Kindle app is the one I liked the best and found easiest to use. I do want to “jailbreak” those files though, and convert them to epub just for my own backup copy. I don’t like Amazon having control over something I’ve purchased.
Do you think there’s any hope for epub, or some other format, to become and industry standard for ebooks so that we can purchase books wherever we want and read them on whatever device we happen to like?
SO: Yes and no — I think that eventually, yes, one of the formats will win out, in the same way MP3 became the default music file format, listenable on any device. ePub seemed poised to be that format now, but I could also see a new production mechanism “crowning” the new king of formats. What am I talking about? Going back to my “it’s easy to make these files, but it’s hard to make them well, at least with push-of-one-button WYSIWYG ease” comments, if Adobe (or Apple, or whoever) creates the killer app for creating ebooks and it’s tied to one format…that format’s probably going to win.
DD: What do you think about accessibility issues. I’m not talking about people with vision problems, but ebooks require an expensive device to access them, and as we’ve seen with music and movies over the past decades, formats of data storage change all the time. Without paper books, I worry that books may only be available to an elite group of technology savvy readers at some point in the future. Do you think that’s an issue we should worry about?
SO: Actually, I think that Moore’s Law comes into play here — devices become cheaper over time. We’ve already seen price war price drops on the Kindle this summer thanks to corresponding drops in the Nook’s price, for example. In addition, opening up more devices (the Kindle reader for phones/computers, etc) means the content is accessible on more TYPES of devices. So with that said, in a few years, I could definitely see e-reader prices dropping into iPod Nano-territory, and thereby becoming more popular and accessible.
Paper books aren’t completely problem-free, either. The high cost of production, of shipping, etc limits where those books can and do end up…not to mention storage is an issue if you like to keep books, as I do! (I say this as I’m about to head into a big book/clothes purge — we live in a single family home, I can’t imagine where I’d put all my books if I lived in a small apartment!). Going back to the other kind of accessibility issue — e-readers definitely have an advantage over printed books for the visually impaired. My parents are fairly young but their eyesight isn’t the best, so being able to increase text size is something I think they (and other boomers getting older) would appreciate as they become acquainted with e-readers.
DD: I’ve been trying to get my books with Nomad Press converted into ebooks for over a year and it’s going nowhere. Because of some of the complex formatting and tables that we used in the books, whoever the mysterious gurus are who convert books into Kindle, B&N, and other formats are, they haven’t been able to get my books converted. Frankly, I’m incredibly frustrated! I’ve never wanted to do self publishing, but if I can’t get my books released in the formats I want them in, I may reconsider. (Although your notes about the challenges make me squeamish. I’m a geek but I don’t like messing around with technical stuff when I could be knitting or writing!) Do you think ebooks will make more authors into publishers?
SO: Will ebooks make more authors into publishers? Yes. Will ebooks make more authors into GOOD publishers? No. Take into account ALL the factors here: producing a nicely formatted file is just the first of many challenges. You have to get the word out about your book. You have to have a topic that interests people, and it often takes a good editor to draw the right material out of even the best authors, because it’s hard to see outside your own bubble sometimes. Just producing the file doesn’t make it worth selling. I think that Amazon got flooded with so many 99-cent reproductions of classics that are out of copyright specifically because producing the file is easy and people saw it as a way to make a quick buck. Making a quick buck does not make a good book.
DD: How do you feel about knitting pattern books as ebooks? I bought one or two on Kindle just to see what they were like and I found them about useless. I love READING on my phone and iPad, but I didn’t find it in any way convenient to access the patterns from the books I downloaded, and there was no way to print or make a copy of a pattern to fold up in my knitting bag. Do you think knitting books that are pattern collections are well suited to become ebooks?
SO: Yes, and I’ve been working on that. It’s all in the formatting, really. Also, I like the ability to carry around ALL my patterns, on the off chance I find myself at the yarn store with my Kindle in hand, thinking “hmm, what could I knit with this?” It’ll be even better when the search functions improve on e-readers. That said, where possible, why not offer the PDF AND the e-reader file, for people who do want to be able to print? (I’m looking at you, fellow designers. Ahem).
DD: I need to learn much more about what’s going on in the industry regarding ebooks. I guess I’ve been depending on my publishers too much in that area, although I do read news stories on the topic regularly. It’s all so overwhelming! There’s always much more to do than I have the time or energy to tackle. Do you ever feel frustrated by the amount of work involved in what you do?
SO: Absolutely. Pretty much all the time, actually. I had to more or less ban myself from the computer on weekends, because there’s the temptation to work 24-7 that just really isn’t healthy. My boyfriend used to take my laptop away and make me eat dinner/etc during book deadlines a few years ago, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought “ok, that’s not right, I really need to learn how to detach and do non-work life again.” So now he calls me “Amish on weekends,” which makes me laugh.
DD: Are you actually making a living from your knitting, teaching, publishing, and so forth? I’m not, frankly. I was for a few years when I was doing tech editing of knitting books, but that got much too stressful and I was losing sleep a year after a book was published because readers would call up with questions. So I went back to my day job to support my knitting habit & business. I’m working on ideas for restructuring my career and business this summer while I’m in Europe, but I still don’t have a clear direction yet.
SO: Yes and no. Right now, my major goal is to contribute MORE than 50% of our household income, and preferably get to the point where I am bringing in enough so that my beloved boyfriend of 7+ years can leave his day job and follow his creative goals full time (he’s a comic book artist). It’s going to be tough, and I’m not sure how to get there, but I’m working on it. All I know is that I work an awful lot for not a lot of money, and that has to change. It’s one reason I point out options for other ways to earn money while being a designer in my new book!
DD: Thanks for being so forthcoming and generous with your answers. I am fairly certain I still have a few more follow-up questions to come, but I’m at the end of my time in England and will have been to Amsterdam and will most likely be en route to France when this post is published, so I am not sure if I’ll have time to continue our discussion until a later date.