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Why I Don't Publish E-Books

  • Copenhagen, Denmark
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Very often readers of my books ask me why I don’t publish them in digital format as e-books for Amazon Kindle, EPUB, FB2, or simply PDF. There are a few reasons. It’s time to summarize them all and explain why dead trees are the only way to go if you want to read my content.

The Addams Family (1991) by Barry Sonnenfeld
The Addams Family (1991) by Barry Sonnenfeld

First of all, there is a simple technical reason:


I don’t know how to format them. I type all my books in LaTeX. To my knowledge, it’s the best and most powerful typesetting software. If you don’t use it yet, you absolutely must read The TeX Book by Donald Knuth. Even if you’re not going to become a book writer or publisher, you must read the book. You will enjoy reading and will simply fall in love with TeX. The only problem with TeX is that it formats texts for a fixed page size, unlike HTML and many other digital formats. When I write my books, I know exactly the size of their pages, and everything is formatted to look perfect on paper. I simply don’t know how to do the same for all digital formats. I’m sure it’s possible, but I don’t know how.

Second, there is an emotional reason:

I don’t like digital books. Call me old school, but I don’t like to read on screen. I like how books feel, how they smell, and how they become “friends.” I like to make notes, bookmarks, fold pages, etc. I believe what’s very important is not just the content, but the way you “feel” it. With a digital book, this emotional aspect of reading is gone; all books are the same. You don’t feel a book at all, because it’s just a Kindle in your hands. You may say that not everybody is like me. Well, yes, but I want the world to be the way I like it. Not the way it is.

All other reasons are derived from the fact that a digital book will inevitably be stolen and posted on torrents or somewhere else, for free download. A digital book will become a free book very quickly.

Let me tell you a funny story. I received an email a few months ago from a “Korean book publisher.” The email said it was very interested in translating Elegant Objects into Korean and publishing in its local market. To start the process, the email said, the company needed my book in PDF. I replied that I was ready to send a printed copy, which was definitely enough for a translator to work on. The sender disappeared. I’ve checked its website and found no real evidence of previously published books. I guess it was just a scam, an attempt to get a digital copy of the book. Funny, huh?

Thus, let’s just agree that a digital book means a free book at the moment of writing, in this world. And here is why I don’t want my books to be free:

I want to earn. Not only because I need to pay my bills, but mostly because I want to stay motivated. I’ve made almost $12,000 by selling the first volume of Elegant Objects over the last 10 months. Do you think I’m motivated enough to write the second volume. Of course I am! Would I be as motivated as I am now if I would have made $500 instead? I don’t think so. Most probably, you would never see any more books from me. And it’s not just about dollars. It’s mostly about the appreciation I feel from you. Every payment I get from Amazon tells me that I definitely deliver something valuable. With a free book, I will get no appreciation and no cash.

I want you to pay. Not only because I’m greedy, but mostly because I want you to take my books seriously. As a reader myself, I pay almost no attention to books that cost $1.99 or nothing. I understand that their authors themselves were not serious about them. Why are they cheap or free? They were so easy to write? Their authors don’t believe that anyone would pay any decent money for them? Their authors are afraid of refunds? Probably a combination of all that. I strongly believe that good products must cost good money. If it’s free, it’s bad (or there are some hidden costs or concealed promotion of something else).

Because of all that, you get no digital books. Only printed ones.

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