The Grand Conversation on ebooks: Jeff Ritchie

Jeff Ritchie has turned a background in film and literature criticism to the dark side, specialising in the horror genre as practiced Down Under. Currently, he spends his time writing computing software, publishing reviews at various Southern websites, primarily ScaryMinds, and staying on top of the flood of new dark genre material being released. Jeff is a member of the Australian Horror Writers Association, is a current Australian Shadows Awards judge, and lives on the Central Coast of New South Wales with his wife, son, and two insane Jack Russell terriers.

I asked Jeff to participate in the ‘Grand Conversation’ because I’ve not seen anyone with as much passion for reading books in his chosen genre (Australian horror). His passion is frequently translated into rambling, entertaining reviews. As such, I was fascinated to see if Jeff had embraced ebooks. Here’s his response:


“Revenge of the Indies”

It’s on record that I’m not the biggest fan of e-books and absolutely detest those e-book readers that seem to be the latest fashion accessory. On the bright side, it gives iPad owners something to do with their otherwise ludicrous device. But rather than getting my Luddite on, I’ve been gradually coming around to the idea that the e-book is not the spawn of Satan I once supposed. There’s been a quiet revolution happening in speculative fiction due to modern technology, with e-publication the latest attempt to move publishing away from the traditional approach.

From the 1990s, the number of independent  publishers has surged as the costs of producing a book have dropped and the reality of “print on demand” has become economically viable. The indies don’t need huge print runs, for example, Tasmaniac Publications has issued Brett McBean’s Concrete Jungle in a 180-copy limited edition paperback to turn a profit and keep everyone happy with life. This has led to some risk taking, as the indies via the Internet can reach a larger worldwide market than previously available. Like cinema, the most influential releases are now coming out of the indies rather than the majors. The indies are publishing what people want to read rather than leaping on the latest fad that will eventually wither and die under the share weight of half arsed titles. How many teen angst orientated vampire books does the world really need? Possibly one more by Kirstyn McDermott, but that’s likely to have more bite than your average Twilight fan might expect. I don’t have room here to list the number of classics that have been released in recent years by the indies, but case in point: Macabre: A Journey through Australia’s Darkest Fears from Brimstone Press, the thus far definitive anthology of Australian dark genre writing.

What is noticeable is that the indies are more apt to give a new writer a hearing than the majors, who after all are stuck with an economic imperative that requires bigger print runs to cover bigger costs, ergo greater risks. With the twin advantages of lower print runs and lower prices, Black House Comics’ novella series After The World, for example, retails at $5 per issue, the indies are proving much more flexible in meeting a building demand than the majors are. For anyone who has studied business or computing, this becomes a very obvious advantage.

There are a number of obvious advantages to e-books besides price. A new publisher can get into the market fairly cheaply. Company registration, a bit of software, a website, and you are in the publishing business. The opportunity to take a risk on new authors is clearly not all that expensive. Getting review copies out is going to be a hell of a lot cheaper than sending printed books. And the whole print on demand (POD) thing that is an inherent part of ebooks means you don’t have to worry about print runs or indeed distribution. About the only issue you are going to have is getting your company name out there, attracting a few authors, and then getting the book name out to readers. But then, if you don’t know anything about marketing, channels to market through, and target demographics, then you are in the wrong business to begin with.

For readers, the three big advantages are price, ease of purchase, and a wider choice for narrow sub-genres. If you are into werewolf novels, for example, then simply cruise around the publishers and see who has lycanthrope tales available. Pay a few dollars, download your purchase,  and you are howling at the moon. Clearly with publishers, and by default authors, having less of an economic imperative to roll a profit, there is going to be a high level of risk taking going down. Yes, I know this involves a fair amount of self publishing of books that should never have left the word-processor, but half the fun is to sift through the chaff to find the grains that will make for one decent bake. I’ve read some diabolically bad e-books, the sort of stuff that makes Stephanie Meyer read like Stephen King, but equally, I’ve read some excellent stuff.

While I’m not quite ready to hand in my reading glasses for an LCD screen just yet, I must admit to having twenty or so ebooks nestled on my hard drive, both for review or simple enjoyment. Whether or not we accept the ebook explosion isn’t of consequence; the new medium is here and it’s not going to go away.


You can read Jeff Ritchie’s extensive reviews of Australian dark fiction at ScaryMinds.

Jeff maintains a blog at Beyond Scary.


The Grand Conversation on ebooks will run here at www.jiraiya.com.au until February 28. If you’d like to contribute a guest blog post, email me at shane@jiraiya.com.au.

%d bloggers like this: