The Grand Conversation on ebooks: Stephen Dedman

Stephen Dedman is the award-winning author of four novels, two collections, a non-fiction book, and more than 100 short stories, plus reviews, role-playing games, stageplays, essays, and editorials. Most of the fiction he has written has been speculative, fantastic, or just plain weird, but he has also written thrillers, erotica, and westerns (sometimes all at the same time). Stephen is also the co-owner of the Fantastic Planet specialty bookstore in Perth, Western Australia.

Stephen has been involved in publishing for many years, and he’s worn so many hats over those years – author, editor, reviewer, lecturer, bookseller, reader – that I thought his participation in this discussion was essential. This is what he had to say about ebooks:


“Why I haven’t stopped worrying and learned to love e-publishing”

I have an anthology at home that I can no longer read …  well, not without bringing it into Fantastic Planet, where  the computer still has a 3.5″ floppy drive. At the time the  anthology was produced, that presumably seemed like a viable format for e-publishing.

By contrast, I have a copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare that is considerably older than I am; it was presented to my maternal grandfather when he was in school. Granted, I suspect that despite it being printed on very fine paper in a very small font, it weighs about the same as my laptop and is much less searchable than the versions on gutenberg.org, but I’m not planning on throwing it away any time soon.

This is not to say that I think e-books are a fad, or a bad thing, or that I won’t be culling books before I have to move house again. E-books may soon completely replace most hardcopy non-fiction texts, particularly those which need frequent updating or weigh and/or cost more than an iPad. E-publishing may be the best possible way to preserve novels that should never have gone out of print, as well as shorter works … and possibly films as well (have you tried buying a DVD of Twilight’s Last Gleaming, The Competition, or Battle Beyond the Stars?).

It’s also ideal for niche markets such as horror fiction, where reaching the readers through normal distribution channels isn’t cost-effective. E-publishing has revived many role-playing games, which suffered badly from this problem – with the result that adventures I wrote in the mid-to-late-80s are once again in demand, so that’s all to the good. And cutting down production costs for the publisher means that a greater proportion of the sale price goes to the writer – typically 40 to 50% rather than 8 to 10% (though despite Amazon’s claim that they’re now renting out more e-books than they are selling paperbacks, hardcopy publishing still tends to pay more per word, even for the same words).

So I’m sure that the proportion of e-books to hardcopies in my library will continue to increase; for one thing, Moore’s Law doesn’t apply to bookshelf space. So why haven’t I stopped worrying and learned to love e-publishing? It’s brought me money and kept stuff of mine available … what’s not to love?

For one thing, I also collect autographed books. And DVDs of movies and TV shows that I could download. And I buy books that I know are available from the libraries (except, sometimes, when I buy the last copy from the library). Even when I’ve had to move house, I’ve always wanted to be surrounded by as many books as I had time to read. Call me old-fashioned.

On an emotional level, I don’t get the same feeling of satisfaction from seeing something of mine as a pdf than I do from having a hardcopy book. It doesn’t have the same sensory appeal; it feels like a consolation prize rather than winning, or like the difference between seeing a beautiful woman on the screen and having one in your bed.

And on the purely practical side, I haven’t yet met the right e-reader, either hardware or software, for reading novels. I’m not saying I never will … but I’m not holding my breath, either. Those of you who bought Betamax or HD-DVD players, or who also have 3.5″ floppy anthologies should understand.


Stephen Dedman’s 1999 collection The Lady of Situations was recently reprinted by Ticonderoga Publications. It is available in print (and currently on sale!) from Indie Books online.


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.

2 Comments

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  2. Vicki says:

    Thought-provoking post, Stephen.

    “I have an anthology at home that I can no longer read … well, not without bringing it into Fantastic Planet, where the computer still has a 3.5″ floppy drive.”

    Which is why in general, I don’t like to pay more than about US$7 for an ebook. I see buying an ebook more like renting than owning. I love ebooks and the majority of my reading is digital, but for books I know I will want to reread, I always opt for paper.

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