At last year’s Crimefest in Bristol, a few red wines to the worse, I found myself in discussion with a fellow Penguin crime author on the subject of ebooks. He believed they could be the future, while I played Luddite, extolled the staying power of print and rubbished the idea that some shiny trinket could ever replace the sturdy beauty of a good book.
Now I’ve just discovered, to my surprise and delight, that my first crime novel, The Blood Detective, is Waterstone’s bestselling ebook across all genres since the Sony Reader was introduced in September 2008, I hope my Penguin colleague is right and I’m wrong. Let’s just say my skepticism has waned…
I shouldn’t be the only crime writer who’s a convert to the new technology. Looking at Waterstone’s top ten bestselling ebooks of the past ten months, crime and thrillers predominate. Eight of the ten belong to those genres. Readers seem blissfully ignorant of the latest celebrity biography, while non-fiction is nowhere to be seen. Only one of Stephanie Meyer’s gazillion-selling teenage vampire tales and Markus Zusak’s award-winning The Book Thief (and that even sounds like a crime novel…) break the mystery hegemony.
Why? Everyone will have their own theories. Mine is that crime and thriller readers are among the most voracious. They consume books in days and move on to the next. An ebook reader takes the burden off those creaking bookcases, or saves valuable attic space otherwise filled with boxes bursting with paperbacks. And, as prodigious readers, crime and thriller addicts are the most likely to be bought an ebook reader as a present. Other knowledgeable people I’ve consulted attribute it to crime fans’ fondness for gadgets and gee-gaws, which I find less convincing.
At the moment in the UK, Waterstone’s and Sony more or less have the market to themselves. It’s different in the USA, where Amazon’s Kindle reigns. The online giant are trying to launch a UK version but keep running into technological problems. When those gremlins are finally sorted, the ebook market could well explode as the Kindle and the Reader face off. Who will be VHS and which will become poor old Betamax?
The ebook offers much room for innovation. The multimedia, interactive dimension – the ability to include music, moving images and pictures amid the text – could open a whole new realm of possibilities; graphic novels in particular could flourish. The minimal cost of producing an ebook in comparison to a printed version could also allow smaller authors to grab some of the pie, while also encouraging more and more to self-publish because the Internet has not been colonized by the big chains and supermarkets. Not yet anyway.
One thing is for certain – crime writers should be begging their publishers to get their works into electronic formats. There is a growing market out there for electronic books that won’t be going away and they want good crime novels. The success of Stephanie Meyer suggests the new technology is popular among teenagers and young adults. A whole new generation will emerge that wants its literature in electronic format only
No matter what format, good old print or digital, readers will still want stories and be willing to pay for the privilege of reading them. Print will never die but it looks from the encouraging sales of the Sony Reader and ebooks that both are here to stay (I hope.)
Ebooks sold since September
1 The Blood Detective, Dan Waddell
2 The First Apostle, James Becker
3 The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
4 Twilight, Stephenie Meyer
5 The Assassini, Thomas Gifford
6 Hard Evidence, Mark Pearson
7 The Skeleton Man, Jim Kelly
8 Stone Cold, David Baldacci
9 Looking Good Dead, Peter James
10 Unforgotten, Clare Francis