Emily Gould Answers Our Important But Inane Questions About Buying Ebooks

by Emily Gould

Emily Gould and Ruth Curry own and run Emily Books, an independent ebookstore offering books handpicked by them. It’s a fairly genius concept and a grand experiment in democratizing a business dominated by massive bookstore conglomerates. You know how it feels so much better to buy jam from the farmers market than the grocery store? It feels great to buy an ebook from Emily Books.

Also: If you buy a book from Emily Books, two genius ladies with great taste have not only okayed it, they’ve worked really hard to share it with you. Reading their books has made me smarter and also a better person, plus I went to an Emily Books event and met my new best friends, I am not making this up. ANYWAY. The service is totally awesome and Emily Books is my preferred company to buy ebooks from, but: Sometimes a person needs to buy a book that is not intellecutally-stimulating and world-widening fiction and memoir written by women. Sometimes a person needs to buy a paranormal teen romance or a self-help book. What then?

Emily graciously agreed to answer our important but inane questions about buying ebooks. — LS

What is an ebook?
Haha really? No, ok, fine. An ebook is an electronic book, formatted to read on an electronic reading device. It has pages you flip by touching the edge of the page with your finger (on an iPad or iPhone) or by pressing a button (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc).

It has some advantages over its printed brethren: unlike a print book you can search within it to find all the recurrences of a particular word or phrase the same way you’d search within a Word document or the Internet, it automatically holds your place, and you can carry around a whole library with you everywhere and never be stuck buying an Us Weekly full of Teen Moms you don’t care about because you forgot something to read on the plane/train. And it’s lighter, so you never have to worry that you’ll accidentally drop an 800 page hardcover on someone’s head on the subway and get arrested for assault.

Despite all this, printed books remain the most elegant and efficient way to read, with the huge advantage that by their very nature they prevent you from reading anything but themselves (ie, you cannot use them to look at Twitter). I like both for different purposes, and when I love a book I’ve read electronically I’ll usually buy a hard copy.

What are the different file types help I’m confused.
.epub is the general file format and .mobi is the proprietary Kindle file format. If you accidentally download a .mobi and want to read it on your iPhone or iPad, though, you can do so with the Kindle app.

This one book I really want to buy as an ebook is not available as an ebook, and that is frustrating.
Not all books are yet available as ebooks for a few reasons. I know firsthand that it can be very hard to convince publishers and authors that it’s worth the time and effort to make an ebook of their book. Some authors don’t want their books to exist as ebooks, thinking it will devalue the printed object. Other times it’s just a rights hassle that involves contacting a lot of difficult -to-contact people.

Depending on when a book was published, electronic files of any kind may not exist, which makes the conversion process that much harder. Also converting a print book to an ebook in a way that creates a pretty and readable text isn’t a matter of, like, pressing a button. It’s tricky and time consuming and we take a lot of pride in doing it well.

I want to support writers and independent booksellers and publishers. Where should I buy ebooks?
For now, downloading the Indiebound app and buying Google ebooks from your local independent bookstore or directly from the publisher when possible is your best solution. This program will be curtailed in January though and I don’t know what will happen then. The American Booksellers Association says it is contracting with a third party to find a way for independents to keep selling ebooks, which I will believe when I see it.

Um let me just interject here my opinion that, if you have to choose between companies that are coercing us into buying their planned-obsolescent devices by making things impossible to otherwise buy, I’d go with Apple over Amazon. Or Kobo over Amazon. Or Barnes & Noble (Nook) over Amazon. So: Second best solution is Kobo, third is Nook.

This isn’t really the right venue for all my rants but the short version is, Amazon is coercing publishers to sell books for lower prices, exerting way too much control over what gets published, and deliberately working to put independent bookstores out of business and take tax dollars away from towns and cities that need them Also they treat their warehouse workers deplorably.

Also obviously you should buy books from us, because we’re an independent ebookstore, but we only sell a handful of books so I understand that we’re not the solution if you are looking for a book that’s not … one of those books.

Is sharing ebooks stealing?
I don’t think it’s stealing. I don’t even think it’s stealing to remove DRM from a book and share it with your friend. (Google “remove DRM.”) If you can share print books with a friend, why shouldn’t you be able to share ebooks? Just as you wouldn’t xerox and distribute hundreds of copies of your library book, though, you shouldn’t put your ebooks up on torrent sites. Sorry to have to say something so “duh” but if you pirate books they will cease to exist. Or at least published books will. Self-published, uncopyedited dreck that is indistinguishable from the worst parts of the internet will be the only books our civilization has unless we keep paying for books.

What if I want to buy an ebook and give it to someone?
You know, this is a really good question and I have no idea what the answer is. I would just email Christine Onorati at WORD if I wanted to do this and she would figure it out for me. Seriously. (Or I’d get my friend an Emily Books gift certificate.)

Christine Onorati at WORD, how do I gift someone an ebook?
So at the moment, it’s sort of possible to gift an ebook from our indie commerce sites. Basically we can sell a digital gift code that can then be redeemed for an ebook. So a customer can buy a gift code and send it to another customer. This isn’t exactly gifting an ebook, but it could be used to send a corresponding amount of money and a recommendation. Any ebook purchased through an indie bookstore absolutely supports us.

Awesome. Back to Emily. Okay so it’s good to know that I can take DRM off if I want, but where can I buy non-DRM books?
Right now, Tor/Macmillan is the only major publisher that offers ebooks without digital rights management, but other big publishers will follow suit. Smaller publishers typically don’t put DRM on books because they can’t afford to but sometimes their distributors do, so you can get non DRM books if you buy from them directly. Oh and Emily Books. Emily Books, Emily Books, Emily Books.

Emily Gould is a bookstore owner, writer, and yoga teacher in New York.

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