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Earlier today, while I was tempted away from writing by that tantalising internet explorer button in my desktop tray, I landed on the Guardian?s site and found this piece about ebooks. Remember them? Well it seems that despite losing two major distributors (Barnes & Noble and Gemstar-TV Guide Intl) ebooks had a record-breaking year in 2003:

“The Open eBook Forum (OeBF), electronic publishing’s trade and standards body, announced that ebook sales in the US had risen by 32% in the first nine months of 2003. The OeBF estimated overall sales for the year at around $10m.”

Are ebooks the MP3s of literature? Are they another set of production tools thrust into the hands of the people? Should print publishers be worried?

Yes. Yes. No.

Although, wide-scale marketing and online availability is required for a title?s success, ebooks can still be written, produced and distributed without the help of a major publishing company.

As a writer, I?ve toyed with the idea of creating an ebook. It?d be quick, easy and get my name out there, right? But, there is still a bad stench with ebooks and for good reason. They suck.

Once again, with the tools in our hands, quality becomes a key issue. Many ebooks out there are merely disguised disastrous first drafts that haven?t been vetted by an editor and should have stayed filed away on the hard drive where they belong. All first drafts stink. And all writing, whether print or ebook (or blog for that matter), needs at least the passing glance of an editor ? even if that means just running it through spellchecker or proof-reading it. Many ebooks, I?ve read haven?t even had this done to them.

Ebooks are still finding their place in the digital world and fiction may not be where they belong. Non-fiction and audio books are being tipped as areas where ebooks can flourish. Sites like Audible.com offer a wide range of MP3 files that won?t have listeners fumbling for the next tape.

Last November, Oxford University Press launched the Oxford Scholarship Online, making 700 titles available on a searchable database. They plan to add about 200 titles a year, in hopes that by opening up their catalogue they can encourage people to discover older texts and then order the print edition. Not too sure about the logic in that thinking (how many people buy the CD after they’ve downloaded it?)

I can see non-fiction benefiting the most from going digital. The search features alone in ebooks bring the index-driven reference book into the 21st century and make it something that I would purchase.

As for ebook fiction? Until some top quality editors get involved, those nasty first drafts should remain hidden in the My Documents folder.

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