By Xandra Veal
Before I get completely carried away, I am assuming that, as you're reading an online article, you know what an e-book is?
In the off-chance that you don't, it's really just like any other book in content - but it's a computer file and as such doesn't exist in the "real world". It's true that some e-books are also printed, but that's not the point as that is then an ordinary book.
E-books come in a number of formats - too many to go into here - but increasingly I think it's the Adobe PDF format that is the most popular. The reader software is always free (http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html) and it works on all PCs, Apple Macs and, as far as I am aware, virtually all popular hand held devices like Palm, etc. There are a small number of dedicated portable reading devices that PDF doesn't work on, but that's such as small percentage of the market it's not relevant to us as craftspeople. Trust me, if you're going to buy an e-book, or your going to write one, use PDF.
But why e-books anyway? There are hundreds of hard cover and soft cover books out there, enough choice for everyone you might think. So why bother with e-books at all?
Well for a start, as far as I'm concerned there will never be too much choice! You can't ever have too many ideas - and this is one of the main benefits of e-books.
You see e-books are much cheaper to publish than "normal" books. A traditional publisher has to do a lot of math before deciding to produce a book. There's paper, ink, print costs, storage, distribution... and all this has nothing to do with whether the book is a good one or not - just whether it's "commercially viable".
On the other hand, you can produce an e-book on your computer - right now. You can set up a website to promote it. People can buy it and download it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from anywhere in the world.
I'm not saying it's necessarily an easy thing - I've collaborated on quite a few and it's hard work - but it is do-able, and you aren't restricted by the commercial considerations of traditional publishing.
The great benefit that this gives us is that smaller interest groups can be catered for. An e-book publisher doesn't have to sell "X" number of copies just to break even, they can do it for the love of the subject. Sure, if it ages a few bucks that's nice too - but it doesn't need to be the main motivation.
And so we get really knowledgeable, creative people sharing their skills with us. People who might never have been published normally can give us the benefit of what they've learned in pursuit of their craft.
There are a couple of practical benefits as well.
Because it's a digital file you download it to your PC in minutes. You don't have to wander the shops, you don't have to wait for the mail and, because there are no delivery costs, they're quite often cheaper.
You can read it on screen or print just some of the pages out - which if you think about it is particularly pertinent to crafts people.
For example, if you knit and your e-book has patterns, then you only need print them out - not try to balance the whole book on your lap or on the arm of your chair. If you're a wood or leather worker, for example, you can just print the relevant patterns or instructions and take them to your workshop or studio - and of course because the book is digital you can do this once, twice, a hundred or more times. So no more trips to the copy shop either!
Finally - and I've done this one myself - you don't have to worry about those little "accidents" ruining your precious book. If you spill coffee or paint or anything over you just go back to the computer and print another one!
So I know what you're asking - what about the downsides? An e-book isn't exactly a treasured possession for your library, is it.
True - and I probably wouldn't buy my favorite novel as an e-book to curl up in front of on the sofa. But I'm talking about craft e-books. They are reference works, instructional, often with patterns - so yes, I prefer them. The only down side I can think of is that because they're relatively cheap to publish there are occasionally a few which aren't of the best quality.
But even then there's a solution that you won't often find in the world of "normal" books. Almost every craft e-book publisher I know of has so much faith in their product they offer a 100% no-quibble money back guarantee. So you can't loose. If you don't like the book you simply ask for your money back.
Try that at your local bookstore.
Xandra Veal runs http://craftbooksnow.com a website which reviews over 70 craft e-books covering needle-crafts, kids crafts, jewelry, beading, scrap-booking, soaps, fragrances, candles, flowers, leather, wood and more.
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