[Editors note:  any mistakes in this post are the editor’s, not the contributor’s.  PB]  On 29 September I published my newest novel, and have been both surprised and gratified by the number of downloads. The book is a thriller with a post-apocalyptic setting, and – unlike my others – has been tagged as “science fiction” at manybooks.net and Feedbooks. I have been getting plentiful hits from SF sites.

The penny then dropped, and I posted the following poll at MobileRead:

Many members of the MobileRead forums seem to be sci-fi fans, which may not be surprising, since nearly everyone here can be regarded as an “early adopter” and is thus likely to have a greater than average interest in science and technology. But is it true? I know genres are pretty arbitrary and artificial, but if you had to name just one as your favourite, what would it be? Could a poll of MobileRead members’ tastes give an indication of how far the e-book revolution has got? So let’s find out! Please vote … what is your favourite genre?

So far there have been 76 respondents, 60.5% of whom chose “SF/fantasy” as their favourite genre. This suggests that the “e-book revolution” has quite some way to go.

Technology in its infancy

It’s obvious, really, when you think about it. The technology is still in its infancy: you have to be something of a wirehead to get the best from it. Will the time ever come when e-books are as easy to acquire and use as p-books?

I think it will, and perhaps sooner than later. When non-technical types are first shown a Sony Reader, for example, they are fascinated. When they understand that there are tens of thousands of free and inexpensive books on the net, they think of all the money they spend on paper. But when they learn the price-tag of the device, they draw back. “Later, maybe.”

E-book displays are improving

A parallel between the e-book display and the mp3 player is often drawn, and rightly so. Though they are not directly comparable, both help to remove the monopoly on distribution formerly enjoyed by the old-style publishing models for books and records. And just as mp3 players have got better and cheaper and easier to use, so will e-book displays.

Quite soon, I believe, the revolution will really take to the streets: and after that, no single genre will be able to command a majority of votes from the respondents at MobileRead.


  1. Good points, Richard–

    Certainly the price tag on devices slowed my own eReading decisions (instead of a dedicated device, I used a refurbished Palm for a long time–and still do when I’m mobile).

    One thing though–the poll didn’t ask whether we read SF/F exclusively. So, of course I checked the ‘yes’ answer even though I would also have checked it if it had asked if I read mystery or romance. I suspect I’m not the only reader who crosses genres.

    Rob Preece
    Publisher, http://www.BooksForABuck.com

  2. Well, that poll only gives you a minority of a minority!

    First minority: eBook readers who go to MobileRead
    Second minority: Those MR readers who saw and voted

    Really, it’s just not so that most eBook readers would go to MR (or even here). Once they get their device going, they don’t need techie talk, they need books, and so tend to go to book sites.

  3. The website where a poll is conducted can sway the results dramatically because of selection and self-selection bias. The top three “genres” or categories of e-books at one website might be: “Historical-Romance, Paranormal Romance and Erotic Romance”. Another website might find “Cliff Notes, Spark Notes and Pink Monkey”. If O’Reilly conducted a poll it might yield “Mac OS Leopard, Javascript, and Python”.

    I know these are not really genres. This is meant to be a humorous comment about polls at topic focused websites and proliferating sub-niches.

  4. Fair enough about the self-selecting poll, and the bias to be expected from MobileRead (which is avowedly aimed at “geeks”).

    I had a look at the top 20 downloads from Feedbooks, and they give some credence to the SF thing:

    1. 1984 [en] (1949) 58925 download(s) Orwell
    2. The Art of War [en] (-500) 55008 download(s) Sun Tzu
    3. Le Kama Sutra [fr] (400) 42556 download(s) Vatsyayana
    4. Animal Farm [en] (1945) 34086 download(s) Orwell
    5. I, Robot [en] (2005) 31157 download(s) Doctorow
    6. The Great Gatsby [en] (1925) 24970 download(s) Fitzgerald
    7. Grimm’s Fairy Tales [en] (1812) 24550 download(s) Grimm
    8. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes [en] (1892) 22621 download(s) Doyle
    9. War and Peace [en] (1869) 21797 download(s) Tolstoy
    10. The Divine Comedy [en] (1306) 21402 download(s) Dante
    11. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland [en] (1897) 20610 download(s) Carroll
    12. Pride and Prejudice [en] (1813) 20114 download(s) Austen
    13. Beyond Good and Evil [en] (1886) 19177 download(s) Nietzsche
    14. The Count of Monte Cristo [en] (1845) 18584 download(s) Dumas
    15. Dream Psychology [en] (1920) 18484 download(s) Freud
    16. Dracula [en] (1897) 18476 download(s) Stoker
    17. The Picture of Dorian Gray [en] (1891) 17855 download(s) Wilde
    18. Moby-Dick [en] (1851) 17471 download(s) Melville
    19. The Prince [en] (1513) 17307 download(s) Machiavelli
    20. The War of the Worlds [en] (1898) 16801 download(s) Wells

    1984 is often classified as SF, not that I would myself; War of the Worlds could hardly be more so; and to have 1.69 I Robot downloads for every Pride and Prejudice must say something about the tastes of ebook fans — or at least the downloaders at Feedbooks.

    Let us agree that there is an unusual preponderance of SF fans at MobileRead !

  5. Oh sure, I don’t deny that SF is a hugely popular genre on the Net. I’m just saying that MR poll is not to be used as any sort of guide in and of itself.

    As for Feedbooks, I wait for the day when lists can be broken out by devices. I’d be real interested to see what eBooks iPhone/iPod Touch owners are snagging!

    And there are several eBook site owners here. Maybe they can chime in with some lists too.

    Lastly, here are the Bestsellers at Sony’s eBook Store:

    See, that looks non-geek to me.

    (I note Anathem is currently 43 — despite being $8 off!)

  6. I’m a long-time speculative fiction fan, but what initially drew me to ebooks was … Victorian novels. I am fond of obscure authors like Charlotte Yonge, few of whose books are still in print. In dead-tree books, that is. I can get a large chunk of her long-form fiction for free as ebooks.

    This strategy eventually backfired on me, as reading ebooks led to volunteering at Distributed Proofreaders which led to buying old out-of-print books so that I could digitize them. But if you don’t drink the DP koolaid 🙂 reading ebooks is a sound financial strategy for anyone who likes older books.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail newteleread@gmail.com.