A Luddite Looks at the Future of Books

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Back in the early 1980s, when I first heard about compact discs, I swore that I would never give up my beloved vinyl records. (–sigh– Kids, ask your parents if you don’t understand what I’m talking about.)  I had a good-sized collection of LPs that included what were called “audiophile” pressings — Original Master Recordings and records pressed in Japan.  I LOVED my records.  Then, in 1985, I got to play with a friend’s CD player.  The discs were small and shiny and you could do just about anything to them and they didn’t get tics or pops or anything else that ruined the play quality.  I bought a player that December.  I held on to my turntable for a while (Yeah, kids, ask your parents about that, too) and I still listened to those records I hadn’t yet replaced on CD.  But I don’t think I’ve listened to a record since 1991.

I got back into photography in a serious way about six years ago, when digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras were just beginning to become affordable.  But I loved the color I got from Fuji Velvia film, and I felt that there was something inherently wrong about taking a digital image and then manipulating it after the fact on one’s computer.  Then we found out that we’d be spending the year in Australia, and I just couldn’t see dragging rolls and rolls of film over there and then dragging a ton of photos back with me.  Digital was so much easier, and the images really did look quite amazing and, well, it was nice being able to shoot and shoot and shoot without worrying about the price of film and developing.  That was 2005.  I haven’t used my film camera since.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen the release of a new version of Amazon’s Kindle reader, as well as the introduction of Barnes and Noble’s Nook.  In addition to these two, there are many other e-reader makes and models on the market, and there are also e-reader apps for phones and MP3 players.  I can tell you right now that I have no intention of ever, ever buying an e-reader.  I read real books and always will.

Right.

The truth is, we’ll all be reading books on e-readers eventually.  It’s inevitable.  I say this as someone who loves books.  I love them as a reader, as a writer, as a collector.  But books are an endangered species.  I don’t think they’ll vanish from mainstream stores the way vinyl records have, at least not in my lifetime.  But I do think that e-readers will become be so ubiquitous that they will become the norm and books the novelty.  I find the idea of this depressing.   There is no bigger thrill for me as a writer than receiving that box from my publisher containing copies of my newest release.  Getting an e-file with a jpeg attached won’t be the same.  As a collector, I look at the boxed, bound leather volumes I have of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, at the first edition hardcovers of Ender’s Game and the three volumes of The Fionavar Tapestry, and I wonder how electronic copies of these books could possibly be considered suitable replacements.  As a reader, I dread the idea of having to use a screen for this, too.  I spend all day in front of a computer.  I have a screen on my phone, on my MP3 player.  I don’t want reading a book to have anything to do with a screen.

But let’s look at the flip side of this.  Books, I hate to say, are an environmental nightmare.  It’s not just the trees — we can recycle paper, and it’s not as though we’ll need wood pulp for newspapers much longer….  No, the real ecological and economic costs of books lie in shipping and storage.  Books weigh a lot, and they have to transported from binder to distributor to store.  Stock has to be stored in warehouses that have at least some minimal controls on temperature and humidity.   All of that costs money, and all of it results in the burning of fossil fuels.  The physical aspect of the publishing business model is unsustainable.  Actually, it’s very similar to what happened in the music industry.  When I was in college, I had a couple of peach crates that were filled with records.  Now I have a device that fits in my breast pocket and that is capable of holding every song on every record in those crates, plus about two thousand songs more.  Someday, I’ll have an e-reader that will hold the contents of every book on every shelf in my office, and then some.

In fact, leaving out the Edison phonograph cylinder (which are very cool to see — my sister has an original) the record-CD-MP3 progression is VERY similar to the publishing industry’s journey from bound hardcover, to mass market paperback, to e-reader.  Yes, the publishing industry has been much slower to evolve (paperbacks, the CDs of publishing, first appeared in the 17th century and really became popular in the 19th), which is part of the reason I believe books will be around for years to come and won’t vanish the way vinyl did.  But the progression is happening right before our eyes, and it’s not going to stop.

What does it mean for us as writers?  I don’t know yet.  None of us does.  One of the reasons these are such difficult times in publishing, and for writers in particular, is that the future of the medium itself is in flux.  Publishers are unsure of where their industry is headed, and that makes them reluctant to spend money.  Not a good thing for writers.  But by the same token, the new e-technology might lead to a number of developments that could help writers in the long run.  E-books will eventually be cheaper than bound books, so they will sell more easily.  And since the physical costs of producing an e-book are minimal, authors and agents might eventually win more favorable royalty rate structures.  Lower prices, higher sales, higher royalty percentages — this should mean more money for writers.  And if the publishers won’t cooperate with efforts to reform royalty structures, e-book formats will also make it easier for authors to self-publish, to market our wares directly to consumers, without having to go through publishing houses.

I believe that mass market paperbacks will be the first format to die out.  That probably sounds counterintuitive, but that’s what I see happening.  Before the recession hit, making the expense of hardcovers prohibitive, paperback sales were the biggest drag on the industry.  Hardcovers, which are printed in smaller numbers, were still sought after by collectors; trade paperbacks were seen as a better quality product.  But mass-market paperbacks were seen as cheaply made and too expensive for what they were.  That will continue I think.  Like vinyl records, hardcover books will always appeal to a few serious bibliophiles; e-books will appeal to young readers and the techie set.  Trade paperbacks will have an audience in academia.  Mass market paperbacks will vanish.  My opinion, based on nothing, really.

On the other hand, piracy might become more of a problem.  Stealing a thousand paperbacks from a bookstore is hard; pirating a thousand e-books from illegal sites online is easy.  Our understanding of copyright protection is going to change dramatically in coming years.  More uncertainty.

It’s a bit early to begin mourning the death of the book.  Newspapers might not survive the decade, but books will still be around for a long time to come.  Still, we are witnessing a long, slow revolution.  I’m frightened by it, but also fascinated.  And as an author I’m determined to catch the wave if it comes sooner than I expect.  I won’t let something as small as the end of publishing as we know it get in the way of my career….

David B. Coe

http://DavidBCoe.livejournal.com

http://www.DavidBCoe.com

http://magicalwords.net

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32 comments to A Luddite Looks at the Future of Books

  • Interesting post, David, and I sympathize. Can I add another area of authorial paranoia? One of the frequent gripes about self-publishing is that major retailers won’t take the books you print yourself. I know that self-publishing is a good option for some people and that some great material gets out that way, but we all know that most self-ublished books are just not very good. But what happens if everything goes to e-book format and there’s suddenly to reason for an e-distributor to distinguish between what comes out of a major house and what comes straight from your computer? What happens when we go from a few hundred new books a month to tens of thousands? How do we spot the quality, and how do serious writers stop their stuff from vanishing in the tide? I realize that there is some snobbery as well as paranoia in what I’m saying, but for all the democratizing of the internet, there’s a part of me that fears that the sheer volume becomes worse than unwieldy. My students can’t tell good information from bad in what they find online, so I have reason to be nostalgic for the days when respectable publishers weeded out the junk before they saw it. Will the same thing happen to publishing generally so that finding quality books among the quantity published will be like finding a needle in a haystack or–worse–become about who spends the most in advertizing? Maybe I’m just scare-mongering. I kind of hope so.

  • We bought my father a Kindle last Christmas. He loves to read, but since he and Mama retired, they’ve travelling quite a lot, so we thought the Kindle might solve the problem of having to pack enough books for every trip. Before we wrapped it up, my husband and I opened it to make sure we knew how it worked, so we’d be able to show Daddy on Christmas morning (he’s notorious for not reading manuals.) I have never been one who liked reading text on a screen, but I fell madly in love with that little machine. The screen is the color of paper pages, and it’s so easy to use we hardly needed the manual ourselves. Real books are treasures to me, and since books have been around for centuries, I agree with you that they’re not going anywhere just yet.

    But that Kindle was pretty darned nifty.

  • Yeah, Misty, I tried a friend’s Kindle over the summer, and I got that “new gadget” high. It is really cool, but it’s still not a book. And if/when we suffer major energy issues in this world, that old, non-electronic paper book will start looking real good to a lot of people.

    Regarding A.J.’s comment about the tidal wave of crud that will pollute the internet — while I agree this will happen initially, I think it will also spur the creation of some method to siphon through it. Perhaps review sites will become of great value or works that are guaranteed to have been edited by a professional editor (it might be that an editor’s name will become an important selling point) or somebody will create a google-type program to help. Google itself was created to solve this very need for the internet — gazillions of websites and no way to sift through it all. What I don’t see happening beyond the initial few years is books by the zillions just floating around and no way to find what’s good. Then again, I write SF and Fantasy, so maybe I’m just a dreamer.

  • And if/when we suffer major energy issues in this world, that old, non-electronic paper book will start looking real good to a lot of people.

    So we writers ought to be hoping for the apocalypse? *laughs*

    Seriously, e-readers won’t replace books in my heart any time soon. Besides, a good thick hardcover book with those sharp corners makes a much better weapon against zombies than a skinny little e-reader. 😀

  • Thanks for the comments, all. A.J., I do think that there is some danger in this, but I also think that e-reader manufacturers will find a way to a) control distribution of ebooks, and b) as a result, exert some control over quality. We’ve been discussing these issues in another online group, and the thing to remember is that, like cell phones and mp3 players, the real money in e-readers is not in the initial hardware investment, but rather in the purchases and/or subscriptions that will follow. The machines that are put out there by booksellers (Amazon’s Kindle, B&N’s Nook) already have distributional quality control built in (This is not necessariy a good thing but I think it does speak to the quality control concerns). If you’re not legit enough to have your books marketed through the online merchant, you’re going to have some trouble getting your work on to an e-reader. Other manufacturers are likely to team up with book distributors or publishers for material and promotions (“Buy the E-Reader 4000 and get the first 500 books free!”) Now one of the great things about some e-readers is that you can also put RTF and DOC files on them and actually edit manuscripts — a big draw for me when I finally break down and get one. And so there will be some flexibility built in and people will be able to download self-pubbed and small press books. But they’ll know where their downloads originate and so will have some idea of source, and perhaps some sense of the same hierarchical publishing structure that we see in “real” books today.

    Misty, I have refused to pick up a Kindle and play with it for just that reason. I’m not ready to be sucked in. First, I can’t afford it, and second, I like my old fashioned books, damn-it! But as I say above, the idea of having a book reader that also would allow me to take a manuscript of, say, 500 pages on a trip? Well, that has obvious appeal. Hmmmm. I have a hankering for new technology now. Better go look at camera lenses…..

    Stuart, I do wonder about the relative “green” costs of the energy required to run hundreds of millions of e-readers versus the energy required to ship paper books. Interesting question, really; you’re right: that could be a countervailing argument. Let’s hope they don’t do away with books altogether….. And yeah, as you can see in my answer to A.J. above, I’m not sure I’m worried about the quality control thing either. Although, like all writers, I’m perfectly capable of being totally paranoid.

  • >>Besides, a good thick hardcover book with those sharp corners makes a much better weapon against zombies than a skinny little e-reader.<<

    Ah, but the E-Reader 4000 XS comes with a ray blaster that allows you to keep Zombies at bay WHILE you read! That's why Adventure Hero and devoted reader Buckaroo Bonzai calls it "The only E-Reader I'll ever use!"

  • OK. Fears temporarily assuaged. Now about the tree at the bottom of the garden that looks like a troll waiting to pounce…

  • Yeah, can’t help you with the troll. Good luck, though….

  • But how will we be able to sign our books at book signings?!?!?

    Hey, David Coe e-signed my e-book!

    He did not! You just photoshoped that on!

    Awesome. :\

    I’ll be back later in more detail. Busy day…

  • Ah, yes. Signings. Well, that’s where the whole we-still-need-hardcovers-for-collectors thing comes in….

  • David, another thing writers have to include in our thinking processes is the change the E-market makes in our contracts. My last contracts have had e-book clauses in them (it was so weird seeing that) with these really nice percentage points for the author. The cost of paper printing (from the initial planting of the trees) is so much more than the cost of an e-format, that the writer can potentilaly see more money per sale.

    As to carbon footprint difference between the two methods, I am betting on the e-format being much much much less.

    Why? Land use, release of carbon from planting, erosion from planting trees, controlled burning to decrease the scrub below trees, use of ferilizers for trees, (don’t get me started on the cheaper cost of hemp {our government is stupid} and bamboo) the cost of harvesting the trees which could have been left for virgin forest (better for the environment in every way) or used for food production, the cost of transporting the trees, debarking, breaking them down (mechanical and chemical), bleaching and treating them (dioxins and air pollution) and making them into paper, polishing, cutting, transporting to printers, cost of ink (pollution, again) binding (glue and its production) then shipping to pub (gasoline production and shipping and exhuast), cost of road maintenance for all the transportation, and then to distrubutor (see above) then to book stores.

    Cost to the environment is less with e-books providing that a proper disposal (recyclycling) is managed. I just don’t see a downside to e-pubing for the environment or for the writer — providing that the rights of authors are maintained and proper filtering out of poorly written and non-edited crapola is handled.

    That said. I don’t have an e-book reader and have no plans to get one soon. I just plain ol’ *like* a paper book. But I do see the writing on the wall. (haha) Paper books are on the way out.
    Disclaimer:
    (Daddy was an engineer and administrator at paper plants for his professional life.)

  • All great points, Faith. You’re exactly right — there is enormous ecological upside to ebooks. But like you, I prefer curling up with a book to curling up with an oversized MP3 player.

  • Judy

    Hi David,

    I’ve been reading on my Palm Pilot for almost 10 years now. Though not as enjoyable as a “real” book, the ease and convenience makes it a winner. If you travel alot it is so much easier to carry one little reader and a charging cord than a bunch of books. You can download a bazillion books onto a 1GB card! Downside is reading in bright sunshine, not so much fun.

    I’ve been looking at the Sony Daily Edition Reader that has gotten rave reviews, though it is still very expensive. So for now, I’ll stick with the Palm reader.

    ~Judy

  • Books have stayed for so long without much development, because for me they represent a time capsule that catches you at a certain time during your life journey and stays a tangible memory [if you happen to mark it or see memorable stains by accident or they just highlight a decade] while music although nostalgic is shorter and it is not so much the format it is being produced from rather than the content that is important, while books are culmination of both content and physicality [rough pages, lettering, shrift, original cover art and a sign from the author or a wish from a dear friend/relative/lover] This is why they have stayed so long, but yes with the new generations being induced with technologies and I am from that Z generation, where shiny, compact and digital is the way to go. The transition will as you said happen at a very slow pace, because schools still use paper text books and the book assignments are for books found in the library, but as reading for pleasure evolves and the older editions of classics become available for e-readers the physical book will be a thing of the past. Regrettable, but unavoidable.

  • I’ve heard good things about the Sony readers, Judy, although frankly, if you’ve been reading for this long on a palm anything you get eventually will probably seem big and bright! For all my reservations about the e-book thing, everyone I know who has one — of any format — has said that the convenience is well worth the price and the lose of that paper-book feel.

    Harry, thanks for the comment. I have to disagree with you a little bit, though. For me, music, and in particular record (vinyl) albums are every bit as laden with memory and nostalgia. But I do agree with you that availability will drive the transition. CDs really caught on when just about everything that had been available in LP became available in CD. When that tipping point is reached the books, the change over will accelerate.

  • Strangely, I’m both an epubbed and traditional published author and I don’t own an ereader because I, too, prefer books in hand. Not only that, but I’m also a very practical consumer. With the cost of an ereader these days, that thing had better do more than just allow me to read books. That’s why I purchased a netbook instead. Also, if I lose a book (and it’s happened more times than I care to mention), it’s nothing compared to breaking an ereader device. I can replace the book for less than $10. I can’t say the same for an ereader.

    I know ebooks are here to stay. Everyone loves “new and shiny” technology that will make our lives more convenient. That’s an ebook for you. However, I also agree that paper isn’t going away anytime soon. It’ll take a few generations before everyone “buys” into ebooks and even that’s not a guarantee. Also, I feel like ebooks won’t be widely accepted until traditional publishers adapt their publishing models to accommodate them, too. They’ve already started, as Faith pointed out with the ebook clause in her contract. That’s a small tip of the iceburg. When real money starts flowing in from ebooks, that’s when I think everyone will jump onboard head first. What’s happening now is only in preparation for that.

  • With the cost of an ereader these days, that thing had better do more than just allow me to read books.

    I’ve heard from several editors who love the devices, because they can upload manuscripts they’re reading and take them on long trips. Which means they can carry more than one. And the Kindle allows you to make notes (sort of like writing in textbooks when we were in college) so editors can mark things for later.

    I’m not helping, am I? 😀

  • Hi, David! Kindle owner and aspiring writer here, weighing in. If/when my agent sells my book, I am certainly hoping to see a paper copy in a bookstore. Definitely more of a thrill. But I would give that up in a nanosecond if it meant I got more readers via ebooks.

    For me, the Kindle offers a way to read more books. With it in my purse, those little annoying waits at the doctor’s office, the bank, the beer store (you would not believe how long it can take my husband to chose a six-pack) become reading opportunities. Between that and the instant gratification of wireless connectivity I BUY a lot more books now. From what I hear, my experience is typical. If eReaders can keep reading off the endangered activities list, then I am all for them.

    As for ebooks resulting in a flood of crap, it’s possible, but another advantage is the “free sample” feature. I can try out a book before I buy it by downloading a beginning chapter or so. This makes me much more willing to try new authors, BTW, so that’s a good thing.

    The saddest part of the eReader revolution will be the decline of bookstores. It’s my hope that the chains will suffer most and that small, boutique stores that offer atmosphere, knowledgeable staff, and specialized books will survive.

    Time will tell.

  • Oops! I forgot to add that one advantage of a Kindle 2 for an author is it can read the m.s. aloud to you. This is great for those of us whose brains keep supplying the missing word no matter how many time we see the text on the page.

  • The vinyl to CD analogy is interesting because it changed the way we conceived of albums. CDs reinforced a postmodern pick-and-mix approach to albums, people choosing individual songs in random order, while vinyl encouraged people to listen to whole records one side at a time (if only for fear of damaging the record by moving the needle around. I don’t think think the “concept” albums of the 70s would have happened if the technology of the day had been CD. I wonder if the move to e-books will similarly alter the nature of the book content somehow?

  • Robin

    I’m not predicting an apocalypse, per se, but considering that written records (including the myths and fantasies) of past civilizations are sometimes all we can use to understand them, would our civilization be best preserved on degradable paper or on less-degradable-but-possibly-inaccessable silicon? Will future archeologists have to rebuild and power up a Kindle before they can start translating our language?

    Unless ebooks get really, really cheap, the most voracious readers will never be able to afford them. I read a book every two days and without the local library, I’d be living in a cardboard box. (Or sadly fiction-free.) Will we have community e-libraries for our e-readers? Some audio- and e-books are already available through local libraries (requiring you to download a program first that “returns” the book when your subscription is up). But if those libraries are widely available–and accessible to any e-reader and computer with an internet connection, regardless of how far you are from home–why would anyone buy an e-book? Same convenience, same reader, no worries that someone else sneezed on your copy of the e-book…. Sure, many would buy it just to enable more to be written, but are enough of us that forward-thinking? I buy books I want to have at my fingertips to re-read and to make others read. When every book is at my fingertips….

    I don’t claim to be a historian or an economist, and I don’t know a whole lot about non-criminal laws, but wouldn’t there be groups dedicated to keeping society’s knowledge accessible to everyone, of every economic class? Even in our country, the lowest classes lack the funds for e-readers and computers. If knowledge (and entertainment) is to remain accessible to them, books must remain in print so that libraries can lend them out. … Unless libraries are willing to lend out e-readers as they once did record players….

  • Guin

    I saw an article that reported that one of the upcoming e-readers will have a solar panel charger. Things like that will help even more on the energy-consumption issue.

    My problem is that I loan out a number of my books when I’m done. E-readers make that problematic (although I think the Nook will allow you to “loan” books for short periods — but you still have to have someone with an e-reader on the other end). You can’t sell e-books to your local used book store, either, which may have an impact on purchase decisions.

  • You’re right, Marcia. Development of the technology will follow the flow of money. But as Misty points out, they have great tools for writers built in already, and they’re only going to get better. And pretty soon e-sales will be a standard line on our royalty statements. Thanks for the comments.

    Misty, I’m putting my fingers in my ears and singing “La, la, la, la, la….” very loudly.

    A.J., I’ve wondered the exact same thing. You’re absolutely right: The idea of the concept album is basically a thing of the past. Not only is there now a piecemeal mentality to the marketing of music, but also with the advent of CDs, albums have gotten much longer, and a lot of the music that finds its way onto an album now is filler in a way. The tight, concept albums of Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, even the Beatles — gone. And what does that mean for the future of writing? Will it bring back the anthology and collection from the fringes of fiction marketing? Will novels get shorter and shorter, to accommodate consumer attention spans? Interesting questions.

    Robin, I’ve also wondered about the point you raise in your first paragraph. I was trained as a historian. Documents are treasure troves of information. How will historians access e-files in various formats two centuries from now? And how will we prevent public figures from deleting the files they don’t want history to see? As to your other point, about ebooks and their cost, I do think that they will grow cheaper and cheaper as we move into e-book subscription services and the like, and I also think that there will be ways for libraries — perhaps e-libraries! — to lend books. Or will there be a NetBoox, to go along with NetFlix? I do hope that there are groups out there preserving documents of all sorts in both e and physical format. Too much can be lost too easily. Thanks for the comments.

  • Guin, you posted while I was writing the last comment; sorry. I love the idea of a solar charger, but readers are going to have to do a better job of making their screens readable in direct sunlight for that to work. Loans among friends? Hmmm. Interesting. No idea how that will be addressed. But used bookstores will be endangered when paper books truly vanish. Until then, I think they’ll continue to hold their own. Very interesting questions. Thanks!

    And Karen — yours posted out of order. Thanks for the comments. I do think there are ways in which the movement to e-readers will help authors, and you mention quite a few of them: willingness to experiment, giving people more opportunity to read and more incentive to buy. I’d add to that the idea that readers will eventually be sold packaged with books already included, and so people will be given freebies that will probably lead to future sales. I should be excited about these coming changes. But the traditionalist in me resists, and the paranoid pessimist in me wonders how writers will end up getting screwed by the new marketing model.

  • David said, Ah, but the E-Reader 4000 XS comes with a ray blaster that allows you to keep Zombies at bay WHILE you read!

    See, now if I ever DO buy an e-reader, I will have to glue a little laser blaster onto the top corner. Can’t have zombies or troll-trees sneaking up on me while I’m reading…

  • Judy

    Well, I still shoot chromes (in my Pentax 67 and Hasselblad X-pan), so I guess I’m still behind the curve in some things!

  • I’ve always wanted to shoot in large or medium format. I’ll have to try it eventually. The whole process looks so cool, and I think it would help my photography to have the slower pace of large format shooting imposed on me.

  • Judy

    I’ve shot a little 4 x 5 over the years and it really makes you “think” about composition, etc. Plus the developing process is a blast, if you can find a wet darkroom to use. Lots of places are no longer doing wet process or large formats.

    There’s a great website called APUG.org which is “Analog Photographers Users Group” that has lots of good info on non-digital photography..

    Right now I’ve experimenting with B & W Infrared shot on my DSLR. Fun, with neat results and it makes think about what I’m shooting.

  • Sounds very cool. And yes the “think” part of composition was what I meant when I said that it would slow me down. I think there are still wet darkroom facilities at the university here, so that wouldn’t be a problem. And I’ve toyed with the idea of trying infrared. I’ll check out that site. Thanks for the link.

  • Coming in very late. Been a hectic and busy month for us. Right now I’m typing this instead of practicing with the new airbrush we bought for FX makeup work.

    Yeah, I am kinda vain in the regard that I want to get paper comp copies of my published books to hand out signed to friends and family. I don’t want to have to send them an e-book through email. I want the book on my shelf so I can look up at it from time to time with a sense of accomplishment and pride. I want to be able to walk into a bookstore and see my work up there. This is one of the biggest reasons why I’m not already published through an e-publisher or out there trying to sell my own e-book on the net. A part of me knows that the move away from traditional books is inevitable, but I also know that it’s not going to happen overnight, or possibly even in my lifetime (thank the Gods), just as David said. Still, it sort of bothers me to see it slowly happening, for a number of reasons.

    The biggest reason of all is that I hate reading off of a screen. It hurts my eyes. It makes them burn. I can’t focus on the subject matter as well as I can on the paper page. I’m not sure why, but it’s true and is the reason why I print my manuscripts out to read them and make notations. I miss things on the screen that I don’t on the page. I find myself reading aloud most times when reading off a screen because it helps me focus. I’d even prefer audio-books to having to read a book off a screen and I once said I really didn’t care for audio-books. If reading off a screen hurts my eyes now (when I’m 38, far-sighted and wearing glasses), what will that be like in say, 10 years when my eyesight is worse and e-readers are even more prevalent?

    I also don’t really like scrolling to read. It’s distracting. Odd reason for not wanting an e-reader, but it’s true. I far prefer reading the full page without having to scroll down to read it. If they ever make an e-reader shaped like a paperback novel that shows the full pages when I open it up and the lettering’s big enough to read that way, I may end up hopping on that bandwagon with my ol’ hobo-stick slung over my shoulder and read away. That or one that shows one whole page like a clipboard.

    Another major reason for my not wanting to go the e-reader route is cost. Frankly, I can barely afford what I do have. Unless they suddenly drop in price or I become suddenly well off; just like a PDA, which I don’t own or a quality cell phone, which I don’t own, it’s prohibitively expensive and doesn’t fit in my budget like a paperback book does. And when I can’t afford even a new paperback, I can always look in the used sections or the library (for as long as they exist…durn library funding cuts!) or even Alibris for my novel fix. Heck, I only recently finally managed to buy a laptop and it’s by no means the top of the line. Our PCs haven’t been upgraded in over 10 years. They’re positively ancient by technology advancement standards.

    Yeah, technically e-books would outlast a MM paperback, which could be a draw. Thing is, I have MM paperbacks on my shelves that are easily 20 years old and still in decent condition. I just took one down recently and read it. That was By the Light of the Green Star, from 1974. And an old e-book file just won’t mean the same nostalgia-wise that a 30+ year old MM paperback does.

    Far as quality control, I can see a number of methods that publishing companies and e-book sellers could use to differentiate a traditionally published e-book from a book somebody PDF’d and tossed out there direct from their PC, so I’m not as worried about that. I mean, if nothing else, just look for the publisher name. If you can recognize TOR or Bantam or any of the other names out there then you can pretty much tell which ones were traditionally published. And I’m sure big places like B&N and other major book seller chains will have their own means, including just not selling books from private publishers.

    And the ability to order a sample chapter, as someone mentioned earlier, does appeal to me, but, honestly, if I’d done that with The Eye of the World, for example, I might not have ever read it. I found the pace too slow in the first few chapters and not amazingly gripping. If it hadn’t been for my cousin telling me to hang in there, I never would have finished it. I liked the book, but the first chapter would not have been enough to get me to buy it and I would have missed a good story. And there have been other books like that as well that actually having that first chapter available to sample might have actually detracted from my decision to buy it.

    One clear example for me is The Magic of Recluce, which I’m finally reading now because I originally couldn’t get past the first chapter. I’m really getting into it now, but I originally put it down because the first chapter just didn’t grip me immediately.

    I do, as a potential author, have a real fear of theft with e-books, which no one has a handle on now with e-publishing. Then again, I’ve heard of people scanning in entire books and PDFing them and tossing them up on the net for free already, so not even a traditionally published book is safe from e-theft (Sorry, I know it’s called piracy, but I can’t bring myself to call it such a romanticized word 😉 ).

    Now, getting paid potentially more for being published does have its appeal (as does helping the environment). That’s a definite plus, if the publishers actually change their structures to better fit the format. I’ve seen many e-publishers offering no advance, but 40% off each sale, which would be an awesome pay through a traditional publisher, since more people would have access to that book, since it would be sold through the major chains. That would be sweet. Though, right about now, I’d love to have the lump sum advance, so I can buy some essential items to make life easier….like fuel oil for heat and perhaps a washing machine….

    Anyhoo, I’m very on the ropes over the new media. I love my print books, for many reasons and I now have even more reason to keep the ones I have in the best shape I can. You never know. One day my daughter or her child may get a real kick out of curling up with those old, dusty and faded pieces of nostalgia.

  • Beatriz

    In the better late than never department. . .

    There are, at any given time, at least two books to read in my car, another in my bag. I’ll whip out whatever-the-latest I’m reading at 10 pm while waiting at the train station. Long day at work? Then a bubble bath with a good book is in order. Cold, wet Saturday? Put a log on the fire and curl up under a blanket with a book.

    I’ve been traveling more this year than past for work and have finished books while on the road. My rental cars all have GPS and I can take a break at the local bookstore and buy something new.

    I’ll never, ever switch to an electronic reader. I’d rather lug around a thick, juicy book than some electronic gizmo that will, I’m sure, konk out right in the middle of a great scene.

    Sorry. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

  • Robin

    A few final thoughts:
    1: E-readers in the tub??
    2: How do we save e-books for decades when technology changes yearly? Will my e-copy of Pride and Prejudice be obsolete when the new e-reader comes out?
    3: E-readers as a utility? Monthly payment gets you the most recent readers and all the e-books you can read?