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The Lost Art of Publication (or why ebooks haven’t degraded print...

Those devoted to paper in publishing houses worry that digital publishing will lead to the loss of the art of publication.   The sad fact is that the art of publication has been subsumed in mass production long ago.   With increased paper costs, distribution costs, lowering margins, publishers have cheapened the physical book to the point that with a few exceptions, what is in stores today isn’t worth finding space on the shelf.

Like many regular readers, my shelves are bursting with books.   The lack of shelf space is one reason I have embraced ebooks with such fervor.   I simply can’t locate even one more space for my books.   If I buy one in paper format, I will have to displace another book in its favor and once I am done with it, I must either sell or determine whether it is shelf worthy.

I don’t want to dismiss a person’s love for the feel of paper, the smell of paper, or even the look of a book. But for an avid reader of genre books, the mass market paperback is a disposable item. It’s print quality is fairly poor on thin paper housed behind lurid covers. The bindings are weak and can barely last more than a few readings. They don’t look good sitting on the shelf and any avid reader ends up storing piles of books everywhere, under cabinets, beds and tables. You have to make a conscious decision, because of the books numerosity, which books get shelf space and which books are tucked away. It’s hard to know exactly what you own.

I would go further to say that most books published today aren’t shelf worthy. Does the mass produced Dan Brown, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steele hardcover have any uniqueness? Is there anything memorable about these books? Aren’t the covers just as lurid, just as lacking in individuality as the mass markets.

I have books passed down to me by my mother who got them from her mother. Right now I am reading Swiss Family Robinson to my daughter. It was published in 1949 and is illustrated with full color plates and a number of ink drawings. Although I could easily read this digitally (it’s a book that is in the public domain having been originally published in 1812), the illustrations make it a must read in paper (digital books just haven’t gotten to this point yet).   I’ve long ago lost the dust cover, but with the cover image imprinted upon the cardboard and the gold lettering on the spine, it’s still worth putting on my shelf.

The rare literary fiction books I’ve purchased really have no significant shelf appeal. Snow Falling on Cedars I purchased in trade paperback. It’s a nice trade but there certainly is nothing special about it. Memoirs of a Geisha was passed around amongst my family and friends to the point that the cover became nearly degraded and I ended up tossing it. It could not stand repeated wear. More and more books appear on the shelf with movie posters or the author’s name is so large as to render the cover virtually superfluous.

The nicest books I’ve purchased of late were the books I’ve bought to read to my daughter. The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin had a gorgeous orange embossed cover with a faux gold emblem. Nora Robert’s Visions of White was a very nice, shelf worthy book with the edges of the book deckled and the cover looking a bit like a bridal invitation. The only modern books that I have bought that I care to keep in print form are the Harry Potter series and the original Jacqueline Carey books. If I didn’t want to hide the Twilight series from my daughter, I’d put those on the shelf as well as the covers and packaging of these books were really well done.

If the goal of a book is to be read, the form of delivery of the content from publisher to the consumer is not impeded if the shift is from primarily print to primarily digital. If the goal of a book is to be a shelf worthy item, something to be displayed and desired for its form itself, then publishers need to do a better job in creating a quality item. It isn’t digital books or even the rise of digital books that have decreased the shelf quality of print books. It is the business decisions made by publishers.

My belief is that in the future, digital books will be the default and print books will be a higher quality collectible, ones that even I would be interested in buying and placing on a shelf.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

39 Comments

  1. Mezza
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 04:54:18

    Yes! You’ve said what I have been thinking. I own around 2,500 books and have no more shelf space. I will always read lots so I am reserving my shelves for keepers and non-fiction. When I was thinking about this I also thought that keepers are books that I will re-read, not books that look good on a shelf or give a tactile reading experience. My equivalent of your Swiss Family Robinson are my father’s book of the Arabian Nights from the 1940′s along with several books that came from his family’s old horse-drawn circulating library and My Mum’s Pilgrim’s Progress. They are interesting to look at and I try to display their covers. These novels have illustrations and are a pleasure to read in a way modern paperbacks are not. If I want a tactile reading experience with pictures then it is my non-fiction that gives me that. Most genre books will not be read again, just the same as you see a movie once. While people talk about re-sale value I find most 2nd hand book shops don’t want romance or fantasy novels, even current good condition ones, so that aspect of e-books isn’t such an issue for me. I am still reading on a laptop but e-books are working for me.

  2. Statch
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 06:04:45

    This is so true, especially when you’re moving and have to PAY to keep those books on your shelves! That’s what got me into e-books. I still buy print mass publication paperbacks when I can’t find a book I want in ebooks, but I also find now that I prefer to read ebooks. The paperbacks I buy tend to sit on the (closet) shelf while I ‘read’ my iPod Touch.

  3. Heather Massey
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 06:24:26

    Spot on. I used to think that whenever I owned a home, I’d want tons of shelving to display books. But after a number of intensive long distance moves lugging around heavy book-filled bins, that idea has lost its appeal. With every move, I’ve gotten rid of more books.

    And even if I had a great display area, who is going to see it on a daily basis? My three year old would hardly give a rat’s bum, the books would probably collect dust that’d be difficult to clean off, and right now I’d rather the space went to my sizeable DVD collection.

    I like the idea of print books becoming more of a collector’s item, when it’s obvious some thought and investment has gone into the product.

  4. Elaine
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 06:29:28

    I am in my fifties and can remember when a trade paperback was significantly better quality than a mass market paperback. Now, most of them are the same quality paper and printing as mass market; they are just in a larger format. They are more readable because the typeface is usually larger, but not because the imprint is crisper or the paper is better.

  5. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 06:42:04

    My belief is that in the future, digital books will be the default and print books will be a higher quality collectible, ones that even I would be interested in buying and placing on a shelf.

    And they’ll be hardbacks.

    Unless I need to do research, wherein I’ll break spines and highlight and mark and sticky the book, I’ll read digitally, then buy the hardback if I like it enough. I have the complete Laura Ingalls Wilder set (twice). One’s the dog-eared one from my childhood, all jackets missing, and one’s the new set I bought my daughter. I also bought the paperbacks so I could beat the hell out of them for my current work-in-progress.

    I woke up this morning with five books (hardback) on my TBB list because I read them digitally and need them in paper: The Daring Book for Girls, The Double-Dare Book for Girls, The Pocket Daring Book for Girls, The Dangerous Book for Boys, Amazing Tales for Making Men Out of Boys.

    Yeah, they’re all kids’ books, just like my Wilder books (and most of the other hardback books I have). I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

    What I WON’T do is read digitally and then buy a paperback.

  6. Jim Duncan
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 07:34:24

    Sad that quality entertainment found in books is so influenced by folk’s desire for cheap and convenient. Books I buy are certainly worth more than what I pay for a two hour movie, but I cringe at the thought of buying hardback (mostly because if I’m spending 25 bucks on books I like getting two or three instead of one). I like to think I’d be more inclined to buy hardback if they were indeed more ‘collectable’ as it were. Much like buying a piece of art to hang on the wall, having a shelf full of beautiful books is a visual pleasure as much as a reading one.

  7. Maili
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 08:04:24

    Yes! So far in my lifetime, I have moved perhaps thirty-four times (nine times in last eleven years and we are about to move again soon).

    Each time it was a pain sorting out books. I forced myself to donate quite a few books to charity shops and often I bought them because I wanted to re-read (libraries rarely have copies of those). Once in a while, I didn’t bother unboxing them when I knew I’d be moving in a few months’ time. It was frustrating because I couldn’t access to boxed books I wanted to read.

    I vividly remember one time when I was living temporarily in Austria, I one night desperately wanted to read a paperback I loved since I was a teen. It was in a box among boxes in an aunt’s garage back home. It was a horrid moment.

    Ebooks are the perfect solution for someone like me. I can discard books if I have or plan to buy digital copies, and I can buy ebooks anywhere in the world via the internet. I uploaded my ebooks to my gmail account in case I can’t take a laptop with me.

    Now I have the Reader, my print book collection are slowly being reduced to those I want to keep for sentimental and practical reasons. My late mother’s favourite books, first editions, gifts from relatives and friends, reference books, children’s books, hardbacks (I like hardbacks and trades more than paperbacks, to be honest), and art/photography books (which will probably be donated when an ebook reader improves its handling of images and illustrations in a couple of years’ time).

    My husband is happy because he wouldn’t have to put up with me fretting over which print books to keep and which to donate to charity shops again. One time a few years ago he balked at me filling two large suitcases with books. We haggled down to a hand luggage that can hold thirty paperbacks. He really hates it when I buy a book I once owned. I bought and donated four copies of Connie Brockway’s As You Desire while I wouldn’t let go of Lynn Kerstan’s Lion books that I haven’t yet read. It’s hard to predict what I’ll want to re-read or read.

    The downside to the ebook solution at the moment is, there are still quite a few new releases that don’t have digital versions, or are priced more than print books (I recently found a book I wanted to buy, but the ebook is $26 while the paperback is $5.99).

  8. Keishon
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 08:21:47

    One of the many reasons why I prefer e-books is because the quality of mass market paperbacks are so bad. Half of the books I buy in ebook I don’t think I would have paid good money for in print.

    Let me just name a few: Kensington and Pocket’s paperbacks were horribly packaged to me. As a reader, yes I pay attention to how my books are packaged. Would pay good money for a nicely packaged book.

    And yes, ebooks saves on storage space. No more trying to figure out where to put this or that. Love it.

  9. rebyj
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 08:29:41

    Since an e-reader other than my ipod touch is financially out of the question, I’m still a paper reader for the most part. Most of what I buy is used.

    The used bookstore near me is constantly packed to the point that finding a parking spot is near impossible most hours of the day. The Books A Million just down the road is pretty much empty. New books in a retail bookstore are just out of budget, discounted new books at Krogers, Walgreens or online beat them out.

  10. joanne
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 08:44:45

    It’s very much a matter of personal taste I think, don’t you? It also depends on whether or not the reader/buyer wants to keep books that are no longer being read. I kept only three books from my son’s childhood and two of those have his scribbles in the margins and one was a gift I got at his Christening that has a title with his name in it. The rest I gave to other young mothers that could then pass them on to someone else. I couldn’t do that with an ebook.

    You are certainly right when you say that ‘for an avid reader of genre books, the mass market paperback is a disposable item’ but then, for me, it depends on the content of that mm rather than the quality of the paper or cover. The same standard applies to hardcover books.

    Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Acheron was beautifully made and printed on a wonderful antique-looking paper but it still wasn’t a keeper for me.

    I’m just as apt to dump an ebook as I am to re-sell or give away a paperback book if it’s a dnf or not a keeper and with the ereader I have to make backups and take other steps to insure that my purchases remain mine — and of course they aren’t “mine”, but that’s another rant for another day.

    I don’t mind that many of my mmp keepers are falling apart, actually it makes me smile when I pull them out to re-read.

    I haven’t experienced what you are calling ‘lurid’ covers, I love the look of the Robb cover colors on my shelf. I’ve never had a problem with bindings that are weak and can barely last more than a few readings but then I care for my paper books in the same way that I care for my ereader.

    I would hope that the ‘goal’ of the publisher is to produce a good book by a good author rather than something that is ‘shelf worthy’. What the ‘quality’ of that paper is matters not at all to me — although I would absolutely try to give preference to books printed on recycled paper.

    I read both ebooks (and started when I first found them online and long before ebook readers) and paper. I once bought ebooks because they came out sooner, where less expensive and probably not available in print. None of that applies anymore so I still prefer paper but then it’s a matter of my personal taste and not my quest for higher quality collectibles.

  11. Tara Marie
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 09:02:19

    I’m not so sure. It’s not that I don’t agree with the book storage thing and the lack of beautifully printed books. In the past books were a luxury as printing became cheaper more people could afford them. For die hard readers, the concept of the ebooks may be a generational thing.

    My mother wouldn’t ever consider reading anything other than a print book, she wont even use her computer, the concept of a reader would be as foreign as giving up her land line telephone–she doesn’t even have a cell phone. My niece on the other had would be lost without her I-phone and laptop.

    I fall somewhere in the middle. I have a reader that I hate. I haven’t invested in a good one–it’s going on my birthday-Christmas list. But there is a part of me that loves to hold a book, to curl up on the sofa and read, I still haven’t warmed up to the idea of curling up with a reader.

    I completely agree with you when you describe the shotty quality of books, I’ve tapped together more than my share of books.

    So, my thousands of books are on bookshelves and in stacks and piles and tubs and I make my trips to the UBS to get rid of as much as possible or donate to my local thrift shops.

    I also agree there is nothing like a beautiful book and there will always be a market and room on a bookshelf for them.

  12. Janet Lane
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 09:04:12

    Hi, Jane,

    Thanks for the thoughtful discussion on the lifespan of books. My historical romances are published by Five Star Publishing, and I admit, it’s a small press and my novels didn’t receive the full distribution they could have with the NY presses, but they’re hardcover and absolutely beautiful. I’m hoping that gives my stories some permanence and hopefully some shelf space with my readers.

    There’s another aspect of longevity that comes with print, a sense of connectedness to other readers. I’m currently researching for my third Coin Forest novel, and I’m reading biographies and histories that were printed in 1920, 1949 and the like. I notice subtle marks at certain points in the books from other researchers before me. Knowing other readers have visited these historical “rooms” of information is pleasant and inspiring.

    Wishing you joy with your writing,
    Janet

  13. rebyj
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 09:04:56

    Forgot to mention, my childhood book that I remember most is the circa 1930′s edition of Pinnochio . I LOVED that book , learned how to read from that book and kept it till it fell apart. The illustrations were awesome from what I remember , dark to match the story before it was sanitized by disney.

  14. Estara
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 09:55:04

    I agree with all of this post. I think we already see some people aware of niches in publishing for extra-value books – and of course any book with a cover by my favourite genre artists (Jodi Lee, Michael Whelan, ) I will buy in paperform.

    I wish more book artists would go the direction this lady did – with permission by author Sherwood Smith – to handcraft their books and offer a like service for interested readers (with money, obviously).

    As has been already mentioned, the only reason why I don’t buy more books as ebook is the price comparison to mmpb or the fact that they’re too old to have been released as ebooks (or of course because they don’t want to sell me English ebooks, seeing as I’m German).

  15. Mike Briggs
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 10:14:05

    Good discussion!
    Actually, this has me thinking . . . a number of years ago, when I was doing the grad student thing, there was a book bindery on campus. I was reading a number of esoteric foreign texts, which I was importing at considerable expense. Many of them were only available in cheaply-done paperback form, but due to the quality of the writing, I wanted something nicer.

    The bindery was able to remove the pages from these books, and bind them into gorgeous leather-bound covers with gold-embossed titles for a surprisingly reasonable fee. They offered all sorts of options for cover material, from cloth to exotic leathers, and had all sorts of marbled papers and parchment for frontise pieces etc. Their finished work was exceptional.

    So now I’m wondering if it would be possible to license something like this. Suppose I started such a bindery, and talked with the major publishers of ebooks. A customer comes in an says they just love the new Jim Butcher, can I make it in leather? I buy an ebook (to insure that the publsher and author get compensated) then print it on high quality paper, and bind it to the client’s specifications. Once the ebook has been made “real”, I destroy the copy of the ebook . . .

    Obviously, not legal without specific contracts, but interesting!

  16. hapax
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 10:27:11

    I think it’s very special that y’all completely dismiss readers who cannot afford to buy books AT ALL, nor the hideously overpriced electronic devices required to read e-pubs.

    After all, we wouldn’t want such a thing as *libraries* to exist, would we? Or perhaps you think that it will make economic sense for publishers to keep producing print books for the relatively small library market, and you are all willing to pay the taxes required for libraries to be able to afford a decent collection of “specialty” “collectible” items?

    Or do you think that there is a model out there for publicly circulating e-books (and the hardware necessary to read them) in a way even slightly comparable to the ease and cost-effectiveness of the codex?

  17. rebyj
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 10:54:30

    hapax, I check out ebooks to read online thru Netlibrary http://company.netlibrary.com/aboutus.aspx
    or Overdrive http://www.overdrive.com/aboutus/

    books can be read on desktop or listened to on desktop or most mp3′s

  18. DS
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 10:55:17

    I don’t think you will find anyone on here who would speak out against libraries or the taxes we pay to maintain them. After all it is clear that printed books are not going away any time soon.

    Some libraries do offer readers though. My library doesn’t have ereaders but they do have audiobook devices that can be checked out.

  19. joanne
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 10:55:28

    I think it's very special that y'all completely dismiss readers who cannot afford to buy books AT ALL, nor the hideously overpriced electronic devices required to read e-pubs.

    I don’t know where that came from but it wasn’t from reading this site or this thread.

    Everyone on here is a reader and many of us use and support our libraries, are aware that not everyone has the same book buying budget and can probably show you a link to the library ebooks they borrow.

    If you’re on a computer than you have the hardware to read most ebooks.

    Did I miss your point? If so I appologize.

  20. hapax
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 11:46:36

    This is what I was responding to:

    “My belief is that in the future, digital books will be the default and print books will be a higher quality collectible, ones that even I would be interested in buying and placing on a shelf”

    and the basic consensus on the comments that this is a Good Thing (and if not, it’s All The Publishers’ Fault)

    I am perfectly aware of library e-books and downloadables. My library subscribes to both Netlibrary and OverDrive. They are fine for a very very small niche audience. Here are the problems:

    1. Hardware. E-readers and laptops are expensive. A relatively tiny portion of our sevice population owns them. Many of those that own them do not have the high-speed internet connections that make downloading feasible.

    2. Software. While public internet connections make it possible for much of the population to use these devices for e-mail, research, etc., there is simply neither the time, capacity, or software (remember, each of these downloadable networks requires you to download your own software, which is often not feasible on public computers) to allow patrons to read.

    3. Ability to loan. I doubt very much that you folks are aware of the legal and technical hassles that libraries and content providers go through to make it possible to *loan* e-books. While it is certainly possible that these can be overcome, none of the e-book providers I have talked to have shown the slightest interest in doing so. Put bluntly, the business model of e-publishers is expressly set up against it. The business model of mainstream publishers treats e-publishing as a fringe side issue — more as advertising for their “main business” than anything else — and if it should change to become their principal business, it is far more likely to be modelled on that of the existing e-publishers.

    Mind you, I don’t disagree that print books may very well become a luxury item in the next twenty years or so. The example of the newspaper industry and the recorded music industry leads me to suspect that this is more likely than not.

    But news and music have a long standing existing “broadcast” alternative that make it possible for the less economically and technologically advantaged to have access, even if in a significantly degraded form. The closest broadcast analog for books is the public library, which very much depends on physical ownership of the medium.

    But the affordability of libraries is heavily dependent upon economies of scale permitting that physical format to remain relatively cheap. The popularity of e-music and e-video is already beginning to have an impact — slight, but significant — upon the ability of libraries to offer these formats. (You should hear my AV librarian rant about how difficult it is to obtain physical copies of certain important and popular recordings!)

    I worry a great deal about a future where ebooks are the default publishing format. I worry about the patrons I serve, who live mostly in poor and isolated areas. These are the people who have been badly served by the recent mandate on digital television broadcasting, for example, and in that case the Federal government forced regulations (much against the protests of industry lobbyists) to try and ensure their continued access.

    There is simply no commercial incentive for publishers to change their business practices in order to ensure that these people will continue to have access to materials. To simply blithely assert that “printed books are not going away any time soon” does not address the very real issues involved.

  21. bowerbird
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 14:28:43

    > the illustrations make it a must read in paper
    > (digital books just haven't gotten to this point yet)

    um, gee, wha…?

    -bowerbird

  22. Estara
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 14:52:58

    @hapax: From what I understand about library purchases, whether in the US or here in Europe, most libraries try to get popular genre novels in special library binding and not in mmpb – you can even buy that on Amazon, and if you’ve bought a former library second-hand version it very often is a library binding (which is why they’re still readable when they take them out of circulation).

    In conclusion, I suspect that mmpb is not the preferred version of a library book (and then there’s the fact that library patrons like reading new books when they come out and not when the mmpb version comes out a year later) and therefore your idea of “no cheap print version = libraries will have problems” doesn’t make sense to me.

  23. Roscoe James
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 14:58:00

    Agree, agree, and agree. Excellent take and good insight.

    Thanks,

    RJ

  24. hapax
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 15:21:35

    @hapax: From what I understand about library purchases, whether in the US or here in Europe, most libraries try to get popular genre novels in special library binding and not in mmpb

    Not so. “Library binding” is almost exclusively restricted to children’s books (some graphic novels, which are VERY cheaply bound, also can receive this treatment), and is usually not worth the extra money. Discounts offered by library distributors are directly tied to size of print runs. Therefore, I can often buy two or three regularly bound copies of a title, for the same price as one specially bound one.

    I order materials in regular hardback when I can; most genre fiction I get in mmp. A great deal of genre material that my patrons would like (m/m romance, for example) is pretty much available ONLY in epub, and I can’t get at all.

    Please please not I am not at all opposed to e-publishing. I think it is wonderful. The more formats materials are available in, the better as far as I am concerned.

    I just want to make it clear that some people’s reservations about “the end of traditional print publishing” stems from genuine concerns beyond a Luddite fetish for the smell and feel of print.

  25. Laura Vivanco
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 15:25:02

    From what I understand about library purchases, whether in the US or here in Europe, most libraries try to get popular genre novels in special library binding and not in mmpb

    In my (admittedly limited) experience in the UK, libraries will tend to have a few copies of Mills & Boons in hardback, but the vast majority of them are paperbacks. I have a feeling that Robert Hale pretty much only release their novels in hardback, but the imported US single-title romances I’ve seen over here have mostly been in paperback. Little Black Dress do have hardback editions of at least some of the novels they publish, but I’ve yet to see one, since all the LBD books I’ve seen in the library have been paperbacks.

  26. FD
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 15:53:12

    The libraries over here used to stock M&B’s in a small format HB, but most of the library areas I frequent now have switched to standard PB and just laminate the cover. The only category romances they get in HB are the large print ones.

    I’m a dedicated e-reader evangelist on a personal level, but I do understand the access concerns surrounding declining print sales. I have a friend who works for the VSO and one of the things she always asks for is story books for her kids.

    While I believe that in the future, for economic, access, space and possibly green reasons ebooks will be the standard, I don’t see it happening for a good long while. And I hope it doesn’t happen too soon, because there are an awful lot of people out there who can’t afford e-access.

  27. MaryK
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 18:31:53

    any avid reader ends up storing piles of books everywhere, under cabinets, beds and tables.

    So true! My bed is up on risers to accommodate boxes of books.

  28. Tabitha
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 18:45:28

    While I would love to have thousands of books on hand and still save space, I am more apt to buy print books versus e-books. I read for pleasure which is derived from the content of the book not so for the cover and packaging and how it looks on display. It is an added bonus if the book looks good on my shelf but I take more pleasure in being able to hold a book in my hand and turn the pages. With an e-book, I have to think about having backup copies in case in case something happens to my reading device. And worse, if it’s DRM protected I have to create another accessible copy or the copies I have would be a waste — and I still don’t know how to do this and have lost some good books when my desktop was corrupted.

    I understand that times are changing and technology advancing with it but e-books are just not my thing. I put off reading the e-books on my TBB list just because I hate staring at a screen when I’m reading. I already stare at a computer 12+ hours a day x5 for work so to read books on a screen too after work does my eyes no good — and it’s after work that I have time for reading since I have a 3-hour commute round-trip.

  29. DeeCee
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 22:28:43

    I’m in the middle. I bought a Sony ereader earlier this year, thinking it would significantly cut down on my storage problem with my print books. Not so.

    While I love the accessibility and storage issues, it’s negated by the file corruption I faced earlier when my computer files were destroyed and I lost all the ebooks I had stored. Since then I’ve had little call to keep my ereader in use, and have found that the battery life leaves a lot to be desired. I can read like crazy through 800 page paperbacks with just a light, but I found I had to charge my Sony 2 times through that book at more than 5 hours per charge.

    And I discovered that the cost of my re-buying all the books I had in paperback that are keepers would be about 3x the cost of the paperbacks themselves. I can go to my local UBS and get them for $3-7 or pay 2-4x as much for the ebooks. And since I don’t travel extensively it just doesn’t make sense for my situation.

    I’m back to where I started. Boxes piled up, walls covered in bookshelves and piles on every counter I have. And while that’s enough to give me a slight panic attack I can always go through and find my books after much searching, with no chance that my computer has wiped them out with no way to retrieve.

    As for the quality issue, I agree that most paperbacks are made to be disposable. Even hardcovers that were sewn in before are now glued and not worth the extra costs. I find that older books were made to stand the test of time which only makes me appreciate UBS’s more.

    And the special edition books that feature the incredible quality now are beyond my budget. I can’t even begin to afford leather bound or hand sewn with reinforced covers. I can’t even justify the costs to myself for getting those editions on my most re-read books. It’s just easier on me and the checkbook to continue buying those disposable paperbacks…which makes the publishers happy I guess.

  30. hapalochlaena
    Aug 31, 2009 @ 02:41:21

    The digital solution works for me because of the way I buy and read books. Switching from paper to ebooks is simply a case of changing online retailers (I step into a bricks-and-mortar bookstore maybe three times a year). I read quickly, which means I often have to carry more than one book around with me. I often re-read books.

    Ebooks solve my space[1], organization, cost and availability problems all in one fell swoop. The problems specific to e-formats (georestrictions, DRM, hard disk failure and file corruption) have easily-implemented workarounds.

    And my Sony Reader is a joy forever, for reasons which I’ll not go into (in case I inundate you all with gushy drooly text).

    -

    [1] the clutter stops growing but will not go away because I still can’t bring myself to dispose of p-books for which I have an electronic equivalent.

  31. D. D. Scott
    Aug 31, 2009 @ 03:04:37

    Interesting topic here.

    Yes…I’ll without a doubt admit I do often pick-up a book to consider for purchase based on whether or not the cover and packaging attracts me.

    UNLESS…the author is an auto-buy for me…then I could care less what the book “looks” like.

    And even if the cover doesn’t grab me, I’ll definitely still buy the book if the STORY sounds wonderful, and I know either from past experiences or my research that this is a terrific author.

    For me, the heart of buying a book is the STORY and the AUTHOR.

    I’m sooooo very proud to have no space left on my bookcases and ready to buy a fifth case. It’s all about supporting the authors I love and those brand new ones I can’t wait to explore.

    I love that people who come to my home can “see” who I’m reading…and love that they’ll go buy and support that author because they’ve seen those books on my shelf. I’m not sure that would happen if I were reading primarily digital…in my home anyway…I wouldn’t drag out my e-reader and have my company browse the contents. But when they walk through my office, they “see” the books on my shelves and “see” the piles I’ve pulled to read next.

    So yes…a book’s cover and packaging can attract a reader…but for this chick, it’s all about the STORY and the AUTHOR. I’m proud to hve shelves busting with books and can’t wait to buy my next list and find a place to shelve them.

    Thanks for such an interesting post.

    Sexy, Sassy, Smart Reading Wishes — D. D. Scott
    http://www.DDScott.com
    http://twitter.com/ddscottromcom

  32. Nora Roberts
    Aug 31, 2009 @ 05:10:06

    I guess I never thought of the covers of my books–or many I buy–as lurid.

    I really think this is a matter of individual taste. Many books I own and keep not only for the content–that’s number one–but also because I like the way books look on the shelves in my home. Another aspect of the decor and style of my house.

    Again, I don’t think one has to whack at print in order the celebrate one’s own preference and appreciation for e–or visa versa. (And lurid’s a pretty harsh term.)

    Nora

  33. senetra
    Aug 31, 2009 @ 08:37:49

    I’m a careful book reader in that I don’t crack spines and all that and when I buy books at the UBS, I’m pretty picky about the condition of the books. I’ve also bought books that fell apart while reading, but that doesn’t happen too often.

    The only time I consider the quality, style and types of binding, artwork, and other aspects of shelf-worthiness is when buying picture books. Otherwise, I’m all about the story.

  34. Estara
    Aug 31, 2009 @ 11:49:10

    @hapax: & @Laura Vivanco: Hmm, maybe I’ve been mislead by getting so many of the out-of-print genre books used as ex-library copies. Most of them are “library-binding”.

  35. Estara
    Aug 31, 2009 @ 11:56:15

    @Mike Briggs: I don’t think it would be doable or tolerated by publishers if you did it with current books in print that have hardback editions – it would cut into their profits.
    But out-of-print classics (maybe not public domain) – with a share of the percentage to the author (I’m completely speculating here not having any connection to publishing anywhere) – maybe….

    I still think pure one-offs manual labor of loves, for a hefty prize, like the Crown Duel book I linked to – are likely not to upset the apple cart of author or publisher.

    Anything else…. well, maybe if you made a lulu.com for extremely well-crafted editions and offered authors to upload their manuscripts (and therefore implicitly granting permission) – but instead of 25 dollars the book is 100 dollars due to craft and material and maybe illustrations or whatever….

  36. Mike Briggs
    Aug 31, 2009 @ 14:42:21

    Estara:
    Yes, I’m aware it was just wishful thinking. It would be tough to get all the publishers on board (but I suspect it would be possible to get many of them if one offered fair compensation).

    My experience with the university bindery was over twenty years ago, but I think they only charged like $20 to sew the pages and make lovely leather covers for the books. Assuming prices have doubled, and the publisher would want $10 for the rights to print a single book, you’d be able to get a leather-bound one-off for about $50.

    Still far too rich for the casual reader, but if paper books become simply collector’s items it might be possible. I know some Nora Roberts fans who would almost certainly buy a complete set of matching ultra-premium volumes to display in their living rooms. . . And no, I’m neither joking nor trying to insult Nora Roberts, her fans are just that dedicated!

    Still, I’m not jumping on this particular grenade. Lets wait and see what happens with e-books and digital editions.

  37. DianeN
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 09:50:51

    I work at a library system consisting of 43 separate libraries. Years back none of our members wanted to purchase paperbacks because they were certain the books would fall apart after only a few circulations. And yet there was a continual demand for books that only existed in paperback, so our libraries reluctantly began buying them, but refused to catalog them. What we’ve all discovered over time is that paperbacks, even the mass market variety, are a lot more durable than we expected them to be–and please note we don’t laminate covers or do anything else to strengthen them. There are mass market copies on our shelves that have circulated 60 or 70 times and are still in decent shape. This has led to our members requesting full cataloging, and in many cases paperbacks are shelved together with hardcovers rather than just shoved in a spinner in no particular order. So it’s not ALL bad news, at least not from a library perspective!

  38. APFOL: August 28-September 5 « Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog
    Sep 05, 2009 @ 22:16:28

    [...] The Lost Art of Publication (or why ebooks haven't degraded print at all) | Dear Author “If the goal of a book is to be read, the form of delivery of the content from publisher to the consumer is not impeded if the shift is from primarily print to primarily digital. If the goal of a book is to be a shelf worthy item, something to be displayed and desired for its form itself, then publishers need to do a better job in creating a quality item. It isn't digital books or even the rise of digital books that have decreased the shelf quality of print books. It is the business decisions made by publishers.” [...]

  39. IJA
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 20:55:50

    I disagree. To me a book is a special world. Ever since I was a little girl books opened a world for me. I like the fact that I can turn the page back and reread a part if I want. I like the feel of the book, that I can underline, that I can make my own notes on it. Yes, they don’t make books to last as long as they did. If they have pictures, I appreciate them. I have read Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and that was when I was in the eighth grade. For me books hold a special place. I have read ebooks on my computer, on my palm pilot, I can’t see the illustrations. It bores me using the electronics to read books. I hope there will always be books for people like me. The investment of a book is not just the book itself but what it tells me, what it shows me.

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