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Long Live the Content

The laments I hear about ebooks is the loss of the book culture. There is the loss of the smell and feel of books. There is the loss of the interpersonal connection of books. There is the loss of the cultural signal of book covers. Some see value in the actual turning of pages, as if the shifting of space by paper has some independent meaning. There is some fear that digitization means that books are lost.

To some people, the physical book represents a pillar of civilization. To be true, the mass availability of printed works changed the world, contributed to the rise of the middle class, making the acquisition of knowledge easier for greater numbers of individuals.

Every innovation heralds changes in culture. Who can forget the infamous “Video Killed the Radio Star”. The printed book decimated the tradition of oral storytelling and the culture and community surrounding that. By hanging on to the print culture, what is it exactly that we are preserving?

Is the argument that we read more with print than in digital form? Not me. I find myself reading at every spare moment. I don’t even mind the wait in line anymore. That merely means an extra page or two. Is the argument that we will learn better if we read in print rather than digital form? That depends highly upon the individual but there will be no shortage of studies on both sides of the argument.

I’m not advocating for the elimination of print books. What I am advocating for is to measure a book by its contents rather than the mode of delivery. Is the story of To Kill a Mockingbird any less powerful because it is read on a Sony Reader than in a paperback purchased at the Half Price Bookstore? Of course not. The power of To Kill a Mockingbird is in the narrative.

We need to decouple the word “book” from its binding. A book’s quality is not dependent on its publication in hardcover, paperback or digital. A book’s quality is wholly dependent on its content alone, or at least that is how books should be judged. Romance has long been ghettoized because it is mass market trash. Hardcover is considered the holy grail not because authors view hardcovers as more worthy publications but because hardcover means (among other things) that more mainstream critics will pay attention.

Particularly for long form narrative fiction, the method of delivery does not change the content. What is being challenged is our memories associated with our print books. Having grown up with print, having loved our print books, it’s hard to disengage the memories and feelings with the mode of delivery. If we had learned to read on a digital reader, had formed memories with our digital readers, then I think the print form would be less romanticized.

As Scott McLee wrote in a post at Inside Higher Education:

And while it is painful to witness the erosion and collapse of large sectors of infrastructure for print culture, this is happening under the strain of internal contradictions, not because of e-book devices.

The erosion and collapse of the print culture is occurring because in its current iteration, it is economically unsustainable. To quote from McLee’s article again:

As Colin Robinson, a seasoned editor who recently lost his job at Random House, puts it in the latest issue of the London Review of Books: “A system that requires the trucking of vast quantities of paper to bookshops and then back to publishers’ warehouses for pulping is environmentally and commercially unsustainable. An industry that spends all its money on bookseller discounts and very little on finding an audience is getting things the wrong way round. Following the strictures of their accountants, the large houses will intensify their concentration on blockbusters. High street bookshops will abandon deep stockholding, becoming mere showrooms for bestsellers and prize-winners. Ever more people will read the same few books.”

The beauty of digital technology isn’t that it is limiting but that there is more choice. Print on demand is becoming increasingly more accessible. Digital reading devices are becoming more affordable. The future of books should not be one or the other in terms of format.

Digital publishing should mean that no book is ever hard to find or inaccessible to any reader, regardless of the date of publication and the locale of the reader. The future of books should mean that the reader can take control of her reading environment. Should she wish to read in ebook format, the publisher will have made every book available to her in digital format. Should she wish to read in paper format, the publisher should have every book available to her in print format, whether it is through traditional fulfillment or print on demand.

In digital publishing, the ideal is the content and the reader reign supreme.

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

37 Comments

  1. Statch
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 06:35:26

    What a wonderful post (and so beautifully written)! I couldn’t agree more. I read (and buy) many more books now that I read ebooks. I also can’t imagine why an author wouldn’t prefer me to purchase her backlist in ebook form, so that she gets some monetary benefit, rather than search it out in the used bookstores. (I want more of Joan Wolf’s older titles digitized!)

    I do wonder about the issue of whether people retain what they’ve read better for one format over the other. I believe that I still do retain the information better if I read it in print format, but I’m 50 years old and grew up with print. I’d imagine it’s probably generational, but would love to see some research on it.

  2. Anonymous111
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 06:57:43

    Great post.

    I suspect once those people get their first e-reader–dragged kicking and screaming to do so–and upload all those wonderful books to discover the ease of it all, they’ll be hugging trees!

    I can’t imagine reading any other way.

  3. Kristen Painter
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 07:38:04

    Nicely put.

  4. SarahT
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 07:50:52

    I’m a reluctant print reader who would love to embrace the digital revolution. So what’s deterring me? Aside from DRM, geographical restrictions, and language-specific hardware, there’s the pertinent issue of price.

    A Sony Reader 505 currently costs 379 CHF. My annual book-buying budget is 800 CHF. Purchasing a Reader would use up almost half that money. Then I’d have to buy ebooks, which are more expensive than the average price of a mass market paperback at Amazon Germany. I cannot trade or sell ebooks in the way I can printed books, so I’m not even able to get some of the money I’ve spent back.

    Given that technology evolves quickly, and devices are not made to last more than a couple of years, I’d be obliged to upgrade to a new model in 2-3 years time. And so the whole process would begin again.

    I also resent the efforts of the publishing industry to convince me that I’m not buying a book, I’m buying the right to read content for an unspecified amount of time. They’re trying to redefine the product they’ve been selling for generations. As a consumer, I don’t want to be inconvenienced by choosing digital over print. An ebook should offer me similar freedoms to a print book in terms of ownership, and more convenience in order to justify the price.

    For ebooks to win me over, they’d have to resolve all the issues with geographical restrictions, etc., and be significantly cheaper than they currently are in order to compensate for all the freedoms that I’d lose by choosing to read digital.

  5. Sandy James
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 08:32:22

    I remember (don’t all stories by middle-aged people start this way??) when iPods first appeared. I thought, “Who would want an expensive little toy that only played downloaded songs?” Um…Everyone! I think ereaders will someday be the iPods for readers. But like all technology, there will be resistance. I also remember (there’s that phrase again…) when I figured I’d never own a cellphone because they were too expensive and not really a necessity. Wrong again.

    I think as the price of the technology falls and people see ereaders on a more frequent basis, digital publishing will receive more wide-spread acceptance. It helps that there are some great ebooks out there and that houses like Harlequin are offering so many free downloads. The price is also so much better — my Kindle versions go for $4 +/- while the trade paperbacks are $15.

    What hurts is the reputation that romance ebooks are only porn and are badly written. It’s up to romance readers and writers to get the word out about good books that are out there. (Thanks, Dear Author!!) I have to admit my own frustration here because I have fantastic reviews, but I can’t compete with my publisher’s erotica. Once my books hit print, my sales improved drastically.

    It’s just going to take time…

  6. Clothdragon
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 08:51:44

    My big worry is the digital divide. Of course people with the money to do it should be able to get books in any format. However, people without much money should be able to get books. Reading should not have an unreachable start-up cost. For anyone.

    The more popular digital books become the less paper books will be printed making fewer options for poor people and less chance they will have to educate themselves, see more of the world than what is around them, and make their way out of poverty.

  7. Caligi
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 09:39:42

    The popularity of ebooks will not make fewer options for poor people. That’s shameless alarmist thinking if I’ve ever heard it.

    If and when ebooks become a big enough factor that print runs get limited, POD will fill in the gaps. MP3s have not eliminated CDs or even vinyl, and neither will ebooks eliminate paper. Publishers will find a way to get print books into the hands of those who read them – be they libraries or paper enthusiasts. They won’t alienate what will remain a large part of their audience. I imagine that bookstores will have a POD machine that will print books as needed to complement the blockbuster books they get sent.

    I buy a ton more ebooks than I ever bought paper books. The pull of instant gratification is strong indeed. Still don’t own an ereader either. I’m happily reading ebooks on my computer.

  8. Janet W
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 10:20:27

    What Sarah T said, plus serendipity and sharing. I will probably buy something at some point because of travel — as airlines get stricter and stricter about weight limits, it’s getting to be clothes or books when I pack. All the expensive options, all the changes … that layer to ebooks is just annoying to me. Like scattered through my house we have VHS players and DVD players and who knows what else. Technology issues make me nervous.

    I like the serendipity of walking down an aisle at a book store or the library or a UBS and seeing what attracts me. Or I work through my Book Wish List. I gather up bundles of book choices and order them online and then wait for them to arrive.

    I love sharing books with friends — if a book isn’t a keeper but I liked it, what’s more fun than mailing it to a friend? I have a few authors: Robb, Heyer, Balogh … and a few special books from others … if I see their books for sale in a dusty corner, I always buy them even though I have them, just so I can hopefully turn someone onto the joys I experience. I could definitely see myself being a POD reader for long OOP Regencies — win/win, money for the author and I book I can share for me — if the price was right. My price now, unless it’s a book I must have, hovers around $4/5 if I buy online and the bulk of that cost is shipping.

    Many people describe ebooks as liberating — instant gratification — but for me, owning means sharing and the DRM is a deterrent for me. I fund my dd’s iTunes purchases so the musicians will be paid. I would not be adverse to authors getting money from librarians and/or used book stores altho I know that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

  9. Ebooks and the Digital Devolution | Monkey Bear Reviews
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 10:29:19

    [...] My Problem with Epublishing Stacia Kane – The Way the Cookie Crumbles Jane at Dear Author - Long Live the Content Author: Sarah Categories: All About Books Tags: ebooks, epublishing, Sony Reader Comments [...]

  10. Jane
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 11:37:15

    I won’t buy into the ebook craze until digital file formats and storage media stop becoming unusably obsolete every ten years. Try finding a computer with a floppy drive these days.

    Print has lasted thousands of years without becoming unreadable, and requires no electricity or batteries to be read. To me, digital files just aren’t durable enough to be worth paying for.

  11. karen wester newton
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 11:48:10

    Hear, hear! Well said! The fact that change is painful doesn’t make it less inevitable. eBooks are not a craze, they are the future. When digital cameras started coming out, they were a lot more expensive than they are now, but now a film camera is a rarity. The price for eReaders will come down, and eventually, once publishers figure out how to optimize their publication processes, the price of ebooks will come down. This is not to say print will go away completely, only that it will decrease. POD may well become the primary means of printing books.

    It’s going to happen, one way or another.

  12. Sarah
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 12:10:34

    The ideal may be content, but when it becomes so easy to alter, erase, and otherwise change that content in digital form, I fear even To Kill a Mockingbird may no longer be the story we all remember.

  13. kirsten saell
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 12:21:33

    A Sony Reader 505 currently costs 379 CHF. My annual book-buying budget is 800 CHF. Purchasing a Reader would use up almost half that money. Then I'd have to buy ebooks, which are more expensive than the average price of a mass market paperback at Amazon Germany. I cannot trade or sell ebooks in the way I can printed books, so I'm not even able to get some of the money I've spent back.

    Sony lets you register up to six devices on one account. I’ve often thought if I could find two other like-minded readers in my admittedly puny and luddite-filled town, we could each buy one reader and each register one computer, and then pool our money for the buying of books. If a reader costs you half your annual reading budget–well, pooling with a couple of people who like the same authors and the same kinds of books, you could end up increasing your effective book-buying budget by 50%. And you don’t have to take turns reading a specific book. All three of you can read the same book at the same time.

    Just something to think about…

  14. Stevie
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 12:32:47

    Jane

    You appear reluctant to acknowledge that the death of the library will inevitably disadvantage the disadvantaged still further…

  15. Jane O
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 12:37:09

    What Sarah T said.

    It’s not even the price of ebooks. It’s the price of the reader. You can get a library card and read all you want for free. An ereader costs several hundred dollars, and at present the ebooks available for free at the library are decidedly limited.

    As for the IPod analogy, I have news for you ladies: Not everyone has one, in large part because not everyone can afford one. The same is true for cell phones.

    I can see an enormous future for digital technology, but at present ereaders are rather like television in the early 1950s -’ too expensive for most people.

  16. Caligi
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 12:40:04

    Ebooks are not a threat to libraries. They’re just not. Libraries have much more to fear from decreased local funding than they do from any format changes.

    I’m not sure why people think that. MP3s have not killed CD collections at libraries in 10+ years, why would ebooks kill paper book collections?

  17. joanne
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 12:54:05

    For those of us who have always bought books and always will — no matter what form they take — there are a lot of apples & oranges being tossed in the air and most of the fruit is landing on our heads.

    I don’t care who wants to read an ebook while standing in line or standing on their head. Go ebook readers. I’ve done that with my ereader –(the standing in line part) — but it doesn’t mean that I still don’t like to have a hard copy of other books that I can collect, and keep or give, as I want.

    I don’t want other readers to not have their electronic books, but I don’t want others to say that my preference for paper is a lament for days gone by. Different strokes and all the rest of that.

    I can’t see the comparison of ebooks to buying any other electronic device if what we are talking about is content. Where’s the content? How many programs do I have to be running to get the book into my ereader? What’s the price of the ebook? How long after a books’ street date is the ebook going to be released in ebook?

    We are a long, long, long way from ebook publishing reaching the ideal where the content and the reader reigns supreme. I’m not afraid of ebooks dominating the world, I just want to have reasonable choices. And easy. Why do I as a reader have to fight the good fight? If digital publishers don’t want my business and prove it by making a huge time-suck out of buying their releases and pricing them so that I can only laugh, why should I turn to them when I want a book to read? They are not my friends. They could be if they thought more about my needs as a reader.

    Publishing is not my business. It’s my pleasure to read. I’ll agree that the process of building a future for digital books is interesting but it is not necessarily pleasant nor is it something I should have to think about as a reader. Someone wants my dollars for a book? Make it easily available and reasonably priced and I’ll purchase the content in either paper or e-form depending on my preference that day.

  18. evie byrne
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 13:50:45

    What stands between me and an e-reader (besides cost) is the notion of planned obsolescence. It’s inherent to the entire e-gadget industry, and it’s a shockingly wasteful model. Whatever I buy now, I wil be forced to upgrade in the near future, and that will cost me money, time and trouble. And more offensively, I will be left holding yet another piece of useless and toxic e-junk.

    I have to engage with this system in order to own a laptop which allows me to do my work, but I’m reluctant to buy a piece of plastic junk for the sake of pleasure reading when there’s a long lasting and recyclable alternative at hand. I challenge Sony et all to provide me with a reading device that is designed to be repairable and upgradable, and that can be safely broken down and recycled when its useful life is over.

  19. Maili
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 14:48:17

    I have to admit, this print vs digital debate bores me, because I have heard it all before with the cinema vs television/laserdisc/betamax/VHS/DVD/etc debate.

    When television slowly became commonplace, cinema supporters were convinced it’d destroy the cinema industry. When Laserdisc/Betamax/VHS were launched, the same old fears about the fate of cinema appeared. How it is today? People still go to cinema. Same with the music. Phonograph, vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD, Midi, digital, etc. Yet my husband still prefers vinyl and CDs.

    As for a general comment about obsolescene? Did anyone keep old televisions and old cassette players? Kitchen equipments? Gadgets we thought were useful but weren’t? How about toys? As children age, we ‘upgrade’ toys to fit in with their ages. Clothes? There are so many similar products over years, so why the concern about ebook readers?

    Books of various types are no exception — how many of us kept every book we bought all our lives? Coffee table books? Cookery books that caught our attention in passing? Novelty books? Textbooks that almost broke our financial backs during our uni years? We can’t even give those textbooks to younger generations because the edition would be badly out of date. So they have to buy copies of their own. Some of us would buy revised editions of keeper novels. The list is endless.

    And how about audiobooks? Why these are all right while ebooks aren’t? To me, an ebook is just another form of reading or entertainment. My number one preference for reading is actually the hardback format. However, considering the situation I’m in, the ebook format is the best and most practical solution for me and that’s what I’m going with.

    IMO, if one doesn’t like a certain format or medium, there are other formats or media to use. So why the fuss?

    What bothers me about the entire debate is, the contemptuous tone in some comments (from both sides, here and elsewhere). Is it really necessary? :/

  20. SarahT
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 15:14:58

    IMO, if one doesn't like a certain format or medium, there are other formats or media to use. So why the fuss?

    My frustration stems from the fact that I’d love to go over to digital. I see its potential advantages. However, at the present time, it simply makes no sense for me to do so. I’d have to jump through hoops to get a handheld device and then only be able to buy certain titles to read on it.

    Any contempt I have is solely directed towards the publishers. Whatever their reasoning, they are – in my opinion – going about it the wrong way. If I recall correctly, Jane had a post up a while ago in which she asserted that it was as if publishers wanted to kill digital before it took off. I think she’s right. Either that or they are simply oblivious to their customers’ needs.

    Regarding the broader picture of print vs. digital: Digital is undoubtedly the way of the future. I don’t think many print books will exist in twenty years. I just hope that digital publishing evolves in such a way that it benefits the masses, not just a few people who can afford the necessary hardware and happen to live in a specific location.

  21. Nicola Griffith
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 18:54:25

    I respond differently to e-books and to paper books. Until technology catches up (allowing publishers to customise font and so on), I think big-budget and small-budget books are enjoying a brief golden age of equal access to the reader. Setting aside the not insignificant issue of marketing and publicity…

  22. GrowlyCub
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 19:41:35

    I was one of those who worried about losing the tactile sensation when reading e-books and I have to say to a degree that’s still true, but the funny thing is that it’s easier on my hands and arms to read on my Sony 505. And it’s so much easier on the eyes than either laptop or paper, because I can blow up the font just as large as I need and no annoying glare.

    Most folks who love their e-readers do so because it cuts down on their buying of actual paper books and the space issues. I’ve not found that true for me at all. I still buy copies of paper books where they are available and I’ve been trying to find my favorites in e-books so eventually, I aim to have at least 2 copies of every title I own – one e- and one paper. That will take a few years because my library now contains about 3,000 titles.

    Which leads me to the thing that’s been most prominently on my mind. What I really want more than anything is to be able to take the book I’m currently reading – be it in paper or on my Sony reader – with me in the car and have it read to me while I’m driving down the road. I travel long distance a lot and while I have audio books to entertain me, I really want to continue with the book I’m currently reading rather than listen to something else.

    So I guess what I’m saying is I want a device that can do all three. Simulate a book, be an e-reader and an audio device according to what strikes my fancy at the particular moment in time. I hope the cutting edge developer folks are listening! :)

    It’s really disappointing that AG managed to kill the text-to-voice function on the Kindle. While I’d never buy a Kindle, I was hoping other e-reader manufacturers would be interested in incorporating a better version. I dislike most audiobooks because the narrators annoy the hell out of me with their emoting and dramatizing. I just want somebody to read the words to me and I would not object if the audio companies added to the original text with some tags (a la ‘he said, she said’ where necessary, rather than the narrator trying to impersonate a different gender; I have 5 of Catherine Asaro’s titles I love to death in audio and I cannot stand to listen to them because Anna Fielding just *butchers* the male voices to the point where they are caricatures).

    So, I’ll never give up my paper books, I still read and re-read them frequently, but I also heavily use my e-reader for those titles that are only available electronically and those that are available in both media.

    For a less far-future wish than the above described all-around magic machine, I really, really, *really* want a combo deal on books, where I pay, say a buck or two more, and get both a print book and an e-book.

  23. Jessica
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 20:07:38

    I agree with you in the main, although part of me still thinks form and content are connected in important ways.

    Maili wrote,

    As for a general comment about obsolescene? Did anyone keep old televisions and old cassette players? Kitchen equipments? Gadgets we thought were useful but weren't? How about toys? As children age, we ‘upgrade' toys to fit in with their ages. Clothes? There are so many similar products over years, so why the concern about ebook readers?

    Comment win! So glad I am not the only person who thinks this.

  24. Helen
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 20:22:38

    What about my keepers? Ok, I admit I am not an avid keeper. Usually once I read a print book, out it goes; to either friends, the used book store or the library. But if I WERE a keeper there is the problem of sustainability. Can you name one form of technology that is still the same today as it was 10 years ago? 7? 5? It is all well and good to have thousands of books on an ereader only to find out 5 years later they are discontinuing that line and that unless you repurchase all of your books you will loose them because the formating in the new reader will not be the same. THAT is my main fear with ereaders…and I don’t even keep that many books. At least I know that my paper keeper will still be right on the shelf…where I left it. I am not saying I don’t buy books to read in electronic format. I do, but they are mostly small press books from publishers who don’t print or who don’t print the book I wanted…in other words I can’t get them any other way.

  25. ReacherFan
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 21:46:29

    There is room in my life for ebooks and print books. What I find bizarre is the constant belittling of print books and those who prefer them. Must everyone worship at the alter of technology? Why is it heresy to like or prefer print? Sometimes I wonder if all this smug gloating about digital books isn’t a kind of electronic snobbishness. If you don’t hurl yourself into the latest and greatest, you’re an impediment to progress, a polluter, a Luddite!

    I’ve been using computers for 20+ years and not one of the files from back then still exists unless I kept a printed copy. Every book I saved is right here with me. The books that belonged to my mother sit on my shelves. It’s a connection to my past that transcends content. The book I held while watching the moonrise behind the pyramids, one that is tattered and worn, but belonged to my dad.

    In all my years I have never formed a sentimental bond to a piece of electronic equipment. I like it, I use, but it means nothing. When I read a book that I sincerely want to keep, I buy a print copy. 15 years from now, I’ll still be able to read the thing. It’s like saying you can see the Mona Lisa on your computer and it will look the same as when you see it in person. Have you ever watched a movie filmed where on location and remembered walking those streets? Isn’t it different than when you see scenes of places you’ve never been?

    The invention of movable type changed the world. It gave the masses a chance to learn. Somehow I doubt the first e-reader will be valued like the Gutenberg bible. If you think the tactile experience is of no value, then perhaps for it is. Would you really place your faith, your history, your trust in some digital file?

    Yes, we lost the art of storytelling, but it was kept alive in poor areas because books were for the rich. Digital media is not for the poor. I read my ebooks on a laptop that cost $1500 + software using an ISP service that costs an additional $600 a year. A digital reader would be a one time cost – till it dies and I have to buy another one. Or the file format changes and lo and behold, I can’t read my books any more. No one came to my house and took 1984 away. If they tried, it would have been breaking and entering and petty theft. Do I care if they get my romance books? No. But if I don’t care about that, when do I care? Is everything disposable? The books sitting on my selves are immutable and unchanged over the decades.

    The love affair with electronic media and social networking means you sit in front of a computer, or you have a an iphone or Blackberry as you text away, play computer games, chat, or respond to blogs :-), but every time you do, you aren’t enjoying real life. I have a football game on, and instead of watching the Packers and Bears as closely as I should, or reading one of the hundreds of print books in my TBR pile, I’m here trying to make a point. Content is critical, yes, but how easily corrupted is a digital file? No one will change, delete, modify or alter one of my print books. The content of those books hasn’t changed in 30 years. Yes, I can lose them to fire or flood – even rodents, but I can lose digital content far more easily. And the next person might not have the luxury of a digital reader, so when I give my books away, all they’ll need is enough light to read.

    Tell me you’ve never looked at an old psalter and not wondered who once held that book. The sheer weight of history books can hold. If you didn’t, then I do feel badly for you. Have you ever once felt the same awe holding an e-reader? I don’t bond to my computers, or cell phones, or any other electronic device. They are just disposable tools. My bond with books goes beyond the content – or at least it does for the memorable ones. I have no problem buying digital books that I’m very unlikely to pass on to others. As for the rest, I’ll stay with print and share they with others – including those who don’t sit with a laptop on their knees while watching the NFL. :-)

    Go Packers!

  26. LG
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 22:21:08

    I don’t think a book being in ebook form rather than print lessens its contents in any way, but I still prefer print over digital. The batteries will never die on my print books, because there are no batteries. I don’t have to deal with DRM. I don’t have to buy something that will allow me to read my books, because my print books can be read just as they are. I don’t have to decide which ebook reader to buy, weighing pros and cons before shelling out lots of money I could be spending on actual books. I can resell my print books and, although the money I make usually isn’t very much, I can put the money towards buying more books. I can choose to either buy new books (usually in better shape, but cost more) or used books (probably not in as good shape, but cheaper). Although some places sell ebooks cheaply enough that I sometimes wish I had an ebook reader, I still see plenty of ebook prices that just don’t look worth it. Plus, either way, I’d still have to shell out the money for that ebook reader to begin with. No thank you, not until either print books are no longer sold or ebook readers have dropped enough in price that buying one won’t make me think of the many things I could be buying instead.

  27. LG
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 22:26:56

    Ah yes, just read ReacherFan’s comment and was reminded of a few other drawbacks that have kept me from buying an ebook reader. No one can just take my print books away from me, unless they want to get in trouble for theft, and, although my print books can get wet or otherwise damaged, they are still more likely to be around 20 years from now (or even 5 or 10) than a downloaded ebook.

  28. LG
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 22:35:39

    As for Maili’s comment comparing this to the television/laserdisc/betamax/VHS/DVD/etc debate, well, I’ve never had as many movies and TV shows I’ve cared about nearly as much as I do books (well, except for maybe my extensive anime collection – I’d be more than a little upset if I couldn’t play those anymore). The number of books I’d have to replace if I suddenly found out none of them were going to be readable would likely break me financially. Yes, I definitely care about being able to read this stuff, maybe even just my favorite passages, a few years down the line. Talk to anyone who’s ever gotten a book for free from the library and then voluntarily gone out and bought a copy for their own collection, and I’m sure you’d find people who’d agree.

  29. Marsha
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 04:50:55

    What Sarah T. and ReaderFan said.

    I’m resigned to the fact that I will one day probably own some kind of electronic reader and will probably have to deal with all the DRM stuff (a point on which I have no faith of a reader-friendly resolution at all) and versioning and whatever. It’ll probably happen and when it does I’ll just have to cope. Does the use of “resigned” and “cope” indicate how excited I am about my future as a reader?

    In addition to what Sarah T. and ReaderFan contributed – and I agree wholeheartedly with them both – I want to add (only slightly tongue-in-cheek): I have one charming-if-absent-minded husband, two children, two cats, a dog, a full-time job, aging parents, community responsibilities, and a houseful of the kinds of items with some sort of battery and/or charging requirements (desktops, laptops, cell phones, etc.). I really, really, really, really do not with to tie my reading life – which is dedicated to a kind of hedonistic autodidact’s pursuit of pleasure – to the sort of device that makes me completely insane in its maintenance needs. I do not want another blasted thing in my life that requires me to think about the charging, does this battery fit?, is this the right cord?, don’t drop it!, no honey that’s mommy’s really expensive reading thing please don’t touch it, is that dust from the pitcher’s mound wafting this way? oh, I bought that book in that other format and can’t get it now, or it’s on the other laptop that husband has three states away, the cat dragged the cord into the laundry room…..

    This is my life and reading is meant to be an escape from that. Fix DRM and I’ll reluctantly get on board. If someone could find a way to give me a reader that’s as mindless to use as a book, well, we’ll see. My demands might be unreasonable, but there you are.

  30. NKKingston
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 04:59:42

    I wouldn’t mind the built in obsolescence if it wasn’t coupled with DRM and the whole “not actually owning a book” thing.

    I still have a large video collection and I still have a video machine. I can’t buy either of those things any more, but I can still use what I’ve purchased previously (until it breaks down, but even print books eventually fall apart, so that’s something I’m prepared for). I haven’t rebought my entire video collection on DVD; I’ve bought new and different films. When HD becomes unavoidable, I’ll start a new film library, but without something really special to tempt me I won’t rebuy the films I already own.

    If I buy an eReader and build a library on it, I want that library to remain accessible even after the eReader and formats have been delcared obsolete. I can buy a new eReader and buy different books to fill that one up with, but I don’t want to have to rebuy books that I had on my my obsolete-but-working (hopefully) old eReader. I don’t want Amazon or Sony to decide that since the format/eReader is obsolete they’ll yank the books from their library, and while they’re at it mine too.

    I’ll be sad, too, that’s there’s no secondhand market with eBooks. No chance to find a 70 year old newspaper cutting in an eBook, but I suspect I’ll eventually shift to a large secondhand print collection and a slightly smaller new eBook selection, unless all those blue sky promises that eBooks will bring back out of print books at affordable prices actually come true one day (I have… ‘difficult’ tastes in reading, sometimes). That is, if I can ever afford an eBook reader.

    When you say long live the content, it’s dependent on whether the content’s long lived!

  31. hapalochlaena
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 07:03:25

    I bought an eReader earlier this year and my preferred book format is now electronic. I have a large portion of my library, including e-versions of the books I already have on paper wherever possible, on a single device that I only need to charge once a week and which only needs a USB cable and a computer or a USB power adapter.

    I’ve bought nearly a hundred books which, if they had been paper, would probably have made my house explode from the overload. Or, at the very least, they’d have eventually made their way into one of many unsorted, uncatalogued filing boxes from which they’d be difficult to unearth without a protracted search.

    Digital books are easier and cheaper to store and move around. Before I migrated from my previous location to my current one I had to dispose of a third of my book collection and leave behind another third. (To this day I mourn the loss of my Seabury Quinn collection). The balance took up about half the volume, and therefore the cost, of my personal/household effects cargo. International shipping is expensive. If the entire collection had been digital (and DVD writing technology available) at the time, it would have occupied three DVDs at most.

    On the community thing: I don’t share my books because they invariably come back to me (if at all) with cracked spines, coffee stains, dog-eared pages, torn covers or any combination thereof. (Okay, there’s one person that I’m willing to lend books to, and he reads graphic novels only). The non-sharing habit extends to e-books, simply because it is a habit.

    Reading, for me, is a completely solitary activity. I don’t care to show others what I’m reading, and I don’t want people to strike up conversations with me just because they see the cover of my book — particularly when I’m reading it. An eReader solves all that.

    As for formats, DRM, georestrictions? Let’s just say there are technological solutions for that. I think the substantial time I spend on cleanup, formatting, renaming, cataloguing and multiple backups (of books, catalogue data and software) is well justified. And if someone released yet another ebook format tomorrow, there’d be someone else out there, writing a conversion program for it.

  32. Janet W
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 08:18:25

    Another perspective on the community thing — and I couldn’t agree more on the not sharing — I’m into giveaway but not sharing my books. No. Did it once and with the insurance and fretting … I’d have been better off buying her a copy of “Tempting Harriet” altho it did come home safe and sound.

    Even as I write, a copy of Mary Balogh’s “Wood Nymph” is being mailed from person to person, eventually to end up with the original sharer of said book. It might even be her only copy, I’m not sure. And this originated online. I offer this as an example of the almost incalcuable joy that can result from sharing something that is so special, and personal, with a stranger. Really, in the same way that reviews here can send one careening to order the book. How would that be done “legally” and ethically, in an e-reader world? Possibly it would be even simpler but there’s something about the notion of a book being mailed (and for the curious, it now sells in the $35.00 used range online) that’s pretty magical in its generosity.

  33. Anon
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 10:38:44

    I have no problem with ebooks as far as the reading itself goes. I agree: we read for the story, and how it makes us feel.

    I do admit to some concerns if ebooks were to take off in a huge way, primarily related to access (money is required in a way it isn’t with print books), environmental issues (the heavy metals involved in production and disposal of digital devices, as well as being non-biodegradable), & piracy. I also cannot comprehend why ebooks have become a social movement of sorts, causing all sorts of divisions. What used to be a community of readers has become splintered in a way that, imo, serves no one.

    Personally, I like holding, feeling a book, and to me, there IS something inherently valuable about the turning of the page through space. But if reading digitally works for others, I bid them enjoy.

    I agree that the print publishing model of delivery is fundamentally flawed in ways that are not sustainable in our culture over the long haul, but I don’t see that ebooks are the only way to solve them. Very certainly they will be part of a solution, but they need not be not the only one.

    For instance, the quoted comment “

    An industry that spends all its money on bookseller discounts and very little on finding an audience is getting things the wrong way round.

    is, imo, an accurate observation, but print publishers need not resort (only? at all?) to ebooks to resolve it. What they need to do is get more focused on such issues, & more creative in problem-solving them.

    Also,

    A system that requires the trucking of vast quantities of paper to bookshops and then back to publishers' warehouses for pulping is environmentally and commercially unsustainable.

    is true, and of course, will simply have to change, and yet again . . . ebooks may not be the only solution.

    Then too, people work in these industries. You start removing things to ship and store (i.e. books) you take away jobs.

    No, I am not advocating maintaining an archaic & environmentally unsound system of book delivery simply to keep truckers and warehouse workers and local booksellers employed. I’m simply pointing out the effects of sweeping change, especially when it occurs swiftly, and bidding a reasoned appreciation of those vast ripple effects.

    It’s also important to consider that if, say, 10 million (rich enough) people have a reading device or 2 or 3 that gets replaced every few years, well, this will have environmental costs as well. Heavy metals. These devices require high-impact power to operate (electricity & batteries). They get shipped, just like books. And later, shipped again to be non-biodegradably buried in the earth. In poor nations.

    Again, I’m simply pointing out this is not a ‘good book / bad book’ argument. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

    I also agree that part of what is being challenged is our connection to the past, and memories of reading print books. But that observation seemed to demean the impulse to stay connected to that, or rather, neutralize it. “It’s only this.”

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be worried about losing a sense of connection to our past.

    While change is inevitable, paradigm shifts happen, and industries rise & fall, never has such vast change occurred with such rapidity as now. Never has what was been so devalued in the service of what will be, while also having the power to leave the old behind so quickly.

    (i.e. we might reach ’100th monkey’ critical mass with all technologies, where people want the New and scorn the Old, but never have so many people been able to get the New so swiftly. And then scorn the Old to its face, at such a distance, with such anonymity, on such a vast platform as the internet.)

    These fundamental alterations in the speed & process of change matter, to our collective psyche.

    I think there is value in staying connected to our pasts, in a variety of ways. Print books may be a way to do this for some. Such appreciative connections may be one of the losses of our fast-moving, ever-interfaced but not necessarily connected world, where there is rarely time for reflection or contemplation, and everything beeps and is backlit.

  34. Jennifer P
    Sep 14, 2009 @ 22:02:28

    I am one of those “slower adapters” at least for someone under 25. I’ve only used a electric toothbrush for the last 5 years (although my dentist has been pushing it for 10) and I finally starting buying mechanical pencils in my 3rd year of college. My 1st ipod was the 4th Generation.

    However I am getting excited about ebooks. What started this excitement was discovering my library’s digital book library through overdrive. I’ve since then been reading Julia Quinn’s backlist on my computer. Setting a goal to read 2-3 chapters a day so that the book would be completed by the time my right to read it expires. This has allowed me to read 2 books at once.

    This excitement got even bigger when I heard that Sony is now using Adobe for its content format. This a major step in persuading me to buy a reader. I think there’s a lot of potential for ebooks. They take up much less space-no need to take up half your suitcase or ten bookcases.

    Print is special but digital is not to be feared.

  35. Karen Wester Newton
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 05:53:46

    A note to Jennifer P– Sony is going to use ePub, a standard ebook format, but they are using Adobe’s version fo DRM (digital rights management) software on top of ePub, which means they are using a standard format but it is not “open content” int eh classic sense. I think Sony and a lot of other readers support PDF, too, but that’s actually not a great format for ebooks.

  36. Jennifer P
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 13:47:24

    @Karen Wester Newton: I realize that Sony’s Adobe format is EPUB and that like most formats has DRM protections on it.

    What get’s me excited about this format change is that since Sony is not the only ebook retailer out there selling that format ereader consumers get choice. This choice is present in pricing and content availability that varies between retailers. Publishers, product manufacturers, and independent retailers all selling the same products form a competitive market for content able to be read on an ereader, that I recently read had an estimated 30% market share. I’m hoping that may be prices will truly begin to stabilize. I’m also hoping that maybe this will cause a format to emerge that is universally compatible with ereader devices and programs (that’ll take some work with manufacturers) similar to the mp3 format in music (except with protections against unauthorized sharing).

  37. txvoodoo
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 00:51:42

    You’ve said everything I’ve tried to say many times. Thank you! Bookmarking this to send to people later – over and over.

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