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I’m Afraid I Can’t Let You Do That, Jean-Luc

October 13, 2010

This is a period of adjustment in the publishing industry, and unfortunately as a writer, I’m kind of trapped in the middle of it. My old nemesis, the eBook, is slowly taking over, and I’m not sure if I should be happy that there is a flicker of hope for the publishing business, or terrified that actual books are in danger of becoming obsolete. To me, this is like bread becoming obsolete, but who knows? With all the gluten-free, low carb crazes out there, it could happen, and people who eat sandwiches will become eccentrics who just can’t keep up with the timely notion that the proper way to consume almost every food is in smoothie form. Just look at those sandwich eaters. Weirdos.

But seriously, something has got to give in publishing, because they really aren’t making money off of books anymore. This is a problem for young writers, because publishers who live in constant fear of obsolescence don’t like to go out on a limb for new, relatively obscure voices.  Supposedly, the eBook  has the power to save us all, like a flat, digital Jesus (apparently the new iPad has been referred to as the “Jesus tablet”. And I’m not even going to try to make a joke about that…). It cuts publishing costs, which trickles down to us lowly writers, like water trickling from above into a pit of unsightly, troll-like creatures.

This is potentially awesome during a time when many creative industries are scrambling to reinvent themselves. The music industry is going for downloadable products (the fact that CDs are fading away is weird to me. This must be how my parents felt about records. Someone might have felt this way about the 8-track, but I’m not sure about that one).  To get butts back in seats at the movies, the movie industry is desperately trying the 3-d gimmick again, with varying degrees of success (and for people like me, the “cool” is not completely outweighed by the “slightly nauseating” factor. As if floors in movie theatres weren’t sticky enough already). Publishing has to change, too.

As much I as think it is absolutely necessary for the business models of creative industries to change, I hate change when it affects me. I wasn’t really bothered that much by the whole upheaval caused by mP3s because I wasn’t a working musician. I’m selfish like that. If we’re invaded by aliens who enslave the entire human race, and yet somehow manage to conveniently overlook me and the other members of my household, I’m not sure I would come save any of you if it meant the aliens would continue to inexplicably leave me alone. I would think about you. I might send a sympathy card, although probably not as it might reveal my location to the aliens.

On the one hand, this COULD mean positive change, not only for me but also for other writers like me, but all I can see is the eventual loss of real, paper books. Ok, this sounds melodramatic…I don’t really think it’s going to happen tomorrow. For a long time, there hasn’t been a replacement technology for books; they’re pretty simple in terms of design and function. Now there is one and I feel all threatened. As much as I love the Star Trek universe…there’s no paper over there. Few books, no newspapers, no magazines, no paperwork…everything is computerized. LCARS subtly took over everybody’s lives, like HAL’s friendly but still psychotic brother. And to some people, Star Trek represents an ideal universe, the type of future that we should all strive for. How many Star Trek geeks back in the 70s were responsible for the development of our computers and the mystifying Interweb? Ok, secular humanism, no money, equality and peace, I look forward to those things in the distant future. But no books? That’s just unacceptable.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2010 3:47 pm

    I agree with the post so much. I don’t like the idea of no books, all you need to read them is a little bit of light and the actual book. Not an Ipad or such, because then you’d have to worry about how charged it is and it just wouldn’t be the same for travellers if they have to dig out an Ipad to read when they’re in the car, bus or train.
    I love the fact you can dog-ear the books and they just hold this sentimental quality to them. Reading wouldn’t be the same if it was just all online.

    I can see online books becoming more successful and more popular as time goes on and that’ll of course be much cheaper for publishers etc. But I hope there are still going to be a fast majority of people who will actually physically walk to a book shop and buy their book. I don’t want the book industry to totally become digitalised just yet, not in my life time anyway.

    • October 13, 2010 5:30 pm

      I agree with that. I love books too much to have to go to an electronic device whenever I want to read.

  2. windyheaven permalink
    October 13, 2010 5:36 pm

    Found your blog yesterday and have enjoyed reading through your posts!

    I remember taking a class back in my college days (almost 30 years ago) called Media and Literacy. The professor predicted the end of paper books which everyone just laughed at. It seemed like total science fiction! Now it seems normal.

    My biggest concern about eBooks is the banned book factor. Last year, Amazon suddenly deleted 1984, Animal Farm, Fountainhead and others off of everyone’s Kindle. If you happened to be in the middle of reading it, too bad. Amazon had a legitimate reason to do so and gave everyone a refund, but it’s scary how easy it was for them to make those books suddenly disappear. If you buy a physical book, it’s yours. You don’t have to sign a contract that limits your rights to it. If it gets banned, you can hide it and hope nobody finds it. The book will likely live on. But if you buy an eBook, there are contractual strings attached. The eBook isn’t ours in the same sense a book is ours, because it is considered a service, not a product. This seems extremely problematic to me.

    I think this has the potential to affect all of us. Of course, who reads anymore, anyway? I suppose that’s the real problem.

  3. claire2 permalink
    October 15, 2010 5:13 pm

    I read something similar about the demise of the hard copy, and felt something of a shiver down my spine. I don’t know why; we all know it’s inevitable and that we live in the digital age and we have to be practical etc etc…
    But there is something so personal and deeply ingrained in your own book collection. My own motley collection – much of which has been consigned to the attic, owing to lack of space – is like a blue print or a map of my mind. And as windy heaven says, who is to say who controls your e book collection? Your bookcase may be old and full of yellowing, dusty copies, but it’s your own. The concept of the e book sounds new age, depressing, and faintly Orwellian…but then again, maybe that’s just me.

  4. Anna permalink
    October 17, 2010 1:14 pm

    Oh I hope this would never happen, it’s like the worst nightmare for me. I’m a bookworm, a feeling of a book in my hands is irreplaceable, turning the pages, feeling the smell – no eBook can replace that. I can’t even imagine that someday one could find books only in museums and antique shops.

    Sometimes I just want for the progress to stop or soon we’ll be glued to our laptops and forget what a real human contact is like in WALL-E or Idiocracy.

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