Tuesday, 5 October 2010


Some of you may know of my fellow blogger Jade Carver. If you don't already, I suggest you get acquainted.

This morning, she posted a short blog about why she likes what she has come to experience of e-books. I would like to do a brief counter-point to her argument, all in the spirit of lively debate.

I do not own an e-book reader. And while I like the novelty of new toys as much as the next girl, I am all for preserving the print industry. After all, it is my industry of choice. If we all take up reading e-books, this will reduce the demand for print books. While in some cases, this will be a blessing... just think, fewer books about sparkly vampires on the shelves!... in others this will be a problem. Jade talks about the fact that her e-book reader gives her access to books which are out of print or not available in Australia. Well. It is lack of demand which makes these books not available. And if people use their Kindles and whatever elses to read these books instead of buying them, demand obviously goes down. So yeah, it's cheaper. But if you work in publishing, it's actually a lot more expensive. I think in the long term (and sadly, despite my own feelings, this is the way we are headed) the e-book industry is going to severely damage the publishing industry. We will probably see the demise of the small independent publishing houses, although I most certainly hope not.

When it comes down to it, ordering a book doesn't take all that long. And when you receive that book you found on Amazon, or where-ever (The Book Depository is also good), it makes you smile, doesn't it? Simple pleasures in a brown paper envelope.

I'm being a bit dramatic here, but imagine a world without books! And yes I mean to say without books, because novels on screens are not BOOKS in the thingness of them. I don't honestly know what they are, but I'm reminded of that paper that used to come out of fax machines that was all joined together sheet by sheet like a concertina, and had the perforated stuff down the sides that I used to love stripping off. Except in pixel form.

On a more personal note, I don't like e-books because like a lot of people, I wear glasses to read, and I don't think that staring at a screen to read is particularly good for my disintegrating vision. If I sit at a computer at length (and I frequently do), it can make my vision blurry for a little while afterwards.

I want to appeal to the public here and ask you what you love most about books in their coporeal form (hehe)? I love them for the simple reason that they smell comforting. The smell of inky pages (even second hand or from a library) has always been one I associated with parts of my childhood.

Jade's reasons for liking e-books are very good. And I think she certainly has a fair point to make. But there are always going to be some people, like me, who resist. I like being the weird chick on the train with the bag so full of books she can barely carry it. I take a book with me everywhere. And some day I want to see my own novel bound and in the hands of a person not unlike myself. Or even totally unlike myself. I don't think I would feel the same sense of accomplishment if you could buy The Compound only as an e-book. E-book readers probably mean that in the future, it will be possible to self publish on the internet and sell your own novel. And that's going to give rise to the praise of a lot of mediocrity. It's going to blur that line between the true craftsman, and the one who takes the technological shortcut. That's actually probably very hypocritical coming from a blogger...

Look, when it comes down to it, make up your own mind. Yes, e-books will save you money. Yes, they are convenient. Yes, they are snazzy. But some things are worth preserving.

So many books... so little time...


  1. you've probably read my comment (and i've been directed here by your comment btw) and i feel that i can't get myself detached from a physical book. the real thing just feels comforting in a way. and yeah i mentioned not being the best for your eyes which young people have to take note of. especially with the increased use of screens everywhere, and especially with small screens it can lead to the detriment of your eye sight. do what it takes to preserve that function because once it's gone you probably can't get it back.

    i would agree about the publishing industry part. the whole physical aspect of scanning bookshelves and enticement through the covers and bindings, and even passing by a store and discovering something you didn't think you would pick up - that drives a lot of money forward. though it might sound a bit stupid it is part of impulse buying and smaller publishers if they can get it out into the shops may benefit from these buyers who impulse buy.....

  2. I both agree and disagree. I personally haven't got into the whole E-book thing, but I see it's merit. I love the physicality of a printed book, and nothing looks better than I full shelf, but the wonders of the E-book format can't be denied. I have nothing but contempt for Kindles but having seen and tried Apples iBook product I'm blown away. You still get full colour, high quality cover art (my favourite part of a book), you still get to turn the pages, but you also get the ability to carry 200,00 books with you at once, you can buy books at any time without having to leave the house, and like your friend said you can get your hands on old books that are no longer in print (most of the time for free because the copyright died with the author).

    I truly disagree with your idea that the industry will be hurt by E-books though. If anything, independent publishers will benefit from the electronic phenomenon much the same way the music industry has. E-books are much cheaper to produce than printed books, which means they'd be able to release more books for less money and use the revenue from those electronic sales to continue producing printed books. I don't believe we'll see the death of the printed page for a long time to come. iTunes has been around for ten years, and while CD sales have dropped rather a lot there's still shops chock full of them.

    That's just my two cents, but personally I think that both mediums could work incredibly well side-by-side. If I were to invest in an E-book reader I'd use it in the same way I use illegal downloads (try before you buy), and two have digital copies of books I already own. I still buy the CD's that I really like, same goes for DVD's. The abundance of E-books could end up making physical books even more special :)

  3. Very valid arguments. Thanks heaps for your thoughts, guys.

    I think, with relationship to the publishing industry being slowly killed off by e-books, that you guys are partly right. If it happens at all, it's going to take a hundred bajillion years maybe. But as someone who wants to work in publishing, I'm wondering how many jobs there are going to be for me if there isn't as much demand for books in paper format. Will literary agents be needed? Will we need as extensive an editing process if it's so easy to just modify the file? And what will slushing be like when it's cheap enough to publish anything we like, rather than just what we can afford, the cream of the crop?

    Are we facilitating the rise of amateurism by making things easier?

    And will I have to promote the damn things one day, and eat my words?

  4. More likely you'll have to record yourself reading for the audio book :P They're still more popular than E-books.

    I don't think we'll see a drop in quality until self-publishing becomes cheap and easy. At the moment you still have to go through an agent and a publishing house to get your book out whether it's electronic or printed.

  5. As a tangential point, it's perfectly possible to self-publish physical books already (I typed in 'self publish books on demand' to Google and one of the top results (lulu.com) quickly took me to a page saying 'self-publish your book for free') - amateur publishing is not necessarily tied up with the product being electronic. We're already at the stage where you don't /have/ to go through an agent and publishing house, it's just the most well known and I guess reliable method.

    (I have more thoughts on this but haven't marshalled them yet; may end up doing a blog post of my own!)

    --Eudoxia (aka Jingle Bella - here from Jade's blog)

  6. I don't think e-books will take the publishing industry down. It's been said tv would take the radio down, computers would take the tv down...
    By the end of the day, we love touching book pages. We like the smell of it. We like the feeling. We like the pretty covers. We enjoy the printed words.

    My father recently gave me a e-book device, much to my disappointment, for this things are too expansive in a third world country like mine and I find it a waste of money...
    Still, one thing sold me to it: the possibility of buying "Being and Time", of Martin Heidegger.

    Here at Brazil books are awfully expansive. I have many books I gotta buy for my studies and this is one I need for my profession...
    Being and Time is 50$. The e-book is 14$.
    Of course I'll buy the e-book in English...
    Still, when I become able to buy it, I'll buy the printed version in Portuguese.

    'Cause I need to read this book, but I also want to have it! And having a book as an e-book is not the same to me...

    So, I think e-books are more like a "wow! I really need to get this one FAST to my research!", but not the same as owning the book.

    Books are too special to be swallowed by e-books....

    Besides, e-book devices are too expansive to most people right now...
    I can't imagine when I'll be able to see people reading e-books at the bus here at Brazil, really....

    Are they already popular on other countries?

  7. @Eudoxia- That's true, I've heard of Lulu.com and also other online vanity presses which allow you to publish for free. In one of my classes, we read an article which made me feel so guilty; it was an expose about how the internet is allowing the rise of the amateur in general. It said that even blogging was denying the real reviewers their authenticity and allowing amateurs to have the same recognition as people who had been trained and hired to maintain online papers and things like that. It was a really really emphatic article, but when I really thought about it, it was being a bit paranoid. And I think with regards to vanity publishing, there is never going to be a collapse of that divide between peer reviewed texts and ones which have been published either for free or at a cost by a vanity press because people are not stupid enough to believe that something which has not been optioned by a publisher is just as good as something which has... think about the editing process that goes with getting accepted by a big publishing house. There doesn't seem to be much comparison. What I don't want to see, with the rise of the e-book, is the option for people to upload their work to websites etc. and sell direct to e-book users, bypassing both the publishers and the vanity presses. To me, that does what this article I read was warning against. And I'm a bit old fashioned in thinking that struggling with the big publishing houses is all part of the fun.

    @Cacau- First of all I am truly humbled to know that I have had a reader from Brazil stumble across my blog. Wow. That's the power of the internet for you!

    The cost of e-books versus print books is definitely a huge selling point and an advantage. I don't begrudge you the right to save money on books for school and for work that you need to purchase. That is definitely a plus. And I'm sure it makes your bag much easier to carry around. We discussed this option at my university in more than one class, and as yet it hasn't been picked up by the staff. No doubt, in years to come it will. I can't say that I have seen people in Perth reading e-books at bus stops and things like that, but I know that it must happen. A lot of people use the application on iphone, so it's difficult to discern between reading books and doing other things unless you're right next to the person.

    I don't know, I just can't get my head around the idea of paying money to get something that is a computer file, rather that a real hold in my hands object.

  8. i completely agree with the last sentence in the comment above. Technology is taking too much away from us already, face to face communication being the major one, i can not fathom the thought of it taking away the sentiment of printed books.

    I understand that yes it is hard sometimes to find books here in Perth because demand for them is so low. And while the cost of an e-book is cheaper than ordering one of Amazon or finding one on eBay or hunting them down in second hand bookstores; the feeling that you finding that book that you have been lusting over has no comparison.

    I do not think that you are being dramatic at all. A life without books is something i could never think of.

    While i am here i'd just like to say amazing blog...its great finding a blogger from Perth with such insight into literature.



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