I’m pushing back the conclusion of the diabetes posts for something a little more timely: There’s currently a story on Slashdot called “The eBook Backlash” (http://news.slashdot.org/story/12/03/05/154207/the-ebook-backlash) that riled me up for two reasons.
The first being that one of the links in the story goes to a New York Times article about the distractions found on e-book readers. With ads, popups about new emails, tweeting, etc.; it’s all too easy to get pulled from the story. But as some of the Slashdot comments stated, this isn’t an e-book problem. This is ayouproblem. Our brains are wired to filter through most of the sensory input we receive, but it can only do so much.
As someone with a Kindle Fire, I have a time and place for its various uses. Sitting in the living room while Mrs. Phlaux watches television and plays with the cats? Perfect time to play on Tweetcaster or read the bite-sized stories fed through my streams in Pulse. But once she’s gone to bed or once I go outside for a cigarette, the e-reader becomes just that. At midnight, when the house and news streams are quiet, it becomes the perfect setting for Paradise Lost, The Prince, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or whatever other classic I’ve downloaded. Some prose can only be read in particular seasons, but I find nearly all prose can be read in the late evening. This is regardless of whether it’s in print or digital form. Which leads me to the other reason the story bothered me.
If you’re familiar with the structure of Slashdot or similar news aggregators, then you know of the framing some of these sites use. It’s not just a link to a news article, but rather an opinion wrapped in breaking news. Usually, I don’t find anything wrong with that, especially on Slashdot, because that opinion is rarely more than “Hey, isn’t this cool?” This time, however, the poster decided to bring up the incendiary print vs. e-book debate (as evidenced by the page’s title). Now, the links used by this particular troll included the New York Times article I previously mentioned, which basically came down to “e-Books can be distracting.” Simple enough to fix: Put your device in airplane mode or, I don’t know,ignorethe New Email popup until you’re ready to move on to another task.
The only other link used was an article about Jonathan Franzen, an author who was first published in 1987, going off about how much he loathes e-books. This…this is surprising? This is news? An author who’s been publishing print novels for 25 years doesn’t like digital publishing?! I’m glad I’m sitting down.
But that’s alright. I’m not really on either side of the debate, to be honest. I don’t find fault with Jonathan Franzen; it’s his opinion. But the original journalist that wrote the article and the poster of the Slashdot article need to remember the context. Don’t ask authors or publishers about their opinions or even their numbers. God, as someone who has worked in or created projects in a variety of media, I can tell you how easy it is to fudge metrics. How ‘bout asking someone with an e-reader? Or asking someone in a bookstore why they’re choosing to buy a print book over its digital copy?
As someone who has a self-published digital novel and has an enormous bookcase filled with novels, I’ll give you my two cents. It all comes down to classics for me. Will I buy King’s eighth installment of the Dark Tower if/when it’s released? Of course. But it’ll be in print. And I’ll curl into a ball on the sofa, wrapped in blankets and under the lamplight, as I have done for just about every Dark Tower release. I want to hold it in my hands, I want to see with my own eyes how far I’m along, I want to relish in the creases I’ve left in the spine. And I want to see the look on my friend Tom’s face when I bring it in to work for him to borrow and he realizes that each DT release seems to double in size.
BUT…I remember when I wanted a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. I found it at Atlantic for $9. A used copy of a 2000+ year old book for $9. Translated into French in the late 18th century, into English over a hundred years later. $9. And where’s that money going to? Is there a descendant of Sun Tzu I haven’t heard of? Is the marketing of the product causing the price to be that high? I know it’s only $9, but it’s a 2000 year old book. It was out of copyright before the concept of copyright was invented.
However, I see a free copy of the book available on Amazon’s Kindle store. I spend 99 cents, and I can get illustrations, historical context, a bundle including the audiobook, etc. That’s the change I want to see. As a member of the new digital self-publishing plague, I don’t want the print book to die. I just want fair prices. And it’s far easier (for now) to get that through the digital stores.