With the advent and infiltration of the e-reader and the tablet into the marketplace and popular culture there is a sudden rising fear with writers and readers alike that the book as a physical thing is in its last days, something that is sorta sad and funny at the same time. It isn’t sad because books are not worth saving, as it were, but sad that we are so afraid of things that are inevitable and evolutionary and may even be good in the end.
The Good –
With the adoption of the e-book and all of those supported formats we as a public are going to have SO MUCH available to us. We will have the opportunity to discover so many new writers, so many new stories, and in many ways it will be a level playing field for a time because someone like me who isn’t with a major publisher could find the same audience that someone who sells millions of books will. Now, I am sure there will come a LOT of changes in how we purchase e-books so that the lesser known and unknown authors don’t ‘clutter’ up the virtual aisles but truly, if a writer were so motivated, they could become a best seller as an independent, could gain a following, and if they are actually good, could become a household name in time. There are authors now that are doing well with just their e-books but I am not sure anyone is getting rich, though that could change. It’s a delicate balance, these e-books, in that you can’t have the price too high or people won’t buy it so you have to rely on selling a LOT of your inexpensive e-books to make your money, which is sometimes better said than done. But, better to have the opportunity, right? How many great stories and great writers were never discovered because the publishing industry were not interested in them? With the growing acceptance of self publishing authors are not bound to publishers as they once were. Heck, I think we’d all like to have someone other than ourselves and our friends pulling for us but as great as a publisher can be, they can also be an issue as well because once they decide your book is no longer marketable or relevant then they stop supporting it but you, as the author, never give up on it. If you wrote a good book it is still as relevant as it ever was, no matter how old the story may be. E-books are not perfect but they are the best chance indie writers have to make waves in a very, very big sea.
The Bad –
Books are going away. It’s inevitable. You can rage at this fact, can mourn it, or can adapt. Books are wasteful. Not all books, but my god, do we need a million copies of every book printed? Really? No. No because books are wasteful. These are not the days where you’d get a great book, read it, pass it on, and the book would live on from person to person to person. No, people just don’t read as they once did. It happens. We are working more, are busier, and have more pursuits than ever before. It isn’t just television but it’s easier than ever to discover music, art, movie-making, dance, heck everything, than it once was. So while many are watching movies, television, or playing videogames, some are not, they are doing other things that just isn’t reading. And so be it. Why some people are judged harshly because they don’t read is beyond me. We need every person with every interest and viewpoint to make up the rich tapestry of life, not just the pseudo-intellectuals who feel they are well read. BAH! But back to books. Books are wasteful. It’s just a fact. Too many books are produced at too high of a cost in manufacturing, then at too high a cost in the retail market, and unless the book hits it goes from best seller racks, to half off, to discount, to remainder, to donation, to trash and then it has to be – hopefully – recycled to start the process over again. What we need is an evolution in the book and book store industry. Books are important. Stories are crucial. But we need to stop mass producing things. We need to streamline. Make the books that are special the hardcovers, and do them in a way that make them something worthy of that honor. Make them well made, and make them collectible and if they are good books people will pay a little extra for them because they will be a form of art collection. Make paperbacks print on demand and have kiosks readily available so you can go to any bookstore – ANY! – and someone can plug in the book they want, pay for it at the kiosk or counter, and have it printed as they wait. And then have recycling stations at the store so if someone wants to get rid of their books they can return them for re-sale at a discount or can be recycled and someone can collect a refund similar to what some states do with bottle returns. Make paperbacks affordable, inexpensive, and watch them blow up again. Make a paperback five dollars or less and they’ll be huge. Make books special again. Stop mass producing, stop over-producing, and stop worrying about e-books. Not every book needs to be physically produced, that’s just a fact. Sometimes it should be an earned thing. Every story deserves to be read, it’s just that every book doesn’t need to be physically produced.
The Inevitable –
Books are going away…and it’s ok. I love books. Love them. But I love the art of books, love the design, and love books that are special. Paperbacks are great, are easy to read, but are very, very poorly made and are not made to last the test of time. It’s a shame that so many stories and books from the eighties, seventies, sixties, and well before that were lost because they were fun stories but were printed as pulp books that were not made for longevity. Paperbacks need to be easily recyclable so when they are getting worn they can be returned and recycled and kick the person a little incentive to do it…incentive toward more books. E-books are not bad. They force writers to think out of the box (out of the book, HA!) in the ways they want to present the tale. It allows them to be as creative as they want to be. It lets them add links, images, music, anything they want, but it has to serve the story. And just as it happens with self published work there will be a lot of bad out there, a lot, but if you spend a dollar on it and hate it you can delete the file. Now, I am definitely one that likes physical media, I don’t like the idea of a magic ‘cloud’ that keeps things that I purchased but unfortunately we are moving away from physical media. Again, it is inevitable. In the end what is important – the story or the medium in which we get it? E-readers are evolving SO quickly that if you don’t like them now wait, they are getting better. As someone who has a tablet and has comics and books on it, they are an amazing way to discover things and to catch up on work you weren’t able to before. I love books, as a writer I have to, but I also understand that things are changing and we can either change with things or fight them and freak out as they change. In the end it is the story we remember most, the tale, and however we get it – as a book, as a story we are told, as an e-book, as a movie – it is always that which is the most important thing of all – the tale. I don’t think books are going away for good but if we don’t find ways to better use them then we’ll risk losing them altogether and that’s the worst thing that can happen.
So, what’s your story?