Is Paperback Extinction Looming? Reading and Writing in the Transition Era
Continued from previous page
• Economic concerns and the integrity of the time line. Publishing dead tree editions of anything is a gamble; so many have to be printed up to make a printing run achieve economies of scale - but if they don't sell well, it doesn't pay. Inventory has to be shipped, stocked, tracked, disposed of in the bricks and mortar world. All of that adds to publisher costs.
E-books cost nothing to duplicate once all the editing is done. So, how do they get priced? Same as the hardcover edition, with instant delivery when a book is first released, discounting as time goes by? Low pricing, to sell more e-readers, reach a wider market? What about copies - suppose you have more than one way to read it, or a friend wants' to 'borrow' it? Who owns what when you don't have something you can hold in your hands? It's not an academic question.
And when there's no physical copy of a book, who's going to know if it gets revised, rewritten or otherwise altered down the road with none the wiser? It's not like it hasn't already happened - but it's going to be a lot easier.
• The Battle for Eyeballs. The same technology that makes e-books possible is also capable of providing alternatives. Movies on demand; television shows both current and from the past; video games; blogging; reading blogs; social media. Who needs to read when there are so many other ways to spend time? Well, one answer is: anyone who wants to keep their imagination and visualizing skills sharp, or for that matter, the skill of reading and comprehending what's on the page.
I have not seen all of the Harry Potter movies or any of the LOTR movies. It's not because I don't like going to theaters or the expense - though that is a factor. It's that if I really enjoy a book, the experience on screen seldom can match the experience in the theater of my mind. A good writer can evoke sights, smells, sounds, images - and I can draw on my own inner universe to make it happen and expand on it. Reading may look like a passive activity from the outside, but it can engender a lot of mental activity. And my budget for effects, etc. is limited only by my imagination. Watching a screen version of a book I've read... just doesn't give me the same experience.
It cuts both ways of course - some movies don't translate well into print. This isn't really an argument against e-books; for this purpose reading on paper or reading on screen is interchangeable...up to a point. A key element is that the technology not be intrusive. One reason the iPad works with books is that it's large enough to display a good sized page of text and/or pictures, in color if need be. Having to scroll, work through menus, etc. - well it's the difference between simply reading, or operating a reader. The more transparent the process, the more attention that can be given to the text.
Am I completely dissing digital media and e-books? No. There are things that traditional dead tree works can't do, and this isn't a Luddite anti-techno screed. (Considering I'm typing on a laptop through a web browser to write this, it would be beyond ironic.) What I'm really looking at here at this moment in time, is how a change is occurring which will have lasting effects. We can't really appreciate where we're going if we don't understand where we're coming from.