I’ve followed thriller/mystery writer Joe Konrath’s blog for at least two years now. As inspiration for aspirants, his Newbie’s Guide — the downloadable .pdf version — is a must-read for any writer at any level.
But I have to disagree with him, on e-books and e-readers.
Joe does a good job breaking down the progression of music format, from Edison cylinders to MP3 players. But there are certain aspects of the e-publishing vs. tree publishing debate that I think Joe’s otherwise cogent analysis misses.
I mentioned earlier that switching to MP3 was a no-brainer for me, because my MP3 player has proven to be such a vast improvement — in terms of portability, storage, and convenience. Carrying around wallets of compact discs or, before that, cases of cassette tapes, was a pain in the butt. And cassettes, compact discs, and even vinyl, had significant issues where wear-and-tear are concerned. Issues I don’t have to worry about, now that all the music I want to listen to goes with me everywhere on my laptop’s hard drive and my little Coby MP3 thumb unit.
Books… It’s just not the same. My wife and I have a significant library of print books. Fiction, historical fact, picture books, how-to books, atlases, etc. They all live in our front room library, which also doubles as the living room. There, they’re part of the decor. The entire space is one bookshelf after another, interspersed with candles and pottery and art. If that entire collection was suddenly condensed onto a single little e-book reader… Yah, no thanks. Especially where atlases and other large-format multi-media books are concerned. The newfangledness of the e-book is not without its hindrances, and losing the library — its look, its tangible aspect — is not a plus for me.
Now, the rabid e-reader enthusiast will likely scream, “Nobody is taking your books away!” I know that. I’m just not prepared to believe that e-books and e-readers — even the large, color iPad — are so fantastically “better” that print will dry up and blow away.
The one time I do think an e-reader might be useful — as noted earlier — would be on deployment. But here again, problems. Is there a milspec e-reader that can stand up to dirt, moisture, heat, repeated impact, and go weeks or even months without needing to be plugged in? How about solar charging? The volume and portability of the e-book is offset somewhat by the fact that no e-reader that I know if has yet been built to stand up to the punishment it will take in the field. Especially places like Iraq or Afghanistan.
And since I am not in my civilian life fantastically annoyed by print format — just the opposite — what is my motivation, again, to make the switch?
So far as I am concerned, the e-book micro-explosion — 2% industry share, c’mon people — is being driven almost entirely by the same people who were the first to buy home computers, the first to buy compact discs, and cell phones, and DVD, and wi-fi, and blu-ray, and so forth. Gadgeteers and geeks. Hey, not a bad thing, I’m a geek! But I am not a capital-g geek about toys. If a toy proves fantastically more useful to me — as the MP3 player has done — I will adopt it. But if a toy doesn’t seem remarkably better or otherwise so incredibly wonderful that I just have to have it, I don’t feel compelled to switch over. And so far e-readers don’t seem like they’re essential to me. And I know loads of other people who feel the same way.
In the end, I am sure e-books and e-readers will take their place, as an option that lives alongside print. But I don’t think e-books will take over entirely — not unless the government outlaws print because it’s bad for the environment or something. Heck, I’m starting to think that e-reading isn’t even going to make 50% market impact. Not now, and not 20 years from now. Books — printed books — are still appreciated by too many people for too many reasons. It’s not like books suck and e-readers are awesome. Books are awesome, and e-readers are, well, kinda awesome. But not so awesome as to drive print to the grave, in spite of the adoration of the gadgeteers.