The title is pretty lofty, considering that I actually have no interest in rehashing the much hashed history of the e-book. I will say that I remember electronic publishing being the talk of the town when I first started working in publishing about 8 years ago. At the time, I think the Rocket was the machine that was going to change our lives. The Rocket can now be used as an oddly shaped, plastic paperweight.
I am here, instead, to extol the virtues of the e-book and the e-book reader. Or possibly not. I haven’t decided yet. I have a Sony e-reader that I got back in October and have used nearly every day since then–not to read the latest bestsellers, but rather to review manuscripts. Though I’d wanted one for a while, I’d been reluctant to take the plunge. They’re rather expensive pieces of equipment that one can’t even play with before purchasing. But as I packed for a trip to visit my parents in Florida I realized that 1) I couldn’t fit all the manuscripts I wanted to take into one bag, and 2) even if I could fit them all, said bag would never fit in the overhead luggage racks or under the seat in front of me. It was time.
To say that my life has changed isn’t really an exaggeration. It made my job much easier and made my bag much lighter! I can now go to a conference without a suitcase full of manuscripts. It also makes for much easier subway reading, and while that’s cut into my Us Weekly time, I think I’ll survive. An added bonus is that using one is less wasteful of both resources and money. I can’t imagine how many trees I alone am saving by not having manuscripts printed.
But what about reading books on it? Honestly, I haven’t done it yet. I once tried to download a book for our bookclub (David Ellis’s Eye of the Beholder, which I recommend), but was given, instead, Eye of the Beholder by Shari Shattuck. I tried for weeks, through the atrocious online process, to get the right book to no avail. Finally, my credit card company took care of it. That experience put me off downloads for a few months, but I ordered my new bookclub pick recently. It seems that the Kindle is better suited for downloading books, what with the “Whispernet,” and all, though I can’t confirm because they’re such rare animals. Thus far, I haven’t enjoyed the browsing and buying experience for e-books, and it’s something I don’t even really like doing online. I’ll stick to the bookstore for now, thanks.
Which brings me to my other problem: I like books. Like everyone who writes about this topic, I have to lament the possible demise of the physical book. If Marshall McLuhan was right, and the medium is the message, what does that say about e-books? Are they really books? Part of my love of books as a child had to do with the physicality of the object, not just the words on the page. I can’t imagine my apartment without the wall of books (not to mention table and chairs covered with books, or all the books lurking beneath the furniture). Accumulating digital files just isn’t as impressive. When people come over, and I want to show off my authors and their work, will I soon have to pull out my reader so friends can ooh and ahh about the number of files I have? Somehow, that’s not so fulfilling…
But, I don’t worry. Physical books aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The cost of the e-reader is too high for the average consumer, and I think they’ll only appeal the most avid book buyers – like those of us in publishing. I do think that e-books will become a larger part of the publishing business as time goes on, especially for text books, business books, romance, mysteries, and other mass market fiction. And maybe with remote delivery, as on the Kindle, e-readers could bring back the serialized novel in a bigger way. Something like that could even increase physical book sales.
But what do you think? I’d love to hear some other opinions about e-books and e-readers and Kindles and such. Oh, and check out this news, just released this past weekend: “Penguin to launch ebooks alongside regular releases.”