Friday, June 27, 2008

E-Books. The death of the printed book?

Let me start with a couple preliminary items. Writer's Center instructor Elaina Loveland's second edition of Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians, and Writers was published in June 2008. A pretty useful book, if you ask me. Learn more about it at

(Incidentally, Elaina will be teaching a 2-session workshop, Freelancing for Magazines, come August. Check it out here:

Another prelim item: This Sunday at 2p.m the WC is hosting a reading with Judy Neri, who reads from her new collection of poems, Always the Trains, and novelist Robert Friedman, who reads from his newest historical thriller, Shadows of the Fathers.

Okay, moving on to the subject of this post....

So it's Friday, June 27th. 4p.m. The week's winding down. I heard an interivew with Jeff Bezos recently on NPR's "On Point" (actually, two nights ago). It was an interesting interview. Bezos, as many of you know, is the founder and CEO of (I might be a little off with his titles.) At any rate, Amazon has recently begun selling its ebook reader, Kindle. It's hard to know what the figures are for the sales of that product, but judging by the commentary of some of the callers that night, the Kindle seems to be a popular new item among at least a certain segment of the population. By all appearances--and, though I don't own a Kindle myself, I have leaned over some guy on the metro who was reading a book on one--the Kindle is a reader-friendly device that does make reading longish books on an electronic doodad seem possible. More than that, it makes it seem like, truly, finally, we've reached the turning point on a new age--one that may take us away from books as we know them something we're growing increasingly familiar with and, more importantly, used to: an electronic device.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I own an iPod, a really cool gadget. I don't know how many songs I have on the thing, but it's really a lot. We've grown used to iPods pretty quickly: gadgets that can store scads of songs, podcasts, etc. on one easily transportable object. Granted, hearing music is far different from reading a book. It's more passive, for one thing. BUT. But it's the storage thing that gets me. When you can store so much on one easily transportable device, as you can with a Kindle, why own a library of books? Why wait for your book to arrive at the local bookstore? Why wait, in fact, for your Amazon order to finally get to you?

I don't know. Like I said, I've been thinking about this. I like books. I like holding them and lugging them around. What's going to happen to books? Will we be reading books electronically soon? If so, when? 10 years from now? 25? 50?

What do you think? Let me know. I'll talk to you on Monday.


Santa Fe Writers Project said...

Aha! Now I see what was on your mind at lunch. I say ebooks will not catch on in the near future. It's today's children who will turn more to the electronic format. So, yes, it will be ever increasing. The thing to watch with ebooks is where the profit is going. Right now, there's more of a chance that the money will flow through to the author (as opposed to the publisher or agent). Distributors and publishers are looking to lock it down as soon as possible. Here, after a century, is a chance for the authors to take back the profit margin from the Old Boy's Club of publishing. Though I predict it'll be a decade or more before ebooks catch up to print (and, perhaps, dominate), now is the time for authors to take financial responsibility. Waiting for the future, after the dust has settled, will doom them. The distributors (and retailers, like Amazon) have now begun to lock down the avenues. It's not lost on the book industry that ebooks are on the rise, and so everyone is working overtime to keep the author out of the profit loop.

Unknown said...

I've heard lots of people talking about Kindle -- came up last night at a happy hour, in fact, and later when I opened my email,I had a message saying that pricing on Kindles would be decreasing. A sign that they're not selling well? Or an invitation for them to sell even better? iPods came down in price too, and now they're ubiquitous.

As a person who sometimes lugs around two or three books even on a short vacation, I can see the benefits of it. I don't know that I'd ever get rid of my small library completely --- I like the look and feel and smell of books! -- but I could see supplementing it with a Kindle (same as I keep certain special CDs and albums but got an iPod so I could have my music handy and portable).

Good discussion! Will tune in to your blog more often.

gug said...

But what happens when the lights go out, all the batteries are used, and all the books are stored in these gizmos?

On a related tangent, there's an interesting article in this month's Atlantic Monthly on writing and technology ( To put things in perspective, the author, Nicholas Carr, tells us what Socrates thought of this new "technology" of writing when it came to his attention:

'In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.”'

Great blog!

Janel said...

Even though I'm of that key young person demographic that grew up with PCs and headphones glued to my ears, the idea of reading an e-book on the kindle makes me shudder. Maybe it's a wee bit of Ludditeism, but books should be books (not more computer screens!). The visceral pleasure of touching the page and peeling coffee-stained pages away from each other cannot be replicated by the readily-sterilized "pages" of the Kindle. I know it's gross, but the yellowing pages of The Handmaid's Tale or Huckleberry Finn evoke rushes of nostalgia, where I was when I first read words that utterly engrossed me. The memory that my books hold far exceeds the capacity of any electronic device. I know I sound dire and Chicken-Little-esque, but ebooks represent the replacement of individual memory with a glossy, replicable version of the experience. There's a mystery to buying used books with someone else's intials in the cover, but maybe mystery's not mass-martketable.

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