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From my Newsletter, Spring 2010
We had a lively discussion about this at the end of one of my writing classes a few weeks ago and since the subject is coming up in the press frequently I thought I would address it here.
First, let’s talk about what an e-book is. There are a couple of different types. There’s a simple e-book you may already have seen online. It’s just a downloadable file that you can purchase (or it’s sometimes free) usually from someone’s website, and usually it’s in Adobe Reader.
Then there are e-books that are specifically designed for the new crop of electronic readers – Kindle being the most famous. And now, the iPad and Google’s Android apps. These are designed to be more like iTunes, where you go to a site and purchase and download a book, directly to your device. Many people use the iPhone to read books as well.
One question that’s coming up is, will these devices take over and kill the market for traditional books? This was an idea touted a lot in the ’90s with an early crop of readers. The early ones never really took off because they were clunky and expensive. But the new crop of readers does seem to be well designed. And people are more accustomed to reading electronically thanks to the success of smart phones (the iPhone especially). So I’m sure these will do better than the previous generation.
But I said then and I will say again that I think the book itself is a genius of technology. It’s easy to store, easy to flip through, easy to read, easy to bring with you into the tub, to the beach, outside on your walk. If you want to read for pleasure, I think the book is still the best way.
Then there’s the book that is an object of art in itself, the well-designed book that does more than just allow you to read words: heavily designed books like Griffin and Sabine. Finally, though, there are things you need to read for school or work, textbooks and technical articles. These I think will be lost to electronics, in fact they already are. And I have to admit that I prefer reading the newspaper on my iPhone now because it is much easier and more portable.
There is another issue, which is the cost: what to charge for e-books? When people discuss this in business journals and the NY Times (Math of Publishing Meets the E-Book, by MOTOKO RICH, Published: February 28, 2010, Business Section: Media and Advertising), they all go on the assumption that part of what people pay for, even in electronic form, is the book itself. I disagree. I think people pay for content. Only when the book itself is an object are they paying for that. So I think publishers are once again making a mistake and perhaps giving away the store by allowing Amazon and Apple to set the price for them. They are going on a smart assumption that people will need to buy the device which is much more expensive than the book.
Going along these lines, if you are a writer, how should you feel about all this? I think you should do what you’ve always done. Create the best content you can and connect directly with your audience. If you do that, the format in which they read you actually doesn’t even matter. It’s you, your characters, your writing that they love.