Josephine Mangani on YABR mentioned that there is a protest brewing at a literary festival in Britain.
The protest? E-books are ruining “real” books. (I should point out that the protestors are independent bookstore owners.)
This is certainly not the first protest, nor will it be the last. All over the internet and in real life, people are complaining about or praising e-books. Josephine thinks there’s room for both. (I know that, despite my love of my Kindle, I still enjoy the tactile quality of a book more.) Other people think that the e-book will destroy all printed books (and it may very well do so; I used to write only with pencil and paper, and now I only write on the computer).
Here are the benefits of e-books for readers:
1. Instant gratification. If you have a wi-fi or wireless connection, you can buy a book. Now. Why wait to go to the store? You might talk yourself out of buying it or forget about it before you get there. With instant shopping, there’s never a delay. Shoot me up, Amazon!
2. While traditional publishers are charging print-book prices for some e-books ($9.99 for an e-book? Really?), that is not going to last long; prices will fall. For the bibliophile, that means more books on the same budget. Sorry, you’re not going to find bibliophiles protesting that development.
3. Everyday, places like Google and Project Gutenberg are scanning old, out-of-copyright books and making them available online. For free. Freeeeeeeee. As a medieval re-enactor, there has been more than one occasion where I or my husband have been thwarted in our attempts at research because the book we need is out of print and the cheapest copy online is $300. But as time marches forward, the curse of out-of-print books will increasingly fade into memory. No e-book goes out of print.
4. A corollary to #3 is that libraries will eventually have digital copies of books. Imagine the power of sitting in your writing cottage overlooking the Cliffs of Moher (okay, that’s my writing cottage) and connecting your Kindle to the internet and borrowing a book on Bohemian shoes of the 14th century from the Národní Knihovna České Republiky. (The Czech National Library is already digitizing some of their antique books for Google.) And, depending on the technology encoding the borrowed book, you might be able to run it through Google Translate, so not only can you look at the pretty pictures, but you can get a general idea of what it’s saying. No longer will information be stored in a few far-flung repositories of knowledge, inaccessible by the average person.
5. E-readers are light and thin. I can slip my Kindle into my pocketbook and have hundreds of books instantly at my fingertips. And between also storing books in an internet cloud, and having access to stores, libraries, and free book sites via the internet, your reading choices are damn-near limitless.
6. If disaster were to strike our house at the moment (God forbid), our library would be wiped out existence. Not only would our books be destroyed, but our homeowner’s policy limits book claims to $500 (!). We couldn’t even replace the vast majority of it. When it comes to e-books, though, you can back them up on computers, USB keys, or internet clouds. Your e-reader may be stolen or die, but your books will live on. Just get a new reader, download everything to it again, and you’re in business before the insurance adjustor can even come to your house.
7. E-books are much more subversive than regular books. In the middle ages, it was easy for people to seize books and burn them because there were so few of them. The printing press, however, made seizure much more difficult because so many people had books, it was hard to track them all down. (The Cheese and the Worms is an interesting book about a 16th century miller who read subversive books, and *gasp* started to think about religion and God and stuff.) But the e-book takes this another step further by making it easy to transmit and hide subversive books.
Think about countries like Iran and China were there is so much censorship. It’s much more difficult for someone to smuggle a print book into the country than it is for someone to download a copy off an illicit website or share by e-mail. It’s also much easier to hide a book stored on a CD or USB key or destroy it all together when the police come knocking on your door.
I think the invention of the e-book will go down in history as the most significant development in the dissemination of information since the invention of the printing press.
In future post, I will cover the reasons why e-books are great for writers.