Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Space-Age Readers & Art

Yesterday, innocently, I posted on Twitter and Facebook:

"I'm thinking of getting a Nook, somebody stop me."

Because though I love reading actual books, after being on the road for 30 days out of the last 40, I realized that there was no way to bring as many books as I needed in my luggage, and thought that an e-reader would be a great answer for that. Plus, I have a tendency to give away all books that I don't think I'll reread, so I thought this might reduce that number because if I loved a book on the Nook, I could just go and buy it in hardcover for cozy rereading later.

When I posted that, naive thing that I was, I honestly thought that I would get a rush of responses either supporting the Nook or pushing the Kindle or the Sony e-reader or iPad (which I'd already rejected out of hand because I hate reading on the computer, and so anything with a back-lit screen was out).

What I didn't expect was to get dozens of responses that were some variation of this:


Some were downright fearful, and I have to say, I was bemused. Maybe one day in the distant future, when we are all wearing clothing made from recycled toothpaste tubes and driving pod vehicles that run on farts and used cat litter and carrying around membrane-thin laptops that we wear on our hands like gloves, real books will be a mythical creature. But for now? Saying that e-books would ever take the place of real books is like saying that, eventually, we will have no need for the postal service because we have e-mail.

That's great, until you have to order a sexy pair of boots or a box of Tangerine Kandy-colored paint for your Camaro. Yeah, e-mail is fantastic for lots of different kinds of communication, but when it's about an actual, physical object, you'll never replace real mail. Books, it seems to me, are the same way. Some sorts of books are fine when you read them on an e-reader, but some of them, you need the book. One of the things I love about how Scholastic handled SHIVER was the packaging -- the colored ink, the gorgeous cover, the details underneath the dust jacket. The book itself is a piece of art, and if that's what you love, an e-book version of SHIVER will never do.

Oh, oh, and the other thing I heard was the fear of piracy. Don't get me wrong, piracy is a huge problem, and I hate it. It's hard enough to make a living as a creative person -- artist or musician or writer -- without people thinking that intellectual property is free and that downloading for free isn't stealing. You're looking at someone who got a great mix CD from a reader on Friday and has bought all of the tracks that I loved. If I love it, I pay for it. Anyway, piracy and e-books. A lot of people are afraid of e-books because they think it'll make pirating easier. Well, for the longest time, some of my books were available as e-books, and some weren't. I have google alerts to let me know when a pirate link of my books go up, and guess what, I got an equal number for all of my books. The fact is that there are people out there who think it's a game to scan as many printed books as possible and upload them to pirate sites (may they have jock itch forever). The e-book part? Doesn't make a difference. At least not that I could see.

So the fear . . . I don't think e-books are anything to be afraid of. I think they're going to wildly change the market. I think they're going to change how we make our book buying decisions. I think they're going to make reading look a lot different in a decade.

But so did the invention of the lightbulb.
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