Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Thoughts on the future of books and reading

As anyone out there who knows me could tell you, I have a voracious "Need to Read". I don't read just to escape, or relax, or pass the time either. I love anything from ancient obscure history to technology to modern fiction. I am the only person that I know that actually has read Einsteins "Relativity" from front to back, and then wrote a book report on it (I was a weird kid).

And its not just the books or the content, the story or the lesson. I love the look of books. Since I was a kid I have belonged to book clubs, browsed book stores and spent my hard earned dollars, been a sucker for every club selling "Leather Bound" classics "Gilt Edged" pages and the illustrated, illuminated and autographed. I love to see them on the shelves throughout my house. When I visit a friends house, the first thing I look for (if they don't have old Fender Guitars on display) is their book cases. I think less of friends that don't have book cases or at least a copy of something on display.

Something else anyone who knows me could tell you is that I'm a techie. Yet, I have never owned a digital watch....So, knowing that you could probably deduce that if you need an answer and technology could give it to you, I just might be the guy to talk to. But I won't try and tell you that technology is the be all or the end all.

So, when I started reading about eBooks, all the different eReaders etc...that started coming out a few years ago, I just didn't see them ever replacing "Real Books". The formats weren't compatible from provider to provider. The things were hunky and clunky and were about as kin to a book as a stone ax is to a rifle. Now the "next generation" is out there, and not surprisingly, they are starting to look and feel more like traditional books. The formats aren't proprietary (as much and they can usually be converted to whatever format your Reader takes), you change pages with a motion close to what you'd use on a real book. Also the features are starting to become attractive, or at least more practical. They are sized from the dimensions of a typical magazine or text book to the size of a paperback. And no matter how many books you store on it (the nicer ones will hold over 1500 books!), it still weighs about the same as your average periodical. You can also have delivered every morning, wirelessly, dozens of news papers! Where was this when I was in college schlepping more weight in texts than I did in Vietnam carrying a radio, rifle, pack and various letters from home?

Some other features that are real attractive are they are adding wireless download capability. For Free! You can shop the book store, and purchase the book and have it in your hand from almost anywhere, in 60 seconds all free, not even the cost of a text message on your phone. Imagine sitting in the bath tub on a Saturday morning,or on the beach, cup of coffee setting precariously on the edge of the tub or Mai Tai using a hole in the sand as a cup holder. You just finished the latest Stephen King and you are dreading breaking the mood to go down stairs or back to the hotel room and finding your next read...no need. Take a sip of coffee (I'll stick to the Mai Tai), browse the online store, and bing! There it is before the coffee gets cold or you have dripped or tracked sand all over the carpet. The newer Kindle II or the latest Nook from Barnes and Noble will also store some MP3s and play your music in the back ground. I really like listening to Bud Powell when I read Hemmingway and The Stones when I read Robert Crais...

So, this latest gadget might just convert this guy the way digital watches never could....maybe. You still can't swat a fly with it...well you could but chances are if you did it'll cost you another $250.00 and reading in the tub means paying especial attention to not falling asleep since I seriously doubt dipping your eReader in the bubble bath is covered under the warranty.

But beyond the practical, what do these things mean for book lovers, authors and publishers? Well, the publishers and their employers will still have a job. They can publish just as well in e-format as in paper. I am doing some casual asking around as to how, money wise it might affect authors, but I suspect it won't hurt them and indeed, may allow some authors that self publish to reach a broader audience and even sell more books, at least until the novelty wears off. Also, a lot of established authors are converting there works that have been long out of print to E-Format so they are available again even if they won’t reach the NYT Best Sellers list this time around, the writer can make money off of it even tho’ the publishers aren’t interested in a reissue.

But beyond the principles, The guy (or gal) that wrote the book, the guys and gals that published the book and the audience that reads and enjoys the book, how does it affect the rest of the supply chain? One positive is that it'll take trees out of the equation..Well, the Big Guys that have a book store in every Mall in America will probably just morph into the guys that are supplying the eBook for the most part, but what about the small specialty stores? You know the ones that have quaint shops selling "just mysteries" or "just self help" books? I remember when iPods and downloading electronic music killed the neighborhood record store. And before that, when LP's were replaced by CD's. I remember in the 60's when half the fun of buying the latest Beatles release was in browsing the record store, and getting the clerk (who loved music as much as you did) to play a dozen new releases that your paper route money could never afford. Then taking it home and reading the liner notes until you had them memorized.

I do the same with books. I read the prefaces, The blurbs, the reviews, the back pages that tell you where Berry Eisler went to school or what Michael Connelly did before Harry Bosch. They tell me the order of Hemingway wives, and what his kids are doing now and how to make a Daiquiri. I went to signings, just to hear the authors talk, even when my puny GI paycheck wouldn't stretch for another hardback this month (at least if I didn't want to cut into my beer budget), I'd get in line and see if I could get an autograph on a dog eared paperback. Yeah, I loved the stories, loved the places they took me, taught me, exposed me to. But a lot of what I loved and still do is/was that atmosphere. The people that created or related the stories would visit my town, my bookstore. Would act friendly to the person that owned/ran that book store where I had gone from Lad A Dog and Superman Comics to Faulkner, Frost and Steinbeck and , maybe that owner/clerk that got to exchange jokes with Pat Conroy was someone you went to church with, or drank with on Saturday night. How cool was that?

I guess what worries me is that those personal touches, those things that made me a reader will go away. Oh, I'll still buy the books, the magazines, no matter what form. And I’ll still search out the first edition hardbacks to display like art in my home. I might even finally get a digital watch to go along with my eReader....nah! But what about the kids out there. Will as many of them get hooked on the written word without that atmosphere. Maybe I'm just afraid they'll fall in love for different reasons than I did and invalidate my love? And will the death of the independent specialty book store be an end of an era? I think so.

I guess I survived the death of the LP and the CD and liner notes, but I still want to go to signings, lectures, and smell the ink on the pages. I may not show up on time, since I don't have a digital watch but I know how to make a perfect Hemingway Daiquiri.

No comments:

Post a Comment