The e-Pocalypse Won't Be So Bad

— July 19, 2010 (16 comments)
Before we go anywhere, thank you to everyone who participated in Lurker(slash-Regulars) Week. I had fun, and I hope you did too. I'm not sure I trust the results (the first poll, in particular, seemed pretty buggy), but for what it's worth, here they are. We're going to talk about one in particular today:

Good: 40%
Bad: 30%

I'm not sure where the other 30% disappeared to (thanks a lot, BlogPolls), but even without it, it's clear there are some fears concerning e-books. Personally I'm not so sure there's anything to be afraid of, but like any good sci-fi author, I asked "What if?" WHAT IF we took the e-book revolution to its extreme? What if paper books disappeared forever, and all we were left with were digital stories?

So consider this a thought experiment, and I guess an encouragement to not worry about the future -- to relax and enjoy the ride.

  • New Book Smell. Yes. Hi. My name is Adam Heine, and I'm addicted to new book smell (also new card smell, but I understand they have a different group for that).
  • Browsing a Bookstore. There is something nice about looking at all the books I COULD own, even if I'm never going to buy them (because, really, not all of them are that good).
  • Showing Off My Library. I realized a while ago that one reason I like to own books is so people can come over, see my bookshelf, and instantly know if they're going to like me or not (and vice versa). Saves lots of time and needless small talk.
  • Loaning Books. I know you can kind of, sort of loan with the Nook. And maybe they'll get better about that in the future, but until I can loan and borrow my e-books indefinitely (and more than once), I'll miss that aspect.*
  • Being Able to Read During Take-Off/Landing. Hopefully by the time paper books are extinct, they'll have figured out a way to shield airplane electronics from other kinds. Otherwise those first and last few minutes of every flight are going to be mind-numbingly boring.
* There's also a significant discussion to be had here about libraries, but that's way beyond the scope of this post.

  • Waiting for a Book. Driving to the bookstore is a pain. Waiting days for shipping is worse.** But if I could have any book I want RIGHT NOW, I think I'll forget that books used to smell good. (And maybe by then they'll have put some kind of odor software on the e-readers, yes?).
  • Standing in Line for Harry Potter #8. I've stood in line for movies before, but a book? No. Not in the 21st century. I'd prefer my pre-ordered, ultra-anticipated, sold-out-in-20-minutes bestseller to be sitting in my library before I even wake up that morning. Thank you.
  • Browsing a Bookstore. While it's nice to look at books I could own, it sucks to drive all the way to the bookstore to find they don't have the book I want. But not in the future. The future will be like Amazon where I can buy every book ever made, but WITHOUT...
  • Added Costs. That's right, folks. While I'm sure they'll find a way to tax e-books eventually, right now they remain tax free AND shipping free. (I'm aware the e-reader costs money, but it would pay for itself pretty quick, I'm thinking).
  • Choosing Which Book to Take on a Trip. I'm neurotic. When I go on a trip, of course I take the book I'm currently reading, but what if I finish it? I need to pack two. I'd like to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell next, but it's freaking huge. So I grudgingly toss in another Patterson novel. In the future though? I'll have all my books with me, all the time. Which also means I won't miss...
  • Forgetting to Take a Book on a Trip. The worst vacation I ever went on was when I forgot to bring a book. I know: talk to people, see the sights, blah, blah, BLAH. NO! I go on vacation to read, dangit! And if I have my wireless e-reader, not only do I have my entire library with me, but if I finish them all, I can instantly buy a new book.

** And if you think you have it bad, move to Thailand. When I buy books, I have to go through my contact list to see who is both (a) coming to visit soon and (b) willing to carry 20 hardbacks from Amazon for me. Then I have to wait for them to take their vacation.

  • Prices. I don't see book prices coming down much. Sorry. Believe it or not, it costs a lot to produce a book, even if you don't have to print it. (I mean, hello? People don't expect computer games to be $5 each. Do you think that $50 goes towards copying the CD and putting it in a box?).
  • Reading in the Bathtub. I've never read in the bathtub (though granted I haven't been in one since I was 10), but I guess this is something people do. I don't see this as a problem. (A) You don't drop your book in the bathtub, why your e-reader? (B) If they can make waterproof radios, cameras, and (dear Lord) laptops, how hard can it be to tub-proof an e-reader?
  • Kid's Reading. I've heard it said that parents won't let their kids use an expensive e-reader. First of all, I let my three year olds read BOOKS, which although less expensive are a lot easier to break (trust me). Secondly, during our time in the States I saw many, many kids, ages 3 and up, playing games and watching movies on iPods without once being in danger of destroying them (including my own son, who had never seen one before). If they can do that, they can read books on the things too. In fact, most parents would probably prefer it.
  • Reading a Good Story. Honestly, I don't read books because I like smelling paper and flipping pages. I read them because I want a good story. Sure, computer screens give some people headaches (although aren't you reading on one right now?), but that will go away with time and technology. What won't go away, ever, are the stories. No matter how we tell them.
Smarter folks than me have posited on what e-books will do to the publishing industry. I'm not in the publishing industry (yet), but I am a reader, and honestly? This future looks pretty good to me.

Or it will once they figure out that odor software.

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  1. Your take on ebooks is very reasonable. I'm pretty sure I'll be getting a reader at some point.

    And congrats on reaching 100 followers!

  2. Thanks, fairy! I like how Natalie chose to be my 100th follower, even though she's been reading this blog since like post #50.

    The only thing keeping me from getting a reader at the moment is the price and the inability to loan books out (and I could give up the latter if the former was good enough). It would sure as heck beat waiting months for my friends and family to bring me books.

  3. I know you're right.
    I really love reading USED books, especially if someone has written notes or dedications to someone else in them, or if they are well worn. The older the book, the more I like it. You speak of new book smell, well I love old book smell! It just reminds me of the timeless quality of good writing. I don't know.
    That's probably weird!
    (Loved the part where you were talking about taking vacation... talk to people?!?! see the sights!?!?!) lol.

  4. I know you're not the only one, aspiring. Personally I don't mind old book smell, but old book hope-the-binding-holds-together isn't as much fun.

  5. You comment about showing off your library made me laugh. I totally do this.

    When I go to someone's house for the first time and I see books on display I can't help myself--I have to scan their inventory to determine kind of human being they are. Haha.

  6. Great post Adam! Thanks for summing this whole e-book thing up for me-- it's been pretty scattered in my head for a looooong time.

    I'm still kinda off the e-book wagon just because I love my paper books way too much. But I know change is inevitable and I can cling to the knowledge that my paper library will someday be an antique-- which is just how I like things anyway.

  7. OK, my WIP (70 yrs in the future) has phones with "mood" smells, so I'm pretty sure we could conjure up some "new book" smells for the ereaders. What I want to see is a way to AUTOGRAPH ebooks! I actually ran into this problem - Westerfeld was coming to my area for a signing, and I had read (and loved!) Leviathan on my nook. But there was no way to sign the dang thing! I probably would have bought a hardcover, just to have the signature, but it turned out I had a meeting that night and couldn't go.

    Also: this weekend I visited some cousins and found they all had new nooks, including my teen second-cousin. We're going to have to start lending books, just for fun! I just finished Forest of Hands and Teeth, and I'm pretty sure she'll like it. Meanwhile she lent me the hardcover of Host, that she had just finished - it weighs approximately 5x my nook.

    The future is coming ...

  8. p.s. I'm going on vacation this week, and loaded up the nook with books for all my boys - but only about 1/2 the ones they wanted were on e-book. However, this is better than the paltry 10% of kids books just a few short months ago.

  9. Ricardo: I hear it works on girls too.

    LT: Glad I could help. I don't actually have any e-books myself just because the readers are still too expensive (and I sit at my computer enough, thanks), but one day...

    Susan: I'm sure it depends on the e-reader, but here's how to sign an e-book.

  10. Blast! Another reason I should have gotten that Sony e-reader. (my husband is snickering in the background; I chose the nook over his objections)

    Well, that's certainly a feature to look for in the future!

  11. Wow, that was comprehensive. You touched on everything. I have nothing to say. You are so right...with it all, lol.

  12. Ok, I thought of something to add. Not as a reader but as an author, I want to be able to watch people reading my book, or picking it up in a bookstore, or see it sitting on a shelf with other books. That won't be possible with e-readers.

  13. That's true, Amie. I would miss that.

    I also forgot to mention book covers (I think that won't change, honestly) and the ability for other people to see what you're reading (I don't know if I'll miss that or not, actually).

  14. So, is that why all "my" books are as far away from your books as possible?

  15. Yes, Cindy, that may have something to do it. (Though also I just like to be able to find things when I want them).

  16. Hear, hear!
    Great post Adam - it summarises how I feel exactly, and why I haven't made the leap to ereaders. Yet...