Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thoughts on Reading in the Digital Age: Don't Panic!!! c.anne.gardner

"The advent of ebooks is no more going to kill the pleasure of reading, than the introduction of the internal combustion engine made horses extinct. What that did do was to change transportation forever. Ebooks will and are changing publishing in ways that terrify publishers and will turn out to be better for authors and readers than ever could have been imagined. And we won't have to murder trees to print up the really bad books―we'll just download, read as much as we can, and hit DELETE." -- Michael Stackpole
The Huffington Post

"Going forward, I speculate that if we make a successful transition to ebooks — that is: if ebooks become a major sales channel and authors are still writing professional quality work for money, and readers are finding some way to pay them — we may see a revival of other formats: novellas for one (they're undergoing a renaissance in SF publishing among the smaller publishers), the Dickensian serial for another, and the gigantic shoebox-sized monster for a third. The corsetting of the modern novel to fit between the tight constraints of binding costs and price elasticity of demand will be unstrung, or replaced by bras, or some other over-stressed metaphorical construct." -- Charles Stross

I’ll admit, I am not generally an early adopter, and frankly, I have been a book hoarder all my life, so the thought of reading from a machine puts kind of a taint on the over-romanticised experience most of us booklovers equate with reading. However, when I became a reviewer, things changed dramatically for me. It’s much easier for me to read on screen and type notes for a review at the same time. This wasn’t a difficult transition for me since my work-a-day life is mostly multi-screen reading/editing anyway. So, do that often enough and you become accustomed to it, and after a time, you actually come to appreciate it. First and foremost, I am a reader and a word nerd. It’s the words I am after. The story, even in the case of poetry, drives the experience for me, not the cover art, the fancy drop caps and embellishments, the page flipping, the smell of the paper, the typography, or any of the “other” packaging. I feel the same about book packaging as I do about food packaging. I am interested in the nutritious content, and I am certainly not going to eat the cardboard box or the cling film. I, being an artist myself, can appreciate the packaging on an artistic level, but that’s not the primary reason I buy a book for shit sake.

So, since my reading habits have been affected by the digital book revolution, does this mean that I am no longer a “Book” appreciator? No, it doesn’t. It just means that I am more discerning about the books I wish to keep for posterity. Deciding to stay my hand when it comes to paperback purchases will increase the budget available for the books that warrant library status such as leather-bound collector’s edition classics and non-fiction books on writing and philosophy or whatever I happen to be interested in at the moment. Books I will return to over and over again for research or inspiration.

Speaking of budget, this by no means equates to me buying less or *fewer* books either. (See etymology notation on Fewer vs. Less in the comments section) In actuality, over the past couple of months -- since my Sony ereader purchase -- I have bought more books, and with that I have taken a chance on more genres, more formats, and certainly more authors. I downloaded Twenty-five ebooks this year so far, and only 3 of them were free. My monthly book buying has increased from an average of 3-5 paperbacks per month to 8 ebooks and maybe one paperback. Hell, I am addicted to Kobo Books. They always have coupons, which means my risk taking threshold has gotten much lower than what it used to be with physical books. I picked up “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” last night for $4.00. There has been some controversy over it, but after reading a blurb over on Galleycat and that coupled with the $4.00 price tag compelled me to give it a try when otherwise I would not have.

As a reader, this newfound liberation is very exciting, and as a writer, well, I am out of my head thinking about the possibilities. For authors, this is the biggest thing since the eraser. More authors will be read, more authors will get paid, niche genres will have a chance at mainstream exposure, and forms the publishing industry has long ignored because of profit margins like short stories, novellas, serialized fiction, and poetry can enjoy a resurgence in popularity.

All this freedom to read and write is staggering when you think about it. I just wish the Traditional Publishing Industry would think about it and stop focusing on the triviality of pricing and DRM. The consumer wants content. The free market demands it. Focus on the content and distribution and the other shit will work itself out to the benefit of everyone, especially the authors, who will make more money and thus be happy. The hardware industry already understands this. There will eventually be a wide variety of ebook readers at a wide variety of price points offering a wide variety of functionality depending on the reader's needs. I am a dedicated no-frills reader, but other readers might want a multi-purpose device. It’s all about choice. And that is all a reader wants: choice. We want to buy the books we want, at the price we want, at the store we want, and in the format we want, and we want to be able to read it how we want and where we want. This year from Jan-Mar I spent $92.75 on just ebooks. Last year I spent $79.74 for the same time-frame for print books. Publishing Industry, is this making sense to you yet????

The paradigm shift is not that difficult to understand. Random House is the only one holding back on the agency pricing model, and it gives me hope that at least someone in the industry is seeing the bigger picture here besides the millions of readers in the world. The industry cannot ignore the reader. After all, without us, there wouldn't be a publishing industry in the first place.

Cheryl Anne Gardner


Kristine said...

buying fewer books - not less books.



Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I love a formal writer who gets twitchy, and according to the "usage" guides fewer used to be the only correct way when used before plural nouns, but that has changed. Modern standard English does not reflect the distinction. Fewer is still used in formal writing primarily, but either is equally valid according to the etymology.

I wish you had edited the last SP book I couldn't finish reading. You would have had a coronary.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

For more info: The distinction between the two is a recent rule. "Less" has always been used with counting nouns as far back as Alfred the Great, so many etymologists feel that the rule is a shibboleth. One perpetuated by grammatical "style" guides and one that has no real basis in linguisitcs. In this case I always recommend authors use whichever works better on the ear as dictated by the sentence. Fewer is a more idiosyncratic word than Less. For instance: furniture is already plural, but you wouldn't use fewer furniture. Even though it is grammatically correct, it doesn't sound right.

Gotta love the language. I am always amazed we can write anything coherent at all.

Kristine said...

I applaud the fact that language is a living, breathing entity that can change over time - and as writers, we play with language all the time to develop character - but when “Friend” became a verb, I burst an aneurysm. :)

Not to hijack your subject today, however. I, for one, applaud the explosion of the ebook in every wonderous DRM-free format and price point. A year ago, I wouldn't have given the electronic book a second thought, and now I sell more ebooks than print - and I'm finding more ebooks to read at very reasonable prices. As you say, a $4.00 or even $1.00 price point makes experimenting completely painless. Even more so when you can download a sample chapter or two for free.

We're at the dawn of a new age in publishing, especially those of us willing and able to stand on the cutting edge with our shades on. Not so much for the old musties still in the print room of their stodgie publishing houses ;]

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Agreed. Our living language, what a hoot. If I were writing for a novella or something, I would probably use "fewer" because my narrators tend to be rather formal. But in blog posts or everyday chit-chat, I don't always take a formal approach, and much of the time, I curse and use slang. I try to keep my blog posts somewhere in the middle of formal but not standoffish formal.

No, you didn't highjack. It's good to talk about this stuff. There is a difference between fewer and less, and many new writers don't know what that is. Shame really.

As for ebooks, they make my life as a reviewer a thousand times easier. And the authors who submit to me don't have to spend any cash on an ARC, if they don't want to.

I am an old musty, but even I can see the writing on the e-ink screen. :)