Follower Don Gilling sent me a link to an interesting commentary by Victor Keegan in the UK Guardian, which deplores the fact that e-books cannot be passed around between friends, saying that reading should be a communal business.
Keegan begins his discussion by meditating, "Books have come late to the digital party, but change is now happening at such a furious pace that even conservative members of the trade are starting to realise that their industry is being snatched away from them before their eyes." In fact, as he goes on to comment, it is analogous to the shift from scrolls to books. In medieval times, reading was confined to the educated few with access to the scrolls -- it was a little closed elite community that exploded when the print revolution made reading available to the masses.
Now, that reading public is going to get even bigger. As e-books are read on devices like fancy cellphones, laptops, and i-pads, the number of those who enjoy reading will increase, probably in dramatic leaps -- "more books will be read in future as out-of-copyright ones are reprinted and 18-to-24-year-olds, the drivers of mobile adoption, take to reading on their phones and other devices." With the right e-bookreader, you can read in bright light on the beach, or in completely unlit airplane cabins. As he says, "the product itself -- the book -- is not threatened, only the way it is read."
To which, I comment that the way it is read is going to become important, too -- even more important than the old choices we've been making, between hardbacks, mass market paperbacks, and audiobooks. Choosing your e-bookreader is going to become as mind-taxing as deciding what kind of television you want in your lounge. Already, manufacturers and e-bookreader retailers are competing madly for this growing market, as a recent story on wired attests, and the range of readers is widening all the time. Don't opt blindly for a kindle, they advise (especially if you live outside the States). Head to the experts before stopping at the store, and even then think very carefully, because it looks as if you are going to be using it a lot.
But, as Keegan points out, reading is going to be a lonelier business than it used to be, because e-bookreaders and the folks who sell or give you the digital books make it impossible to lend a book if you don't lend the device as well. "Some publishers even ask you to state that you won't read the book aloud," he exclaims.
Well, not being allowed to read out choice bits is really rather extreme. One wonders how they think they could possibly police it. But, as far as authors and publishers are concerned, recommending books to friends is a very good thing, but it is hard on the pocket when they are loaned out for free. It would be ever so much nicer if those friends paid to have those books downloaded onto their own personal readers. And, if e-books eliminated the secondhand book market, it would be an unexpected bonus.