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Saturday, October 16, 2010


Jon Snyder/

Obviously, there is huge public interest in e-book reading, and, as American naval novelist and historian James L. Nelson comments below, little knowledge of the damage that lending and re-selling of "real" books does to the income of struggling authors.

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.


Buck said...

Very interesting post. My wife and I load books all the time. The e-reader industry is another step in the increasing isolation that individuals seem eager to embrace for the sake of convenience.

World of the Written Word said...

Good to hear from you, Buck. Do you and your wife have your own e-book readers, so you can swap them to read the same book? Nice for the e-reader manufacturers, but it would solve the problem of whose turn it is to hold the gadget.

Shayne Parkinson said...

One of my reviewers lent his e-reader to his wife so that she could read my books, and then found she refused to give it back! It gave him an excuse to buy a new e-reader, so everyone ended up happy.

While there's some discussion over whether an e-reader's "read aloud" feature counts as producing an audiobook, which needs separate rights, that doesn't mean a human reader isn't permitted to read aloud. Where would it end? Is murmuring under one's breath allowed? Surely Big Brother isn't listening that carefully!