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Electronic v. Paper – Booking Through Thursday


This week’s Booking Through Thursday question is:

Something a little different today–

First. Go read this great article from Time Magazine: Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature. (Well worth reading.)

Second. Stop and think about it for moment. Computers and digital media are changing everything we do these days, whether we realize it or not, and that includes our beloved books.


To be different, today, I’d love to see a discussion here, in the comments, rather than scattered amongst all our separate blogs. Because this is an issue that affects ALL of us, and I’d really like to see us hash out the merits and demerits of this evolution.

Tell us what you think. Do you have an ebook reader? Do you read ebooks on your computer? Do you hate the very thought? How do you feel about the fact that book publishing is changing and facing much the same existential dilemma as the music industry upon the creation of MP3s?

The article referenced above mostly talks about self-publishing, but essentially there’s two issues that are thought to be changing the publishing world: self-publishing and electronic readers (whether that means an e-reader like the Kindle or reading books on your cell phone).

I don’t think we have anything to worry about. Will publishing companies have to change their business model? Yes. Will the quantity of any one book published decrease? Probably. Are books going away? Definitely not.

All this hype reminds me of all the talk of the music industry however many years ago when it became common to download music. Many theorized that the music industry would collapse from fans stealing the music instead of buying it. But guess what? People still buy CDs!! *gasp* In an age where you can buy one song for $.99, as opposed to a whole album that’s mostly so-so for $15.99, many people still buy the CD. The music industry will continue to change and evolve due to technology, even if it comes kicking and screaming.

I’m not opposed to e-readers, but a friend pointed out that they’ve still got a long ways to go. While many titles are available, many titles aren’t available, and for those of us in book clubs where certain titles are *required* reading, that’s just not acceptable. I don’t think e-readers replace books, rather, they augment books.

As far as self-published novels go, the examples given of Still Alice and The Lace Reader as books that have shown an author can go the self-publishing route and still hit the jackpot, those are needles in the haystack. For the few books that end up with a publishing house after starting their life self-published, there are thousands of other books that won’t ever sell more than a handful of copies.

So while it’s interesting to talk about how technology is changing the publishing industry, I have no doubt that when I’m 110 years old, book publishing will still be going strong. Even if the publishing industry is pulled kicking and screaming into the 21st century, they’ll come. Oh, they’ll come.

Another interesting article to read is from the New York Times: Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab.

| Tags: , , , , , , 15 comments »

15 Responses to “Electronic v. Paper – Booking Through Thursday”

  1. Biblibio

    One thing stood out about this: reading ebooks on my cell phone. That’s not going to happen. Too small, too cramped, too uncomfortable, and I can’t shove my phone someplace so that if it rings I can ignore it (like I often do when reading).

    The music comparison is pretty good, but I think there’s one major difference, in that there’s a certain charm for a lot of people to read a thick, heavy book with a weird moldy smell. CDs never had the romance of old books. I think it might take longer for books to hit the digital age, but we’ll probably soon prefer the digital style, once they work out the numerous kinks. E-readers will probably become more and more common, all the while complimenting paper books (the rare, fancier choice, maybe?). One plus in regards to e-readers: betterish for the environment. Still, we’ve got some time to figure all this out. Still. Interesting to think about.


  2. Marny

    You’ve got an award:


  3. JLS Hall

    Your comment about e-readers augmenting rather than replacing books is spot-on. I imagine digital and “real” books will co-exist for many years to come. Well, at least I’m hoping that’s true!


  4. Bluestocking

    I don’t think music was a good analogy. Listening to music hasn’t declined that I’m aware.

    In addition fanfiction isn’t a substitute for books. I gave my detail in the answer on my blog.

    You haven’t visited me in a while 🙁


  5. Natasha @ Maw Books

    I agree with everything that you said. My mom got a kindle for her birthday and she LOVES it! She’s gotten to the point in her life where she doesn’t browse bookstores anymore due to time constraints. She calls me on the phone and then I tell her a book title that I think she’ll like and then she downloads it a few minutes later. She does this with just her fiction books. She LOVES to read non-fiction and is a highlighting fiend. She still reads all non-fiction as a book. A good example of the two complementing each other.


  6. Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog

    Great post, Trish! We have a lot of the same feelings about this. I love the analogy of “needles in a haystack.” For the most part, I think the difference between self-published books and those released by mainstream houses is similar to the difference between community theatre and Broadway, but it’s nice that there are a few that manage to succeed. Reading is Darwinian that way, I suppose.


  7. S. Krishna

    I totally and completely agree. I think that book pub is having a difficult time, but it needs to restructure a bit like the music industry.


  8. Janet

    Good point that no matter how much the publishing industry may evolve, all those books in the world aren’t going anywhere.

    Money talks, though. If it’s not feasible for publishers to produce quality books without their businesses going under, the supply will be drastically reduced.

    How has online music affected the musicians who produce the songs? (I’m not being hypothetical. I honestly don’t know… but I’m curious. And I’m curious about how writers are being affected.)


  9. The Social Frog

    Very well said Trish!


  10. Jeanne

    Bloggers tend to be a bit more open to things like ebooks than, say, English department faculty. So I’m interested to see the comments about wanting “real” books. I’ll be even more interested to see if some of the “novelty” of the new novels the article talks about crosses over from popular culture into “serious” fiction.


  11. Lori L

    I thought these comments from the article were interesting:
    “… there are cultural sectors that conventional publishing isn’t serving. We can read in the rise of self-publishing not only a technological revolution but also a quiet cultural one–an audience rising up to claim its right to act as a tastemaker too.”

    “We’ll see less modernist-style difficulty and more romance-novel-style sentiment and high-speed-narrative throughput.”

    Although I can’t picture myself using an e-reader perhaps if it is an actual cultural change, I will eventually accept them. (For example, after years of putting it off I finally got a cell phone.) I do think that the idea of the change being tied into a cultural revolution is apropos. If conventional publishers are no longer meeting the demands/needs of their consumers, then some kind of change is inevitable. Have you ever read a book that was a top pick or an award winner and, after reading it, wondered why on earth that book was chosen? It could be that the publishers themselves are the last group to realize that a change is coming and has to come. That they are no longer being accepted as arbiters of taste for the reading public. Personally, I’m uncertain about the prediction that the switch will be to a more “romance-novel-style” (because I loathe romance novels), but A “high speed narrative” probably would appeal to me.

    You may recall the survey a year or two ago that said people read for pleasure an average of five books a year (I can’t remember the exact number but it was low). All in all, if people are generally reading less, then encouraging more people to read in some way, including e-readers, would be a good idea.


  12. Matt

    E-readers like Kindle would be especially useful and convenient for business travelers and moms traveling with kids. They don’t have to worry about lugging books around and paying extra for baggage. I’m glad there are more choices for readers but for me, I like the feeling of having an actual book.


  13. bermudaonion

    You’re right. My sister has a Kindle. She said you can request a book that’s not available and amazon will contact the publisher. She said she’s done that 3 times, and so far, nothing’s come of it. She likes her Kindle, but it’s not meeting all of her needs.


  14. Staci

    I hope that when I’m 110 I will still be surrounded by my beloved books and not a bunch of batteries cuz my kindle won’t hold a charge!! LOL!!!


  15. Kim L

    I find the Kindle to be interesting, but at this point, I still don’t want to plunk down the money to purchase one. And furthermore, I don’t like reading books on my computer. So I guess E-books haven’t caught on with me, but maybe if they are in blog format, serialized, maybe I could get into it. I don’t know, it could be interesting.


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