Wednesday, June 15, 2011

As discussed...

Here's me quoting Adam Roberts, for a change:

[Katie Ward's "Girl reading"] is a novel, not a collection of thematically-linked short stories, howevermuch it initially appears to be so. And the quality of the individual section, though inevitably a little variable, is high; I enjoyed reading them all very much. Nevertheless it took me a long time to finish reading this book, and that was for the following reason. I bought it as an e-book, for the Kindle app in my iPhone. I have seen it suggested that since e-books don't actually lie accusingly un- or half-read on our bedside tables, they fall into an out-of-sight-and-mind hole that actual books avoid. (Have a look at this intriguing John C Abell piece in Wired, 'Five Reasons Why E-Books Aren’t There Yet', paying particular attention to reason 1). I must say, I haven't found so: I seem to have no problem keeping going right through, even with quite lengthy books (I read Tim Powers' brand-new-in-2010-honestly Declare on the same app, for instance, and its hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages long). But for some reason I kept not going back to Ward's novel. This is not because I wasn't enjoying reading it, because I was. But I think it had to do with the fact that as I reached the end of each of the seven sections, some box in my sub-brain got ticked, and I subconsciously thought 'done and done!' -- and at next reading opportunity I'd pick up something else. Which is a roundabout way of saying: it may be that reading whole short-story collections, or novels (like this one) that play formal games on the linked-short-story format, may be harder to do in e-book format than in the codex. Not Ward's fault, of course; but an interesting wrinkle in a mode of buying and reading books for which I have hitherto had only praise.
Abell makes a couple of other good points, though his number 3 is simply wrong: Kindle, at least, has a feature that saves typed comments as click-and-return footnotes.
4) E-books are positioned as disposable, but aren’t priced that way.

This one is simple, and also easy to oversimplify since people still have to get paid. But until e-books truly add new value, the way Hollywood did with DVD extras, it’s just annoying to plunk down $13 for what amounts to a rental. E-books cost virtually nothing to produce, and yet the baseline cover price, set by publishers, is only fractionally below the discount price for the print version of new releases.

E-books can’t be shared, donated to your local library shelter, or re-sold. They don’t take up space, and thus coax conflicted feelings when it is time to weed some of them out. But because they aren’t social, even in the limited way that requires some degree of human contact in the physical world, they will also never be an extension of your personality.


Tulkinghorn said...

If the price doesn't work for Abell, he shouldn't pay it -- but to say that e-books do not self-evidently add new value is idiotic. In the battle of the media, the e-book is slowly gaining ground, and the price doesn't seem to be slowing it down.

For a more economically informed opinion, you can read Megan McArdle:

Cool quote:

But I doubt that many of the kids starting school now will build up the same kind of personal reference system around print books, any more than most children of the 1920s bothered to learn how to hitch up a team properly. To them, print books will seem ponderous and slow--what we find serene and undistracting, they will find as annoying as making your own Jello out of calve's feet and eggshells. They will have their own mental information maps that revolve around search and keywords, not physical proximity. It won't be better for all things. But it doesn't have to be. It just has to be able to outrun the competition where it counts. If they are--and I think they are--it will eventually become un-economic for most firms to retain print divisions.

David Chute said...

This mistake follows on from the previous one: a e-book that I've annonated extensively becomes both and object I want to hold onto and an "extrension of my personality."

Tulkinghorn said...

Make sure you follow on with McArdle when you've got a chance. I think her basic point -- that the drawbacks of e-books mostly involve transgressing the habits of older more book-involved people (and are thus of importance only to omb-ip)-- is key to understanding why the reactions of such as me are largely irrelevant.

David Chute said...

"omb-ip" = Open Map Based Information Platform?

David Chute said...

On thing that's interesting is that the "threat" of the Kindle seems to have RE-kindled (nice) your love for books as objects -- when not many months ago you were things like "it's just a book" (when discusssing protective covers) and expreassing a desire to divest and weed out. Admittedly a small sample, but I wonder if this is a widespread reaction. First editions perhaps more valuable than ever as they become true antiques?

Tulkinghorn said...

older more book-involved people

Could be that's true. If books end up being luxury goods like analog watches, turntables, tube amps, or rye whisky, the sky's the limit

David Chute said...

Or opera or live theater -- or before too long films in movie theaters, if you believe the UCLA Archive types.

Another function of physical books on shelves: to remind yourself how well-read you are. Could be a sign of maturity to get past that one. (I still like the companionable rows of books by favorite authors.)

The larger issue of projecting an image ones personality onto surrounding surfaces also applies to decor, furniture, pictures, etc. Cf. past posts about the Japanese hiding their belongings rather than displaying them, blah, blah.

Christian Lindke said...

Abell is wrong about the cost to produce e-books. The cost of producing books, at least for big publishers, is essentially nothing. Any print run of sufficient size benefits from economies of scale. E-books benefit from that instantly, but both require extensive marketing and promotion, the paying of editors and authors, etc.

The paper is the cheap part.

David Chute said...

I did finally read the whole McArdle piece, and agree with almost everything she says contra Resnikoff, whose complaints seem, basically, trivial. The actual experience of reading something on the Kindle is not significantly different.

It might be significant, however, that some of the most enthusiastic e-book users I've encountered are writers who use them for work researching stories. They can load in several hefty books they need for research, add footnotes, highlight and save sections of text they want to quote.

Similarly, journalists were among the first people to adapt to word processing on computers, because the advantages of being able to instantly cut and paste text (from transcribed interviews or notes, for example), without having to retyped, were immediately apparent to them.

That said, I find I still often write first drafts in longhand (which feels more casual and impermanent and lessens the possibility of getting blocked) and have on occasion cut up and rearranged and taped back together and retyped hard copy print outs, because the added step of "running it through the typewriter again" helps you see what you've written with fresh eyes.

And I'm still reading paper books.