I’m completely obsessed with efficiency. I try to be as ruthlessly efficient as I possibly can, simply because I want to get as much done as possible. If there’s a new system that saves me time, whether it’s accepting e-queries, embracing Google docs so I can work anywhere, getting an e-reader so I can read anywhere, you name it, I’ll do it.
But I’m also obsessed with efficiency in a broader sense as well, because I think it is something critically important to society and history and technology. We humans, whether we’re conscious of it or not, are all obsessed with efficiency.
Nearly every single thing that has ever been invented and achieved mass adoption has one thing in common: it’s an improvement in efficiency.
Whether it’s speech, writing, the postal service, telephone, or e-mails, we have been moving closer and closer to efficient, instantaneous communication across vast distances.
Whether it’s domesticated animals, chariots, railroads, cars, planes, we have been moving closer and closer to efficient travel across vast distances.
Whether it’s fire, windmills, steam engines, or the internal combustion engine, we have been moving closer and closer to the most efficient energy production possible.
And as we decide whether to adopt or dismiss a new inventions, nearly every consideration other than efficiency (usually) dwindles in importance.
Cars aren’t as safe as railroad travel or walking (or at least walking where there are no cars), but we’re willing to make that sacrifice because cars are efficient. Every energy technology seems to pollute more than the last, but we make the tradeoff because the other technologies are less efficient. Nothing can compare to the experience of listening to live music or, barring that, vinyl records, but we’d much rather listen to music on mp3 players because we can listen to music whenever we want.
Human beings are always scurrying around trying to find more efficient ways of doing things and freeing up time for the things we’d rather be doing. Efficiency allows us to be more productive and relax more and spend time creating still more efficiency.
And this is why I believe e-books are going to win in the end, and probably sooner than we think. It’s simply vastly more efficient to download any book you could possibly want instantaneously and read a book on a screen (even better if it’s a screen you already have, hello smartphone) than to cut down a tree, make paper, print ink on it, bind it, ship it across the country in a plane or a truck or both, and make someone walk or drive to a physical store (who may or may not have the book they want) every time they want to read a book.
I think we’ll look back on the print era and marvel about all those people who were responsible for delivering all these individual printed objects, kind of like how there used to be a fleet of milk men in every city rather than one guy driving a truck to a couple of supermarkets.
To be sure, no technology disappears completely – people still ride horses, go to plays, type on typewriters, listen to record players, and send handwritten letters. And printed books aren’t going to disappear either. All of these technologies have advantages and an associated nostalgia that people will always want to preserve and experience. There will still be printed books and physical bookstores, even if there are far fewer of them.
But things tend to move in one direction: toward greater efficiency and productivity. There’s always a delay as people adapt to the new technology, but prices come down, the technology gets better, and the efficiency spreads.
Printed books have their advantages, but they don’t win where it counts. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but human nature abhors a bottleneck.
anon–you can't delete comments posted as Anon.
E-books will become like ebay to the antiques market IMHO. It's one option for the consumer, but it'll never replace the thrill of the hunt. Most readers love the cozy feel of going to a bookstore or library to browse–it's the TOTAL experience, not just the single-minded purchase of books.
So Nathan, I hope you're not completely right, though it may work for agents and editors and journalists, like myself. But you sure seem to think you are predicting the future. Sorry, but we baby-boomers will rebel in droves!
I'm with you for the most part on efficiency, but I'm not sure efficiency as an end in itself justifies the means of getting there in all instances.
The second comment here, for instance, raises a valid point about how efficiency for those inside the E loop might effectively prolong poverty amongst those outside it.
The greatest saving of all, of course, lies with the working practices of every individual, irrespective of gadget, device or bio-implant.
That said, ebooks are now a dead cert. Maybe even old news. Roll on interactive scrolling forearm tattoos…
When I hear someone praising efficiciency, I cringe. It's visceral. I jhave no particular hope that I can convince you that you're wrong, but perhaps I can present a case for a different viewpoint.
My theme will be that "efficiency is often ill-defined. How does this happen.
One way is to optimize one variable at the expense of something more important. During the 70's biologist and environmental advocate Barry Commoner popularized a criterion for "efficiency" that was entirely accurate while completely missing a very important point. He pointed out that energy efficiency in heating is greatest when the temperature difference between the heat source and the object geing heated is smallest. For instance, to heat a gallon of water from 40 degrees to 50 degrees you use less energy if your heat source operates at 55 degrees than if it operates at (say) 90 degrees. What he neglected to point out is that the water will take uch longer to heat under the "energy efficient" scenario. By optimizing for energy efficience, one creates marked INEFICIENCIES with respect to time.
In a broader sense, defining "efficiency" is easiest when the tasks to be facilitated are narrowly defined. But is the narrow definiton the best one in the complexities of real life?
Take rejection letters. Under one definition of an agents operating goals, efficiency is best served by the form rejection letter. But is the narrow definition of the agent's goals really the most desirable.
Let me illustrate with an example from the dim past of the history of publishing. The legendary editor of Austounding (later Analog) Science Fiction magazine, John W. Campbell, Jr., reputedly read everty manuscript submitted. He was well known for his lengthy rejection letters, often dissecting in detail the weaknesses of a manuscript, and making lengthy suggestions for rewrites. Everyone within the science fiction community knows the ourcome. Campbell turned Austounding into the leading magazine in the field, and created a brilliant generation of writers that are the acknowledged ancestors of virtually all "hard" SF to this day.
Of course times were different then. But even by the standards of his time, Campbell's editorial practices were extraordinary – although arguably "inefficient" from a more narrowly defined view of an editors role.
Bottom line. Before you introduce "efficiencies", critically check the definition of the task you're optimizing. Is it really what you think it is?
Just a thought,
Efficiency only works when it improves the product. While I do believe that ebooks will become an important market, I don't see it happening with this generation of ereaders.
Where I don't see ebooks taking over is in the fiction market, where reading is done for pleasure.
I just blogged about this https://oddgoose.blogspot.com/2009/11/ereaders-and-technology.html
Inefficency: You left out art, personality, and, to some degree, entertainment. (All of which have something to do with books.) Not to mention quality (pre-packaged pie).
A postcard of a work by David Hockney is efficient, I suppose.
Why do cookbooks even exist?
Oh, and sexual seduction and fulfillment is inefficient at every turn. So is having children (unless they are working the farm from age 6 or so) inefficient.
It is not efficient to travel across country for three days to camp in the parking lot of a band you like. To see the Queen pass by. To see a tornado up close. To re-enact Renaissance dancing in a grassy field.
It is inefficient to let chickens see daylight before you eat them.
It is inefficient to roll out dough for a pie.
Religion is inefficient.
So is reading, at all. Audio books should have long ago taken over the fiction market.
That said, you're probably right.
Anon 5:09 PM
Instead of book burning, we'll have to burn down the houses of people who read the e-books instead. It's easy to track e-downloads.
I wonder if what a politician downloads on her e-reader will be cause for scandal during a campagin several years down the road.
Speaking of F-451, Anon, the old guy got into as much trouble for driving too slowly as about anything else in the story. And I guess that's the point, it was the old guy — the generation/era on the outs.
If efficiency wins in every case, Nathan, what's with all this camping gear being sold?
What´s definitely not efficient is evolution.
We now know that it takes approx. 50,000 years for any changes to take effect in a species, whether through natural selection or spandrels (flukes).
So our bodies and minds are supremely adapted to the conditions we were living in 50,000 years ago.
This means we´re wired to depend extremely heavily on sensory experiences.
The smell of a bookstore, the look of a cover… We´re not (yet) made to deal with the sensory deprivation that comes with an e-reader, or any similar device. MP3 players have been adopted, but live concert attendance is up: people compensate for the lack of sensory stimulation in their everyday music listening. (Note also people´s emotional attachment to their Apple gadgets, which play to our touchy-feely neural connections.)
We want sensory experiences; we can´t help it. E-books are going to take a share of the market, no doubt about it, but I don´t think it will be as large as currently anticipated. (Or maybe we´ll soon see our friend Cormac McCarthy basking in laser light in Madison Square Garden, having emerged from a giant lemon???)
When the car was invented, only rich people had one while everyone else still rode horses.
Something like that. Cars didn't become popular, then necessary, because of price. It was because, in a major way, roads were built and improved and maintained.
And the steam car was more efficient, Nathan, but the oil-based car companies colluded to do in the steam competition (kind of like amazon.com and Wal-Mart knocking Borders out of the books market this Christmas — will there be bookstores at all in 15 years?)
But the real question, for writers, is whether the eBook format will change the form of book-length fiction?
What the heck is book-length if there is no book? Will novels be written in blog format? How about the Dickens approach?
Or you susbscribe to Writer A's fiction for the duration of a year. She sends along certain sized pieces of a continuting story for as long as you subscribe. Like the TV Series Lost, or really any TV series.
And, listen, there are writers I would susbcribe to.
Journal Fiction. Episode eFiction. Maybe it's $9 a month, not $9 a book.
Nathan, if you want to be efficient you have to jump ahead of what's happening (not merely recognize that seomthing is happening) to what happens next.
If the format changes, so will the form. The people who realize the form of book-length fiction will change (as the primary money in the market) are the people who are looking ahead. Mommy, what's a novel?
I think eReaders are cool. But it's more than just a way to read a novel. It's a new way to see "the novel" altogether.
And, you know what, a little mix of nonfiction with my fiction might be just the ticket, too. There are lots of writers I would subscribe to right now. And, while we're at it, why not subscribe to a few of our favorite characters.
Hey, Stephanie Plum, 'sup with you?
Or maybe we´ll soon see our friend Cormac McCarthy basking in laser light in Madison Square Garden, having emerged from a giant lemon??
I don't know exactly what you're saying here, but I absolutely love it!
P.S. Efficiency does NOT always win in the end, Nathan.
If so, we wouldn't have to go to court. We wouldn't have juries and we wouldn't have judges.
Sometimes, inefficiency maintains the ideal(s) of a people. When the last principle of humankind is dead, efficiency wins (like eating our own children?). Until then, efficiency doesn't always win.
And you still can't get anyone to stand in line in Southern Italy. It's insulting to the culture that was once inslaved by efficient fascism.
I didn't read all 265 comments to see whether anyone said this, but your example is flawed. Is it more efficient to download a book, or is it more efficient to click twice on Amazon and order it through the mail? I'd say they're about equal. Both of them beat going to a store, though. Especially–though I sort of hate to say it–an indie store.
Gordon Jerome says
The thing is there is a lot, lot, lot more of them than there are of you. Who do you think buys many of those bestsellers? Who do you think drives the market and creates profit margins for the industry? It's those casual readers who don't read too much. E-books will never dominate until you can convert that very large crowd. If or how long that might be… might be an interesting topic for debate.
Maybe I'm wrong here, but it seems to me there are two types of people in the world: those who never read (and I'm talking fiction here)and those who always have a book they're currently reading. The vast majority of people never read. That vast majority doesn't matter to fiction publishing.
Let's say I publish gothic literature on e-books. My only market is those who will read gothic stories "and" own an e-reader. There is no point in me taking out a full page add in the newspaper. That would be a total waste of marketing dollars. Those who will not read gothic literature and/or don't have an e-reader, are irrelevant to me.
The fiction market is those who read fiction regularly and buy it new. I mean, that's how it seems to me. And those people are switching to e-readers.
Maya / מיה says
So does this mean I should stock up on books now, because sooner or later they'll be a collector's item?
imisin: eminem's more technologically astute brother
Matt Mc says
To tie two common threads of this blog together, will the prevalence and easy access of e-readers remove the stigma of self publishing and make certain aspects of the publishing industry obsolete? Anyone can easily and cheaply convert their word processed book into a pdf to be uploaded onto a reading device. They can even create ways to charge for them off of personal websites and blogs. And if this were the case, would it be a bad thing or a good thing?
I'm sure you're right, but I think, like many other advancements, it won't be as fulfilling and, yes, there will still be people who can't afford it or, for other reasons, can't use it.
As my husband likes to point out, you don't need a power source for a paper book. No having to keep a supply of batteries (that you have trouble disposing of), no having to put up with the power going out just as you get to the "good part", no hunting around for an outlet.
I find the thought of reading an entire book on something as small as a phone – even an iPhone sized screen – a horrible idea. There are simply too many of us who have poor vision and it gets to be a strain. And, after all this time of reading off even a large screen, I still find the constant scrolling distracting. Think of how many people need large print books or need to enlarge the fonts on their computer screens (and it isn't all old folks) – tiny screens are useless for them.
As to the trees and paper issue. Trees are a renewable resource, otherwise we would have run out long ago. Paper can be recycled.
I do think ebooks have advantages. Two of them being your library takes up a lot less room in your house and is easier to pack when you move.
I think all this rushing, hurrying and pressure on efficiency is what has caused much of the depression and anxiety disorders you find in advanced cultures.
Nathan – take some time to enjoy life as you go rushing through it or you'll regret it in the end.
Major publishers will soon start selling their own eBooks rather than relying on orders through Kindle or Nook.
They just don't want anyone to know yet.
Harlequin jumped the gun. Next?
A truly popular undedicated reader (system for your notepad, computer, Iphone) is the key turn of events to watch for (I think).
But I am NOT reading a book on my Iphone. No, no, no. Others might.
What is Random House up to? Upping the author royalty for eBooks?
As a reader, if I read the NYT bestseller list some Wednesday and go to Random House on-line to upload the book to my reader, instead of going through B&N or amazon.com, what should the royalty be for the author?
50% sounds reasonable to me. No shipping fees. No distribution fees. No returns. No bookseller getting 40% or so off the top…
Do you really think major publishers can continue to overlook the very real viability of selling directly to the reader?
E books require power. A plug in, a battery- don't we here all the time about the problem of batteries filling our landfills?
And I personally dislike the heat of my laptop on my lap, so for me, the most efficient and comfortable process is the simple act of pulling a book out of my purse when I'm traveling or waiting in carpool line or riding a stationary bike. Plus I pass my books along to friends and family. We also read books aloud as a family. I often do rereads over the years. I can read a book over and over and not cause any more power to be used in its production. That's not true of an ebook.
Not to mention, as with all technology, they will constantly make new versions in order to generate sales and causing old ones to be obsolete and thrown away into the landfills. Its easy to donate books to shelters where anyone can pick them up and read, but ebooks requiring power and the knowledge of how to run them-i'm not sure.
New doesn't always equal better.
Christine H says
I know that e-books are more efficient in terms of storage space. My question is whether they are efficient in terms of durability.
That is… I haven't actually held one but it seems like a pretty expensive little gadget made of plastic and metal. Kinda like my cell phone.
And what happens if you drop it? Can they be fixed? What if it gets a virus?
If you drop a regular book – even in water – it's no big deal. Just dry it out. Even if a regular book is totally destroyed, it's just one book.
If you drop a Kindle, you lose not just the thing you were currently reading… but EVERYTHING! Am I right?
If I were reading books – or a lot of documents – for work, then yeah, I would definitely want one.
But I like to read in the tub! And, as others have said, I like the tactile experience of picking up a book, turning the pages, smelling them. (C'mon, admit it… you love the smell of books too.)
I hope that real books won't go away. I'm hoping that there is sufficient market for both.
Heidi the Hick says
Books do not need to be plugged in and recharged. Yes it takes huge amounts of energy and resources to make a book but after that it's self sustaining and non polluting.
All you need is your eyes and a light source.
I am so friggin sick of things that need to be plugged in and recharged. And scrolling down, kinda sick of that too. There's a place for ereaders. I don't think my husband will read many more paper books from now on.
I'm kind of old school about a lot of things. But I just think a book made out of pages is really efficient.
Dear Mr. Bransford,
One ought to be careful when speaking of ‘efficiency’ that one does not confuse it with ‘convenience’. Much that we are told is more ‘efficient’ is actually promoted as such because it serves the ‘convenience’ of powerful entities.
Culture ultimately consists of things done in a certain way that is important to a society. It has always amazed me that so many cultures thrived elbow to elbow and maintained their individuality in western Europe.
Our culture in the US was an amalgam, cobbled together over time from the cultures of those who were here, and those who came later. Now our culture is one of convenience, and even efficiency. Which is to say, our culture is fading from memory.
Drive cross-country, from state to state, region to region on the ‘efficient’ interstate system. Try to absorb the local flavor of the area as you pass through, stop and sample the regional cuisines. You can’t.
Every place looks the same and all you will find to eat is Mickey D’s and KFC and Dunkin Donut. Because they are convenient.
Mickey D’s and Burger King are also efficient. Gallo and MD20-20 are efficient. Wonder bread is too. Blackwater Security and Pepsi and Coca Cola are both efficient and convenient. Factory farming is efficient. But all these conveniences and efficiencies are purchased at the price of having a meaningful culture.
Chemical fertilizers and Round-up ready seeds and pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are efficient. Over a hundred dead zones at the mouths of rivers, including one of 6000 to 7000 square miles where the Mississippi River discharges the run-off from this wonderful efficiency into the Gulf of Mexico, is one price of such efficiency.
There are many more.
When Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, he didn’t invent the concept of book-burning. We have seen this happen, even in fairly recent history. Books as artifacts may be mass produced and widely dispersed, and there is safety in that. Books and manuscripts and documents turn up all the time that have survived across the centuries because they were important and people saved them to protect the ideas in them.
There are always entities in this world who, for the furtherance of their own goals of power and wealth, are interested in killing ideas in their cribs.
There are always entities bent on reducing the citizenry’s access to information and new ideas. When, in the service of “efficiency’ and ‘convenience’ all of the books have been transferred to electronic media, the next book-burnings will not be carried out by Montag, or Oskar Werner or anybody else with a tank of kerosene and a match.
It can be accomplished at a keystroke by those in control of the technology.
How do I know?
“In July 2009, Amazon discovered two of George Orwell's books had been digitally uploaded to its Kindle e-book store by a company that didn't own the rights. Amazon pulled the e-books from its site and remotely deleted copies from customers' Kindles without notice.”
If they can remotely delete one thing from everybody’s Kindle, what’s to stop someone from deleting it all if they so desire? And from all the other electronic data dumps? Before you all cackle and call me a ‘conspiracy nut’, think about it.
As we are constantly reminded by events that transpire for reasons that are not at all clear, history is not over. Ideas and information are collective power, and part of the commonwealth of humanity. And all the information that does not exist in widely dispersed, physical formats can now be easily banished into the profound forget.
At a keystroke.
Sorry about the length of this – I didn't have time to write it shorter.
I also wish I had had the time to consider this further and make it more coherent, but I think I sorta make my point.
There is more to life than efficiency and convenience. Much, much more. And what we trade for these things is, in the end, everything.
Heidi the Hick says
I'd like to add a note about poverty and technology.
My family has an uneasy relationship with the two. Technology, in the form of recording music, provides our income. However, that same technology also eats our income. This face paced life requires constant upgrades and keeping up and electricity bills. He guys a new piece of gear or a software update and it's obsolete in months, I'm not kidding.
A recording studio is ridiculously expensive to run. WE thought the extinction of audio tape would make things cheaper. Get rid of that big power sucking analog console, run everything digital.
As a result, we are not buying new tech for ourselves. I really don't care cuz I'm not a tech head, but there are things I just won't have even if I want them. People expect to see a kicking stereo system in a recording engineer's home but ours is over 20 years old, bought when he was a teenager with a job. We simply can't afford new stuff. I'm driving a 20 year old truck; if it breaks down, I'm walking or begging rides until we can afford to fix it.
If I have to read books off a gadget, guess what? I'm getting my books from the library.
I see where you're coming from, but in my experience as a bookstore owner it just doesn't hold out. Yes, I have a core group of heavy readers. But the majority of my sales still come from casual readers, people who pick up 1-3 books a year. I have customers who only read, say, Nora Roberts. That's it. Nobody else. So a couple times a year they buy her new book. Or sub in Grisham or Patterson or Kellerman or Grafton.
It's these people that drive the market and drive successful books (which in turn provide the capital for publishing smaller market books). Core readers make a nice base audience, but books break out and do really well when they start snagging some of these occasional readers. These readers usually want familiar names that are easy to find. That's why they have those tables of bestsellers in bookstores. They're aimed at the casual reader crowd just passing through, people who don't want to spend two hours searching through the shelves to find their bi-annual book (as opposed to those core readers, who would usually like nothing better than to take a day off work and spend the day doing just that).
From my experience the book business desperately needs both groups (and anyone in the middle, too).
Chuck H. says
I only read a few of the comments but I'm already so bummed I'm considering turning Amish. I knew as soon as I bought that damned throw away phone and gave up my unconnectedness the world was headed for hell in a handbasket. Crap! Excuse me while I go stomp an MP-3 player into the mud.
Word Ver: frazi – no specific meaning but I know the feeling.
Gordon Jerome says
There's nothing really to be bummed about, Chuck. This is a wonderful moment in history that you are alive to see. There were scrolls for how long? And then books written by scribes for centuries, and then the printing press, and now the e-reader.
E-readers are not complicated devices. They are not like computers. It's not the same as reading from a computer. They use only a small amount of power, unless you switch on the wireless connection, so small in fact, you could run them with solar if they designed them that way.
S. Dionne Moore says
I'm interested in seeing Apple's new device that claims to wrap iphone, mp3 player, ereader (and some other things), into one device. If Apple can pull it off and make things more efficient-one device that does it all and does it well-then it will be a boon to people as well as those who supply the apps for those devices. Ereading in general would get shot in the arm.
Claude Forthomme says
OK, you're right once again, Nathan: ebooks are on the rise and very likely going to be THE next thing in our readers' future. But that doesn't mean they will DISPLACE the old-fashioned printed book. What will happen, I think, is that ebooks will INCREASE the reading audience, especially if made more attractive with music and video and easily accessible on all sorts of devices, including phones…That will make it a vastly different product from the old-fashioned book, and, as a result, it will command a different and new market. See, I'm a born-optimist! But when it comes to the timeframe for this change, I'm not so sure.
Surely it won't happen soon, at least not on a world-wide basis. I live in Rome, and I can assure you that Kindles and Nooks are chinese to most people around here. We live in an antique city and cling to our antiques…like books printed on(inefficient)paper – they're such decorative objects!
David Kubicek says
You're probably right about e-books taking over, but I don't like it. Like Ray Bradbury I enjoy going to bookstores, handling the books, reading the cover copy and perhaps a few paragraphs, and buying on impulse. It's not as fun to sit at my computer and browse e-books.
By the way, do they actually manufacture typewriters anymore?
I asked my twenty-six year old daughter if she preferred music in CD or MP3 format. She said she prefers the CD and then she transfers it to MP3. That way, she has back up.
Having lost a computer hard-drive once, I agree.(And yes Iknow back-up your HD too.)
I like the "stuff" that comes with a physical CD or book, the pictures, etc. I would find it an attractive thing to be able to have both (electronic and physical)books for some of my books, but for others, just electronic:
especially heavy, boring, overpriced textbooks (for ALL ages from grade school forward).
Though there are many valid points here, my own opinion is that just because you have the technology to do something doesn't mean you should necessarily do it. We should ask ourselves what we are giving up by transitioning to a system of life based predominantly in the digital realm: mainly, human connection.
What would the midnight release of the final Harry Potter novel have been like if you were simply sitting at home, waiting for a download to be sent to you from an automated machine? For me, it would have lost all the magic. You may keep your e-reader, and I will keep my book.
Kate H says
I'm afraid you're right, Nathan. But something's lost when something's gained, as the old song says–and what we lose in making everything efficient is ultimately our humanity. We lose touch with the earth, the slow passage of the days and seasons, with other human beings on a deep level, although surface contact is multiplied. I use technology because I have to, and I'm not immune to the efficiency bug myself; but one function of the poet/writer/artist/musician/etc is to encourage everyone to stop for a moment and contemplate the other values in life to which efficiency does not contribute. Thus to have literature delivered too efficiently actually goes against its purpose.
Interesting article on libraries loaning e-books (I found when no one answered my question. I still don't know if the book just "disappears" after its loan period or if you get fined or what. Also, I think it would be reasonable to loan out more than one e-book copy at a time.
Interesting links there too.
occam's razor says
dont mean to change the subject but nathan i noticed your time stamp is 11:11.
The bookstore experience was pretty dreadful until the mid 1990s when bookstores became big, happy, friendly places filled with floors of books, and inviting cafes.
Before this, most (but not all) bookstores were small, dusty, cramped places where not very pleasant employees sneered down at the customers. The instore selection was dismal. And customers were NOT ALLOWED to actually touch the books…nevermind read a chapter or two.
Books were also quite expensive.
This all changed in the mid 1990s. Then Amazon came along. And other online bookstores. And then electronic versions came along. And it all became nice and friendly and easy and cheap.
Buying books is easier than ever. Once the kinks get all sorted out with e-readers, they will dominate. Just like cell phones. I wasn't an early adopter of those either…when they were large, cumbersome, filled with bugs and also expensive. But today, I've got a great little cell phone that I love. And I can't remember how I lived without it.
Nathan Bransford says
Those are the type of bookstores that will survive – people love them, and for good reason. They provide an experience that can't be replaced anywhere else. I don't think the bookstores we love the most will ever disappear, and I don't think anyone should want them to. I certainly don't.
I agree, Nathan. I find it is so cool that there are places and people like this.
From the Gutenberg Bible to an app on an i-phone. Wow. That's progress! And so efficient too!
Lisa Melts Her Penn says
Oh, Nathan, no surprise there are a lot of comments here, and I didn't have time yesterday…I think you are so smart, and I love reading your blog every day, and my husband just gave me his old Blackberry which is my first chance to read on a portable screen, but I just so love books and pages and the smell of books and how the spine of a hc crackles open with a sigh; I even love the weight of books, though less now with a back strain than years ago when I used to carry the Riverside Shakespeare around campus in my backpack even when I didn't have Shakespeare class. And I agree with what Anon said about the imagination craving idleness. And I also agree with you that that need for idleness and poetry, which I would never want to give up, can be balanced by the efficiency side of things when it's time for the efficency. I don't want to go back to my IBM Selectric typewriter or stone tablets. But now I will go back to revising my book again.
Lisa Melts Her Penn says
Though I do have to say the smell of a mildewed or decomposing book is no fun and makes me run for the bathroom.
I keep thinking we're going to miss owning things if everything goes digital. Isn't it nice to hold something, feel the heft of it, the weight, the texture? I guess I'll just always love the book as object.
For my store closing I've been going through thousands and thousands of books. Some go on the shelves… and some get redirected to my home library. And what draws me first to a lot of these books is not the title, author, or subject, but the book as an object. The glow off the cover, a font, a colour… For example I just grabbed this book out of a pile. Now, I kept it because it's a subject that interests me… but what drew me was the physical presence of the book itself. A mint copy in a brodart cover. Crisp pages. The art of the cover pulled me in with all that open space and the combination of light and haze and silhouettes.
Will people miss this? Miss it enough to forego the digital venture? Makes me wonder. There's a satisfaction in possessing physcial things which I think is lacking in digital ownership. It's hard to luxuriate over strings of binary code. There's just the singular device itself. I wonder how much this will play into the future of books… will the objectness of books keep them alive for the general public? Or merely as artistic curios for collectors and retro diehards?
Elaine 'still writing' Smith says
Music's "sub-standard" live performances
Visual Arts are much more hi-def on my digital… yarda yarda yarda TV – but appreciating is all in the "being-there"
Books – viewed on a screen with eyes wide? I wouldn't want to lose the narrow focus between eye and page;reading with head on one side turning, almost before, finishing the words – I've tried with e-books… doesn't work.
Gemma Noon says
Okay, so I'll go against everyone and say that I think books are here to stay.
We still go to the theatre, even though we have cinemas.
We still go to the cinema, even though we have DVDs and TVs.
Huge sections of the worlds population do not have TVs or cinemas. They are still luxury items. They put on plays.
e-readers need a power source, which costs money.
we use cars for convenience, but driving hasn't replaced walking. Or bikes. They are there for a specific aspect of our lives, not all of it.
The one area of traditional music business where sales are actually increasing? Vinyl.
Authors can't sign my e-book.
I really don't reccommend reading your e-book in the bath.
There just isn't the same connection between a file my dad emails to me and the book he gave to me.
If i drop my print book, I don't lose my entire library.
An e-book on my shelf just doesn't have the same impact as my favourite novels do.
books don't require a powersource to read them (well, okay, not during the day).
books don't suffer unexplained breakdowns and need to be returned to the manufacturer for fixing.
Finally, and I apologise for the high horse on this one but it is the librarian in me speaking, unless you envisage a day when everyone is supplied with e-readers for free, the power to run them for free, free support on how to use them, the ability to share the books for free and free upgrades for life, then I really mourn the day that e-readers replace books.
Nathan, you said yourself, "almost everyone" will have e-readers, so we don't need books. What about the people who don't? They effectively become a social subclass without access to information, without the ability to improve their lives through study because they lack the means to access or acquire knowledge. There are huge areas of the planet that don't even get to have the "outdated" technology of books. How do they get e-readers? And once they've got e-readers, how do they get e-books? How do they get the power to use the e-readers, when they don't have a reliable source of electricity?
I honestly believe there is a place for both in the world. I like e-readers, but they don't replace my books, much the same way that my car has not replaced my desire – or need – to walk.
I think e-books will become the standard, but I prefer not to think of that as winning.
karen wester newton says
Great post, as always, Nathan. A couple of points on the comments… I have friends who are public library librarians. Most of the folks using library computers are there because they can't afford their own, but SOME of them are there because they can't watch porn at home so they watch it at the library. Second, on the "openness" issue, the Kindle just today added support for PDFs, and with Kindle for PC, you can still read your books without a Kindle or an iPhone. I like the looks of the Nook, especially if the virtual keyboard is easy to use, but I have not heard anything to suggest B&N is going to be anymore accommodating than Amazon about other folks' content. On the other hand, I tell people if they need to borrow not buy ebooks, to get a Sony.
Keep spreading the word!
Edward Philipp says
We are at a time like music was when wax rolls or 78 records were the state of the art with the digital book. Many pieces of excellent work will be lost as we go forward into newer formats and old are lost. That will be a waste and a shame, however the digital book is coming for lots of reasons.
As an author the potential for a much greater profit share of the profits from the sale. As a reader I have the information immediately. Storage is much easier and taking along a number of books or in the near future a library will be common.
Many of us prefer the printed page when we read so I do hope the printed books stays around for the second half of my life.
This article and the many comments show the interest in the ebook going forward.
Bullshit. Until you can leave an e-reader behind on a bus and not be troubled by the loss because you can go to the nearest e-reader store and pick up another copy for $2, e-readers will never replace real books.
We haven't replaced food and meals, for example, with something "more efficient," even though we could easily get the same effect and arguably have the same experience–at least, on the micro-level of taste buds–from grinding all food into a tube of paste we can take anywhere and "eat" anywhere.
There are certain things that are irreducible, and cannot be improved on, and books are one of them.