An e-book precis at the New Yorker

This article at The New Yorker online deals with the Kindle, the iPad and Google Books, as well as looking at the economic impact of the rise of e-books — yes, yet another one. There is much to appreciate, and muse about, in this piece. And while it can be dangerous to muse in public, here’s my two bob’s worth:

  • I found, for instance, that a single company has 90,000 author-clients — self-publishing — a little scary, because there was no mention of them having an editor (and there wouldn’t be in this article, but still, it makes me wonder). One presumes market forces will sort the chaff, eh? (Please, people, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should — get an editor!)
  • There’s mention of the different viewpoints of established publishers, discovering and nurturing new and not necessarily instant hit writers, while Apple and Amazon might be more interested in the maths. I’m wondering how much that’s actually still true, especially in a GFC-shadowed climate. I should think if anyone’s doing the nurturing these days, it’s the agents. Not much mention of agents in this article, by the way, but then the focus is on product delivery, not sourcing. Agents must surely be a tad nervous about delivery companies such as Amazon dealing direct with the author? Question: who organises the dramatic rights? And what does this mean for territorial rights? Things, they are a changing, but I still think having someone there to check the fine print is a damn fine idea.
  • I’m also a little nervous about the value-adding offered by the e-environment, because I thought I was writing stories, not computer games or other multi-media platforms, which surely are a different kind of story all in their own right. Maybe I can do both. Do I have a say over what apps are ‘enhancing’ my story? Can I pick the soundtrack? Can I still curl up on the couch in the quiet and not be cajoled into clicking the hyperlinks for explanatory notes, film clips and similar products that I might enjoy — at least until after I’ve finished this one? You know, actually use my imagination and be immersed in the story I’m reading. I wonder if books will be like DVDs — should I wait for the two-disc enhanced version? Will this be the new paperback/hardback divide? Yeah, I know, I gotta learn to embrace the new tech. But geeze, man, I’m still trying to get my head around story arc!
  • Spooky: 40 per cent of Americans read one book or less last year. Is that an illiteracy problem or just an ignorance problem? Or is it a sign that books just don’t rate as a consumer item in the land of instant gratification? Someone tell me Australia is ahead on this game. Or are we all at the footy?
  • Something for writers: the author is the brand. Good luck getting branded amongst the 90,000 self-publishers and their ilk all hitting the upload button…
  • The capacity of digital to deliver back-catalogue titles has got to be a boon, hasn’t it? Stories that just don’t go out of print any more.
  • And my appreciation of Google has gone up a notch thanks to their view that there is still a role to be played by bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Because I think the article is right about readers still wanting their online access and bookstore, too. Maybe that’s a generational thing. Wouldn’t it be great if e-books can help lift that hideous statistic about the 40 per cent who don’t read? And wouldn’t it be even better if that one book they did read wasn’t Twilight/Da Vinci Code/, or at least, used that as a springboard to, you know, read a second book?
  • The one thing I have taken from the article is that, while the delivery method is bound to change, at least there will still be a demand for one, which means the wordsmiths and the hacks — and yes, the really oughtn’ts — will have new avenues to reach, and engage with, their readers, at several levels. What do we do in the time of flux? Write on, my friend, and get to the end!

    2 thoughts on “An e-book precis at the New Yorker

    1. Some interesting thoughts here, Jason, especially regarding electronic media and books.
      I know some people who pretty much wont read *unless* it is in electronic form (ie: e-book). I wonder if this is indeed the way of the future?
      I remember reading somewhere the concept of ‘what if e-books came before physical books?’
      The thinking was this: what if everyone was walking around with heavy laptops, etc, and then one day a person shows up on a train with an actual book? It’s small, compact, light, and when you want to stop reading a page, you simply slip in this piece of card called a book mark. How convenient!

      In regards to the 40% of Americans who read only one book a year, although this is quite staggering, this could be summed up to a number of reasons including less free time and choice of how to use that free time.
      Today, people work harder and longer. Perhaps more people drive rather than catch unreliable public transport. Cable TV/DVDs are abundant and perhaps becoming a preferred choice of relaxation. And then there are the computer games which become people’s reality or escapism (ie World of Warcraft, SIMS, Second Life, etc). And I’m not even going to start about iPhones…

      Sorry… I ramble (and I havent even touched upon self-publishing and editing). But you have raised some interesting topics here and I’ll be interested to read some other thoughts on this topic.

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