e-booking: a summation

Just a rough list of the e-book issues I can think of. And, I should say up top here that I’m pretty much addicted to my Kindle. So this isn’t an attack on e-books (which — a lot of of those are taking the form of nostalgia, right? like when we went from cassettes to CDs?). At the same time, I see nothing wrong with the already-proven technology of the paper book; I’m fairly addicted to them as well. And, yes, a lot of times this pro/con argument, it’s eviling up e-books in defense of brick & mortar bookstores, yes? So I discount most of those. I’m all for bookstores, of course, but I’m also all for the on-line retailers, or direct-purchasing from the press itself (makes them more money). Anyway, enough preamble:

How e-books are changing publishing:

  • ‘print run’ is no longer that useful a term
  • book contracts don’t hedge against returns as aggressively
  • ‘remainders’ and warehousing aren’t issues anymore
  • advance reading copies work differently
  • covers matter less, as most readers start you at page 1 (often even skipping the epigraph and TOC and dedication, which kind of sucks). though, as for the retailers’ listings on the digital ‘bookshelf,’ yes, the cover matters there
  • collectibility and signatures aren’t so much an issue
  • marginilia (your own scribbles in the book) are significantly more difficult, thus, less instinctive
  • footnotes more or less suck, digitially (a roll-over pop-up would be far preferable)
  • innovative typography’s undependable, e-reader to e-reader
  • the blurbs on the back cover, which sometimes give you the faith you need to tackle the next chapter, they’re hard to access
  • there are no longer ‘dead pages’ at the end of the book, as used to result from the complicated paper-folding necessary to magic a book together. the result of this is that the end of the book comes when it looks like it’s going to, instead of pleasantly surprising you / frustrating your expectations (in the best way)
  • self-publishing is no longer called ‘vanity publishing.’ for better or for worse
  • plates and illustrations pretty much suck, in e-ink
  • clickable samples allow for more impulse purchases
  • ‘shelf life’ is no longer two to three weeks, depending on performance, as the brick & mortar stores would have it
  • carrying five hundred books with you on vacation is great, but losing them all at once isn’t so great
  • page numbers are useless in e-books, as the type is of course scaleable. but the progress bar sucks, makes you feel like you’re completing an on-line survey, or applying at a kiosk for a job
  • some e-readers never allow you to actualy reach “100%,” so you never feel done with the book
  • you can’t slam an e-reader to indicate to somebody that you’re giving them your full attention
  • e-readers don’t smell like books, or have the same reassuring heft
  • e-books have hypertext capabilities (embedded videos, crosslinking, etc), which can promote reader participation in the text
  • people steal e-books more than paper books
  • it’s nice to have your magazines and newspapers in the same place as the novel you’re reading
  • it’s terrible to have your magazine and newspapers in the same place as the novel you’re reading
  • e-books often have built in dictionaries (I love love love this)
  • with e-books, ‘browsing the shelf’ is a process more dependent upon the retailer’s associative algorythms than it is that pure dumb luck we call providence, that often finds us a book mis-shelved, that turns out to save our lives
  • with an e-book, you can find and keep that one perfect laying-down position on the couch, and you can read Against the Day or Lisey’s Story from the same angle as the short story you just bought for your reader, as they weigh the same
  • your reader indexes your library in a variety of ways, making finding a book you only half-remember that much easier
  • with an e-book: no more bookmarks. fall asleep and your page is saved (though the reader may fall to the ground in the night, shattering the screen . . .)
  • batteries don’t run out with paper books
  • paper libraries aren’t backed up on retailers’ servers
  • e-books are the new mass-market paperback, and as-yet carry some of the same stigma (especially given their association/inextricability from self-publishing)
  • with a paper book, you rarely push its buttons such that you end up at a point in the story completely remote from where you were
  • synching your reading place/bokmark from reader to phone to computer: priceless (just wish it were automagic)
  • e-books are possibly more permanent than paper books. they can be broadcast across wireless etc. anyway, meaning they’re already traveling across space on accident, to infect other worlds . . .
  • pirating a paper book takes significantly more effort than an e-book (on a related note, torrents of your book seem to help rather than hinder sales)
  • pages are rarely-to-‘never’ missing from an e-book
  • once you buy a paper book, the retailer can’t sneak into your library, switch it for another version
  • paper books have less of the poor formatting that e-books are becoming known for (as if it’s the proofs that are often getting digitized, rather than the corrected copy)
  • spilling coffee on your paper book doesn’t necessarily render it unreadable
  • reading-while-eating is far easier with the hands-free nature of the e-reader
  • you can’t turn on the audio of your paper book. however, the audio you can turn on for an e-book, it’s often like having your robot nanny scare you to sleep
  • dust jackets are a bygone expense for e-books
  • with e-readers, you can’t ‘advertize’ your hipness on the bus solely by your reading selection
  • with e-readers, you can ‘advertize’ your hipness as far as gadgets are concerned (see: status symbol)
  • paper books often fit in your pocket better (not just size, but crunchability)
  • e-books make poor coasters, and worse spider killers
  • paper books make poor flashlights (unless you have a match)
  • you don’t stuff an e-book in the pocket of an airplane seat, as surprise gift for the next occupant
  • people tend not to have a household e-book dedicated for the bathroom yet (to be left there, and stocked appropriately)
  • with paper books, you don’t get distracted by the email etc. just a tab away
  • you don’t throw an e-book across the room to a friend
  • book burning is completely different with an e-book (requires accelerants; see Tosh.0 for more like this)
  • reading ‘temporary’ mss. is three hundred times easier on an e-book (with paper, you’re lugging around loose-leaf abominations — however, it is easier to scribble corrections on those loose-leaf/binder-clipped jobs)
  • loaning books out is more complicated with e-books (ie, it takes some complicity if you’re hoping to foist a novel on somebody)
  • the TBR pile never falls down inside your e-book. neither does your living room look as cool, like a genius might live there
  • paper books don’t catch viruses
  • e-books don’t mildew, or carry bugs
  • both are equally eco-friendly (I suspect — paper kills trees, requires transport by highway or train or plane, etc, but e-books have to be plugged in, so are burning coal somewhere up the line, and require a ‘network’ which is also sustained by electricity, and they likely leave behind some half-toxic waste)
  • author photos are’t so important with e-books. and that’s a good thing (as the legitimacy/authenticity of a text has to be integral to that text, not externally ‘validated’ by a snapshot)
  • there are no cursors in paper books
  • in thirty years, we’re not going to find used e-books in junk stores, with well wishes for long-gone graduates scribbled in front, in a careful hand, like, if they wrote this just right, it could direct a whole life this way or that
  • paper books aren’t going to die, they’re just likely to become somewhat-limited editions, and publishers need to learn that buying a paper book nowadays, the consumer’s expecting an artifact. we want something made to last, something that we feel needed to be pressed on paper, not onto a microchip.

That’s all I can come up with in thirty minutes, anyway. But it’s likely all lodged in my head pretty deep, as every panel I hit lately (for comic books too) seems to ramp off into digital publishing. Less because that’s where the panelists want to go, I suspect, than it is that, in the questions-from-the-audience period, this is the new go-to/easy and obvious question, guaranteed to provoke a canned response and further discussion. But it’s a real issue, too, no doubt, though if it’s occupying you to the point of distraction, keeping you from writing and reading, then that is a problem, as the first interest and only love is supposed to be just reading. However you get the story, I say, that’s the good way to get the story. I’d read a novel in fortune cookies if I had to, I mean, or rent it on my television through Netflix, or listen to it through my phone. If you’re hungry enough for fiction, the medium shouldn’t really matter. And there’ll always be stories, will always be writers liars. You just have to open the door, let them into your life for a few hundred pages.

stephen graham jones, boulder, june2011




Author :
is the author of 22 or 23 books, 250+ stories, and all this stuff here. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, and has a few broken-down old trucks, one PhD, and way too many boots