Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Blade Runner Theory of Books and e-Books

What I Love About Google Reader
I have all of my RSS feeds in one place, accessible from werk, home or wherever.

What I Hate About Google Reader
Unless I tag each entry, going back and finding one that I've been thinking about, is time-consuming and frustrating.

What Any of That Has to Do With This Post
I've read a lot of posts on e-Books lately.  Some posts have been, I think, well though-out.  Others, not so much.  I'd like to quote from all of them, but, alas, there's only so much time in the day and I'm not very consistent at tagging blog posts.

I spend my 40-hour-a-week, paycheck generating part of my life doing IT stuff for a well-respected University Press.  We've been wrestling with issues surrounding e-Books since I've been working here.  I won't say that I think about e-Books on a daily basis, but they've been a continual thought for the past five years.  

One line I was able to track down, thanks to having copied and pasted the quote, was from the BookEnds LLC Agency blog.  The posting was in response to someone who wrote in to them about e-books.  The question included the statement "the inevitable death of the paper book" as if print books are already on life support and some greedy relative from the e-book

I don't believe in "the inevitable death of the paper book."  Certainly not in my lifetime, anyway.  In the extreme, I liken bound, printed books to the long-playing (LP) album. In the 80s, when CDs first came out, people started abandoning the LP in favor of the CD.   CDs were more portable and took up less storage space and, more importantly, offered better sound quality . However, there are still LP aficionados out there who prefer the warmth of the sound that LPs have that CDs do not.  (I still have my album collection and a turntable to listen to them with)

e-Books have portability and less storage space issues clearly on their side, but they don't (as of yet) offer a better reading experience than the printed book*.

In fact, in a 2009 NY Times article, an electronics store owner discusses the resurgence of vinyl album and turntable sales.  Says Rachelle Friedman, co-owner of J&R,

“New customers are discovering the quality of the sound. They’re discovering liner notes and graphics.”

In other words, consumers are re-discovering elements of LPs that create a better listening experience than that provided by CDs.

In more general terms, I think the pervasiveness of the printed, bound Book in our lives and in our world is so extensive that removing that cultural artifact will be harder than most people expect. Yes, the next generations will grow up with the expectation of being able to read content digitally on an e-Reader (just as the younger generations now expect to have computers and the internet available to them). However, I don't see public schools getting the funding to purchase e-Readers for each child anytime soon. to get written content.  As a civilization, we'll still grow up reading books for generations.

One of the things that made the movie Blade Runner so visually authentic for me was the way directory Ridley Scott populated his vision of the future with elements of the futuristic society (hover cars, advertising blimps, etc) and elements from the age in which the film was made (a 1970s car can be seen on the streets, for instance).

If you look around you there are signs of older technologies all around us.  You can still find typewriters in many offices, even though computers are far easier to work on.  Antique cars are still on the roads, even though newer cars are safer and more fuel efficient.  We build on our past, we don't throw it out.

New technologies and new formats do not automatically sound the death knell of any previous technology.  Period.

My LPs sit alongside my CDs, which sit, virtually, next to my mp3s.  And if I ever buy an e-Reader, it will sit comfortably, somewhere in the stack of books on my bedside table.

-- Tom

* I know this is changing.  The iPad version of "Alice in Wonderland" sounds like a fun reading experience.  At the well-respected University Press where I work I've been involved in working with one of our books, a history of the Blues, to take the content of the accompanying audio and video discs that come with the printed version and integrate them into the text of the e-Book.


  1. When I listen to some songs on my iPod, I can 'hear' the richness of the vinyls from my childhood. A clean sound is no replacement for the ever present sound of the needle in the groove.

    Paper books will never become extinct. And I am looking forward to the flexibility and creativity which can come with electronic books. I'm with you in embracing evolution.

    Thanks for joining in my roaring contest today. I'm sorta making it up as we go along, but it should be tons of fun!!

  2. We're in the infancy of e-Books. Now that there are workable e-Readers and the public "gets" them, I'm hoping they'll start taking on more than just text. (Barry Lyga, over at his blog, had some great ideas for DVD-like "Extras" for e-Books, including sample chapters from other books by the same author. I'd like to see a "deleted scenes" section -- it would be a great place to include those bits of the story I begrudgingly decided to edit out)

    Contests where the rules are made up as you go along can be very cool. As long as everyone knows we're just playing, we should all be able to play nicely.

    Also, it's good to have written down my goals for the next four weeks. It's helped me to realize I need to get cracking to have ready what I'd like to get feedback on for


  3. Tom--have you seen Inanimate Alice? I hope that some ebooks can start to be creative in this manner.

    It's going to be an amazing new frontier, if we let it. And if we don't get caught up in our own fears.

  4. And, I'm glad the goal setting helped with your big picture. I'm trying to not feel as though I'm not going to finish my revision for writeoncon! Oh, bite my tongue!! I'm a pantser in more than just writing, evidently. I like to make it up as I go along. It's more flexible that way!

  5. Heather: I hadn't heard about Inanimate Alice -- thanks for the link.

    It is an interesting idea, but as I was watching the first two episodes/chapters I wondered if the story was good enough to stand on its own, without the audiovisual effects. I'm not entirely sure.

    I'm all for making stories as engaging as possible, but I want them to be well written and meaningful first. Layer on all of the illustrations/video/sounds later, but start with a well-crafted story first.

    (and, yes, i will be watching the rest of the episodes)